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.

Review: Turncoat by Jim Butcher

Donald Morgan, formerly his chief persecutor among the wardens and one of the warden's most powerful magicians, arrives on Harry Dresden's doorstep bleeding and barely conscious. Morgan explains that one of the members of the senior council Aleron LaFortier has been murdered. Morgan was found standing above his body with the bloody murder weapon in hand and was taken into custody and subsequently escaped. Morgan claims he is innocent. And as much as Harry may wish otherwise he believes Morgan and offers his help. Harry believes that there is a traitor among the wardens, one who has set Morgan up and wants to see the order destroyed. Harry also knows that be aiding Morgan his own life may be forfeit.

Turncoat is the eleventh book in the Dresden Files and I think if anyone has made it this far it is safe to say that they are a fan of Butcher's familiar formula. The characterization is what stood out for me the most in this installment. Harry seems to be a lot more emotionally mature than he once was and it is great to see that he has learned a lot from his past experiences. Dresden really uses his head to come up with some unexpected solutions to a few problems. A number of other characters including, Molly, Thomas and Billy also develop in some interesting ways. What impressed me thoroughly was that a number of catalysts for these developments occurred 'offscreen' but Butcher was still able to capture them perfectly.

All in all Butcher delivers another fast-paced and satisfying read. 8.25/10.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Waxillium Ladrian has spent the last twenty years in the roughs as a law keeper, enforcing the law on the frontier. A series of tragic events force him to return to the city of Elendel and take up the lordship of his house. At first Wax is reluctant to meet his responsibilities, wishing instead to become something of a vigilante, until his butler Tillaume convinces him that hundreds of people are relying on him and only he can be the lord of his family. Wax begins to take his responsibilities seriously and is even about to enter into an arranged marriage to benefit his house. Then a series of odd robberies begin to take place that have the authorities baffled. A group called the vanishers is robbing the cargo off trains and nobody knows how they are doing it. Wax tries to ignore them at first but when the group starts taking hostages he is compelled to intervene. Together with his partner Wayne, Wax is the only person who can get to the bottom of it.

First off I absolutely love the concept of exploring the same world in different time periods. Alloy of Law is set three hundred years after the events of the first Mistborn trilogy and for the most part is standalone. The world of Scadrial is now on the cusp of an industrial revolution but the magic systems of Allomancy and Ferchemy still play a major role in society. Sanderson again impresses with his use of magic combining the two systems in some very interesting ways. There are some rather well executed battle scenes, one involving a train, in this novel and the author really excels with these. One minor gripe that I had was using Wax's thoughts to explain some of the terms and workings of the magic systems really felt out of place in the contexts used on occasion. I know the author wanted to make the book standalone so new readers would not be lost but it did kill the mood for me.

The banter between Wayne and Wax is some of Sanderon's funniest writing to date though occasionally he did take things a touch too far for the situation. Otherwise the characters are well realized and the plot very well-paced.

Overall Sanderson delivers another strong offering. 8.5/10.