Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes

The city of Windwir is home to the Androfrancine order, a semi-religious group that attempts to discover and preserve knowledge from lost times. The Order doles out the knowledge they feel the world is ready for and this coupled with their massive library has made Windwir the center of the Named Lands. This changes instantly when the city is utterly destroyed by an ancient spell throwing the Named Lands into turmoil. The sole survivor of the catastrophe is a young apprentice of the order Nebios, who awaited his father on the outskirts of the city. Watching everything he knows destroyed will change the young man forever. Forces throughout the named lands converge on the ruins of the city. Sethbert, the Overseer of the Entrolusian City states, arrives first. Sethbert claims responsibility for the catastrophe and plans to use it to dominate the named lands. With him is his consort Lady Jin Li Tam, who acts as a spy for her father who undoubtedly has plans of his own. Hot on their heels is Rudolfo, general and prince of the wandering army, who is determined to see that justice is done. Petronus, a former pope of the order who faked his own death, also realizes that the destruction means he will have to come out of hiding.

Scholes divides each chapter into short point of view scenes from multiple characters. This enabled the author to set a steady pace throughout. The characters themselves are well realized with varying and interesting motivations. The concept of having a major disaster and then having the characters react to it is an original and interesting one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

There were only two minor issues that could have been improved. The author is so focused on the political machinations that we never get to witness a major battle in the ensuing war. The ending was slightly rushed as well with some things falling too neatly into place for my taste.

Overall a solid debut from Scholes. Interesting concept and excellent world building. 8/10.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

Malian is the heir of the House of Night, the most important house in an alliance of the Derai clans that protect the world against the demonic Swarm. Shortly after her father, the Earl of Night, returns to their keep they are invaded. Many of the keep's residents are killed and Malian herself only escapes with the aid of Kalan a young temple initiate and the wandering fire, an allay of the houses that was thought long lost. During the invasion Malian learns that she too has powers and means that she can no longer be her father's heir and is regulated to the priestly caste. Malian and Kalan also learn that she is foretold to unite the houses once again and decide to leave the world they know so she can better learn to use her abilities. But of course the Swarm still hunts her.

Lowe creates an interesting world with a rich and varied history. The Derai and their counterparts the Swarm came to the world of Haarth from beyond the stars. We get glimpses of the other peoples that inhabit the world through the heralds and Rowan Birchmoon and I am interested to see how Lowe will flesh this out in later books.

I was extremely impressed with the way this history actively impacted the characters and the decisions they made and also how it led to their own misconceptions. For example the Derai have been split along two castes due to a historical event and the author shows how this impacts the characters thinking and decision making. All of the viewpoint characters are richly realized and highly believable.

The only minor gripe I had was a slight unevenness in pacing initially but Lowe quickly fixed this as the novel progressed.

Overall although utilizing many fantasy conventions Lowe successfully mixes them in a rather unique way. 8/10.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Advent Ghosts: When will Santa come?

“When is Santa coming?” Jimmy spluttered as he was racked by another fit of coughing.

“Soon son.” Peter replied tucking him in.

Peter briefly contemplated putting the presents out immediately but he swatted the thought away like an irksome fly. It was late and bed beckoned.

It was his wife who found Jimmy the next day curled in a ball in the living room. His fevered brow had cooled to match the snow outside. Jimmy would never see another Christmas.

Every Christmas eve as Peter lies awake he hears the echo of Jimmy's voice asking him when will Santa come?

Review: Soldiers of Legend: Betrayals by Danielle Kazemi

Alexander leads a group of super soldiers whose sole purpose is to locate ancient knowledge that will better mankind. His world is turned on its head when he overhears their benefactor, a man known only as the commander, discussing selling him and his fellow soldiers to the highest bidder. Alexander delves deeper and learns that instead of aiding mankind his troop are simply being used to find ways to make better soldiers. Alexander attempts to escape and save as many of his fellows as possible. However not all of them are easily convinced and Hadrian decides to use the situation to try and take Alexander's place as leader.

It is very hard to look past the poor quality of writing in this novel. The sentence structure is ungainly, word choice simplistic and there is a great deal of repetition. Whilst typos aren't present on every page they are common enough that another round of editing would have been useful.

The story is told predominantly from Alexander and Hadrian's perspective. Both characters come across as simplistic, self-absorbed and one dimensional.

The plot is far from convincing. It unfolds haphazardly and is reminiscent of something a six-year old would come up with whilst playing with his action figures. The super soldiers are supposed to be a highly trained and sophisticated military force but never come across that way.

Overall I found it exceedingly difficult to get through this novel and cannot recommend it. 3/10.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review:Infinte Sacrifice by L.E. Waters

Maya is in for a shock when she passes away and finds herself at her favorite beach side spot from her childhood. There she is confronted by Zachariah, her spirit guide, who explains that she must first review her previous lives before moving on to be reunited with her loved ones. After some discussion Maya agrees and begins experiencing her earliest past lives again.

The book is divided into four main sub-stories of Maya's past lives, a High Priest in ancient Egypt, a mother in Sparta, a kidnapped Irish boy enslaved by vikings and a doctor's wife in plague ravaged London. It is clear that Waters has done a great deal of research on the time period's concerned and is able to give each a unique and authentic feel.

With the stories broken into life-changing moments Waters is able to keep a steady pace. Unfortunately the characterization suffers a bit for this and at times can feel uneven. The doctor's wife Elizabeth was wonderfully portrayed and developed but a few of the others were less so. Using the lesson Maya soul was learning throughout the lives was a clever way to link them but I would have liked to see the links explored further.

Overall the author delivers a very clever concept and brings an authentic feel to each story. Some of the characters could have been better developed though. 7/10.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Hawkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney

The holy city of Aekir has fallen to the Merduks. Instead of uniting against the threat the West begins to fracture. Prelate Himerias attempts to use the confusion to gain power for the church by leading purges of so-called heretics in Hebrion. King Abeleyn attempts to resist where he can be aligning with some of the other kings and implementing other measures. As part of these plans he authorizes his cousin to outfit an expedition across the great Western ocean where another continent may or may not exist. The expedition is led by Captain Richard Hawkwood, who has little choice but to take it to save his crew, and includes many magic-users among the passengers fleeing the purges. However there may be forces that do not wish them to find the continent.

The world building of Kearney is very impressive and the world he creates is like a shadow of our own. The Ramusian states are based on Christian Rome, the Merduks on the Muslim kingdoms and western continent on the Americas. The level of technology is a mix of medieval and more advanced elements including firearms.

Viewpoints are varied across the various factions and include an interesting cast of three-dimensional characters. Pacing is one of Kearney's real strong points and he is able to keep the story moving along nicely through some areas which could have really slowed things down, ie the voyage.

Overall Kearney delivers a well-paced story fulled with political intrigue and interesting characters. 8.75/10.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Wasp empire has launched an all out assault on the city of Tark and Salma and Totho find themselves caught in the middle of the siege. Meanwhile Major Thalric has been sent to Vek to try and persuade them to invade Collegium. Thalric's encounters with Stenwold and Cheerwell have left him confused, internally questioning his own beliefs though he fights this down with a passion. Stenwold has returned to Collegium and makes a latch-ditch attempt to persuade his fellows of the threat the wasp empire poses to the lowlands. The wasp emperor Alvdan is offered immortality by a mysterious prisoner though that prisoner may have his own agenda in mind.

Whereas the first book was more about back alley espionage Dragonfly falling is definitely an all out war novel. Tchaikovsky does a great job in describing large scale battles and the insect-kinden powers and steampunk twists gave them a fresh flavor.

I was very impressed how the author demonstrated the way the events of the first book effected some of the characters (especially Stenwold, Thalric, Totho and Salma) and definitely feel the characterization took a step forward in this novel.

The worldbuidling was again impressive with new cultures and kinden explored.

Overall Tchaikovsky shifted gears in his second installment and delivered another fine read. 8.5/10.