The Bi-Weekly Mini Review-a-Thon! Legion, The Lady in the Lake, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Hello, everyone! I’ve read(listened to) one excellent book and a few deeply enjoyable ones, and it’s well past time for me to talk about them. And just in case you’re curious… Here’s the last pair of mini-reviews!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It’s hard to believe I haven’t read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz until now! Thank the gods for Audible.co.uk’s daily deals and Anne Hathaway’s inspiring reading of this classic children’s book. The Wonderful Wizard has so much heart, and Anne (I call her Anne now, that’s how close I feel to her after listening to this!) adds so much to the world and characters with her performance. The vocal range on her! Just look at this if you need a taste. I’m really glad to have come across this daily deal; another classic off my list, and one I’ll go back to whenever I can’t fall asleep — that’s how good Anne Hathaway’s narration is! This one is a definite 5/5, for the novel’s cultural importance, its quality as a children’s book and Anne’s performance!

Putin: Prisoner of Power

This is a podcast I got on Audible since I’m a member, and it was free and about Russian politics, which I’m ever fascinated with. Misha Glenny’s to blame for this one, and he goes on a trip down Kremlin lane to talk about the events surrounding Russian power-broker and oligarch Yeltsin which eventually placed Putin in power, the Russian president’s ability to learn from his mistakes in a shrewd, powerful way, and how Putin used one tragedy after another to fortify his position as hero and saviour to the Russian people, weathering political storms that would have seen most others in his place resign in disgrace. The people Glenny has gathered and spoken to include close functionaries of Putin’s, having served as parts of his team at one time or another, as well as several prominent American specialists on Russia, the most well-known of whom is President Clinton’s advisory on Russian relations. It’s a really solid, seven-episode podcast. 4/5

The Lady in the Lake (Philip Marlowe #4)

The original master of noir is a pleasure to return to. Raymond Chandler’s private investigator is impossible to dislike, even if this fourth novel in the series is less memorable than The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye. What I enjoyed about The Lady in the Lake the most is, it sets up a simple enough story, in which Marlowe begins to look for the missing wife of a rich LA businessman, comes across another woman’s body by accident, and everything just spirals out of hand.

Ray Porter’s narration is a solid 5/5 on its own, as always. He is Philip Marlowe to my mind, his is a signature performance that I’ll be coming back to time and again. The Lady in the Lake gets an overall 4/5 score from me.

Legion (Horus Heresy #7) by Dan Abnett

This one started off slow and then ramped up to a fascinating conflict. The stars of this Warhammer 40k novel are the members of the Alpha Legion and their primarch, Alpharius! This most secretive of all Astartes legions was fascinating to observe, as they led a bloody, secretive war that ended

The protagonist who made this novel as fun for me as it was is John Grammaticus, an immortal human recruited by the Cabal, an interplanetary council of xenos of all walks of life, whose ultimate goal is to stop or slow down the ascent of Chaos in the universe. The Cabal’s purpose was to manipulate Alpharius and his men to this purpose, and the conflict between them and the Alpha Legion played out to an unexpected end.

Great narration by David Timson. Good action, great plot twists and solid characters once again serve to prove that Dan Abnett is the unmistakable master of Warhammer 40k novels. My score for this one is 4/5.

Is it weird I listened to all of these on audiobook? Maybe; but the narrations of all these are well worth listening to! Thank you for joinining me today and I hope I’ve piqued your interest with at least one of these !

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review Excerpt

This review is posted in full over at booknest.eu! It’s my longest ever review, and I’m wondering whether to publish each of the short stories as a separate blog post over here at the Reliquary. What do you think?

Anyway, here goes:

Abercrombie’s prose is exceptional. His First Law novels are as successful as they are not only because of the unforgettable characters and the breathtaking twists, or because of the brutal world he’s created, one of the sheerest bloody realistic depictions of a world I’ve ever encountered. He’s one of my favourite authors, and for good reason – I’m not pledging to be impartial, but I will do my best to contain my enthusiasm over the next few paragraphs! Okay, lots of paragraphs. Lots and lots of paragraphs.

I’ll say a few words about each of the short stories in the collection, starting off with whether it’s recommended or downright necessary to have read any of the First Law stand-alone novels to get what’s going on.

A Beautiful Bastard

Colonel Sand dan Glokta is a bastard. To anyone who’s read the First Law trilogy, that’ll come as no surprise. He’s a damn likable bastard too, owing to the fact that he tends to wax poetical about life and it’s many and terrible injustices, which Glokta goes on to perpetrate in the course of one of the finest fantasy trilogies. A Beautiful Bastard is before all that, before the Gurkish got their hands on the finest fencer of the Union and ruined his body. Hours, if not minutes before, to be exact – this story takes place on the day when Glokta’s self-aggrandizement leads him to lead a doomed defense on a bridge being overrun by the Gurkish.

The story draws you in quickly enough, and then it thrashes you around with one of the finest descriptions I’ve ever read:

But Glokta was an utter bastard. A beautiful, spiteful, masterful, horrible bastard, simultaneously the best and worst man in the Union. He was a tower of self-centred self-obsession. An impenetrable fortress of arrogance. His ability was exceeded only by his belief in his own ability… Glokta was a veritable tornado of bastardy, leaving a trail of flattened friendship, crushed careers and mangled reputations in his heedless wake. 
His ego was so powerful it shone from him like a strange light, distorting the personalities of everyone around him at least halfway into being bastards themselves. …most committed followers of the Gurkish religion were expected to make the pilgrimage to Sarkant. In the same way, the most committed bastards might be expected to make a pilgrimage to Glokta. …He had acquired a constantly shifting coteries of bastards streaming after him like the tail after a comet.  (5-6)

This is exactly the kind of Abercrombie prose that shines and glitters on the page. The ironic undertone, the sheer emotional charge of it; and at the end of the day, it encapsulates his character at this point in time so well.           

And of course, if the description wasn’t enough, Glokta finds a perfect way to show how much of a spiteful bastard he is to the only true friend he’s had, Goleem West, who just so happens to be one of the finest side characters Abercrombie wrote in the original First Law trilogy. Oh, and there’s Corporal Tunny who will be known to anyone and everyone familiar with The Heroes. He’s the best. And the worst.

This story was the perfect kick-off to an anthology filled with Abercrombie. My score for A Beautiful Bastard is 4.5/5 – because it’s the perfect comfort food of First Law stories, because the style and voice and prose are as sharp as the pointy end of Glokta’s steels but it doesn’t add any new, unknown dimensions to the tried-and-tested Glokta mix.

Small Kindnesses 

Do I need to read any of the standalone First Law novels to get what’s going on? Nope, this one is quite alright with First Law trilogy knowledge, or even without it!

“Small Kindnesses” introduces us to Shev, a thief of great skill and some renown, and to Javre, The Lioness of Hoskopp. A young Severard (one of Sand dan Glokta’s right-hand men) makes an appearance too, though it’s hardly something more than a cameo. Shev’ though barely entering her twenties, is already tired of the thieving life and is actively trying to get out of it when, of course, the local crime lord’s son has to drag her back into it. So Shev does a job – and she does it fairly well, top marks for the way the action scene is written and for Shev’s crabby luck – but some people just aren’t happy at all with what they get, and our thief ends up in a tight spot. There’s a lot going on in here, and Javre and Shev have incredible chemistry as soon as both are on the page together and conscious. 

What’s even more excellent is, the story of Shev and Javre doesn’t end here – no, this is just the beginning of some of the wackiest adventures in the First Law universe! We’ll get back to them when we get back to them. 4.5/5 – because I know how much more hilarious the pair’s adventuring is about to get.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music, the Sixteenth Discworld novel, wasn’t necessarily my favourite read of his. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that’s amusing, and more than just one or two poignant moments that showcase the depth of skill at Pratchett’s pen nib. This is part of the Death sub-series of Discworld novels, as you might’ve guessed from the cover – it is gorgeous, isn’t it?

The star of this book is Susan sto Hellit, the granndaughter of ol’ bonebag himself. Susan, an orphaned girl in an all-girls school, is called to the greatest Duty ever — to fulfill the shoes of her grandfather, of whom she remembers next to nothing. Susan is sixteen, and taught to trust the ways of logic — a ludicrous enough preposition in the Discworld, but what can you do, education ruins young people nowadays, wrote the 23-year old. When she’s forced to take on her grandfather’s mantle as the personification of Death, Susan who is now mid-way between an abstract concept and a human being (difficult preposition, as I well know, being on the crossroads myself), she rebels at the unfairness of it all, the terrible cruelty of senseless death.

Meanwhile, in good old Ankh-Morpork, Imp y Celyn is a lute player from Quirm, a young lad come to search for the greatest city on the Discworld. Pity him, finding Ankh-Morpork instead but what can you do — sometimes, the trouble finds you. What trouble is, in this case, is a guitar with music in it. And not just any music, but music with rocks in which is to say, rock music. And the Discworld is far, far away from ready for such a thing. Music is a rhythm, the rhythm of life, of all the universe — and an overwhelming one, at that, the sort of force that’s bound to stir up human hearts and minds. And it does, oh how it does.

Take, for example, the Wizards of Unseen University — and not just any old wizards but the Bursar, the Lecturer in Ancient Runes and, oh my, the Dean himself. These big-time faculty members of the University staff fly off the handle in a spectacular, funny way — it’s something to behold, I promise you that. The only one not to get affected by music with rocks in, is good old reliable Mustrum Ridcully, the Arch-Chancellor of Unseen University. I’ve loved his character for several books now — his role in Lords and Ladies especially won me over. Ridcully is the most down-to-earth wizard you’ll ever meet and I love his life philosophy, which is summarized in the following lines:

The Archchancellor polished his staff as he walked along. It was a particularly good one, six feet long and quite magical. Not that he used magic very much. In his experience, anything that couldn’t be disposed of with a couple of whacks from six feet of oak was probably immune to magic as well.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett, p. 319

Particularly enjoyable are the interactions between Ridcully and Susan Death — although she often overreacts at his grandfatherly manner, reading it as condescension, the two eventually have a nice sit-down and have a good talk between them. I wonder if the next two Death novels in which she appears will add on to this relationship — I hope they will.

The musical sub-plot wasn’t all that interesting. It was funny, there’s plenty of jokes that hit the mark — take, for example the fact that one of our bandmembers is called Glod, and is a dwarf; within a few pages of his first appearance, the dwarf sends his fellow bandmembers, a troll and the guitar-playing Imp y Celyn neé Buddy, to steal a piano. They are, the troll notes without understand why, On a mission from Glod.

Vetinari makes his appearance, as well, slightly puzzled over the appearance of this new type of music — just a few scenes, but all are quite good and on the nose.

Death, himself, is often sobering. He’s going through something that has shaken him all the way down his bones — and though I won’t say what, there are more than a few powerful scenes that make you feel…not sorry for, but certainly, you feel Death’s sorrow.

The ending of Soul Music is really good; everything comes together in a spectacular fashion, even the elements I cared less about. And then there is Death, and he plays a note, and the climax of the story leaves you with goosebumps and shivering all over. The relationship between him and Susan, though strained at times, ends up in a spot I thoroughly enjoyed.

Yes, Soul Music might not be my favourite Discworld novel but it heavily features some of my all-time favourite Discworld characters and it tells several stories, most of which I found compelling and poignant. The ending is strong, the interactions between the characters often fantastic, the humour giggle-inducing. I’m looking forward to the next Death novel, Hogfather.

You should read Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music if you:

  • Enjoyed Mort – these two stories are connected and though you can read this without having picked up the first Death Discworld novel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re familiar with the events of it;
  • You just luuuuuuuv death! Well, Death. The Discworld character, you silly goth kid;
  • You know what Terry Pratchett does, and want more of it, this is definitely a book I’d recommend to someone who’s enjoyed Discworld novels previously though it might not be my first choice for a brand new Discworld afficionado;
  • You like any of the following characters — Ridcully, the Librarian, Vetinari, the wizards of Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork, the pair of Watch guardsmen whose names I forgot, the corporal and the other one!
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Thank you for reading! Next up on my exclusive blog reviews, we’ll have ourselves a little discussion of Vol. 03 of Monstress, which just won the 2019 Hugo award for best graphic novel!

THE GREEK MYTHOLOGY BOOK TAG

You read it here first, folks. I’m doing a book tag! I saw this tag done over at Bookdragonism and I decided I HAD TO HAVE SOME OF THAT ON ME BLOG! It’s about books, it has so many needlessly convoluted categories and I love every single one of them, so let’s crack those knuckles and get categorisin’!

Zeus (God of the Sky) – Favorite Book

Giving me the impossible choices first, eh? Whichever one I pick would be followed by wheeping, regret, a minute-long search for forgiveness from my own personal gods and an eventual acceptance that I will never find the favourite book this category demands.

It’s Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie.

If you haven’t read Abercrombie…you should. It’s better than doing drugs, I’ve been told. That said, running out of Abercrombie novels is an agonising experience.

What’s Best Served Cold about? A brilliant general by the name of Monza Murcatto is betrayed by her contractor and left for dead only to survive under the unlikeliest circumstances. From this point onwards, Monza gathers up a team of murderers, poisoners and unhinged mercenaries to exact her revenge on the men who betrayed her.

It’s the Count of Monte Kristo on drugs!

Poseidon (God of the Sea) – A book that drowned you in feels

The end of Fitz and the Fool’s adventure was the most I’ve cried over a book in…well, since just about any other Robin Hobb novel. There’s something about the way she writes that squeezes every emotion out of me; Hobb takes her time to build up these real, three-dimensional characters full of emotion…and then she drops the hammer. It’s not G. R. R. Martin twists I’m talking about here, it’s something that runs much deeper, a succession of events that touches you so profoundly that it changes you.

Hades (God of the Underworld) – Favorite Dark book

Have you heard the good news? The Black Company will soon have a TV show of its very own, helmed by Eliza Dushku. If that doesn’t excite you, you might not be familiar with The Black Company and the influence it has had on the fantasy genre. This is the series that, more than any other, paved the way for the grimdark subgenre of which some of my favourite books are part of. Steven Erikson, writer of the great Malazan book of the Fallen, drew inspiration from the Black Company — as have many others, myself included. The Black Company’s first three books are an absolute fantasy classic written in a prosaically economic style and filled with unforgettable characters.

Hera (Queen Goddess of Family and Marriage) – Cutest Couple

Josh Erikson’s Hero Forged series of urban fantasy novels is one of my favourite discoveries of this year. Fate Lashed, the second book in the series, continues the fantastic dynamic between main character Gabe and his special succubuss friend, Heather. They’re not quite a couple per se, but they’re cutter than anything I’ve come across, that I can promise you. The dynamics between these two characters are the emotional center of the series and…it’s one of the best relationships I’ve come across in many, many years of bookwormin’.

Athena (Goddess of wisdom and Battle Strategy) –Favorite intelligent heroine

Art by: sgcassidy

One, Monza Murcatto from the aforementioned Best Served Cold. Two, Tattletale and Skitter from one of the most brilliant works of fiction to ever grace the Internet, Worm. Skitter and Tattletale are each brilliant and dangerous on their own, the two combined become an unstoppable force. Skitter controls bugs, her ability allowing her to pick up and unpack the information they relay to her. She’s also got a tactician’s mind, allowing her to use all that info to deadly and glorious effect! Tattletale, meanwhile, has an amazing powerset that’s…the coolest. I won’t spoil it in case you decide on reading for yourself but the two of them together…wildfire.

Gaea (the Great Mother a.k.a Dirt Face) -Favorite world building book

I have difficulty believing anyone could ever surpass the sheer scale of the world created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemon. The Malazan Book of the Fallen series is amongst the most ambitious stories ever told; its scale is mind-boggling and humbling. I burned through the flagship ten-book series and have barely touched the world since, but there’s nothing quite like this dark, gothic world, filled with unforgettable characters, breathtaking magic, and a message of mercy, humility and salvation that’s like nothing I’ve ever read.

Aphrodite (Goddess of Love and Beauty) – Most gorgeous cover

Benedict Patrick weaves wonderful folktales in his Yarnsworld. The novels in that world get better and better — Benedict is one of those authors whose skills you can observe growing further and further, and that’s wonderful. In addition to that, he’s got a brilliant cover artist! The cover above is stunning, isn’t it? The other covers follow this template but each one has a twist of its own, and they’re all the sort of thing you want to make a poster out of and stick it up a wall! Oh, there’s an idea to offer Benedict…

Ares (God of War and Battle) – Most Violent Book you’ve read

The Malazan Book of the Fallen, again. The violence here is brutal, and worse. It reflects the best AND worst of what humanity is capable of; but every time violence is used, it is used for a purpose. Often, brutal, horrible things happen in the world of the Fallen; it’s a dark place, filled with merciless and powerful individuals.

Hephaestus God of blacksmiths and flame) – Hottest book you’ve ever read

*Sniggers uncontrollably*

Artemis (the Virgin Goddess of the Hunt) – A Heroine who doesn’t need a man to save her

I’ve waxed lyrical about Monstress over and over. Maiko Half-wolf is one of the most badass protagonists currently in print — hard-headed, possessed of incredible willpower and broken by the horrors she has been through. Anyone stupid enough to take on her is doing so at their own peril.

Apollo (God of Music, Light, and Healing) – A Book that is the exception to a genre you don’t like

I…don’t actually have genres I dislike. Sure, I don’t read romance but…I don’t read romance. Don’t have an exception to that.

Hermes (god of messages, travelers, and thieves) – A book that stole your heart

How can the plight of a man who loses his wife and is forced to undergo an utter transformation in order to find her in a tower ruled by corruption and iniquity do anything less? Josiah Bancroft’s story not only stole my heart, it stole my imagination, as well.

Hestia (Goddess of the Hearth and Home) – A book you go back to for Comfort

Any of Yahtzee Croshaw’s audiobooks are comfort food for Bad Times*TM*. Yahtzee is unapollogetically funny in his ZeroPunctuation reviews, and he’s also a gifted developer, if his recent Developer Diaries are anything to go by. He’s also a talented writer–though his very first novel didn’t grab my fancy, both “Jam” – a story about strawberry-scented cannibalistic jam — and “Will Save the Galaxy for Food” made me laugh uncontrollably for hours upon hours.

Demeter (Goddess of Agriculture and Fertility) – Favorite book setting

I’m probably toothing Steven Erikson’s horn too much here, but hell, if anyone deserves it, he does! Besides, a wonderful setting and brilliant worldbuilding go hand-in-hand.

Dionysus (God of Wine and Ritual Madness) – A Book you’re Absolutely Crazy About

I wrote about this book on reddit and got nearly 500 upvotes! I love Brian’s flintlock/epic fantasy world, and there’s so much I want to say here but…I’m working on an essay to share my thoughts in full.

Nemesis (Goddess of Revenge) – Favorite Revenge Story

I know I’m repeating myself, but there’s no way around it.

Nike (Goddess of Victory) -Best Series Conclusion you’ve Ever Read

Pure, undeniable catharsis. I swear, my tear glands were working on overtime, that’s how emotional and powerful this conclusion is.

Iris (Goddess of the Rainbow) – A Book with LGBTQ+ Main Characters

What a great effin’ debut this was. The main character, Mahit, is a human in an inhuman society, hungry and distrustful of it all at once. Poetry and beauty conceal a politically complex theatre of intrigue in A Memory Called Empire, and if you’re interested in reading more about it, you should click here for my review.

Hecate (Goddess of Magic and Witchcraft) – A Book With a Unique Magic System

I could have picked any one novel by Brandon Sanderson — all of his magical systems are well known for their uniqueness and internal logic; Brian McClellan is a disciple of Sanderson’s, in that he did his Creative Writing course and the style Brian writes in is reminiscent of Brandon’s. Powder Mage and its sequel trilogy, Gods of Blood and Powder, has not one, not two, but three unique magic systems; the first destructive and based on elemental control; the second is the eponymous powder based magic system, which enhances the abilities of these mages far beyond the abilities of your everyday human; and the third one is a sort of blood magic, which is scary. Very, very scary.

Hebe (Goddess of Youth) – A Book you Loved to Read as a Kid

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.” I have read about the spinning of the wheel more than once and it is…the most nostalgic world for me. More than Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Mistborn, Amber. Rand, Perrin, Matt, Nynaeve, Egweene and everyone else’s adventures

Wellp! That sure took a while, but it also gave me plenty of reasons to wax lyrical about the wonderful, miraculous world of HORRIBLE TERRIBLE HIGH FANTASY NOVELS THAT WILL EAT YOUR SOUL AND FESTER IN YOUR MIND. You should read all the books I mentioned, is wot I’m saying.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn – Book Review (Excerpt)

Another day, another book review written and accounted for! I had a wonderful time writing about Treason and an even better time listening to the audiobook by Marc Thompson. The review, as most reviews I write nowadays, can be found in full over at booknest.eu. The most important highlights, if you’d rather take a glance at something shorter, can be found below:

Politics in the Galactic Empire is nasty, ugly business. Thrawn is drawn into the situation – a simple week-long bet between Thrawn and Director Krennic (of Rogue One fame) to exterminate a surge of mynocks, the energy cable-chewing vermin seen in The Empire Strikes Back by Grand Moff Tarkin as an instrument to humiliate Director Krennic and ultimately fulfill the Moff’s own ambition of wrestling control of Project Stardust away from Krennic. The Death Star’s chief visionary is hardly going to take that, of course – so he not only offers a near-impossible bet to Thrawn but also demands the Admiral’s actions be subjected to the scrutiny of an observer – enter Assistant Director Ronan, no impartial judge by any measure. One of Krennic’s right-hand men, Ronan is…not particularly likable. He’s a skilled bureaucrat whose trust and belief in the Director seems to amount to religious fervor. Ronan sees the Emperor as a sniveling old dolt, Tarkin as a politicking megalomaniac and Lord Vader as a cold-blooded commander who rules through fear and allows no dissension in the ranks.

Thrawn: Treason is a return to form for Zahn after last year’s Alliances. Not that I didn’t enjoy that – but where that book suffered over a few issues, the chief of which were underwhelming (for the most parts) sections during the Clone Wars. Treason works because it goes back to the basics element that make the Grand Admiral so compelling – he’s a brilliant tactician who studies his enemies through a variety of methods and then dismantles them one piece at a time, using not brute force but their own weaknesses against them. We never see the Chiss Admiral’s inner thoughts – even when we spend some time in his head, what we get is how he perceives the world, as an observer; impartial, almost. Analytical, disciplined and entirely too alien.

 Commodore Farro, who was among the strongest elements of Alliances, continues to shine just as Eli Vanto did in the first Thrawn(2017) novel or Captain Gilad Pellaeon from the original Hand of the Empire trilogy. The dynamic is true and tested for Thrawn and for good reason – like many brilliant minds, he too seems to enjoy bouncing ideas off others of talent, and to cultivate the innate talent in officers who might benefit from a non-standard mentorship more than just your run-of-the-mill Imperial academy approach.

This novel ends on a note that promises an interesting set of new challenges for the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, if Zahn is given yet more opportunities to continue chronicling his service to the Empire – and who knows, perhaps what happens beyond it – I believe he’s in the perfect position to thread new ground not only for Thrawn but for the wider Star Wars universe as a whole.

Articles Worth Reading (The Week of August 5th) – R. F. Kuang interview at Bookdragonism and More!

Previous – Next

Another week has gone by, and I have once again managed to find my share of wonderful words on the Internet!

Rebecca F. Kuang gets interviewed over at Bookdragonism!

…And it’s hilarious. Now not only do I know R. F. Kuang is among the most talented new authors of the decade, she is hilarious as fuck. And yes, Bookdragonism’s very own Rain deserves back-to-back shoutouts because her blog is THE GREATEST!

Rain: ‎The Dragon Republic focuses on naval warfare which really drew my attention because I haven’t read any other book that paid great attention to this particular subject before. What was your favorite part in writing this aspect of the book?
Rebecca: The ship porn. THE SHIP PORN! I did so much research on makes and models of all types of old Chinese ships, and I think you can tell from the lavish descriptions in the book that I got really into it. There’s a line in the Dragon Republic where Baji says, “If that ship were a person, I’d fuck that ship.” That is very much how I feel about great bulky warships, small and nimble sampans, and sleek opium skimmers… I got to take all those beautiful, beautiful ships and hurl them into chaotic battle. So fun.

Speaking of fantasy inspired by Chineese and East Asian history, there’s a new one on my radar, thanks to r/fantasy!

Quite promising, isn’t it? Click Ctrl+LMB and you can see the full r/fantasy thread in a new tab!

The Importance of Historical Thinking and its Decline

I’ve had this article from the New Yorker (written by Eric Alterman ) opened up for weeks now, and somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading it — shame on me, since it’s an excellent one! This piece makes the case of why studying history is beyond necessary, putting an accent on American politics and how a distinct lack of historical thinking makes for a population much more prone to manipulation (reading between the lines). Here’s an excerpt:

The reason that students at Yale and places like it can “afford” to major in history is that they have the luxury of seeing college as a chance to learn about the world beyond the confines of their home towns, and to try to understand where they might fit in. That’s what history does best. It locates us and helps us understand how we got here and why things are the way they are. “History instills a sense of citizenship, and reminds you of questions to ask, especially about evidence,” Willis told me. In a follow-up e-mail after our conversation, Mikhail wrote, “A study of the past shows us that the only way to understand the present is to embrace the messiness of politics, culture, and economics. There are never easy answers to pressing questions about the world and public life.” Bruce Springsteen famously developed a profound political consciousness after happening upon Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s “A Pocket History of the United States,” first published in 1942. In his recent Broadway show, Springsteen explained, “I wanted to know the whole American story. . . . I felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself.”

Susan over at Novel Lives has been busy!

I’ve been reading Susan’s blog plenty lately, partially over the fact we’re both part of this awesome wee community of bloggers called, “TheWriteReads” (catchy, I know) but also because it’s a damn fun blog to follow! So rather than choose any one of her blog posts, I decided I’d just let you pick your poison, if you’re so predisposed. My personal favourite might be her interview withAuthor Julie Eshbaugh — seems like I might pick a YA book after a very long time of self-restraint. That said, plenty of other interesting reads can be found over at Novel Lives!

It’s Not Pain, It Just Feels Like Pain: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski

Last but not least, this article over at Tor.com, penned by Leah Schnelbach, starts off strong and doesn’t let up! I’m not too familiar with J. Michael Straczynski’s works but by the sound of this, I need to immediately get better acquainted with him. There’s just so much! The book seems to thread between elements that are both dark and terrible…and brilliant and inspiring. After readng this in full, I can say with a degree of certainty, I need this Becoming Superman in my life, and I’m going to get my hands on it, come what may.

Any good Writer Biography talks about discovering a love of books, and JMS’ reading life sums up the balance of humor and horror that marks his whole childhood. While living in a rough part of Newark, JMS discovered the magical paperback spinner-racks that saved many a young reader’s life. The problem being that between being truly destitute, and having a father who didn’t want books in the house, he couldn’t afford even cheap pulp books. So, as he puts it, he “turned to a life of crime.”

“The only problem was my conscience. I could reconcile myself to taking the books since that was the only way to read them, but the idea of keeping them was more than I could bear.”

Certainly Superman wouldn’t go around stealing paperbacks. Unless of course Red Kryptonite was involved, but then he’d put them back as soon as he recovered.
Which is how Young JMS began stealing books, reading them without cracking the spine, and then returning them, all the while hoping not to get caught at either end. But it paid off, as he read Ballard, Aldiss, Dick, Spinrad, and Zelazny this way, learned to respect books with the word “Hugo” printed on the front, and discovered Harlan Ellison, who would become a friend and mentor a decade later.

Among all the stories about holding to deadlines and hustling jobs, JMS makes a point of digging into why he wants to write. It isn’t just a form of therapy for him, or a way to pay the bills—it also becomes a way to prove to himself, each day, that his father’s point of view is not the only one. By writing through his pain, and processing the years of abuse, he’s able to think on the page, and find new ways to approach life, and new ways to be human, and he’s able to put those points of view out into the world for other people. This comes through most strongly when he begins work on what is probably his best-known project, Babylon 5.

Compelling, isn’t it? Seems like my bank account will suffer another blow these coming weeks but–you know what?–looks like it’ll be more than worth it!

Thanks for reading! Now that I’ve spread the good word, tell me — what caught your eye on the Internet this past week?! Send me a recommendation, whether it’s an interesting blog post you yourself have penned, a book review, interview or just some fascinating article you can’t help but gush about. You can reach me on my Twitter(on the side) or via comments down below!

A Pair of Quick Mini Reviews

Hullo, followers! I’ve been meaning to get a pair of non-fantasy novel reviews out of the way, so here goes! But before I go all non-fantasy on y’all, I just finished a wonderful staple in early 20th century fantasy classic and I’m going to say a few words about it as well! #everythingiscontent

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

At last, I come across the work of famed English author, T. H. White! And this, the first book in his Arthurian tetralogy, was a delight. The Sword in the Stone sold me on White’s version of the Arthurian mythology due to two chief reasons – the humour and the characters.

The humour is anachronistic – thank Merlyn! Merlyn, who lives life backwards to everyone else, has such items in his hut such as a weapons rack brimming with modern weaponry, as well as degrees from all of Europe’s leading universities! He decries the state of the European education system in pre-Arthurian times quite a lot, he does, wot wot.

As for the characters, they are full of heart, good cheer, and no small amount of silliness, too! Take King Pellenor, for example, a ridiculous monarch with no land, no armies, not even a bed! He, however, has a task he unfailingly pursues, and that’s to search for the (terrible, question mark??? ) Questing beast. To our young protagonist, Arthur (affectionately called ‘The Wart’ by everyone in his foster father, sir Hector’s domain), King Pellenor is jolly good fun. The two become fast friends.

The Wart is wonderful, filled with that thirst for adventure that you just need to have in any proper Arthur! I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s like as a king in the next three novels!

I listened to this one as part of “The Past and Future King” audiobook, as narrated by Neville Jason. Wonderful, excellent work imbuing the characters with life!

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Spoilers for  “Of Mice and Men” below.

How do you talk about a classic novella such as this one?

This one is about the friendship between two men, George and Lennie, childhood friends. George takes care of Lennie, who, although a large and inhumanly strong man, has the innocence of a child, and a child’s understanding of any given situation he is in. Terrible strength is, in this case, a curse.

I’ll not retell what happens, and I won’t shy away from the plot points – “Of Mice and Men” is a tragic story that presents the world as it was (and too often still is), cold and uncaring towards those who are born different and lacking what society deems as normal. Lennie’s child-like fear and actions is the engine that propels the story forward,  forcing George and him to move from town to town, and ultimately forcing George to eutanise his friend. You understand why he does it, and whether you think the novella itself is good, great or not worth a damn… It’s heartbreaking. It’s tragic. And it’s an act of love.

Marx the Humanist by Muriel Seltman

I came across Muriel Seltman’s “Marx the Humanist” by accident while looking through the many, many different sections of NetGalley’s offerings. As an English Studies (Literature) bachelor’s, I’m interested in all sorts of different ideologies, anything that’ll give me a greater understanding of what moves human beings from a societal and ideological viewpoint. When it comes to Marxism, I know a fair lot more than about, say, libertarianism, because come from a family at least partially socialist. Or communist. Or Marxist. Honestly, it’s complicated.

Seltman’s novel gives an easy introduction to Marx’s ideas while also offering a thesis statement in the very title. “The Humanist” is broken down into four chapters, an appendix and an epilogue; the chapters first give a basic introduction to Marxism, through direct quotes from many of Marx’s works like “The Capital” and “The Communist Manifesto” co-authored with Engels. In addition to these passages, the author gives additional context or furthers certain arguments, to mixed effect.

It’s far from the most persuasive piece of historical (sociological, humanist) non-fiction I’ve read. Seltman too often abandons any attempts at convincing non-believers and nay-sayers, instead singing Marx’s praises into what, at worst, felt self-congratulatory. Some of the author’s arguments didn’t go far enough, either. It seems like Seltman couldn’t find a good enough balance between quoting passages and commenting on their own.

This is a good introduction to Marx’s ideas, thanks to well-chosen quotations, and a decent text by Muriel Seltman. Not quite 3 stars, not quite 4 — my score is 3.5/5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Troubador Publishing Ltd. for providing me with a review copy. Opinions are solely my own.

Articles Worth Looking At (The Week of July 29) – The Dragon Republic, Self-Published Fantasy in August, And More!

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Rain from Bookdragonism reviews R. F. Kuang’s The Dragon Republic

I am beyond excited about the second installment of The Poppy War! What’s going to happen with Rin after the…well, the genocide she commited in the last book? Rain doesn’t tell us, of course but…wait a second. Rain…Rin…could it be? Gasp!

Seriously though, Rain’s review of The Dragon Republic is great and it’s gotten my blood boiling with anticipation! And that special announcement…I’m not giving anything away but let’s just say, I’m looking forward to August 5th!

Tor.com takes on The Boys

You ever want to slice open the hero genre? Well, Amazon Studios’ The Boys might be for you. It’s an irreverant take on superheroes, asking us: What if the icons we believe in are in fact facetious, double-faced hypocrites? This article on Tor.com does an in-depth commentary on the show’s strengths and weaknesses, with some spoilers. I don’t agree with all of them but with that in mind, I think it’s an excellent article.

Another Month of Self-Published Fantasy Novels Begins!

I love Rob J. Hayes’s work in the fantasy genre. It’s gritty, action-packed and beyond just silly good grimdark fun. But this is someone who enjoys contributing to the wider fantasy writing community, and one of the ways he does that is through his monthly “Self-Published” fantasy post. It’s an in-depth look at plenty of new indie fantasy coming out over August of this year, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to look through it. The book I’ll be reading this month is definitely Steve McKinnon’s Wrath of Storm, the continuation of The Rain-Catcher’s Ballad, which I read for the finals of SPFBO 4 over at booknest.eu. The Lordless City is another novel that sounds like it might just be up my alley!

Global Trade and Empire

In this week’s “How the Hell Did I End Up Here” article, I somehow managed to find my way to a British Library article highlighting Britain’s relationship with India, going in detail about tea trade, Victoria’s relationship with Indian Secretary Abdul Karim, the colonial practice of taking raw materials back to the colonizer’s home territory, manufacturing them into different goods and then selling them back at a much higher price in Indian territories, and more. Here, for example, the reality of life onboard a steam liner is described in detail:

While travel on the liners was often seen as glamorous, the harsh conditions for the lascar sailors working in the hold and firing the engines attest to a different reality. The common perception among ship-owners and the public was that lascars were essential as they could ‘stand the fiercest heat of the tropics better than any other race’. In reality, however, it was their low wages that made them an attractive labour force: while Indian lascars were officially British subjects, they were employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, which meant that they received much lower pay than their European counterparts. The hard working conditions led some lascars to settle in British ports. Some were pushed to desert their post, or were stranded by lack of employment. They were the earliest Asian working class in Britain.

I heartily recommend you check out the British Library link; not only is it a fascinating historical record of several of the ways the British exploited India, it also comes with plenty of historical documents — letters, advertisements and so much more.

Another Look at the Tactics of Gondor: These Beacons are Lit

It’s been a while since I’ve read up on Bret Devereaux‘s tactical reading of the Siege of Gondor but this second part is as well thought-out and downright awe-inducing in the scope of its intellectual labour as the first part. If you, like me, have any interest in strategy and tactics, whether from a purely hobbyist perspective or because you want to write believable large-scale battles, this is a series and a blog you need to read. And more often than I do, too!

Let’s start by laying out a theoretical term: defense in depth. Instead of trying to ‘hard stop’ an attacker with a single, maximally strong defensive line, defense in depth seeks to slow down or damage an attacker while yielding space. One of the great virtues (but not the only one!) of such a defense is that it turns friction into an ally. Armies are hugely complex things, involving many moving parts (people, equipment, animals, etc). Friction (pedantry note: here in the sense used by Clausewitz) is simply the tendency for things to begin to go wrong with that system as it moves and fights. As Clausewitz says (drink!), “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is hard.”

You can think of it this way: when an army first jumps off on the offensive, it has had time to plan and prepare. Positions very close to the army are under good observation, so information is more accurate (and there has been time to sort out the inaccurate reports). Everyone is in the right position, everyone’s weapons are in good condition, everyone is fed and rested. As soon as the first step forward is taken, that begins to break down: key specialists are killed, equipment breaks, soldiers get tired, scared, lost, bored. Intelligence is swallowed in the fog of war. An attack is thus at its most dangerous at the very beginning, before it is worn down by friction. An attacking army is in the most danger at the end of an assault, exhausted and worn down – such a moment is the perfect time to counterattack, if forces remain to do so.

Defense in depth seeks to exploit this tendency, maintaining a measure of defense pressure on the enemy to inflict attrition, delay and friction, but with a flexible enough defense to enable the defenders to repeatedly withdraw to new lines, preserving a potent force for a potential counterattack.

I think we all need someone to decript what that old Clausewitz is sayin sometimes, don’t you? At any rate, this entire series is, to me, a labour of love towards tactics and Tolkien’s world, and I hope that more people take notice of it!

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, and I hope that one or more of these words on the Internet might be interesting to you!

July in Review at the Grimoire Reliquary and Beyond

Welcome to my first month in review! I’ve been busy these last few weeks, both on the blog and over at BookNest.eu. I’ve been busy reading about Mice and Men, Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women, Inquisitor-y men in the 41st Millenium, Time-Travelling Men in love with Tall, Brilliant 60’s Women. Some dogs and time-displaced men were also involved. Most of the reviews below were originally posted over on booknest.eu — each title will lead you to the review in question.

Please feel free to look through the titles and only sample through what seems to be your cup of tea — I’m playing with the format of this “In Review” thing and if you don’t think it’s working, give me some feedback and I’ll change things around next month. Happy reading!

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

Our “Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women” section is all about Peter V. Brett’s first Demon Cycle book. I enjoyed this one, more than I originally thought I would.

Entering a new fictional world that might take up dozens or even hundreds of hours of your time is no small thing; those first few hours are decisive as they can either mesmerize or let you down. The Warded Man hooked me, and it did so in several ways. First of all, the atmosphere of fear and constant danger that oozes across every page through the first half of the novel is nothing short of impressive. It’s owed to one of the most original renditions of demonic entities I’ve come across in recent memories – the demons. These appear as soon as the sun is down, every single night, filled with malice and hatred for humans. The only thing that keeps them at bay are the wards, magical symbols of protection etched into wood, stone and cement. Thanks to these and these alone does humanity survive, whether in great walled cities or in tiny villages, spread throughout the land, often cut off and isolated from one another. But wards are not failproof; the demons possess base cunning and test them time and again. If any of the wards are weakened or imperfect, the demons will find the weakness and break through.

The review can be found over on booknest.eu. I’m actually itching to get back to the Demon Cycle and am looking forward to unpacking the second book. I expect I’ll be going the audiobook route once more, the narration was excellent!

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock 

Credit for the picture goes to: Robin Recht, Didier Poli and Jean Bastide who all worked together on the Elric: The Ruby Throne (2014) comic book adaptation!

I worked really, really hard on this one, and I think my efforts paid off. This isn’t the last time I’m going to mention this particular review on the Reliquary — I’m adapting a part of this review into a full-blown essay!

Finally we get to Elric of Melniboné! You know, I quite enjoyed my time with the 170 or so pages of this story. It finally does what I was pining for when I got this here novel – it gives me some actual prose about Elric of Melniboné! Shocker, I know. The verdict?

It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s uh, uh, uh, okay, are we talking about proper prose now, I can do this, I remember how to deconstruct prose. Elric of Melniboné deconstructs the sword&sorcery genre in a single sentence. See, sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at the sentence: “The paradox was that Elric tolerated Yyrkoon’s treachery because he was strong, because he had the power to destroy Yyrkoon whenever he cared.” This is the sentence that shows Elric’s character in full – he is distinguished as much by his restraint as by his albino skin. In a genre full of characters who know nothing of restraint, Elric is the exception.

His cousin Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is an excellent example of your average sword&sorcery character with his unflinching militarism, the ‘might is right’ mindset that we all know and…love? Yyrkoon has his own defining sentence, following hot on the heels of that first one: “And Yyrkoon’s own character was such that he must constantly be testing that strength of Elric’s, for he knew instinctively that if Elric did weaken and order him slain, then he would have won.” And just like that, these two characters are diametrical opposites of one another. Reading about the conflict between them was fascinating. The way the two of them develop from beginning to end has a real consequence on the wider world, and that’s what fantasy, according to Moorcock is about:

The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean world of our own souls. … [fantasy] rarely produces a comforting end. Whether the hero wins through or not, the reader is left with the suspicion or knowledge that all is not quiet on the supernatural front. For supernatural also read subconscious and you’re still with me. (345)

Monstress Vol. 02 – The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

After this panel, what more can I even say?

For the Emperor (Ciaphas Cain #1) by Sandy Mitchell

For The Emperor is presented as the archived diary of the amusing Commissar Ciaphas Cain, with footnotes and editorial comments penned by an Inquisitor who plays no small role in the untangling story of an Imperial frontier world that has erred away from the Emperor’s light. If a lot of what I said doesn’t make much sense to you, let me explain – in the fortieth millennium of the grim future, a very xenophobic humanity is barely surviving thanks to the will of a god-like entity entombed alive in a golden throne, holding together thousands of worlds and trillions of human lives through strength of will alone. This doesn’t play a factor, really, but you might as well know it if you’re still with me so far. This book doesn’t exactly get into any of this ‘bigger picture’ stuff but it’ll expect you to know certain backdrop information like this, or a few species of xenos (aliens) that aren’t explained in-depth. Certainly a minus for newcomers, I have to note, much as I adore this book.

11/22/63 by Stephen King 

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

J. C. Kang is a name I’ve seen circulating around. Fellow reviewers have mentioned The Dragon Songs Saga, praising the worldbuilding and characters, among other elements of that quadrilogy. It’s fair to say, I’ve been looking for the right time to pick up one of his works. When he contacted booknest.eu with the specific request that I review his latest in a series of novellas, the time seemed only right to carve out an hour and a half and get through what turned out to be a delightfully kinetic 93-page dive into a world reminiscent of medieval China…but with an exotic half-elf courtesan/spy taking the lead!

I do love those pointy-eared lads and lasses.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

The single superhero novel I read this month was by newcoming author WIlliam Dickstein. The book left me with mixed feelings but the main character was a treat, as you can tell from the quote below:

Dickstein nails Ivy’s voice in the chapters from her perspective. She’s interesting, she’s likable and it wasn’t hard at all to be invested in her story and the mystery that surrounded her power. It’s a pity she spends most of the book in a training facility. Granted, several of the supporting characters in this Cape recruitment academy are interesting and add to the story, like Ivy’s estranged childhood friend Hilly who is also a fellow trainee, or Tristan, a Tinker who has an adorably awkward crush on Ivy. The instructors at the facility piqued my interest as well, in particular, Hunter. Hunter is a veteran Cape, retired from those pesky superheroics but more than ready to mold the next generation of Capes. He had several memorable quirks, like the fact that the AC in his quarters is always blasting a cold gust at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut 

Baby’s first Vonnegut!

I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vonnegut’s works for a long time now, and when an Audible 2-for-1 deal offered The Sirens of Titan up along with Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore, I couldn’t very well keep away, could I?

Winston Niles Rumfoord is stuck inside a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing that allows his conscience to penetrate time; however, there’s a catch – he can only manifest throughout different parts of the Solar System for very small windows of time. It’s very complicated but it doesn’t stop this man, this spacefaring millionaire from dictating the fate of humanity.

What is human life all about, anyway? That’s the question at the centre of this novel, the question that plagues Rumfoord, that pushes him to create his church of “God the Utterly Indifferent” through downright Machiavellian manipulations. How does Rumfoord do that? Through the creation of a militaristic Martian civilization, the funds for which are funnelled through Swiss banks by his ancient, loyal butler. Said Martian civilization is then used as a blunt object to batter all of Earthen humanity, but not in the way you would think.

Coming Up Next…

Plenty is coming in August — Sharp Ends by Abercrombie, Soul Music by Pratchett, The Humanist Karl Marx which I picked up purely through happenstance on Netgalley and of course, The Dragon Republic by Rebecca F. Kuang IS COMING OUT AND THIS WORLD WILL BUUUUUURN and I am looking forward to reading it, of course. Oh, and Thrawn: Treason, the latest novel by Timothy Zahn is brilliant! So many excellent books to talk about, dear reader — and in case you’ve read all the way down,