Saturday, December 29, 2012

REVIEW: The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

If you are like me, you have been been awaiting the release of The Daylight War for the last two and a half years and have been contemplating ringing in sick to work when you finally get your hands on a copy. Luckily for me my reception day job pretty much means I stand around and read for eight hours a day, so no 'gastro' or 'dead relative' excuses necessary!

For those who did read The Desert Spear in early 2010, the first thing I would recommend is a reread, or at least a quick skim, which is what I did. The first speed bump I found was that I couldn't remember the specifics of any of the Krasian terms (like the difference between dal'Sharum, kai'Sharum and kha'Sharum). Never fear! The Daylight War comes with a nifty glossary at the back, giving you succinct definitions for all the terminology, plus the extensive range of relatives to boot. Unfortunately for me I didn't discover this until I finished the book, but at least now I can pass on the advice.

A large chunk of the beginning of The Daylight War is devoted to the back story of Inevera (Damajah, and Jardir's wife), much like Jardir's in book two. I know many readers became bogged down in the large amount of time spent on Jardir's life and the ins and outs of The Desert Spear, and unfortunately I think you guys are in for much of the same. Personally I love every'ting (badoom-ch!) Krasian and could have happily read about Jardir for the entire book. While large parts of Inevera's story are interesting and incredibly insightful into the ways of the dama'ting, it can get a little repetitive, especially when some scenes reoccur word for word from The Desert Spear.

I felt that Arlen began to change significantly in this book, and perhaps not for the better. Deciding to shed his mysterious ways in an effort to shake this darn title of 'Deliverer' the commoners have labelled him with, he quickly goes from dark and mysterious hooded man to straw-chewing hillbilly faster than you can say 'apple pie'. Arlen and Renna were always a bit rural from memory, but Brett really lays it on thick with more abbreviated words than you can shake a stick at. 

At the same time however, Arlen (and Jardir) develop some cool new super powers, becoming even more mysterious and Deliverer-like. Pro: they're super awesome. Con: They kinda just seem to come out of nowhere, like Brett only just now thought them up but pretends they've actually been there for a while and the only reason we don't know is because no one thought to bring them up. It does also get a smidge deus ex machina, and the narrative itself begins to rely on these new powers to reveal key details. Brett saves himself a little by making the enemies even stronger, preventing Arlen from simply cleaning up the corelings like last night's dishes.

Leesha is interesting yet annoying at the same time. While she's a strong character and looked to as a leader, she remains indecisive and more than a little lost especially when it comes to her love-life, mooning over one guy, while missing another and sleeping with a third ... and fourth. I couldn't tell if she had the characteristic definition of a wad of gum, or whether she was actually incredibly complex with some really meaty flaws.
We learn quite a lot more about the core and the mind demons from the end of The Desert Spear, which strangely turned the whole conflict between humans and demons from a one sided battle of humans vs nature, to a fully-fledged two sided war between two sentient races. 

Brett's prose and flow remains virtually flawless, providing for a smooth read during which you don't feel guilty for skipping two meals so you can lay on the couch and keep reading. Heck, I ignored so many people coming into work because let's face it, what's more important here?

In the grand scheme of things I don't think enough actually happened in this book, especially given the wait for the next installment we will most likely have to endure. The majority of it was tied up with back story and fleshing out other characters, which while definitely a great experience for all involved, meant the overall story didn't progress as far as I would have like it to. 

I feel that there is not a lot of cohesion between the two main story arcs (Jardir/Inevera and the Krasians vs Arlen/Renna/Leesha and the Hollowers) but I think it's simply because they are so vastly different, predominantly due to the culture and beliefs of the respective people. At times I wished the book would devote itself to one or the other, because jumping between the two really cut some of the build up and reader investment potential. 

And now at the end, because I haven't actually said it, I really, really loved this book (and the series). I haven't read any other fantasy based on Middle-Eastern culture (other than the dismal failure that was Throne of the Crescent Moon) and the methodical and meticulous nature of their hierarchical system ticks all the right boxes for my personality type. The world that Brett has created is rich with detail and innovation and I am itching with anticipation to find out how humans will fare against their enemies from the core!

And best/worst of all, I have to tell you that this one ends in a SERIOUS cliffhanger - you know the ones, where you gasp and then turn the page expecting to see one more chapter (and instead see a glossary of Krasian terms) and scream 'NOOOOOOOO!'. Yeah, it's one of those.

A huge thanks to Random House for sparing me the excruciating wait and sending me an eARC!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Firstly I just want to say that this week I have been rethinking the purpose of this blog, deliberating whether I should start writing more formal reviews that are designed to be read by an actual audience. Currently my 'reviews' are really just a way to document some thoughts I have after I finish a book and are in no way geared towards being anything useful for anyone else.

But then today I thought some more and decided against it - I have quite a full plate with my numerous dance-related projects and I feel that reviews would just become a chore. Plus, I would much rather leave it to the professionals and have my own little happy fun time over here.

I was aided in making this decision by realising that I actually don't have very much to say about The Winds of Khalakovo, and the thought of trying to flesh out a whole review would be akin bamboo shoots under the fingernails. 

In short, it was brilliant and I loved it. I think a large part of my personality and my writing is derived from my sarcasm and humour, thereby making reviews about terrible books so much easier. Maybe I should just read bad books?

I struggled in the beginning with this one, as did many others according to Goodreads. Beaulieu has created a complex, gritty tale that is unrelenting when it comes to handing over the crucial details. Beaulieu refuses to explain outright any elements of the complex magic system, or social, political or geographical elements of the story, instead completely allowing them to unfold naturally. This makes the first 50 or so pages quite cumbersome and bereft of any hooks to really get me invested. 

Once I finally got my head around this though (and the unfamiliar Russian names), Winds became extremely rewarding and engrossing. The mysterious nature of the aether, the hazhan and the role of Nasim to both the characters and myself as the reader gave a much greater weight and realism to the story. By the end there were a few elements that were still escaping me, and a few things that I felt were a little tenuous in their realisation, such as why Nasim had to go to the island of Ghayavand and what exactly happened there.

I loved every character, particularly Atiana and Rehada - in fact, there were quite a few strong female figures in this one, and who doesn't love an overbearing matriarch?

The use of the Russian language and terms throughout, as well as the inclusion of the visually beautiful airships gave Winds a fresh and unique feel, allowing it to stand apart from more traditional fantasy.

Still deliberating what to read next ... I've started a few series now, so I should probably start reading some sequels!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

REVIEW: The Thief Taker's Apprentice by Stephen Deas

I picked up this one after having loved Deas' A Memory of Flames series and it's been on my shelf for some time now. At a short 282 pages it was a nice quick read.

As a YA read I give this one top marks. For my personal tastes it was a little too shallow and simplified, but I'm definitely not complaining as this was definitely the aim of the novel - something I think many people tend to forget when reviewing.

Great traditional fantasy; medieval setting, taverns, street urchins, sword fights and some mysterious magic to boot. Berren plays the young male protagonist, but unlike many fantasy tropes, his abilities and maturity are very realistic when considering his age. He is no Kvothe, but instead a very ordinary street boy who has been swept up into a new and exciting life. Syannis is a little unpredictable and temperamental, but in a way that is just a little annoying and leads me to not actually care about him and his mysterious past.

There is some good foreshadowing and a few good puzzles throughout, but as I mentioned, none were really complex enough to enrapture me. It's an entertaining read and the kind of great writing we can expect from Deas, but it's not going to have to on the edge of your seat. I'll definitely be purchasing and reading the following sequels to see where it will all go.

Monday, December 3, 2012

REVIEW: The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

This review contains a lot of spoilers throughout!

I have to say that The Emperor's Knife has the most gripping beginning/prologue I have ever come across. Absolutely amazing! It is unapologetically morbid and a little chilling, instantly making me want more.

The beginnings of the book were very promising ... royal intrigue, a dark magic looming and just a touch of Arabic flavour to it all. I felt quite drawn to Sarmin and thought his character and storyline had quite a lot of potential.

However, I just felt that things went a little odd.

Firstly, characterization, or lack thereof. Very few of Williams' characters were given any kind of depth or were ever consistent in any way. In fact, I would go as far as saying that in some cases it was so terrible and off the mark, that characters would blatantly act against their nature and start channeling a new personality altogether. Eyul was perhaps the worst - going from a loyal companion and confidant of Tuvaini, being obviously swindled by the Hermit, sort of falling in love with the mage and then killing her and then swapping sides a few more times before being killed in the most anticlimactic way known to man. Lord knows what the hell was going on with Beyon or Tuivani either, because I sure as hell couldn't tell what their motivations were.

Because of this, character relationships were also adversely affected. For instance, a woman in a trans tries to stab Sarmin and five pages later he is irrevocably in love and cannot be parted from her, as if she was an integral part of the story from the beginning, and not just thrown two thirds of the way through. Mesema's crush on Banreh was equally as confusing.

I've read several other reviews of this book that praise the characterization as a strong point ... I don't really know how to respond to this, but I think they may be confused between characters and characterization. The Emperor's Knife has a great cast of characters that had a lot of potential, but none were aptly described or given enough consistency to make them substantial.

While I actually enjoyed the story itself quite a lot, it does move a little too fast and loses a lot of detail that could have made it epic. This is especially the case when it comes to the Pattern Master, who only surfaces in the final pages and is then killed. I would have liked to have seen it drawn out for much longer. Everything in this book, most of all the relationships, needed fleshing out and more time to develop.

Some elements remain a little confusing and unexplained ... I still didn't pick up on the magic and logic behind the Pattern, it's use and creation. The Knife also remains a mystery. I'm hoping however that these things will be addressed in the sequel.

Did anyone else pick up on the uncanny similarities between this book and Feist's Magician? A neighbouring nation called Kesh, a people called the Cerani (similar to the Tsurani) and an elemental called Ashanagur that is one with Govnan (much like Ashanshugar that is paired with Tomas).

I've been quite critical in this review as there are some major flaws and downfalls in this book, but I have to say that in regards to the essential story and the writing itself, it was an easy and enjoyable read. The best I can say about it is that it has/had a lot of potential and considering that it is a debut novel, I'm hoping William's work can only get better from here. Knife Sworn will be on the list to read in the near future!