Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow.

Curses by Jim Butcher: Harry Dresden is tasked with removing a curse from the Chicago cubs, inflicted by the fair folk, that prevents them playing well in the world series. Very humorous batter between Harry and one of the female fair folk and uses the Chicago setting to greater effect than any previous Dresden story. Lacks the usual tension though. 7/10.

How the Pooka Came to New York City by Delia Sherman: After being saved by a mortal a pooka decides to accompany him to the new world and attempt to repay the debt. Clever use of Irish folklore. 7/10.

On the Slide by Richard Bowes: An actor embroiled in a legal case that could make some very dangerous people angry if he testifies tries to find a way to go back in time. Well fleshed out characters but a touch too predictable. 6.75/10.

The Duke of Riverside by Ellen Kushner: Alec, a disgruntled young nobleman comes across to the darker side of town for someone to kill but instead falls in love with his would-be-assassin. Things get more complicated when he inherits the dukedom and his relatives have a trial period to challenge him for it. Some impressive world-building with a society based on very set rules or manners. Some of the story is told from a bystanders point of view which was a nice touch, although some characters feel too inaccessible. 7/10.

Oblivion by Calvin Klein by Christopher Fowler. A disgruntled house wife who takes retail therapy to an extreme goes on a rampage when her credit card declines. A very original perspective but lacks direction at times and is let down by the ending. 6.5/10.

Fairy Gifts by Patricia Briggs: Years ago a vampire named Thomas was given freedom after helping a fairy in peril. Thomas is called on again when the fairy finds herself in trouble yet again. A very well developed protagonist and a very well worked twist. 8.25/10.

Picking up the Pieces by Pat Cadigan: Jean recounts a trip to Berlin in 1989 when she is forced to travel to Germany to aid her irresponsible younger sister who has run out of money while looking for a lost boyfriend. Amidst events the Berlin wall is coming down and the boyfriend has a secret of his own. Jean is a very well-developed and likable character and the author made some good story decision making by keeping her on the cusp of the strange events without going into unnecessary detail. Great example of not letting events overshadow the character 7.75/10.

Underbridge by Peter S. Beagle: Richardson is a middle age college lecturer who takes on a position at Seattle. There he encounters a homeless man and realizes he has a strange connection to the Frement Bridge troll. One of the stronger pieces in this collection. Richardson is a quirky character and Beagle portrays him brilliantly, perfect little twist at the end. 8.75/10.

Priced to Sell by Naomi Novik: Follows a group of real estate agents as they try to find properties for some supernatural clientele. It’s a quirky concept but Novik doesn't really take it anywhere, so winds up a touch disappointing. 6/10.

The Bricks of Gelecek by Matthew Kressel: An embodiment of destruction, part of a band that erases cities from existence, begins to question what he does when he encounters a girl whose art inspires creation. Strongest of the bunch. Top notch world-building and character development and really makes the reader think. Strong conclusion seals the deal. 9/10.

Weston Walks by Kit Reed: Weston is a wealthy man who lost his parents at a young age which has led to him not letting people get close to protect himself. He runs walking tours of the city but when one goes wrong he encounters a girl who won't leave him alone. This one was all over the place and at times non-sensical Reed fails to nail down the character's personality to any degree, the story fails to go anywhere and the ending is weak. 4.5/10.

The Projected Girl by Lavie Tidhar:Danny, a young Jewish boy uses his bar mitzvah money to buy a magician’s journal and realizes that a lifelike painting of a young woman may be more than what it seems. Great tone and Tidhar captures the character and setting perfectly. Another good example of not letting events overshadow the character. 8.75/10.

The Way Station by Nathan Ballingrud: Beltrane, an old hobo, goes in search of his long lost daughter but the ghosts of the New Orleans flood haunt him, literally. Very strong imagery in this piece and the central character is well realized but does go off in a bit of a tangent which hurts the story. 7/10.

Guns for The Dead by Melissa Marr: The newly deceased Frankie Lee is looking for a job but when he encounters gun store owner Alicia he is in for a job interview he won't soon forget. Interesting world-building but the confrontation plot feels a bit contrived and rushed. 6.75/10.

And Go Like This by John Crowley: The world's population is transported to New York City. This piece just did not work for me and feels like it’s been phoned in. No real characters, no clear ending and goes nowhere. 3/10.

Noble Rot by Holly Black: Agatha is a delivery girl working for a Chinese take-away who develops a soft spot for one of her clients, a dying rock star. The two main characters are well realised and the supporting cast just as strong. The plot seems to be going one way and then cleverly twists in a different direction. 8.25/10.

Daddy Long Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford: A young boy's brain is taken over by a spider. Years later he remerges and decides to prey on the unfortunate residents of the city of Grindly. Perfect tone and darkly twisting plot make this piece really work. 8/10.

The Skinny Girl by Lucius Shepard: Hugo Lis is a photographer who specialises in taking photos of dead bodies. One day he comes face to face with a woman claiming to be an incarnation of death herself. Strong lead character but the plot can be a bit flimsy at times. 6.75/10.

The Collier's Venus (1893): Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is visited by an old flame who wants to investigate a mysterious woman who has emerged from a rock in a Colorado mine. Another piece which nails the tone perfectly. Strong characters and ending.8.75/10.

King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree by Elizabeth Bear: The genius Loci of Las Vegas Jackie and Stewart are confronted with a strange old woman who uses captured ghosts to restore her memory. When Jackie starts losing his memories as well they are forced to investigate. Strong world-building and solid pacing. 8/10.

Overall a descent collection with some very good pieces. The weaker stories generally suffered from a poor structure and lack of a really defined ending. 8/10.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

With the supernatural world exposed, partly due to Kitty Norville's radio talk show, a hearing is called by the senate in Washington to look into these matters specifically the role of the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology. As the only semi-celebrity paranatural Kitty is invited to testify. However the chairman of the hearings, a bible-thumping senator, has his own agenda and the vampire mistress of Washington may have her own plans for Kitty as well.

Vaughn does an excellent job in creating a believable supporting cast in this novel. Each character has their own agenda for the hearings which keeps things very interesting. The pacing is also better controlled then the first book.

One thing missing from this novel is a sense of tension that was done very well in Kitty's first adventure. For 90% of this novel Kitty is in no real danger and this does hurt things a bit.

Overall strong characters and pacing but more tension would have helped. 7.75/10.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Ghosts 2012: It was Christmas After All

The old man wolfed down the mashed potatoes as if he hadn’t eaten in days. For all Jillian knew he probably hadn’t. After he finished she would give him a bath and a warm bed to sleep in. She wouldn’t normally open her home to a stranger but it was Christmas after all.


Jimmy smirked at the plump woman. By morning she would be robbed blind. Of course she might not see morning. He hadn’t quite decided yet but loathed the pitying look in her eye. After all she was the fool. Did she think buglers took Christmas off?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett

Arlen Bales is an apprentice Messenger due to go on his first overnight trip with an experienced messenger, Curk. Circumstances force Arlen and Curk instead to be assigned a dangerous shipment of thundersticks to Count Brayan's gold mine. Along the way Arlen gets mixed up in a forbidden love affair, encounters a snow demon and embarks on a risky plan to rid himself of one-arm the furious rock demon who stalks him.

Brett does an excellent job in capturing Arlen's character and motivations in this novella. It certainly stands very well on its own and no prior knowledge of Brett's other work is required, making it a decent entry point into the series. On the downside not a great deal of significance to the plotlines in the series as a whole takes place.

Overall Brayan's Gold with give Brett's usual readers something to tide them over between novels and provides a decent entry point to those wishing to sample his work. 7/10.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher

Gaius Sextus’, the aging First Lord of Alera, position has been under threat for some time as the heads of the two largest houses Aquitaine and Ceres attempt to subvert his power. Gaius feeds misinformation to one of Kalare’s spies indicating he will adopt Lord Aquitaine as his heir. This is Gaius’ play to take control of events by forcing Kalare to act openly before he is ready. However unbeknownst to the First Lord the Aquitaines have manipulated political events by pushing for the abolishment of slavery through the Dianic League further eroding Kalare's power. This forces Kalare to take action even sooner than Gausis would have expected. He attacks the city of Ceres and takes a number of hostages which prevents a number of the other Lords from acting. Gaius tasks Amara and Bernard with rescuing the hostages but they have to work with none other Lady Aquitine to succeed. Can they trust her? Meanwhile Tavi and his friend Antiller Maximus have joined a legion on the outskirts of the empire, never intended to see action. When a Canim invasion hits the mainland they are forced into action and Tavi finds himself in the unfamiliar position of leadership.

Over the first two books Tavi has grown as a character and continues to do so here being thrust into the unfamiliar role of leading. He really grows up here and Butcher does an excellent job of building his character. Sadly the same cannot be said for Amara who comes across as unbelievably naive for an agent of the crown. Hers is definitely the weaker of the two main plot lines with too much falling easily into place and feeling rather rushed all in all. While most of the villains have a degree of depth Kalare is too one dimensional and comes across as a children’s story archetypal villain. There is a third seemingly lesser plotline with Isana working to save Fade's life, after he was poisoned while protecting her. During this there are major revelations on their relationship to each and Tavi but I was somewhat disappointed. All of these revelations were simply too obvious from hints the previous two books to have any shock value.

Overall Cursor's Fury is a book of two halves. Tavi's story is excellently done but Amara's is underwhelming. This means what could have been a great book instead becomes a good one. 7.5/10.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks

Gaelen Starfire was happy to be a farmer, husband and father. That was until his family was brutally murdered. Now he is one of the most influential men and soldiers in the world. Gwinvere Kirena, a member of the nine, wants to take power from the existing Shinga and control of the criminal underworld. She tasks Gaelen with this task by becoming her very own assassin. In return she offers him the identity of his family's killer. Gaelen is however more than he appears, he is immortal and takes the first steps in becoming the wetboy Durzo Blint.

The problem with second two books in Weeks' Night Angel trilogy were the pacing being completely rushed and the excellent character development of the first book being completely absent. This novella suffers from the exact same problems. There are some interesting ideas being bandied about here, I particularly liked Durzo considering how his different incarnations would have dealt with a problem, but all the scenes are too rushed to allow them to develop. What’s more the constant switching to different scenes and narration styles is forced and often times confusing. I also don't feel that this novella can possibly stand on it’s own and anyone who hasn't read the Night Angel trilogy will be lost for the majority.

Overall this novella suffers from severe pacing issues and very little character development. Anyone who hasn't read the Night Angel trilogy should avoid it. 5/10.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Son of Heaven by David Wingrove

In the year 2065 the residents of rural Dorset eke out a living in a world vastly changed after a catastrophic economic collapse twenty years earlier that destroyed state-level governments. A feeling of dread that nobody can quite place begins to take hold. Strange airships appear over the countryside and only Jake Reed realizes what this means. Before the collapse he was a highly placed futures broker and saw first-hand that the collapse was started by the Chinese. He realizes that they are now taking the next steps in their master plan.

The book is divided in two main parts the first concentrating on Jake Reeds life with his son and neighbours in Dorset and the second years earlier in London before the collapse detailing the events leading up to it. Wingrove creates a believable post-collapse world particularly with the organization and remnants of technology, i.e. after twenty years not everything would have disappeared. The characters are generally fleshed out nicely though I would have liked the motivations of the main antagonist, Wang explored more. He is the only character that comes across a bit one dimensional but this is mainly due to seeing him through his rival Jiang's perspective for the majority of his onscreen time.

Wingrove does focus a lot on contrasts, ie between pre and post-collapse society and western and eastern societies, though I can't help feeling that he missed a trick. Modern society is very multi-cultural and Britain’s ethnic population is both diverse and substantial. It would have been very interesting to see British people of Chinese descent’s reaction to the Chinese take over.

Pacing is well controlled throughout most of the novel with the exception for the finale which felt rushed. More time on the interaction between Jake and Jiang and the Chinese political situation would have been of benefit.

Overall a solid novel with impressive world-building a few missed tricks would have elevated it to a classic. 8/10.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Review: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Shai is a forger, blessed with the ability to recreate items by changing their history. When a heist to steal the emperor's sceptre goes wrong she finds herself in prison awaiting execution. However the arbiters, a group of five powerful individuals who form an advisory council to the emperor, need her help. An assassination attempt has left the empress dead and broken the emperor’s mind. The arbiters want Shai to reforge the emperor’s soul, even though they consider what she does an abomination, and she has only three months to do it. Shai however is no fool and realizes that even if she succeeds the arbiters do not want a witness to the events.

Despite working in a much shorter medium than is considered his forte Sanderson uses a few innovative ideas to really make this piece work. The Characterization is very focussed. The crux of the story is the interaction between Shai and the most noble of the arbiters Gaotona. Both are strong characters but do have some flaws that dog their interaction, for example Gaotona can be quite narrow minded when it comes to things outside his own experiences. Both characters benefit from their exposure to the others point of view. This interaction, specifically Gaotona’s attempt to understand what Shai is doing, between the two main characters allows Brandon to go into detail about the magic system without the feeling of 'info-dumping'. Add to this a third character; the emperor, who we learn about from Shai's research to rebuild his soul, quite a novel way of seeing a character brought to life.

Chapters are divided into different days in a kind of countdown of Shai's allotted three months. This really worked well for me infusing a sense of tension in the piece that is otherwise lacking action for the majority of the story. Despite having most of the story taking place in a single location, Shai's room, Sanderson does an excellent job of world-building by looking at the interactions of characters who hail from different locations within the empire.

Overall Sanderson again demonstrates a great deal of versatility. 8.5/10.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: Antiphon by Ken Scholes

Rudolfo, lord of the ninefold forest, receives a warning from Winteria the elder usurper queen of the marshfolk that his wife Jin Li Tam and his son are in danger. When an attack almost takes his family from him Rudolfo is left with little choice but to send them to Winteria for protection but their resurgent religion may have deeper roots in his own land than he first suspected. Neb is still running the vast deserts of the world tracking a band of metal men who seem to have their own agenda. However Neb is soon targeted by strange women warriors and begins receiving warnings in his dreams from his dead father. With Neb in danger the exiled pope Petronus is tasked with coming to his aid but will he be in time? Vlad Li Tam has led the remnants of his family in a search for the forces that decimated them but when he begins to receive visits from a strange water spirit he starts to question his own sanity.

Pacing his always been very good throughout this series, with chapters divided into short sharp point of views keeping thing moving along nicely. Scholes sticks to the same effective formula here and infuses a real sense of tension when pushing towards the finale. Character development is a bit stronger than in previous volumes and I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Rudolfo who has always been so confident before suddenly being thrust into a position where he has to question everything he has previously relied on and Petronus and Charles who have based their lives on the dictates of logic having to rely on faith.

Overall Scholes continues to deliver a strong and interesting blend of sci-fi and fantasy. 8.25/10.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is a novel divided into six stories, each told in a different narrative style, that take place in historically progressive settings.

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: Follows an American notary who has been shipwrecked in the Chatham Islands. While waiting for the ships repairs he befriends a British doctor who may have a rather shocking dark side. Told in the form of a dairy.

Letters from Zedelghem: Follows a young, disowned aristocratic composer who concocts a plan to be the hands of an ailing composer living in Belgium. Told in the form of a one-sided telegram correspondence

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: Luisa Rey a journalist for a minor magazine is tipped off that a nuclear power plant may be unsafe. The cooperation in charge will do anything to prevent that knowledge being made public. Told in a traditional novel format.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: A modern-day publisher suddenly finds unexpected success when one of his authors murders a critic. The author's brothers want a cut of the profits leading the protagonist to high tale it out of London. Things take a turn for the worse when he is confined against his will in a nursing home. Told as a first-person narrative

An Orison of Sonmi~451: Sent in a dystopian future where genetically manufactured clones leave a life of servitude. One of the clones develops a state of awareness and is pulled into a plot to overhaul society. Told in the form of an interview

Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii Zachary, who lives a life as a simple herdsman, life is turned upside down when a member of the last remnant of a technologically advanced civilization comes to visit. Told as fire-side narrative.

Each story, baring the final one, is interrupted midway through and is viewed in some form by their 'successor'. The majority of the protagonists, again baring the final one, are the reincarnation of the same soul. I did enjoy the different narratives styles and the author does demonstrate some real skill in this department. The differing quirks of language in each narrative introduced a genuine authenticity, for example anyone who has ever read an early explorers dairy will recognize the common spelling mistakes that occur and are mirrored in the Ewing narrative. The world building in the two sci-fi pieces was impressive. In the Orison story common objects are simply described as brand names, for example fords are cars and electronic equipment are Sony’s, an interesting twist on consumerism indeed.

The central theme throughout the stories seems to be man's inhumanity to fellow man but contrasted with both societies and the individual’s ability to rise above this. This is ably carried through in most of the stories baring Letters and The Ghastly Ordeal where perhaps the author is trying too hard for humour.

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Overall Cloud Atlas is an immersive read and a clever way of structuring a collection of stories. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds is a man who suffers from a unique medical condition; he is able to generate hallucinatory entities that grant him access to specialized knowledge and skills. Each aspect has a unique personality and Leeds is well aware that only he can see them. Leeds has used his condition to become something of a problem-solver/detective which has generated him a small fortune. One day Leeds is approached by a woman named Monica who represents a powerful cooperation and they want Leeds help in securing a prototype camera that can take pictures of the past.

Despite being best known for his sprawling door-stop sized novels Sanderson has produced a decent amount of shorter works and Legion could be the best to date. Sanderson's humour can be a bit hit and miss at times (specifically in his Infinity Blade novella) but it works very well here and did not distract from the plot. The novel is well-paced resolving the central plotline about the camera and building an interest in the wider storylines introduced. The story is told first person from Leed's perspective who is an intriguing character in his own right, Sanderson also does an excellent job in creating interesting and believable personalities for the various aspects in a very limited space. There is a surprising depth to this piece with questions of the nature of faith and how people with mental illness are classified considered.

Overall Legion has an intriguing concept, an interesting lead and is well-placed. It is Sanderson’s best novella to date. 8.25/10.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review:Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a small Denver radio station who has adjusted to life as a werewolf. However her life changes drastically when she inadvertently changes her show into a late-night advice show for the paranormal. This causes all sorts of problems when members of her own pack and the local vampire family believe she has overstepped her bounds and decide to do something about it. A local police officer also decides to enlist Kitty's help after a string of murders. Has Kitty bitten off more than she can chew?

At the crux this is a book about juxtapositions. As a character Kitty is at a point in her life when she is willing to risk striking out on her own but isn't sure if she wants to lose her position in her pack. She is also trying to balance her human nature with the beast within. This makes an interesting dynamic for Kitty as a character and is mirrored in a lot of the support characters, for example Kitty's friend TJ is often torn between his loyalty to the pack and his loyalty to Kitty and within wider concerns that are introduced such as whether  pack or family disputes should be dealt with by local law enforcement.

The world Norville introduces is interesting and she certainly includes a number of issues that will be resolved in later books while ensuring that there is enough closure for a few plotlines in this volume. The pacing is quick but well controlled throughout. Though the speed of some things like the acceptance that the wider community has for the paranormal and Kitty's relationship with were-wolf hunter Cormac felt too rushed to be believable.

Overall Kitty is an interesting and complex character backed up strong backup cast. The pacing is strong though the speed introduces a few minor issues. 8/10.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikovsky

With the war with the Wasp empire behind them Collegium begins to take an interest in the wider world. Stenwold however believes it is inevitable that the war will begin again. In order to ensure that one of the masters sympathetic to his cause gains the speakers podium he agrees to throw his backing behind an expedition to the fabled city of Khanaphes, sending his niece Cheerwell as an ambassador. Che is crippled in ways no doctor can mend, having become inapt as a result of being connected to Achaeos when the moths enacted their ritual. As a result she can no longer understand the technology of her Kinden. She also finds herself haunted by Achaeos' ghost. Meanwhile Empress Seda has consolidated her power within the empire. Tharlric finds himself trapped, horrified by the empress' strange practices; he jumps at the chance to lead a wasp exhibition to Khanaphes. However someone very high up in the empire wants him dead.

Thalric and Totho have always been the most complex characters in the series and with both taking a centre stage in this book the character development is exceptionally good. Tharlric is a man divided against himself. His beliefs and very self-perceptions have been shattered and he struggles to find out who he really is. Totho still longs for Che's approval but struggles with self-loathing for his actions during the war. Che also grows considerably in this volume and it was interesting seeing her being truly caught between the worlds of apt and inapt.

The world building takes several steps forwards as well with some tantalizing hints given about the history of the world.

Tchaikovsky has a gift for writing large-scale battles and outdoes himself here again.

Overall very strong character-development and first-class world building combine to take this series to the next level. 9/10.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: Datafall: Collected Speculative Fiction by Rich Larson

The Garden: A technician confronts a rogue AI who has taken the directive to create a paradise a touch too literally. It's a concept that has been done countless times and this story doesn't really take it in any new directions. The mini twist was well done but there is not a great deal of character development allowed in this short piece and it felt unfinished. 6/10.

Every so often: A man is sent back in time to protect a child Adolf Hitler from other time travellers. Very interesting concepts raised in this story. Larson is able to successfully demonstrate the weariness of the protagonist and the doubts of one man who will never know if doing his job successfully will make a difference. 8/10.

Memory Cathedrals: A star soccer player whose career was cut short by injury sells his memories to up and coming players. An original and engaging concept but I would have liked to see it given more time to develop. 7.5/10.

Loopholes: A wealthy murderer finds a loophole to dodge the justice system but the homicide detective assigned to the case finds a loophole of his own. By far strongest story in the collection. The protagonist is interesting and well-drawn, the concept is great and it has a strong conclusion. 8.5/10.

Back so Soon: A bored business woman gets more than she bargained for when a fling with a shell-shocked colonist. Very clever twist. 8/10.

Factory Man: In a world where corpses are reprogramed and put to work a young man confronts the corpse of his abusive father. Interesting concept but a wasted opportunity. This piece feels unfinished and there was so much potential for character development that was missed. 6/10.

Datafall: A young boy and his father are excited when the cloud appears and they have temporary internet access. A clever concept but doesn't go too far. 6.5/10.

Overall there some very good pieces in this collection but also a few that could have been developed further. 7.25/10.

Short Story Review: Even Hand by Jim Butcher in Dark and Stormy Knights

John Marcone, mob boss of Chicago, should know better. Justine, the assistant for Laura Raith and sometimes ally of Harry Dresden, turns up at his door asking for his protection with Mag a cantrev lord with considerable magical abilities hot on her trail. But a child's safety is at risk and Marcone can't say no. Besides the situation also gives him the opportunity to test a trap he has been developing to kill a certain wizard....

The opening is very clever beginning with a narration very similar to that of usual protagonist Harry Dresden but involving actions we would not expect from Dresden before revealing that it is in fact Marcone. Marcone's character is interesting and we get to see all sides of him including the humanitarian. I did enjoy the fact that by the end of the story though Butcher has firmly re-established that he is a threat to Dresden and dances to the beat of his own drum. Having henchman Hendricks shown in a very different light to the simple thug Dresden considers him was refreshing and a good comment on perceptions. I especially liked the comment that he is working on his thesis.

Overall Even Hand is an interesting character study and will appeal to all Dresnden readers. 8/10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Last Regress by Rachael J. Thorne

Alyssa Matthews is a somewhat sceptical paranormal investigator, whose work is the centre of her life. When investigating a cold file case of spontaneous human combustion things take a turn for the stranger. She begins to realize that the subject of investigation may have been dabbling with forces beyond his ken and may tie in with some disturbing dreams she has been plagued by. Or she could simply be losing her grip on her reality as her concerned best friend Greg seems to believe.

I was intrigued and drawn to the concept and still believe there is a good story here trying to break out but is let down badly by some mediocre writing. The sentences are overlong, drawn out far too much by unnecessary comas that break up any sort of flow. This is less prevalent in the novel’s second half which is encouraging but by then the damage had been done. Extra time editing would have helped.

There are some major problems of 'telling not showing' throughout, even going so far as to switch character point of views for a few sentences to do this. Pacing is very uneven with most of the first half of the novel involving Greg trying to convince Alyssa that she is simply overworked and letting her imagination run away with her. The second half then takes a different turn and feels rushed, though there was some promising world-building going on that had me intrigued.

Overall I like the concept, I really do, but the pacing and writing in general are a let-down. 5/10.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Doroga and Kitai of the Marat learn that the mysterious creature they encountered at the wax forest was in fact a Vord queen. The vord are an ancient enemy who always threaten to consume everything in their path. The nest of Vord divides three ways and at great cost the Marat are able to destroy one. When they realize that the queen herself is on Tavi's trail Kitai is despatched to watch over him and Doroga travels to the Calderon valley to warn Amara, Bernard and Isana. Meanwhile Tavi has problems of his own. A mysterious attack from across the sea has left the First Lord comatose and Tavi has to ensure that his political rivals do not learn of the situation or the realm could be thrown into a bloody civil war.

The story is roughly divided into two; what is happening in the Calderon Valley and what is happening at Alera Imperia. The first is more an out and out war story and the latter more political espionage. This was a clever split and gave a different flavour to proceedings.

The world-building is decidedly mixed. There are some interesting revelations about the Marat and the Vord, the introduction of a race of wolf-like creatures known as Canes and hints at more of the wider world. I was however disappointed at the lack of description of Alera Imperia and it is difficult to get any sort of feel for the capital.

Pacing is fluid throughout and Butcher's is exceptionally adept at writing frantic battle scenes. Character wise there are some interesting developments that hint at a layer of complexity, especially for Isana and Fidelias. These are however are kept largely in the background and I would have liked to see them pursued further.

Overall Butcher delivers are well-paced novel with some of the better battle scenes I've read in some time, I would have still liked to have seen a bit more in terms of character development and world-building. 7.75/10.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review: A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

After a dishonourable treaty ceded land he had fought and bled for to the enemy Blaise of Gorhaut left his home. He becomes a mercenary in the fertile lands of Arbonne where he is quickly caught up in local politics and a bitter feud between two of its lords. When Blaise's father plans an invasion of Arbonne, intent on destroying them for religious differences Blaise is caught in the middle.

While not as detailed as in some of his other works Kay world building is as always impressive, with the rich politics, history and cultures making the world come alive. The characters are complex and believable and I especially enjoyed the subplot with potential love interest Lisseut. It was rather removed from the central plot and hinted at what might have been. Pacing is very well controlled throughout.

Overall as we have come to expect Kay delivers a masterpiece once again. 8.25/10.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review: The Duchess of the Shallows by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

Duchess is an orphaned teenager eking out a living in the fog-shrouded city of Rodaas. Her world is turned upside down when she receives a coin and her foster parents boot her out of their home. The coin also represents an opportunity; the chance to join the Grey a secret-society of spies and thieves. The task set before Duchess is more perilous than she first realized but she is determined to join the Grey for the security it represents and the chance to learn what really happened to her family.

The world-building in this novel is impressive, with Rodaas’ politics, history and religions considered in depth. Rodaas was a city discovered intact by the current inhabitants after the previous occupants were removed by a mysterious catastrophe. The inhabitants are strictly divided along class lines with bloody revolutions shifting the situation somewhat in recent history. More impressive is that the authors managed to incorporate this information in a way that adds to Duchess story rather than taking focus from it, neatly avoiding the problem of 'info-dumping'. The greatest strength of this novel is the focus on duchess story and her character, her hopes, dreams and fears are well considered. This focus ensures that the action remains fast-paced throughout.

Overall The Duchess of the Shallows is a fast-paced, focussed and well written novel. 8.25/10.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Canticle by Ken Scholes

The birth of Rudolfo's son and heir to the Ninefold forest is imminent and several heads of state have converged to honour his first born child. During the feast a group of magicked assassins attack and kill several dignitaries including Hanric, the marsh queen’s shadow ruler. This forces young Winter to publicly take the throne. Rufolfo is inexplicably left untouched. Amid the turmoil Jin Li Tam gives birth to Jacob but the child is sickly, the result of the powders used to enable his conception. Rudolfo is left with no choice but to seek out Jin's father in hopes of a cure, a man he swore to kill when next they met. Meanwhile another metal man has arrived bearing news about a hidden library which stores all of the knowledge lost with Windwir's fall. Geb and Isaac are despatched to find it. Petronus and Li Tam are searching for an outside threat that they believe is responsible for Windwir's downfall, however people close to them may already be compromised.

Scholes does an excellent job of infusing an atmosphere of tension throughout the novel. I loved the frustration of the characters as they realized their choices were already anticipated by an overarching outside influence. Like the first novel Scholes’s pacing is spot on throughout and he uses multiple POV's shift and short sharp chapters to good effect. World-building is solid throughout as well without encroaching on the plot.

Overall Scholes certainly improves on his impressive debut. 8.5/10.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

Hammond arrives in Australia with a message for Laurence and Temeraire. The government has decided to reinstate Laurence into the Aerial Corps provided they agree to undertake a mission to Brazil and attempt negotiate a peace between the Tswana, who have come to recover what slaves they can, and the Portuguese. After some soul searching they agree but the trip to South America may not be as smooth as they would have hoped.

Like the previous volume Tongue of Serpents this book reads like a bit of a travelogue at times. I think the main problem is a lot of the tension from the earlier books is missing and I never believed that the characters were in any real peril. The conclusion is also a bit of a non-event and it almost feels like Novik is simply passing time in this volume and the last. The charm of the characters is still evident so there is still enough to keep fans of the series interested but I doubt it would win anyone else over.

Overall like its predecessor Crucible of Gold lacks a spark that made the earlier books so compelling. 7/10.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe

Five years have passed since the events of the first book and Malian and Kalan have gone into hiding. The heralds Jehane Mor and Tarathan arrive at the city of Ij during the grand festival of masks. There they find Haimyr minstrel of the house of night who attempts to solicit their aid in finding Malain as he refuses to believe that she is dead and the house of night needs her now more than ever. The heralds decline the offer and soon find themselves in a cat-and-mouse game of survival as an unknown force assassinates the members of the heralds guild across the city. Meanwhile a cartographer master Carrik has had to evade outlaws to reach a keep in the wilderness and fulfil his commission. Things at the keep however are not as simple as they seem.

The problem with a lot of middle books is that after the success of a debut novel the author tries to replicate the formula verbatim and delivers something too similar to the original. Lowe neatly side steps this problem. Her second novel has a very different feel and atmosphere to the original and I loved the change of pace and espionage feel to the opening with the heralds. With most of the action taking place away from the wall Lowe introduces us to some other interesting places in Haarth and the peoples and cultures are well realized and very believable. Malian and Kalan are also different people and certainly more mature than five years ago and Lowe moves very much away from the coming of age hero story in the original.

Overall Lowe second effort is stronger than the very good original and one of the better middle books I’ve read in some time. 8.5/10.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Infinite Devotion by L.E. Waters

Maya continues delving into her pasts lives. This time she explores the incarnations of misunderstood noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia in Renaissance Italy, a young stowaway on a doomed Spanish invasion of Britain and Count Redmond O’Hanlon a robin Hood-like outlaw in Ireland. Linking the three lives is Maya's soul’s attempts to learn the lesson of devotion.

Like the first book the concept is a clever one that allows the author to set multiple short stories in different time periods. Again the time periods concerned are well researched and have an authentic feel to them.

The links between the lives and the interconnected lesson Maya's soul must learn were better explored than the first book which was an area I was looking for improvement. Pacing however is not quite as good. The Lucrezia's story and the beginning of the stowaway story lagged a bit. Luckily the pace picked up considerably through the middle of the second story and I thought The O'Hanlon one was very well balanced and the highlight of the three.

Overall Waters delivers a good read. Links between lives and hence the overarching story are better conveyed but pacing does suffer at times. 7/10.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Amara is a young woman training to become a Cursori, messenger/spy, for the first lord of Alera Gaius. As part of her graduation tests she is sent with her mentor Fidelias to infiltrate a mercenary camp. Betrayed by her mentor what she discovers instead is a plot to overthrow the first lord and after a narrow escape Gaius sends her to the borderlands where he believes his enemies will enact their plan. Tavi is an unusual boy, he is furyless, lacking access to the magic that everyone else has. He lives on a steadholt controlled by his widowed uncle Bernard and his aunt Isana. When Tavi goes in search of a group of missing sheep he is swept up in much larger events than he could have ever imagined.

Unlike The Dresden Files Butcher is writing in the third-person and has no problems making this adjustment. The magic system is interesting and well thought out. People have access to elemental furies that grant them powers based on that element. For example Isana is a watercrafter and can control water and can heal grievous wounds. However each element has a drawback, using the same example watercrafters are sensitive to other people's emotions and can be influenced and even overwhelmed by them.

The characters are all well realised and I loved the way Butcher contrasted their strengths and frailties. Isana is an exceptionally powerful woman but her society values women as wives and mothers which is something she isn't and she is very self-conscious of this. Tavi is unusually clever but lacks even the most basic fury crafting. The villains are also multi-layered. Fidelias may be betraying his lord but believes it was the good of the land and will sacrifice anything for this. The action is for the most part limited to the steadlands but there are glimpses that the world may be influenced by Roman history and there will be lots of opportunities to explore this in future volumes.

It is obvious that Butcher is highly influenced by traditional epic fantasies, such as Tolkein or Eddings so there isn't anything genre changing here but there is no doubt he makes this story his own. Butcher’s pacing is exceptional and he has a talent for writing large scale battles is something we haven't been able to see in the Dresden books.

Overall Butcher's attempt at epic fantasy while not genre changing is an exceptionally good one. 8.5/10.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

News: Update on Russell Kirkpatrick's Silent Sorrow

Russell Kirkpatrick recently gave an update on the progress of his latest novel. You can see it here . The interesting thing for me is that his two novels that I enjoyed the most are also the two that he did the most edits on. I think that is a very real trap for authors to get subsequent books in a series out without nearly enough revision and I imagine Brent Weeks would also be guilty of this. The great thing is that it sounds like Kirkpatrick is really putting in the hard yards for this one and I for one am looking forward to it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: The Minority Council by Kate Griffin

After a chance encounter with a stranger the Midnight Mayor Matthew Swift learns about a new drug on the black market in some very tragic circumstances. Fairy dust enhances the magical abilities of the users but ultimately reduces them to fairy dust themselves after prolonged use. Matthew wants to shut the powerful fairy godmother down but the Alderman have an understanding with him that makes things difficult. Matthew also learns that the Alderman may not be as united as he once believed when he learns about a splinter group, who surprisingly offer Matthew their aid.

Griffin continues to do the things that have made this such an interesting series. London is again so well described that it becomes a character in itself, pacing is spot on and the banter is interesting while not being distracting. The major difference in this volume is Griffin starts to consider some big issues involving morality. Matthew and Templeman's differing stances on approaching issues is very well portrayed it is hard to say who is ultimately right.

Overall Griffin's writing keeps on going from strength to strength. 8.5/10.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia by JA Clement

While Nereria is unconscious, recuperating from the life-threatening wounds inflicted upon her by Copeland her mind it taken elsewhere where she meets a being bearing her face. This other Nereia wants her help in restoring this bizarre world but can only do so by taking control of Nereia’s body. Nereria is rightly sceptical but as a show of good faith the other Nereria heals the worst of her wounds. Copeland meanwhile is growing more unstable, a strange voice keeps telling him to do terrible things. The inhabitants of Scarlock are fearful, things have always been bad but before if they obeyed Copeland's laws they would be largely safe. Madam realizes that she is now in a position to oppose Copeland and starts to prepare for this confrontation. Meanwhile Copeland has put Blakey in charge of processing the angel's tears hoping that his dependence on the drug will be the death of him.

Many of the things Clement did well in the first novel are very evident here. The setting of Scarlock is certainly well realised and she can still create believable characters that grip the reader all in a minimal amount of words. However I would have liked to see some of these characters develop more, Blakey and Mary have so much potential but did not seem to develop to any degree.

The main problem is that the plot barely advances at all. Yes Nereria and Copeland have been cleverly manoeuvred into opposing positions by some outside forces but the rest of the characters felt like background information and their stories didn't move much. In that way the second book reads too much like a chapter in a larger work than a story in itself.

Overall Clement continues to create interesting settings and characters. However some of these characters feel grossly underutilized and the plot moved too little for my tastes. 6.25/10.

Review: Touchstone by Melanie Rawn

Cayden Silversun is a young man determined to make sure his life runs to his own design. Cade is the unattractive son of aristocratic parents who either wanted him to join the royal court or at least find an acceptable profession that won't reflect badly on them. Cade also gets glimpses of possible futures that he has the power to change though with often unforeseen results. Cade is part of a theatre group, each contributing some element to a magical performance, but although they are highly talented, they lack a glisker who can match their skill. That is until they meet Mieka. Mieka though complicates Cade's life greatly, although Cade is fond of the young man nobody can make him angrier and Cade fears the darkness in his own heart and some of the futures with Mieka are less than pleasant.

I found Rawn's latest novel to be a breath of fresh air in almost every respect. The setting is indeed an intriguing one, a world where fairy, wizard, human, troll and a host of other races have interbred to the point where everyone is a mixed breed of some sort. The character development is strongly focussed on Cade and Mieka which works well. As the main plot line deals with their relationship this made sure things ticked along nicely and there was just enough fleshing out of the support characters to keep them interesting.

In most of Rawn's novels the story follows characters over good chucks of time often decades. She tried a different approach in Fire raiser by working with a much shorter stretch of time. Rawn does it again here and works out just as well in my opinion. The only minor criticism I have is the conclusion felt slightly anti-climactic. Yes it is an obvious turning point but I was hoping for something a bit more substantial.

Overall Rawn's latest effort is a breath of fresh hair that combines an interesting setting with some very good character development. 8.5/10.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: Black Halo by Sam Sykes

Having recovered the tome of the undergates from Ulbecetonth and her fish demons Lenk and his companions set sail to rendezvous with their ticket home. However after spending a few days becalmed tensions begin to rise once again amongst the group. They are soon attacked by a sea monster, their boat destroyed and the group scattered on an island filled with the bones of creatures from a long-forgotten war. The companions are divided, beset by their own inner demons as well as everyone else trying to kill them.

I really think Sam Sykes is still in the learning stages of his craft, there are glimpses of a very clever writer in this book but that writer often struggles to get out. Each of the companions have their own internal issues and proceed to bitch and internalize about it throughout the entire book. Again there are glimpses of some very interesting developments but the whole emo thing they all have going on gets tiresome very quickly.

At times the book reads a bit like a YA adult novel not in terms of content but delivery. There is a huge difference between mature and adult and Sykes doesn't always make this distinction well; ie toilet humour can be very tiresome.

Sykes writes very good action scenes and I would have liked to have seen more of this but these are few and far between. Considering the book is over seven hundred and fifty pages long the plot barely advances at all which is extremely frustrating.

Overall Sykes has undoubted potential but his second novel has some issues that make it rather frustrating and the plot moves at the speed of a dawdling glacier. 6/10.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is dead. He finds himself in a limbo version of Chicago where Jack Murphy, Karin's deceased father, tells Harry that if he doesn't go back to earth and solve his own murder three people he loves will suffer terribly. Catch is that he can only go back as ghost and won't have access to his magic. Harry's work is indeed cut out for him.

I've always loved seeing characters in a 'post-apocalyptic setting'. By this I don't really mean it in the traditional sense but more how characters cope when their world is turned upside down. In this case how do Harry's friends cope after his death. Butcher's pulls this off brilliantly and I particularly liked the direction he took Molly and Murphy in. The pace slows down a bit from break-neck speed of Changes and I quite enjoyed seeing Harry examine his motivations in much more subdued and mature fashion. In the Dresden books we've got used to seeing things build up to an impressive finale and I quite liked seeing Butcher mix things up a bit with a few well considered twists.

Overall Ghost Story marks a turning point in the Dresden files and is a nice change of pace. 8.5/10.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Dead Men Don't Cry by Nancy Fulda

Pastry Run: Light tale about two delivery drivers trying to deliver a French pastry to a wealthy woman on the moon. Very odd choice to start the collection with this piece as it fails to really grab the reader 6/10.

Dead Men Don't Cry: War is looming between earth and an independent colony after an assassination attempt. Interesting blend of mystery, action and science fiction. Fulda creates a quick moving story in a very interesting setting in a limited space. 8/10.

Blue Ink: A six-old is about to be cloned for the first time in a world where clones simply work so their originals can live a life of luxury. Does an excellent job in getting into the character's head and a thoughtful twist at the end. 8/10.

Backlash: An ex-government agent with a severe case of shell-shock learns that his daughter is involved in some bad business that will adversely affect the future. Clever take on time travel with some memorable characters. A few unaddressed questions keep it from moving from great to excellent. 8/10.

Monument: One of the shorter pieces in the collection but one that really worked for me. Aliens tried to make contact with man but the mother ship was destroyed as a potential threat. A woman visits the wreckage which is now a national monument and searches for meaning. I was absolutely stunned with the sheer number of ideas that Fulda fitted into this one. 8.25/10.

Tammi's Garden: Emotional tale about a girl who lives in two worlds and has to decide which one is real and which is the dream. Well-drawn protagonist but the concept has been done a few times before. 6.25/10.

All Praise to the Dreamer: A new mother tries to save her baby from insect-like monsters, while dealing with the guilt of turning her back on her parents years ago. Very strong piece. World-building is top notch and intriguing and the protagonist is simply brilliant. 9/10.

The Breath of Heaven. AI's clash with colonists as they achieve self-awareness. Clever take on a classic idea and POV from Sacia an AI was very intriguing  and pulled off perfectly. 9/10.

Ghost Chimes: A woman has to deal with her dead mother's interfering from an artificially created afterlife, Some very clever ideas here but doesn't really go anywhere. 6/10.

The Man Who Murdered Himself: A man suffering from a terrible disease undergoes experimental and illegal treatment that will recreate him without the disease. The plot twist was too similar for Blue Ink, which I consider the stronger of the two, for my liking. 6.25/10.

A New Kind of Sunrise: A young woman finds a dying stranger and her tribe takes him in. Very good world-building and two interesting characters but reads too much like a chapter from a larger work. 7/10.

Movement (Not actually part of the collection but as it is from the same author I will review it here anyway): An autistic girl has to watch as her parent's decide whether to agree on a new type of treatment that might allow her to live a normal life but will take away her genius for dancing. Very clever piece that works on a number of different levels while considering complex issues including evolution. The POV in this piece is truly masterful and I loved the way she saw time on a different scale. 9/10.

Overall this well-written and enjoyable collection of short stories with a few exceptionally good pieces. My only major issue is that I would have liked to see one of the stronger pieces open the collection. 8/10.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

The 'renegade' Malazan army under Dujek Onearm and Whiskeyjack have formed an uneasy alliance with their former enemies, armies led by Caladan Brood and Anomander Rake. Arrayed against these uneasy allies are the armies of the seer of the Pannion Domin whose cannibalistic hordes seek to destroy all before them. Quick Ben meanwhile has a run in with the crippled God. The mage soon realizes that a bigger game is being played by the Gods. Ganoes Paran is being used as a pawn in that game and he also has to deal with the emergence of Silverfox within whom the lover of his dead lover now resides. Toc the younger meets some very interesting travelling companions as he seeks to re-join the Malazan host.

It was great to see Erikson characterization continue to evolve from Deadhouse Gates and he has certainly come a long way from the bland characters he put forth in Garden of the Moons. The only minor complaint I had in this area was Gruntle's inconsistency throughout the novel, more foreshadowing would have helped.

The close combat was well realized though larger engagements were glossed over far too much. The retaking of Capustan was really a non-event and couldn't be followed at all.

Erikson is very good at creating and presenting different cultures and his background in anthropology is certainly evident here.

The only major issue I had was the pace did drag at times and some more editing would have helped here.

Overall Erikson continues to improve but the slower pace will put some readers off. 8/10.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: The Hollow March by Chris Galford

Two years ago Rurik Matir, the third son of a country landlord, was accused of rape. He was stripped of his family name and exiled. A failed attempt on his life leads him to believe that his father now wants him dead and he returns home with his company of sell swords intent on confronting him. Rurik soon finds himself caught in larger events; an aging king and his family’s infighting for the throne, a religious schism waiting to erupt and a sinister lord manipulating events from the shadows.

Galford introduces an intriguing mix of characters and their development is certainly one of his strongpoints as a writer. They are fully realized and filled with their own idiosyncrasies that keep a reader interested. The character of Voren was especially well done. It is often difficult to keep a 'despicable' character's view point interesting, they either come across as too sympathetic or too evil but the author strikes the balance perfectly.

The prose suites the time period and general story to a tee. The world building is also top rate, with a mix of cultures, political infighting and religious tension all masterfully done.

Overall Galford delivers a very strong read that ticks all the right boxes. 8.75/10.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: Tigana by Guy Gaveriel Kay

Years ago the provinces on the Peninsula of the Palm were conquered by two sorcerers, Brandin King of Ygrath and Alberico an independent warlord from the empire of Barbadior who has his own ambitions for the throne. These two sorcerers reached an uneasy balance of power within the palm. There was of course resistance to the conquests during which Brandin's son was killed by forces led by the prince of the province of Tigana. In retaliation Brandin crushed the province and used his magic to make the peninsula forget the history, identity and very name of Tigana. Only the survivors can speak Tigana's name and they know that once they die Tigana's memory dies with them. A group of rebels, led by the last surviving prince of Tigana Alessan, plan to overthrow Brandin and bring Tigana back. However they are cautious as they realize that if Brandin is overthrown Alberico will simply seize the entire palm. They need a plan that will rid them of both tyrants. Meanwhile Dianoro, another survivor of Tigana, has worked her way into Brandin's harem with plans to assassinate him. However she falls in love with him and is torn between this love and that she holds for her homeland.

The world building from Kay is as always first rate. The palm is based on medieval Italy. Kay keeps things nicely balanced by giving us glimpses into the other cultures on the world without having the story bogged down by them.

The characters are interestingly complex and there is a strong focus on shades of morality. Although Brandin has done a terrible thing to Tigana, he is portrayed as an otherwise fair ruler whose actions at the time were inspired by grief. Allesan who refuses to think only of Tigana's fate but includes those of the other provinces in his plans is quite willing to use other people to further his aims even if it tears him up. The only exception to this is Alberico whose actions are always simply motivated by greed.

Overall Kay delivers a stunning combination of interesting world building and complex characters. 9.25/10.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Review: Victor: My Journey by Victor Matfield with De Jongh Borchardt

Autobiography detailing Victor Matfield's rugby career from his days as a schoolboy in Pietersburg to his swansong at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

First off this book was written as the perfect time, right after the conclusion of Victor's playing career. This ensures that he is old enough to deal with touchy subjects maturely and everything is still fresh in his mind. The writing is clear and concise much like the man himself and gives an overview of his entire playing career. The approach is nicely balanced, for example he may not have got on all that well with Springbok coach Jake White but he respected him for his coaching ability.

Having already read his contemporary John Smit's book it is obvious Victor doesn't go into as much depth in certain areas and he steers well away from the effect of politics on Springbok rugby.

Overall Victor gives a clearly written and interesting look into Springbok rugby and the man himself. 8/10.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Kvothe continues relating the story of his life to the biographer Chronicler. Continuing with the events at the University Kvothe explains how his feud with Ambrose escalated to the extent that both of them need to take some time away from the University. During this time he save a nobleman's life and helps him woe his future wife, learns the art of fighting in Ademre and survives the attentions of a Fae temptress.

The different episodes in Kvonthe's life at times read like a collection of short stories with Kvothe being the common thread. This is not necessarily a bad thing as too often characters take a back seat to a plotline. However the fact that the (supposedly) main plot; Kvothe's quest for vengeance on the Chandrian barely progresses is a bit frustrating. Another issue I had was the while all of the events related should be life-changing they seem at times to have very little effect on Kvothe as a character and he doesn’t seem to take the lessons with him. It makes it read a bit like Conan short stories.

However all is not doom and gloom, Rothfuss is undoubtedly a talented writer and his prose is simply stunning throughout. Kvothe’s relationship with Denna (the real main plotline?) takes some interesting steps forward. At times it is touching at others frustrating (in a very good way) and always wonderful. In short Rothfuss nails it; relationships aren’t supposed to be straightforward.

Overall Rothfuss delivers something refreshingly different. At times it can be frustrating but it is well-written throughout. 8/10.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Years ago Harry's lover Susan was taken by the red court, who attempted to turn her. Harry saved her before the process could be complete but for both their sakes Susan disappeared to South America where you could fight her curse and those responsible. Harry lost more than he realized that day. Susan was pregnant and has kept their daughter hidden for years. Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red court, has kidnapped the child planning on using her against Harry. Harry grew up as an orphan and there is no power on earth that will prevent him from protecting his child.

I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter." I can't recall coming across a more powerful opening sentence to a novel. The implications are obvious to anyone, even someone not familiar with the Dresden files and you know you’re in for a rollercoaster of a ride.

The focus is strongly on Harry's character throughout this novel. With the novel's being told from Harry's perspective he has always come across as a "white" character. He knows the difference between right and wrong and this seldom causes any conflict for him. So in earlier books when he has been offered power from dubious sources I never felt there was a chance he would take it. Until now. This conflict within Harry certainly kept me interested.

Overall Butcher yet again raises his game. 8.5/10.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Infinity Blade Awakening by Brandon Sanderson

Siris has been trained since birth to face the God King, the immortal tyrant who rules over his people with an iron fist. Siris' ancestors have been fighting the God King for generations without a hope of suceeding. Inexplicably Siris is able to overcome the God King with his own sword, the infinity blade. When Siris returns to his village of Drem's Maw he receives an icy reception, the villagers fear that the other deathless with come after him to gain the infinity blade, and he is forced to leave. Siris is forced to choose between trying to live a normal life, a right long denied him, or facing the other deathless. However can an immortal truly die or is this all part of the God King's plot?

I've noticed in recent works of Sanderson's that he seems to be striving for a middle ground with injecting more humour into his works and keeping them serious enough to fit the plot. He mostly succeeded in the Alloy of Law but falls way short of the mark here. The byplay between characters, specifically Siris and Isa became far too distracting and often killed the mood.

I think there was a lot of potential for Siris character to develop as he experienced things most people take for granted for the first time but again I feel that Sanderson missed a trick with this.

The world-building is intriguing enough to keep me interested even while taking a back seat. The twist at the end really worked for me and was foreshadowed brilliantly. Enough to keep me interested in a sequel despite my reservations about some of the earlier issues.

Overall this was probably my least favourite of Sanderson's works. The attempt at humour was too distracting and didn't mesh with the plot. There were some areas of character development with real potential but they simply didn't live up to expectations. However clever foreshadowing and plot twists bring things back a bit. 6.75/10.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

With the Wasp advance halted due to winter Stenwold takes the opportunity to send Nero and Che to Solnarno, a spider tribute city in the exalsee under wasp threat, hoping to warn them and gain allies. Meanwhile Achaeos, Tisamon , Tynisa and Thalric head to Jerez hoping to retrieve the stolen shadowbox. The wasps have agents of their own after the box as well. Stenwold hopes to try and solidify his allies against the wasp but the new snapbow may cause problems than it solves. .

Although a few other storylines are dipped into the three outlined above take centre stage throughout most of the book. This focus allows Tchaikovsky to more or less resolve them all by the end of the book, something I found immensely satisfying in the middle book of a series. While book two was more a war novel with large scale pitched battles this instalment returns to the roots of the first with a more espionage feel to it.

My only gripe would be the lack of any real character development in any of the major players. Tharlric and Totho took centre stage in this in the first two books respectively but no one else followed suit this time.

Overall a strong offering but I would like to see a bit more character development in the next book. 8/10.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review:The Solstice Treaty by David Belltower

Mark Steele is a forest ranger in West Virginia. For years he had been plagued by nightly visions that leave him shaken. When his best friend is killed in a tragic mining accident Tess McCoy his childhood sweetheart returns to town for the funeral. Bizarre events start to take over Mark's life and Mark and Tess find themselves transported to a mystical land in the grip of a decade’s long war. A world a group of Japanese businessmen are strangely interested in.

Belltower utilizes an interesting structure relaying events from different time periods as the story slowly unfolds. This worked magnificently well and I enjoyed how he allowed the reader to puzzle along events as they unfolded without giving too much away. It was a delicate balance with keeping the momentum of the story progressing and the author certainly got it right. The view point characters are all well realized, although there were a few support characters who I would have liked to see fleshed out a bit more.

Overall Belltower's interesting structure and memorable characters make for a great read. 8.5/10.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham

Queen Corinn Akaran has succeeded in resurrecting her brother Aliver and plans to use him to solidify her power along with the new vintage of mist. The Auldek, near immortal warriors, are marching across the North Pole with plans to enslave the known world. Corinn's sister Mena has been sent with an army of her own to delay them but does she stand a chance? Meanwhile Dariel is meeting with the elders of the free people, hoping he can protect them from the manipulation of the league. Aliver's daughter has found the Santoth and is leading them back to Acacia but do they have ulterior motives of their own?

The first half of this book suffers from severe pacing issues. Many of the chapters felt decidedly unnecessary and really slowed the book down. Thankfully after the halfway point thinks picked up considerably.
Durham does an excellent job in presenting as with some very satisfying conclusions to the majority of the story arcs. As with The Other lands Durham's characterization really shines. All of the major characters have grown considerably throughout the series. My only minor concern was Corrin's somewhat dramatic change of heart felt a bit too rushed, the author had done a brilliant job of foreshadowing for the other characters but it didn't quite work as well for Corrin.

Overall despite the pacing issue Durham wraps things up very impressively. 8/10.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Demon Gates by Robert Day

For hundreds of years the land of Kil'Tar has enjoyed a period of relative peace. Very few recall that the demonic Ashar'an invaded the world and were only drive back at great cost. Now the seals binding the portals between the two worlds are failing and mankind is ill suited to face this threat. In a backwater village of Shadowvale a young man named Valderion’s life is about to change and the fate of the world may rest in his hands.

Demon Gates is a throwback epic fantasy in the tradition of Feist, Eddings and Jordan. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is not overly derivative. Day had me worried initially, Valderion lives with his father on an outlying farm, is friends with a blacksmith and his love interest is the mayor’s daughter. Valderion's father is also killed when their farm is attacked by trolls. That is way too similar to Jordan's Eye of the World for comfort but thankfully the similarities end there and Day gets on with telling his own story. Much of the tale focusses on Valderion's journey of self-discovery and Day does an excellent job of balancing this with a sprinkling of scenes keeping the larger story in the frame. The world of Kil'tar is an interesting one and Day does a great job of revealing its locations and rich history through Valderion's at times naive perspective.

Overall a promising debut to say the least. If the works of Jordan and Feist are your cup of tea you could do worse than give Demon Gates a read. 7.25/10.

Review: Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

Emperor Valerius finally decides to use the overthrow of Queen Gisel to legitimize an attempt to retake the lost province of Batiara. Meanwhile a newly appointed court physician, Rustem, has been sent to Sarantiun to spy on the situation for the King of Bassania. The monarch believes he can use the situation to his own ends though that may be playing into Valerius' hands. Crispen is busy working on the mosaic on the sanctuary's dome but other players seek to use him in their own poltical game.

Rustem is introduced in the beginning of the book. Kay does an excellent job of establishing the character and the support characters around him in minimal time. The political game was intriguing and the characters complex and varied. Valerius and Stylaine were the standouts for me. As always with Kay's work the characters take centre stage and although extraordinary events are happening they are always related back to those characters, something a few others might benefit from doing. Kay takes a fascinating look at how history is written and how it relates to every facet of a society.

Overall another winner from Kay 9/10.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

Side Jobs is a collection of short stories set within the universe of the Dresden files . Most of them have appeard in anthologies before but aftermath is exlusive to this collection.

A restoration of Faith: A young Harry Dresden is tasked with tracking down the runaway daughter of a rich couple. The couple then decide that the situation is too embarrassing and call the police claiming Harry and his partner have kidnapped the girl. Features the first meeting of Harry and Karin Murphy. Slightly rougher prose than we are used to from Butcher but by no means as bad as he makes out in the introduction. Tidy and heart-warming tale. 8/10.

Vignette: Harry and Bob the skull discuss his PI ad in the yellow pages. Funny as usual but very short and doesn't go anywhere. Probably included for completeness. 6/10.

Something Borrowed: Georgia goes missing on her wedding day and Harry has to track her down before a fairy disguised as Georgia marries Billy instead and does away with both of them. Solid and moves right along. 8/10.

It’s my birthday Too. Harry and Molly go to the mall after hours to give Thomas his birthday present. Thomas has been roped into taking part in a LARP session by an employee and things soon get ugly when a former LARP player shows up. The girl has since been turned into a real vampire and wants revenge on the people who scorned her. Fast paced and action packed. 8.25/10.

Herot: Mac calls Harry for help. A young woman has been kidnapped on the day of her honeymoon and Harry has to follow the monster who took her. The stakes are raised when Gard show up and explains that the monster is a grendlekin and the young woman doesn't have much time. Another solid piece 8/10.

Day off: Harry has a rare day off and plans to spend it with his girlfriend Anastasia. However Molly seems intent on blowing up his lab, two of the alphas have magical fleas and wannabe dark wizards are making a nuisance of themselves. Interesting enough but doesn't really go anywhere. 7/10.

Backup: Thomas is informed by Lara that one of their enemies in the infinity war is making a play. Whatsmore the enemy plans to use an unwitting Harry in her plans to distribute forbidden knowledge. With Harry having such a distinct voice Butcher's goal would have to have been twofold. To make Thomas' voice distinctive and interesting in its own right. Butcher succeeds at the first but sadly it was nowhere near as interesting. Thomas comes across as too much of an emo for my tastes 6.25/10.

The Warrior: Harry is worried about Michael and his family's safety when an anonymous person starts sending him photos of them. Definitely one of the stronger character driven pieces for me especially seeing a different side to Michael. 8.75/10.

Last Call: Somebody is messing with Mac's beer with violent consequences. Another fast paced well written tale. 8.25/10.

Love Hurts: Harry and Murphy investigate a series of bizarre suicides of a number of couples and stumble onto a red court plot. One of the strongest stories with some real emotional oomph. 8.75/10.

Aftermath: With Harry presumed dead someone is targeting the weaker members of the magical community. When Georgia disappears Billy turns to Murphy for help. Unlike in Backup Butcher really succeeds here in creating a distinct and very interesting voice for Murphy. Murphy is put through the ringer. 9/10.

Overall fans of this series will be very pleased. Most of the stories are strong offerings and very fast paced. This collection really demonstrated Butcher's development as a writer, especially his growth in his characterization. 8.25/10.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson

Angus Thermopyle is an ore pirate and ruthless murderer, praying on the weaker miners trying to eke out a living among the asteroid belts. When a an impressive ship Starmaster arrives in delta quadrant Angus realizes that it is an undercover police vessel and irrationally believes they are after him. He flees into the astroid belts without adequate supplies and eventually has to prey on a group of miners for supplies. Starmaster arrives and is about to destroy Angus before the ship inexplicably explodes. Angus takes one of the survivors Morn Hyland as his prisoner and uses illegal technology to force her to do whatever he wants. When Angus arrives back in delta quadrant with Morn in tow most of the residents are intimidated. All except for Nick Succorso another rogue pirate who wishes to take Angus down.

Donaldson uses quite an insular approach to the story with the majority told through Angus' perspective. The prose enhances this with even events like conversations with port authorities not told in traditional dialogue format but by Angus summing things up. This approach has both strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed how the insular approach really captured the atmosphere of enclosure and at times almost claustrophobia. This is space but most of the actions takes place in a tiny spaceship after all. Donaldson also gets right into Angus head and reveals what makes him tick.

On the other hand there is a whole universe of motivations and possibilities that we don't so much as get a glance at. All three characters are very flawed individuals and at times it is hard to root for any of them, even Morn. It wouldn't have hurt to try make them slightly more sympathetic.

Overall Donaldson delivers a deeply psychological story but nowhere near as good as the Covenant books or the Mordant duology. 7/10.