Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

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Disclaimer: Spoilers for Promise of Blood’s ending and minor spoilers for The Crimson Campaign. Read the review for Promise of Blood here.

I read Promise of Blood within the span of three-four days. The Crimson Campaign, in contrast, I read over six adrenaline-fueled hours. For three-quarters of Campaign, my heart was in my throat, my eyes nearly skipping through the words because of how badly I wanted to know what would happen next. And a whole lot happens, let me tell you that.

The Plot and Characters:

Like Promise of Blood, this sequel continues following Adamat, Taniel and Tamas as the former two deal with the fall-out of Promise’s ending. Tamas, meanwhile, begins from a place of strength, quickly lost when the Field Marshall makes a grave tactical error against the Kez, leaving him trapped far behind the enemy lines and with no certain way back. So it is that Tamas’ section of Campaign is an adrenaline-fueled retreat through enemy lands with some unforgettable battles, a dash of subterfuge and a lot of great banter with his bodyguard and my favourite Knacked soldier, Olem. A bit more focus is placed on the relationship between Tamas and Vlora with some heavy, emotional scenes between father and surrogate daughter (that’s what they are, really), which I was all for!

Taniel’s story here, the beginning of it, was difficult to read. After the physical and emotional torture that was Promise’s finale, we find Two-Shot in a mala-den, drugging himself for everything he and his possessions are worth. It’s a sorry state to see him in but it makes the journey of him getting back to his feet all the more satisfying. I had a few issues with the way Taniel would occasionally get into the dumbest fights (for good reason, granted) with people who far outranked him. It does fit who he is as a character, hot-headed and brusque but my sense of him was, he’s also clever enough to know where the road he goes down on might lead but he goes down it, regardless.

Adamat meanwhile is keeping a low profile, trying to outsmart and outplay Lord Vetas, the mysterious, cold-blooded antagonist working against the interests of the new government. In his attempts to thwart the evil mastermind and free those Vetas holds hostage, Adamat makes an alliance with my favourite Priliveged, Bo, who is as scary as he is entertaining!

Nila’s in the novel, too! Again, her PoV is tiny compared to the others but I was pleasantly surprised by the route Brian decided to take this former laundress in! Her relationship with a certain spell-slinging character, in particular, is something I quite enjoyed..but on that point, I’ll return when I review the third book!

Solid writing where dialogue, action and general plot direction are concerned. I breezed through the novel in an evening. And a night. It set my imagination ablaze even more than Promise of Blood and for that, I am happy to praise it to high heaven.

This was an excellent second instalment to McCllelan’s Powder Mage trilogy. Not only does it develop previous storylines, it manages to throw in a few surprises while showing a piece of the greater world outside of Adro. A few accounts were settled, a new villain established and a veritable sea of blood was spilt! 5/5 stars!

This review took me a while. Nevermind that I wrote 3/4ths of it the day after I wrote the review for Promise of Blood. Blame it on my lazy ass, or on doing fifty things at once, all day, every day. I’m lame, I know! I’ll try to finish up the last book of the trilogy very, very soon and re-read Sins of Empire in order to FINALLY read Wrath of Empire. 

Book Review: The Sangrook Saga by Steve Thomas

The Sangrook Saga is dark, and its pages are stained with blood.

Or they might as well be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one grimdark tale of necromancy and blood magic. It might unnerve you and make you uncomfortable and if you’re not in for this sort of experience, you might as well stop reading here.

But if you are, The Sangrook Saga might just be the book for you.

It is an interesting title, this. Rather than tell one single tale over the span of his two hundred and twelve pages, the author tells six stories you can read independently from one another, with the possible exception of the sixth and final one, which is the climax of the Sangrook family’s tale.

The six disparate tales take place at different times, following characters either of the Sangrook bloodline or those close to them in some way. Chartered inside the novel is the fall, rise and whatever comes in-between of this clan of necromantic bloodthirsty warlords and despots.

They are, all of them, charmers without equal. By that I mean to say, they are a lot of nasty boys an’ girls who may or may not occasionally start from a good place only to get corrupted by the power locked away in their blood. Characters’ fall from grace involves a variety of foul crimes and horrors triggered by loss, misplaced vows and errors in judgement.

It’s an interesting magic the Sangrooks and their enemies at the Convergence have, a sort of joining between gods and their priests. That seems to be the basic tenant, though the Sangrooks and the Convergence are obviously going to be very different. There’s a further magical system which relies on animal essence extraction by artificers and that was as interesting as it was gory…which it really is.

The writing itself was a pleasure to read. Tight, easy to follow and unafraid to use real curse words, it drew me in and didn’t let me go until I reached the unhappy conclusion and put the book down. The dialogue, in particular, is excellent. Not once did I feel the author was using his characters as mouthpieces to dump information. Everyone had their unique voices, and those never came across as stilted, which I’m particularly happy about.

The Sangrook Saga draws inspiration from Dark Souls in the way its story is told, says Steve Thomas, and his words ring true. All throughout, there is a certain amount of despair, the sense of a world which has passed its heyday, a place more dead than it is alive. It is not a place everyone will enjoy. But those who can handle darkness and hopelessness in great, fat quantities…this one is for you.

If you enjoy listening to companionable music while reading, you might find psychedelic rock quite agreeable to the Saga. I listened to some King Crimson and the sort of dark fantasy music I only put on whenever one of my D&D players meets an untimely death during a cultist ritual. Gods, that’s particular, isn’t it?

Nit Picks? Aye, a few. Once or twice, characters turned to the darkness a bit more quickly than they ought to have, in my opinion. That said, not everyone will feel they did, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. There are also a few minor mistakes, mostly typos or repetitions — but no more than six or seven that I caught. I also disliked the cover somewhat, though I don’t mean to offend the artist, it’s just not my cup of tea.

The score? This is the first indie book I’m giving 5 solid stars to! It also takes home the “Worst Necromantic Family in a Dark Fantasy Series” Trophy Award of the Imagination!

All in all, quite an excellent job, I reckon. I recommend the Sangrook Saga to those of you who:

  • Love dark fantasy;
  • Have played and enjoyed Dark Souls and the way its story is delivered;
  • Want to learn how to take over the world with your big-ass, dark magic-wielding family (like me!)
  • And more! Prob’ly.

You should stay away if you have issues with graphic violence and the all-encompassing feeling of despair, though. Not a happy book, this one.

Its release date is June 22–that is, tomorrow! You can get it here.

Bingo Review:

  • Five Short Stories (Hard Mode)
  • Self-Published Novel (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Published in 2018
  • Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Featuring a God as a Character
  • Standalone Fantasy Novel (Hard Mode)

 

I got the review copy from the author, Steve Thomas, in return for an honest review as part of the TBRinder initiative, hosted by the ever-wonderful u/Esmeralda-Weatherwax at her blog!

The E3 Titles I cared about, 2018 Edition!

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Well, well, well! Another year, another set of E3 press conferences with all those entail – cringe-worthy moments, EA sports segments making you seriously reconsider a membership amongst the living on this wonderful blue orb of ours and, occasionally, games which look just promising enough they might be worth putting a mortgage on my house.

If I had a house, that is.

The following post will go into all those games that caught my eye and, in a few cases, my imagination. There’ll be links to whatever trailers were released, so if you see anything unfamiliar, click the link and familiarize thyself!

Control looks gorgeous, seems to be a psychological thriller with more than a smidge of X-Files to it, a wonderful gun that makes everything explode in glory, and one hell of a trippy setting which shifts and generally defies the laws of physics.

There’s also what looks like telekinesis, with the protagonist throwing around pieces of the environment, much to the joy of all us fans of pure destructive chaos.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally coming on January 29 and I can’t begin to describe how excited I am about that. The second game, which was the first I played, meant the world to me at a time when I was lost and alone and I didn’t know how not to be.

I still don’t, sometimes. But Kingdom Hearts taught me lessons which helped ground me and it made me laugh and cry and it showed me hope. (It also made me talk like Xehanort but you gotta take the negatives with the positives, right?)

I don’t know how it did all that it did. I don’t need to know. But I can’t wait to see what Kingdom Hearts 3 will teach me, in its turn, a lifetime later.

Prey got a DLC with some very good ideas and it’s out now! It’s called Moonsomething and it’s got rogue-lite content, five characters, some additional features to be added in among which is an Evolve-ish 4v1 PvP mode, apparently? At any rate, it sounds like good fun, I reckon. It’s 20 euro, which is a bit more than I can afford, wot with Vampyr, Tales of 15 euro, and the small fortune I spend on sci-fi and fantasy books monthly. And besides, while the idea of that DLC excites me, I’m still happy with the 40 hours I spent with Prey earlier this year. Maybe next year.

Why do I care about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? It’s probably the setting, might be that they’re finally going in a more RPG- style direction. I didn’t care about the one set in Ancient Egypt. Or about the dozen before it, perhaps with the exception of Unity which I still never bought. But this one looks nice enough. One thing, though–if you Ubisoft guys are going to be doing right by Ancient Greece, you might want to add some blood in your big-ass Spartan-on-Athenian battles, eh? Blood is good. Important. Comes out of people when you stab them. Not the same without it!

Kojima showed yet another Death Stranding trailer, which cleared up nothing while confusing everything. Seems like there’s plenty of walking around in gorgeous environments but the rest of the game still seems a murky, inexplicable void to me and most of the Internet. Not to say it’s not the sort of thing that piques my curiosity, gods, no! I’m just confused, and affected by my friend’s continued proclamations that Kojima is making a movie and dressing it up as a game…which, with that cast isn’t as unlikely as us lovers of games would like it to be, innit?

Ghosts of Tsushima! It’s another PS4 exclusive which looks gorgeous and if the gameplay actually looks the way the demo played, I might need some help picking teeth off the floor, since that’s how hard my jaw will hit it! Give me Mongol-killing samurai, and give them to me soon! Beautiful colours, stealth gameplay that looks like a lot of fun, where do I sign up?

The Last of Us II, twice as violent and bloody as its predecessor, with a lot of head-chopping and girl-on-girl romance. The animation of this one is a head-turner, too and ever since finally playing the PS4 remaster of the original last year, I’ve been hungry to get back and see how Joel and Ellie continue to deal with the good ol fun-pocalypse. The fun- is a stand-in for funghi!

Babylon’s Fall is a game developed by Platinum in collaboration with Square Enix. I know next to nothing about it but it’s Platinum and Square Enix, and so I am unreasonably cheery in my expectations! You must realize, this is unlike me–I hate to get hyped up for something without having a semblance of an idea as to its gameplay.

But you know what looks bloody brilliant, gameplay and all? Devil May Cry 5! Dope. So frikkin’ dope. Can’t wait for more excellent spectacle fightin’, this time with Nero! ( That was Nero, right?)

Dying Light 2’s narrative design is worked on by Chris Avellone! I never got to play the first game but now I have to, don’t I? Avellone hasn’t once disappointed me with any of his games and while it was pretty sad to read about what went down between him and his former employers/co-owners at Obsidian, his talent in crafting deeply engaging, morally gray and complex stories is well on record. Tyranny, my beloved KotoR 2, New Vegas and many, many more are but a part of his impressive catalogue.

Tunic looks cute and cuddly and I don’t mind seeing more of it! The piece of soundtrack used with the trailer also sounds quite good, doesn’t it?It’s foxes wielding one-handed weapons and shields, man, that’s where the money is. Ask anyone, they’ll tell ya.

Is that it? The stuff I’m excited about this E3?

Nope, two more!

Beyond Good and Evil 2!  Need I say more?

And the last one is coming rather soon…Marvel’s Spider-Man! The Sinister Six was announced, the combat looks like fun, it’s been years since I’ve gone swinging through the streets and skyline of New York and I am beyond excited to do it again! September really can’t get here soon enough now, can it?

There’s plenty of other games which look interesting enough but I either have some healthy scepticism around their developers/publishers or I just don’t know enough about their games.

 

Book Review: Song by Jesse Teller

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This book was provided by Rebekah Teller in exchange for a review! I can’t recall whether it was supposed to be an honest review or a dishonest one, so I’ll trust my fingers to guide me towards the more preferable type.

Song took me a while to get through.

On one hand, Song has an excellent idea, a core concept that attracts me the way a swarm of flies is drawn to a mass grave. An ancient, powerful wizard by the name of Rayph Ivoryfist finds himself in a hell of a lot of trouble when his prison’s inhabitants break out of their cages, killing his friend and warden in the process. Rayph is hard pressed to gather a group of allies and trusted friends to go after these escaped villains and hunt them down like the rabid dogs that they are. A good fourth, or maybe even a third of the book deals with Rayph assembling his ‘Manhunters’ and getting the sign-off of the powers-that-be, introducing us to the major players and setting up the conflict and its players.

The book features a second PoV character, a man by the name of Konnon, whose story is a lot more personal than Rayph–everything Konnon does, he does it for his daughter. The girl suffers from some sort of paralysis, slowly spreading up her body until it reaches her lungs and kills her. Konnon happens to be a good man with terribly destructive fits of rage and an even worse reputation, and so his story takes us to some very different places from Ivoryfist’s more lofty goals from saving (the prick of a) king and country.

So what took me so long to finish what sounds like the sort of novel I’ll read for an afternoon with a cool glass of scotch, on the rocks?

For one, I never drink scotch in the afternoon. The bigger problem I had, however, was with the dialogue. Most of it is written very well…but almost always would there be a line or an exchange which read across as stiff and unnatural; stilted, in a word. Perhaps I’m in the minority on this account but this would often pull me out of the scene and put me straight into editor mode–which I have no business being in while reading anyone else’s writing.

These stiff pieces of dialogue bugged me–I couldn’t help but feel unique character voices become muddled and lost in those moments, which subtracted a lot of the enjoyment — especially when, very often, the novel delivers really epic showdowns between individuals terrible in their power. Individuals who quite enjoy wagging their tongues against one another, as much as their blades and some of those showdowns didn’t affect me quite as much as they could’ve, because of that particular issue I have.

Another small qualm I have is…for a ten-thousand-year-old wizard, Rayph sure weeps a lot! Several of the occasions on which Ivoryfist teared up didn’t feel like emotional enough moments to earn the tears of such an ancient and powerful being. A bit nit-picky? Maybe but it stuck out enough that it warrants a mention.

With this criticism in mind, let me state–this is my personal opinion, and it seems to be an outlier. A lot of my fellow reviewers’ words over at Goodreads praise the dialogue. Odds are, you might enjoy it, too!

Moving on to what I enjoyed!

The tone of Song is on the darker spectrum thanks to a few particularly brutal scenes. These didn’t bother me much but I’ve been through the Malazan-Black Company-First Law triad of mental, emotional and physical torture and my tolerance for horrid torture is pretty damn high.

I enjoyed the villains of the piece, one monstrous Julius Kriss and his lovely, lovely demon of a wife. Sadists, the both of them, and very much intent on torturing the living crap out of Ivoryfist. Kriss’ brutality makes for great stakes in the latter half of Song and his interactions with both main characters were intriguing to read.

The world-building was pretty interesting, very high-fantasy due to the sheer scale of creatures with whom Rayph consorts — demons, ethereal spirits, goddesses, and spies! I also enjoyed the fact that the book had right an’ proper cursing, storm it! Some of the relationships worked for me, some of them didn’t.

The pacing…I’ll have to go back to the stilted dialogue for this one. The way some of these problematic conversations are written, they’re written to get our leads from one point to another. Not enough time and attention is given to some scenes and interactions and a good bit of side-character interactions are shoved away from the spotlight with a few lines of unrealistic dialogue.

Despite this, I did enjoy Song. Enough to revisit Jesse Teller’s world in the following ‘Manhunters’ books. Enough that I award this book my very own, very prestigious “Best Eat-the-Wench scene in a 2017 grimdark novel” trophy! Along it comes a score of 3.5 out of 5 (going to round it up to 4/5 on Goodreads, methinks).

You will enjoy this book if you are:

  • into darker fantasy;
  • into ‘soft’ magic, i.e. the sort of magic that doesn’t have much of an explanation, rules-wise but does cool shit quite often;
  • into monsters, literal and figurative, there seem to be several of both kinds;
  • one of Rayph’s many, many mortal and immortal friends;
  • looking for a guide on how to be a really nasty, psychotic and sadistic villain or villainess;
  • a really old wizard looking for a guide on how to get in touch with your feelings despite your advanced age!
  • AND MORE! Prob’ly.

If you’re doing the r/fantasy Bingo, this book qualifies for some or all of the following (depends on how bad I mess this up!):

  • Reviewed on r/fantasy

  • Self-published

  • Less than 2500 Goodreads ratings
  • Novel with a one-word title (might be what I use!)

Thank you for reading! You can find this book on Amazon and grab it for about $5 for your Kindle, or $13 on Paperback!

P.S. I just noticed that the Amazon/Goodreads synopsis talks about Rayph having to protect king Nordac. However, in the book, the king’s name is Phomax. Is Nordac a family name, or is it an earlier name for Phomax?