Star Wars: Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray – Book Review (Excerpt)

Welcome back, Reader! Today’s review is of one of 2019’s best Star Wars novels, Master and Apprentice. The full review you can find over at booknest.eu.

The Cover is courtesy of the ridiculously talented Alice X. Zhang

At last, the one question that has been bugging me since I was 9 years old receives an answer! The question? Why the heck does Obi-Wan Kenobi hate flying so much? Now I know, and if you read this book, you will too!

Master and Apprentice deconstructs first and foremost the relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, portrayed by Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in what was the best part of The Phantom Menace. The novel’s opening sees this relationship burdened with issues because of what both master and padawan consider to be   The myriad differences between Kenobi and Jinn have made Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship difficult ever since its beginning. Qui-Gon is among the most unorthodox knights in the Jedi Order, all too happy to break procedure if it will bring him closer to his goals; he is, though the word has never been used in Master and Apprentice, a radical, willing to cross borders other Jedi knights wouldn’t even come near – which makes the fact that he gets offered a spot to the Jedi Council at the very beginning of the novel all the more interesting a hook.

Obi-Wan, meanwhile, is very firm on following the rules at this point in his training. He has his own set of problems – feeling like he is a bad apprentice, unable to live up to what is required of him is but one of them. The fact that he has difficulty finding peace in the Force during combat, his battle meditation easy to shatter, is another. What is evident early on is that both he and Qui-Gonn blame their own shortcomings but never one another. That’s a very Jedi thing to do, but it also speaks to how much they care about each other.

A lot of great elements collide to create a politically-charged, morally complex story that has a lot going for it – great leads, interesting worldbuilding that both adds new elements to the cannon and reintroduces certain old ones for the first time after ye grand old Disney Legacy purge. I’m impressed with Claudia Gray and will be reading her ‘Bloodlines’ at some future point, no doubt about it now. My score for Master and Apprentice is a 4.5/5; I thought this was a tremendous read, as fun as Thrawn: Treason (reviewed here) in its own way.

Oh, and lest I forget about it, Jonathan Davis is as spectacular as ever in the narrator’s booth. His Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are eerily true to the originals, and he breathes a lot of life into  Even his young Christopher Lee captures the essence of the character, even if he’s not on the level of Corey Burton, who voices Dooku on both Clone Wars animated series, and almost does the late, great Lee justice. As usual, the sound effects are also present – lightsabers, blaster fire, engines and plenty of mileage from those godly John Williams soundtracks. Del Rey doesn’t cut corners when it comes to the production budget of their Star Wars audiobooks, and us audiophiles are all the better for it.

One last name demands attention: The ridiculously talented Alice X. Zhang is to blame for the wonderful cover. Having looked her up only recently, I can already tell that I love her style so very much.

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill – Book Review (Blog Tour Edition!)

I enjoyed this piece of time-displaced romance.

Keith falls in love with Lindsey, a girl thirty years in the past. It all begins when he picks up a VHS cassette at a flea market, while looking to expand his X-Men collection (which, by the way, definitely made him initially likable — true X-Men nerdhood is something to bond over!). The cassette is the video diary of a girl Keith’s age at the time of recording, back in 1989; what shocks Keith is that, as soon as he speaks aloud, the girl hears him…and responds. So begins this short back-and-forth through time, as Lindsey and Keith fall in love within the span of…15-30-45 minutes.

Lindsey is the star of the book — her dialogue in particular, had something special about it, a spark, something that would glisten under the sun. She’s a creative in a nasty situation, living with a mother who doesn’t understand her and a creep for a stepfather, far away from the Hawaiian home she’s known for most of her life, lost and terribly alone. But she’s well-read, and a talented artist – reading and drawing are two activities that are a haven from the trouble of the real world.

Keith’s behaviour is somewhat more troubling — this sudden connection with Lindsey has some pretty adverse effects on him as the novel goes on. He borders on the obsessive a little bit too much for my liking; don’t get me wrong, I had a good time hitching a ride in his noggin’. He’s a likable guy, he’s a nice kid, but he’s even more lost than Lindsey.

The prose is crisp, clear and serviceable. It could’ve benefitted from a few extra descriptions, I thought; there was an element of bareness to it that would’ve been well-served by Michael K. Hill adding a few lines here and there. That might be preference, though; ultimately, Hill offers an acceptable replica of our world as a backdrop to the story he chose to tell. The cover is lovely, too!

It didn’t surprise me, however — most of the small twists were foreshadowed without subtlety and and I wasn’t surprised to come across most of the ‘revelations’ by book’s end. Maybe there didn’t need to be — this is a romance, after all. But I’d have liked some little surprise to have gone past me.

My score? 6.5/10. 3 stars on Goodreads – I enjoyed it. But it lacked an extra little something to get it to the 3.5 I’d need to give it that half star extra and round it up to 4/5 on ye olde Goodreads site.

My recommendation? If you like an nonstandard love story that’s cute and has some interesting, well-realised ideas, this is something you might want to look at. It’s a very simple book, and I mean that in the best sense – clarity, straightforward plot, a pair of characters it’s easy to root for — these make for a quick, pleasant read.

The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review (Excerpt)

Hullo again! This weekend was nice and lazy and full of…actually, a lot of studying, one week into this new year of uni. I wanted to share my review of Sapkowski’s second Witcher novel, The Sword of Destiny before this first week of September is truly and forever gone!

The full review, as usual, you can find over at booknest.eu. Below, you’ll find the reviews of my two favourite stories in this latest anthology:

Eternal Flame

Hands down the funniest story of the lot. In a case of stolen identities, mimicked halflings and an economic boom, Geralt is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s ridiculous. He’s just an observer, a visitor in Novigrad, one of the biggest cities in the North. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think, time and again, Gods, it sure would suck to have your identity stolen by a doppler, to only see that doppler do better at all you’ve worked your life towards, in a matter of three days. And that’s much of what the plot is about. But in this case, it’s not about plot as much as interactions, dialogue and showing how being seen as an evil monster does not necessarily correspond to the reality of a creature’s nature.

Seeing Novigrad in written form for the first time was also pretty great, I won’t lie – I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would look outside of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. If there’s anything I can say for sure about Eternal Flame, it’s that this is my favourite Witcher feel-good story; with its light mood, and a sense of humour that keeps on giving, this was a great place to switch gears after two emotionally heavy stories, and as a result, it worked out quite well.

Oh, and Dandelion is here. Starving artist and whatnot, wot, wot.   5/5

A Little Sacrifice

This is it. This is The Story. The one that affected me the most, one of the emotionally heaviest tales I’ve read in recent memory, a heart-tearing, gut-wrenching punch in the teeth that left me wiping away a single, manly tear from my eye.

It started off funny – but oh, Andrzej, this is the last time you bamboozle me, I can promise you that. The funny bits have to do with riffing on The Little Mermaid, with a duke and a mermaid obviously in love with one another but neither of them willing to compromise, to make a little sacrifice in order to be with the one they love. It’s all played for laughs until the duke refuses to pay Geralt on grounds of expecting results; results which Geralt has failed to deliver. Penniless, Geralt and Dandelion are forced to move on, despite their empty stomachs. As luck would have it, a rich villager runs across them and recognizes Dandelion and invites him to a wedding. The invitation is accepted, of course, and our Witcher is all too happy to tag along, if it’ll mean a belly filled with food and a night’s rest spent in-doors. In the wedding, the pair of travellers come across Essi.

A newly introduced character, the troubadour Essi, also known as Little Eye, is the catalyst of this story. Her relationship with Geralt is fascinating and not only this but it also kicks open the doors for the witcher to reflect on his relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. To say anymore would be to take away from this excellent story, which hit especially close to home.

This one also shows the depth of Dandelion’s character. Dandelion, to you lot that do not remember wot’s wot, is Geralt’s closest friend and frequent travel companion. This one is the first story I’d recommend to anyone who doubts that the Witcher might not be packing a heavy enough emotional punch. A full 10/10, 5/5, and so on and so forth.

Saturday Night Gaming Returns: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Legacy of the First Blade: Hunted (#01)

It’s been a good while since I’ve written anything about video games, hasn’t it? Here they are, then, my thoughts on the first episode of the 12-15 hour-long first paid DLC for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey! Some Spoilers for Hunted from this point onwards.

Makedonia, one of the fourty or so regions in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, played a nominal part in the game’s main story campaign, a rather large zone for the thirty to fourty-five minutes spent in a single conquest battle and several dramatic cutscenes. Strange, I thought – but I needn’t have worried. Legacy of the First Blade uses one of Odyssey’s largest territories to excellent effect, infesting Makedonia with a whole lot of different quests, a fresh new cult to dispose of, and plenty of side-activities.

The character focus in this DLC is Darius, the eponymous First Blade, called so because he’s the very first person in history to use the assassins’ Hidden Blade. You know the one if you’ve so much as seen an Assassin’s Creed trailer from the last twelve years – springs up, very sharp, used to stab people. Darius is an old Persian, uh, assassin, responsible for the murder of king Xerxes; well past his prime, he and his son Natakes are struggling to survive and evade the Order of the Ancients, the Persians’ own version of the Cult of Cosmos, now safely dismantled by Kassandra – at least in my first playthrough. Darius’ skills are the equal of or even surpass those of Kassandra; while the two first cross blades when they meet and Kassandra certainly seems to be winning by the time Natakes puts an end to the fight, Darius is no joke; he also displays the Batman-like ability to disappear in the middle of conversation, leaving his ill-humoured lackey Kassandra with all the heavy-lifting.

Darius is a cypher – though he reveals bits and pieces of his history throughout this first episode, there’s always a hint of something left unspoken, an element of hidden knowledge. The revelations keep coming as the conflict between Darius, Kassie and Natakes on one side, and the Order of the Ancients on the other, intensifies. It works because it’s tried and tested, and also because the leader of this branch of the Ancients, the Hunter, has a legitimately daunting presence, which is more than I can say about every single member of the Cult of Kosmos. The mental games he plays with Kassandra lead to one of the more memorable scenes in the hundred hours I’ve spent playing this game – Kassandra, staring at a tree from which victims of her blade are hanging. They’re one and all no-name soldiers, Athenians and Spartans alike; it’s a moment of forced reflection, which questions her humanity. The obvious coarseness of this scene only serves to make the conversation options, “I am a monster/I’m not a monster” deliver an even stronger gut-punch.

In many ways, Hunted was a condensation of what worked well in the main storyline of Odyssey – family drama, the search-and-destroy so familiar from the time spent hunting the Cult of Kosmos, the requisite ship combat quest, a pair of boring treasure hunts, and a lot of animal life slaughter. Bears, wolves, eels, nothing on four legs is safe, whether due to Kassie’s desire to have a romantic dinner with Natakes or because the Hunter is an animal lover, it doesn’t matter.

I thought it was good – good enough, fresh enough to continue playing well past the point I’d usually leave an open-world game like this one. And I’ve played on since – next up, I’ll talk about Episode 02 – Shadow Heritage.

Thanks for reading! How about you, Reader? What have you been playing lately?

A Great Asian-Themed Fantasy Sale Is On For The Next Week! (September 6-13)

I love Asian-themed fantasy, especially when it’s ON SALE! Whether it’s inspired by historical events like R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War or it dissects the warrior culture of an analogue of Japan like M. L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen, whether it mythologises heroes like Rob J. Hayes’s Never Die or it offers a meeting point between western fantasy tropes and Chinese culture like J. C. Kang’s Thorn of the Night Blossoms, Asian-themed fantasy never ceases to capture my imagination; which is why I’ve decided to not only offer you my recommendations for these three latter books but also to share with you which of the twenty other novels are after my own heart!

Thorn of the Night Blossoms by J. C. Kang

Fantastic action, an intriguing main character, ninety pages I lost myself in, in the span of two hour. I spoke about it at length here, but if you don’t want to read an entire review, I’ve also put in an excerpt below:

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. 

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

I’ve spoken about this book a whole lot — I even did a fair amount of work trying to deconstruct its characters and the relationships between them, all of which can be found here. The most important thing you can gather from that long, long review above, is this: The Sword of Kaigen is one of the finest novels I’ve read, and my favourite standalone of 2019.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Rob J. Hayes is a swell guy! He works hard every month to make his lists of upcoming Self-Published fantasy novels, he looks real great in a gambeson and…oh, yeah, he writes really damn well! Here’s what I had to say for Never Die when I read it at the dawn of 2019:

The band of heroes and anti-heroes in Rob’s latest novel… I love them to life! A statement strange enough, I confess, until you read Never Die’s blurb:Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight-year-old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die. Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from storybooks read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them…

In that sense, my love for these heroes is strong enough to bring them back to life. But I am getting ahead of myself. Never Die’s heroes are as different from one another as you might expect from Hayes, if you’ve experienced his previous work. First among these heroes is Itami Cho, known far and wide through the land of Wuxia as Whispering Blade. Itami is an honour-bound warrior of great prowess, whose great fault stems from ever-present guilt — no matter the oaths she swears, Itami lives to see them turn to dust. She has only ever managed to keep one of her vows; to keep the second of her blades sheathed, no matter what comes. The mystery of that sword is one the author takes his sweet time building up, and its pay-off is…well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the revelations coming your way.

What I’m picking up from the Sale

My First Pick

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Now that’s a tough one.

*Glances at the covers. Eyes glue to one cover in particular.*

Heavy breathing intensifies.

Okay. Breathe. Right, this is Rebirth of the Undead King and I’ve never seen its cover, nor have I ever heard of it before. Let’s see the synopsis!

No one can escape death forever.

When Zaros finds the remains of a fallen god, he seizes upon the opportunity to exact revenge on the monarchy of his kingdom.

However, having a former god as his teacher will force him to confront the dark nature of not only society, but himself.

Struggling against his inner-demons, Zaros must make a choice.

To uphold his ideals or embrace the legacy of his benefactor.

Rebirth of the Undead King is a grimdark fantasy novel with cultivation elements following the tradition of novels like Overlord, Dungeon Defense, and Will Wight’s Cradle series. Join the legend. 

Okay. Fallen gods, a reference to Will Wight’s Cradle series which I know of and have on my Kindle but have yet to read, as well as of Overlord. Alright, I think we’ve found my first pick! I’m sold!

Now, let’s take another look at the remaining 19, eh?

My Second Pick

Oi! There’s a many-tailed fox!

Sold.

Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I absolutely love foxes. The intersection they’re placed at in Japanese culture – that’s completely fascinating to me, and I’ve watched dozens of anime with fox spirit protagonists, antagonists, side characters and so on. I’ve read some of the legends, I even own a game or three. Foxes are awesome. No regrets in picking this up!

One last pick, I think, is in order? I’ve read three of the novels on sale — there’s some symmetry in picking up three more!

My Third Pick

…is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

What if Sleeping Beauty was a martial artist?

For a hundred years, Princess Morning Light has meditated in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Could her long-lost sword skill be the key to stopping the Vastly Martial Emperor?

Rebel leader Clouded Sky doesn’t believe in the old legends of Ten Thousand Thorns Temple. But as bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, the martial princess may be Clouded Sky’s last hope.

Who can he trust – and who is planning to betray him?

Yup, that sounds right up my alley.

These are my picks for the sale! How about you? Anything pique your curiosity yet? Once again, the full sale you can find here. Tell me about which of these novels sounds best to you in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter! Thanks for reading!

August in Review: Sharp Ends, Blunted Keyboard Keys and Loads of Reviews!

Another month has passed, and with it I’ve grown a year older! Gasp, Filips age! I was shocked when I found out and I bet you are, too! At any rate, I had

I reviewed some fantastic books!

I read and reviewed a number of wonderful books. Let’s run down the list:

Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder #2) by Brian McClellan

I missed my train station.
Brian McClellan’s Sins of Empire was among the finest novels published in 2017. I came to it blind, not having read Brian’s first Powder Mage trilogy, unfamiliar with a world that, soon enough would come to be one of the most treasured fictional realms I’ve ever resided in. I recall opening Sins of Empire up for the first time, on a train from Milano to Monza where I was living in March 2017. I’d bought the book on something of a whim, after glancing through a review on the r/fantasy subreddit. It’s a short trip, from Milano to Monza, barely twenty minutes.
And I missed my train station.
That’s the sort of magic Brian McClellan works into his writing. You forget everything but the page you’re on, and then there’s the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. His Powder Mage work is escapism at its finest, and it’s enchanting and addictive.

This was a wild read, and I wrote a review I was very happy with. Adding to that, to my utter amazement, the thread I made on reddit blew up! Even author Brian McClellan took notice and stopped by! One of the blogging highlights of August, even this whole year.

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski

I had a lot of fun with this anthology. It’s a retelling of some of my favourite fairy tales with one of my favourite gaming protagonists in recent times:

Ah, Geralt of Rivia, how I love thee. With the CDProjekt Red games behind us and the Netflix show soon to come, now is the best time to finally acquaint myself with Andrzej Sapkowski’s signature works.
 The Last Wish is an anthology chronicling six of the Witcher’s adventures, a seventh one interspersed between them. These are good stories, one and all – though a few are not without issues. Most of them are based on familiar fairy tales – “A Grain of Truth” incorporates many of the elements of Beauty and the Beast, while “The Lesser Evil” borrows from Snow White – offering a few different interpretations of that tale, in fact, each one darker than the last. Even those not directly based on existing material borrow from folklore; so, for example, the eponymous story, “The Last Wish” begins with the discovery of a djinn. That is, with the sole exception of “The Voice of Reason,” which, as the connecting tissue between all these other stories, is wholly the author’s own.

The full review is over on booknest.eu.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn. Man, that’s probably the first author whose work got me into sci-fi, however tangential Star Wars is to proper science fiction! For the full review, click here; and if you want a taste, read on:

This novel 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.

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie 

I love Abercrombie. So much, in fact, that I wrote a 2250 word review of this brilliant anthology! Here’s a review of one of the short stories within:

The Fool Jobs

Curnden Craw is among the last straight arrows in all the North. This, I learned reading The Heroes. However, you don’t actually need to have read that novel to have a grand old time with this. It’d work well enough as an introduction to Craw’s crew, even if you haven’t had the pleasure; this, for example, is the first time Craw himself sees Whirrun of Bligh in action. To those unfamiliar with Whirrun, think, ‘barbarian, possibly insane, with the father of all two-handed swords in his hands, crazy funny’. Craw’s Dozen is chock-full of memorable characters, several of whom different from those familiar from The Heroes.

Something else I loved was the irreverent take on sorcery – it’s signature Abercrombie and like the rest of the story, it’s chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments.

Wonderful, Craw’s Second-in-Command, is as wonderful as her name implies – and damn quotable, too:
‘…Don’t get too comfortable, though, eh? If the rest of us come to grief these Fox fuckers’ll track you down before our blood’s dry and more’n likely cut your fruits off.’
Raubin’s sigh rattled to a quick stop.
‘Cut your head off,’ whispered Never, eyes all scary-wide.
‘Pull your guts out and cook ‘em,’ growled Jolly Yon.
‘Skin your face off and wear it as a mask,’ rumbled Brack.
‘Use your cock for a spoon,’ said Wonderful.
They all thought about that for a moment.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just crude as sin but this exchange between the band of bloodied warriors and the cowardly courier bringing them their orders had me cracking.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

A really fun Discworld novel, even if I didn’t enjoy this particular B-plot as much as some of the others in previous novels. For my full verdict, click here:

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.

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

…Which apparently has more than 16 THOUSAND hits! What?! Here it is!

I’ve found my favourite standalone fantasy novel of 2019.
I always have difficulty speaking about the fantasy books that win me over as completely as The Sword of Kaigen has. When you come across greatness, your first instinct is to fall silent.  But damn it all if I’m a slave to my instincts! I’ll talk about M. L. Wang’s latest novel, hell, I’ll scream about it from the rooftops if that’ll get anyone to listen!
Before the screaming begins, here’s what you need to know: this is a fantasy novel inspired by Japanese warrior culture with modern-day elements which are more often talked about than seen – satellites, planes, info-com devices and broadcasting towers, to name a few. The magic system is elemental, reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender but with the added benefit of being aimed at adults and not constrained by a PG rating*.

I read some great articles, essays and blog posts

I spoke at length about these here and here, and you should, too! I regret not having the time to write more posts like these over the last few weeks — I haven’t really read too many articles, I’ve prioritised indies and audiobooks lately.

And still more reviews, these ones tiny, tiny, tiny!

I spoke about The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Of Mice and Men, and Marx the Humanist, all in one succinct post. I really enjoy writing tinier reviews sometimes — the big ones demand hours of concentration and in-depth study and mini-reviews allow me to speak about books with frank brevity, which is a different kind of fun altogether.

What’s Next?

I’ve got quite a few really fun reads ahead of me — Red Country and A Little Hatred by Abercrombie, The Dragon Republic by the brilliant Rebecca F. Kuang, as well as the excellent Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray ; God of Gnomes , Wrath of Storms by Steven McKinnon, and eventually, as soon as I’m done with Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun in full, I’ll talk plenty about that, most likely in October. There are yet more indies I would like to cover — time will tell when I’ll get to Banebringer‘s prequel, Sweetblade by the wonderfully talented Carol A. Park. And many, many more.

On the graphic novel front, I finished Monstress Vol. 03: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, as well as Wic/Div: Year Three by Kieron and McKelvie and will eventually talk about them too, right over here on the Reliquary.

Oh, and lest I forget, I’m part of a book tour on September 11! Looking forward to telling you all about this month’s victim A Different Time!

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.