I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with Haruki Murakami’s books over these last few months. Kafka on the Shore in May, Norwegian Wood in September and just this last week, What I Talk About when I talk About Running. The last is freshest in my mind but I’ll contain myself and instead turn to Norwegian Wood, the title inspired by the Beatles song of the same name. It also happens to be the work that really shot Haruki Murakami to fame first in Japan and later internationally.
Norwegian Wood is a love story and it’s about overcoming grief, and it’s about those first coming of age years after you leave home, quite uncertain about what comes next, the direction you’re supposed to take as the world begins to mold and pressure you in ways outside of your control. It’s easy to lose yourself — something that main character Watanabe manages at one point in this novel.
Let’s look at it as a love story first, shall we? It’s sweet and sexy and tragic enough that you might just tear up by the end of it. Bittersweet but hopeful – that’s how I’d describe it in three words, were I forced to do so.
As a side-note, I would ride on the bus, listening to the audiobook more than once, when a ridiculous, steamy sex scene started up. You know, these are the moments when you’re not quite certain whether you should be grinning or blushing or pressing ‘Pause’. Say one thing about that, say it was funny.
What about dealing with grief?
Toru Watanabe, the protagonist from whose PoV the novel is told, loses his best friend Kizuki. Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday and this marks Watanabe for life — as it would most of us. Another, Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, is as affected by his suicide as Watanabe; perhaps more. Years later, Naoko and Watanabe reconnect and fall for each other but Kizuki’s shadow never fully clears between the two. Unable to cope, Naoko eventually ends up in a sanatorium, doing her finest to piece herself back together.
Some of the characters are unforgettable. Maybe not their names – I forget names easy enough – but the personalities will stay with me. Nagasawa is Watanabe’s exact opposite — driven and ambitious, and far more cynical than our protagonist, Nagasawa is in many ways Toru’s foil. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the two become close friends…although Watanabe never allows Nagasawa into his heart the way he let Kizuki in.
I was partial to Midori, an older woman in the same sanatorium as Naoko. As Nagasawa is to Watanabe, Midori is a foil to Naoko — though burdened by her own demons (her story is perhaps the highlight of Norwegian Wood for me) Midori has strength, the presence of character necessary to survive and perhaps overcome all that placed her in the sanatorium. Midori’s a guitar player, a concert pianist and totally the coolest, yo! Very flirty, too, which gives rise to some hilarious exchanges between her, Watanabe and Naoko, who also happens to be her roommate and dear friend.
This isn’t the best Murakami book I’ve read, nor is it my favourite. I’d live these honours to Kafka on the Shore and Dance, Dance, Dance, respectively. But it has a certain appeal to those who know a little of loss and pain and love, and I am certain some of you will be well-served by reading it.
I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.
The opening paragraph of Norwegian Wood.
My score for this novel is 4 stars. There’s plenty you can get out of it — but it’s not a book for everyone. Stay away if you can’t handle suicide and depression in your fiction – leave me a comment down below with your preferences, and I’ll point you to another one of Murakami’s novels, instead. If you’ve read any of his previous novels, there’s a chance this one’ll surprise you — it lacks many of the eery, magical realism and even surrealism that’s typical for most of his other works.
The audiobook narration by John Chancer was enjoyable – no complaints there, he distinguished between the characters and delivered an excellent performance.
Jack Reacher’s a drug that I can’t stop using. I first got addicted to the gruff ex-MP (military police, not member of Parliament) at the age of 15, with the thirteenth novel penned by Lee Child, Gone Tomorrow – what a wild ride that was! I revisited him about two years ago, listening to the very first novel written by Child on audiobook — . I’ve listened to two others over the last ten days or so, and I’m close to finishing a third. Here’s what I thought about the ones I listened to completion.
Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)
High-tension opening that immediately got me invested into reading further. Reacher comes in, guns blazing, and finds himself in one of the most tense, life-threatening situations he’s ever been in. Before long, Jack’s at the beck and call of a drug dealer, forced to play a dangerous game to survive.
I didn’t just like this one, I loved it. Jack is at his best when he’s cornered and working multiple angles, with a clock ticking down and spelling trouble for him; and the fact is, this is one of those first-person Reacher novels, which I love to death. Child does wonderful work whenever he shares in Reacher’s headspace completely – the prose, short, concise and brutal; the way Jack thinks, assaulting any and every problem without pause, dealing with his enemies with deadly efficiency.
With a cast of compelling side characters and several looming antagonists, as well as a series of flashback sequences, Persuader is a fantastic read for newcomers and veteran readers of Child’s alike. Jeff Harding’s narration embodies the essence of the character perfectly, and he does fantastic job with the remainder of the cast, too. My score for this is a 5/5.
Without Fail (Jack Reacher #6)
I listened to this one after completing Persuader. The blurb caught my eye:
Skilled, cautious, and anonymous, Jack Reacher is perfect for the job: to assassinate the vice president of the United States. Theoretically, of course. A female Secret Service agent wants Reacher to find the holes in her system, and fast – because a covert group already has the vice president in their sights. They’ve planned well. There’s just one thing they didn’t plan on: Reacher.
And boy, is that a bad miscalculation. This one is a bit of a slow-burner, going more in-depth into Reacher’s relationship with his deceased brother Joe, Joe’s ex-girlfriend who is now in charge of the Vice-President’s security detail…Joe’s very capable Secret Service girlfriend M. Froelich, capable of finding Reacher in a single day, despite the fact he lives completely off the grid.
I loved this one in part because Reacher teamed up with an old Army buddy of his, a former Master Sergeant by the name of Neagley who is as tough as Reacher; hell, she makes him look like he’s in his tightie whities, time to time.
My only issue is that the climax towards the end of the book felt a little bit too lucky. Of course, Child set up a great explanation but it still felt a little more of a stretch than I’m used to. That said, Without Fail packs one hell of an emotional punch two-thirds the way in, and I can’t stay mad at Lee Child even if the last 15 minutes were a bit less mindblowing than I’d originally hoped. My score for this Reacher goodness is 4.5/5.
The Thousand Thorns by Suzannah Rowntree (A Fairy Tale Retold #5)
This one, I was surprised by. I purchased it as a part of the recent Asian-inspired Fantasy Sale. Took me a while to get used to the setting, the way the characters addressed one another but about 15-20% in, I was all in. Fun characterisation, a somewhat predictable plot twist (though no lesser for it), good action scenes, this is a great retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
A few things struck me about it: this is most definitely a great introduction to Chinese military epics, the genre known as wuxia. I’ve heard more and more of it of late, but until this, I hadn’t been properly introduced. I think it’s a good way to go about acquainting yourself with wuxia, on account of the familiar fairy-tale elements with the unique genre twist. Certainly, this is a love letter by someone who enjoys Chinese epics and knows them well enough to create an amalgamation that bleeds with respect towards its inspirations.
Iron Maiden was a really fun character to read about — I would read a whole novel with her as the lead, if I had the opportunity. Good antagonists, whose interactions between one another were filled with tension. Clouded Sky was a very flawed protagonist, crippled by self-doubt and loss, very much unwilling to go awaken some princess-y sort resting in a mountain.
Most of the twists and turns along the story (save one) were predictable – my suspicions as to the identities of both villains came true without any surprise. My biggest criticism here is, the revelations felt somewhat choreographed. Loved the play on the novella’s title, though (you guys who’ve read this know wot I mean!).
I found this an enjoyable enough read to add more of Suzannah Rowntree’s works to my To-Read list; my score for The Thousand Thorns is a very respectable 3.5 (scored up to 4 on Goodreads)! I’m really looking forward to finding out what else Rowntree has in store for her readers!
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
First time I’ve picked up something by Roald Dahl – this was a charming little children’s story which has ultimately been overshadowed by the brilliant movie by Wes Anderson. There’s just not that much here – the audiobook is a little over an hour long, and it consists of our fantastic mister, this fox fellow, being hunted by three farmers. The more they try to dig the foxes out, the deeper the foxes dig themselves in. Repeat ad nauseum. Some fantastic narration by Chris O’Dowd — made the experience more entertaining than it would’ve otherwise been.
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 !
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 withthe 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!
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
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
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.
The Blood reveals a few missing pieces about Maika Halfwolf’s family and our young protagonist’s complex relationship with her mother, while it also answers several mysteries first set up in volume one.
What did I like about this volume the most? I think it was the revelation of the full scope of the power the Ancient within Maiko used to posses, as well as the relationship he had with the infamous Shaman Empress. I won’t spoil it because I don’t wanna feel guilty all day after posting this review but…
One of the most visually stunning characters introduced in this volume is a fox Ancient, imprisoned within the island on which Maiko hopes to find answers about the nature of the god inside her. What Takeda has done with Greybeard, as Maiko affectionally calls him, is everything you can hope to ask from an expert comic book artist. His cold, almost eyes, the guarded expression, the proferred piece of gold in his hand, they tell us readers more about this ancient arcanic than the first few dialogue bubbles do!
Revelations aplenty — who’d have ever thought that our Lovecraftian monstrosity, this god abomination that has consumed one of Maika’s hands already, has a heart? The nature of the gods is touched upon as well, with a sibling of our monstrosity introduced through flashbacks.
Maika herself continues to shine. Whether she’s exchanging verbal blows with pirate captains or very real ones with a variety of creatures intent on ending her life, Maika responds blow for blow at anything coming her way. Monstress wouldn’t be what it is if it didn’t throw some tough curveballs Maika’s way — illusions, drowning, emotional bombshells — but our girl does her tiger uncle Seizi proud. What tiger uncle, I hear you ask? I ain’t saying more!
And of course, there’s always Kippa, affectionately called Little Fox by Maiko. She’s a source of light much needed in even the darkest moments Monstress’s plot throws our way.
This is a solid second act that continues to do everything that Volume 01 did right — theworldbuilding astounds, characters grow and evolve and the art– oh, the art! There’s a reason why this series won an Eisner for best multimedia artist AND for best cover last year. I’ll occasionally open up The Blood just to take in the art and let me tell you, it does not lose its appeal one bit.
The Blood is good, dear reader. It’s damn good. Worth every cent of your money and every minute of your time. Buy it, read it, enjoy the hell out of it. I know I did, and I am looking forward to what comes forward!
The entirety of this review is published over at booknest.eu. Below is an exerpt of it because…well, #everythingiscontent, and this is mine.
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.
What follows is a merciless slaughter, the kind only fanatical, thoughtless hate can inflict upon innocents. It’s evil made manifest. How humanity responds to that at the time of the book’s opening is not too difficult to picture; the time for fighting has long since passed and fear has nestled deep in the hearts of men. There’s no fight left in most of them and those in whom resistance still burns bright are the blazing exception. The demons can’t be hurt by conventional weaponry and trapping them until dawn is tough work, demanding sacrifice that most are unwilling to pay, and bravery none possess. And who could blame them? If creatures materialised out of smoke outside my home every day and spat venom or fire, or were fifteen feet high and made of rocks, I wouldn’t be bursting with bravery, either.
What’s this? I should probably give you a little more than that? Persuade you, you say. Alright, don’t get your feathers ruffled like so, I’ll do it. I’ve taken the initiative now.
Volume 01: Awakening has a unique art style, slick and gorgeous, showcasing the full skill of Sana Takeda. Obviously inspired by Manga, it’s also informed by Takeda’s work on Marvel series such as X-23 and Ms. Marvel, resulting in an amalgamation that’s unlike most art I’ve personally come across:
Gold and brown and grey are often the colours that dominate the many panels of the first issues of Monstress in particular, creating a human world that looks luxurious but feels cold and metallic. Dominated by science and religious fanaticism alike, the human side of the world of Monstress is nothing short of disturbing. The upper echelons of human society are unnerving, to say the least — humans auction off arcanics (we’ll get to those in a minute) for pleasure, experimentation or …a meal. Disturbing how easily it would be to see this happening; all we need is a comfy distinction of human versus ‘other’ and what ammounts to cannibalism is suddenly acceptable.
Arcanics are half-human and half-ancient. That is to say, they’ll often look like humans, only they’ll usually have a fluffy fox tail, or cat ears or angelic wings; something giving away the fact they’ve got a bit of magical, immortal biped animal-like grandpa/grandma genetic material in them from several generations ago. Arcanics will always be mortal…I think. There’s a lot of them though. Part of the beef arcanics have with humans is that the power behind the human government. the religious Cumaea sect, has been chopping arcanics for their bones, producing a magical resource called lilium for a little while. Lilium has all kinds of wonderful properties — enhancing life duration, healing those at the very edge of death, and only Marjorie M. Liu knows what else.
Knowing this, it’s understandable how humans and arcanics traded some serious blows a while back, a war that ended in tragedy and death, and a tentative peace hobbled by mistrust and downright hatred. I mean, humans hunt cats and put them in cages because they are in fact an arcanist-allied race of hyperintellectual, many-tailed…well, cats. Nothing unusual about that, actually.
The tone of this graphic novel is dark, as you might’ve guessed by now. But it needs to be said and underlined: this is a dark story, a story of death and brutal violence, much of it perpetuated by our own heroine, Maika.
Maika is dangerous. Possessing power that no arcanic should, Maika’s ignorance of that same power makes her both horrifying and sympathetic. A tragic backstory plays up the sympathy but the power slumbering inside of her is hungry; and whenever that hunger manifests, we get treated to some pretty dark shit. As for who she is as a character? Determined, angry, looking for answers. There is an underlying softness to her, a caring that she seems intent of not showing but which nevertheless comes to display every once in a while, in particular towards the later issues of this volume, whenever we see supporting character and adorable girl-fox-who-is-scared-shitless Kippa.
Kippa is kutta! And by that I mean, cute. I don’t know what phonetic nonsense I was going for there. She’s loyal despite being afraid most of time — but she’s got a really good reason so don’t think any less of her.
What else, what else? There’s a cat! His name is Ren, he’s a nekomancer, which I’m pretty sure sounds intentionally like a necromancer and that fucks with my head in several ways, mostly because I want to see a cat raise the dead, oh how I want that. New short story idea? You bet! But also, this cat is way too much like me, it’s uncanny.
I am in love with this, and it’s no surprise how successful, popular and critically acclaimed it has become. The writing is on point, offering dramatic tension, character development and plenty of conflict. The art, as you have seen, is a wonder. This truly is a praiseworthy graphic novel, an example of the heights that this mode of storytelling can reach, up there with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Kieron Gillen/Jamie Mckelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine. I’ve already ordered the next two volumes and can’t wait for the fourth, releasing in October of this year. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to get my hands on it, Monstress truly is that kind of story. No wonder it’s won a bunch of Hugo and Eisner(Nominee) Awards!
Oh, and the antagonists? Some of them are pretty fucking scary, and you just can’t put them in the ground, no matter how hard you try. Besides, no matter how hard you try, you won’t do as well as Maika Halfwolf will so you might as well take a seat, open up this volume, and enjoy the ride!
The Sangrook Saga is dark, and its pages are stained with blood.
Or they might as well be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one grimdark tale of necromancy and blood magic. It might unnerve you and make you uncomfortable and if you’re not in for this sort of experience, you might as well stop reading here.
But if you are, The Sangrook Saga might just be the book for you.
It is an interesting title, this. Rather than tell one single tale over the span of his two hundred and twelve pages, the author tells six stories you can read independently from one another, with the possible exception of the sixth and final one, which is the climax of the Sangrook family’s tale.
The six disparate tales take place at different times, following characters either of the Sangrook bloodline or those close to them in some way. Chartered inside the novel is the fall, rise and whatever comes in-between of this clan of necromantic bloodthirsty warlords and despots.
They are, all of them, charmers without equal. By that I mean to say, they are a lot of nasty boys an’ girls who may or may not occasionally start from a good place only to get corrupted by the power locked away in their blood. Characters’ fall from grace involves a variety of foul crimes and horrors triggered by loss, misplaced vows and errors in judgement.
It’s an interesting magic the Sangrooks and their enemies at the Convergence have, a sort of joining between gods and their priests. That seems to be the basic tenant, though the Sangrooks and the Convergence are obviously going to be very different. There’s a further magical system which relies on animal essence extraction by artificers and that was as interesting as it was gory…which it really is.
The writing itself was a pleasure to read. Tight, easy to follow and unafraid to use real curse words, it drew me in and didn’t let me go until I reached the unhappy conclusion and put the book down. The dialogue, in particular, is excellent. Not once did I feel the author was using his characters as mouthpieces to dump information. Everyone had their unique voices, and those never came across as stilted, which I’m particularly happy about.
The Sangrook Saga draws inspiration from Dark Souls in the way its story is told, says Steve Thomas, and his words ring true. All throughout, there is a certain amount of despair, the sense of a world which has passed its heyday, a place more dead than it is alive. It is not a place everyone will enjoy. But those who can handle darkness and hopelessness in great, fat quantities…this one is for you.
If you enjoy listening to companionable music while reading, you might find psychedelic rock quite agreeable to the Saga. I listened to some King Crimson and the sort of dark fantasy music I only put on whenever one of my D&D players meets an untimely death during a cultist ritual. Gods, that’s particular, isn’t it?
Nit Picks? Aye, a few. Once or twice, characters turned to the darkness a bit more quickly than they ought to have, in my opinion. That said, not everyone will feel they did, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. There are also a few minor mistakes, mostly typos or repetitions — but no more than six or seven that I caught. I also disliked the cover somewhat, though I don’t mean to offend the artist, it’s just not my cup of tea.
The score? This is the first indie book I’m giving 5 solid stars to! It also takes home the “Worst Necromantic Family in a Dark Fantasy Series” Trophy Award of the Imagination!
All in all, quite an excellent job, I reckon. I recommend the Sangrook Saga to those of you who:
Love dark fantasy;
Have played and enjoyed Dark Souls and the way its story is delivered;
Want to learn how to take over the world with your big-ass, dark magic-wielding family (like me!)
And more! Prob’ly.
You should stay away if you have issues with graphic violence and the all-encompassing feeling of despair, though. Not a happy book, this one.
Its release date is June 22–that is, tomorrow! You can get it here.
Five Short Stories (Hard Mode)
Self-Published Novel (Hard Mode)
Novel Published in 2018
Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (Hard Mode)
Novel Featuring a God as a Character
Standalone Fantasy Novel (Hard Mode)
I got the review copy from the author, Steve Thomas, in return for an honest review as part of the TBRinder initiative, hosted by the ever-wonderful u/Esmeralda-Weatherwax at her blog!
Promise of Blood isn’t the first novel I’ve read by Brian McClellan. That honour goes to Sins of Empire, which holds a special place in my heart as both the first flintlock fantasy I’ve read, as well as the first title I purchased because of a recommendation read on r/fantasy! I seem to recall getting my hands on Sins either on its debut date or just a few short days later but it was fresh hot!
I’m not just mentioning Sins of Empire out of melancholy for by-gone times; rather, I mean to venture into a small comparison. If you came to me, asking which of these two books to get, I would point you to Sins of Empire. The writing is better, the twists and the action more memorable. The beginning of McClellan’s second trilogy is an established writer’s fourth novel, where Promise of Blood is Brian’s debut. I like to think that most writers, as they continue working on the craft, grow in skill, find more and more distinct voices and Brian is an excellent example of that.
…Which is not to say Promise of Blood is by any stretch anything less than an excellent first act to what has proven to be an exciting trilogy, filled with some of what I love most about fantasy. What makes it so?
Revolution, bloody revolution! That’s how Promise of Blood begins — with our trilogy’s main protagonist, Field Marshall Tamas slaughtering the Privileged Royal Cabal in their sleep with the help of his Powder mages, dethroning the rightful king Manhouch, rounding up the nobility and cutting that lot’s heads off while a million men, women and children watch the executions in Adopest, the capital of Adom’s public squares. Enough blood is spilt that the executioner could drown on it several times over.
And that’s just the start of Promise of Blood, one of the flagship titles of everything flintlock fantasy is supposed to be. Fast-paced, action-packed and ridiculously easy to read, this book was a blast.
Promise of Blood follows three main storylines:
Field Marshal Tamas’ attempt to build a working government with his co-conspirators while securing peace with the Kez.
Inspector Adamat’s search for answers — when the Privileged were dying, each and every one of them cried a certain phrase in death, ‘You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.’ Adamat has his hands full in what turns out to be a more dangerous investigation than he imagined.
Taniel, the Field Marshal’s son, nurses his broken heart by going after his dad’s enemies along with a savage red-headed girl whose magic is entirely different and way scarier than anything else you’ll see in the trilogy. Taniel and Ka-Poel’s shenanigans set up some of the most entertaining fights in the novel.
An additional plotline follows Nila, the laundress of a noble family, trying to save a young boy from his parents’ fate. It’s interesting but a lot less detailed than the rest of the plot; unfortunately it’s also the only female perspective, which is a pity since Vlora, who is one of Tamas’ gunpowder mage cabal, was the stand-out PoV in Sins of Empire.
Regardless, I loved these characters during their trials and tribulations. Tamas now shares in Dalinar Kholin’s title of “most likely older general to inspire me into fictional military service”. But Tamas is far from perfect — his past grievances with the Kez force his hand at a critical time.
The same can be said about Taniel. While a legendary powder mage, Taniel ‘Two-Shot’ is in a pretty bad place, psychologically, after two years of bloody war, only to return home to find his fiance bedding another man; the relationship between father and son is strained at best, especially considering some of Tamas’ orders later on in the book. Taniel’s addiction to gunpowder also grows worse as the book progresses.
As for Adamat, his storyline is a great way to get a bit of distance, a little break from all the Army and politics and it reads like an atypical Victorian detective story in all the best ways.
So many memorable side-characters — Olem, Lady Winceslav, Borbadeur; I could spend a good few minutes listing character names which’ll mean nothing to you since I ain’t spoiling any more than Ihave already.
The Magic System
The Privileged are this setting’s elemental sorcerers, men and women capable of touching the Else with their hands, each finger connecting to one of the four elements and the thumb for the aether (which, I’m told, some of the Ancient Greeks were crazy about!).
Gunpowder mages, while nowhere near as potent as the Privileged, gain enhanced senses when they snort or taste gunpowder charges. Where they lack in power, they make up for in reach and alacrity and the added benefit of being able to deflect bullets, force gunpowder to explode from a certain distance with their minds and all that.
There’s also lesser magic manifested in individuals called Knacked, who possess certain talents (or Knacks), like Olem, for example, who doesn’t need to sleep, or Adamat, who remembers everything he’s ever seen. And neither of them are insane because of these magical abilities!
Sanderson himself has praised it as a good magical system and I thought it read great. There’s plenty of depth as well, as the novel progresses — and the next two books in the trilogy add a lot to make the magic systems feel even more distinct.
‘The Age of Kings is dead…and I have killed it.’
This is an excellent novel, which begins with a promise of blood and delivers through and through. Whether you’re following Tamas’ decisive dealings against internal and external threats alike, Taniel’s chasing around of dangerous targets or Adamat’s investigations, there’s plenty to be loved about this first part of the Powder Mage trilogy.
Will I reread this? You bet!
The Verdict? Buy it, Read it, scream at your dad angrily until he caves in and reads it too. It’s what I did.
How about the score? It’s a five out of five on Goodreads and it bags the ‘Most Promising to Deliver Loadsa Blood’ trophy!
You’ll love this bloody, bloody book if you’re into:
violent revolutions eerily reminiscent of the French revolution;
Angry, angry mages doing loads of damage with their fingers and/or guns and sharp objects;
Fast-paced reads which suck you in all the way;
loads of blood, really;
Political intrigue, subterfuge, betrayal and more! Prob’ly.
To close this off, the reason behind me reading this first trilogy of Brian’s is to celebrate the release of Wrath of Empire, Sins of Empire’s follow-up and the second book of his sequel trilogy in the Powder Mage world. I’ll soon post the reviews of the second and third books since I read them both for two consecutive days (and what joy that brought me!) but the end goal is to review McClellan’s newest novel, and hopefully his best yet!