Book Review: Song by Jesse Teller

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

Song took me a while to get through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on to what I enjoyed!

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

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

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

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

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

You will enjoy this book if you are:

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

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

  • Reviewed on r/fantasy

  • Self-published

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

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

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

 

Book Recommendation: The Walls of Air

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Ah, recommending the second book of a trilogy, that’s a new one for this blog!

The Walls of Air is the second novel in Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy. The second book of a trilogy is always a bit tricky; you have to find a balance between answering some of the questions that the first novel set up while setting up the final stage of the final book.

Barbara Hambly manages to do just that in an admirable way. Our main characters — Ingold, Rudy and Gil — all face considerable challenges and each of them grow and change; some in ways that you’d expect, while others might surprise you. What Ingold goes through at the end of the novel, in particular, changes him into a much darker, more cruel version of himself; a version that was only hinted at, previously.

I won’t go into detail, but it’s an understandable transformation which feels very much ‘earned,’ if you will.  Appropriate. So it is with Gil and Rudy, whose transformations are more gradual and less…contested.

The Walls of Air features two storylines:

The first storyline deals with Rudy and Ingold’s journey to Quo, the Magical Capital/College of the world. I didn’t quite fancy Rudy as much as Ingold or Gil in the first book, but this storyline had me rooting for him time and time again. Our San Fran wizard’s apprentice is quite a charmer, that’s for sure.

Gil has some problems of her own in the Keep, overshadowed only by her proclivity to scholarly work, and her ability to see patterns early enough to make her brilliant but late enough not to resolve the tension over Rudy and Ingold’s quest.

Hambly’s prose is once again splendid. I read it with such ease that it’s a challenge not to lose myself and any notion of time when I’m within the confines of Darwath’s fantastic world.

I could say so much more about it…but I’m afraid to spoil a great experience for you. I’d really rather not do that, so you go ahead and read it!

Book Recommendation: The Time of The Dark

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Some time ago, I wrote about an appreciation thread on reddit; it was about author Barbara Hambly and her many works, which include but are not limited to vampiric noir, dark fantasy, world-jumping fun with wizards and much more!

The Time of the Dark was the first amongst these recommendations, and the favourite of the thread’s author. Now that I’ve read it,I can certainly see why.

The novel, which tells us the tale of an ancient foe, long dormant but recently awakened, is a lot darker than its cover might have you think, at first. It’s a wonderful cover, by the way — a wizard wearing his rugged robe and sitting amidst an all too normal 20-century kitchen. I love the spilled chips, the empty can of beer and just about everything in that cover; if posters were sold of the drawing alone, I would be hanging it left and right.

You have to appreciate a wizard drinking beer from a can for the first time, is all I’m saying.

There is humor in this book, even though its themes, if you think about them, are downright terrifying, and could traumatize without too much difficulty. Let’s unpack, shall we?

The Dark are horrifying antagonists; they are not individuals as humans are; rather, they have something akin to a hive mind, allowing them to transfer information instantaneously. They have no form–the Dark are like globs of darkness, capable of changing their form at will, growing from five to twenty five feet nearly as quickly as one could blink. The Dark come at night, but they come; their numbers are enough to overrun any city.

But not the Keeps. The Keeps, these ancient constructs of magic and technology of a by-gone age, allowed humanity to survive the Dark’s last incursion, over three thousand years ago. Now, they will have to aid The Realm’s stragglers and survivors, as these attempt to traverse the road’s dangers, and the attacks by the Dark, all to find safe haven.

Amidst all this, we follow the stories of Ingold Inglorion-the elder wizard on the cover, and a wizard who will remind you of the best traditions in the fantasy genre; and that of his two friends from our Earth, Rudy and Gil. Rudy is a biker and an artist; Gil is a woman after my own heart, a medievalist historian with a very cold streak, and a colder heart, still.

These three main characters of ours are absolute gemstones, and they’re not the only ones. The entire cast of support characters are written in a superb way, as is the rest of the book. Descriptions can be both beautiful and haunting, and my pulse quickened as I read through tense moments that absorbed with such impressive ease as to leave me impressed.

Few books have had one character dominate every scene they’re in as Ingold does it. He might often remind you of Gandalf, as he did to me, but at those times, he’s more of a self-aware Gandalf than anything else. Indeed, lines such as the one below speak of self-awareness that is entertaining and feels like Hambly poking innocent fun at fantasy clichés that we’re all too familiar with.

“She barely hid a smile. “That’s a wizard’s answer if I ever heard one.” “Meaning that mages deal in double talk?” His grin was impish. “That’s one of our two occupational hazards.” “And what’s the other one?” He laughed. “A deplorable tendency to meddle.”

You see what I mean?

The Time of the Dark is another book that is well worth your time; I promise!

You might have some difficulty getting a hold of a physical copy, but the trilogy went digital some time ago and if the next two books are anything like this at all…they’ll be well-worth the read.

What’re you waiting for?!

For me to finish? Alright, alright! I’ll see you next week!

To my regular readers…Sorry for the tread-bare content during the last week; I had a birthday, and then had to travel. At one point, I was awake for about…36 weeks, with two short naps on a plane and bus to make up for it. Content should run more smoothly from here on out, thank you for your patience!

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain, Vol. 09 – Volunteers

Diary Entry #0170

Mine power sizzles and crackles with a terrible itch to be used. But I mustn’t allow myself any distraction for the chase grows ever closer and more heated. Strange, this heat; unnatural, even. Almost does it remind me of…but no, it cannot be.

Great challenges did we overcome since the foul princeling’s attack on mine men. The fire within their spirits did suffer greatly from the loss of a quarter of our companions. Blight come upon this kingdom!

…I would be much remiss to deny mine own sorrow at their loss. These Librarians are much like an extended family, if mine memories play no tricks upon me — they grumble and moan as each morn and eve comes to pass, and they eat all of mine carefully prepared food only to demand more, and they can make trolls explode with their mental prowess (a fact of which I am very proud).

What kind of Ruler would enjoy burying his relatives?

Well, the Prince that attacked me, that much has been made manifest.

Diary Entry #0171

A villager of this here kingdom, one that heard mine wonderful monologue from yonder day before today, has been following ever since, slinking around. I shall force him into mine aura of truthfulness so that he admits to me his role — be he a spy, I shall cut him unto ribbons and make of him a stew for mine hounds.

Amongst other important tasks today, I have made hounds from clay. It has proven a most curious enterprise. I do believe one ate a Librarian.

Oh, well.

Diary Entry #0172

The Librarian who was eaten is alive.

What wonderful news.

The hounds of clay have turned to non-hounds of clay, and the man I considered might be a spy has ‘volunteered’. I was not aware of this wonderful notion until he brought it up and explained it to me in great detail; now that he has, I plan on forcing every single one of the residents of the next village, town, city or — to the hells with it — an entire country, to volunteer unto mine armed forces.

I have created new hounds of clay, and have added bread to the recipe. My Prime Librarian, Sven, nearly received a heart attack when he realized what I had done with all our supplies of bread.

He is young, and knows little of evocation spells, and he will learn with experience.

Besides, it works with meatballs.

Diary Entry #0175

We have arrived in the town of Kresh. I can sense Her nearby, perhaps watching me from some hidden spot even now. It is time I face my wife.

Ex. Ex-wife.

 

Next Time: We reach the tenth Volume in our illustrious tale! Crazy stuff goes down! Dialogues! Madness! Insanity! And so much more!

 

 

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain, Vol. 08 — No Patricide goes Unpunished

Read the previous Volume here.

Diary Entry #0160

I am told that  I have entered the first of many identical free human kingdoms. This one shares a border with mine lands. That is what makes it special. Bah, humans are strange folk. So glad am I that I no longer fill their ranks that I could incinerate a dragon with but a blink!

The stench of mine wife of before grows ever-stronger. We are a mere few days away from catching up with her. She smelled well, once. Her perfumes were sweet beyond measure, beyond imagining. She enjoyed the flustered looks of men fool-enough to take a breath within her sweetly vapors, mere moments before they expired.

What man could not love such a woman?

Diary Entry #0161

The trolls I adopted unto mine armies in mine infinite army have once again tried to eat a village. Not even the villagers, this time. The damnable brutes started munching on buildings as we passed by. I found myself forced to summarily execute them.

The structures within the village were historic! Fifty years old, I hear. I felt that the villagers deserved some recompense for the grief given to them, and so I turned all their elders into statues of pure gold.

They did not seem too pleased with this development.

I couldn’t imagine why.

Diary Entry #0164

We have come upon a wondrous and most tranquil pond, which feeds into the great river Kraln, that gives easy access to the very shores of the continent, and I find myself considering the very real possibility of plundering this kingdom single-handed and turning this land to near-eternal darkness.

These notions are premature, I reckon — there is yet the thunder to be reclaimed. It must be safely brought back in mine citadel. Only then will I–what’s this? I hear the blunder of idiot horse-creatures coming towards mine camp. They will not enjoy mine great mercy for this interruption!

Diary Entry #0165

A princeling and its servants attempted to run through mine camp with their filthy animals. Whilst I reacted with great alacrity and cut into a squadron of these pampered noble-born, some of mine young lads lacked such experience.

Twoscore of mine loyal subjects have died. A dozen of those were promising Librarians…there can be no forgiveness for such crime.

This land will burn. It will all burn.

I did not kill the wretched princeling. He was damn skilled for a human, I will grant him that; I did leave him a parting gift, however — something to remind the boy what is coming for him.

A cut across that face will certainly serve that function.

Diary Entry #0166

I have learned that the man to have attacked mine loyal band of servants has recently killed his father and has taken to calling himself king.

He will have difficulty doing so with no tongue. Patricide fills me with disgust I can not logically explain. I will punish this fool boy in the stead of this dead father.

But first, my thunder and my wife await!

Ex. Ex-wife.

 

 

 

Ten Things I would NOT do if I were reborn as a demonic slave

  1. Movement’s difficult with so many arms. You wouldn’t think it was by looking at all those naked statues of four-handed sex goddesses, but it is. It really is. I wouldn’t be doing much of it at all; not properly, anyway.
  2. I WILL NOT give the fat demon lord massages. No, I do not care how many yugoloths will point their tridents at me, I refuse! A man has got to draw a line somewhere! Oh, wot? Demons are gender-neutral? Oh, I see, they can be made gender-neu–you don’t mean…? You do? Oh, dear.
  3. In my anger at cleaning up boots from human blood, I will take it all out on the very reason for those stains — humans. Yes, you heard me right. These stinkin’ no-good person-people are not getting away with staining any more of my master’s spiky boot pairs!
  4. I would not admit that the slaughter of innocent wee man-people by my hand is a big reason as to the perpetual bloodstains on the master’s boots.
  5. I really wouldn’t.
  6. No ignoring my weaknesses this time. No matter how many shiny, strange sources of energy I disc–ooh, why is that undead butterfly engulfed in sorcerous ene–Focus, Hyperius!
  7. No alliances with humans. Plot as I may, but I’m not going back to that stage of development…
  8. I would not go mano-a-mano with the boss-man. Fat and lazy as he might be, he’s still head demon poncho of the whole shebangin’ demon invasion. Head poncho, for those of you who might not be aware, is a specific term in demon culture, meaning…most wonderous demon who wears a particular type of clothing, for none other fits on his voluminous body.
  9. No ice magic. Much as I loved it in my good ol’ lich days, it simply does not help. Leaves one hell of a burn. Who knew that ice could burn a demon so bad?
  10. No more choking on demonic boots! Never, ever again! It took me four days to remove every single piece of metal I crunched down when I was eating the demon lord. Four weeks, in fact!

The events on this list are entirely fictional. Far be it for me to imply that demonic lords and slaves have access to the Internet… 

Top Ten Things I would do if I were reborn as a demonic slave

 

  1. New body, new set of rules! Let’s start off with movement. Nope, moving on four legs isn’t as easy as it looks. Why am I going to that hole? Wha—No, stop it! LEGS! LEEEEE—
  2. New management. I was a freelance lich in my last incarnation, but this time around…demon lords are all the buzz! I’m not saying this metaphorically; the large, tentacle creature with huge breasts and flames for eyes is buzzing at me.
  3. Licking boots. Sure. Why put my knowledge of this realm when you could use my new acid-coated tongue to clean your boots, demon lord?
  4. Why do demon lords even have boots? I understand faeries, and walking—but what is it about demonic boots?
  5. Do they really need all these spikes? Those are really hard on the acidic tongue, mind you.
  6. I’m getting boggled in boot-licking minutiae? Really? Oh, very well! I would also corrupt the souls of the forsaken, the desiccated, and those who have no brains on their skulls in order to know well enough not to stay in the middle of a demonic invasion!
  7. I would begin plotting. Demons plot, and I would hate to be unfaithful to my newly-discovered nature. What else do demons do, though? Let’s have a gander at my demonic lord and master; he…
  • Sleeps a lot;
  • Enjoys clean boots;
  • Consumes the souls of humans;
  • Plans invasions past the initial point of contact –my bad, everyone— but never acts on them;
  • Reads his poems aloud and pesters me and the succubi for positive reinforcement.
  1. I will plan on taking my demonic lord’s place. While I no longer am a wizard, or a lich…the knowledge remains. First, I will…abuse his poetic skills! No demon would expect such assault.
  2. Once the abuse continues, it is time to gaslight him. Aye, you heard that right. I will light the pungent gas that surrounds him afire!
  3. I shall consume his tender, burned flesh, and take my rightful place as demonic lord!

The protagonist of this list may or may not have choked on demonic boot by mistake, and proceeded to die several more times before reaching his goal. At this time, one simply could not say.

Top Ten Things I would NOT do if I were a lich

  1. Regret my past life as a miserly old wizard. Screw that guy, he dead!
  2. No time will be spent in moral considerations, akin to (but not excluded to): “Is necromancy evil? Is angering the gods of death wise, in any world, including this one? How can my apprentices possibly be this useless, even as reanimated corpses?”
  3. I would not dig deep holes. There’s plenty of things necromantic and ice magic can accomplish. Exhuming bodies is easy. Digging holes to bury bodies – not so!
  4. No cutting of the necropolis costs! Ice sculptors are a pain in the boney arse, but if I have to levitate above their heads to make sure that they’re doing their job all well and proper, I will! No second-hand ice will do.
  5. Responding to old acquaintances, fellow advisors and friends from my old life…while it may sound good on paper, something tells me that those guys will tend to be conservative; all for the traditional monarchy, for leaving things as they are. Well, not me! I am a progressive lich! I vote for change. End to life, and death eternal!
  6. That should probably not be the platform I go with, after conversing with several of the recently deceased.
  7. I would not lose that most annoying of wizardly traits, even in death – inexplicable idiotism!
  8. The eldritch smell of death would not stop me from exploring the fissure in space and time – so what if it looks like a festering wound in the sky above my floating ice fortress? I don’t discriminate!
  9. I would not feel pain. The demonic forces that will shatter my icy carcass would be just that quick to act.
  10. No regrets at making a pact with an Arch-demon. None. What. So. Ever.

 

Thus ends the latest adventure of the wizened old wizard-turned-lich. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here and here for wizardly context, and here for the last entry in this particular series.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Top Ten Things I would do if I were a lich!

  1. I would get me a nice little ice cave, with loads of stalagmites, stalactites and the skulls of my long-dead apprentices and army comrades.
  2. I would begin raising my apprentices from the dead. They were an incompetent bunch in life—doesn’t mean that they have to remain useless in death.
  3. I would discover that death really hasn’t done much in the way of improving my pupils’ skills, communication or otherwise.
  4. I would bury several bags’ worth of bones. A speech for the fallen pupils would be in order.
  5. Time for a change! You know what a newly-created lich needs? A necropolis! In the sky! No more of that damp icy cave! Time to outsource some necromantic goodness to the world.
  6. I would begin with the kingdom I served in life. No place like home. Step One: Raise the dead. Step Two: ProfitIf by profit you mean mayhem, slaughter and eternal ice covering the land.
  7. Now that I’ve got a proper ice lair – just look at that landscape, it’s got all the stalagmites! – I can look above and beyond!
  8. I would inadvertently look at something terrible, mystical and not-at-all friendly.
  9. Demons would invade from the terrible, mystical, not-at-all friendly place that will –oh no!—suddenly turn out to be a horrible-no-good portal. The ice will melt, and so will my icy exterior. And interior. Every –erior in a several hundred mile radius.
  10. I would find myself horribly, terribly dead. My soul at the mercy of demons. Oh, well. If you can’t beat them…join them.

Liches are a lot more punctual then wizards. Even when those liches used to be wizened old wizards in the first place.

What will happen next? What didn’t happen? Find out next Friday and Monday! Yey! *claps excitedly*

 

Top Ten Things I would NOT do if I were a wizened old wizard

  1. I would NOT mean to harm anyone with my illusion spells…It would just sort of happen. No one’s to blame, really.
  2. I would NOT cross bridges if I had the choice. These things are dangerous – shoddy masonry, demonic infestations, not to mention the rotting wood…I just don’t trust any of it.
  3. I would NOT mind all my students going on quests every once in a while. It’s healthy for the body, the mind…and the state of my pantry. Fattening up apprentices is a thankless task, methinks.
  4. I would NOT go out of my way to stop any wizened old nobleman from cutting down the mad monarch I’m sworn to. The mad ones always insist I do the most work. The village cleansings will simply never end…!
  5. I would NOT make a good cadre wizard in the new monarch’s army. I’d be too used to burning villagers by far, to be able to serve side by side with them. And hey, who knows how many soldierly relatives I might’ve maimed or turned to ash by that point?
  6. I would NOT be good at avenging my students’ deaths, once tragedy inevitably strikes my magical tower/magical school/magical loo.
  7. I would NOT do any cardio. There’s magical laws against that.
  8. I would NOT recover from the lack of cardio, unless I embrace dark and forbidden lore, and transform into a lich. It’s recovery, of a sort…
  9. I would definitely NOT have a tenth entry to this list, being the wizard that I am, and knowing full-well that wizards are far too lazy for their own good.

Surely by now you didn’t expect that mysterious tenth entry?

My bi-weekly Top Ten lists were originally inspired by Peter’s Evil Overlord List. Don’t know what that is? Google it, and have a laugh!

 The next installment of “Top Ten Things I would do if I were…” will be out on Monday 06/05/2017!

If you missed the last one, click here!