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)

Book Review: Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

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I’ve been meaning to explore the great Ursula Le Guin’s writing for a few years, now. I always thought I’d start with Earthsea if not for a serendipitous occasion in my new university library thanks to which I stumbled upon this, a short 280-page first part of a trilogy by the name of ‘Annals of the Western Shore.’

The pages ran out all too quickly, almost as if the ink itself flowed within me as I consumed this tiny tome in a single morning. It took me…four, maybe five hours to finish from start to end. Time well spent, I assure you.

Gifts tells the deeply personal story of a young boy called Orrec, and his coming to terms with the deadly gift that runs in his bloodline, as well as his’ and his family’s place in the Uplander society. The Uplanders are a tough lot — different gifts run in the different bloodlines, and some of them are thoroughly horrific, like Orrec’s own family gift of ‘unmaking,’ which allows the gifted in the family to unmake creatures with a look, a gesture, a whispered word.

What Le Guin does with our protagonist (the story is told in the first-person view) is, she goes really in-depth inside the mind of a boy–a young man–who possesses such a dark and final power, and what the ability to kill with such ease does to him.

Loss and grief also play a great part in the plot, and in writing about them, Ursula shows uncanny skill and her own deep understanding of these complex themes.

No surprise there.

This work also examines the relationships between parents and children, between cultural gaps, and more. All the character work is nothing short of excellent, truly, and I am beyond excited to read more for that reason alone.

What I did dislike was a climax that felt somewhat rushed. The ending was all too sudden, and the resolution wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be.

My score? 3.75 out of 5.

I didn’t know this was the first book in a trilogy until well after the mid-point, so maybe it’s my expectation that has played a trick on me, but there was enough I did not enjoy the handling of that I feel certain of my 4 star score on Goodreads.

You should read this book. Just don’t come into it expecting too powerful a climax, and you’ll find a lot to love.

Final Verdict: Journey before destination!

 

Small Gods: A Discworld Review

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Oh, lawks, I read another Discworld novel.

Small Gods was Terry Pratchett’s most intricate examination of organised religion and faith yet. Where do the gods come from? How many masks do they wear? Are they just a big lot of buggers sitting on their arses, pulling the limbs off mortals for the giggles?

That’s what the god Om used to be. Om is the sole deity of Omnia, a country that has it all — a state ran by the church, an (In)Quisition known for its efficiency, and the bloodthirsty appetite necessary to devour any small country Omnia neighbours on. The Omnians have some bizarre ideas — namely, that the world is round, and that it encircles the sun on a yearly basis. Nonsense, ladies and gentlemen, utter nonsense.

It surprises Om, when he takes to an earthly form, that of a majestic beast, only to end up in the form of a tortoise, his mind crippled and his vast power gone.  What brought this on? Three years on, and it’s only when Om is gripped by an eagle, flying three hundred feet in the ground, that he recalls who he is, and what has befallen him.

Turns out, Om has only one true believer left, a boy called Brutha. Brutha is a bit slow on the uptake but makes up for it with an eidetic memory, and a good heart. This ‘great dumb ox,’ as Brutha’s fellow acolytes call him, is not dumb at all, however, as the latter half of Small Gods illustrates. Once exposed to knowledge and ideas other than the fanatic doctrines of Omnism, Brutha’s development does in fact sky-rocket.

It took me a hell of a lot of time to get into. Some of the Pratchett books I most appreciate start ever-so-slow, only to explode in a storm of brilliant humour, ideas worth contemplation, and so much more. Moving Pictures was one such book, and Small Gods is another. Regardless of the time it took me to get into it, once I did, I devoured it with reckless abandon.

My favourite part of the book has to be the bit in Ephebe, where thousands of toga-wearing, wine-drinking philosophers have a lark on each other’s expense, argue, even come to blows. I showed my uncle (a philosophy professor) a good few pages about the philosophers’ stance on gods, and we shared a good laugh, too!

I have to bow down to Sir Terry once again. His sharp skewering of organised religion was both thought-provoking and funny to no end. And Even as my smile fades, the ideas take root, and they flourish.

This a solid 5/5 on Goodreads!

Coming soon, a review of Lords and Ladies, which I loved from start to finish, and read in no time flat! 

 

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: Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly: The Good, The Bad, The Meh

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I received Melokai for free as part of r/fantasy’s TBRindr initiative, meant to popularize and highlight the works of independently published authors.

Melokai’s opening held a great deal of promise, which could’ve propelled the story forward. Unfortunately, this novel didn’t ultimately deliver on the promises made, both by its opening and its cover. Before I get down to the Good, Bad and Meh, I would like to state that this review represents only my opinion of Melokai. Although my opinion leans to the negative, many have enjoyed this world and the last thing I want to do is belittle the author’s labour in putting together this novel. It is my hope to provide what amounts to constructive criticism below.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the specifics!

THE BAD

  • Melokai Ramya: A novel lives or dies by its lead and the eponymous Melokai is not a character whose headspace I enjoyed sharing. She is often cruel–and casually so, for no other purpose than cruelty’s sake, best displayed when she orders an ambassador castrated and his tongue cut for being too presumptuous.
    Cruelty alone makes for an unlikable character but it’s okay for the main character to be unlikable, especially at the start of a novel. Gully Foyle was unlikable for a good portion of “Tiger!Tiger!”, and Senlin of more recent “Books of Babbel” fame also started off as unlikable, only to grow to be one of my favourite protagonists in recent years. No, what makes Ramya a bad character is the fact that I didn’t buy into her believability.
    Very early on, the novel as much as tells us this is a woman among women, a skilled and wise leader who’s led her nation of female mountain warriors for twelve years. The moment she falls for a savage, all that goes out of the window, in a time of crisis when her country needs her most.  I suspect it was the author’s intent to write someone conflicted between love and duty; execution falls well short of that. Ramya comes off as the main architect of her own destruction (and of everything she holds dear), with virtually all problems that befall her a result of her inaction. I can see the potential of this idea–I love seeing characters come undone under the weight of their mistakes(take for example Roland of Gilead, the protagonist of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series)–but the decisions Ramya made didn’t engage me in any meaningful way. The fact that very little happens with this supposed legendary warrior until the last few chapters doesn’t help.
  • The Dialogue: Too many characters read similar, came off as bland, and the choice of words didn’t fit the world of the novel.
  • Most PoV characters suffer from the same issues the Melokai does — they’re self-absorbed, never change or grow in a real, convincing way.
  • Gratuitous sexual content: I appreciate sexual content in novels when it has a purpose. A well-placed scene of the sexual act can be used to the benefit of a story — Joe Abercrombie’s “Best Served Cold” has an excellent scene which furthers both the inter-character conflict and the entire plot of the novel. Melokai’s sex scenes are often brutal and shocking while offering the plot very little of significance. Explicit sex content may be a mainstay in grimdark fantasy but
  • The Writing Style: Simple and too lean by far for my tastes.
  • SPOILERS: The ending, in which the Melokai, while fighting to save her beloved and her newborn baby’s life, decides to toy with a particularly grating princeling instead of cutting him down with the ease she’s able to. This scene had me fuming since it was the first time since the beginning of the book during which I was actively engaged with what was happening; until, of course, what little of Ramya’s personality I bought into was overwritten by something I can’t ever buy in the mother of a newborn — the decision to play with an opponent when she could’ve cut him down. 

THE MEH

  • V: The only human character I was interested in, V did not share all the problems I had with other PoV characters.
  • The Swear Words: Despite years of Pavlovian-like training under Brandon Sanderson and Brian McClellan’s made-up swear words, I still don’t find them particularly endearing. “Zhaq” did nothing for me, nor did the other terms.
  • The Wolves: Interesting but difficult to visualize at times.

THE GOOD

  • A great many good ideas: Though the execution is sloppy as I’ve discussed above, I appreciate what Rosalyn Kelly was going for.
  • The Worldbuilding: A nation ruled by women, wolves walking on two legs, cats speaking, these elements make for only a small part of what Melokai has to offer. I was interested in these different cultures and enjoyed learning more about them. The matriarchal society, in particular, was quite interesting to learn about, what with placing men in the position of slaves and worse.
  • The Cover: It’s the kind of cover that draws you in and awakens your curiosity. Whether the book delivered on the image’s promise or not, I can’t deny its a strong image, this one.
  • Adaptive People: People adapt according to their habitat. I don’t recall any explanation on how that worked, but it’s a very interesting idea.

The Verdict

I had a hard time finishing this book. Despite my initial enthusiasm, this was not the sort of grimdark novel I enjoy. Too much felt pointless to me. I enjoy grimdark not for the cruel and vile actions that this subgenre often employs, but for the way characters are shaped by and overcome all manner of hardships (if only to fail miserably at the end). Melokai didn’t offer any characters I found compelling; I appreciate the work author Rosalyn Kelly has put into it but I got very little enjoyment in my time with this particular novel.

Many others did, though! I encourage you to read through several of the four- and five-star reviews on Melokai’s Goodreads page to receive perspectives different from my own. Perhaps what they enjoyed will resonate with you more than my own views. And of course, the best way to make up your own mind is to read it yourself!

 

 

Book Review: Promise of Blood

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(Disclaimer: Some minor spoilers ahead.)

Brian’s Style

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?

The Plot

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.

The Characters

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.

Closing Thoughts

‘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!

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: A Star Reckoner’s Lot

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Disclaimer: This book has been kindly provided by Darrel Drake for free, in exchange for a review. No one said anything about being honest but I wasn’t told to lie either, so it evens out somewhere along the line, I reckon.

A Star-Reckoner’s Lot has been an interesting ride, one that left me some strong impressions. Some of those are bad but I’m happy to say,  the good ones outweigh them by a…Lot! (Hah, I’m a comedian!) I’ll start with what bothered me and make my way down to all the good bits so bear with me.

The Bad!

The NarrationAt times, too distant. I would find myself losing focus, especially early on before I got more comfortable with the style. Furthermore, some of the word choices slapped me right out of the story and back to reality, which is always a pain!

The Beginning: The Start of this novel was a bit of a slog. The prose is somewhat difficult to get used to and the first few chapters come across as fragmentary and disconnected due to frequent time-skips. I could make the argument that the first chapter, which reads like a prologue and is from Ashtadukht’s perspective, isn’t necessary. I’m not sure there’s a single thing I learned from that chapter that I wouldn’t have learned from the next few — and that’s where I would toss the chapter in question into the bin.

The So-So!

Ashtadukht: Of the three main characters the book introduces us to, our sickly star-reckoner is the one I’m least fond of . Due to changes towards the last fourth of the novel, she’s no longer on my ‘firmly disliked characters’ category but I still found her behaviour towards her companions too close to despicable on more counts than I can let pass.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the changes she went through and I’ll always treasure the time in her drunken company. Her wit playing against that of Waray and Tirdad made for some great dialogue (read under Dialogue for more on that).

Tirdad: From all the characters in the book, this one best fit the shoes your typical warrior wears; a man of honour and war who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty both with blood and with run-of-the-mill manual labour. I disliked nothing about him, or close to nothing but he never surprised me. Having read the synopsis to the second book though, I suspect I’ll be surprised by him quite a whole lot.

(Before I continue, I would like to underline that these are my personal feelings towards the characters. If I spoke about the quality of characterization, that falls under the ‘Good’ section. I am however very partial and refuse to hide it lest the court of public opinion judges me an agent of the Lie!)

The Good!

The Setting: What a unique, wondrous place choice of setting. I know shamefully little of the Sasanian Empire and after reading this I’m hungry to learn more. Of course, this being a fantasy novel, I don’t advise you to try and contest a history major’s knowledge with what you might glean from A Star-Reckoner’s Lot…but Darrell Drake’s love and respect for the period shows and resonates with ease.

Star- and Planet-Reckoning: I’m a stickler for interesting magic systems. Using the position of the stars to battle evil creatures of chaos (or the Lie, in this case) is a recipe for success, especially if you’re trying to get into my good graces! Planet-Reckoning I found even more interesting and I suspect it’s quite a bit stronger (certainly scarier)

The Cover: What a stunning cover this book has. Take a glimpse at it, if you haven’t already, come on! Truly a wonder; from what I understand, we have a Kickstarter campaign to thank for the stellar look–money well spent, Darrell.

Waray: This precious half-div egg-chewer is mad as bonkers, and I love her for it. She’s got it all — bloodthirst, a healthy craving for eggs and a deep-rooted need to belong and avoid being lonely.  It’s like looking into a mirror. On a serious note, Waray was my favourite character and the one I’ll remember for a long time to come.

Maybe.

Not my most structured review but there you go. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is an interesting novel, one with a few hurdles that keep me from giving it an amazing five-star review on Goodreads but it well earns its 4/5 ‘Very good’ score. I’m also happy to award this my personal and very nebulous “Hottest cousin on cousin will they/won’t they action” award!

Would I re-read it? Not in its entirety. There are parts and strips of dialogue, which I would dearly love to revisit, however.

Would I read the next book in the series? Yes! Yes, I would. A few months from now, I’d love to reacquaint myself with this particular setting and follow along in the star-reckoning journey.

You’ll enjoy this book if you are:

  • looking for a different and unique setting;
  • into astronomy-based magic;
  • an Iranian from the seventh century A.D., wondering what’s happened with his beloved empire, trying to kick back and relive the old div-hunting glory days;
  • a div, probably. Your folks are represented a bit on the dark side but you’re evil monsters in service of the Lie, what did you expect?

There you have it! My mostly all too honest review of an exciting indie fantasy novel under the banner of the r/TBRindr, an initiative whose purpose is to highlight indie authors and their works.

 

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!

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain Vol. 2, #01: Brother, Brother

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This is the Diary of High Imperial Supreme Sourceror, Sheikh, Sovereign, Suzerain and Ship Captain Maus. If lost and found, please return to:
The City (capital of The Empire),
0000, Imperial Palace,
Seat of the Empire,
Throne Room. Any of them is alright, really.
Upon return, you shall be rewarded, and promptly murdered for having touched this sacred artefact. Try not to bleed on it.

Diary Entry #001

I do enjoy new beginnings on occasion.

Sitting before my chained twin-brother in the damp, mossy dungeon of my newly refurbished castle doesn’t mark one of these occasions. He’s got a handsome face, I’ll grant him that but little else going for him. For one, he’s the brother set to rot in a nightmarish dimension of fairy tales come alive, which I reckon he deserves.

How do I reckon that? Having put him there, I doubtless had a fine reason for doing so. He’ll be back in his prison in due time, no doubt of it, and by Me, he’ll learn to enjoy it. Or perchance he won’t. At any rate, mine patience having grown short, I turned to the jailor and snapped my fingers at him.

‘Awaken him,’ I said.

The guard’s face slackened at the order. ‘I-I only puts them to sleep, master,’ he groaned under my gaze.

I sighed. Whose idea was it to cut on expenses and reanimate undead to use as jailors? The stench is pleasant enough, I’ll grant you that, but the shambling legions of rot-infested beings are hardly known for their ingenuity.

‘I suppose it can’t be helped,’ I said, and clasped the zombie with one hand. The creature seemed only mildly surprised as I held it above my brother and squeezed. Its juicy insides plopped over his hair and face. A piece of entrail staunchly refused to fall off him, like a bizarre amulet put on by a small child. Most of the grey rot tapered off, leaving not a spot on his bright white mane, not even on his beard.

How had he grown a beard? I never had a beard. Once glued on the beard of an exceptionally beardy, subsequently beardless, dwarven adversary. Wasn’t quite the same, and I suspected a number of my more cruel and oppressive generals for snickering while I had my back turned to them. Unfortunate to learn how they’d lost their heads later in the evenings.

You can imagine my surprise when they were found to have laughed at an entirely unrelated and military matter I’d heard nothing about. Paranoia is such a terrible weigh on my chest as of late,  I even suspect it might be a curse done me by one of my many viziers, advisers and court magicians.

‘How much longer must I listen to your ridiculous monologues, brother?’ said I. Oh, no, wait. That was my brother that’d just spoken. Permit me to do a little something to this here magical quill that takes my thoughts, actions and words into account and writes them down with– dontyoudaretouchmemausstayawayarghhhhh–

‘There, all better. The Quill has been mentally prepared to deal with your whining, brother,’ I (i.e. Maus, Dark Lord extraordinaire), said.

‘You’ve lost your marbles. Perhaps the last single marble you had, when you threw me in that happy little dream of yours,’ he said, scowling. ‘Is that a zombie gut on my head?’

‘It couldn’t be helped, place is full of them. And I didn’t lose my marbles. Look!’ I produced a marble from one of the hidden pocket dimensions within my armour.

‘You’re so bizarre, I swear.’

‘Takes one to know one, brother!’

‘Should’ve strangled you in the womb.’ He suddenly strained against the chains. His muscles grew taut as ropes, but the chains held. With a final huff, he relaxed.

‘An impressive, if useless display, brother.’ Looking down on him, I smiled. ‘Shall we hold counsel, as we once did, you and I?’

He nodded, grumbling.

‘It has come to my attention that I have a daughter.’ No surprise on his face. ‘You knew?’

‘Only you can forget your own kid, you mad basta–nope, forget that one. Of course I remember Alisha.’

‘A-lee-sha.’ The name tasted good on my lips. It felt right.  ‘I’ve been busy, what with defending against the Council of Wotsitsname and making moves to rob my enemies blind.
Good governing is a complex task I don’t expect you to know anything about.’

‘I was your chief governor, you wanker!’ Oh! Right. ‘And besides, I’m not going to help you look for your daughter. If she’s in hiding, it’s probably because of a good reason. Like, I don’t know, her father is a witless git!’

‘You’re one to talk!’

‘Who better?!’

I shut my mouth before fire escaped from it and burned him to a crisp. A deep breath and I began anew. ‘Fine. Talk all you want. But you will find my daughter, whether you want to or not.’

‘And just how do you see that happening?’ he asked, smiling that infuriating half-smile that should be mine, and mine alone!

I returned the smile as frosty as I could’ve made it.

‘I have set the curse of unicorns and puppies upon thine body, brother. If you don’t…’

His eyes widened in disbelief. ‘You would do this to me? To your own brother? You have turned cold, indeed,’ he said. His eyes studied me carefully, no doubt measuring me up, wondering how I’ve grown in power and what could be done to remedy his blighted situation. Whatever his conclusion, it didn’t please him. He broke the eye contact with a last heavy sigh. ‘Very well, brother. Let’s shake on it.’

‘Good, good! Welcome back to the fold,’ I said, ripping his chains off him.

As he got up, unsteady at first, I turned, walking towards the cell door. ‘Oh, and no more attempts to stab me in the back. I may not remember some things, important ones at that…but I’ll never forget your betrayal, brother of mine. And the next time you so much as lift a finger against me, your last prison will look like a dream resort.’

He said nothing to that, just looked at me.

‘Oh, and if you see any undead jailors here, would you turn them to naught for me? I’ve decided on expanding government expenditure, after all. I know, I know, beware of labour unions, but…’

Here, the Dark Lord chatters for several thousand words on policy and labour rights. The Quill would continue to write all this down, but…it doesn’t care enough to want to. Alas.

 

Thank you for reading, dear reader! I had way too much fun writing this, I swear, and time passed by very quick this time around. What’s next for the Unintentionally Helpful Villain? …Labour unionisation? Spoilers: Probably not.

And what about his brother? Find out in the Intentionally Unhelpful Villain, coming soon!