Friday, December 27, 2013

Review: The Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Stenwold Maker is poised to bring in his ally Jodry Drillen into the vacant speaker's chair in the assembly, something he has been working on since the war with the wasp empire ended. However Master Failwright, a merchant with an interest vested in shipping, competes for attention at the assembly. Failwright is adamant that Collegium's trade by sea has been targeted by a hostile force as a number of ships have disappeared. While most of the assembly is incredulous at the claims, Stenwold decides to investigate and quickly learns that there are other powers interested in taking Collegium.

Stenwold is the main focus in this book. He has to deal with the juxtaposition of what his life was as a spymaster compared to what it now is which is more of a statesman. He is put through a ringer which tests his courage and beliefs. At least half a dozen support characters are given point of view sections throughout the book and the author does an excellent job of displaying the complexity of their motivations and ensuring the reader has a vested interest in all of them.

The world-building is interesting with the introduction of the sea-kinden who have recently taken their first steps into aptitude. This gives the author a chance to expand on the steam-punk aspects in an environment where no fuels can be burned, for obvious reasons.

The pace is well maintained throughout and the book stands rather well on it's own.

Overall strong character development and interesting world-building make for a strong installment. 8.5/10. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Ghosts 2013: A Christmas Wish

A giggle tore itself from Sasha’s throat. Flaky snowflakes lazily drifted to the thick carpet of white around her.
“Thank you Santa” she whispered, her breath misting in front of her face.
Sasha hated to admit it but she had almost stopped believing. After all she was eleven years old.Her wish for a white Christmas had come true, something her daddy could never give her.
Then she noticed the old woman huddled in a threadbare blanket. Sasha immediately knew she was dead; nobody’s skin should be the shade of overripe blueberries.
                 “I’ve killed her.” Sasha murmured and began to shake. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Having been rescued by the rebel elements based in district thirteen, Katniss has to come to terms with the loss of her home district 12 and the fact that Peeta is in the hands of the Capital. The rebels want her to be a symbol for the revolution but can she do it knowing her every action could have dire consequences for Peeta?

This novel suffers from serious pacing issues with the first half of the novel being unbelievably slow. Events are happening within the novel but with Katniss being our sole view point and seemingly uninterested in large parts of the war we get don't get much of an appreciation of this. This leads into another problem with larger events happening on a rather quick timescale and no explanation for how this was accomplished. For example the conquest of the districts seems to be done within a matter of weeks but our one glimpse into this seems to have the rebels losing. Katniss as inspiration and the continuous flood of propaganda just doesn't seem a realistic explanation.

I was impressed that for the first time in the series another layer of complexity is added to some characters. For the most part the characters have been decidedly black and white but that is no longer the case. Gale is probably the best of example of this.

Overall this novels suffers some severe pacing issues though it was nice to see a complexity added to some of the characters. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: The Fall of Ventaris by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

After gaining membership into the Grey, a secret society of thieves, Duchess decides to continue taking risks. She attempts to set up a business partnership with a talented weaver Jana, who has been unable to gain membership to the weavers' guild due to her race. Gaining Jana membership and securing her trust will be no easy task but Duchess has a plan. Duchess also decides she needs to hire some muscle to watch her back. However she needs someone she can trust yet desperate enough to work for her. She decides to try and free Pollux, a disgraced white who no one quite knows what to do with. If that weren't enough she is contacted by one of the Uncle's henchman about recovering a precious ring that was gambled away.

The various sub-plots were a nice touch that worked really well in keeping the pace moving at a good clip. They provided minor resolutions across the novel and all tied quite nicely into the central plot.

As with the first book the story is very character driven with Duchess firmly in the center. I think a lot of writers lose sight of this and is one of this series greatest strengths. Some very interesting supporting characters were introduced, all very much with agendas of their own.

Again the world-building is strong and unobtrusive.

Overall the second book in this series builds nicely on it's predecessor and goes on to top it. 8.75/10.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

After narrowly defeating a mind demon with the aid of his promised Renna Tanner and getting a glimpse into the demon's mind, Arlen Bales AKA the painted man realizes that the corelings will now make a concerted efforts to destroy the unity that is slowly being brought to mankind. The two head back to Deliverer's Hollow aware that rise of the new moon will bring them a fight unlike any they have ever experienced. Meanwhile Leesha and her company are allowed to return home from their stint as Jardir's guests but that time has left it's mark on them as well.

Like the two previous books in the series this one two focuses on a character's backstory, this time Jardir's first wife Inevera who played a vital role in his rise to power. This does lead into this books biggest problem, very slow pacing. With most of the events in the present forming a calm before the storm backtracking over events already covered from another character's point of view was not the wisest choice.

Character development is well maintained with most of the central characters growing and developing as events of the series begin to effect them. We also get a slightly deeper look into the corelings society which does add to the world already developed.

Overall although suffering from some serious pacing issues Brett is able to develop a solid read if somewhat less than what I expected from the two previous volumes. 7/10

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: Magic Kingdom For Sale, Sold by Terry Brooks

Ben Holiday is a man withdrawn from the world. He lost his pregnant wife a few years ago, lost touch with all but one of his friends and only leaves his home for work in his highly successful law firm. All that changes when he flips through a Christmas catalog addressed to his wife and finds an advertisement for a magic kingdom for sale. Despite his better judgement this is an opportunity Ben cannot pass up. However the advertisement may have embellished a few things and Ben may have bitten off more than he can chew.

The adage of writing what you know is an old one but one that applies well in this novel's case. Brooks was a lawyer before becoming a writer and his able to bring a level believability to Ben Holiday that I have never seen from any of his characters before. The support characters all also well portrayed  being an interesting mixture of charming quirks and very human faults.

The concept is an interestingly refreshing one and combined with some solid world-building keeps things interesting.Pacing is well controlled and I was glad to see Brooks habit of overly describing meals is toned down.

Overall I probably enjoyed this novel more than Brooks Shannara series and I think he did too and it shows. 8/10.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review:Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher

Having now been recognized as the Princep of Alera Tavi leads an expedition  to return the invading Canim forces to their homeland. However shortly after he leaves Alera the Vord launch a campaign in force against the Alerans. Gaius, the aging first lord of Alera, is finally able to unite his people against the Vord threat, even his staunchest rival Lord Aquitaine comes on board. The threat  however is now greater than he is willing to tell the general populace; the Vord are now able to control Furies of their own. Gaius dispatches agents on two missions, first Amara and Bernard are sent behind enemy lines to find the source of the Vord's access to Furies and Isana is despatched to secure the legions defending the border against the icemen. Tavi meanwhile has problems of his own....

Like the previous novels in the series the narrative is divided into parts, four in this case. Again the Amara/Bernard one felt like the weakest to me as Amara has regressed as a character since the first novel, though her storyline was better paced this time around. Otherwise character growth is reasonably strong especially for Tavi and Gauis and surprisingly Lord Aquitaine who becomes a much more rounded charater.

There were a few issues early on with the narrative which I found distracting. The worst of these was the use of etc, which doesn't fit with the world Butcher has created and should have been weeded out in editing.

A strong point in the novel is the sheer amount of action that happens and it definitely feels like we heading towards a conclusion in the series.  

Overall despite my continued problems with Amara's character and a few minor issues Butcher delivers a solid read.  8/10.    

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: The Glass God by Kate Griffin

Matthew Swift, the Midnight Mayor, has gone missing and Sharon Li finds herself appointed his deputy and tasked with finding him. The only clues she has available is a tatty but innocent looking umbrella and mysterious pairs of shoes scattered throughout London.  Sharon quickly discovers that there may be larger threat in play.

Like her previous novels Griffin is able to inject a good degree of humour without detracting from the overall serious tone of the novel. My favourite aspect of the first book in  the series, and what set it apart from the Matthew Swift books, was the degree to which the support characters were developed. Griffin does the same again here but extends it to the antagonists, which really makes for some interesting 'grey' characters.

Pacing is again fast and well controlled with short sharp chapters.

Overall Griffin does an excellent job of building on the good work she did in her first Magicals Anonymous book. 8.75/10.

Review: Infinty Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson

Having been left imprisoned with his mortal enemy the God King Radriar Siris is at last rescued by Isa. However years have passed and Siris now finds himself the center of a legend and figurehead for a rebellion. His endless battles with his mortal nemesis have taken their toll however and Siris finds himself battling his darker nature. He also finds himself in a position where he may need to work with the Radrair if either of them are to have a hope of defeating the worker.

I'm glad to see Sanderson toned down his attempts at humor which were so distracting and didn't gel with the story of the first Infinity blade novella. Aside from the main story there are various interludes that take place in our near future and the infinity blade universes distant past which shed light on one of the primary characters and is a nice piece of plotting that sets up the finale. Character development was well worked for all three primary characters.

Overall the second infinity blade novella works better than the original. 7.25/10.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Morning's Journey by Kim Headlee

Gyanhumara and Artyr are now married but duty leads them to long periods of separation that neither are happy about and puts a strain on their relationship.  Gyanhumara also falls pregnant and has to deal with the realization that her life may change irrevocably and her warrior days may be behind her. She is also aware that any child they have will become a target for Urien, who is making plans to speed up his succession to the leadership position in his own clan. Meanwhile other outside forces have plans of their own.

Like the first novel Gyan remains the star of the show and the various tensions she has to deal with lead to some very strong character development. Both Artry and Angusel face their own obstacles and their development is equally well handled. While there are certainly moments when both Urien and Morghe hint at more depth for the most part they are remain driven by selfishness and remain one-dimensional. The minor villains in the piece were actually much better fleshed out than these two and made for more compelling characters. 

Pacing in the first quarter of the book is a tad slow but after this point it picks up and is well controlled for the remainder of the story. I love the way Headlee infuses historic languange to really flesh out the cultures and history of her world.

Overall strong characters, good pacing and a vibrant world make for a compelling read. I would still like to see the main villains fleshed out more. 8/10.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Joel attends one of the most elite schools in the country, Armedius Academy. Not only do the sons and daughters of influential politicians and the extremely wealthy attend but so do rithmatists, people with the gift to bring mathematically imbued chalk lines to life,  in training. However Joel is the son of a cleaning lady at the Academy and is only able to attend because the principal was friends with his deceased father, a chalk-maker. Joel wishes nothing more than to be a rithmatist and although he understands the theory better than most he lacks the gift. He tires to slip into their lectures at every opportunity and learn what he can. However he may learn more than he wanted to when young rithmatists start disappearing under mysterious circumstances and he is assigned as an aide to Professor Fitch a rithmatist investigating theses disappearances.

Sanderson is well known for his well developed magic systems and this novel is no exception. Rithmatics is a combination of a mathematical and chalk based magic that is brought to life by some clever diagrams that begin each chapter. This is well explained and interesting in its own right.

However the world-building itself was a highlight for me. Set in the the early 1900s in an alternative history earth where the United States in made up of a series of Isles separated by a shallow sea. Europe was slowly taken over by an Asian civilization about a hundred years before and the Aztecs remain a power in South America. Technology is based on a gear-punk setting as well. All very fascinating and makes for an original backdrop.

Pacing was well controlled and I enjoyed the 'mystery' format Sanderson incorporated. 

Characterization is generally good but is also the area I had a few issues. Some of the support characters are heavily overemphasized products of their environments, Harding being the biggest example of this. This seems more reminiscent of middle-grade work than young adult. Also Joel seems to act younger than his sixteen years in places in the narrative.

Overall a solid effort, with a very good magic system, world-building and pacing. Adapting characterization to YA could do with a bit of work though. 8/10.     

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

The year is 2196 and the continent spanning cities of 'ice' are fast approaching over population. A group of largely European descended  industrialists begin lobbying for freedom to pursue research and development areas previously considered off limits. However the T'ang, the seven rulers of the world, are strictly against this believing to do so would put their very society at risk.  When the minister of the edict is assassinated tensions are brought to a head and a different kind of war of propaganda and espionage begins.

Wingrove's world-building really takes off in this volume, with different levels in a very segmented society explored cleverly. The character's are three-dimensional, complex and engaging and the plot is well paced throughout.

I do have some small criticisms however. At this point in the series hundreds of years have passed where everything but distinctly Chinese culture and history have been suppressed and destroyed. However the world views between the European and Chinese characters still appear to be remarkably different and this is highly unrealistic. Also the industrialists never seem to realize that by taking on the T'ang  however covertly they would be prime suspects and subject to a backlash. Again this seems highly improbable.

Overall solid world-building and characters make for a compelling read though a few story-telling mistakes ensure this is a very good book instead of the great one it could have been. 7.5/10.      

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Unfettered edited by Shawn Speakman

Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks: A young boy learns he has a disease which will slowly kill him. He turns to a barely remembered imaginary friend for magic to cure him. Very convincing voice and enough here to make a reader think. 7/10.

How Old Holly Came to Be by Patrick Rothfuss: Told from the perspective of a tree about the sorceress who lives close by. Unique and clever perspective and very good character dvelopment in a short space. 7.5/10.

The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams: An aging dragon and knight team up to con the local populace. Playful piece that moves along quite nicely. 7/10.

Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn: A group of people outside of time attempt to influence events and shape a bright future.  One woman doesn't fit in with the rest and looks at the smaller picture. At best this reads like an outline; while there are good ideas here they aren't given time to develop. Uninspiring characters and a far too predictable ending. Overall feels a bit lazy. 5/10.

The Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey: Two friends from very different backgrounds witness a miraculous event. Exceptionally strong world-building in a very short space of time. Though not as self-contained as some of the others 7.5/10.

Mudboy by Peter V. Brett: A young boy and his family are forced to flee into the night when their house catches fire. A night inhabited by terrible demons. Another piece with a convincing voice. Solid story telling and good decision making. 8/10.

The Sound of Broken Absolutes by Peter Orullian: A young musician is called home after his father dies in a bloody war. Before he goes he destroys his teacher's prized instrument. The young man and teacher are both faced with difficult choices as they seek to rebuild what was taken from them. I must admit I cringed when I reached this story, I was to say the least utterly unimpressed by Orullian's debut novel. However this story really surprised me. It packed an emotive punch and a half, very real character development and a crisp narrative (well two in fact) voice. 8/10.

The Coach With Big Teeth by R.A. Salvatore: A young boy with little talent or self-belief gets an opportunity to have a big moment in the baseball championship game. However his overbearing coach will not tolerate failure. Convincing voice but perhaps a touch too predictable 7/10.

Keeper of Memory by Todd Lockwood. When a civilization is threatened by hostile forces it is left to the keepers of memory to try save something of their culture. Perhaps the best twist ending in the whole collection. 8/10.

Heaven in a Wild Flower by Blake Charlton. Science fiction set in a world where some souls come back through reincarnation and ascend to a technological heaven in between lives while others do not. A man who is one of the latter links himself to a baby girl child even though her death will kill him too. Very well written piece, strong emotion and excellent world-building. 8.75/10.

Dogs by Daniel Abraham. A man is viciously attacked by a pack of dogs and has to find a way to rebuild his life knowing that all the dogs around him could be ticking time bombs. Very interesting and genuinely scary concept. 8/10.

The Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne: A tongue in cheek retelling of the grail legend by a druid. Reasonably funny and well paced but lacks some of the substance of some of the other stories. 7/10.

Select Mode by Mark Lawrence: A couple of mercenaries are caught by a group of religious fanatics and forced to undertake a ritual to see if they should be inducted into the group. Doesn't stand on its own at all and doesn't go anywhere. Frankly I found it a lazy effort. 4/10.

All The Girls Love Michael Stein by David Anthony Durham: A ghost cat tries to find away to communicate with the little girl who owned him. Warm hearted tale that shows a different side to Durham's writing. 7.25/10.

Strange Rain by Jennifer Bosworth: Story about two conjoined twins who were separated at birth. When one of the twins starts trying to make a life for himself the other becomes jealous. With the help of a mysterious figure and a freak accident she will make sure they are never separated again. Interesting and well thought out character development. 8/10.

Nocturne by Robert V.S. Redick: A critically ill young man goes through some strange fever dreams. I have mixed feelings about this piece. It's different and has some amazingly strong visualizations in places but I don't think it really makes its point. 7/10.

Unbowed by Eldon Thompson: A young man is part of an elite fighting school operated by his father. However his father feels he lacks the determination to do what is needed. When his father is accused of an assassination attempt and arrested he is tested in more ways than one.  One of the strongest pieces in this collection. Stands perfectly on it's own with well realized character and clever shifts in direction. 8.75/10.

In Favour With Their Stars by Naomi Novik: a group of space pirates known as the Napoleonists attack a planet governed by dragons lead by Temeraire. Captain Lawrence is despatched to aid them. This concept promised so much, a look at Novik's universe of dragons in a sci-fi setting could have been really interesting. Instead the author produced a lazy effort of recycled characters and a story that goes nowhere. 3.5/10.

River of Souls by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Follows an important character in the Wheel of Time universe as he tries to unite the land of Shara under him by fulfilling a prophecy. Stands surprisingly well on its own considering it was a scene cut from a book. Strong character development and good world-building. 8/10. 

The Jester by Michael J. Sullivan: A couple of sell swords find they have bitten off more than they can chew when a client leads them on a treasure hunt that is an elaborate plot for revenge. Stands well on its own and has some really strong characters. 8/10.

The Duel by Lev Grossman: A magician king is forced to dual a barbarian to save his kingdom. Witty and works well. 8/10.

Walker and the Shade of Allanon by Terry Brooks: Details a meeting between Walker and Allanon's shade set before the Voyage of Jerle Shannara. Won't be of major interest to anyone who hasn't read the Shannara books, doesn't really go anywhere and I don't feel it accurately reflects Walker's character at the time. 5.75/10.

The Unfettered Knight by Shawn Speakman: A magician charged with protecting the world from magical forces is forced to confront a vampire that invades the Vatican. Excellent world-building and twists. 8.25/10.

Overall as the title suggests this collection is an eclectic mix. Some very strong stories  interspersed with the odd lazy effort but a good read nonetheless. 7.75/10.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ren Daiyan is a man born for combat. As a boy he took the lives of seven outlaws while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. At that moment he makes a decision and sets off into the forests to join a group of outlaws himself, intent on honing his skills. Due to events in an earlier dynasty military prowess is frowned upon and Ren's dream of regaining Kitai's lost lands seems unachievable. Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, who is educated by him, something not done for women in this period. Shen finds herself struggling to find her own place in the world. A power struggle in the northern steppes creates an interesting proposition for an empire divided into competing factions at court who serve a cultured emperor interested more in his art and gardens then in governing.

Kay has always been interested in how history shapes the characters in his story, so I found it particularly fascinating how the two central characters are shaped by events that occurred hundreds of years earlier in his previous novel Under Heaven. Kay's characters and world-building are phenomenal and very much intertwined. The reader is introduced to the history and culture through various characters points of view which works better and much more seamlessly than the info-dumping some other authors have been guilty of. It amazes me how quickly Kay can bring a minor character to life in minimal space.

Pacing is very well controlled throughout with a conclusion that had me pondering possibilities hours later.

Overall Kay,is as always, at his best. 9.25/10.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

After recovering from his near death experience and undergoing some rather intense training at the hands of his new liege lady Mab, Queen and Air and Darkness, Harry receives his first assignment as Winter Knight; the assassination of an immortal.  Besides this seemingly impossible task, Harry has to deal with some members of the Winter court jockeying for position at his expense, deal with confronting his friend's who believed him dead and trying to defuse an island that is about to go nuclear.

This novel definitely sets the direction for the remainder of the series, revealing some far reaching plot points and moving firmly away from 'case by case' novels we knew earlier in the series. The landscape has defintely changed and there were more than a few 'wow' moments.

Pacing is, as always, tightly controlled, Harry remains an engaging protagonist and I still love his snarkiness. While remaining true to his genuinly decent guy nature it was interesting to see him struggle with some darker impulses that the mantle of winter knight brought on.

My only criticism was that Butcher didn't really explore the effect Harry's return from the dead had on the supporting characters especially Molly, Murphy and Thomas. We saw the former two deeply affected by his death in the previous novel but no real lingering effects were obvious in this one. Granted they were all going through a major life and death crisis throughout the novel and exploring their emotional state wasn't a priority but some down time would have been interesting.

Overall Butcher continues to deliver in a big way 8.25/10.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review:The Knife's Edge by Matthew Wolf

Having watched his best friend die a young man is consumed by the power of the dark sword that destroyed her. Before he comes to his senses he has murdered several innocent people. Mercifully his grandfather takes away all his memories but only after informing him he is the object of prophecy. The boy takes the name 'Gray' and lives a simple life with a friendly hermit. That is until legends come knocking and forcing him into a world he scarcely understands.

The first thing that struck me is how derivative this novel is from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.  This  is obvious right from the start and includes organizations that are run along the exact same lines as Aes Sedai to one character,Darius, who is a complete knock off of Mat Cauthon.

The prose is tidy but sometimes too simplistic for what is trying to be conveyed in the content.  The world-building is very uneven with much left unexplained and some things contradictory, for example the residents of the Shinning City, a city isolated for thousands of years, hardly seem to be put out by the arrival of stangers.

The pacing is very uneven with the ending far too rushed and again too much left unexplained especially with the secondary characters. There were different character point of views sprinkled throughout the text but these certainly could have been used better.

Overall this novel is noticeably derivative, uneven in both world-building and pacing and leaves too much unexplained. 4.75/10.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: The Juging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

Twenty years after the events of The Thousandfold Thought the Aspect-Emperor Kellhus has united the entire Three Seas and is leading a vast army in it's first steps against the Consult, to ensure the No-God's  apocalyptic resurrection does not come to pass. His wife Esment is tasked with ruling the empire in his stead but is beset by her own fears as well as the plots of her own children. Her eldest daughter Mimara travels to see Drusas Achamian hoping he will teach her sorcery and become the father she has never known. Achamian has been receiving visions of Seswatha's lfe that have offered him a clue to Kellhus' origins. Mimara's arrival spurs him into more concrete action and sets him onto a journey in which he hopes to expose Kellhus as a fraud.  Meanwhile young King Sorweel of conquered Sarkarpus finds himself as part of Kellhus' army struggling between his belief in Kellhus and in his father's belief that he is a fraud.

As can be noted from the above the Judging Eye is divided into three main plot points. The biggest problem is that for two of them the pace is too slow and there is too much time spent on settting up events in future books, only Archamian's plot seems to advance to any degree.

The characters themselves are wonderfully conflicted and do keep things very interesting, throughout. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the book for me.

Overall Bakker continues to produce some very interesting characters, however pacing does let things down in this one. 7/10. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review:The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

For eons there has been a delicate balance between Heaven and Hell with earth providing both a neutral territory and a battleground controlled by strict rules. When someone on earth passes away advocates from both sides are allowed to argue their case as to why the soul in question should be sent to their domain. That is until one soul disappears before either side can make a move, making the possibility of their cold war turning hot a frighteningly real one. Bobby Dollar an advocate for heaven and the first one on the scene finds himself caught in the crossfire, unsure even who on his own side he can trust.

Like a good majority of urban fantasy out there DSOH is told from a first-person perspective. For this to be successful the character in question needs to be entertaining, engaging and keep a delicate balance between capability and vulnerability. With Bobby Dollar Williams hits the nail on the head and his snarky cometary keeps the reader hooked throughout. Jim Butcher fans will see some very real similarities to Harry Dresden but without being too derivative.

The world-building is very interesting and Williams utilizes the fictional city of  San Judas  better than all of the urban fantasy's I've read bar Kate Griffin's London. Pacing is also well controlled throughout.

Overall Tad Williams again demonstrates his versatility in his first foray into urban fantasy. 8.25/10.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Stray Souls by Kate Griffin

Sharon Li's has unexpectedly discovered she is a Shaman. For an instant she was one with the city, knew every detail about everything then suddenly it was gone. She decides to create a support-group Magicals Anonymous for people who have had similarly strange experiences. This group quickly comes to the attention of Matthew Swift, the midnight mayor, who needs a shaman's help in trying to find souls which seem to have gone missing throughout the city, including the very powerful Greydawn.

Like in her Matthew Swift books Griffin's descrpitions of life in London make it an interesting character in it's own right. Sharon is an accessible and well developed protagonist  but where this book really excels is the development of the support characters. Each one gets their own few pages to essentially describe themselves which works brilliantly. Short-sharp chapters keep the pacing ticking along nicely throughout. I enjoyed seeing Matthew Swift in a supporting role and love the potential with having the two series running concurrently.

In sum Griffin delivers a great novel yet again and shows real skill in developing a lively group of characters. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: The Unremembered by Peter Orullian

Tahn is a young woodsman living in a small village at the edge of the world. For reasons unknown to him his childhood is a blur and he feels compelled to utter a phrase each time he draws his bow and greet each dawn. One day creatures out of myth descend on his village and target Tahn and his sister Wendra. Tahn is forced to put his trust in a pair of mysterious strangers and flee his village.

To put it bluntly this book was an absolute chore to read and only sheer bloodymindedness got me through it. It wasn't so much the recycled plot lines, I've read Terry Brooks and enjoyed his work, but the poor quality of the writing that put me off. The characters were all wooden and Orullian failed to make me care about them at all. The dialogue is clumsy and the prose feels like it is trying to be something it's not,though does improve slightly as the novel progresses. While there is a lot of world-building going on there is never enough development to truly grasp the details. This feels like a writer's first attempt at a novel and if I read it as part of a writting group I would say Orullian had potential but needed to write a few more to get to a point of being publishable. Why TOR decided to print and market this book so strongly is beyond me.

Overall Peter Orullian's debut is plagued with problems and I would have to advise giving this one a miss. 4/10.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Elsewhens by Melanie Rawn

Despite their success Touchstone under perform at trials and find themselves once again on the Winterly circuit. However the group is chosen to travel to the Continent with a royal embassy to collect Prince Ashgar's new bride. Magic is viewed with suspicion on the continent so Touchstone's welcome is less than assured. Meanwhile Cade is still troubled by his visions of possible futures (dubbed Elsewhens). He wants to warn his friend Mieka that the woman he has fallen in love with and her mother only plan to ensnare him but is terrified of alienating the elf and bringing one of his worst visions to life.  

Like the first book Elsewhens is focused on the relationship between Cade and Mieka. Both are well realized vivid characters that dance to life on the pages and neatly steal the show. Again the support characters are just fleshed out enough to be interesting.

My biggest problem with this second installment is the plot seems to meander along without any focus. The ending just seemed to highlight further how little the plot has been advanced. I also feel Rawn missed a trick in developing the setting further with Touchstone traveling to a new continent.

Overall Rawn's character development remains top notch, however a meandering plot keeps this book from being one of her best. 7/10. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn

Following the events of the previous book Kitty has rented a cabin in remote Colorado, hoping to lay low for a while under the guise of working on her memoirs. However when animal sacrifises are left on her doorstep it is obvious some of the locals may be less than thrilled to have a werewolf in the neighborhood. Things get even more complicated when Cormac shows up at the cabin with her injured lawyer Ben O'Farrell in tow. Ben has been bitten by a werewolf and is having trouble adjusting to his new life and only Kitty can help.

My only major criticism of the previous novel was the lack of tension throughout the majority of the book but Vaughan  has adjusted well and corrected that in this volume. Kitty is an engaging character and it is great to see her progression from a reliant almost-victim of her pack at the start of the first novel, to learning how to take care of herself and finally taking the lead in this installment. Both Ben and Cormac are fleshed out nicely as characters. Without giving too much away the ending was both surprising and yet very fitting.

Overall the third Kitty Norville book combines great character development with some clever touches. 8/10. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review:Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Eking out a living on the outskirts of Squardeal, a frontier town in the middle of nowhere, is hard but Shy South has never been afraid of hard work. However when returning to her farm after selling the season's crops she finds her home burned and her brother and her sister stolen, she realizes may have to return to the ways of her bloody past. She is a accompanied by her cowardly step father Lamb, a man whose past may be bloodier than her own (hint, hint). Meanwhile The union is trying to stamp out rebellion on it's outskirts and have hired Nicomo Cosca's company of the gracious hand to do it. The comapny has with them their very own lawyer Temple, a man who prefers to take the easy path. However when he crosses Shy's path he may not have a choice in the matter.

This book had been marketed as Abercrombie's Western and this is very much reflected in the themes of the book, such as the byplay between order and freedom in a frontier setting. Like Abercrombie's two previous books this one stands nicely on its own but long time fans will be happy to see the return of Logen nine-fingers (although he is never once called by this name throughout the book) A host of other familiar faces make appearances, including Cosca, Shivers and Sergent Friendly and one of their stories is completely resolved.

I enjoy how Abercrombie creates a sense of forward momentum in his books with some of the recurring characters being noticeably older and the technology of the world continuing to progress.

While interesting in their own right most of the Point of view characters aren't as well portrayed as characters in previous books. Though having said that I thought that Temple really stole the show and was glad to see his story taken in the direction I thought that Shivers story should have been taken in Best Served Cold. A lot of reviewers will tell you this book is Abercrombie at his most cynical but I don't think that is the case; Shy and Temple's story is as close to a happy ending as you will expect to see in one of his books.

Overall Abercrombie delivers his usual collection of cynical wit and superb storytelling in a somewhat different setting. 8/10.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Dawnflight by Kim Headlee

Arthur the Pendragon, representative of Rome in Britain, was able to lead his forces to victory against a loosely united group of Pictish clans in the battle of Aber-Glei. To their surprise Arthur imposes a rather light treaty on the defeated, hoping to win the clans to his cause. As part of this treaty Chieftainess Gyanhumara ("Gyan") nic Hymar is obligated to marry a Brytoni nobleman.She chooses Urien map Dumarec, son of her clan's worst enemy, in hopes of bringing in lasting peace to her people. However when a prophecy suggests that a Brytoni chief will cause her great joy and great sorrow and lead to her death, she begins to question. A matter not helped when she finally meets Arthur and falls in love with him.

The crux of the story, at least for me, is a coming of age tale. Gyan has been groomed to lead her people and takes this responsibility very seriously. However in a sense her upbringing has been very sheltered and events conspire to confront her with a larger world. Naturally she begins to question her place within it and to discover who she truly is and what she truly believes. I thought Headlee did an excellent job in slotting in other characters points of view to balance things out but Gyan is undoubtedly the star of the show. My only issue is that is that Urien and Arthur's sister Morghe are not given any redeeming qualities and seem a little too like cartoon villains though the main villain of the piece Cuchullain is portrayed much better. 

This Arthurian tale is set across the backdrop of Britain in the fifth century and everything from the languages, cultures and religions is vividly portrayed. The various forms of foreshadowing were used to good effect and infusedthe tale with a real tension.

Overall Dawnflight does a fantastic job of combining a coming of age tale with a vivid backdrop. 8/10.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Review:Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove

In the year 2067 the Middle East has been pacified by a nuclear strike, all that remains between Tsao Ch'un’s vision of one worldwide city is the divided remnants of the United States of America. Ch'un chooses Jiang Lei, a rarity in being a genuinely honest man, to lead this campaign. Meanwhile Jake Reed has been having trouble adjusting to life inside Chun Kuo and is sure he is about to be made to 'disappear' like the other troublemakers. Unexpectedly an offer comes from GenSyn to work on creating a datascape for research purposes. However other forces have an interest in this as well. Twenty years later Tsao Ch'un decides to make war on the seven, his lead administrators, having driven them to think of deposing him through his tyrannical ways.

The novel is divided into two temporal periods set twenty years apart. There is no real flow between these periods, unlike the first novel, which gives the impression this second prequel is something of an info dump. Surprisingly the author does not go into details on any battles despite two wars taking place during these periods. Key scenes are left unwritten and the resolution to both wars remains murky. All of this makes the novel feel rushed.

On the plus side Wingrove characterisation is top notch. Even characters who only a single point of view scene are well fleshed out. The political machinations and the world-building are interesting but could have been expanded upon further.

Wingrove has created a top-notch world and interesting cast of characters but this second prequel suffers from rushed pacing and at times feels like filler. 7/10.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review:The Necromancer's Grimoire by Annemarie Banks

Following the recovery of the Hermetica Nadira and her companions journey with a group of Templar knights to Istanbul. The knights seek to recover a lost treasure and plan on going to Istanbul and stealing a grimoire from a necromancer who works for the sultan. The knights want to Nadira to use the book to contact a dead member of their order, in return she can use it to contact Lord Montrose’s dead brother and hopefully give him the peace that he seeks, though the necromancer may not take kindly to their plans.

Nadira remains the stand out character and I enjoyed watching her grow. As her powers develop so does her self-confidence and she begins to take on more of a leadership role rather letting other people shape her life. Both Lord Motrose and William are also well fleshed out as support characters. However I did not feel that the rest of the support characters were fleshed out enough, especially the Templar knights. When things happen to them later in the book it is hard to care as we don't really know much about them.

Pacing is a very real issue in this one with everything feeling far too rushed and as a result the really big moments felt hollow. I don't know if this in reaction to a perceived slow pace in the first novel and if so I would be flabbergasted as Banks debut was well-controlled in this area. Some areas of the plot also did not make a great deal of sense, for example it is decided that Nadira will attempt to steal the grimoire when the necromancer is at the height of his sexual pleasure as for some reason he won't be able to sense Nadira taking control of it. This knowledge comes from one of the Templars but how he came by it is never revealed.

The passage of time is not something kept clear in the narrative and would like to see Banks address this in future instalments.

One improvement from her debut was the insertion of a very clear ending in this instalment.

Overall I think this book suffers from 'second book syndrome'. The lead character is well portrayed but many of the support characters can be likened to stick figures. Pacing is an area that needs some work. 6.5/10.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Wytchfire by Michael Meyerhofer

Rowen Locke is a man at a crossroads. His dream of becoming a knight of the crane has been shattered after years as an apprentice. His only plan is to return to his home city of Lyos a place with nothing for him but unpleasant memories. Luckily he finds work as a caravan guard with a travelling merchant unaware how drastically his life is about to change. Meanwhile Fadarah a half-breed outcast sorcerer leads an army of mercenaries in a campaign against the free cities. Most of the battles are one-sided as Fardah unleashes his nightmare, a beast of unfathomable power which he can barely control. The terrible secret is that the nightmare used to a Shel'ai like him, a friend who was exposed to unimaginable powers. There are others of their band of outcasts who were exposed to the same power who lie dormant in comas. When one awakens and has plans of her own Fadarah's plans are left in jeopardy.

The highlight of this novel is undoubtedly the depth of the characters. Meyerhofer does an excellent job in exposing each character layer for layer. I especially liked the distinction he made in how Fardah viewed himself compared to how other characters viewed him. Rowen's past unfolds well throughout the story in a way that is both unobtrusive to the plot and makes a great deal of sense.

Pacing is well controlled and the plot moves along nicely. My only concern in this area is Rowen encounters a former companion, Jalist Hewn, fairly early in the story. Jalist ends up joining Fardah's army which is fine as he stated he would but it is implied that he had been with them for some time despite the fact that at most several weeks could have passed since he encountered Rowan.

The world building is solid; there are the equivalent of elves and dwarves but with enough of a twist to remain interesting. The biggest plus for me in this area that it never distracts from the plot itself or threatens to overshadow it.

All in all strong characters and a focussed approach to the plot make for a solid read. 8.25/10.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Isle Witch by Terry Brooks

Thirty years ago the elves launched an expedition lead by Prince Kael to find a mysterious magic. None of them returned until now. Kael himself is found half-drowned, dumb and almost out of his mind. With him is a map outlining his journey in an unknown language. The current elf king Allardon strikes a deal with the druid Walker Boh to translate the map and lead an expedition to find this mysterious magic. In return Walker will receive Allardon's support in forming a druid council. However the isle witch, a powerful magician with a grudge against Walker, plans on taking the magic for herself.

Brooks has a strong descriptive style that always brings the world of Shannara to life in vivid detail. This either works for you or doesn't. Well I do enjoy it I wish that Brooks did not have to describe every meal each character has in such detail, plus ale seems to go with everything. I am glad to see Walker back as he was by far the most compelling character from the heritage of Shannara series. Seeing Walker struggle with maintaining his own identity as his actions are increasingly similar to Allanon's is a great step in his development.

It was nice to see the introduction of advancing technology through the airships. The Shannara books are often set hundreds of years apart but this has not always reflected well.

Brooks instance on reusing characters from the same families, ie the Leah's and Ohmsford's backfires in a big way. The central twist in this book is supposed to be the connection between the isle witch and Bek but is highly obvious early on in the novel. The plot of finding the three keys does seem a bit far-fetched at times and while this is addressed to an extent most of the characters appear highly naive in noticing the flaw in the logic of this situation earlier.

Overall Brooks does provide another decent novel with some very strong points. The obvious plot twist and flaw in the plot's logic detract a little from this. 7/10.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

With the last battle upon them Rand al'Thor, the dragon reborn, gathers the rulers of nations together at the field of Merrilor. Rand hopes to use the opportunity to forge a lasting peace once he is gone. Rand's ambitions do not end there, instead of simply sealing the Dark One away again Rand wants to destroy him forever. To do so he believes he must destroy the few remaining seals on the Dark One's prison, something the Amyrlin Seat Egwene al'Vere is firmly against. Meanwhile an army of Trollocs has invaded Caemlyn and the last King of Malkier Lan Mandragoran leads an army of his own into the blight. The forces of the light are forced to fight on multiple fronts and the last battle has begun.

One thing that struck me almost immediately was how well Sanderson adapted his style to most of the view points, particularly Rand, Lan and Perrin that made me believe I was reading parts Jordan must have written himself. Sadly there was the occasional use of a modern term within the prose that Jordan would never have done that occasionally killed this notion. I can't understand how with a team of editors this could not have been weeded out. There was a similar problem with Mat's POV to what happened in TGS which made his the least convincing perspective in that book. I think Sanderson struggles with the subtle humour that Jordan injected in Mat's perspective and overcompensates. The end result makes Mat feel like a less mature character. Thankfully this does get ironed out as the book progresses.

As would be expected the majority of the book is taken up with the last battle itself and Sanderson does an excellent job in creating a convincing atmosphere of tension throughout. The struggle between Rand and the Dark One was cleverly done and certainly wasn't what I would have expected. The biggest payoff in terms of character development came from Rand and Perrin. Where they ended this book considering how they started the series makes perfect sense and shows a real growth.

I was a little disappointed in how some instances mentioned multiple times in prophecy throughout the series were glossed over and left me wondering if either Sanderson had run out of time or if Jordan's notes were unclear.

Overall aside from a few minor issues I think Sanderson has done an excellent job in bringing this series to a close. 8.5/10.