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.

 

God of War: First Impressions

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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.

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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.

Dungeon Master’s Diary, S01, Session 02: Poke

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Hello and welcome back to my Dungeon Master’s Diary, where I recollect the long and winded tale of my Dungeons&Dragons party, the Assholes. Some time has passed since I last posted about these venerable adventurers.

Let’s get straight to it! The problem with note-keeping is…sometimes you lose the notes. Others, you’re too lazy to write them down in the first place. So it is that I’m forced to recreate this particular session from memory alone, which might bring about a continuity issue or five.

Dramatis Personae:

P. as the Witcher-y Warlock Logen Thum.
S. as the cowardly fighter Kalis Dargon.
I. as the young half-elven cleric Ignus.
N. as the half-orc-like homebrew Kimir barbarian Gell.

NPCs of note:
Tess Einhorn, princess of the Einhorn Duchy. Thief.
Shank, Sergeant of the Einhorn army.
Crazy old herbalist guy.
Crazy old herbalist guy’s drunkard nephew.

When last we left off our valiant heroes, Logen Thum went after a suspected thief, whose dextrous fingers the witcher felt on his backpack. Without checking to see if his hunch was right, Logen rushed after the thief, closing on and eventually catching the young woman. Without so much as a question, he forced her into one of many back-alleys of the capital city of Moranth, and punched her twice in the stomach in quick succession.

Just then, the rest of the party caught up with the witcher. Kalis, horrified, realized the girl clutching her stomach in pain was none other than Tess Einhorn, the sole daughter to the Duke, the man they were to investigate.

What the players didn’t know was, the thief was no thief. Tess, a spirited young woman, had gotten away from her chambers in the palace and gone exploring, looking for news from her brother. It was a happy coincidence–the kind ever-so-helpful to DMs everywhere–that she heard the party discussing their plan to find the prince and gain his father’s favour.

So it was that Tess decided to stealthily put a map of the prince’s last known movements in one of the party’s backpack–the lucky recipient none other than our exceptionally violent witcher. She, a natural at sneaking, was more than surprised when Logen immediately shot after her, surprise turning to shock as his knuckles sank into her belly, forcing the stomach out of her lungs. Ouch.

Not a great first impression to leave on a woman in her position but after a short conversation, she assured the party that she would forget all about the warm welcome if they found and brought back her brother. This didn’t sit right with some of the party, and they went for an Insight check. Surprise, surprise — Tess can swallow a lot for family’s sake.

This misunderstanding cleared up with surprisingly little backlash, our heroes got to studying the map. Where the first attack of the undead had started was a fishing village two hours from Moranth by the name of Sarhas.

When they reached the village, they found nearly half of it burned to shambles. Soldiers toiled away, building barriers and digging mass graves. The attack has been recent if the smell is anything to judge by. What happened next?

Did they ask the soldiers what happened, do you think?

Nope, they got into a brawl with the town drunks, beat them half to death, and Logen took to carrying the drunken ring-leader’s body in the stead of a cape. This strange exhibit caught the attention of several soldiers, and the party was very close to getting into some very deep, very serious trouble with the law — if not for one sergeant Shank, who was familiar with the drunk’s antics and laughed it off. Kalis, an imperial soldier himself, found a common language with Shank, and so the two escaped any further trouble.

As for the drunkard? Turns out, he was the nephew of the crazy village herbalist! Wot!

They traded a man for a bunch of healing potions, is wot I’m saying. Note, the herbalist was off his rocker in a major way, and he was a standoff-ish old goober, so I don’t necessarily blame the party for kicking his nephew around a bit. It later turned out, most of those potions the herbalist offered were way past their ‘best before’ date, which made for some pretty strange and often horrifying effects!

So it was that Ignus drank a potion and fell in love with a scullery maid! There was a lot more to the potion, I reckon — but unfortunately, that’s one more thing I did not record. Yes, I know, I really need to write these hilarious events down! It’s so annoying, remembering how hysterically all of us shook in laughter, but being unable to recall why exactly. Was Ignus giggling uncontrollably? Was he belching, perhaps? Maybe he hallucinated slightly. I’m not sure, and the world is all the darker for it.

What comes next?

Find out next time, in the Dungeon Master’s Diary!

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed this one! As I cover more of the game, more details will emerge, what with my consistently better notes. Besides, this session didn’t really hold much in the way of using the game’s system to enrich the narrative, besides the occasional initiative check and simple combat rules. It’s all going to get progressively more interesting as we move forward!

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!

 

Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible problems you might have with The Blade Itself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intentionally Unhelpful Villain #01: Help?

Journal Entry The First

Let it be writ:

Today, an oaf of a man, a woodcutter through and through, passed by my cabin.

“Where go you, axeman?” I said.

“A good day to you, villain!” he said, scratching his beard. “I am on my way to cut a little girl and her granny out of the tummy of a wolf. Bad business for the timber business, wolves eating one of my biggest clients and whatnot.” He sighed. “‘Tis the third time this has happened over the past season. Say, care you join me?”

“I’m good,” I said. I wasn’t, but I was going go be. Snicker.

He nodded, and turned around, tugging at his axe, skipping two steps at a time. Little did he know, a single step was worn out and slippery. It was this step, in fact, which his foot gave way under.

He flew into the air for a few glorious moments. Then, he fell to the ground, the head of the axe burying itself in his chest under the monumental weight. I got up, cackled at the sight, then sat back in my rocking chair.

Sometimes, it’s good to be partially precognisant.

Journal Entry The Second

The axeman pulled the axe out of his chest this morning. He seemed displeased with me. Nothing new under the sun.

“Listen here–” he said. The air shimmered behind him, and a shape enclosed in black iron grasped and threw the oafish man far away into the air. The axeman was silent, be it surprise or shock.

His form was gaunt, the face that appeared behind the iron helm an unnatural shade of white. Save for the difference in colour, it was familiar insofar as my own.

“Villain,” he said.

“Villain,” I nodded. “Have you come to free me from this prison, brother?”

He shrugged. “Something like that.” His fist went flying towards my face.

Partial precognition sucks.

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

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

Book Reviews: Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

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If you’ve never seen Zero Punctuation but love video games, you will want to look at these reviews. They’re witty, crude and entertaining beyond any reason. They’re also, arguably, the chief culprit behind Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s popularity. That he makes them doesn’t harm him one bit, either.

It’s well-earned popularity. Here is a guy who delivers five to seven minutes of pure comedic gold on a weekly basis, whose audience consists of over a million subscribers.

His sharp, acerbic wit is a given in the video format — but a novel is another beast, entirely! Allow me then to offer this, a comprehensive review of Yahtzee’s third book, and the first one I got to read–or listen to, courtesy of an Audible member discount. Audible, you finally got me, you slimy sunuvagun.

THE PLOT

The era of space pilots is over. Good riddance! Quantum Tunnelling is faster, easier, safer, cheaper. The Golden Age of Space Flight, with the antiquated heroics, the exploration and adventure that came with it are gone, and no one misses them.

No one, save for the space pilots, that is. No longer contributors to society, the space pilots are relics stuck in the past. Some of them cross the black, becoming pirates in unguarded territories. Those who have too much self-respect, those who remember the way things used to be, choose instead to become…glorified tour guides, using the old battlefield stories to earn a buck or two. If you consider this a demotion, you have no idea!

The protagonist is one such star pilot. He gives tours, has the occasional dealing with pirates, a moderate amount of trouble with the law, foams from the mouth at the mention of plagiarist pilot and author, the hated Jacques McKeown, and is friends with the proprietor of the local bar. Life isn’t easy, but it’s not complicated, either.

That is until an impeccable businesswoman approaches the protagonist and offers him an insane amount of money to impersonate someone else at an evening party. Faced with enough legal fees, he accepts despite the pricking of doubt at the back of his mind.

Imagine his surprise when he discovers the man he’s been hired to impersonate is McKeown himself, the most hated/beloved pilot in the Universe (depending on whether you’re a space pilot or not, yourself). Worse yet is his employer — planet Earth’s foremost crime boss and grinning orange sociopath, Hendrickson!

What follows is our protagonist getting involved with pirates, cute carnivorous aliens, kidnappings and a hate-hate relationship with Miss Warden, the aforementioned smartly dressed woman. Add in a couple of kids, far too many cases of mistaken identity, and a series of events best described as “Out of the frying pan, into the fire, into the lava, and off for a walk on the surface of the sun,” and you get the plot of Will Save the Galaxy for Food.”

THE CHARACTERS

The protagonist lies somewhere between a slimy opportunist and a hero who’s lost his way in spectacular fashion. What is beyond a doubt is that he is an excellent pilot and a man prone to survive no matter the environment he’s thrown into.

Penelope Warden. A Terran, originally the caretaker and personal assistant to Henderson’s son, Daniel, Miss Warden is an ambitious young woman with a heart of ice and a face even colder.

Mr Henderson, an orange man with a grin on his face. Most powerful criminal ever, prone to hold a grudge if you do something as bad as looking at him when he’s not in the mood to be looked at. Probably stabs people in the eye with a screwdriver. Dotes on his boy, Daniel, who is a big weakness of his.

Daniel is a daft wee lad, embarrassed by his dear ol’ dad. Jacques McKeown’s biggest fan, possibly; certainly the most oblivious.

Jemima is Daniel’s crush and much more intelligent friend. She can be a bit of a teenage brat on occasion, but understandably so, being a teenage brat. Plus, there’s more to her than meets the eye!

I really had fun watching the kids struggle in particular, figuring out what the hell is happening.

On the whole, each character is well-written and works within the story, none of them feels redundant. They are entertaining on their own and create funny situations when interacting with one another, and what more could you wish for?

THE PROSE

Witty, action-packed and clean. Brilliant use of similes, clever and hilarious style of writing. An undercurrent of sardonic wit runs through every page of the book, and it’s the main culprit for the hilarity and memorable characters and events.

What I enjoyed immensely has to do with my expectations and how this novel plays with them. When I picked this up, I was looking forward to a tongue-in-cheek satire of your common space adventure, and while I certainly got that, I’m also happy to say, “Will Save the Galaxy for Food” works as a genuinely entertaining adventure, too!

THE NARRATION

The ten and a half hours I spent listening to Yahtzee narrate the novel of his own making were a pleasure. His deadpan delivery had me burst into laughter no less than a dozen times throughout the book, which explains the perturbed cow-eyed looks several passengers on the bus gave me. And here I thought it was the bum bag.

THE AUDIENCE

You should pick this book up if you enjoy:

  • Sardonic wit, irony and dark humour.
  • Space adventures!
  • Yahtzee! The man, not the dice game, you moron. Come to think of it, the dice game, too, if only because reading this would entertain you a lot more than your everyday game of Yahtzee.
  • Fantastic narration (Audiobook-wise).
  • Believable speculative fiction. Yes, you heard me. Beneath all the laughter is a strong core that stands up to scrutiny and will leave you wanting for more.
  • An easy, relaxing read…
  • …nevertheless filled with great plot twists!

CONCLUSION

I can describe the novel–and have, above–in many ways, but at its heart, this space adventure is a comedy of errors. It will entertain you, make you laugh and you will feel for its characters over their numerous trials and tribulations. And at the end, you will be more than happy to have taken the tour.

P.S. I recommend you get the audiobook. It’s nothing short of fantastic if you didn’t get that from the eleven-hundred words above.

I just finished listening to Jam, as well. It’ll either get a review, or a recommendation. I have to hand it over to Jam, though…it has a hell of an opening line.  “I woke up one morning to discover that the entire city had been covered in a three-foot layer of man-eating jam.” Yup, we’ll have to talk about this one.