July in Review at the Grimoire Reliquary and Beyond

Welcome to my first month in review! I’ve been busy these last few weeks, both on the blog and over at BookNest.eu. I’ve been busy reading about Mice and Men, Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women, Inquisitor-y men in the 41st Millenium, Time-Travelling Men in love with Tall, Brilliant 60’s Women. Some dogs and time-displaced men were also involved. Most of the reviews below were originally posted over on booknest.eu — each title will lead you to the review in question.

Please feel free to look through the titles and only sample through what seems to be your cup of tea — I’m playing with the format of this “In Review” thing and if you don’t think it’s working, give me some feedback and I’ll change things around next month. Happy reading!

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

Our “Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women” section is all about Peter V. Brett’s first Demon Cycle book. I enjoyed this one, more than I originally thought I would.

Entering a new fictional world that might take up dozens or even hundreds of hours of your time is no small thing; those first few hours are decisive as they can either mesmerize or let you down. The Warded Man hooked me, and it did so in several ways. First of all, the atmosphere of fear and constant danger that oozes across every page through the first half of the novel is nothing short of impressive. It’s owed to one of the most original renditions of demonic entities I’ve come across in recent memories – the demons. These appear as soon as the sun is down, every single night, filled with malice and hatred for humans. The only thing that keeps them at bay are the wards, magical symbols of protection etched into wood, stone and cement. Thanks to these and these alone does humanity survive, whether in great walled cities or in tiny villages, spread throughout the land, often cut off and isolated from one another. But wards are not failproof; the demons possess base cunning and test them time and again. If any of the wards are weakened or imperfect, the demons will find the weakness and break through.

The review can be found over on booknest.eu. I’m actually itching to get back to the Demon Cycle and am looking forward to unpacking the second book. I expect I’ll be going the audiobook route once more, the narration was excellent!

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock 

Credit for the picture goes to: Robin Recht, Didier Poli and Jean Bastide who all worked together on the Elric: The Ruby Throne (2014) comic book adaptation!

I worked really, really hard on this one, and I think my efforts paid off. This isn’t the last time I’m going to mention this particular review on the Reliquary — I’m adapting a part of this review into a full-blown essay!

Finally we get to Elric of Melniboné! You know, I quite enjoyed my time with the 170 or so pages of this story. It finally does what I was pining for when I got this here novel – it gives me some actual prose about Elric of Melniboné! Shocker, I know. The verdict?

It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s uh, uh, uh, okay, are we talking about proper prose now, I can do this, I remember how to deconstruct prose. Elric of Melniboné deconstructs the sword&sorcery genre in a single sentence. See, sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at the sentence: “The paradox was that Elric tolerated Yyrkoon’s treachery because he was strong, because he had the power to destroy Yyrkoon whenever he cared.” This is the sentence that shows Elric’s character in full – he is distinguished as much by his restraint as by his albino skin. In a genre full of characters who know nothing of restraint, Elric is the exception.

His cousin Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is an excellent example of your average sword&sorcery character with his unflinching militarism, the ‘might is right’ mindset that we all know and…love? Yyrkoon has his own defining sentence, following hot on the heels of that first one: “And Yyrkoon’s own character was such that he must constantly be testing that strength of Elric’s, for he knew instinctively that if Elric did weaken and order him slain, then he would have won.” And just like that, these two characters are diametrical opposites of one another. Reading about the conflict between them was fascinating. The way the two of them develop from beginning to end has a real consequence on the wider world, and that’s what fantasy, according to Moorcock is about:

The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean world of our own souls. … [fantasy] rarely produces a comforting end. Whether the hero wins through or not, the reader is left with the suspicion or knowledge that all is not quiet on the supernatural front. For supernatural also read subconscious and you’re still with me. (345)

Monstress Vol. 02 – The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

After this panel, what more can I even say?

For the Emperor (Ciaphas Cain #1) by Sandy Mitchell

For The Emperor is presented as the archived diary of the amusing Commissar Ciaphas Cain, with footnotes and editorial comments penned by an Inquisitor who plays no small role in the untangling story of an Imperial frontier world that has erred away from the Emperor’s light. If a lot of what I said doesn’t make much sense to you, let me explain – in the fortieth millennium of the grim future, a very xenophobic humanity is barely surviving thanks to the will of a god-like entity entombed alive in a golden throne, holding together thousands of worlds and trillions of human lives through strength of will alone. This doesn’t play a factor, really, but you might as well know it if you’re still with me so far. This book doesn’t exactly get into any of this ‘bigger picture’ stuff but it’ll expect you to know certain backdrop information like this, or a few species of xenos (aliens) that aren’t explained in-depth. Certainly a minus for newcomers, I have to note, much as I adore this book.

11/22/63 by Stephen King 

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

J. C. Kang is a name I’ve seen circulating around. Fellow reviewers have mentioned The Dragon Songs Saga, praising the worldbuilding and characters, among other elements of that quadrilogy. It’s fair to say, I’ve been looking for the right time to pick up one of his works. When he contacted booknest.eu with the specific request that I review his latest in a series of novellas, the time seemed only right to carve out an hour and a half and get through what turned out to be a delightfully kinetic 93-page dive into a world reminiscent of medieval China…but with an exotic half-elf courtesan/spy taking the lead!

I do love those pointy-eared lads and lasses.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

The single superhero novel I read this month was by newcoming author WIlliam Dickstein. The book left me with mixed feelings but the main character was a treat, as you can tell from the quote below:

Dickstein nails Ivy’s voice in the chapters from her perspective. She’s interesting, she’s likable and it wasn’t hard at all to be invested in her story and the mystery that surrounded her power. It’s a pity she spends most of the book in a training facility. Granted, several of the supporting characters in this Cape recruitment academy are interesting and add to the story, like Ivy’s estranged childhood friend Hilly who is also a fellow trainee, or Tristan, a Tinker who has an adorably awkward crush on Ivy. The instructors at the facility piqued my interest as well, in particular, Hunter. Hunter is a veteran Cape, retired from those pesky superheroics but more than ready to mold the next generation of Capes. He had several memorable quirks, like the fact that the AC in his quarters is always blasting a cold gust at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut 

Baby’s first Vonnegut!

I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vonnegut’s works for a long time now, and when an Audible 2-for-1 deal offered The Sirens of Titan up along with Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore, I couldn’t very well keep away, could I?

Winston Niles Rumfoord is stuck inside a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing that allows his conscience to penetrate time; however, there’s a catch – he can only manifest throughout different parts of the Solar System for very small windows of time. It’s very complicated but it doesn’t stop this man, this spacefaring millionaire from dictating the fate of humanity.

What is human life all about, anyway? That’s the question at the centre of this novel, the question that plagues Rumfoord, that pushes him to create his church of “God the Utterly Indifferent” through downright Machiavellian manipulations. How does Rumfoord do that? Through the creation of a militaristic Martian civilization, the funds for which are funnelled through Swiss banks by his ancient, loyal butler. Said Martian civilization is then used as a blunt object to batter all of Earthen humanity, but not in the way you would think.

Coming Up Next…

Plenty is coming in August — Sharp Ends by Abercrombie, Soul Music by Pratchett, The Humanist Karl Marx which I picked up purely through happenstance on Netgalley and of course, The Dragon Republic by Rebecca F. Kuang IS COMING OUT AND THIS WORLD WILL BUUUUUURN and I am looking forward to reading it, of course. Oh, and Thrawn: Treason, the latest novel by Timothy Zahn is brilliant! So many excellent books to talk about, dear reader — and in case you’ve read all the way down,

The Grimoire Digest, 15-22 July: 11/22/63, Thorn of the Night Blossom, Ch05en: Ivy

Hullo, dear reader! I’ve been blogging a lot this past week — unfortunately, none of it has been on my personal blog, The Grimoire Reliquary. I did put three new reviews out into the world, over at booknest.eu. I’ll toot my own horn here and share them with you, following the late, great axiom of #everythingiscontent!

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Thся was someting else, something special. A novel about an English teacher who goes back in time to stop Kennedy’s assassination should be challenge enough but King’s not about to deal with anything less than five different genres in this 850 page novel. For the full review, click here but if you’d like an excerpt, have at it:

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

This was a really fun novella because of the action and the China-inspired setting…but it’s also got a half-elven ninja-spy protagonist! A lot is done in a mere 93 pages, and I’m looking forward to digging into the next novellas in the series. Lookit here:

horn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Our half-elven main character is Jie, the finest (or at least, most talented) operative produced by the Black Lotus clan in recent years. To the eyes of the uninitiated, however, she’s a Floret, a young woman who is still a virgin. But even then, Jie is special; because of her exotic blood and looks, hers is the most valuable “virgin price” not only in “The Floating Wind” but in all the province.

And the last review I penned over this last week is, drumroll, please…

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

I love superhero stories. This wasn’t quite what I expected and although I didn’t love it, I did have a decent — even good — time reading it! The review is here:

What is strangest about this novel is that I felt it was a prequel to the novel I came to expect based on the blurb. Here is a portion of the blurb:

“Ivy and Lochlan’s worlds collide in the small town of Choudrant, Louisiana—where the residents have more secrets than shopping malls. The lead Cape in Choudrant has defected, and an android might be the only one who can find out why. If he’s going to succeed, Lochlan will have to look for help in unlikely places and unlikely genes.”

This collision between Ivy and Lochlan takes place only in the last chapter of the novel. A lot of what happens before feels like inflated filler. This holds particularly true about Lochlan’s (he’s an android agent of the World Government) sections, which go into minute detail about anything and everything to do with android functionality, agent politicking and more. Well thought out, and I admire the effort…but it’s true what they say about magicians – if they show you everything about how their trick works, it’s no longer magical. Too many of the descriptions, in particular those that involved the android agent Lochlan, suffered from that; they made me conscious of someone doing the writing. Often, descriptions didn’t flow, leaving me aware of the words on the screen instead of allowing me to immerse myself fully into the world. Some of the dialogue between agents Lochlan and Khard (who seemed about as important to the overall Lochlan arc but slightly more likeable) came across as stilted, as well.

There you have it! What I was up to over the last week over at booknest.eu. If you’d like to check the full reviews, the links are above; and if not, I hope these excerpts might’ve given you a semblance of an idea as to what you can expect.

This week, I hope to write my review of Monstress Vol 2, The Blood! An essay on Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan is also in the works. Stay tuned!

Monday Morning Book Clubbing: “And They Were Never Heard From Again” and “UR”

Hullo and welcome (back) to my blog! It’s been a little while since last I had the pleasure of working on a blog entry for this here Grimoire Reliquary and since I just finished two rather small works (in terms of content), I thought now might be a good time to tell you about these two. One is a short story by Benedict Patrick, a friend and a fantasy author I admire greatly for his folklore-inspired Yarnsworld series. The other is by Stephen King, a novella originally written exclusively for the Kindle. Both together, these reads are a little over a hundred pages — the perfect length to read on a busy Monday evening, afternoon, or whenever you’ve got the freedom to do so. Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

“And They Were Never Heard From Again” by Benedict Patrick

The Magpie King’s Forest was one of my favourite new places to inhabit last year, when I first came across Benedict’s work. It’s a mysterious place, dangerous during day and deadly at night, the Forest still unclaimed by the human villagers who live in its reaches. I’ve had my share of exploration of its great and dark confines, and yet have hungered for more over the past few months. Once Benedict Patrick gets in your head, you see, it’s difficult not to hunger after more knowledge of the Forest’s denizens of the night.

But what is a monster of the night without a pair of humans to horrify and appall? The unlucky protagonists of this story are two brothers, one younger and the other older — as these stories tend to go — by the names of Tad and Felton. Felton drags his younger brother to another village for just about the most teenage reason you could think of, and after a series of unfortunate events, the two end up far, far away from the safety of home after darkness falls down on the forest.

What follows, I won’t spoil — but this was the kind of story that questions the power of storytelling and the collective subconscious in a way eerily reminiscent of my favourite work of Neil Gaiman.

The best part? It’s completely, absolutely, unreservedly free, this story. That’s right. $0.00. I’d grab it if I were you. If you’ve never experienced the world, you might just fall in love with it. My score for “And They Were Never Heard From Again” is 5/5.

“UR” by Stephen King

When I opened this on my Kindle on accident a few days ago, I did not expect to come across a very solid, enjoyable 61-page novella that was also tied to Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, one of my most beloved meta series.

“UR” does all the things Stephen King’s best novels do. It presents a relatable, likable protagonist with very human flaws — in English Lit professor Wesley’s case, a sort of childish spite — and an event that sees said protagonist’s grasp on reality begin to slip, pushing him towards a questioning of reality as he knows it.

It’s incredible how much I grew to care about Wesley in the span of these sixty pages. The mark of good writing, and King’s writing in particular — the man can make you care about anything and everything in just a few pages, and then force you to bitter tears. I’m looking at you, “The Stand.”

It’s a simple enough story — Wesley is looking for a way to show university colleague and his ex, Ellen, that she’s wrong about him, and so buys a Kindle. This used to be in the very earliest day of Kindle, kids, when you only had the one variable; it came in white, didn’t have touch-screen or LED lights, and was generally a somewhat bulkier and worse device than some of its competitors — but it did have all of Amazon’s considerable catalogue of e-books, which crowned it King of the e-reader market. History lesson over!

At any rate, Wesley gets a pink Kindle, which at first he doesn’t at all mind — he hasn’t done too much research, after all, it was more of an impulse purchase on the advice of one of his pupils, “the Henderson kid” who plays an important role in the novel’s interpretation of “The Three Stooges”. Ha-ha, my reference game is strong today!

At any rate, it’s not the colour that’s the strangest thing about the Kindle — it’s the fact that its experimental features allow the reader to access the works of writers like Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare; only, Wesley discovers works never written by these authors. Works that are so obviously written by these authors that to deny their authorship would be madness, greater even than accepting the impossibility of the small pink device being able to tap into the virtual libraries of alternate realities. I’ll say no more, but let’s just leave it at this: there are other, more impressive features this pink Kindle possesses.

What surprised me was the ending. It could’ve gone several kinds of wrong, but unlike in, say, “Pet Sematary” or even “The Dark Tower” itself, King decides to give us readers a break…mostly.

I will say, if I ever see a pink Kindle delivered to my door by mistake, I’d like to think I would squash it with the heel of my boot…but I have the gnawing doubt that I’ll pick it up and sign up for the experimental “UR” features, instead.

My score of “UR” by Stephen King, is…5 stars! Again!

A fine day to review titles, I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. If they weren’t good, I’d be a sad lad! At any rate, thank you for following along! As always, more is soon to come!

Book Recommendation: The Dark Tower, Book 2 — The Drawing of Three

drawing-of-the-three-new

I’m very fond of Stephen King’s Dark Tower.

So fond, in fact, that I’m taking considerable time from an unfortunately busy schedule to reread and finish it (on my first read, I lost the thread at book 6, The Song of Susannah). I’ve already spoken about The Gunslinger, and the bell strikes for a recommendation of that second Dark Tower book, The Drawing of Three.

Three people. Two men and a woman. A druggie, a cripple and a serial killer. Three compelling stories crossing the borders between worlds and time, bonding three together, and changing the fate of a fourth.

The intersection of the three, the one that draws them is none other than the gunslinger Roland, maimed and severely weakened by fever due to an infection running rampant, poisoning his blood and clouding his mind.

On a beach, Roland finds a door. A door that, once opened, leads him into the mind of another — the drug addict Eddie, a young man ridden by a demon known as cocaine. Now he is ridden by Roland, also, and you better believe that a stinkin’ drug doesn’t stand a chance against the last gunslinger of Gilead.

The second door leads to a New York different from the one Eddie knows, the Big Apple of the sixties. Meet Odetta Walker, a black crippled woman with no legs, and the heiress of a fortune. Odetta is a proper, if slightly uptight young lady but there’s a catch — she’s a schizo. Not that she knows it! No, far from it. What could possibly go wrong?

As for the third…I think I’ll say no more about him than I have already. It’s a thrilling third act to this second chapter of Roland Deschain’s quest for the Dark Tower.

If you’re familiar with any of Stephen King’s prose, you’ll know what to expect — clear, concise writing that absorbs you with ease. Putting the book down was downright impossible, at times. As far as the re-read goes, I was surprised to find so much material I’d originally overlooked. Now that I have a lot better idea of where the story is going, I found a lot of foundation building, not just the obvious kind but also that more intricate, subtle sort.

The Dark Tower grows closer. Don’t ignore it.

Book Recommendation: The Gunslinger

I saw “The Dark Tower” movie today, and it left me with…mixed feelings. Matthew Mchonaghy makes every scene he’s in so much fun, but the adaptation makes everything so much…less. The ideas shown within the movie are a fraction of what The Dark Tower is about.

But this is about the book, not the movie.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Thus begins the first of King’s excellent fantasy series.

It’s a difficult book to get through; or at least the original version was. Made up of five short stories published in a magazine, it’s the shortest of a series of seven (there’s a prequel, too, but I don’t add that one to the main seven.)

The Gunslinger got a revised edition in 2003. It’s good, I hear, and I’m going to read it soon. I could go on and on about the book’s contents, how it’s a slow burner until you get to the very end, and how it sucks you in for several books after that. I could, but I won’t!

Instead, I’ll just say this: The ending of The Gunslinger contains one of the most mind-blowing sections within a novel I have read to date.

“The man in black smiled. “Shall we tell the truth then, you and I? No more lies?”

I thought we had been.”

But the man in black persisted as if Roland hadn’t spoken. “Shall there be truth between us, as two men? Not as friends, but as equals? There is an offer you will get rarely, Roland. Only equals speak the truth, that’s my thought on’t. Friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of regard. How tiresome!”

The Man in Black has to be one of my favourite characters of King’s. He manages to be clever, insightful and predominantly evil. He is a perfect antithesis to Roland. That last part of the novel–it’s a shiver-inducing conversation between these two men, the culmination to the entire 200-something page book.

“Yet suppose further. Suppose that all worlds, all universes, met at a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower. And within it, a stairway, perhaps rising to the Godhead itself. Would you dare climb to the top, gunslinger? Could it be that somewhere above all of endless reality, there exists a room?…’

You dare not.’

And in the gunslinger’s mind, those words echoed: You dare not.”

Brrrrr. I’m shivering like a pubescent boy falling down a time vortex.

Those shiver a lot, for the record.

At any rate, it’s been a long day, and I think I’ll punch out for this particular blog post. See you again next time!