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

36103391.jpg

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: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

crimsoncampaignthe_940-492.jpg

Disclaimer: Spoilers for Promise of Blood’s ending and minor spoilers for The Crimson Campaign. Read the review for Promise of Blood here.

I read Promise of Blood within the span of three-four days. The Crimson Campaign, in contrast, I read over six adrenaline-fueled hours. For three-quarters of Campaign, my heart was in my throat, my eyes nearly skipping through the words because of how badly I wanted to know what would happen next. And a whole lot happens, let me tell you that.

The Plot and Characters:

Like Promise of Blood, this sequel continues following Adamat, Taniel and Tamas as the former two deal with the fall-out of Promise’s ending. Tamas, meanwhile, begins from a place of strength, quickly lost when the Field Marshall makes a grave tactical error against the Kez, leaving him trapped far behind the enemy lines and with no certain way back. So it is that Tamas’ section of Campaign is an adrenaline-fueled retreat through enemy lands with some unforgettable battles, a dash of subterfuge and a lot of great banter with his bodyguard and my favourite Knacked soldier, Olem. A bit more focus is placed on the relationship between Tamas and Vlora with some heavy, emotional scenes between father and surrogate daughter (that’s what they are, really), which I was all for!

Taniel’s story here, the beginning of it, was difficult to read. After the physical and emotional torture that was Promise’s finale, we find Two-Shot in a mala-den, drugging himself for everything he and his possessions are worth. It’s a sorry state to see him in but it makes the journey of him getting back to his feet all the more satisfying. I had a few issues with the way Taniel would occasionally get into the dumbest fights (for good reason, granted) with people who far outranked him. It does fit who he is as a character, hot-headed and brusque but my sense of him was, he’s also clever enough to know where the road he goes down on might lead but he goes down it, regardless.

Adamat meanwhile is keeping a low profile, trying to outsmart and outplay Lord Vetas, the mysterious, cold-blooded antagonist working against the interests of the new government. In his attempts to thwart the evil mastermind and free those Vetas holds hostage, Adamat makes an alliance with my favourite Priliveged, Bo, who is as scary as he is entertaining!

Nila’s in the novel, too! Again, her PoV is tiny compared to the others but I was pleasantly surprised by the route Brian decided to take this former laundress in! Her relationship with a certain spell-slinging character, in particular, is something I quite enjoyed..but on that point, I’ll return when I review the third book!

Solid writing where dialogue, action and general plot direction are concerned. I breezed through the novel in an evening. And a night. It set my imagination ablaze even more than Promise of Blood and for that, I am happy to praise it to high heaven.

This was an excellent second instalment to McCllelan’s Powder Mage trilogy. Not only does it develop previous storylines, it manages to throw in a few surprises while showing a piece of the greater world outside of Adro. A few accounts were settled, a new villain established and a veritable sea of blood was spilt! 5/5 stars!

This review took me a while. Nevermind that I wrote 3/4ths of it the day after I wrote the review for Promise of Blood. Blame it on my lazy ass, or on doing fifty things at once, all day, every day. I’m lame, I know! I’ll try to finish up the last book of the trilogy very, very soon and re-read Sins of Empire in order to FINALLY read Wrath of Empire. 

Book Review: The Sangrook Saga by Steve Thomas

The Sangrook Saga is dark, and its pages are stained with blood.

Or they might as well be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one grimdark tale of necromancy and blood magic. It might unnerve you and make you uncomfortable and if you’re not in for this sort of experience, you might as well stop reading here.

But if you are, The Sangrook Saga might just be the book for you.

It is an interesting title, this. Rather than tell one single tale over the span of his two hundred and twelve pages, the author tells six stories you can read independently from one another, with the possible exception of the sixth and final one, which is the climax of the Sangrook family’s tale.

The six disparate tales take place at different times, following characters either of the Sangrook bloodline or those close to them in some way. Chartered inside the novel is the fall, rise and whatever comes in-between of this clan of necromantic bloodthirsty warlords and despots.

They are, all of them, charmers without equal. By that I mean to say, they are a lot of nasty boys an’ girls who may or may not occasionally start from a good place only to get corrupted by the power locked away in their blood. Characters’ fall from grace involves a variety of foul crimes and horrors triggered by loss, misplaced vows and errors in judgement.

It’s an interesting magic the Sangrooks and their enemies at the Convergence have, a sort of joining between gods and their priests. That seems to be the basic tenant, though the Sangrooks and the Convergence are obviously going to be very different. There’s a further magical system which relies on animal essence extraction by artificers and that was as interesting as it was gory…which it really is.

The writing itself was a pleasure to read. Tight, easy to follow and unafraid to use real curse words, it drew me in and didn’t let me go until I reached the unhappy conclusion and put the book down. The dialogue, in particular, is excellent. Not once did I feel the author was using his characters as mouthpieces to dump information. Everyone had their unique voices, and those never came across as stilted, which I’m particularly happy about.

The Sangrook Saga draws inspiration from Dark Souls in the way its story is told, says Steve Thomas, and his words ring true. All throughout, there is a certain amount of despair, the sense of a world which has passed its heyday, a place more dead than it is alive. It is not a place everyone will enjoy. But those who can handle darkness and hopelessness in great, fat quantities…this one is for you.

If you enjoy listening to companionable music while reading, you might find psychedelic rock quite agreeable to the Saga. I listened to some King Crimson and the sort of dark fantasy music I only put on whenever one of my D&D players meets an untimely death during a cultist ritual. Gods, that’s particular, isn’t it?

Nit Picks? Aye, a few. Once or twice, characters turned to the darkness a bit more quickly than they ought to have, in my opinion. That said, not everyone will feel they did, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. There are also a few minor mistakes, mostly typos or repetitions — but no more than six or seven that I caught. I also disliked the cover somewhat, though I don’t mean to offend the artist, it’s just not my cup of tea.

The score? This is the first indie book I’m giving 5 solid stars to! It also takes home the “Worst Necromantic Family in a Dark Fantasy Series” Trophy Award of the Imagination!

All in all, quite an excellent job, I reckon. I recommend the Sangrook Saga to those of you who:

  • Love dark fantasy;
  • Have played and enjoyed Dark Souls and the way its story is delivered;
  • Want to learn how to take over the world with your big-ass, dark magic-wielding family (like me!)
  • And more! Prob’ly.

You should stay away if you have issues with graphic violence and the all-encompassing feeling of despair, though. Not a happy book, this one.

Its release date is June 22–that is, tomorrow! You can get it here.

Bingo Review:

  • Five Short Stories (Hard Mode)
  • Self-Published Novel (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Published in 2018
  • Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Featuring a God as a Character
  • Standalone Fantasy Novel (Hard Mode)

 

I got the review copy from the author, Steve Thomas, in return for an honest review as part of the TBRinder initiative, hosted by the ever-wonderful u/Esmeralda-Weatherwax at her blog!

Book Review: Song by Jesse Teller

35996063

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: Promise of Blood

promise-of-blood-1680x1050.jpg

(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

36233593

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: Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

35959733

(Minor Spoilers Ahead)

Senlin Ascends (review herewas an excellent first act in Josiah Bancroft’s fully realized and fleshed out world, with intricate characters and a number of mysteries which set the imagination on fire. Originally self-published in 2015, Arm of the Sphinx came to be re-released by Orbit this March, in preparation for The Hod King which is coming out in September 2018. After reading this book, I’m beyond excited to get my hands on it! That said, I’m getting ahead of myself and so, let’s jump right into the review!

Plot:

Picking up a few months after the end of Bancroft’s first novel, Arm of the Sphinx sees our main characters scrapping by outside the Tower, living the life of gentlemen(and women!) pirates, only taking a fifth or a tenth of whatever the cargo of their victims’ ships is. Not terribly efficient as far as piracy goes, with our daring airship crew often going to bed with empty stomachs and always on high alert. The enemies made in the last novel are nothing if not tenacious, after all, and although our heroes start off free and outside the Tower, the problem now is: how do they get back in? It’s a problem that gets compounded pretty early on in the story and in a funny way, too, but with some serious life-or-dead consequences.

In the previous book, Senlin ascended(hah!) through several of the ringdoms, starting from the Market at the base of the Tower all the way to New Babel, experiencing a number of the Tower’s hospitalities during the climb. Arm of the Sphinx cuts the number of ringdoms Senlin and his crew visit to The Silk Gardens, which continues the tradition of introducing strange environments into the greater whole that is The Tower of Babel. Other areas also figure into the novel, of course, but I won’t name them for fear of spoiling some of the enjoyment. Suffice to say, no small part of the novel takes place in the air outside the Tower itself and the crew dynamics on the Stone Cloud are a welcome addition!

21821669._SY540_

 

Themes and Characters:

The Arm of the Sphinx differs from Senlin Ascends in that the focus is no longer on Senlin alone. A number of PoVs now follow the rest of Senlin’s crew as well, offering us readers several different perspectives on how each of the Stone Cloud’s crewmates thinks and engages with the world and their peers. While I’ve immensely enjoyed my time lurking in Senlin’s head, the switch-up makes for a nice change of pace and develops characters I loved seeing on the sidelines in the previous novel.

The novel has a lighter tone than its predecessor, which is something of a plus. The oppressive start to Senlin Ascends and our protagonist’s inability to deal with the reality he found himself in didn’t quite make for light reading, back at the start of Ascends. A big part of this is the Stone Cloud’s crew, with Voleta deserving a special mention; she might, in fact, be my favourite tree-climbing, vent-crawling adrenaline junkie in all of fiction! Something about her, the way she enjoys her freedom as well as just how much she grows during the events of this second novel is absolutely wonderful.

What about Senlin’s character development? I’m as happy with it as can be! Senlin, occasionally going by the name of Captain Tom Mudd, continues to develop due to external factors while nevertheless keeping true to a unique philosophy about life and knowledge that no one else in the whole Tower seems to have. His choices serve to create a contrast between Senlin and everyone else while speaking of a moral core which equips him with the tools necessary to combat the Tower’s influence time and time again.

Something that deserves a mention, theme-wise, is the philosophy within Arm of the Sphinx. Books continue to play a key role and for all the right reasons; each chapter starts off with epigraphs from in-universe novels or diaries. A conflict this novel sets up is the dangers of education versus those of illiteracy — the literate man from outside the Tower can be naive to a fault like Senlin was at his journey’s beginning. At the same time, the lack of knowledge as to the ‘why’ behind the Tower’s existence is a great danger of its own. This is far from the only philosophical undercurrent of the novel, but I would be loathe to give up much more for all of you who haven’t had the pleasure to experience the mysteries the Tower of Babel offers.

Conclusion and Score:

I am unbelievably happy to say that Arm of the Sphinx doesn’t suffer from the expectations  Senlin Ascends created. I loved Arm every step of the way: the start, the middle, and the brutal ending which demands I pre-order The Hod King! This novel gave me the feels, as kids nowadays say. All the feels.

It’s a great second act which reveals a dozen mysteries and sets up many, many more. Arm of the Sphinx subverted my expectations, confused and thrilled me in all the right ways, never frustrating in a negative way. The language is once again excellent, the dialogue witty and entertaining to no end.

The score I gave this on Goodreads is five out of five stars!  I also grant this novel two out of two Sphinx arms, as well as a whole bag of steampunk-y devices and knick-knacks!

Buy it, read it, enjoy it, gush about it on the Internet. I just did, and I’m much the better for it!

 

God of War: First Impressions

gow-og-image

I played six hours of God of War with two of my closest friends, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s rare that I’ll find a game lingering on my mind after I’ve put it down. Such games more often are those “just one more turn/game” strategy experiences, which can suck your life away while you’re grinning happily at your perceived intellectual genius, caused by thrashing a bunch of AI opponents. There’s a reason I no longer play StarCraft 2 on ladder!

But I digress. God of War, what an epic experience! First of all, this game’s encounters are Hard! We three amigos played on the third difficulty, i.e. what would be called in yon olden days “Hard mode,” and it frustrated me a few times if I am honest. If I were alone, I would’ve played the game on Normal. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I often pick Normal on most games, because,

A) I’m not that good, and;

B) I have a library of games I want to finish, and no matter how many I finish, it seems to always expand. I haven’t finished the Witcher 3 DLCs for Tolkien’s sake!

A few fights were an outright nightmare, I tell you. I reckon a few battles forced our collective blood pressure to go way, way up due to the sheer amount of time spent trying to beat them. The first battle with the heavy shield draugr(might’ve misspelt that, I’ll freely admit) was…not fun.

That said, passing through those moments eventually, after all that effort, it’s a high. I am definitely beginning to see the appeal of games like Dark Souls (my friend, whose place we invaded to rob him of his time with God of War made loads of Dark Souls meets Kratos jokes, some of which were quite good).

Enemies can take a lot of punishment on Hard. I don’t want to think what it’s like to play on God of War difficulty. It’s doubtlessly insane. But then again, the rush I felt at beating a few of those encounters which so flummoxed us — that’s almost enough to make me consider.

Might I not be able to spare the time? It might just be worth it if it’ll make me feel like a… God of War.

Cringe. I know, that last line was abhorrent. What about the story and the four boss fights I witnessed and/or participated in?

I liked BOY.

711049

Boy is the boy of Kratos, who is patiently taking care of him, bonding with him over hunting magical deer and boars, and also over his mum’s death. They’re taking a road-trip to the peak of the nearby mountain and I can’t help feel that it’s a lot more difficult than it should be, what with the army of undead giants and non-dead giants, and angry gods without any clothes on.

The story is one-fourth road trip, one forth greek tragedy, and many more forths of cheese axe-throwing, all to defeat incomparable odds and yell some more at this little godling. Or demi-godling. Probably all-part godling though, if you ask me.

It’s great. Angry dad Kratos 2018 is even more entertaining than I hoped, and those few times during which you see Kratos fighting to keep as calm as possible or having a tender moment with Atreus Boy are nothing short of emotional.

Oh, and fighting the naked Stranger (who may or may not be a very weird interpretation of Baldr, though I’m beginning to see it)  was epic beyond all rhyme and reason!

In short, I’m excited to experience more of this god-son road-trippy goodness.

P.S. I love how the side-quests are done! Because of Kratos and BOY’s continuous conversations, none of the ones we played through felt like they were moving away from the actual main plot; it was all an extended lesson for the Boy. The levelling up-upgrade system is also something I have a lot of appreciation for, though I need to further familiarize myself with it before I can really discuss it.

The Intentionally Unhelpful Villain #02: Acts of Villainy

Grandma's Special Herbs

Journal Entry The Third

My brother, the big-time villain. Who does he think he is, smacking me around, placing chains of iron around MY person, threatening and cajoling me!

I’ll find his daughter, I will. The question is…where do I begin?

I’ve been in a perpetual dream prison for years. The answer is obvious — I begin in a restaurant.

The former village of Woodstick is now known as ‘The Capital.’ I have no doubt as to who renamed it so, and much as I’d like to badmouth this city, I cannot. He has done well in creating a city of lights, sinister as they may be…or advisers have, despite my wily brother. What well his direct underlings tap into in order to survive that child-like whimsical nature, I fear imagining.

The restaurant I picked was a fine place. Colourful, filled with military types in shining white. Their faces turned pale as soon as they saw my face–but they weren’t really seeing mine, were they? I sat down, unperturbed by this misguided attention.

I ordered a steak and waited for the fun to begin.

What my brother never understood, despite all his infuriating successes is this: True acts of villainy are small things. They pile up and up, a great stack of nasty deeds which push men to madness. This cook, for example. I have now returned his steak seventeen times. The last waiter to ask me to leave left a trail of digestive fluids all the way out onto the boulevards of the Capital.

The cook will snap. He’ll start off with acts of spite. Spitting in the soup. Putting sugar in the sugarless desserts (as if there is such a thing as sugarless desserts, bah!), putting too much salt in the stew. Then, it’ll be allergens. Peanut paste to those allergic to peanuts, if precognition is anything to go by.

It will end with poison. He’ll sprinkle some on a wedding cake. But he is no poisoner, and so a single drop will fall on his index finger. He’ll rub his nose, or eye, or put the finger in his mouth for all I care, and it’ll do him in. I only see parts of the future and the last bit I see is him falling all over the six-foot tall poisoned cake.

A pity, that. It is my brother’s wedding. But oh well. I have illustrated my point well enough.

So much spite drawn out of a mere cook’s heart, and all of it — because of a bad night filled with steaks. This is the essence of evil. My niece was quick in learning this lesson. The question is, just where has she been practising it?

There will be a pattern. All I need do is discover and follow it.

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin-Cover

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.
21821669._SY540_
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!