Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Set nine years after the events of Dune Messiah, The ecological transformation of Arrakis has preceded far, bands of plant life encroach even further on the diminishing desert. Paul's children and heirs Leto and Ghanima see the empire's destruction in this as the giant spice-producing sand worms are beginning to die out. They also suspect that their aunt and regent Alia has succumb to one of her inner voices and his designs on cementing her own rule. This rule has steadily began to slip as dissidents are rising in the ranks of the Fremen , culminating in the emergence of a blind preacher leading sermons against the regime. A preacher who may or may not be Paul himself. Against this backdrop members of the displaced house Corrino have plans to snatch back power by assassinating the twins. Jessica, the twins grandmother, makes an unexpected return to Arrakis but whether she intends to protect the twins or is part of Bene Gesserit plot is unclear.

One of my main problems with the first two Dune books were the antagonists. The Barron Harkonen was far too cliched and the goals of the the antagonists in Messiah were very unclear and largely ineffective. No such problem exists this time around. Herbert brings in many competing groups with their own goals and there is much less emphasis on 'bad guys' versus 'good guys'. The pacing is a lot better than it was in Messiah and much more actually happens making for a much more satisfying read.

My only major issue with this one is that Herbert doesn't do a good job in explaining how the 'inner voices' work in Alia and the twins. Logically the memories of these voices should extend up to the point of procreation of the next generation. However the Barron's voice clearly has memories well beyond this. But if these memories are taken up until death as clearly implied there should be no question whether Paul is in fact the preacher as Alia and the twins would know courtesy of Paul's inner voice.

Overall despite this flaw I found Children of Dune to be hands down the best of the Dune books I've read to date. 8/10.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: White Night by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is called in by Karin Murphy to investigate what appears to be a routine suicide. Murphy believes it is a little too textbook and is proven right when Harry discovers a magical calling card referencing the exodus quote of killing witches. Harry quickly discovers that this is just the latest killing and it appears someone is targeting the low level magic users of Chicago, that someone also seems to be leaving clues that Harry is supposed to find. When evidence emerges that the killer might be his half-brother Thomas, Harry is determined to find the real killer.

Anyone who has read the Dresden files before will recognize the structure of this book. Harry runs around finding clues and getting into trouble for most of the book which is concluded in a massive confrontation between Harry, his allies and said bad guys. Although we've seen this all before I don't have any issues with it and if ain't broke don't bother fixing it.

An area where Butcher has certainly brought his A game in this one is the characterization. The two main issues are Harry's relationships with Lasciel the fallen angel trying to possess him and his half brother Thomas. Harry seems to be drawing on Lasciel's help almost indiscriminately. As always the story is told from Harry's perspective and form this it is obvious that he doesn't see a problem in using Lasciel'a abilities whereas in previous books he wouldn't have done this. It conjures the image as Harry as a drug user; he simply doesn't realize he has a problem. Others begin to notice the changes in Harry's demeanor and an increasing propensity for Harry to lash out in anger. At the same time Laciel seems to being turned by Harry's soul. I loved the ambiguity here and the way Butcher hinted it could go either way. Although the issue is seemingly resolved by the end of the book I get the feeling Butcher might be heading in a very different direction with this. Harry's trust in Thomas doesn't seem to waver much and I loved the hints Butcher dropped in about where this one was going and the rather amusing conclusion.

Other characters go through some pretty intense development as well. I loved the moment the normally unflappable Ramirez snapped at Harry for keeping secrets right before the books major confrontation. Harry's apprentice Molly also does some much needed growing up.

Overall Butcher continues to deliver as he always does with this series and with the increased character development seems to have taken it up another step. 8.5/10.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review:Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho

Felix is a painter living a rather drab existence in the colourless city of Galvanary. One evening he is awoken by voices outside his apartment and a pair of thieves make off with his roof. Felix chases after them and soon learns that they are a rather unusual crew of a flying ship called the Odyssey who need the roof to complete the ship. The ship is Captained by a young woman named Shiweo who, along with a talking cloud named Theo, a giant bamboo man and a foul tempered goldfish, is on a quest to find the Wishing Fish the being who created the universe of Orberana and will grant one wish to whoever finds it. Felix unwittingly accompanies them and his life quickly gets a whole lot more interesting.

Remember that old saying about not judging a book by its cover? While I think that ought to be expanded to include not judging a book by it's blurb or title. Neither of these really caught my interest and I decided to read this book more on a whim. I'm Glad I did.

Cho's world building is absolutely fantastic and it is obvious he has invested a great deal of time and energy into it. The world above the clouds is an intriguing one and I look forward to seeing more of it. The characters are all fully realized and fulled with a child-like charm that has the reader rooting for them in the first few pages.

An impressive debut from Cho and one of the better YA novels I've read in some time. 8.5/10.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News: Russell Kirkpatrick's next book

After disappearing off of the radar for the last twelve months New Zealand author Russell Kirkpatrick has announced he has almost finished the first draft of his next book titled Silent Sorrow, which is the first in a proposed four book series. Kirkpatrick describes it as a Renaissance fantasy set in a world making a transition from religion to magic. Kirkpatrick says its the best thing he has written by far. I thoroughly enjoyed the first books in his first two trilogies (With Path of Revenge being close to a masterpiece) but felt he falls a way in the later books. Hopefully this series will see him fully release his considerable talent.

Review: Swords and Dark Magic Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

This anthology seems to have come about due to a number of the new wave of fantasy authors authors incorporating elements of classic sword and sorcery elements in their work leading to something of a revival. Any anthology with new stories from Abercrombie, Lynch and Keyes was bound to pique my interest.

Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson: I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Erikson's writing. I was so sick of seeing all the 10/10 reviews for Gardens of the Moon, despite it's rather obvious flaws, that I haven't read anything past his second book despite greatly admiring his prose. This short story just might get me reading him again. It is a fast paced tale about a group of soldiers who are tricked into staying the night in a demon infested fort. 8/10.

Tides of Elba: A Tale of the Black Company by Glen Cook: One of the weaker stories in the anthology for me. I found Cook's writing to be sparse and lackluster and the story never engaged me. Basically the black company are told to find a woman, supposedly a leader of a rebellion, but believe they are being set up. 5.5/10

Bloodsport by Gene Wolfe: Some interesting ideas in this one and I liked the prose but it seems to wander around a bit with no clear goal. A knight relating bits of his life, including his part in a chess-like bloodsport and falling in love with a pawn, around a camp fire. 6/10.

The Singing Spear by James Enge: A light but engaging tale about Morlock the maker and his clash with a thief who has gone on a rampage after stealing a magic spear Morlock invented. 7/10.

A Wizard in Wisecezan by C.J. Cherryh: Tale about a wizard who has gone into hiding after his city was taken over by a warlord and a dark wizard. One of the wizards students is compelled to aid a man in overthrowing the warlord. Very convincing voice for the student in this one. 7.5/10.

A Rich Full Week by KJ Parker: One of the gems in this collection. A moderately skilled magician is dispatched to the countryside by his order to slay a zombie, who may or may not be magically gifted as well. Nice little twists in this one. 8.5/10.

A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix: Light and humorous tale about an injured knight who winds up in all sorts of trouble by trying to find a birthday present for his puppet companion. 6.75/10.

Red Pearls: An Elric Story by Michael Moorcock: Elric travels to the underside of the world in hopes of finding a white sword but is soon drawn into a family feud involving dragons, pirates and slavers. 8/10.

The Deification of Dal Barmore: A Tale from Echo City by Tim Lebbon: Another beauty. A priestess is trying to have an atheist sorcerer crucified on a wall worried that if he is rescued or dies any other way he will be deified. Highly original tale with some really interesting twists. Of all the stories in the collection this is the one that really pushed the boundaries of moral ambiguity in it's characters. 8.5/10.

Dark Times at the Midnight Market: By Robert Silverberg: Interesting if slightly predictable tale about a magical shop-owner who winds up in hot water after selling a love potion to a minor noble. 8/10.

The Undefiled by Greg Keyes: I was slightly disappointed in this one considering how much I have enjoyed Keyes work to date. A tale about fool-wolf a warrior possessed by a bloodthirsty goddess who becomes involved in a feud between the followers of two deities. Feels a little too much like a piece plucked from a larger tale. 6.75/10.

Hew the Tintmaster by Michael Shea: Humorous and it has its moments but does tend to drag at times. Tale about a barbarian warrior and a painter who are sent into the far future by a wizard to save the world by painting a mural. 6.75/10.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch: Lynch is certainly on form in this one. Tale about four wizardry students whose exam involves venturing into a semi-sentient library to return some books. 8.5/10.

Two Lions, a Witch and the War-Robe by Tanith Lee: A clever tale about two lookalike strangers who are forced to try and recover a magical robe. 7.75/10.

The Sea Troll's Daughter by Caitlin R. Kiernan: A clever-take on Beowulf. A lesbian warrior kills a troll but the village elders are reluctant to give her the reward they promised without proof. The body eventually does wash up but with tragic results. Kiernan did an excellent job in moving this one in different directions that kept the reader guessing. 8.5/10.

Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham: Worst story in the bunch by far. I have nothing against the prose but this is nothing more than a fragment of a story that goes nowhere. Lackluster effort. 4/10.

The Fools Job by Joe Abercrombie: Story about Craw and his crew who are sent off to a village in the middle of nowhere to steal 'a thing'. Brilliant tale with Abercrombie doing what he does best. 9/10.

Overall an interesting collection and there are certainly a few authors whose work I have never encountered before who I will be following up on. 8/10.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

After months of campaigning in the north the Union army is instructed to be bring the war with Black Dow to a swift conclusion. The two sides converge on an unimportant valley where a forgotten ring of stones (the heroes of the title) rest on a hill. Bremer Dan Gorst a disgraced swordsman and former guard of the king now occupies a redundant office of king's adviser to the war. Gorst seeks either redemption or his own death making him a threat to both sides. Prince Calder, the son of the former King Bethod, is convinced that the new king Black Dow wants to see him dead. He wants nothing to do with the fighting itself but sees an opportunity to gather allies and try to oust Dow. Curden Craw is a veteran of countless battles. He follows the old way and wants to do the right thing. Dow is his chief but Calder is like a son to him and he finds himself caught between the two. Corporal Tunny of the union's first battalion knows what war is all about; how to survive it and do as little as possible. Which is why being saddled with a bunch of raw recruits is a bothersome irritation he could do without. Beck is the son of a famous named man who died at the hands of the Bloody Nine. He is tired of life on the farm and wants to make a name for himself. But he way just get far more than he bargained for. Finree's husband is a good man, weighed down by the deeds of his father he tries to make his way through life with bravery and by doing the right thing. Luckily Firnee is around to balance him through her own ruthlessness and ambition to see that he gets what he deserves.

The first law trilogy was Abercrombie's epic fantasy Best Served Cold was his fantasy thriller and The Heroes is definitely his fantasy war novel. While there are big names on display here Abercrombie does spend a lot of time looking at war from the common soldiers point of view. There are a couple of sequences where Abercrombie will switch POV's along a line on both sides as characters kill each other off which I thought was brilliant and did a great job in building sympathy for both sides. Adding to this was the fact that the actual cause of the war is never discussed in depth although it's obvious it is merely a battleground for Bayaz and his enemies larger battle.

Abercrombie has an uncanny ability to built interesting and unique POV's for his characters and Gorst and Calder were my two favorites by far. Again Abercronbie is able to inject a degree of grim humour into proceedings which ensures that the narrative doesn't get to bogged down with all the violence. The pacing in this one was certainly the tightest we've seen from the author, not surprisingly as the story is centered on the events of a single battle.

Overall this another case of Abercrombie doing what he does best. Highly recommended. 9/10.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

At the conclusion of the first book Reni and!Xabu having finally entered into the computer-simulated world of otherland had met Sellars, the man who left them clues to get onto the network, plus a group of other people in the same situation, namely having loved one's in a mysterious coma. The meeting was disrupted when Dread, an agent of one of the grail brotherhood, killed Atesco the owner of the mayan-like virtual world they were in. The group was able to escape in the confusion but unbeknownst to them Dread is disguised as a member of their group. The group are soon scattered and forced to make their way through a series of virtual worlds where the consequences of even the slightest mistake could be deadly. Meanwhile Paul Jonas, a mysterious man trapped within the network, memory begins to return and he finally begins piecing things back together.

Like the first book Williams has succeeded in developing a cast of interesting characters with very distinct viewpoints. Most of the action takes place within the virtual worlds and Williams has come up with a few doozies;A cartoon kitchen, an ice age, a warped version of Oz to name just a few. The few scenes in RL (real life) are dedicated to new characters Olga, an online actress who stars in a children's serial and Ramsey the lawyer of Orlando's parents. These two characters seem to have stumbled on a connection between Olga's show and the coma children are falling into but Williams keeps a tight lip on this, just offering tantalizing glimpses. I enjoyed the mystery element that was added by having Dread disguised as one of group and I must admit had fun sifting through the clues William's left to his identity.

There was just one tiny issue that bothered me. Having grown up in Durban, South Africa I was impressed with how well he portrayed the region in the first book. Everything from the layout and the atmosphere was spot on. In this book Renie's father Long Joseph catches a lift with an Afrikaans truck driver, who when speaking says Yah a lot. Ja is the Afrikaans word for yes and is spelt quite differently. A minor blemish I know but after all the obvious research Williams has put in it was a notable oversight.

Overall Williams has once again delivered an interesting read. 8.5/10.