The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett – Book Review (Excerpt)

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.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley – Book Review

This is an outtake from my booknest.eu review of Ben Galley’s Heart of Stone. Click here for the full post.

Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone matters. It shows that chains can be broken, that stories have a profound effect on how we humans perceive the world and what actions we take, and it has something to say about vengeance, justice and mistaking one for the other.

I’m a sucker for exemplary, complex characters and Heart of Stone has them in spades. First and foremost, the owner of the eponymous heart of stone itself, our golem Task. After four hundred years of destruction and slaughter over hundreds of battlefields in dozens of wars, Task still has an untapped fount of compassion and empathy for these creatures of flesh and bone that he’s been forced to kill by the will of his many masters. He is no dumb brute but an intelligent creature, challenged continually by the purpose for which he was made – to be the perfectly obedient war machine, a harbinger of death. This is, to the surprise of no one who has taken even a cursory glance at the blurb, one of the leading conflicts in the novel.

Yet more complex is the character of Ellia. She is one of those characters who will remain with me a long time, like Peter F. Hamilton’s Angela Tramelo (Great North Road) or Ken Follett’s Augusta Pilaster (A Dangerous Fortune). Ellia is a noblewoman whose loyalties aren’t clear-cut to begin with and only get murkier as the plot progresses. Ellia is the architect (pun intended, for the knowing) of most of what happens during the novel, using her wits to gain the upper hand over generals, lords, councillors and religious fanatics. Fuelled by horrific events of her past, the path Ellia chooses to pursue is understandable.

Continued on booknest.eu. #Everythingiscontent #Evencontentoveronotherblogs

Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Hullo and welcome to this tiny review, in which I will bitch and moan about Fool Moon for a wee bit! Why? Because #EverythingIsContent !

I listened to James Masters’s reading of the first Harry Dresden novel almost two years ago — my Goodreads shelf tells me I read it on June 29, 2017 — and I enjoyed it deeply. Here was the humble beginning of a likable protagonist, the lead of a first-person novel that defines more than any other work of fiction the look of today’s urban fantasy. To top it all off? I have it on good authority that James Masters, over the sixteen or so books in the series, makes the character and series his own with a remarkable audio performance.

So there I was, excited to know more; I quickly got Fool Moon, I started it and somewhere half-way along the book, I pressed pause and did not touch it for nearly two years. Why?

Because of Murphy.

The way she was written in the first one didn’t make much of an impression. Cool, the competent detective prototype that’s common enough in this urban fantasy subgenre we so adore. She wasn’t memorable enough next to Harry, his talking skull and dangerous businessman and mafioso John Marcone.

In Fool Moon, Murphy is impossible to stomach. She doesn’t act like a competent cop, investigating ritualistic murders that seem to have been committed by some sort of a beast, instead choosing to jump to one wrong conclusion after another without any solid evidence. She goes as far as to arrest Harry Dresden, refusing to trust him even a long, long time after a menagerie of events proves his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Murphy acts as judge, jury and executioner without anything but circumstantial evidence and facts unrelated to one another.

How does Dresden accept her accussations and behaviour? He feels bad. Doesn’t get annoyed at her, doesn’t get rightfully pissed, he feels guilty for having to keep secrets from her; secrets that, if he shares with a non-wizardy person, he’ll be commiting a crime punishable by death! She arrests him, refuses to trust him and he nods along with it, feeling bad for himself and for her. God dammit, Harry, get a grip!

This was a relationship that completely broke my immersion from what was otherwise a really interesting novel about magic and werewolves. And there’s a lot of good werewolf stuff here. Five types of the beasts! A talking skeletal head! The sexy journalist lady from the occultist paper that Harry has a fun semi-relationship with! Some sweet action scenes!

And I could barely enjoy all of these because Murphy’s relationship with Harry went against everything I know about how human relationships function, in fiction or otherwise. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.

Except, it isn’t.

What’s important, however, is that it’s all uphill from here on out! All the Dresden fans agree (or most of them, anyway) that Fool Moon is the weakest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what heights the series will offer next.

Would I recommend this novel? Not by itself. As a stepping stone to get to know more about The Dresden Files? It has some interesting aspects. But once I read the rest of the series, I will probably come back to this review and give one last verdict as to whether this is, in fact, important enough to read despite the glaringly bad relationship between Dresden and Murphy.

Book Review: City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Archived)

Hey, everyone! This review was originally published over on BookNest.eu about six months ago. Check the site out, great reviews by me and many other lovely folks! I thought I’d start reposting my old reviews here every few days, in case anyone who hasn’t seen them before follows my blog for the book reviews in question. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this novel for free thanks to the r/fantasy TBRindr initiative, in return for an honest review. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the works of independent authors.

 City of Kings is a tale of siege, dark necromancy and bloody betrayal. It’s the sixth book in Rob J. Hayes’ First Earth setting, but it works well as a stand-alone. I should know since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of his previous works. And I don’t use ‘pleasure’ lightly.

Let’s jump straight into what I loved about this book!

The Characters:

Five main characters, five diverse viewpoints.

Meet Rose, leader and de facto queen of the Wilds. Rose is on a quest to rid the land of the blooded, long-time lords and despots of the Wilds. This is one scary pregnant lady, ready to put everything on the line for vengeance. 

Anders is a good-for-nothing drunk, a charming spy, and capable of inexplicable feats of magic. He is also the son of our big bad, the blooded lord and military tactician Niles Brekovich.

The Black Thorn is a giant of a man, and a wielder of a great-axe much more at home lopping off heads than acting the part of nominal leader of an army and being called a hero. His romantic relationship with Rose is written well, and the prospect of fatherhood in the world he inhabits is examined well.

Red Henry delights in blood, murder and mayhem…but she is no soldier. And the battlefield is all too foreign to a woman used to striking from the shadows.

Pern Susku is an honour-bound warrior who failed in his mission to protect his master; who, in fact, allowed that very master to be killed by The Black Thorn. This failure haunts him, as does the tribe of warriors he comes from.

These five main characters come alive over the three-hundred pages or so of City of Kings. None of them are good people, with the possible exception of Szusku who does a fair bit of agonizing over past decisions. They‘re one and all opposed to the blooded; much like Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law trilogy, this presents characters wholly entwined with one side of the conflict. The blooded are ever seen as adversaries and for good reason.

Not that our protagonists are much better, mind. Hayes does very well with the ending when one of the main characters steps over the line in what is a particularly gory and memorable scene.

The side characters are memorable, too. Two captains, a sergeant, and of course the Five Kingdoms general, Verit, deserve mention. So does Pug, The Black Thorn’s young squire, whose fear and lack of skill don’t stop him from putting his hide in harm’s way time and time again.

The Plot:

Fast-paced and with the highest stakes, City of King‘s plot takes place over just six days. Not the time to pull off a proper siege, but time is not on Rose‘s side. With an empty coffer and enemies threatening to push on all sides, the self-styled queen of the Wilds only has one choice – to wager the men and women under the Black Thorn’s banner in a desperate bid to break the last bastion of the blooded.

But if a siege blood-curdling in its intensity isn’t enough for you, you might be won over by the shambling hordes of undead, or the daring battles with horrifying cave-trolls! Or perhaps you seek betrayal and heartbreak? There’s plenty of that, too!

I appreciate the downtime between battles, the moments of quiet reflection and discussion on what comes next, how the siege is compounded by whatever disaster our protagonists are forced into dealing with. It is during those times I most appreciated the character-building skill Hayes possesses, and so will you.

Conclusion:

Like the best of grimdark, this book doesn’t contain violence for violence’s sake. There is a point to it all, and it reflects on and deeply affects the characters who witness or perpetrate it. You will find no glamour in the clash of attackers and defenders, no allure to battle in City of Kings.  

What you will find, is a deftly written story, detailed and unafraid to show characters at their worst. Rob J. Hayes displays a tremendous amount of skill with a fully realized world, as well as a string of unexpected twists and turns all the way to the end.

With City of Kings, Hayes has earned a great deal of my interest. I’m looking forward to revisiting the First Earth setting both in future installments, and by picking the past five novels!

Did I have any problems with it? Not as such; more nitpicks than anything. Anders, despite being a favourite character of mine, was a bit too verbose even for a nervous drunk prone to bouts of chattering.  A letter is missing here and there, maybe even two!

…I really have no issues with this book.  I’m not shy about pointing out what I dislike, but there wasn’t anything I had problems with here, neither in terms of story and characterization nor on the technical side. The writing style is clear, crisp. Descriptions set the backdrop of scenes well.

You’ll enjoy City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes if:   

  • You are a fan of grimdark;
  • You are planning to besiege a fortress in the bloodiest way possible;
  • You’re looking at a handy how-to guide to pregnancy;
  • You enjoy books written by men who can pull off a gambeson;
  • And more! Prob’ly.

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads!  (4.5 Stars)

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Naomi Novik spins gold in this excellent new standalone novel, which perfectly captures the essence of Slavic fairy tales while doing an excellent job of turning the classical Rumplestiltskin tale on its heels.

Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, was a 2015 favourite of mine. Novik’s love for Slavic folklore shined through. For the first time had I read an author who recaptured that very special feeling of magic and wonder which I hadn’t felt since those childhood nights spent listening to my grandmother tell Russian and Bulgarian fairy talesBeyond the nostalgia lay a very atmospheric, character-driven story that is well-worth the read. If you haven’t read it but would like to know more, I have a short recommendation for you! 

Uprooted left me wanting more of the same, and in Spinning Silver, I got it–and so much more. A fully realized story which goes down an unexpected road, with characters you’ll quickly grow fond of, a world covered in winter’s magic, and to top it all off…one hell of a memorable last line!

Naomi Novik went to great lengths to work on presenting the Jewish moneylender stereotype in a different light, and did admirable work with it. Antisemitism is a major theme in this book, and it is handled very well, owed to the author’s Jewish heritage and skill, both.

This novel contains six viewpoints, three major and three minor ones. All are told in the first person which isn’t anywhere near as confusing as you might think. That clarity is owed to the fact that Spinning Silver starts off with one character and introduces the viewpoints of the others at very logical points in the story. More on that later.

Miryem is the very first character the novel introduces us to; she is not only its first main character but also the engine of the story. She is a Jew, the daughter of a bad moneylender and the granddaughter of a great one. Without giving away too much, Miryem becomes a moneylender herself–and an excellent one at that. While collecting her debts, Miryem meets Wanda, the lone daughter of the town drunk and unknowingly gives her an ounce of freedom by demanding her father’s debt be paid with Wanda’s services as a maid.

Wanda sees the world in a simpler way than Miryem does. The language of her PoV sections is simpler, less colourful, as you’d expect from the daughter of a poor farmer. She is strong, though, possessing the kind of strength a young girl needs in order to survive her mother’s passing at an early age. I enjoyed her development. Some serious personal growth there, making this young lady a lot more likable by the end. Some of her scenes dragged along a bit but I hardly mind.

Irina is the third main character in the book, and she’s excellent. Her moral choices are delightfully gray and very clever, after a fashion. She too grows a lot — from the sole daughter of a moderately powerful duke with neither looks nor any great talent, to a powerful woman whose choices shape her very nation, and more.

Miryem is this story’s Rumplestiltskin, spinning coins of silver into gold not by employing magic, wink, but by her own wits and the occasional trickery. The road she goes down on isn’t an easy one, and it’s far from one her parents appreciate.

“My darling, my darling, I’m sorry.”
Sorry? To be warm instead of cold? To be rich and comfortable? To have a daughter who can turn silver into gold?
“To see you harden yourself to ice, to make it so.”

It’s a very powerful road Miryem goes on early in the novel, from a kind but starving girl  freezing every winter because her father can’t ever force himself to take a stand against his neighbours, those who owe him money; to a young woman who takes what she is owed, threatening and cajoling and bending the truth to get what she is owed and build off it, I loved her arc most of all.

Boastful of her skill, Miryem unwittingly summons unwanted attention; the Staryk, creatures of ice and winter, thieves and hoarders of gold, pillagers and even rapists. As luck would have it, Miryem doesn’t attract any old Staryk, but their king. He gives her three tasks, and a promise: To turn her heart to ice if she fails, or make her his queen if she succeeds.

See what I mean? Engine of the story.

Mild Spoilers Ahead:

I absolutely loved the character of the Staryk king, both at the beginning and towards the end of his appearances; I disliked only the parts where he acted like a petulant child. The Staryk culture, their home, their inhuman nature — I loved all those. I wonder if they are partially inspired by the Wild Hunt.

The Staryk came closer and took it from me. He didn’t pour the purse out: it was too full for that. Instead he dipped his hand inside and lifted out a handful of gold to tumble ringing back into the bag through his fingers, until there was only one last coin held between his white-gloved fingers, shining like sunlight. He frowned at it, and me. “It’s there, all sixty,” I said. My heart had slowed, because I suppose it was that or burst. “As it must be,” he said. “For fail me, and to ice you shall go, though my hand and crown you shall win if you succeed.” He said it as if he meant it, and also angrily, although he had set the terms himself: I felt he would almost have preferred to freeze me than get his gold. 

SPOILERS: The Miryem/Staryk story felt like a bit of a rehash of the Agnieszka/Dragon romance from Uprooted without packing the punch that relationship had due to a lot more ‘screen-time,’ if you will. I enjoyed it but it was the one thing in the novel that was familiar, expected and safe to bet on.

Speaking of descriptions, this book does them really well. All of them. I didn’t feel like any of them slowed down the story.

Spinning Silver transported me into its magical world; I read it for five hours straight only to fall asleep, wake up and finish it after two more hours. Truly the kind of book to miss dinner AND breakfast over. My recommendation? Read it. There’s so much packed inside — references and winks to so many myths, memorable characters forced to use their wit to survive, and loads more well worth experiencing!

It’s escapism, pure and simple, and magical to boot.

You’ll enjoy this book if you:

  • are an Ice Elf who’s looking to apply for a Wild Hunt scholarship;
  • are a lover of Slavic folklore;
  • enjoyed Uprooted and want something that captures the same feeling, while being very different, for the most part;
  • love good escapism;
  • and more! Prob’ly.

 

Book Review: Song by Jesse Teller

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

Song took me a while to get through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on to what I enjoyed!

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

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

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

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

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

You will enjoy this book if you are:

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

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

  • Reviewed on r/fantasy

  • Self-published

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

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

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

 

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

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I’ve had some trouble putting my thoughts in order where Senlin Ascends, the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series of four, is concerned. This book is an excellent read, the kind whose characters live with you well after you’ve put it down for good. Perhaps Senlin Ascends is one of those rare novels which excel so completely at surprising and thrilling many of its readers that words all of a sudden elude you.

Then again, maybe it’s the sort of read you need a few days to process. And process I have. What did I come up with during those few days?

Senlin Ascends is an excellent novel that doesn’t fall into any one genre checkbox. We can spend all day discussing its Victorian influences and steampunk elements, but at its core, this is (the beginning of) a story of a husband doing everything in his power to find his wife.

Senlin is the headmaster of the only school in the small town of Isaugh, a man ‘at the edge of things,’ a man of reserved judgement who looks on his fellow residents as uneducated and treats them somewhat like children, to their mild disdain. He only recently married the beautiful, talented and lively Marya, described as:

Marya was a good match. She was good-tempered and well-read; thoughtful, though not brooding; and mannered without being aloof. She tolerated his long hours of study and his general quiet, which others often mistook for stoicism. He imagined she had married him because he was kind, even-tempered and securely employed. He made fifteen shekels a week, for an annual salary of thirteen minas; it wasn’t a fortune by any means, but it was sufficient for a comfortable life. She certainly hadn’t married him for his looks. While his features were separately handsome enough, taken altogether they seemed a little stretched and misplaced.

She played the piano beautifully but also brutally. She’d sing like a mad mermaid while banging out ballads and reels, leaving detuned pianos in her wake. And even still, her oddness inspired admiration in most. The townsfolk thought she was charming and her playing was often requested at the local public houses. Not even the bitter gray of Isaugh’s winters could temper her vivacity. Everyone was a little baffled by her marriage to the Sturgeon.

Not much time at all passes before Marya and Senlin lose track of one another, in the very foundation of the massive structure that is the Tower of Babbel, the setting — and, in a way, the prime antagonist — of this fantastic story. Senlin has had a deep fascination with the Tower for most of his life, having bought into all those books proclaiming the Tower of Babel the greatest accomplishment of humanity. Senlin’s trusted Everyman’s Guide to the Tower even describes it so:

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade.
Ah, how wonderful it sounds, how exciting! If only reality were so…
Senlin’s obsession with the Tower will cost him, as its true guise is much different from what he’s imagined and read about throughout his life. His wife lost, Senlin is forced, after a period of dumbfounding shock, to begin his ascension of this great structure.
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Along the way, questions will pile up. Who built the Tower, and just what is its purpose? These lay on the wayside, however. More central are the myriad questions, which shove and prod Senlin at every corner, forcing the well-meaning but cowardly teacher to grow and change in order to survive and follow Marya’s trail. Despite the trials and tribulations in his path, what Senlin retains is a core of decency, compassion and the belief that the Tower’s destructive influence doesn’t necessarily erode everything good and decent in people. It’s this belief in men and women that forces them to do better, to meet him half-way.
Senlin’s growth, in fact, is one of the main reasons this novel pulled me in so thoroughly. It’s no small feat, making a likeable person look completely unprepared and incapable of dealing with a situation, to have all his positives turn into flaws to disastrous effect, only to see him realize all this and, step by step, rebel against it, becoming something of a charming rogue by the end. (Bit long-winded, that sentence.)
Mysteries abound in the form of indebted slaves called ‘hods,’ a terrifying gentleman monster playing at Dr Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde called Red Hand, four ringdoms, levels of the Tower, each under different authorities, built for different purposes, and so on.
Plenty of side-characters are to be found, all of them excellent. My favourites have to be Edith and Tarrou, the latter’s description:
A two-pointed black beard accentuated his iron gray mane of hair. He seemed hale and athletic for a man his age. Senlin was a little intimidated by the width of his chest and shoulders, though his smile seemed amiable enough. “And that is the dazed look of a man fresh from the monkey pen.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “The Parlor is an awful place.”
The prose is nothing short of exceptional. Bancroft’s sentences flow easily and present a clear view into another world, a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes unspeakably ugly and nearly always bizarre. It will set your imagination on fire, both with its adventurous streaks and with the darker undertones Senlin Ascends is rich in.
In short, Senlin Ascends is excellent and well worth your time and hard-earned cash. It’s even worth your tiny sum of pocket money, if you make no cash what-so-ever.
I can see why it has as much hype as it got; I’m almost sad to have found it only now that a big publisher has republished the first two books and will soon publish the third (in September). Now that I’ve started, I can’t wait for the last two books of the series to hit the shelves!
The simplest way to make the world mysterious and terrifying to a man is to chase him through it.
In this, Josiah Bancroft certainly succeeds…even if Senlin Ascends doesn’t always feel like a chase, it’s one hell of a ride. There I go, mixing my metaphors again.
Thank you for reading this review! I’ll be back with a review of the second book in the Tower of Babel series as soon as I finish reading it! Now I’m off to read it!
P.S. Action scenes! Excellent bloody action scenes!
P.P.S. Six seasons and a movie!

Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

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Once upon a time, I read Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and was quite fond of it.

Half a King was a wonderful entry into the unique brand of subversive storytelling Abercrombie is famed for. It was a thrill to go through but now that I’ve read four of the six First Law books (the First Law Trilogy and ‘Best Served Cold,’ which introduced me to one of my all-time favourite female protagonists)  I can safely say, the First Law is what  food is to the prisoners of a Siberian penal colony!

You’re impressed by my uncanny ability to make up weird and frighteningly specific similes, I know.

Just before I begin the review in earnest, allow me to say…I finally read it! I’ve had this trilogy for a shamefully long period of time, without ever touching it for reasons that elude me and defy reason! With this out of the way…

What’s the Blade Itself all about? Ask our old friend, Homer, and he’ll give you an excellent answer: ‘The blade itself incites to deeds of violence*.’ See? Even Homer read The First Law trilogy. It’s that good! It incites even the temporal laws of the universe to violate themselves!

The world of the First Law will, at first glance, seem no more or less alien than any other epic fantasy world you might’ve explored. A great and wise Magi is to be found, a bloodthirsty barbarian fights for his survival, a cruel Inquisitor tortures both the guilty and the innocent for his own advancement, and a young nobleman and soldier prepares for a test of skill, which can see him become champion of the Union.

Dig deeper, and you’ll discover few things are as they first appear — Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta is a man deliciously cynical but to whom there is more than is readily obvious; Logen Ninefingers, a blood-thirsty barbarian by reputation wants nothing more than to leave that reputation behind; our young, dashing officer Lothar is as cowardly as he is pleasant to look at–and oh, how handsome he is. Even our wizard hides within layer upon layer, every one stranger than the one before it. The only character who doesn’t seem to go against my first impression of her was Ferro, the fugitive slave from Gurkhul, the Union’s Southern neighbour and favourite country to go to war with due to reasons way too complex and spoiler-y to explain here; and I quite understand a former slave wanting nothing more than to murder her former slavers.

Dozens of other characters, both likeable ones and absolute bastards are to be found within the pages of The First Law.  None lack in character, none come off as anything less than real human beings with their own motivations and goals, and those come off starkly in conflict with what our protagonists are attempting to accomplish. The conflicts can be very clear-cut, with impressive battle and chase scenes; other times, they’re much more discrete, happening during spectacularly written pieces of dialogue which may leave goosebumps all over your body.

Abercrombie’s battles deserve mention, both for the excellent description and the cost they exact upon the characters who take part in them. War is not without cost, regardless whether you come out on top and the author makes a wonderful job of illustrating what a toil war bears.

Possible problems you might have with The Blade Itself:

  • The plot moves slowly. I never once had an issue with that, because it didn’t feel like pointless build-up to me; exciting and interesting events happened throughout, but we did spend a lot of time in a single city, setting things up; totally worth it in my opinion, but some people are less patient and might not find it as enjoyable as I did, or at all.
  • You might not like the characters. But then again, that’s the risk with every book ever, so why am I drawing this out?!

The Blade Itself is a book about a few different things, and those work really, really well. It’s a character-driven story, a tale about a monarchy besieged on all sides by enemies just as all those enemies move to attack it; it’s a book that sets up one of the most subversive and genre-flipping stories I’ve read in recent memories; and it’s a treat of excellent worldbuilding that never once threatened to overwhelm or bore me.

Perhaps I was wrong to review it only after reading the entire trilogy and appreciating, in retrospect, just how well a number of mind-blowing events are set-up. If that is so — that’s my cross to bear, innit?

One last mention — the city of Adua, where a large portion of this book takes place, makes for a really awesome set piece. It’s majestic and beautiful, but deeply corrupt–three things I want in any city worth visiting! #visitAduanow

PS Yes, the cover above is from the audiobook version. I haven’t listened to it, so I can’t speak to the level of narration; the image was the most high-quality one I could find on the Interwebz.  Feel free to check the audiobook out, if that’s your thing, or if you spend three hours a day in a car, public transport or by train. Go trains!

Thank you for reading! I’ll be back soon with reviews of Before They Were Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings. If you enjoyed this review, please click that ‘Like’ button, and don’t be afraid to Follow me! Have you read the Blade Itself? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below!  Go grimdark fantasy! Whooo!

 


*Quote in the Odyssey is from the beginning of book XIX , and is, depending on the translation, either For iron by itself can draw a man to use it’ or ‘Iron has powers to draw a man to ruin,’ both of which aren’t too far off from the quote presented above andat the beginning of The Blade Itself. It’s likely that Abercrombie mixed and blended the two translations, adding a bit of his own magic, which I’m all for.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: Sun Wolf and Starhawk Book 1, The Ladies of Mandrygin

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Ah, 80’s era fantasy. An era much beloved by many and fairly disliked by some. To me, it’s a by-gone age with some great books that hold up really well, and some that…well, don’t. Either way, I’ve been going out of my way to explore this decade’s worth of fantasy trends, and–surprise, surprise– sword’n’sorcery is indeed a thing. And a wonderful thing it can be, but also a terrible one.

Where does Sun Wolf and Starhawk fall on that spectrum?… It’s mostly good. Bit anti-climatic to just come out and say so, I know, but it’s true!

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might recall how much I enjoyed Barbara Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy. She’s penned several trilogies and I intend to explore all of them, year by year until I’m all done with them, and The Ladies of Mandrigyn is the beginning of Sun Wolf and Starhawk’s adventures. It’s a good start, which nevertheless does a few things I didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily do them badly, mind you.

Sun Wolf is a mercenary captain, Starhawk — his loyal lieutenant. Sun Wolf is first described as an exceptional commander, a skilled fighter that has the ability to see demons. Starhawk is a cold and brutal commander in her own right, following in the footsteps of Gil (Time of the Dark main heroine) in terms of badassery, among other traits.

I was overjoyed to be reading about yet another mercenary squad — the enjoyment on this front soon disappeared, what with Sun Wolf getting himself kidnapped by a number of willful women who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The question? “Will you help us fight the immortal wizard Altiokis, who took over Madrigyn, our pretty seaside city, and also enslaved our men, and put them to work. We’d really appreciate it if you could give us a bit of a hand for a bit of coin!”

Sun Wolf, whose two rules of conduct are, “Don’t mess with magic, don’t fall in love,” says no to that and gets poisoned for his troubles. I’d hate to say ‘no’ to those ladies.

Starhawk, being secretly in love with the Wolf, goes after him, though she really has no clue where he went off to, what with his surprise disappearance. Her companion is Fawn, the Wolf’s pretty, young concubine, whose role isn’t all too important in this book. Wonder if she’ll reappear later on or if we’ll steer clear of the lass.

My problem with this book is that although the Wolf is supposed to be this highly skilled mercenary general — which translates to a cut-throat sunuvabiscuit who has more than a single vicious bone, he takes a lot of punishment and abuse from the ladies with a very…Zen Buddhist bearing, if you will. He’s such a stoicist — and he shows his disobedience for the leaders of the Mandrigyn resistance in the most stupid, tantrum-throwing way! It’s not that his character feels unnatural, it’s that the descriptions we get of him early on really have little to do with what he is, in reality. It bugs me.

Starhawk is fantastic, though. Sadly, she plays a less prominent part than does the Wolf. Nevertheless, the chapters with her as our PoV character caught and held my attention from beginning to end.

It’s a good book, with a few good mysteries and one of those moments where a lightbulb in your mind will turn on and you’ll say “Ah!” or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll laugh with sinister delight!

It made for a mostly enjoyable read. Not what I’d recommend if you wanted something to grab you by the throat and transport you to another world as forcefully as possible — if you want that, read Malazan or The First Law, or even Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy.

As to how the trilogy itself holds up, I cannot yet say. I’ll get back to it in due time, but I think I need something a bit more captivating first. Luckily, March has been rich on good fantasy. I’ve started working on Senlin Ascends, the first book in the Tower of Babel trilogy.

Working on? Pfft, reading is wot I meant! More’s to come, at any rate, in the following weeks. We are, at this point, back to our regularly scheduled programming, what with at least three posts per week — hopefully more, if I manage to squeeze in the time to write a bunch of stuff about graphic novels you might want to know more about! 

Top Ten Things I would do if I were a Mercenary Commander! (Fantasy)

  1. Work on my reputation. Mercenaries are, by far and large, despised for their tendency to, er, switch sides at the slightest bit of trouble. But there’s good money to be earned when you’re known for loyalty, ‘specially when you’ve got the employer to appreciate it.
  2. Never leave a job unfinished and a commision incomplete. Staunchness is best paid when you’re on the side on top, and the best way to win is to do your part and beyond.
  3. Strike hard, dirty and with finality. Because why wouldn’t brutality be the best possible course?
  4. Give my men freedom but not enough that they forget who they’re serving under. Mercenaries can be a nasty bunch, you have got to show them the stick every once in a while.
  5. Try not to get stabbed in the back by my lieutenants and/or employers. Should be pretty simple, right?
  6. Survive getting repeatedly stabbed in the back by traitorous employers and lieutenants. Even simpler!
  7. Avenge myself by going through with a lengthy, convoluted and extremely bloody plot that sees all my former lieutenants dead, my employers deposed of their influence, wealth and, preferably, their heads, and my position restored. 
  8. Discipline the troop and teach them that whole loyalty lesson they seem to have skipped on. A few might hang, a few might regret ever being born, but obviously, they need the lesson.
  9. Maybe stop working for hire and start working with myself, now that I’m known as the guy with the private army and the grudge-holding. Decapitating former employers doesn’t sit well with potential ones — who’d’ve thought it so?
  10. Use my head to make up for the one I cut off. The land is descending into chaos, I might as well make the best of it…right?