Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: The King's Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson

This was a collection of two novellas by Donaldson.

The Kings Justice: A stranger named Black arrives at the isolated village of Settler's Crossing tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a child. While Black is much more than he seems so is the murder. 8.25/10

The Augur's Gambit: Mayhew Gordian is a self-effacing Hieronomer who is attempting to aid the queen of an isolated island nation to avoid two fates of enslavement from an unknown power from across the ocean or a descent into barbarism after protracted civil war. What's more Mayhew is in love with the queen's daughter. 8.5/10.

My experience with previous shorter fiction by Donaldson is that he is able to effortlessly create intriguing world's in minimal words that leave the reader wanting to see more. These two pieces are no exception. Both stories were well-paced with well developed protagonists and support casts. I enjoyed the The Augur's Gambit slightly more as I found Mayhew quirky and more human that Black and for that reason I'm glad of the order the stories were printed in.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Hope Arden is afflicted with a rather peculiar condition. When she was a teenager those around her gradually came to forget she existed until even her own family forgot they had a daughter. Now everyone she comes into contact with will forget her within a few minutes of being out of her company. Hope uses her peculiar condition to become a master thief. After a woman Hope has grown found of kills herself due to a mobile phone application called perfection, Hope decides to publicly embarrass it's creators, not knowing that there may be far more sinister forces in play.

The concept is similar to North's two previous novels, a protagonist who is afflicted with an unexplained condition that the majority of the population are not effected by. Hope is an interesting character and North captures the emotion of her plight beautifully. The little nuances she adopts to help herself cope are cleverly incorporated into the prose and make this a very human story. I found the support characters slightly inconsistent especially towards the end of the novel where their actions did not gel with what had gone before. Once the plot moves away from Hope's personal struggle I found the perfection angle less engaging.

Overall North once again has built a very human and engaging protagonist, less care with the support characters and plot detract slightly from what could have been a masterpiece. 8/10.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent Ghosts 2016: Under the Mistletoe and Tree

Matt lurched, almost falling, as he mounted a table.
His boss frowned but screw it Matt was salesperson of the year. Noticing his empty glass Matt made a beeline for the bar.
Pamela from accounts glanced at mistletoe above them.
“Not on your life Pimply Pam.” Matt scoffed.
“Mistletoe wards away evil spirits.” The bartender huffed and poured a shot of whisky.
“This is the only spirit I’m interested in.” Matt countered snatching the bottle.
“A woman scorned is nothing to scoff at either.”
Just as he found a quiet corner to enjoy his whiskey icy fingers encircled his neck.  

Carya eyed the river of stone distrustfully. All was quiet but recent experience had made her wary. Without warning one of those mechanical monstrosities could appear in a blaze of flashing lights and howling noise.
Taking a deep breath she dashed across. After all she had nothing left to lose. Her daughter was dead and she would know why.                    
Then…….she didn’t know.
The increasingly faint pulse of her daughter’s heart tree had led her to this strange dwelling. Steeling herself she peered inside and keened in agony. 
Why had they desecrated her daughter’s body in garish colours and twinkling lights?   

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review:Treachery's Tools by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Alastar has settled well into role as Maitre of Colleguim. However the promise of a poor grain harvest exacerbates already existing problems between the Upper Class High Holders and the increasingly powerful merchant class. Alastar attempts to assist Solidar's barley competent rex to navigate through these problems but when someone begins assassinating students of the Colleguim he realizes a bigger game is afoot.

I found Alastar to be an engaging protagonist and thought his own struggles with a mid-life crisis added a very human element to him. The supporting cast are well-developed and the plot interesting and well-paced. World-building was subtly and effectively incorporated and I felt up to speed throughout despite never having read a Modesitt Jr book before and coming in mid-series.

Overall engaging characters and unobtrusive yet effective world-building make for a solid read. 8.25/10.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

Athalus is a talented bronze-age who has gone through an extended spell of bad luck. In desperation he accepts  a job from Ghend, a shady-figure who wants Athalus to steal a book from a house at the edge of the world. Athalus finds himself trapped in the house and is befriended by a talking cat who is more than she seems. Soon Athalus realizes he is caught up in clash between the gods themselves with the fate of the world at stake.

The main characters all have that certain charm (aside from the villains who are one-dimensional) that all Eddings' characters share, though as usual I find the shared sense of humour is a bit hard to accept. Pacing is a real struggle with lots of repetition of events whenever a new character is introduced. This leads into another issue of too much telling rather than showing the reader. The biggest issue was a lack of tension throughout the novel as the villains are so incompetent it is impossible to believe they could actually succeed.

Overall this novel suffers from some major pacing and character issues which made it a slog to get through it. 5/10.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: Fire by Kirsten Cashore

Fire is a "monster" an impossibly beautiful woman who can entrance people with her beauty and influence and even control their minds. This ability comes with costs. Animal "monsters" are drawn to her blood and wish to devour her. While Fire's father misused his power to manipulate the former king for his own personal gains. Fire does not want to follow in her father footsteps so has chosen to live a quiet life on the outskirts of the kingdom. However events conspire to draw Fire into a larger world, a mysterious poacher with a strangely empty mind is murdered under strange circumstances and The new king Nash and his brother seek Fire's aide in averting civil war.

This novel's biggest strength is the the well realized protagonist and her journey of self worth and discovery. She is well supported by a well developed cast of support characters. However pacing is a major issue with a very slow beginning and conclusion. I think the story could have been better balanced by perhaps including another point of view character as since Fire lacks knowledge and interest in some of the wider events in the war it can seem very vague.

Overall Fire is a wonderful example of character-driven story-telling but could have been a better balanced read. 7/10.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

With Prof having succumbed to his powers and turned evil, David leads the remaining Reckoners in an effort to stop him. David has hopes that Prof will be able to face his fears and come back to himself but not all of the Reckoners are so convinced. Prof heads to Ildithia, formerly Atlanta, and takes over the local epics intent on fulfilling a plan of his own. Through Megan's powers David glimpses a world without Calamity and realizes there may be a way to save their world.

Throughout this series I have had a major issue with David as a protagonist, supposedly driven by vengeance in world fulled with super-powered villains he comes across as a goofball obsessed with bad puns. This series finale was no exception and again this is highly distracting in the beginning but eases off as Sanderson gets distracted by the plot moving forward.

On the plus side I found the plot was cleverly thought out  and the finale was cleverly foreshadowed throughout the series, which reminded me of how well Sanderson finished the first Mistborn series.

Overall Calamity suffers from the same issues of the previous books but on the plus side shows just how well the series was plotted. 6.5/10,    

Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Antrax by Terry Brooks

The company that the druid Walker gathered to search for the lost books of magic is destroyed, while some dead and others scattered. Walker was able to enter the tunnels below Castledown but finds himself trapt and ceaselessly hunted by creepers he can't seem to escape. Bek tries to confront the Isle Witch about the truth of her origins and their connection but it backfires and he and the shifter Truls Ruk are pursued by her through the countryside, Ahren Elessedil and the seerer Ryer Ord Star seek to save Walker and gain redemption for themselves, Ahren for his perceived cowardice and Ryer for betraying Walker earlier. Antrax, the intelligence behind Castledown, meanwhile makes a cyborg out of the fallen Ard Patrinell, hoping to use him to trap the various magic-users. When Quentin Leah and Tamis realize what has been done to their friend they are horrified and wish to set him free from his torment.

I found the various sub-plots interesting and reasonably well-paced. However the exception to this was the Quetin/Tamis arc which felt like filler and didn't get enough 'screen' time. This was compounded  by a major issue of telling rather than showing, especially when they are being chased by Patrinell. I would have much rather been shown how clever he was in tracking them then to be told about it in a rather long-winded fashion. This problem also manifested in some rather long and unnecessary paragraphs of introspection at the beginning of several sections.

Antrax, a self-aware, artificial intelligence was an interesting villan and was quite well realized. There was also a well-worked plot twist in regards to this and the 'books' of magic.

Overall while the plot is interesting a few issues distract from it. 6.75/10.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: The Weaver's Lament by Elizabeth Haydon

For a thousand years the allied states of the Cymrian alliance have been at peace. However, tensions are on the rise. The Bolg are being short-changed in trade and Grunthor, the sergeant major who has arguably the best trained army in history at his disposal, is not afraid to cross the border and collect the short fall. Having such a well-trained and restless army on their doorstep leaves Ashes and the military leadership of his alliance very uneasy and a misspoken word leads to tragic consequences.Ashes and Achmed are pitted against each other and Rhapsody is caught in the middle.

 Ashe is beginning to show the signs of age while his wife Rhapsody seems as young as ever. Ashe fears dying and losing Rhapsody and of losing control of the dragon that dwells with him. As a result he begs Rhapsody to help him transform into a dragon like  his father did before him, something Rhapsody  fears will cost Ashe his soul. their relationship is tested more than it has ever been in a thousand years.

I found the previous volume in this series to suffer from severe pacing issues and most notably some big moments, that had been built up for several books, were highly rushed. Thankfully the series finale does not suffer from this issue and some really big moments get the time they deserve to really shine.

Time has been a central theme across the series and the decision to set a book a thousand years after the previous events was an inspired one. Having some long-lived characters and some seemingly eternal creates an interesting conflict when faced with other characters who are not blessed to the same degree. Ashe in particular is handled well and having him develop an almost 'grumpy old man' side was well worked. His legitimate fear of losing Rhapsody combined with his somewhat irrational and selfish reaction to it makes for an emotional conflict. I would have liked to see more of Grunthor's perspective as he alone of the three has had to deal with the loss of children that have aged faster than him.

The choices that face Rhapsody, Ashe and Achmed and the brilliant foreshadowing of their consequences reminded me of some of the all time classic tragedies. Both beautiful and so very sad. My only minor gripe is I would have liked to have seen Ashe's reaction when faced with the full consequences of his actions.

The plot itself brings the books into line with the original trilogy (and to an extent the short story as well) more than we have seen in a long time. The mix of well realized and beloved characters, their relationships  and subtle humor at the right moments that have made this one of my all time favorite series are all present.

The Symphony of Ages could have ended with the previous book but I'm glad it it didn't. This is the finale it truly deserved. 8.75/10.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

With the surface of the world teeming with deadly monsters humanity has sheltered high above in massive spires. Trade and communication are effected through airships, powered by energized crystals, though so is espionage and warfare. Captain Grimm commands airship Predator. Years before he was drummed out of the Albion navy as a scapegoat for political reasons and now acts as a private merchant in a cold war of sorts with a rival spire. After the predator sustains massive damage in an action against a much more powerful airship, Predator is forced to return for repairs that Grimm simply can't afford.

Bridget, daughter of a noble house that has fallen on hard times, is sent to the Albion guard to complete her mandatory service, accompanied by her cat and friend Rowl himself a prince of a feline house. There her inexperience in dealing with other nobility quickly leads her into a dual but receives the aid of Gwen and Benedict members of a very important house. During the duel Spire Albion is attacked by warships of Aurora. Bridget and her friends and Captain Grimm and his crew both distinguish themselves in the attack and bring them to the attention of the monarch who sends them on a mission to aid the Etherealist (read magician with a price) Ferus and his apprentice Folly. The attack was a distraction for something more sinister.

Unlike Butcher's most famous work the Dresden Files this novel is told from a third person perspective and Butcher does an excellent job in creating a number of distinct and interesting points of view (though I found Bridget's first chapter made her feel much younger than she actually was but that is a minor gripe). This includes a cat, with a very different view on the world, and a character whose magic has made her suffer a social disorder (more on that later). Butcher includes point of view chapters from Auroran characters which explains their (reasonable) motivations and fleshes them out nicely. I'm glad he did this as it prevented them from being one dimensional or portrayed simply as 'bad guys',

The world-building is excellent, with lots of showing how things work from the way characters perceive the world around them rather than long paragraphs of unnecessary intrusive information.
Magic comes with a price with each character who utilizes it effected by a social disorder. Technology is steampunk-like but powered by vat-grown crystals and society is Victorian era-like.

Overall Butcher delivers a refreshingly character-driven novel. 8.5/10.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

The City of Elendel is threatening to boil over. Industrial advances are keeping some of the city's workers unemployed while forcing others to work ridiculous hours. Wax and Wayne are called to investigate the strange murder of the governor's brother's among a massacre of the city's criminal elite. Wax is convinced that someone or something is intent on destroying the city and when Wax catches sight of an old enemy, who he knows is dead'  he realizes things maybe personal.

Biggest plus for me in this book is the world-building. Taking a look at a world hundreds of years after some very important events gives an excellent opportunity to look at the impact of these actions and this is certainly evident from the religious and social aspects of the society represented. Another area Sanderson excels in is demonstrating the impact of technological advances on this society.

Character development is both superb and seamless with all of the major characters getting fleshed out. The plot moves along at a decent clip with the odd surprise thrown in.

An ongoing issue with Sanderson is his efforts to incorporate humour into his books. In this series it is often through the character of Wayne and unfortunately Sanderson has no idea how to incorporate this subtly. I found Wayne antics distracting at the beginning but gradually it starts to fit a bit better into the story.

Overall delivers most of Sanderson's usual strengths (and the odd flaw). 8.25/10.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

The Kingdoms in the Northern Continent are becoming nervous as the Autarch, the god-emperor of Xi's, has consolidated his hold on the Southern continent and is seeking new conquests. King Olin of Shadowmarch sought to unite the Northern Kingdoms in alliance of protection against this threat but was captured by the bandit ruler of Hierosol who demands a considerable ransom for his release. Olin's heir Prince Kendrick attempts to hold Shadowmarch together but tragedy thrusts his two younger siblings to prominence. Briony is tired of being judged on her gender is determined to show her worth while her twin brother Barrick is plagued by nightmares that make him question his sanity. Meanwhile the Twilight people, fairy folk driven off by humans centuries ago, have plans to take back what was taken from them.

 Like many of Williams books the pacing of the novel, especially in the beginning, is exceedingly slow. However it is well worth persisting with. Williams is able to create a brooding atmosphere throughout which kept me turning the pages. World-building is solid and while the characters might seem to adhere to genre stereotypes at first glance they are very well developed.

Overall pacing issues aside Williams delivers a very strong, character-driven novel. 8/10.