Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Ghosts 2014: The Snowman

“Bah humbug.” Inspector Brown muttered as he stomped his feet in a futile attempt to force some feeling back. He loathed Christmas. It was like the bat signal for nut-jobs and he invariably found himself freezing his balls off in some redneck’s backyard.
At least his partner was the one having to wrestle the suspect into their car, some pimply kid who kept screaming about a snowman even when his bloody fingerprints covered the knife. Inspector Brown frowned at that self-same snowman, which stared contemptuously back.
“Must be losing it.” He muttered. “Could have sworn he wasn’t so close before.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Prince Yarvi has always been an outcast and a disappointment to his parents. In a society which values strength of arms Yarvi disfigured hand has been a major handicap. Nonetheless Yari has used his brains and cunning to study to become a Minister and is about to take the exams before his father and elder brother are murdered. Thrust into kingship Yarvi lacks confidence to fulfill the role, nonetheless he swears an oath to avenge his family. He later learns that his uncle had his father murdered and attempts to do the same to Yarvi who is betrayed and left for dead. Made a slave Yarvi is still intent on fulling his oath and may acquire some strange companions to do so.

This novel is very much a coming of age story at its crux and explains the Young Adult classification. Yarvi is initially consumed by his lack of physical prowess and his status as an outcast but begins to trust his own strength as the novel progress.

While Yarvi is a cconvincing protagonist I found the support cast less fleshed out then I have come to expect from an Abercrombie novel. One of the reasons for this is Abercrombie has steered away from the multi points of view perspectives which he is so good at.

The world building is exceptionally well done and unintrusive. The world is set in a viking like setting with politics and religion well portrayed in particular.

Despite being the first volume in a trilogy the story stands very well on its own and I enjoyed the well foreshadowed plot twists,

Overall Abercrombie has delivered a solid novel but his characterization is somewhat below what I have come to expect. 8/10.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Harry August was born in 1919. His mother was a household maid who was raped by the affluent master of the household where she worked. Harry's mother died in childbirth and while he was not acknowledged as his father's son his aunt ensured that Harry was raised within the household by the groundskeeper and his wife. Aside from his rather traumatic beginning Harry lived a rather ordinary life and the died....only to be born again in 1919 and have his memories from his previous life slowly come back to him and so the process begins again. Throughout his lives Harry meets others like him who form the Cronus Club who abide by a code of non-interference in linear affairs, At the end of one of his lives receives a message that the world is ending or more correctly ending sooner than it should. Knowing that one of his own kind can only be responsible Harry sets out to find the culprit.

The concept is an original and well conceived one. The story takes place as something of a narrative from Harry's perspective and as one might except Harry jumps around from life to life as events which have shaped him effect 'the present' circumstance. This is an appropriate way of doing things as it shows a very real similarity to a real world biography and is an excellent way to explore the central character to an impressive degree.

With such an approach there was a very real risk that the support characters would be left underdeveloped which I am happy to say is far from the case.

Overall an original concept and well developed lead ccharactermake for a compelling read. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Lore and Order by Steve Peacock

Jameson Parker is a warlock, a government sanctioned and controlled wizard with his magic being limited to whatever he can have signed off by Whitehall's bureaucrats. Jameson is however okay with that seeing as how the power of his magic once consumed him and made him into the 'dark lord of Hampshire'. Oh and if he used his magic without permission his bosses may explode his heart. When fires begin sprouting up all over Humberside City it is obvious an arsonist is involved and when a magical connection is inferred Jameson is sent to investigate. However with his government bosses  having major trust issues with him and the other local warlocks looking to start their own revolution, things may get complicated. 

As with most urban-fantasy novels, this one is written from a first person perspective and like other novels in this genre the key to a great read is having an engaging lead character. Jameson Parker certainly ticks all the right boxes. There are similarities to Harry Dresden and Bobby Dollar but these are largely superficial and I did enjoy his 'Britishness' and his surprisingly playful nature. 

The world-building is pretty interesting without being overbearing and I felt that Peacock used the setting of Humberside well enough. 

Pacing is well-controlled with never a lull throughout proceedings. I did enjoy the theme of the lead character having to rely on other non-magical solutions and thought this was worked rather cleverly into the conclusion.

My only minor gripe was with the random paragraph breaks mid-sentence which were distracting and broke the flow. It was also something that could have been easily remedied. 

Overall Peacock delivers a a strong lead-character driven novel and I can't wait to see where the next novel takes us. 8.5/10.   

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology

An anthology based on a look behind the scenes into the writing process itself, from brain storming story ideas, through the initial drafts, writing group feedback and final drafts. I haven't come across anything like this before. It's a very cool concept and will be a useful tool to budding writers and any readers with an interest in all things 'behind the scenes.' Of course all that aside the story themselves still need to work on their own and I'd say for the most part they do.

A Fire in the Heavens by Mary Robinette Kowal: A priestess of a religious minority group sails across the ocean hoping to help her people escape discrimination by finding the land where the mythical founders of her religion hailed from. However she finds more than she bargained for and there may be a good reason her ancestors fled. A very believable and well-developed protagonist steals the show and is well supported by some well conceived support characters. World-building is solid and the plot is well paced. 8.5/10.

I.E. Demon by Dan Wells:Members of the U.S. military are tasked with field testing new technology which disables explosive devices. However they run into problems when the device malfunctions and they find themselves the target of a very angry gremlin. The weakest story in the collection by a country mile. The two speaking characters are underwhelming, with no real development and the story has very real issues of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. The concept itself is interesting and the conclusion is well thought out but everything else felt rushed. From the writing group discussions it is revealed that Wells was working to a word number constraint but I don't think that is a good enough excuse. The word count should be firmly dictated by the needs of the story not the other way around. 5/10.

An Honest Death by Howard Tayler: A biotech firm has developed a way to cancel the aging process making human immortality a reality. However when when death himself takes issue with this development and confronts the cooperation CEO his security team find themselves in an unprecedented situation. Is it all an elaborate hoax and if not can they protect their boss from the grim reaper? A very strong and well developed core cast of characters were the driving force in this story. The concept was clever and well considered and the pacing was spot on. 8.5/10.

Sixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson. Set in a world where birds raised on archipelago chain grant people amazing abilities. A lone trapper must face up to the end of his world as outsiders seek to learn the source of the birds' ability. When he meets up with a stranded member of the outsider crew he learns that the fate of the island and their world itself is in their hands. Everything I have come to expect from Sanderson on his best days. The world-building was outstanding, the interaction between the two protagonists was believable and wove the various plot lines and themes together. An exceptionally well considered and satisfying conclusion to top it all off. 9/10.

Overall three of the story in this collection are absolute gems and the anthology offers something unique in the way it looks at the writing process. 8/10.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Having survived Sadeas betrayal through the unexpected aid of the bridge four crew Dalinar steps up his efforts to unite the High Princes, knowing that an unfathomable danger is just around the corner. Kaladin the leader of bridge four finds himself assigned as head of  Dalinar's bodyguard. While he doesn't entirely trust him, due to his social station, he knows that bridge four's only hope is for Dalinar to remain alive. Meanwhile Shallan finds herself in grave danger. The ship is attacked by assassins leaving Jasnah dead and Shallan as possibly the sole survivor. She needs to continue her journey to the shattered plains, knowing the very fate of the world could lie in her completing Jasnah's mission.

There is a lot right with Sanderson's second installment in the Storm Light archives series. This very well might be Sanderson's finest piece of world-building combining a vivid-landscape  with a long history and various peoples. These are explored in greater depth than the first volume.

Dalinar, Kaladin and Shallan remain the three main protagonists and the pay off in particular from Kaladin and Shallan as they mature throughout the book is very rewarding. I also enjoyed the exploration in the complex motivations of side characters and groups.

In no uncertain terms this is a large novel. Yet at no point did I find myself experiencing any lag as the plots developed, a sign of exceptional pacing.

There is also an unexpected depth to some of the subplots, as complex issues such as racism are explored in a very mature way.

Sadly Sanderson's biggest struggle remains his attempts to improve the humor in his writing.  There are number of examples where this felt forced and made some of the character's almost 'cartoony' at times. Having said that there were moments when he did get it right, some of the interactions between Pattern and Shallan being the best examples. The only other negative comment I have is the choice of using some words in dialogue which do not gel with the setting and do lead to moments where I lost my immersion in the story.

Overall the second installment of this series is combination of excellent world-building, character development and pacing. Minor issues in forced humor provides a slight distraction at times. 8.5/10.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Thornlost by Melanie Rawn

After finally winning a place on the summer circuit the members of Touchstone find themselves in a seemingly secure position. In addition to their success on stage they have gained a valuable ally within the royal family. However all is not as calm below the surface. Mieka's marriage is marred by an act of domestic violence that has Cade concerned that they are taking the first steps into one of the horrible visions of the future. The Archduke and his pet group Black Lightening have their own agenda for Touchstone as well.

The centerpiece of the series remains the complex relationship between Cade and Mieka which continues to steal the show. However I found the support characters developed to a very satisfying degree in this installment as well.

The sheer complex historical and social structure of Rawn's creation is highlighted extremely well with Touchstone's role in the movement for women's rights and the hints of the Black lightening stirring up long dormant racial tensions.

This series and this novel in particular are perfect examples of putting character development and interaction at the forefront of a story providing a base for building the plot around. I definitely found the story had a tighter focus than the last installment which I am extremely pleased about.

Overall this is certainly the strongest installment in this series to date 8.75/10.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

With The war of the known world upon them Ashe and Rhapsody, leaders of the Cymrian alliance, face danger on all sides. Rhapsody had fled to the safety Ylorc hoping that the fortress with protect her and her infant son Meridion from the mad dragon Anborn's rage. Having learned that the Merchant Emperor Talquist seeks her son for his own nefarious reasons, Rhapsody is forced to make a fatal choice. Ashe is left alone trying to organize their forces, while the dragon inside slowly drives him mad. Anborn begins to build a line of fortified defenses as Talquist's armies begin their forays.

This book serves as a bridging point between what has come before and as the opening act in the final trilogy in this series. As a result some significant side stories, particularly those involving Anborn Tristan Steward are definitively resolved. Having some periods of 'calm before the storm', allowed some reflection which lead to some real character development especially for Anborn. I also enjoyed how Haydon portrayed struggle that Rhapsody and Ashe had to face when their duties as parents and as monarchs clashed. 

My one disappointment is that there were some significant characters, namely Grunthor and Achmed, who suffered from a lack of 'screen time.' I know that is bound to happen with any series with such a large cast of characters but these two are definitely a huge part of these books heart and soul.

Overall Haydon has made an eight year wait worthwhile by delivering a solid novel that sets the stage perfectly for the remaining two books in the series. 8.5/10.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reviwe: Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

After an accident aboard ship Captain Will Laurence awakens on the shores of Japan. Little does he know he has suffered retrograde amnesia and his memory of the last several years is gone. Laurence and his crew's vital mission to secure the aid of the Chinese in the war against Napoleon is under dire threat. Especially when there are elements within the Chinese government who will go to any lengths to stop it. Whats-more Napoleon has made a bold strike into Russia and if he is successful he might well secure all of Europe.

The previous two volumes of the Temeraire series contained similar problems, an over extensive travelog and missing any real sense of tension. I am happy to say that both these areas have been addressed. Even though Lawrence, Temeraire and their crew pass through several countries, much of the description of traveling is cut away. Even better is the author is still able to include elements to explain how dragons are incorporated into the various societies. With taking a more direct approach into the war itself the missing tension is also regained.

I actually enjoyed the amnesia subplot and thought it was a great way to measure how much Laurence has grown as a character while at the same time playing on his strength of character.

Overall I found this volume a welcome return to form and eagerly look forward to the finale. 8/10.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: A Man Betrayed by J.V. Jones

While working their way through Halcus Jack and Melliandra are separated when they are confronted by a patrol of enemy soldiers. Melliandra is captured by slavers but is determined to turn her circumstances into her favor. Jack meanwhile believes Melli is dead. He is taken in by a smuggler and his indebted 'family' who try and manipulate him into killing the captain of the guard 'responsible' for Melli's demise. After being driven to kill Bevlin by a compulsion Tawl flees to Bren where he attempts to lose himself in drink and fighting. However the young pickpocket Nabber is determined to aid his friend. Maybor and Baralis both reach Bren themselves. Baralis is attempting to ensure that the betrothal between Kylock and the Duke's daughter goes ahead while Maybor tries to subvert him. Kylock decides to arrange an accident for the ailing king, seizes power and invades Halcus, complicating everyone's plans.

I didn't enjoy this as much as the first volume. The novelty of many of the main characters being villains has worn a bit thin and I struggled to get past the overplayed self-absorbed and bumbling nature of most of the characters. I also found the writing itself slightly rougher than the first volume.

On the positive side the pacing is generally well controlled through most of the subplots and I did find the Duke of Bren himself an interesting addition to the cast.

Overall I found this volume harder going than the last. 6/10.       

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Dangerous Women editied by by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie: Shy made off with her gang's rather underwhelming amount of loot after a heist. However after her horse collapses outside a ghost town she has has to use all of her resourcefulness to try and survive her pursuers. Has it's moments and has more of a western feel to it than Red Country but doesn't offer anything more than a light entertaining read. 7/10.

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott: A couple deal with the fallout of their daughter being abducted. The father begins to wonder if his wife may have more to do with their daughter's disappearance  than she is letting one. The story is told from the husband's perspective and I loved the way the very character of the wife shifted and changed through his eyes. Very well delivered twist as well. 8.5/10.

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland: Tells the story of Nora, one of the young daughters of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as she is caught up in her parents squabble. Nora's view point is well portrayed but the story itself doesn't seem to go very far and feels almost incomplete.  6.5/10.

The Hands Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass: Science fiction story about a young man, who is down on his luck, being told a very strange story by an alien in a bar. Exceptional world building in a limited space with some well portrayed characters. 8.5/10.

Bombshells by Jim Butcher:  Molly is approached by Justine for help in a delicate matter. Thomas has been caught spying on the svartalves, who are in the middle of negotiations with the deadly Fomor. I've mostly enjoyed Butcher's forays into stories from the perspectives of other characters in the Dresden files and this one is no exception. Fast paced and action packed with nice little twist on the theme. 8.5/10.

Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn: Follows a female Russian fighter pilot during World War 2 who fears that her brother's disappearance from an infantry unit will doom her family. A steady piece but lacked any real spark. 6/10.

 Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale: A young man is taken in by a geriatric wrestler who fights another geriatric wrestler every few years for a beautiful woman's favor. Packed with memorable and rather quirky characters and a lot of heart. 8.5/10.

Neighbors by Megan Lindholm: An elder woman is being pushed to selling her house and move into a retirement home by her busy children, while at the same time the disappearance of an eccentric neighbor may open the door to a world where the woman may still be useful. Emotionally powerful story with a wonderfully realized protagonist. Arguably the strongest story of the anthology 9/10.

I Know How To Pick 'Em by Lawrence Block: A man in a bar is approached by a desperate housewife, seemingly looking for a casual fling. Both parties may have darker intentions.  A chilling view point and another original twist on the theme. 8/10.

Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson: Silence is the owner of an inn in a forest where dark spirits roam, easily enraged by the sight of blood or by a person running. In order to keep her family together she secretly kills outlaws with bounties on their head but her contact may want a bigger chunk of the prize. Exceptional world-building, a complex and engaging lead and a plot that moves right along. 8.5/10.

A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman: Constance is caught between the ambition of her husband Heinrich prince of Germany and her brothers bastard as they fight for Sicily. Has it's moments but overall felt a touch bland in characterization and plot. 6.25/10.

The Girl in the Mirror by  Lev Grossman: An overachieving girl in a magical school looks to prank a boy for a perceived wrong but gets more than she bargained for. I found the protagonist well drawn and loved the quirkiness of the story but it did lack a degree of depth. 7/10.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly by Nancy Kress. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the majority of women are no longer fertile and bands of survivors compete for survival by hunting and gathering. Nurse realizes the future of her own tribe is in jeopardy when some of them take an interest in something beautiful lost from the old world. Superb world-building and a very well realized protagonist. 8.75/10.

City Lazarus by Diana Gabaldon: Set in a New Orleans where the Mississippi river has now run dry. A crooked cop becomes infatuated with a beguiling stripper and begins to question his values. Strong cast of characters but I saw the twist coming a mile away. This probably wouldn't have been as obvious if it wasn't in an anthology about dangerous women. Still a very well written piece 8.25/10.

Virgins by Diana Gabaldon:  Two Scottish warriors find themselves escorting a wealthy Jewish man's daughter to the man she is to be wed to. Decent cast of characters but felt too much like it had been plucked from a larger piece. 7/10.

Hell Hath No Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon: A spiritually sensitive young woman and her friends visit a ghost town cursed by a spurned woman. Clever take on the theme and moves right along. 7/10.

Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling:  Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the the local people have turned to a form of Neo-Druidism. Juniper, the local head woman, has to preside over the trial of an accused rapist. Another piece with strong world-building and protagonist. 8/10.

Name the Beast by Sam Sykes:  A schict woman is forced teach her estranged daughter how to be one of them while hunting a family of humans. Lacked any real spark. 6/10.

Caretakers by Pat Cadigan: A middle aged woman and her younger sister begin to suspect all might not be well at their mother's retirement home. Well-drawn characters and I really enjoyed the sometimes dysfunctional relationship of the sisters. 8.25/10.

Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector: Set in the Wild card universe. The amazing bubbles and Voodoo Mama find themselves the target of a mysterious foe with the ability to steal their powers and is intent on discrediting them. Stands really well on it's own as I had no trouble following and I've never read anything in the Wild Card universe before. Well realized cast of characters and surprisingly packs a strong emotional punch. 8.5/10.

The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin: Outlines the events of a fight for the iron throne by two branches of House Targaryen. And when I say 'outlines, that's exactly what I mean. Major issues of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. While the events are interesting enough I really think this was a phoned in effort from Martin. 6.25/10.

Overall a very strong collection of stories which utilized the theme very well. Over half of them are real gems.  8.25/10 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: Heirs of the Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Plagued by guilt over the death of her father and her half sister's lover,Tynisa travels to the Commonweal; home of Salma the man she once loved and lost. There she hopes to find his family and tell them about how he lived and died and then most likely seek her own death. However she is struck by the physical similarity of Salma's younger brother to her lost love and believes she may have found a reason to live again. However Salma's family have plans of their own for Tynisa. Meanwhile Che with the aid of Thalric is heading for the Commonweal as well hoping to save Tynisa from the ghost of Tisamon, who isn't quite done with his daughter. Seda the empress of the wasps is looking to expand her new found magical powers and ultimately plunge the world into war once more.

The world-building is exceptional once again. I especially liked how Tchaikosky showed the Commonweal warts and all and there were definitely major social problems there well before the wasp invasion. One theme which was carried along through both wasp and Dragonfly characters was the effects of war and it's associated losses as well as what losing one's purpose can mean. This really leads to some major character growth for some very interesting side characters.

I did enjoy the focus that was given to Che and Tynisa and this kept the plot centered and balanced throoughout.

Overall Tchaikosky continues to deliver in his very impressive series. 8.25/10.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: City of Tigers by Leif Chappelle

Having been abandoned by his father at a young age Sigurd is raised by his mother in the small town of Havlandsby. He is a projektor, capable of communing with the elements and gaining extroidanry powers, in his case focused on music.   When she passes away the still young Sigurd decides to join the growing exodus to the great city of  Tigrebyn. After initially living as a street urchin, he later falls in with Ragna a projektor herself who has taken it upon herself to keep the remaining projecktor's safe. He then in turn decides to leave her and lives with siblings Hemming and Kai who have recently been abaondoned their own mother. Years pass and Sigurd, whose powers have now grown, makes a living by performing one man orchestra on street corners. Prokektor's role in society has rapidly been replaced by machina and the University at the forefront of their creation seek out Sigurd to create even more powerful machina, by any means necessary. Meanwhile an unexplained fire occurs killing several people but is the culprit a faulty machina or a rouge projecktor?

The crux of the book is the age old clash of magic and technology. While some parts of Chappelle's take on this are well explored, the origin of the projektor's  powers in this case, others are not, such as machina in general. This unevenness permeates throughout most facets of the novel. No attempt is made to explain why projektors  are suddenly outcasts all of a sudden despite playing a pivotal role in society until quite recently. This was the main point of conflict in the story so needed to be explored. 

The writing for the most part is tidy but there are times when it does come across as stilted, particularity in areas of dialogue. The difference between Sigurd's younger and older point of views were well distinguished.

Most chapter titles contain a reference to some coming event, such as "three days before the fire." This created a strong sense of foreboding and was a clever tool.   

Overall despite having a great deal of potential this novel is badly let down by an unevenness in writing, plot control and world-building. 6/10.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The White-Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker

Having barely survived Cil-Aujas The exiled wizard Achamian, the daughter of the woman he loved Mimara and their ragtag group of mercenaries the Skin-eaters continue on their expedition to the coffers. The non-man Cleric begins feeding the group a strange drug to regain their strength but there is bound to be consequences. Meanwhile The great ordeal under Kellhus is forced to split into parts when food runs low. Soon they are faced with a new threat a massive hording of Scranc which dogs their steps. Sorweel meanwhile awaits for the mother to use him aginst Kelhus but is troubled when he realizes the aspect emperor's war is real. Esmenet's and Maithanet's trust in one another continues to fracture as the empire crumbles around them, not realizing that one of Esmenet's son's is pulling the strings.

Like the previous volume the story is divided into three main arcs. Also like the Judging Eye slow pacing is a real issue. The Achamian arch was the sole exception last time but now falls into the same trap. I must admit I was disappointed how little each plot has advanced by the end of the book but at least they all end on interesting cliffhangers.

On the positive side the characters remain well fleshed out and deliciously conflicted. We also see a return to the large scale battles of the previous trilogy which Bakker absolutely excels at.

Overall most of Bakker's strengths are on display again but slow pacing is still a real issue. 7/10. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Ringil Eskiath was a hero in a bitter war against a sentient species of reptiles years ago. Now he rots in a backwater town, eking out a meager living on the back of his reputation. That is until his mother shows up and contracts Ringil to track down a cousin who has been sold into slavery. However more may be going on in the recently legalized slave trade then meets the eye. The lady kir-Archeth is a kiriath half breed left behind by her father's people when they attempted to return home and now adviser to the monarch of the Yhelteth empire. Tasked with investigating  a brutal massacre she fears the ancient enemy of her people, the Dwenda are returning. Egar is a clan chief among a people of nomads who can't quite settle back into his old life after seeing part of the larger world and fighting in terrible wars. However he may have made the wrong enemy when he crosses the clan's shaman and he finds himself a piece in a far larger game.

The world-building is a touch uneven to say the least. There are some very intriguing glimpses into cultures and history but it seems too rushed and doesn't quite fit together. I can't understand how peoples who have so recently been in contact  with each other in a major war can have have such disparate knowledge on the Dwenda. Archeth's lack in this regard is deeply troubling.

This ties into a major pacing issue; the story is simply too rushed, especially from Ringil's encounter with the Dwenda onwards.

The three main characters are interesting but everything is too rushed to see them really develop. I would have especially liked the see the relationship between the three protagonist's explored further.

I'm also not a fan of an author simply inserting graphic sex scenes  simply for the sake of shocking the reader without advancing the plot or character development. Morgan is certainly guilty of this.

Overall Morgan's novel is a promising one but is too rushed to develop into would it could have been. 6.75/10.       

Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: At Faith's End by Chris Galford

With the Idasian emperor having fallen a power vacuum has emerged which many contenders would seek to full.Leopold a priest and brother to the late emperor, strongly supported by his wife, who has been out of the empire for decades sets to work taking the throne. His main opponent is a nobleman Walthere Cullick who has the empress under his thumb and hopes to marry his daughter Charlotte to the former emperor's young son. Meanwhile the emperor's bastard son Tessel has taken control of the imperial army in the field. He lacks the support of the nobles and when an attempt on his life fails he decides to lead the army home intent on conquest. Rurik Matair is uncertain of his own place, he is caught between his loyalty to Tessel and his own brother. His friends in the company of the eagle have turned their backs on them unsure if he is responsible for raping Essa when she was drugged. All the while the man responsible the deranged baker Voren would like nothing better than to see the end of Rurik.

Like the first book the biggest strength of this one is the diversity and complexity of it's well realized cast of characters. Having said that I was disappointed that some of the events that happen do not seem to leave an emotional impact on the characters. For example a group of merecenaries attempt to rape Essa but this does not seem to have any impact on her going foward.

Pacing is initially very slow with little happening in the first third of the book. Having said that once it does pick up I was hooked and thought the ending in particular was well realized.

Another minor issue is that two conversations that Rurik has with Alviss and Essa later in the book seem to be completly recycled from earlier. This should have been picked up in editing.

Overall this is a good solid book but several issues make it somewhat less than it's predecessor. 7/10.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review:Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar is on something of an enforced probation as some of the higher powers in Heaven look at his role in the events of the emergence of a "third way."  Things quickly get worse as an undead creature named Smyler begins attacking Bobby. Smyler is after the location of an archangels feather that Bobby has which could cause trouble for Eligor a grand duke of hell by proving he has been making deals with someone in heaven behind his colleagues' backs. That coupled with the fact that someone pretty powerful needs to have been involved to bring Smyler back from the dead is enough for Bobby to decide to take the fight to Eligor. He embarks on a seemingly doomed venture into hell itself to rescue his demon girlfriend Casimira from Eligor's backyard.

Bobby's journey through hell is an emotional tour de force. While the first volume touched on the themes of redemption and characters of shades of grey this one takes it to the next level as Bobby encounters not only evil in hell but some good as well. It definitely doesn't shy away from some tough questions and the characterization definitely takes a step up from the previous volume. 

My only critique would be the ending is a touch predictable and does seem a bit underwhelming compared to the rest of the story.

Overall  Williams improves on his previous urban fantasy effort with a tough emotional punch. 8.25/10.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Review:The Baker's Boy by J.V. Jones

The king's chancellor and powerful sorcerer Baralis has been plotting for decades to rule the kingdom of Harvell and eventually create for himself an empire. He secretly fathered the heir Prince Kylock and is responsible for an injury to the king that leaves him unable to rule. Now Baralis turns his attentions to a former co-conspirator Lord Maybor who has plans of his own. Maybor wishes to have his daughter Melliandra marry Kylock and secure more power for himself. Something Baralis won't allow. Meanwhile an orphaned baker's apprentice Jack learns he may have powers of his own and must flee the castle that has been his home as Baralis will undoubtedly see him as a threat. Melliandra has no desire to wed Kylock and decides to run away herself.

A wiseman named Bevlin had foreseen events taking place in the present and had dispatched a young knight named Tawl on a vague quest to "find the boy". Tawl is imprisoned by the corrupt archbishop of Rorn. He is eventually released so the archbishop can try and figure out what he is up to. The archbishop also gets wind of Baralis' plans and is very uneasy about them.

At first glance the Baker's Boy might appear to be a combination of standard fantasy stereotypes. This is certainly not the case. What I found extremely refreshing is that the plot focussed on the three villians, Baralis, Maybor and the archbishop and their plots as well as how they play spoiler to the  three heroes. However I did have some trouble with the characterization for the three as they are all too much like stereotypical villains and can lack a degree of complexity. For example the archbishop is portrayed as glutton in almost every scene he appears in and they all seem to suffer from an unrealistic overconfidence. Oddly enough the only villain who doesnt seem to fall into this trap is Baralis assisant and I'm curious to see how he develops.

Pacing is very well controlled and the world-building is interesting as well.

Overall I enjoyed the different approach by focusing on the villains' various schemes but bit more complexity in their characterization would have been a great touch. 7.5/10.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall

Dahoud is a former military commander who committed great atrocities, particularly against women, at the behest of djinn that shares his soul. He has been in hiding for years, working as a clerk and hoping to forget his past. When he is given an opportunity to become the satrap of a territory he hopes he can make up for all he has done. Merida is a weather magician who has recently become a diplomat to a land that doesn't believe in her skills. However when she brings rain she may have also brought a great deal of trouble for herself.

The first thing that I noticed about this novel is that the prose does not gel with the 'dark' fantasy setting the author was trying to create. It is rather simplistic and underdeveloped.

Most of the characters come across as highly naive. While this may suit Merida it certainly doesn't suit the rest of the cast.

The plot is highly unorganized and scampers all over the show. There is very little build up to important moments and it often seems to lack an overall vision.

There aren't quite enough typos to say the book was riddled with them but there are certainly enough to be distracting.

While the basic premise of Storm Dancer had potential, huge problems in the prose, character development and overall plot made it a chore to read. 3/10.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

With the worm at world's end roused and seeking the to devour the Elohim the Land is plunged into a never ending twilight. With her adopted son Jeremiah finally free of his dissociation Linden Avery seeks to aid him in a desperate plan to build a refuge for the remaining Elohim and forestall the end of everything.  Meanwhile Thomas Covenant has finally put an end to his insane ex-wife's suffering and the inadvertent damage she was doing to the arch of time. Covenant is healed from his injury's by Brinn who tasks Covenant with protecting the Lurker against possession by a Raver. All three characters must face their greatest fears if the Land is to survive.

As one would hope in the concluding volume in a series plot lines are constantly being resolved throughout this novel. This set up a steady pace throughout which certainly kept me engaged.

As always the main strength of any Donaldson novel is the depth of his characters. Covenant, Linden and Jeremiah all get point of view chapters and Donaldson does an amazing job of showing the toll the strain of events takes on each of them. The cast of support characters are also exceptionally strong and well fleshed out.

Overall strong pacing and engaging characters make for a fitting finale for one of the cornerstone series in fantasy literature. 8.5/10. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review:The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

With their options seemingly exhausted and Locke virtually on death's door due to poison Locke and Jean receive an  offer of assistance from a source they would never have expected, one of the Bondsmagi. The Bondsmagi in question, Patience, is willing to heal Locke in exchange for the gentlemen bastards' aid in rigging an election in the city of Karthain. However the opposition have an interesting cats-paw of their own, Sabetha Belacross Locke's former lover and someone whose skills are a match for his own.

The story is divided into two main parts; the events in the present and events in the past detailing Locke's first meeting with Sabetha, interesting turning points in their relationship before detailing efforts of the teenage gentleman bastards to stage a play while juggling an overbearing patron and other obstacles. One advantage to this strategy is Lynch gets to use some interesting characters such as father Chains and Calo and Galdo who were killed in earlier books. There is however a major drawback which I will come back to.

The book starts with a roar and hiss but runs out of steam in the middle and never really recovers. Part of this is due to a lack of tension. Sabetha obviously has no intention of doing serious harm to Locke and Jean and we know that the main characters are under no threat in the past storyline, ie the major drawback. Part of this could have been alleviated by focusing more on the conflict between the two Bondsmagi factions as this is clearly a major plot point but an underdeveloped one.

Having said that the characters remain engaging and there is an interesting touch of world-building which hints at the direction this series will take.

While there are some pacing issues and a serious lack of tension strong characters make for a worthwhile read. 7/10.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago a cosmic event named calamity occurred. This burst of energy gave a select group of men and women, now called epics, extraordinary powers. However instead of using these abilities for the betterment of mankind the epics seized power for themselves. David is a young man bent on revenge. Ten years ago he watched Steelheart, the epic who rules what was once Chicago and is said to be invincible, murder his father.  However David has seen something no one else alive has, he has seen Steelheart bleed. David begins a search for the Reckoners, a shadowy group who fight the epics, although only some of the low level ones. He hopes he can convince them to help him against Steelheart and gain his vengeance.

One aspect of writing that Sanderson often has trouble with is humour and this is really evident in this novel. David is meant to be consumed by the need for vengeance in a dystopian world but is seemingly obsessed with random metaphors. This is really distracting in the first half of the book and doesn't sit well with the subject matter. Thankfully this eases once the action picks up later in the book. 

I noticed in The Rithmatist, Brandon's other young adult novel, that the protagonist seemed younger than he should have and that is also the case for David here and is something Sanderson needs to address.

Sanderson is well known for his well thought out and exceedingly well organized magic systems. What he delivers in Steelheart is very out of character. The weaknesses for the epics are especially arbitrary and I hope he addresses this later in the series.

Having said all of that Sanderson does work some very well shadowed plot twists into the mix and the group of support characters is very well realized.

Overall Steelheart is a book of two halves with a problem riddled beginning and an action packed conclusion. 7/10. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher

Following Gaius Sextus' death and the destruction of the capital of Alera the remaining legions of Alera attempt to regroup as the hordes of the Vord continue to advance. With no other option they decide to retreat to the Calderon valley, where count Bernard and his wife Amara have been preparing for the invasion for years. Meanwhile Gauis Octavian, aka Tavi, as arrives back in Alera with his makeshift forces of Aleran's and Canim and enacts a desperate plan to arrive to the battlefield in time to make a difference.

I can't help but thinking that Butcher wrote himself into a bit of corner in this final volume. It is without a doubt an action packed novel which relentless pace never lets up. However that is not necessarily a good thing and the character development, especially for the main cast, suffers as a result.

There are however two support characters where Butcher does succeed. There was a very well worked juxtaposition between Fidelias (alias Valiar Marcus) and Lady Aquitaine who have been antagonists at various parts in the series. Both have an opportunity for redemption and their stories work out very differently.

One constant throughout the series is that Tavi has always tried to come to an understanding with the enemies of Alera. With the Vord queen showing signs of very real intelligence and a yearning to understand some aspects of the Alerans for Tavi not to make an attempt to reason with her seems grossly out of character. 

Overall the final volume of the Codex Alera series is a bit of a mixed bag. There is non-stop action but the good character growth in a couple of support characters is not echoed in the main cast. 7/10.