Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Ghosts 2015: Elf

            Santa called the entire multitude of workers crammed into the workshop ‘elf’ but Elf knew he was being addressed. He hunched his misshapen shoulders as Santa loomed over him examining the Furby he’d been stuffing. After an eternity Santa grunted and thundered on. Elf sighed and rubbed his elongated ears. They’d been normal once but Santa “Claws” had a grip like an enraged crab. Elf dismissed the thought before it drew Santa’s ire. Santa always knew.
“I won’t be naughty again!” A boy screeched as the reindeer herded him inside.

Elf tutted, had he truly resembled this strange creature?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Isaac Vianio's life is back on track,he is adjusting to his relationship with dryad Lena Greenwood, accepting the fact she has another relationship with Nidhi Shah and has taken on a mentor role to a young libriomancer who has a unique new ability. When Isaac and Lena are called to investigate the murder of a Wendigo they quickly stumble onto something more. A group Gutenberg thought he destroyed years ago is resurfacing and they have plans for Lena.

The magic system was very well thought out and constructed and I was happy to see Hines addressing new areas, such as e-books, and how they are incorporated into it. Lena was the most intriguing character from the first book and each chapter begins with a short extract on her own thoughts on her life. This cleverly shadowed a concept introduced in the book; whether you could incorporate enough key events into a book to recreate a person.

The mix of humour and addressing serious issues is again well balanced and I feel like Hines is definitely maturing as a writer.

Overall another clever, character-driven offering from Hines. 8.5/10.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan

For decades the city fortress of Bar-Khos has held the armies of the empire of Mann at bay. Now the Holy Matriach plans to lead a pincer force herself to finally crush the resistance. However there are dangers she does not expect. Ash, the aging and ailing Roshun assassin, seeks vengeance for his slain apprentice Nico. With nothing left to lose Ash is a very dangerous man. Meanwhile Che, a trained killer of the state, is assigned a secret mission; kill the Matriach if it looks like she will flee from battle, However disgusted at his own part in the destruction of the Roshun order Che is far from stable.

I really enjoyed the character-driven nature of the previous volume, especially the contrast between Ash's world-weariness and Nico's naivety. To an extant that contrast is still there but not to the same degree and the story has definitely moved to focus more on the larger events taking place. This is demonstrated by the more political focus in the early part of this volume. While this does keep things interesting I did feel sometimes the plot meandered unnecessarily.

My one criticism from the previous volume was that the supporting cast were underdeveloped and I'm glad to see that the author has made some very strong steps in rectifying this.

Overall a solid read which expands on the first volume but lacks a bit of it's character-driven focus. 8/10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Mama Sauveterre's Curiosity Shoppe by John Yeo Jr.

Tassina D'Emerald was part of a group called the laughing dancers, a supernatural group blessed with an unnaturally long life span. However after several centuries age was finally catching up with her and her famed beauty was fading. Tassina decided to make a deal with a demon and at the cost of all of her fortune and her status as a laughing dancer she swapped bodies with a younger dancer. However Tassina's triumph was short lived when she discovered the younger body was cursed with an illusion that made it's flesh terrible to look upon. Tassina believes that the younger dancer inflicted the curse herself as a form of revenge. The younger dancer, now trapped in Tassina's older body, went on with her life taking the name of Mama Sauveterre and adopting a odd assortment of individuals into a family and running a Curiosity shop that is more than it seems. Decades pass and Tassina hatches a plan to try and get Mamma to reverse the curse by trapping Mama's adopted daughter in a black magic bargain and using her as leverage. However there are unforeseen consequences that have both heaven and hell hot on Tassina's trail.

I loved the concept and think there was a very good story to be told here but the writing lets it down big time. The prose comes across as very clumsy and the author struggles with the issue of telling rather than showing readers what is happening. This is compounded by the decision to have multiple point of views shifts within paragraphs which is almost always a mistake, not to mention a pet hate of mine. There are also a number of rather obvious spelling errors which are distracting and I wish the author had given the text another edit.

Having said that I do feel that the author was able to create an interesting cast of characters and presents their own points of view very convincingly. The plot was also well paced.

There is a great story here struggling to get out but sadly writing issues keep it thoroughly buried. 5/10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

As a teenager Isaac Vaino discovered he had the magic to pull any item, provided it would fit, out of a book. Anything from a ray gun from a science fiction novel to Excalibur from a book about King Arthur. Whats more he was recruited into a secret organization founded by Johannes Guttenberg charged with protecting the general population from magic and keeping it a secret. Isaac's dreams were shattered when a field operation went horribly wrong. He was taken off active duty and forbidden to use magic but was still allowed to remain with the Libriomancer's as researcher posing as a small town librarian. All that changes when Isaac is attacked by a group of vampires and saved by a kick-ass dryad named Lena who he has something of a crush on. Isaac learns that Guttenberg has disappeared the Libriomance's are under attack and something has the vampires spooked as well. Whats'more Lena romantically propositions Isaac afraid that if her current lover is turned to a vampire she will become something truly evil as the desires of her lover shape who she is. Of course this gives Isaac some serious moral implications to ponder.

I must admit I was hesitant regarding the concept; having a protagonist able to pull anything he might need from the pages of the book sounded problematic. Thankfully Hines establishes a very well thought out set of ground rules and limitations that make it work. Having the world-building based on this concept was a nice touch, For example different breeds of vampires are the result of different books and might not have weakness one would expect.  I always enjoyed the way Hines keeps the balance between the quirky and serious aspects of this book. Considering the moral implications involved in a very intelligent manner was a very nice touch.

The action is fast-paced and the characters are engaging.

Overall Hines combines a well though out concept and delivers a balanced and enjoyable read. 8/10.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchiakovsky

The two allied countries of Denland and Lascanne find themselves at war after the assassination of the king of Denland. Denland becomes a republic and can't have a working monarchy on their doorstep as it undermines their political position. Emily Marchwic is head of a noble house that has steadily declined after her father committed suicide years before. The man she blames for her father's death Mr Northway is the governor of their town and when he refuses to use his powers to prevent her fifteen year old brother from being sent to the front she hates him even more. However as she struggles to keep her family together she begins to understand he may not entirely be the villain she sees shes him as. When an announcement is made that each household must supply one woman for the front Emily volunteers herself, despite Mr Northway's efforts to save her. There she finds that the war and the fabric of her society itself may not be exactly what she has always been told.

What immediately impressed me with this book is the tone, reminiscent of something like the American civil war, that Tchiakovsky is able to capture. It is highly immersive and very different to that in his Shadows of the Apt  series. Emily is a convincing lead who grows as a character throughout the story. Supporting her are a complex cast of well-drawn supporting characters.

World-building is impressive without being intrusive, the action sequences infused with suspense all leading to a very satisfying conclusion.

Overall Tchaikovsky's first foray into stand-alone work is an impressive one. 9/10.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher

Working for Bigfoot is a small anthology of three short stories previously published in other anthologies which chronicles Harry Dresden working on behalf of Strength of a River in his Shoulders (a bigfoot, River Shoulders for short) to protect his half-human son Irwin. River Shoulders has never met Irwin having decided not to burden him with his heritage.

B is for Bigfoot: Harry poses as a middle-school janitor and discovers that Irwin is being picked on by two brothers who have a supernatural connection of their own. Problem is Harry can't interfere directly as the brothers have their own super-powered guardian . Although it is told from Harry's perspective I enjoyed how Butcher was able to make Irwin the focus of the story. 8/10.

I was a Teenage Bigfoot: River Shoulders contracts Harry again after learning that Irwin has taken ill, something his heritage should protect him from. Armed with the power of attorney Harry enters the exclusive private high school to get to the bottom of it. The weakest of the three for me. It just felt really small-scale and not much of an effort for Harry to solve the case. 6.75/10.

Bigfoot on Campus: River Shoulders has had a dream that the Irwin is in danger again. This time however Harry has a different price for his help; River Shoulders must agree to meet his son or Harry won't get involved. Harry travels to Irwin's college and finds that his girlfriend, Connie, is a vampire of the white court. Only Connie doesn't know about her heritage either. Her father sent her to college so she would feed and kill her first lover, however Irwin's nature lead him to survive the encounter, something her father is not too thrilled about. The strongest of the three. It has well-developed secondary characters, delves into River Shoulder's personality and nature for the first time really, has a decent action sequence and the best humorous moments. 9/10.

The thread which ties these books together is River Shoulder's reluctance to impose himself in his son's life which clashes with Harry's experience of not growing up with parents and knowing what that can do. It gives this little collection a lot of soul.

Overall a solid little collection which will please existing Dresden fans and those new to his universe alike. 8.5/10,    

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

In the future the majority of humanity are disembodied brains housed in jars. Linked to a matrix-like network each individual is the most important person in their own virtual world (of which they are fully aware), populated by millions of AI individuals the majority of which are unaware of the situation. Kairominas is a god emperor of a fantasy medieval setting world. The wode (caretakers of humanity who exist in the real world) require Kairominas to meet with another liveborn and procreate. Something he is not happy with as it interferes with the illusion of his existence. Meanwhile another liveborn Melhi  Kairominas's rival has plans of her own.

There is not much new to the concepts employed here and they are fully standardized trope for science-fiction. However the story is fast paced and has a well executed twist.

I was impressed that the relationship between Melhi (who doesn't even really appear on screen) and Kairominas is actually the crux of this story and is cleverly done.

Overall a concept that's been done often but a clever twist makes this a worthwhile read. 7/10.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Touch by Claire North

"Kepler" is a "ghost", a conscious that can choose to jump from body to with the slightest physical contact, shutting down the existing conscious in the body until the "ghost" departs. "Kepler" has found himself/herself in this state for quite some time and now tries to make deals with people in order to borrow their body, for example a certain amount of money for say three months use. It is during one such arrangement with a woman named Josephine Cebula that "Kepler" finds himself/herself in trouble. Josephine is gunned down by a stranger."Kepler" has experienced people or groups trying to destroy  himself/herself before but what makes this occurrence strange is that the gunman kills Josephine even after he knows "Kepler" has fled her body. "Kepler" is able to grab control of the gunman and begins a quest for answers.

The central premise of the "ghosts" is an interesting and very well thought out one. I enjoyed the way North linked it towards real events such as bouts of amnesia which made it very credible.

North is able to flesh out the concept with well timed flashbacks which works extremely well throughout the narrative and does not negatively effect the pacing.

North (in her other incarnation of kate Griffin) has always had a knack of describing urban areas and their unique characters which brings them to life and this novel is no exception.

The biggest plus for me is the very human aspect of this tale and very adult way the moral implications are considered.

Overall Touch is a beautifully written and clever story with a highly original concept. 9/10.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: The Hollow Queen by Elizabeth Haydon

Having given up part of her true name to protect her infant son Rhapsody has been able to join the war against the merchant emperor Talquist , though very important aspects of her personality and memories are now lost to her. Achmed has decided to try and assassinate Talquist himself, though this may not be enough to stop the war even if he is successful. Ashe has left the continent in an effort to gain the sea mages aid in the war and Grunthor stands guard over the sleeping child as a demon housed in an elemental stone body seeks to use the child to open the vault to the underworld.

The main problem with this novel is very uneven pacing and stems from several issues. The first 50 pages or so are spent recapping which is highly frustrating and prevents any early momentum in the story. I could understand doing that in the previous book with the almost decade long wait between that but it makes little sense now and these pages could have been utilized.

After that everything feels like its in a rush. On a few occasions we are brought to the beginning of a battle only to then be taken to the aftermath. Thus actually trying to visualize the war and how it is being fought is almost impossible.

Some very big moments that have been built up for several books are over in a few pages and makes many of the antagonists seem incompetent to an extreme.

Having said all that the lifeblood of this series, the wonderfully realized cast of characters and the relationships that have grown between them are very much intact and does act as a saving grace. Ashe in particular had some of his most memorable moments in the series and his confrontation with his uncle and the sea mages is truly memorable.

Overall this still remains a very good book but severe pacing issues prevent it being the great one (or two) that it should have been. 7/10.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Review: This Forsaken Earth by Paul Kearney

Despite having fought off the Bionese invading fleet, Rol Cortishane knows in his heart that it is only a matter of time before the pirate sanctuary of Ganesh Ka is destroyed. When an old and unwelcome acquaintance the former thief king Canker shows up  things get worse. Canker has been working for Rol's half sister and former lover Rowan as she tries to take back the throne that was stolen from her father. However things have not gone well and Rowan is besieged in the capital she has taken and needs Rol's help. Rol is reluctant to return to his former life but is put into a position where he has little choice.

Kearney's character development is superb with Rol taking center stage. Having been forced to make a new life for himself after Rowan abandoned him this novel centers around Rol's choices, and his decisions to become the man he wants to be instead of the one is heritage is forcing him to be.

Kearney has always been a master of pacing and this is no exception with well-balanced action sequences and a well worked twist.

Overall Kearney continues to deliver and show just why he is the most under-appreciated and under-read writers in the genre. 8.5/10.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

After the events of Steelheart a number of epics have descended on Newcargo attempting to kill members of the Reckoners. What these epics all have in common is that they are from Babilar (formerly New York City) under the command of a high epic Regalia's, who has a connection with Prof, command. Prof decides to take Tia and David to Babilar to meet up with the Reckoners cell based there and put a stop to her. David meanwhile has plans of his own. Knowing Megan is in Babilar as well he wants to find her and prove that epics can fight their nature. A plan that looks like immediately unraveling when Megan is blamed for the death of a Reckoner.

Like the previous book I have massive issues with David as a character. Despite watching his father murdered by Steelheart and watching his world destroyed by epics he is a goofball obsessed with silly metaphors. A couple of the other Reckoners in the New York cell suffer from similar deficiencies.

Sanderson's two biggest problems as a writer are a very real struggle with humour and writing down to an audience when he is writing Young Adult. In this genre his protagonists tend to seem younger then they are and I wish he would have read through his Mistborn books again, Vin was a very believable and well fleshed out protagonist despite being in her teens.

Once the action heats up about halfway through the book, these problems thankfully are less evident. I'm also glad the weaknesses of epics are looked at further and are no longer so arbitrary.

Overall Sanderson's struggle with humour and the Young Adult genre continue and detract from a very interesting concept. 6/10.    

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Review: Monument by Ian Graham

A drunken vagrant named Ballas, comes close to death when a pickpocket goes horribly wrong. Nursed back to health by a clergyman Ballas learns of a jeweled piece owned by a friend of the clergyman who owns a museum. Stealing the piece Ballas hopes to fence it and make his fortune. When a disagreement with an underworld boss, with church connections, ends in the offender's death Ballas finds himself on the wrong side of the Church's considerable resources and on the run. But with the church controlling most of the known world Ballas has no choice but to seek out a mythical lands which may or may not exist. In fact it almost seems like a compulsion...

Monument's greatest strength is the way the character of Ballas is gradually built throughout the novel. While it is obvious from the beginning that he is no hero finding out exactly what he was, was fascinating. Although ninety percent of the novel was told from Ballas' perspective tiny portions are told from a few other character's points of view. While I'm generally not a fan of this (I'm more of the opinion that either stick to one character's perspective or divide it more evenly, small sections in isolation seem like a cop out to me.) in this case it actually and in fact the novel wouldn't have worked without one in particular. The  supporting cast are well realized and the world-building is solid and unintrusive.

Overall Momument is a solid character-driven  novel. 8.5/10,    

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan

Five years after the events of Return of the Jedi the members of the rebellion have formed a New Republic, trying to get intergalactic trade up and running, enticing new worlds into the republic and dealing with the remnants of the empire. Thrawn, the last of the empire's Grand Admirals, has taken control of the scattered imperial fleet. He plans on using technology hidden away by Emperor Palpatine and an unlikely alliance with a dark Jedi, Joruus C'Baoth ,  to restore the fleet. In return for his aid C'Baoth would like other Jedi's to bend to his will, leading Thrawn's forces to target Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia.

For the most part Zhan succeeds in capturing the right feel for the characters, though at times it does feels like he is trying to hard by having them repeat lines from the original movies. I was especially impressed with how well Zhan was able to portray non-speaking characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca and really made them come to life.

The original Star Wars movies are pretty intent on portraying the empire as irredeemable evildoers which does give it an overstrung aspect of black and white. However in Thrawn Zhan has created a capable and intelligent nemesis who I couldn't help cheering for a little bit.

The copy I read was the 20th anniversary edition which included commentary by Zhan which added an behind the scenes aspect that added an interesting layer.

I did have an issue with some rather bizarre and silly aspects which popped up from time to time and did spoil my immersion. The best example is a new Wookie character that humans can understand due to a speech impediment.

I did find Zhan's prose a bit simplistic at times.

Overall Zhan delivers a very good Star Wars book but some issues can be distracting. 6.75/10.

This edition also contained a novella entitled Crisis of Faith. I enjoyed it and felt Zhan's prose markedly improved, is well paced and has one of the more interesting alien points of view I have read. 8/10.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Daughter of Regals and Other Tales by Stephen R. Donaldson

Daughter of Regals:  Princess Chrysalis decides to try and take hold of her birthright and become a magical creature on her twenty -first birthday.If she fails he life may be forfeit as the three leading nobles will look to take control and plunge the kingdom into war. Whats-more her magical protector is dubious about her chances and may have plans of his own to keep the kingdom intact. Superb world-building and well fleshed out support characters. I enjoyed the dichotomy of Chrysalis faith and doubt in herself. 8.5/10.

Gilden-Fire: The tale of Korik of the bloodguard and his quest with two of the master's of the land to aid the giants of Seareach. This was originally cut from the Illearth War, the second book of the Thomas Covenant series. Does not work as a standalone work as it doesn't have a real end but interesting character perspective and flows well. 8/10.

Mythological Beast: In a world where violence has been eliminated by the close control of people by machines, a man experiences some very strange physiological changes which make him a threat to society.  I found the lead very distant and  inaccessible as a character. 6/10

The Lady in White: A blacksmith relates a tale of a beautiful yet mysterious woman who lures men into the woods. A complex lead and has a finale that left me thinking on it many hours later. 8.25/10.

Animal Lover: In the future a special agent is sent to investigate a game park with an unusually high death rate. Strong world building and cleverly makes you think the story is heading one direction before switching to another. 8/10.

Unworthy of  the Angel: A guardian angel that has his memory wiped after each mission is tasked with saving an artist's soul who is slowly killing his sister. Loved the lead and the concept. I would really enjoying seeing Donaldson take this one further. 9/10.

The Conqueror worm: A married couple with deep seated issues argue after returning from a party while a centipede is loose in the house. Both primary characters are fleshed out exceedingly well but the story just doesn't go anywhere. 5.75/10.

Ser Visal's Tale: An aristocrat is plied with drinks by young nobleman and tells the tale of how another nobleman inadvertently freed a witch and was excommunicated. Well developed characters and a great twist. 8.5/10.

Overall a strong collection: 8/10.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Auri, a strange girl who lives in the tunnels below the university, knows she has only seven days before her friend Kvothe visits her again. In that time she needs to find him the perfect gift and ensure that everything is in it's proper place.

Right from the foreword Rothfuss warns that this a very different story, and one not everyone will like. There is only one character, no action and nothing resembling  a normal narrative. It is fair to say Rothfuss has taken a big chance with this story and it's one I'm glad he did because he has created something quite extraordinary and very beautiful.

Auri's perspective is very different. She is at once both very lonely yet not.... as she is able to make the world and the objects in it into something else. So even though she is the only character in this story the inanimate objects she interacts with definitely have personalities all there own. The juxtaposition between the tragedy of Auri's situation and the triumph in living her life anyway is something special.

The big reveal at the end of this story is very intriguing and I look forward to seeing how this plays into Rothfuss' next book.

Overall Rothfuss takes a big chance and delivers something unique and very different to his regular novels in this series. I hope Sanderson was taking notes. 8.5/10.

Review: Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Months after Steelheart's demise the city of Newcago is in a state of rebuilding. The Reckoners have come out into the open and joined forces with Steelheart's former guard hoping to keep the city free of epics. However Steelheart's demise has not gone unnoticed and Mitosis, an epic with the ability to make a seemingly endless supply of clones of himself, has arrived and is looking to kill David.

Marketed as a bridge between Steelheart and Firefight this novella simply does not deliver. In essence it boils down to an epic coming to town to kill David and is defeated, something which happens in the first chapter of Firefight as well. It simply offers nothing new and no character development at all. I can't help thinking Sanderson missed a trick by going with David's point of view again  instead of Mitosis or a former member of Steelheart's guard which might have been interesting.

Whats more this novella simply highlighted most of the short comings from the first book. David as a character simply does not work. He is supposed to be haunted by his father's death and destruction of the world he knew by epics, instead he is a goofball obsessed  with silly puns. This might work if it was a facade which cracked when he was under pressure but no such luck. Sanderson needs to stop trying so hard with humour because when he tries to force the issue it simply doesn't work. He also needs to stopping dumbing down his prose simply because it is a young adult book.

The only thing that worked for me was the way Mitosis is defeated is reasonably clever.  

Overall a very disappointing read which I wouldn't even recommend to fans of the first book. 4/10.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Legend by David Gemmell

Ulric has united the many tribes of the Nadir people and seeks to invade the Drenai lands. The Drenai had been following a policy of appeasement seeking to negotiate with the Nadir and had thus allowed their army to dwindle. The fate of the Drenai lies at the fortress of Dros Delnoch where an insufficient force, an incompetent general and a dying earl must seek to hold. The Earl sends a message to his old comrade Druss, a legendary warrior now in his sixties. Druss heeds the summons even knowing it will mean his death as he fears dying toothless and alone but can he still be the legend men remember? Ruk is a former army officer who seeks to stay clear of the conflict but following a chance meeting with the earl's daughter leads him to fall in love with her and draws him to the fortress.

One of the most notable features of this novel for me was one many would not expect;the byplay between the characters. Amusing at the right times, without being silly and destroying the mood and often offering some rather clever insights into the human condition. Pacing is fast and often action packed.

One thing however I think could have been improved upon is the development of Ruk's character. In the beginning he is dead set against being involved in the coming war and yet in no time he has accepted his fate. I found it quite unbelievable that he wouldn't try to avoid his fate or a least rail against it. It almost like there are two different characters with not enough linking the two.

Ulric is a very convincing villain. Far from being a cartoon one-dimensional villain who muses on how history will view him and has his people's welfare at the foremost in his mind. I found the observations of some of the other characters into his motives very apt.

I am not a fan of point of view shifts in the middle of a paragraph and found it disconcerting at various points in this book.

Overall Gemmell's first novel was fast-paced, action packed and some very interesting interactions between characters, despite a few flaws. 8/10.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Scattered across an inhospitable sea linked only by airships working on a few safe currents are a number of island kingdoms. Over recent years a wasting disease has gripped these kingdoms causing crops to fail, fishing areas to run dry and even slowly killing people. Two of these kingdoms are seeking an alliance through marriage to offset these problems. However nobody knows that prince Nikandr of Khalakovo has contracted the wasting putting the alliance into jeopardy.  As part of the celebration the Dukes of the other kingdoms arrive in Khalakovo, almost immediately the grand duke is attacked by a summoned spirit and killed. Nikandr is tasked with finding the culprit, the lead suspect is autistic child who has a strange affinity with Nikandr. Nikander believes the boy is merely the puppet of a shadow group with sinister motives and his strange powers may in fact hold the key to dispelling the wasting.

Beaulieu's world building is impressive with cultures, history and magic integrated seamlessly. Initially I found his characterization impressive with representatives from the various groups portrayed with complex motives. However as the story progressed much of this was pushed to the side with a number of characters ending up as one-dimensional cartoon villains. This stems from the novels biggest problem; mistimed pacing. Everything feels far too rushed and interesting events and character progression loses a lot of significance. Rehada's  shifts in view points I felt was particularly unbelievable in such a short amount of time.

Overall Beaulieu's world building is highly impressive and his story is intriguing and original, rushed pacing however robs this novels of key elements that could have made it great. 7/10.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: Farlander by Col Buchanan

Ash belongs to a religious order of assassins, who offer protection by seeking vengeance on anyone who slays someone who bears their talisman. However he is aging and combined with a debilitating disease his time as an active member of the order, the last thing he values, is coming to an end. In a moment of desperation Ash makes a deal with a hallucination of the head of his order; Ash can remain in the field as long as he agrees to take on an apprentice. Nico is a young man who has lost his way, he ran away from home after his father deserted the family and he couldn't stand the men his mother attempted to replace him with. However in the heart of a besieged city Nico struggles to survive and in a moment of desperation he attempts to steal the purse of a stranger. A stranger who has plans for him. Meanwhile the holy matriarch son kills a women under the assassins protection placing them in a difficult position. Do they fulfill their obligation and risk being destroyed by an empire or lose their purpose?

I enjoy character driven stories and Farlander is certainly driven by the two main protagonists and the bond that forms between them. Fight scenes are well constructed and fast paced and the plot contains some very clever and well disguised twists. The support cast are solid if slightly underdeveloped in a few cases and the world-building is solid an unobtrusive.

Overall Buchanan delivers a solid, character driven debut. 8.25/10.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Song of the Ice Lord by J. A. Clement

The Ice Lord's armies march across the face of the known world intent on nothing but destruction. Lodden, a talented inventor, is among the survivors gathered on the Skral Islands, the last bastion against the Ice Lord's advances. He must put aside the loss of his hand and accept a world-view very different from his own in order to try and salvage something before it is too late.

I enjoyed the world-building with a number of differing cultures thrown together. Lodden comes from a society very similar to ancient Greece or an idealized version of it whereas the Skarl's are more similar to Vikings. Although Clement does explore the aspects of these very differing cultures thrown together I think it would have been interesting to get a perspective from a character who didn't find it as easy to adjust.

Much of the middle period of the book is spent building, planning and waiting for the Ice Lord's advances. This could have lead to the pacing dragging but Clemet cleverly avoids this by having the characters relate tales from folklore which I enjoyed thoroughly.

While most of the main characters are believable I did find some of the support characters lacked depth. The addition of a few unnecessary points of view during the finale of the book could have been avoided.  

Overall good world-building and some memorable main characters make for a solid read. 7/10.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Tough Times All over by Joe Abercrombie: Set in the back streets of Sipani and follows a mysterious package as it changes hands several times through some rather dubious means. Clever way to get through a lot of different characters, some old favorites and some new ones. The way Abercrombie builds up characters in minimal words is impressive. 8/10.

What do you do? by Gillian Flynn: Arguably the best story in the collection. Follows a con-woman pretending to be psychic who is contracted by a woman to cleanse her home after her step-son exhibits some disturbing behavior. The best realized character in the collection and a very clever plot twist. 9/10

The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes: A rogue is hijacked by an almost forgotten god to rescue his last follower. Good world-building. 7/10.

Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale: Two men try to rescue the drug-addicted daughter of one of their significant others. Impressive voice and wonderfully realized characters. 8.5/10.

Tawny Petticoats by Michael Swanwick: Scifi. A pair of conmen take on a female partner for a daring caper. Well developed world-building and memorable characters but the ending was highly predictable. 7/10.

Provenance by David W. Ball: An art dealer is contacted by a likely thief about selling a painting. This one didn't really work for me. Pacing was well off and the characters left me feeling flat. 5/10.

Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn: Two women enter a magical club looking to make an alliance with the patron. The best piece of short fiction I've read by Vaughn. Appropriate atmosphere and believable characters. 8.25/10.

A year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch:  A retired gang is tasked with stealing a street. A fun blend of sci-fi and fantasy. I would love to see Lynch write more in this setting. 8.5/10.

Bad Brass by Bradley Denton: A thief/relief teacher gets mixed up in an odd musical instrument fencing incident. Very cool lead character and original story. 8.5/10.

Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest: A modern day warrior is tasked with investigating a strange spirit haunting and killing in lake in a small former  mining town. Steady enough but lacks the punch in the finale most of the others in the collection have had. 7.5/10.

The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham: A young rogue has to find away to free a slave girl who has caught the eye of the exiled prince she is protecting and has fallen in love with. Engaging lead character, solid world bundling and clever finale. 8.25/10.

A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell: A man in the military is forced to confront a younger version of himself from an alternate dimension. Didn't stand so well on it's own and the characters felt flat. 6/10.

Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor: A philosopher and apprentice purchase a book of magical spells one of which is said to make the user invisible. A fun and fast paced tale although the ending was a tad predictable. 7.5/10. 

A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix: A magical puppet and a knight have to try steal a collection of ivories before the gods within awake. Another fun one with a predictable ending. 7/10. 

Diamonds From Tequila by Walter Jon Williams:An actor who career hinges on his latest project finds himself in a dilemma when the leading lady dies. Fresh take on the premise and an engaging and believable lead character. 8.5/10. 

The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein: A bard with the ability to teleport travels with a caravan on exotic drug run through the desert. Well paced and well developed characters. 8/10.

The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle: A female sleuth and sherlock holmes like partner take on a curious case assigned to them by a little girl. Amazingly developed 'voice', engaging plot and solid characters. 9/10.

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman: A rogue loses his lucky coat and is caught by an arch-nemesis. Another engaging voice, quirky characters and world-building. 8.75/10.

Now Showing by Connie Willis: Set in the near future a college student is reunited with the boy who walked out on her in a world where the cinema has become an encompassing experience. Another original take with clever twists and structure. 8.75/10.

The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss: Follows Bast, who trades secrets and favours with local children at the lightening tree. Fun and I enjoyed the small-scale feel. 8/10.

The Rogue Prince or, a King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin: A prequel to Martin entry into the Dangerous Women anthology. Like that tale it is structured as a historical narrative. Also like that tale this feels like a phoned in effort by Martin. Doesn't really use the theme to any degree and while the subject matter is interesting in itself it's not inspired writing by any means. Time for Martin to stop adding his own entry to these anthologies or do it properly. 6/10.  

Overall a strong collection. 8.25/10. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa is graced, highly-skilled in a specific activity. Her grace is killing and is used by her uncle King Randa to brutally enforce his will. This leads to her being something of an outcast. Katsa resents being used as a weapon and the world where competing  kings play their games without regard for the common folk  but can't openly defy him. Instead she forms a council of like-minded individuals to do what they can for the people. On one such mission Katsa rescues an old Lienid man who turns out to be the grandfather of the princes of Lienid. This leads to  Katsa meeting with Prince Po the youngest of the princes, and a graced fighter himself ,who wants to discover why his grandfather was kidnapped and who did it.

The strongest point of this novel is that it is very much character driven. Katsa's journey of self-discovery takes center stage and I particularly enjoyed the way Cashore showed the way Katsa upbringing effected the choices she makes and the way she reacts to events.

World-building is solid and I liked the concept of graces, especially how they are often mis-perceived.

Pacing was initially on the slow slide but gets into it's stride about a third of the way through the book.

Overall Cashore delivers a strong character driven novel. 8/10,

Monday, January 19, 2015

Did not finish: The Madness of Hallen by Russell Meek

Being from New Zealand myself I am obviously excited when I come across a New Zealand author writing in the fantasy genre. However that also means when I come across something that doesn't quite work I am doubly dissapointed.

Meeks writing style itself causes problems right from the get go. There is a major issue of telling rather than showing. This is exasperated by the frequent point-of-view shifts, often within a paragraph, which makes things very disjointed and prevented me from being immersed in the story.

The plot  itself is pretty standard from what I read with two brother's in an isolated mountain village whose parents are involved in some mysterious dealings. I can't really add much further as I couldn't get past page 60.

Sadly I found this one adhered to many of the negative stereotypes of self-published writing. While I am loathe to add a rating having only finished a fraction of the book I'd say it was heading for a 3 or a 4.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: Legion:Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds, a genius who compartmentalizes different skills by creating personalized aspects that only he can see,  is contacted by on old acquaintance named Yol, a high profile Korean businessman. Yol has recently acquired a new bio-tech company which was working on a way to encode data directly into the human body. Only catch is it can be used to produce cancer. One of the lead scientist recently died in a skiing accident and his body has gone missing, with much of the data encoded within. If its falls into the wrong hands the result could be catastrophic.

Sanderson capitalizes on Stephen unique condition by showing him interacting in everyday situations (for example the book opens up with him on a date) as well has having some of enemies capitalize on it which I thought added clever layers of depth. I also enjoyed the way different aspects accepted/rejected their imaginary status.

Thankfully Sanderson doesn't overplay the humour aspect and what he does include works because of its subtly. This is definitely key for him moving forward.

Pacing is brisk with a clever plot twist.

Overall Sanderson continues to deliver in the shorter formats, combining a well worked story with clever uses of the overall concept. 8.25/10.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Master and Fool by J.V.Jones

Tawl is wrongly accused of the Duke of Bren's assassination and takes Meli into hiding. Meli discovers she is pregnant with the Duke's heir making her a very real obstacle in Baralis' plans to have Kylock head a northern empire. Meanwhile Jack learns of the danger Meli is in and decides to cut his training with Stillfox short and journey to aid her but will he be able to match Baralis and Kylock?

As with the previous volume I found the bumbling, overconfident nature of the majority of the characters to be majorly off putting. Many of the dialogue scenes also felt stilled and forced and made it difficult to get into the book. Some side characters motivations also didn't add up. 

On the positive side many of the major story arcs are resolved and it is clear that Jones is skilled at foreshadowing. However pacing certainly lagged in places.

Overall the concluding chapter to the Book of Word's trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. 5.75/10.