Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks

Nadiria is a young serving girl living in Barcelona in the late fifteenth century. Unlike many other servants Nadiria has a unique set of talents, she speaks, reads and writes a number of languages some taught to her by her mother and some by her master so she can manage his books. Nadiria's life is turned upside down when she is roused one night to translate a dying man's last words. Soon after she is kidnapped by the deceased man's brother, Lord Montrose, and his companions. Nadiria makes a deal with her captor's, trading her help for freedom, and the group sets off to recover a tome of archiac knowledge that could prove deadly if it falls into the wrong hands.

Nadiria is a vibrant, rich character that the reader can't help but immediately fall in love with. Together with an interesting group of supporting characters the story sets off at a steady pace. I was impressed with the unexpected directions that the plot took and Banks did a great job of steering clear of a number of tired conventions. With most of the action restricted to rather remote areas it is hard to get a real sense of the time period or the areas concerned though there is enough promise to suggest Banks will intergrate these better into future instalments.

There were some slight pacing issues near the end where there seemed more of a focus on setting events up for the next book and this led to the lack of a clear ending.

Overall Banks does a brilliant job of creating an excellent cast of characters and an interesting plot. The lack of a clear ending does put a minor damper on things but it was still an engaging read. 8.5/10.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: The Diviner by Melanie Rawn

Azzad al-Ma'aliq is a frivolous young nobleman, content to spend his days in the pursuit of attractive young women. All that changes when the Sheyqa Nizzira slaughters all of his kin. Azzad barely escapes into the desert with his horse Khamsin. There Azzad almost perishes but is saved by a mysterious group of desert healers known as the Shagara. Azzad begins amassing his own fortune convinced he has been spared to seek vengeance for his family but Nizzira is aware of his escape and sends hunters of her own after him.

I quite enjoyed the Mediterranean-Near eastern world and societies Rawn created here. The cultures are all very well thought out and each has their own nuances that bring the world to life. In typical Rawn fashion the story follows the lives of Azzad and two of his descendents Alessid and Qamar over many years.

The purpose of the prequel is undoubtedly explaining where the magic in the Golden Key came from but this narrow focus does create a few problems. During Alessid's portion I would have liked to have seen a greater focus on the battles and the empire building portions as these would have been highly interesting. Qamar's part felt a bit too rushed especially the latter portion to truly give the finale the power it deserved. Indeed for readers who have not read the Golden Key the whole purpose of the finale would mostly be lost.

Overall Rawn makes decent return to high fantasy, though the Diviner may not stand as well without reading the Golden Key as she would have liked. 7.25/10.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Three if by Air by Patrick Koepke

Nathaniel Hewitt is a young man living in Boston during the American War of Independence. After he is caught up in the Boston Massacre Nathaniel becomes a firmer believer in American independence, four years later he travels to the first Continental congress where he falls in love with Constance Whitegate daughter of a adamant loyalist. When war breaks out Nathaniel joins the local militia, all the while still corresponding with Constance. When the Americans begin to build their own air fleet Nathaniel jumps at the opportunity to join despite the fact that they are outclassed and outnumbered by their British counterparts.

The story has two main elements; a romantic element with Nathanial and Constance' forbidden love and an alternative history/fantasy element. Koepke does a good job in balancing the two. Naturally comparisons will be made to Naomi Novik's work and like Novik, Koepke does an excellent job in matching the narrative to the time period concerned.

I really enjoyed the way the author incorporated the gliders into the story. The way they function is well thought out and explained and fits rather seamlessly within the time period. The gliders are incorporated well without overly dominating, having very definite sets of strengths and weaknesses.

Both major protagonists are well considered and believable. My only minor grip is that I would have liked to have seen some of the supporting characters fleshed out a bit more.

Overall a very interesting and entertaining read. 8/10.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

With the Godking dead Cenaria at last has a chance to recover. Terah Graesin has seized the throne but Kylar is intent on placing Logan Gyre there, whether he likes it or not. Dorian has infiltrated his dead father's kingdom in an attempt to find the woman he loves but is soon caught up in the fight for succession and forced to take the throne. Meanwhile a group of vurdmeisters have used the Godking's death as an excuse to try and claim power for themselves.

Like the previous volume Beyond the Shadows comes across as far too chaotic with simply too much going on. As a result a lot of important scenes feel rushed which gives the novel very serious pacing issues. It is pretty obvious that Weeks had five or six books worth of material here. This is a real shame as he is certainly a more talented author than this book makes him look and there are some really good ideas floating around. Dorian's struggle with himself and the cost of Kylar's immortality could have been really interesting if given enough time to develop. I would really like to see Weeks focus more in future works, like he did so well in his first novel.

Overall Beyond the Shadows is even more chaotic in it's predecessor. There is a good book (or five) in here somewhere but it really struggles to come out. 6/10.

Review: Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology

This Anthology is a collection of short stories of Derby Scribes members and supporters.

In The Spirit of Darwin by Simon Clark. Lloyd Jefferson meets Sir Charles Darwin who wants to harvest his mind. Original tale that certainly shines a light of hope on the human condition. 7/10.

Brylcreem and Pipe Tobacco by Simon Clark. Tale about a woman who seeks the approval of her dead husband before marrying again. It has a satisfying if somewhat predictable conclusion but the constant repetition of brylcream spoiled this one a bit for me. 5.75/10.

Stump by Victoria Charvill. Tale about a little girl whose pets keeping dying and a guinea pig she calls stump. Doesn't really go anywhere and felt too rushed. 5/10.

Leaving Jessica by Jennifer Brown. Tale about a woman forced to change identities or be found by the mob. Well written but needed a stronger conclusion. 6/10.

Last respects by Richard Farren Barber. Follows a man's experiences in the trenches during the second world war. Lovely imagery in this piece though the conclusion was a bit rushed. 7/10.

The Wake Up Call
by Alison J Hill. A man tries to cover up a hit and run accident while he was drunk. Nice twist. 6/10.

The Gallery
by Conrad Williams. Set in the future where reading is highly regulated and controlled and possessing any unsolicited texts will get you killed. Definitely the stand out piece for me. Williams builds an interesting and convincing world in a short space with very believable characters. 8.5/10.

Dave's Dinosaur
by Peter Borg. Dave is awoken by his wife because a dinosaur is outside their tent. Borg has a strong writing style and voice but the story suffers due to having no clear conclusion. 6.5/10.

An interstellar Taxi Ride by David Ball. An intergalactic diplomat unwillingly interacts with a taxi driver. Genuinely amusing piece. 7/10.

Obsolete by Christopher Barker. An old man who is under house arrest hatches a plan to escape. A nice solid piece, well structured. 7/10.

The Smell of Fear by Neal James. A group of puppies plan an ambush on the local bully. A little predictable. 6/10.

As whole the collection is a bit of a mixed bag with some really solid pieces and others that need some work. About half the stories suffered structurally with no real ending. 6.5/10.