Friday, December 25, 2009

Review: Fireraiser by Melanie Rawn

When Melanie Rawn made her return to the literary scene with Spellbinder a few years ago it marked a shift in her career. Whereas previously she had written more traditional fantasy (though to call a Rawn novel typical is a misnomer) she was now writing an urban fantasy/paranormal romance in a contemporary setting. Spellbinder was enjoyable but there were a few kinks to work out and I believe she has done just that with the sequel Fire Raiser as well as shifted a style again.

Set a few years after the events of the previous novel Hollie and Evan are now married and have twin children. They have moved from New York to Pocahontas county where Holly grew up and Evan is now the local sheriff and busy investigating a rash of fires in Baptist churches around the county. At a fundraiser at a local inn Holly and her relatives sense magic in the building that was cleansed of all magic a long time ago. Clearly the inn and the manager, Weiss, aren’t what they appear.

The beginning was a bit confusing as there is a bit of jumping back and forth in time that wasn’t all that clear but once it got into gear it was plain sailing. What’s interesting about Fire Raiser is that Rawn is generally know for the stories in her novels taking place over gaps of years like in Dragon Prince or the Ruins of Ambrai. Even the Dragon Star novels shift from event to event in a war but the story in this novel is compacted into one night. This really gives Rawn the chance to see how her characters react when thrown in a rather harrowing situation. The best examples of this are Holly’s cousin Cam who has just returned home, has to confront this magical threat as well as deal with the possible love of his life who certainly didn’t expect to encounter again. Whereas the first novel really felt like a standalone Fire raiser is different and there are a number of issues raised to be addressed in a future book so this one definitely felt more like a part of a trilogy. Rawn tackles a number of tough social issues, including the way homosexuals are treated in society and the way they perceive themselves, abortion, human trafficking and does each very well. Rawn also has a few things to say about the process of being a writer, through Holly who of course is a professional writer. This seems to be an increasingly common theme as Brandon Sanderson does a similar thing in the Alcatraz books.

Overall I enjoyed Fire raiser and liked to see Rawn step further out of her comfort zone and expand her literary repertoire. 8/10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News: Melanie Rawn finishes the Diviner

Melanie Rawn announced (in October but I only just saw it) on a forum on her website that she finished the Diviner, which is now with the editor and stands at 133000 words. The Diviner is a prequel to the Golden Key which Rawn co wrote with Kate Elliot and Jennifer Roberson. The book had been partly written but in limbo for a number of years, glad to hear it's finally done.

This paves the way for the other two co-authors writing their own intended prequals and raises the possibility that Rawn intends to also write the Captal's Tower.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Wheel of Time holds a special place in my heart. Eye of the World is after all what won me over to the fantasy genre. This series has always had a very distinctive feel, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I can always feel it when I pick up one of the books. After Robert Jordan’s passing I made sure I, like many other WOT fans, picked up everything published (and one or two things that weren’t) by Branson Sanderson, the author chosen by Jordan’s widow to finish the series from his notes. I was impressed, very impressed. I was confident Sanderson could finish this series the way it was meant to be finished. Still there was a little part of me which couldn’t help but wonder if anyone could really do it. Really bring RJ’s vision to life the way he could.

A few chapters in and I had begun to wonder whether that little part of me was right. The prose was some sort of amalgamation of RJ’s and Sanderson’s that felt extremely awkward. What’s worse so is that the characters felt different. They did seem to react the way I felt they should and they said things I didn’t think they would. Siun and Mat seemed exaggerations of certain aspects of their personalities with almost every sentence ending in some fish related metaphor for Siun or having ‘bloody’ tucked away in there for Mat. All of the maturing Nynave had done since leaving the Two Rivers vanished in a poof. My worst fears had been realized; it didn’t feel like a WOT novel. Or so I believed but thankfully I was wrong. Way wrong. All of a sudden Sanderson hit his groove and from their on out he pulled it off masterfully. Prose felt right, characters felt right, the general feeling was right. Sanderson had pulled it off. I can only attribute the first few chapters to growing pains.

Trying to sum up the basic plot of the book is no easy task. The WOT is made up of dozens of different perspectives and hundreds of individual story lines weaving together like some gigantic tapestry. I can tell you this though the most chapters are devoted to Rand and Egwene. Rand is trying to unify the land, make peace with the Seanchen and prepare in earnest for the last battle. It is increasingly obvious that the dark one’s touch grows on the world; the end is nigh. Rand decides that being as hard as steel isn’t good enough any more he must be as hard as cuendillar and cut off all of his emotions. Egwene of course is still trying to reunify the white tower. Events that have literally been foreshadowed for four or five books finally take place and were certainly worth the wait. There were a few moments I had to put the book down, take a deep breath and say ‘wow’.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the Gathering Storm. I think that initial awkwardness could have been sorted out with another round of editing and TOR has to take the blame for rushing it out. Otherwise all good, can’t wait for the next two. 8.75/10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: The Forge in the Forest by Michael Scott Rohan

When it comes to influential fantasy authors of the 1970’s and 80’s a number of names spring readily to mind. Le Guin, Brook’s, Eddings just to name a few. One of the names which doesn’t pop up too often is Michael Scott Rohan and after finishing The forge in the forest the second volume in his Winter of the World series I’m increasingly convinced that it should.

Having defeated the Mastersmith and successfully helped his friend Kermorvan raise the siege of Kerbryhaine, driving the Ekwesh hordes back Elof believed he could set off to find Kara, the woman he loves though he has only known her a few hours. However things are not as peaceful as they appeared. With the Ekwesh threat gone tension is rising between the city folk and the displaced northerners, Kermorvan is convinced the Ekwesh will strike again in a few years and the threat of the oncoming ice still lingers. Kermovan mounts an expedition to the east in search of lost cities that may or may not exist, hoping to reunite humanity against the growing threat. Out of loyalty Elof accompanies him unsure of what dangers lie ahead.

The structure of the second book follows the more traditional quest fantasy archetype unlike the first which followed Elof’s early years and focused on his growing up. We get a better understanding of the world, its history and the driving force behind the ice. The pacing is well done and avoids the periods of lag so often encountered by works using this structure. The characters are well realized, well not exactly the ‘shades of grey’ the market is clamoring for these days. They come across as real people facing some tough choices they don’t always get right. One thing I did find a bit strange is that the books are presented as parts of chronicles from an earlier age. The references to these are somewhat intrusive though and clash with the more traditional narrative that makes up the majority of the story.

Overall The Forge in the Forest continues an interesting series that too often slips under the radar. 7.5/10

Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

One of the things I love about the Dresden files is that with every novel you can see how both Jim Butcher’s writing and the protagonist Harry Dresden mature just a little bit more. Death Masks, book five in the series, is no exception.

As usual Harry finds himself knee deep in trouble. He is challenged to a duel to the death by Ortega a duke of the red court. If Harry loses the war between the council and the court will be over if he wins Chicago will become a safe zone. If he doesn’t accept the challenge assassins will begin picking off everyone he cares about one by one. On the same day Harry is hired to find the missing Shroud of Turin which is believed to have been spirited away to Chicago. A few minutes later he is shot at by a few of Marcone’s, the Chicago crime lord who he thought he had an understanding with, thugs. To cap it all off his ex-girlfriend and semi-vampire Susan shows up and says ‘the two of them need to talk’.

One thing that stood out for me was the motivations of some of the ‘bad guys’ were explored quite nicely. Harry has always been a bit of a morally complex character but the bad guys have tended to be a bit simplified so this is a nice touch. In fact a few of the ‘good guys’ get the same treatment with equally interesting results. Otherwise Death Masks does all the things that we have come to expect from a Dresden novel and does them well. 8/10.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

I’ve been waiting to read A Madness of Angels for some time. I won a contest for it back in February but it never arrived. Once the people at orbit books learned about it they sent me another copy immediately. After finishing the book I’m glad they did.

Mathew Swift was a sorcerer living in London, after having an argument with the man who trained him and storming in off in a huff he is attacked and presumably killed. Two years later he wakes up, now sharing his body with a mysterious entity know as the blue angels, sparks life left over from the emotions poured into the telephone. Mathew begins gathering allies and plotting his revenge but does he really know what he’s dealing with?

The opening of Madness of Angels was confusing. The reader is thrust right into the middle of the story, no gentle introduction here. However I think this is rather well done, the protagonist is clearly disorientated and confused, not sure how his resurrection took place. The magic system is rather clever and I enjoyed it. Life exits everywhere and since life in modern day London centers on the city that is where sorcerer’s draw the magic from. Everything from the buzz of rush hour to the vermin that scuttle about unseen provide the life for magic. I have never seen a city portrayed so convincingly in any book before. Griffin really brings London and all it’s idiosyncrasy’s to life, it’s almost like the city is another character. If you are actually familiar with the city I’m sure you will get even more out of this.

Overall Kate Griffin’s first foray into grownup novels is a good one. I’m glad I chose Madness of Angels as my first venture into urban fantasy outside of the Dresden files and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 8.25/10

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hidden Gems 4: Melanie Rawn

There is a tendency to portray the eighties and early nineties as a bleak time for the fantasy. It has been said that there was no variety, that there were simply rehashes of Tolkienesque or Jordanesque fantasy and that worst of all fantasy authors of the period were accused of producing works that didn’t make the reader think. All of that is of course absolute rubbish.

Queue the latest addition to the hidden gems of fantasy Melanie Rawn. Rawn is best known for her two trilogies set in the same world Dragon Prince and Dragon Star. Rawn was able to produce an interesting cast of characters whose motivations were often complex. Pol and Andry were perfect examples of characters who were shades of grey. What’s more she took a rather novel approach and followed the characters over several decades and showed the reader as they grew up, developed, grew old and eventually died. In short she made characters who mattered to the readers, I can remember feeling absolutely frustrated with Sioned near the end of the last book to the point where I wanted to scream at her. Now that’s writing. Rawn also spent a great deal of time focussing on romances between the characters and there is certainly a greater emphasis on this than in most fantasy. As always with Rawn they are masterfully developed. Politics was also a subject which received a great deal of attention.

Besides the two trilogies already mentioned two books in the planned exiles trilogy have been released.The quality is right up there with her previous work but be warned it has been twelve years since the second book was released and the as of this point there are no definite plans to write the third. She also collaborated with Kate Elliot and Jennifer Roberson on the Golden Key. Currently Rawn is working on an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series titled spellbinder of which two have been released.

I can’t recommended Rawn enough so if you’re stuck for something to read give her a try. I know you will thank me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

The Wizard of Earthsea was the class reader in my English class when I was fourteen. The class never did get to the end of it but I made sure I did and consider it the first fantasy novel I ever read. I recently read it again more than ten years later and was surprised at the things I remembered, those which I didn’t and the things I thought were in there and never turned up.

The wizard of earthsea is about a boy named Ged who is taught rudimentary magic by his aunt the local witch. After he uses his powers to save the village from a horde of barbarians he is taken under the wing of a wandering wizard. Ged chafes under the wizard’s tutelage, wanting to learn ‘real’ magic rather than the patience his master is trying to teach him. Egged on by a playmate Ged unwittingly almost unleashes a shadow creature which his master arrives just in time to stop. His master offers Ged a choice; either remain as his apprentice or travel to a wizards school and learn magic there. Ged chooses the latter and quickly excels there. However he gets into a heated rivalry with another student and in effort to prove his superiority unleashes another shadow creature when he tries to summon a dead spirit. Ged has to find a way to deal with the creature which will hunt him forever and try to steal his body, powers and soul.

Initially I found the language a bit simplistic (which explains why it is often shelved in the children's section) but combined with a prose reminiscent of classic mythology the two combine rather well. Earthsea is a wonderfully realized and original land made up of island chains in a massive ocean and world building is certainly one of Le Guin’s strengths and one in which she should be considered a pioneer.

All in all The Wizard of Earthsea is a classic which I think everyone should get around to reading at some point. 8/10.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Harmony by C.F. Bentley

I consider myself pretty well-read when it comes to fantasy. The same, however, cannot be said when it comes to science fiction. In fact I would go as far as to say I haven’t read one sci-fi book in my adult life. That is until recently. I was lucky enough to win a copy of Engima by C.F. Bentley the sequel to Harmony so I thought I’d give Harmony a go.

Sissy is a member of the worker caste on the planet Harmony. When a massive earthquake strikes the capital she is able to calm the planet and prevent further damage. That leads to the high priest Gregor taking an active interest in her and when it is revealed that she has all seven caste marks as well as the ability of prophecy she is made high priestess. Major Jake Hannigan of the Confederated Star System Fleet is a man with nothing to lose. His entire family was wiped out in a maril, avian-like aliens, attack. The war between the two species is getting set to hot up but with dwindling supplies of badger metal, something only produced on the reclusive planet of harmony, both sides are hesitant to make the next move. When the opportunity arises to take part in a spy mission attempting to retrieve the formula of badger metal Jake takes it. Needles to say the two protagonists’ paths soon cross and Sissy comes to learn that a few truths she had taken for granted might not be so true after all.

The story is told through the eyes of three characters; Sissy, Jake and Guilliam a high ranking temple official. The biggest strength of the novel is the two main protagonists who are interesting and well realized and really steal the show. I found the beginning to be quite slow and throughout the novel had a minor issue on pacing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Also I found the first scene with Sissy, predominately with her thinking, strange when it is revealed later how she talks. These could have been better integrated.

Aside from a few minor issues I did enjoy my first foray into sci-fi. The first book does a good job in setting the scene and I look forward to reading how the story progresses from here. 7/10

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hidden Gems 3: Russell Kirkpatrick

One of the eternal questions for those involved in the publishing industry is how effective is cover art in selling books? Which styles work and which simply don’t? On the subject of the first I would have to say they do, well because cover art has drawn me to certain books. I remember clearly when I had just started uni and I was wandering around whitcoulls between lectures. A rather simple cover caught my eye; a spoked wheel with a snake entwined around it. There were nine books with the same cover all in different colours, for some reason this intrigued me and took the first one sat down and started reading it. Within a few pages I was hooked. I came back a few days later and bought the book. Within a few months I owned the entire series. That is incidentally the story of how I was hooked on the wheel of time and in a real sense what really won me over to the fantasy genre (although I had read several fantasy books by then). That is not the only time a cover has drawn me into a book. The cover art on Russell Kirkpatrick’s Across the Face of the World is a thing of beauty. Unlike those from the wheel of time it is anything but simple. A cascading waterfall surrounded by a forest dwarf a bridge across a canyon with tiny figures standing at the edge. It literally screams epic to any would-be passerby and inspires the urge to open the book. Of course once it is open it is now the authors turn to try and keep that attention through an engaging story and well written prose. On that note it is time to get into the reasons I consider Russell Kirkpatrick to be a hidden gem in the fantasy genre.

On the surface Kirkpatrick’s debut fantasy trilogy resembles just one more of the legion of quest fantasy epics inspired by Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Two brothers; Leith and Hal, are forced to leave their small village on the edge of civilization with a small company to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by an agent of the despot known as the undying man. Along the way they learn that the undying man is massing his armies for a massive campaign of conquest. They also learn of a mythical object that may or may not exist that could have the power to stop him. So far so typical. But it was the characters that certainly set this trilogy apart. They were so different with their insecurities and the unexpected paths they took in their development. Throw in some interesting plot twists and unique perspective on landscape (Kirkpatrick is also a mapmaker/geography lecturer at the university of Waikato) and were left with something that really stood out. I remember enjoying the first books thoroughly but being slightly disappointed with the third which I felt drew things out too much. His second trilogy Husk built on these strengths. The first in the series Path of Revenge really blew me away at the time I read it. It was just so different. Gone was the quest fantasy formant instead jumping around a few storylines which were only loosely connected together by a central string (which would be focused on more in later volumes). His characterization had also improved to the point, where I can safely say they were one of the most unique and interesting set of characters ever assembled. Sadly the second book Dark Heart, while still good, went off the boil a bit. I have yet to read the concluding volume, Beyond the Wall of Time but I have high hopes that things will get back on track.

Kirkpatrick’s first trilogy has been available in Australia and New Zealand for years but has only recently been published in the U.S. and U.K. Apparently the first volume has sold well in the States and I have high hopes for Path of Revenge which, in my opinion, is by far his best book.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hidden Gems 2: Stephen Donaldson

I know what you’re thinking; Stephen Donaldson is a very strange pick for a hidden gem. Everyone has heard about him and knows how influential his Thomas Covenant books have been to the fantasy genre or for that matter modern literature in general. That right there is the problem, everyone has heard of him but too many people haven’t gotten around to reading him yet. Let’s see if we can change that.

Most people know how critical the year 1977 was for the genre. Lord of the Rings had continued to sell well since it’s original publication but although there had a number of important fantasy books released none of them had enjoyed anywhere near that commercial success. 1977 came along and with it the release of Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara and everything changed. There was another important release that year Stephen Donaldson’s Lord Fouls Bane the first book in the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Brooks' work was admittedly heavily influenced by Lord of the Rings (leading to some accusations of outright plagiarism.). Young unsuspecting hero sets off to find magical item that can be used to defeat the Dark Lord who is threatening to destroy/take over the world. There is a mysterious ancient man with long lost magical powers who acts as a guide and a host of typical support characters. This template was to heavily influence the genera for the next twenty years and still does so to this day. Donaldson however did something different.

Thomas Covenant was not your typical fantasy hero. He once had a seemingly idyllic life he was a successful writer, happily married and with a beautiful baby son. All that changed when he caught leprosy. It costs him half of his hand, causes his wife and son to leave him and left him living alone on his property outside of a small town whose people wanted nothing to do with him and treated him as an outcast. As you could imagine he became rather dark and cynical, obsessed with a daily routine that would keep him safe and alive. He couldn’t afford to grow careless it would be the death of him. One day he falls and bumps his head on the living room table and when he wakes up he finds himself in another world known as the land. The land is a mystical place that grants all its denizens the power to feel its life force, Covenant can as well and what’s more he finds he no longer as leprosy. Covenant immediately mistrusts the land, fearing it is a trick of his own troubled mind and will lead him to carelessness and death. In response he dubs himself the unbeliever and sets the tone for the next few novels. The concept of morality is one that is considered in depth, Covenant has to decide if his actions are constrained by morality in the land since it seems to be a product of his troubled mind. Early on he rapes a teenage girl who has been nothing but kind to him when he is overwhelmed by his newly returned sex drive. Guilt over the incident consumes him and eventually he decides whether it was real or not it matters to him. The Lords of the Land believe Covenant is destined to save it from Lord Foul, a malignant entity that exists outside the arch of time and is the embodiment of despair, using the white gold of his wedding band. Since white gold is an element that does not exist in the land naturally it contains magical powers. The problem is Covenant can’t always make it work and each time he does he risks destroying the arch of time and freeing Lord Foul. Lord Foul claims responsibility for bringing Covenant to the Land in order to free him, claiming that whether he wants to or not Covenant’s own disbelief and despair will make him do it eventually.

There has been a lot of praise thrown in the direction of authors like Martin and Erikson for their so called ‘realistic fantasy’, having characters that don’t fit easily into the typical good and evil archetypes. There is a debt these writers owe to Donaldson which I don’t feel the general reading public acknowledges often enough. Donaldson created a morally complex character in a fantasy setting well over thirty years ago and what’s more he cleverly contrasted him with the wholesome inhabitants of the land and the evil Lord Foul. I read the first (which focus on Covenant) and second chronicles (which focuses on Covenant and a new character Linden Avery) when I was 21 and while I enjoyed them I don’t think I fully appreciated them. I Would perhaps recommended them for someone slightly older as when I started reading the Last chronicles (which focuses on Linden Avery) last year I found I appreciated them more than the originals.

Aside from the Thomas Covenant books Donaldson has also written the Gap cycle(a five book space opera), Mordents Need (A two book fantasy series) and The man who detective novels (of which there are four and were originally published under the pseudonym Reed Stephens). Sadly I am forced to admit have yet to read any of these but intend to change that as soon as possible.

If you have been intending to read Stephen Donaldson but for whatever reason haven't gotten around to it; give him a go now you won't be dissapointed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

The Dresden files are a great between read. They are engrossing, fast and straightforward. Perfect for when you are looking for a bit of entertainment that won’t strain your brain too far. That’s more or less what I was expecting when I picked up the fourth volume, Summer Knight, but boy was I in for surprise. Butcher really brings out his A game here and really blew me away.

Harry Dresden has been in a bit of a slump. He is feeling guilty that his ex-girlfriend has been turned into a semi-vampire and has been spending every waking minute trying to find a cure for her. This means ignoring things like work, paying the rent and basic hygiene. Then, all on the same day, he is attacked by a ghoul and a pair of hitmen and hired (read blackmailed) by the winter queen of the faerie to find out who killed the summer knight and prove her innocence. If that isn’t enough the white council have decided to hand him over to the red court in an effort to bring their war to a close if he fails. In other words Harry has his work cut out for him.

In previous volumes we have only been given glimpses of the structures behind groups like the white council, red court etc. Here Butcher really fleshes out this with a particular focus on the Summer and Winter faiere courts and does it in a really interesting way. There is also more of an epic feel than previous volumes, lending the story a sense of urgency. Before it seemed that if Harry failed the effects would be localized but now it really seems that if he does the whole world would be screwed. Pacing is something Butcher has always done particularly well and he really out does himself this time. Revelations are well timed throughout the story and are clever enough that the reader doesn't see them coming and yet at the same time make perfect sense. Without giving too much away I also thought that Butcher handled death particularly maturely in this one.

Summer knight is a big step forward in the Dresden Files. Lets hope it just a sign of things to come. Onwards and upwards. 8.5/10

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review:Hitman: My Real Life In the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart

Ever since I was a child I have loved pro wrestling. I loved the athleticism, the drama, how two athletes could tell a story in the ring using nothing but their bodies (and the occasional prop). When I was growing up my favorite wrestler was Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. He was never the biggest or the strongest but that was part of his appeal. He was just a man who wanted to be the best and would give everything he had in the ring each and every night, a man who wanted to succeed not just for himself but for his loyal fans as well. Naturally I’ve wanted to read his autobiography Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling for some time. Now that I have I’m glad that I did.

Bret’s autobiography chronicles everything from his early life, his wrestling career and right up to his stroke and his dad’s death. What is blatantly apparent early on is this genuine. Bret wrote the book himself with the aid of a cassette dairy he had kept on the road. No punches are pulled, we get the whole story through Bret’s eyes and he doesn’t sugarcoat it not even when in the instances where it makes him look bad. A word of warning right now if you decide to give this one a go; bad things happen to good people. Wrestling is an industry rife with alcohol and drug problems and like I said before ‘no sugarcoating’.

The only minor blemish to this book is a few minor timeline mistakes which is bound to happen when discussing a lifetime of events. When I say minor that’s exactly what I mean, I’m talking about stuff like mentioning Chyna was Triple H’s ring valet when talking about events in 1995 when Chyna only showed up on WWF TV in 1997. I’m sure she was around the dressing room in 1995 and there was probably no other place to mention it but that might get on a few peoples nerves. These small flaws take nothing away from the story itself, so it really is nitpicking.

Overall this a strong emotional and brutally honest story of one man’s life. Whether you watched him wrestle or not really doesn’t matter, I guarantee you at times you will laugh and at times you will cry and you won’t be able to help being moved by it and that is really all a good story is. 9/10.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Review:Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

The third book in the Temeraire series picks up right where the last one left off. A fire leaves the Alliance gutted, leaving Laurence, Temeraire and their crew seemingly stranded in China for a few months longer while repairs are made. That same day they receive urgent orders to hurry to Istanbul and escort three dragon eggs back to Britain that have been purchased from the Turks. With the aid of their guide Tharkay, a half-British, half-Chinese adventurer they set off along the treacherous land route. However things are not as they seem in Istanbul and after a headlong flight the crew find themselves embroiled in the war in Prussia. Napoleon’s forces are aided by the outcast Chinese dragon Lien who is now seeking revenge against Temeraire.

The third book expands on the political aspects of Throne of Jade with Temeraire expanding his ideas on dragon equality with humans. It is certainly interesting to see how dragons from different countries react to his ideas, and Temeraire certainly doesn’t always get the reaction he was hoping for. An interesting addition was a group of feral dragons, who also serve as something of a comic relief though thankfully not one that is over the top. All of the aspects that made the first two books so good are certainly present in this volume. My only major criticism is that the basic structure of the first half of the book is essentially the same as that in the second: Temeraire and crew set off on a harrowing journey to an exotic local, they then arrive and are made ‘guests’ but of course are glorified prisoners. It is a minor blemish and hopefully something that won’t be repeated too often in future installments.

In sum Black Powder War is a welcome addition to the Temeraire series. 8/10.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hidden Gems #1: Elizabeth Haydon

When the idea of doing a hidden gems of fantasy popped into my head I noticed a problem immediately. Well most of the ‘younger’ [read newer ;-)] authors which I would recommend have been receiving such a lot of attention recently that they wouldn’t quite qualify as hidden gems. Still there is a rather simple solution; authors who have been around for a bit.

Today the spotlight is on Elizabeth Haydon, whose debut work Rhapsody was released in 1999. She had a short story included in the Legends Anthology, so she obviously has the respect of her peers. However Haydon is one name you will never see discussed in the main genre blogs and I consider this to be a real shame. Her main body of work, The Symphony of Ages, consists of Rhapsody: Child of Blood, Prophecy: Child of Earth, Destiny: Child of Sky (The three make up the Rhapsody Trilogy), Requiem for the Sun,Elegy for a Lost Star (The middle books) and Assassin King (which is the first part of the war of the known worlds trilogy.) She has also written a young adult series The Lost Journals of Ven Pholypheme which is set on the same world as SOA but hundreds of years earlier. Three of these have been released so far.

The Rhapsody books follow three primary protagonists. Rhapsody, a half human half lirin former prostitute and current namer and musician. Grunthor, a giant half firbolg half Bengard and soldier and Achmed a half dhracian and half firbolg assassin. Grunthor and Achmed inadvertently save Rhapsody from a group of thugs and are forced to take her with them when they travel underground to the world tree Sagia and prevent the F'dor from waking the primal worm. The three emerge centuries later in a new continent to find their own homeland was destroyed by a comet and due to their journey they no longer age. Three set about founding a society of outcasts and have to deal with the descendts of their homeland who have already established kingdoms.

What initially drew me into Rhapsody was an original story and engaging characters. Haydon deliberately set out to write a medley of fantasy, horror, mystery and romance and she blends these all together extremely well. One of the unique characteristics of her prose is the ability to switch from POV (often multiple times) within a paragraph. She does this seamlessly and I have yet to see anyone duplicate this feat. There is also a stronger focus on folklore and music than most fantasy books.

The fate of the remaining two books of the SOA of ages seems to be up in the air. Haydon used to be quite active online, regularly interacting with her fan base and maintaining her own website. The website has been down for months and Haydon remains incognito. The LJOVP has been released regularly with the next one entitled The Tree of Water. So it would seem SOA is on the backburner for awhile.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie Review

Best Served Cold is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated releases of 2009, which is no surprise considering the immense success Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy received. Everyone wants to know if Abercrombie can do it again and the short answer is: yes he can.

Monza Murcatto, leader of the mercenary band the thousand swords has been betrayed by her employer Grand Duke Orso. Her beloved brother has been murdered and she was left for dead, leaving her scarred and with a crippled right hand. Naturally she wants vengeance on the seven men who took part in her betrayal and thanks to a fortune she has kept hidden she has the resources to do it. Among her allies are Shivers a northman who is trying to be a better man. Friendly a mass murderer obsessed with numbers. Styria’s least reiliable drunkard and Monza’s predecessor in the thousand swords (who she incidentally betrayed) Nicomo Cosca and Morveer a treachous poisoner. As you might imagine things quickly get interesting.

Unsurprisingly violence, mayhem, torture and action ensue from the get go and don’t let up until the end. But none of these things really define Abercrombie’s writing; his main strength always has been and is here again the strength and depth of the believable characters he creates. I would struggle to name many authors who can get in the head of a character as well as Abercrombie can when writing from their perspective. Each character perspective genuinely feels different. My only real criticism is that there is a little bit too much introspection from some of the characters especially Monza and Shivers. At times I wanted to rip them out of the book sit them down and tell them to get over themselves, which is actually a good testament to how real these characters actually feel. As should be apparent already a number of characters from the aforementioned trilogy make an appearance but alas no Logen Ninefingers. We will have to wait for another volume to learn what his fate was and judging from this one (and the fact that Abercrombie recently announced another) there are bound to be many more.

In sum best served cold is part-caper part-dark comedy part-violent action adventure and all Abercrombie. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the First Law Trilogy but that is by no means a disparagement I don’t enjoy most things as much as the First Law Trilogy anyway ;-). 8.25/10.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Elder Gods by David and Leigh Eddings Review

The Eddings have often come in for some harsh criticism for their post-Belgariad books.The crux of these criticisms have been claims of recycled story line and characters. Their most recent series The Dreamers has copped this more than the other books. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ‘Sparhawk’ books when I read them probably six or seven years ago so I approached The Elder Gods with an open mind.

The basic premise of the book is this. There are two lots of four gods who each oversee their own piece of a large continent, when one lot tires they go to sleep for eons while the other lot takes over. Mother sea and Father earth are also sentient and outside the direct control of the gods and additionally There is also an ‘evil’ god which oversees another piece known as the wasteland. Instead of letting life develop in response to the local environment like the other gods did, the ‘evil’ god twisted the inhabitants of the wasteland to it’s own design creating an army of human-part-serpent-part-insect followers. The evil god ultimately wants to rule the entire world so plans to invade the other gods domain. The humans in the other gods domain aren’t particularly warlike so the gods bribe humans on other continents with promises of gold to come to their aid. In addition the other set of gods is awoken prematurely and given the form of children. In this form they can influence events and see the future/past when they dream.

Basically this was a typical fun, dialogue driven Eddings book but I did have a few issues.From a plot perspective the Elder gods is significantly different from any of their previous books. Concentrating on the defense of one of the god’s domains against an enemy which is not very human in it’s thinking and it is actually quite interesting. The only character which seems to be an exact replica from a previous book is Eleria a god in the guise of a little girl who shrewdly manipulates people into doing want she wants with kisses. This is a carbon copy of Aphrael. The main reason I believe people think that the Eddings simply write the same characters with different names is they all share the same sarcastic sense of humor. This has always bothered me and did so even more so in this book. There are two groups of humans from across the ocean the Maags and the Trogites. At one point one of the Maags observed that the Trogites were more formal and serious than them yet they used the same sense of humor throughout the book. What gives? Also a number of conversations which should have been serious were ruined by this. By the end I was completely sick of the same old sarcastic banter. I also had a few issues with the pacing, the beginning was a bit too slow and took a little too long to get going and the end was anticlimactic with the last forty pages given over completely to set ups for the next book.

Overall I found The Elder Gods to be enjoyable but had too many issues to rise above average. If these can be sorted out the rest of the series could be something special if not there will be endless pages of sarcastic banter. 6/10.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Painted Man (by Peter V. Brett) Review

The fantasy genre has really been blessed in recent years with the emergence of a number of exciting new authors who have brought in some innovative ideas. Brandon Sanderson,Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss are just a few of these. With his debut novel The Painted Man Peter Brett can take his rightful place among them.

The Painted Man is set in a world where hordes of seemingly invincible demons emerge at night and kill anything in their path. The only safety for mankind is through wards that channel a power that can keep the demons out. However wards can and often do fail. I really liked this innovative concept and thought that Brett used it well as a backdrop. The story is centered on three young people whose lives change their course rather dramatically after demon attacks. We follow them over decades separately (until the latter half) as they try to find their places in a hostile world.

There is certainly a good deal of action and suspense culminating in a large finale. The characters are complex and visibly adapt and change as the story unfolds. The author gave the world an interesting feel, for a lot of the characters the villages they grew up in were the whole world to them (traveling being particularly dangerous) and this came across well especially contrasted against the worldview of characters who had traveled further. While it is largely self-contained there is most certainly going to a sequel in the works as there are some large open-ended questions to be addressed.

Overall Brett’s first novel really impressed me, he is definitely one to watch. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Throne of Jade

Following up a successful debut novel is always a challenge. Thankfully Novik managed to do it beautifully managing to maintain all the things she did right with His Majesties dragon and managing to add some new notches to her bow as well.

Picking up from the previous novel, a Chinese delegation arrives in Britain having learned that the Celestial they intended to send to Napoleon has ended up in the hands of a British soldier. They angrily demand that Temeraire be returned to them. The delegation is led by the Prince Yongxing, the brother of the emperor himself but it is immediately apparent to Laurence that the delegation might not speak with one voice. To Laurence’s disgust the British government are happy enough to send Temeraire back with them, being obviously fearful of offending China which could lead to alliance between them and France. Laurence and Temeraire are forced to brave the long and dangerous voyage to China and to try keep from getting separated once they arrive.

The only criticism that could be leveled at the first book was the lack of action and major battles, this is by no means the case in the second. There are two major battles early on and then a few more later in the book. Once again Novik does an excellent job of exploring the theme different people’s reactions when confronted with ideas and customs that are altogether strange to them. This apparent on the ship voyage with the Aviators, sailors and Chinese delegates sharing the same ship and later on when the British reach China. Not to mention Temeraire’s reactions when seeing how different the lifestyle is for dragons in China. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the Celestail Dragons; their motivations and what makes them tick and especailly would have liked to have had the motivations and relationship of Prince Yongxing and his cursed (albino) dragon explored.

Overall I really enjoyed Throne of Jade and have a feeling Novik is only going to keep improving in subsequent books. 8/10.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alcatraz versus the scrivener's bones review

Before picking up the second book in the Alcatraz series I had to wonder if the novelty would wear off. After all the first book was an interesting mix of young adult/fantasy adventure/writing parody that quite frankly had never been seen before. It was both entertaining, fun and a bit silly at times (but in a very good way). Could that formula work a second time? Thankfully I can say the second book is just as good if not better than the first.

After a close encounter with librarian agents in a local airport Alcatraz finds himself in transit to Nalhalla with Bastille, her mother and his newly met cousin and uncle Australia and Kaz in a flying glass dragon. Alcatraz receives a message from his grandfather informing him that he has tracked Alcatraz’s father to the library of Alexandria, which is naturally one of the most dangerous libraries on account of having undead librarians who try to steal people’s souls. Alcatraz and co have to try and find his father and grandfather,keep their souls and avoid a nasty cyborg-like librarian who is a member of the Scriveners Bones and wants to steal Alcatraz’s translator lenses.

The story, like that of the first book, is told by Alcatraz in the style of an autobiography with frequent interruptions for general silliness. Aside from the comments on writing, the genre and literature in general Sanderson introduces some interesting ways to play around with the reader, including using 0’s,1’s and 7’s to make a smiley face in a paragraph.Surprisingly for a YA novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously there is fair amount of character development, especially with Alcatraz and Bastille. Both have grown since the last novel and we really start to see what makes them tick. As can be expected Sanderson really fleshes out one of the magic systems, the smedry talents, in this novel. There is a glimpse of where they came from and how they function. One thing which I really enjoy about this series is the subtle hints Sanderson puts in to future books. It is actually quite fun trying to figure out how some really arbitrary and strange statements will be incorporated into future volumes.

Overall Sanderson is able to successfully recreate the formula that made the first book so enjoyable. If they liked the first one be sure to give the second a go. 8/10.

Friday, July 10, 2009

His Majesty's Dragon

Dragons have been a part of the fantasy genre since its inception. In which case it would not be hard to believe that nothing truly original could be done with them. Naomi Novik dramatically proves that is not the case in her debut His Majesty's Dragon.

The story is set during the Napoleonic wars in an alternate history earth where dragons exist and have been incorporated as something of an air force in the armed forces. William Laurence, the protagonist and captain of a ship in the British navy, is thrust into a difficult position when it turns out there is a dragon egg on a captured French vessel.Normally this would be a godsend but the egg is due to hatch and they are still weeks away from land. To ensure the dragon doesn’t turn feral Laurence unwittingly harnesses him upon his hatching. He is shocked when the dragon turns out to be exceedingly intelligent and speaks to him in perfect English. Laurence names him Temeraire, appropriately after two ships.

The aviators are very different to the rest of society who know very little about dragons. A good chunk of the novel deals with both Laurence and Temeraire’s integration into the aviators. Novik does a particularly good job in creating a genuine 18th century English feel through Laurence’s thoughts and expectations. It is obvious a lot of period research has gone into this and it really shows. I particularly enjoyed Laurence’s reactions to practices within the aviators that defied the days conventions, it always felt genuine.

One criticism that could be leveled is the lack of action. I don’t really feel this was much of issue though, as it is obvious character development and interaction was the crux of this novel. Plus there was a real frantic atmosphere to the action sequences that there were, especially the explosive finale, which could only have been achieved this way. Still it will certainly be interesting to see if Novick changes tact in subsequent novels.

In sum if your looking for something a little bit different with a flagrant atmosphere and strong character development give Her Majesty’s Dragon a try you won’t be disappointed.8.5/10

Monday, July 6, 2009

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s writing but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his young adult novel Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. After all a good rule of thumb when it comes to movies is to avoid anything with ‘versus' in the title (Yes there are exceptions.) I needn’t have worried I found this book refreshing and overall fun.

The book is presented as an autobiography of Alcatraz Smedly a hero to those in the free Kingdoms, but unknown to us in the hushlands (Thus it is marketed as a work of fantasy.) Alcatraz often addresses the reader directly and has some entertaining opinions on the art of writing, the fantasy genre and literature in general. Alcatraz wants to prove to everyone that he is not a hero nor a particularly nice person. The young Alcatraz is an orphan passed from foster family to foster family because of his uncanny ability to break things. On his thirteenth birthday he receives a bag of sand, supposedly from his real parents as an inheritance. That same day he burns down the kitchen leading his latest foster parents to want to get rid of him. The next day a rather strange old man shows up, claiming to be his grandfather and wanting to see Alcatraz’s inheritance. It is then that Alcatraz discovers the sand has been stolen, the old man informs him by his social caseworker who is actually a librarian in disguise. Incidentally librarians covertly rule the known world through their control of information and subsequent spread of misinformation. And so begins the mission of infiltrating the downtown library with the help of some rather interesting characters.

As always Sanderson has come up with a unique and well thought out magic system, with two actually in this case. The first is a talent that everyone in the Smedly line receives. These are all different for each member and include; breaking things, arriving late, tripping and talking gibberish. All of which prove surprisingly useful. The second is Occulancy which is using specially crafted glasses to do different things, such as setting fires, freezing things etc.

Although obviously aimed at young adults I’d liken it to Shreck with a lot of ideas operating on different levels, ensuring that there is something for everyone. Anyone who liked The Harry Potter or Lost Journal of Ven Polypheme series will love these.I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one. 8/10.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Last Wish Review

There is a lot of hype around polish author Adrzej Sapkowski with his win in the inaugural David Gemmell legend award. As a result it was with high expectations that I read the first of his books that has been translated into English;The Last Wish. I was severally disappointed.

Last Wish follows the exploits of a Witcher, Geralt. Witchers are taken as children and are changed and trained to fight monsters. At times Geralt comes across as a fairly interesting character, slightly reminiscent of Harry Dresden but all too often his actions are downright strange and unexplained. The book is divided into a few short stories that follow Geralt’s exploits that are loosely tied together by his time recuperating under the care of his friend the priestess Nenneke after a particularly nasty scuffle with a striga. Presumably most of these episodes are the protagonist’s reminisces by that is certainly not clear. Each of these short stories seems to revolve around fairy tales, including snow white and beauty and the beast with some intense twists. It is difficult to see if there was any point at all to the book. There are some social commentaries applicable to modern society, such as people being more inhuman to other people than the monsters, but they seem pretty basic. Perhaps they would make more sense set against the backdrop of the late 80’s and early 90’s Poland but I don’t know enough about the issue to comment.

My biggest criticism is of the actual writing itself. It is terribly awkward and messy and at times hard to follow. Sentences are often overly long and poorly ordered. I don’t know if this is the Sapkowski’s fault or that of the translator Stok and who knows it might be considerably better in the original Polish. The dialogue of the characters is also overly simplistic and at times makes it hard to relate to them. If I was just handed the book without a cover I would have assumed it was someone’s first go at writing, it really was that bad. Due to the writing I almost gave up fifty pages into the book, I’ve only ever done that twice before in my life. There is also an attempt at humor which comes across as crude most of the time.

As things stand I won’t be giving Blood of Elves a try, David Gemmell award or not. The Last Wish has just put me off of Sapkowski that much. The only way this will change is if someone whose opinion I trust tells me that these flaws aren’t prevalent in the rest of his books. I really hope that most of these are the result of translation, otherwise I really have to question Polish taste in literature. Although I wander if English books come across this badly when translated to other languages. In sum I do not recommended this book.4.5/10.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crossing the Boundary review

Okay so as you might have noticed this isn’t a fantasy book, but I read it and it’s my blog so I can review what I like . For those who might not know Kevin Peiterson is a batsman who plays for the England cricket team. He was born is South Africa but left when he was 20 to play in and qualify to play for England.

Pieterson wrote the book himself and it details his childhood growing up in Pietermaritzberg and Durban, early cricketing career in South Africa, the move to England and his cricketing career in that country. As is to be expected the 2005 Ashes series is the focal part of the book and it begins with it and (almost) ends with it.

For a guy who wouldn’t have had a lot of experience writing Pieterson does a really good job and his writing is concise and to the point. I do however question whether it should have been written when it was, Pieterson was only twenty-six and had only spent about two years playing international cricket. There are parts when it turns it a bit of a bitching session, with everyone from his high school coach to his first county captain coping it. A few more years may have matured and mellowed him and made for a better read. At the end of every chapter there is a piece written by someone who knows Pieterson giving their thoughts on him. The one by Stuart McGill was especially interesting when he says that Pieterson was partly to blame for the problems he had with teammates at Nottinghamshire. It was nice to get a balanced opinion.

Still I did find it fascinating to get an insiders view on what happened during the Ashes. You really get to see the inside working and dynamics of the England team. The version that I read had an extra chapter detailing the disastrous follow up series in Australia. This is all well and good but since Pieterson had already summed up everything in the previous chapter it did feel out of place and just something thrown on at the end at the last minute.

All in all there is a lot of good and bad in this book. I still feel that an autobiography should be written at the end of a career not the start of it and would have gladly waited a few years for a more complete book. 6.25/10

Monday, June 29, 2009

Proven Guilty Review

A few months ago I was lucky enough to win a copy of the audio book Proven Guilty, part of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher. Not only had I not read any of the series before but I had never read any urban fantasy or listened to an audio book since I was a child. So, as you might imagine, this was a different experience for me.

I was thrust right into the action from the get go with the protagonist, Harry Dresden, witnessing the execution of a young man by the White Council. Harry, who has recently joined the Council due to unforeseen circumstances (The Council is in the middle of a war with the Vampire Court which has severally depleted their numbers) and disagrees with what was done. Afterwards one of the council members sets Harry a mysterious mission to be on the lookout for black magic in Chicago. Harry’s day gets even worse as his car is run off the road in a hit and run incident and a call from the daughter of an old friend who requests that Harry bail her out of jail. Turns out she was being sneaky and really wanted to get Harry to bail her ‘boyfriend’ out for an attack at a horror convention. Harry investigates and finds supernatural events are afoot. The pace picks up considerably from there.

Harry Dresden is an interesting character, something of a badass with a heart of gold and we really get to see what makes him tick with the story being told from his (first-person)perspective. Despite not having read any of the previous volumes I had little trouble following the story. Butcher’s weaves in recollections from previous volumes rather well so I had what I needed without feeling bombarded by trivial information. The story is fast-paced and all the seemingly unrelated events are brought together masterfully for the finale.

James Masters, famed for his role of Spike on Buffy the Vampire slayer, is the reader and a damn good one at that. He created believable voices for each of the characters and varied his pace and tone well to suit the mood of different parts of the story. He certainly made my first foray into the world of audio books a memorable one.

In sum I enjoyed Proven Guilty and it has certainly made me want to read the rest of the series (I have already finished the first and second and am halfway into the third.) 8/10.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hero of Ages review

Wow. It is very rare for that to be the only word to pop in my head when I read the last page of a book but Brandon Sanderson’s Hero of Ages is something special. It is the concluding part of the Mistborn trilogy. That is something of an understatement, it should be the text book on how to conclude a series. Sanderson’s ability for plotting really stands out. Seemingly insignificant things that happened in the early chapters of the first book turn out to have some rather unexpected consequences. There also a number of plots twists that are really pulled off well.

The story begins a year after the events in the Well of Ascension. Vin and Eland are trying desperately to keep the world from falling apart, but with the mists and ash smothering the world what hope do they have? With the mundane matters of trying to stay alive occupying the rest of the crew, such as trying to secure caches left by the Lord Ruler and dealing with rebellions, it is left to Vin to try and single-handedly stop the abstract force she unwittingly released in the previous book. The story is told from multiple viewpoints including Vin, Eland, Marsh, Sazed and Spook. As before the issues of faith, power and leadership are explored in depth from different characters points of view. Instead of beginning each chapter with extracts from Alendi’s journal as in previous volumes there are extracts from a book composed by Sazed after the events of Hero of Ages. These are quite interesting and give subtle hints of what is to come.

All in all Hero of Ages is a strong conclusion to an interesting series and one I thoroughly Recommend. 9/10.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie Review

If you think that Abercrombie’s first two novels were dark and gritty wait until you read Last Argument of Kings. Abercrombie has subtly been building up a number of fantasy clichés leading up to this one and he smashes through them in some unexpected ways.

The group of Bayaz, Logen, Jezal and the rest arrive back in the capital to find things are a mess.The king is on his deathbed without an heir with the nobles scrambling for the position, there is a peasant revolt in the countryside and the war in the north is still going on just when another one looms on the horizon. Logen heads north to finally deal with his nemesis and for a long awaited reunion with those of his band still left alive. Without giving too much away lets just say things get complex from there.

One of Abercrombie’s biggest strengths right from the get go is that he really let’s the reader get in the heads of these characters. They are spread it for all to see, faults and all. The way he does this is by changing his writing style for each point of view. Non-dialogue prose is told in the words that character would use rather than the typical author. This gives the insight of a first person perspective in a third person view. The third book feels a lot darker than the other two and there are no clear cut happy endings, although some things work in for some of the characters in strange ways.

All in all Abercombie stays at his best. 9/10.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Scions of Shannara Review

Terry Brooks has received a great deal of criticism over the years because of the similarity of hisfirst book The Sword of Shannara and Lord of the Rings. Whatever else maybe said about Brooks his writing certainly improves from book to book and The Scions of Shannara is no exception.

Set a few generations after the events of a wishsong of Shannara, the world has certainly changed. The elves have inexplicably disappeared, the federation controls most of the land and has enslaved the dwarves and outlawed magic. Most of the events that took place in the previous novels are now considered legends, when they are remembered at all. Par and Coll Ohmsford try and spread the tales of the ancestors, aided by Par’s ability to use the wishsong. The federation of course don’t like this and setout to capture them. Meanwhile The shade of Allanon has been sending dreams to the Ohmsfords that still retain magic, Par, his uncle Walker Boh and his cousin Wren warning them of a threat posed by the shadowan, dreams which they have been ignoring. Cogline, a failed druid is sent to tell them the dreams are real and summon them to meet with the shade so he can set them tasks, recovering the sword of shannara, finding the elves and restoring paranor. However Allanon has often used the Ohmsfords before, can he be trusted? Descendents of other characters from previous volumes are also around.

Brooks has a strong, descriptive style of writing that is easy to read. Most of the story is told from Par’s perspective but there are sections from Walker Boh’s, Wren’s and a few secondary characters as well. These are likely to increase in subsequent novels. The only real criticism I have is the similarities some of the characters have to there ancestors. Par is very similar to Shea, Col to Flick and Morgan Leah to the other Leah’s that have come before.

Overall Scions does a good job of setting the series up for the subsequent three books. 7.5/10.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Darkness that comes before Review

The Darkness that comes before is one of those books that is really difficult to review. The reason is simple it just does everything so well that there really isn't much to say.

The premise is this a holy war has been declared by the shriah of the thousand temples to wrest back control of the holy city of Shimeah from the heathens. Sorcerer, Drusas Achamian has been sent to investigate and see if his school, the mandate's, long lost enemies the consult are involved. The consult were involved in a catastrophic event thousands of years earlier known as the first apocalypse and the mandate fear a second such event. There are a host of other points of view from a number of characters the most important of which include an emperor, Krijates Xinemus who hopes to use the holy war to gain back lost pieces of his empire. An aging prostitute Esmenet who is in love with Achamian and is looking for her own adventure. A monk, Anasûrimbor Kellhus who is looking to find and kill his father. A barbarian warrior Cnaiur urs Skiotha who is also looking to kill the monk's father for tricking him into helping kill his own father decades earlier. As you can see each character has their own stories and agendas. In that respect this book is remisecent of the Malazan books with the diverging plot lines, although Bakker does a much better job than Erickson in bringing them together.
The world Bakker creates is very similar to our own ancient world with some very interesting parallels. The royal court of Xinemus has a very persian or ptlomeic feel to it. While Skiotha's people are much like mongels. If you like your fantasy full of intrigue and three dimensional characters give Bakker's first book a try. As for myself I look forward to reading the rest of the prince of nothing trilogy. 8/10

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sword of Truth series review

When I read Wizards first rule what would have been four or five years back I was impressed. Sure there were some rough edges but this was Goodkind’s first book those could be addressed. The story was relatively original, the writing was solid and the characters were interesting. It seems I was too optimistic.

Books two, three and four can be summed up as the ‘invent a new villain for Richard to save the world from’ books. This usually involved adding a new area to the world where this threat originated from. In sum this was the result of poor plotting, giving very little thought to future installments to concentrate on the now. It also illustrates poor world building skills. The first book gives the impression that the midlands is filled with a variety of magical creatures, yet very little mention is made of these in subsequent books. There was also an element of plagiarism, the sisters of the light introduced in the second book were so similar to the way that Aes Sedai in Wheel of Time are portrayed and organized that they had to have been copied.

Book five was bad, there is no way around it. One POV was from a character who had no redeemable qualities. That is a feature of Goodkind’s characters they are either very good or very evil, there is no grey whatsoever. Characters can however move from one state to another, for example the incredibly evil Nicci turns incredibly good.

Book six, Faith of the Fallen, was by far the strongest in the series and I really enjoyed it. This was the first book Goodkind’s put forward his (Aryan Rand’s) philosophy and by far the book
where it is best articulated in the series. It didn’t feel like it was being forced down my throat and the character Nicc intrigued me.

Book seven was okay but the series went down hill rapidly from there. The last four books can be summed up as Richard giving long, elaborate, yet poorly articulated lectures. The quality in the writing really deteriorates as well. In the end Goodkind turned his series into a platform for the seemingly perfect Richard and Kahlan to spout his philosophy. Yet even this is unsuccessful as incidentally these characters are huge hypocrites. Somewhere in the middle books Kahlan orders that her half-brother be executed, the reason being that he is following the orders of his full-sister the queen of a small country in withdrawing their troops from the central army to protect their own country. So much for the rights of everyone to live their lives as they see fit (as long as they don’t impinge on other’s same right) and to take responsibility for themselves. It seems almost as arbitrary as something Jagang, the evil villain, would do. At the end of the series Richard dooms future generations to having no afterlife for the sins of their forefathers. A tad evil and overkill wouldn’t you say? Interestingly the more moderate character of Zed is appalled by such actions, especially the former, highlighting the protagonists hypocrisy. I don’t think the author did this intentionally either which is kind of interesting in itself.

The worst part about this series is that the author never smoothes those rough edges, his writing ability has in fact regressed by the final volume. In sum I would say that the
Sword of Truth is a below average fantasy series that is marred by poor plotting. It is a
shame the few decent books were dragged down by the rest. 5.5/10

Wizards first Rule (7/10)
Stone of Tears (6/10)
Blood of the Fold (6/10)
Temple of the Winds (6/10)
Soul of Fire (5/10)
Faith of the Fallen (8/10)
The Pillars of Creation (6/10)
Naked Empire (5/10)
Chainfire (5/10)
Phantom (5/10)Confessor (4.5/10)

Confessor Review

One would expect that the concluding book in an eleven book series would get on with resolving story arcs introduced in previous volumes. Sadly this seems to be only a side concern for Goodkind’s final installment of the Sword of Truth Series. The first third of the book consists of a combination of the repetition of events that happened in previous books and exploring the motivation of various characters usually in the form of a monologue or in characters preaching to other characters in longwinded, drawn out speeches about Goodkind’s (or should I say Aryn Rand’s) philosophy.

The first problem with this is of course that having read the previous volumes this is largely unnecessary or at the very least should not take two hundred plus pages, people shouldn’t be starting the series at the concluding book after all. But if Goodkind really felt he needed to put this in he could have put it in a prologue, thus giving the reader a chance to skip it.

The second problem is that Goodkind has been spouting his philosophy for the last six books of the series, you’ve put you point across already give it a rest. All of this could have been avoided through the influence of a good and firm editor. Sadly there is no evidence to suggest there even was an editor. For example Goodkind consistently uses insure when the in the context of the sentence he should be using ensure. This might sound like nitpicking but this occurs at least seven or eight times throughout the text, this is Goodkind’s eleventh book for crying out loud, he should know better. Having said that when things actually do happen Goodkind pulls it off reasonably well. This of course consists of the siege of the people’s palace, Richard’s attempt to save Kahlan from Jangang and the whole boxes of orden/chainfire issue. Although it did annoy me that the author seemed insistent on giving the majority of characters who appeared in previous volumes cameos, not to advance the story but just whimsically.

Without giving too much away there is a conclusion of sorts but there are still issues that were central to previous volumes that go unaddressed, most notably the ‘monster’ child Richard and Kahlan were supposed to have. Overall this is by far the weakest offering in the series, 4.5/10.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Erikson’s first book, Gardens of the Moon, didn’t do it for me. I saw glimpses of something that seemed to have so many people raving about it but that’s about it. There was simply too much going on and not enough of an explanation for things that the characters took for granted, most of those characters felt flat as well. Therefore it will come as no surprise that it took a few hundred pages to feel like I was into the book to any degree.

In that way Deadhouse Gates is similar to its predecessor, it took me two hundred odd pages to get into the book, having said that there were vast improvements. Erikson characterization has improved immensely, I now actually care about what happens to these characters, some of which I was largely indifferent about in the first book.

There is still a lot going on. Kalam and Fiddler are attempting to assassinate the empress of the Malazan empire, under the pretext of taking Apsalar back to her village. There is a massive and bloody rebellion going on in the seven cities. Icariun is wandering around looking for a way to get back his memory. All of that is just a fraction of the different events unfolding. One of Erikson’s strengths is the way he brings these seemingly unrelated events together. The author is like a master weaver sowing together a rich tapestry of a story through all these seemingly divergent threads.

Despite all of these considerable improvements there are still a few problems. There is still a lot about the way this world works that is unexplained, that really annoys me since the characters take it all for granted. Also Erickson seems to write his way out of corners with seemingly miraculous and yes still unexplained mechanisms and events. For an author who some class as “realistic fantasy” this doesn’t fly with me.

Overall though Erickson has made tremendous strides from his first book, the second is well worth a read. Still I can’t see more than glimpses of what some readers are raving on about. Maybe in the next book? 7.25/10.