Thursday, December 19, 2013

REVIEW: The Warlock's Shadow by Stephen Deas

There is something so simple and comforting about this series, of which The Warlock's Shadow is book two of three. After reading the likes of N. K. Jemisin who really like to shake up their fantasy world building, it's nice to return to a bread and butter Medieval Europe setting.

The Warlock's Shadow feels oddly familiar at times, as though I could once again be reading about Pug or Kvothe. At a comparatively short 304 pages however, Deas wastes little time with the non-essentials and I think a more traditional setting has assisted him in this.

Book one, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice, had quite a low risk storyline, not really venturing into any unknown territory, but still providing an entertaining read. For this reason and the length, I would definitely shelve it amongst youth fiction.

The same can be said again for the first three quarters of The Warlock's Shadow, but by the last quarter Deas decides that he has had enough of that and completely ups the anti. As the title perhaps suggests, we see the introduction of magic, which darkens the tone of the novels significantly and adds a layer of complexity not yet seen. The story becomes somewhat more graphic with the corpse tally growing exponentially. But more so than any of that, it is the final chapter that sees the greatest change in this series - let's just say that not everything ends well for our protagonists. While book one concluded with a nice little wrap up, book two is a good old cliffhanger (luckily I have book three, The King's Assassin, sitting on my shelf!).

As predicted, there is nothing to be said against Deas' writing or story crafting, which is meticulous, well thought out and extremely easy to read.

This is such a great little series that requires little time and investment for a great return so I recommend it to all fantasy fans!

Monday, December 16, 2013

REVIEW: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I'd only seen passing references to Ender's Game before I went and saw the film at the cinemas last week. I was so incredibly blown away by the film that I just had to read the book immediately. I will be talking a little about the film in this review too, so please be aware of potential spoilers.

I'm always amazed when fantasy books written decades ago can still seem fresh and relevant when read today, as if they were written this year. Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books are a brilliant example of this, as is Ender's Game, originally published in 1985. Even though some of the technology in the book is no where near as spectacular as it is in the film (and is slightly reminiscent of the original Tron film) Card demonstrates incredible imagination and foresight for his time.

In my opinion the best fantasy and sci-fi novels aren't the ones with the best world building or magic systems, but the ones that use those elements as a platform to explore the human condition and/or psyche. I'm also a massive fan of really getting inside the minds of the characters and seeing a pure honesty as they grapple with conflict.

Ender's Game is a perfect example of this. Much like Katniss in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, we see the young protagonist struggle psychologically under extreme and unwanted pressure. While Katniss is interesting because she has little that is remarkable about her and is thrust into the spotlight circumstantially, Ender follows the child prodigy trope a little more closely. What is brilliant about Ender is how is constantly aware about what is happening and how he is being manipulated, but still struggles with his own inner demons.

I really appreciated how even though Card's characters are all incredibly young children, there is a lot of discussion and justification within the story on why. Through his characters Card also reflects on the exceptional and even unnatural state of the children and the concerns over their well being.

Another element that I enjoyed was the shift in perspective from beginning to end of the nature of the buggers, particularly within Ender. I think this was enhanced and therefore more successful in the film than in the book. Card creates the perfect enemy from the outset, which only sets us up for some beautifully tragic moments later on.

The final chapters were a little flat for me and seemed like Card wanted to get through as much story in the least amount of words possible. The film handled this much better, really playing up the climax for maximum investment and editing the story to a crisp and clean ending.

I have a feeling that the following novels in the series by Card won't be as good as Ender's Game (anyone?), but I am definitely going to give Speaker for the Dead a go. I will definitely be seeing the movie again though!

REVIEW: Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Mitosis is a short story (more like a chapter really) that follows on from Sanderson's most recent novel, Steelheart. I think it's really great in this digital age that authors can publish tidbits, short stories and novellas rather than being confined to conventional novels. Sanderson has been really successful in keeping the appetites of fans consistently sated through a number of shorter works including The Emperor's Soul, Legion and Infinity Blade: Awakening, all of which I have eagerly anticipated as much as his full length novels. Not only does it make his works richer, but it keeps a steady connection with his fan base.

Mitosis is a great little addition to the Steelheart story before it continues with book two, Firefight. I don't feel like I really need to go into all the things that makes Sanderson's writing brilliant. My only tiny reservation is that Sanderson was really quick to get back on the somewhat forced character motif bandwagon, such as David being really bad with metaphors.

You can get Mitosis as an eBook from your favourite online retailers.

Monday, December 2, 2013

REVIEW: The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

I have to say right off the bat that The Killing Moon is definitely leaps and bounds above Jemisin's previous work, the Inheritance trilogy, which I liked, but had far too many flaws and frustrating elements to it. Jemisin's work has been consistently fresh and free from the regular world-building and magic-system tropes, but I felt her debut novels lacked logic and relied too heavily on just being able to make stuff up at the last moment.

Not only has she managed to remedy this completely in this novel, but I can hardly think of any flaws at all ... someone should start a slow clap for this woman.

Jemisin claims that the nation of Gujaareh is based off Egyptian culture, although if no one had told me, I never would have guessed. She does not immediately go for the imagery we all automatically reach for when we think Egypt; other than a city surrounded by desert sands. Jemisin draws upon Ancient Egyptian magic, which seamlessly blends religious and medical disciplines, but then also throws in some Freudian dream theory. Suffice to say The Killing Moon is worlds away from your popular medieval Europe fantasy setting. In her interview at the end of the book Jemisin goes as far as saying that she purposefully moves away from this setting as she believes modern fantasy has a fetishization with medieval Europe and that many authors over-simplify things and end up doing "Simplistic British Isles Fantasy Full of Lots of Guys with Swords and Not Much Else". Can't say that I disagree with her.

The religious and ceremonial beliefs of the Hetawa and that of two of our protagonists Nijiri and Ehiru are intriguing, but even more interesting is the way in which they are challenged by fellow protagonist, Sunandi. The followers of the dreaming goddess Hananja believe in a kind of ritualized killing that brings peace to the recipient and the benefit of dreamblood magic to everyone else. However outsiders like Sunandi simply see it as murder and Jemisin demonstrates how the strength of faith and belief moves each character and what happens when this is challenged.

The Killing Moon finds the perfect balance between delivering exposition and withholding information enough to keep the reader puzzling, without causing confusion or frustration (in excess anyway). There's quite a lot (like a lot) of foreign names and terms thrown in to the beginning chapters, which seems a little overwhelming at first, but quickly becomes more than manageable.

There are a myriad of small touches that add up to make this a great read. Each chapter begins with selections of text from Hananjan law, which gives just tidbits of information that enlighten previous and following chapters. Jemisin's also places an ambiguity on sexuality and in Gujaareen society there is no 'gay', only people who love who they love. All feelings are accepted and unjudged, which is a refreshing perspective coming from a society obsessed with labels and hetero-normalcy. 

The only thing I can say that is missing from The Killing Moon is the incredible passion and the constant need for more that great books instill in readers. Jemisin ticks all the boxes with this novel and leaves me incredibly satisfied, but I had very little emotional attachment to it. Considering this was one of the stronger points in her Inheritance trilogy, maybe she is just yet to find the right balance.

I'll be moving swiftly on to the last installment in this duology, The Shadowed Sun and recommend that you give The Killing Moon a go if you haven't already.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams

The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams is the third and final installment in the Tower & Knife trilogy, following on from The Emperor's Knife (review here - with spoilers!) and Knife Sworn (review here).

For me, each of these books had a markedly different feel, due mostly to the notable changes in nature of the protagonists and their respective relationships. 

I still think The Emperor's Knife is the strongest book in this trilogy; the opening chapter is definitely one of the most striking and memorable I have come across. The characters were diverse and interesting and the story was a beautiful mix of melancholia, ferocity and the best political intrigue that fantasy can offer.

Knife Sworn, while still a great read was a little disappointing in comparison. This story, especially when experienced through the view-points of Grada and the visions of the Many, became much more obscure and almost confusing in its politics and magic system. I also felt most of the characters lost a lot of their strength and tended to float through the story.

The Tower Broken is best described as a combination between it's two predecessors; somewhat hazy in parts, but also strong and gripping in others. On the cover, Ben Aaronovitch describes is simply as 'Compelling' and this is certainly the word to describe Williams' latest book. The prose is engaging and seamless and Williams never allows the pace to fall below where it should.  

The Tower Broken reminds me a lot of Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lay's of Anuskaya trilogy and in parts of Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy. The former for the incredible complexity of the story line and the fantastical elements therein, to the point where as the reader I question if it has moved past a one-dimensional story into something far more intricate, or whether it's all just getting a bit too messy to follow.

I struggled in the beginning to fully recall elements from the previous novels even though I read them both in the last year, especially given the growing complexity and changing nature of 'The Pattern'. The Tower Broken further complicates this by involving the god Mogyrk and Cerana's enemy, Yrkmir, which has until now only been floating under the surface. However, while I thought I might struggle a little as in Knife Sworn, the elements of story quickly resolve themselves to create a beautifully constructed world.

The empire of Cerana really is spectacular and could easily go unnoted, such is the skill in which Williams has woven it into the story. Most of all I loved the hierarchy and ceremony that has been built around Sarmin and The Petal Throne that wholely supports but does not intrude upon the plot. While I missed the beautiful idea of The Pattern and The Many, Williams does well (by the end) to integrate the Mogyrk religion further into the story and making it the focus of the final book was a great move.

Even though this series has some fantastic characters, characterisation and consistency of has always been a problem for Williams, as well as expecting the reader to invest in a character who plays a major role on the plot, but only pops up randomly out of nowhere part way through. I have to say though that The Tower Broken is a definite improvement in this regard - every character has a much clearer and defined nature and intention, which they stay true to throughout. 

Sarmin was a definite highlight in this book and found his balls in spectacular fashion. I do miss the powerful female characters such as Mesema and Nessaket from book one, who, particularly the latter, have been severely diminished through recent events. The choice of perspectives in this book were also interesting, with nothing from Grada, Nessaket or Rushes, but instead focusing primarily on Sarmin, Mesema, Govnan and newcomers Duke Didryk and Farid, none of whom are particularly odd, dangerous or ruthless.

I was getting worried near the end that the conclusion might become rushed but I think it resolves quite satisfactorily in terms of both pace and content. There were some moments where I think it got a bit too ethereal and I wanted something of more definite substance, but I guess it is always best to leave the audience wanting more.

If you've been reading this series then I definitely recommend finishing it with The Tower Broken, which sees some remarkable improvement in Williams' writing and a brilliant conclusion. I would also recommend the series to fantasy fans who want a captivating read, but perhaps not if you're the kind of reader who will be irked by the more sketchier and inconsistent areas of the story.

I'd like to thank Mazarkis Williams and the publisher Jo Fletcher Books for providing me with a copy of this book for review. I also want to mention that while the digital version of the cover features a super strange and creepy man with a goatee, he is much more tastefully shadowed and mysterious in the hard copy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Orbit releases first two chapters of The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

I've never been one to read these early release chapters because they tend to make me unnecessarily worked up (as I'm sure they're intended to do) and then I just get depressed about having to wait for the rest. But for those of you who need your fix of Weeks, Orbit has released the first two chapters of book three of the Lightbringer series, The Broken Eye.

If you haven't read The Black Prism or The Blinding Knife, doooo nooooooottt click this link, there be spoilers ahoy! Instead, reprimand yourself for not reading them immediately upon their release and rectify immediately.

REVIEW: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

The premise of Steelheart really doesn't sit with what I usually like in a book and I discovered this when I tried explaining it to a non-fantasy/sci-fi reader.

"It's set on Earth, where this weird star has appeared in the sky and given some people super powers, like the ability to turn everything into steel or make it night all the time. But everyone who gets these powers are really awful people, or the powers turn them awful (we don't know yet) and so the world is being run by tyrannical super villians. The story is about a group of normal people who are trying to take down the villains, including the most powerful, Steelheart."

Not only does it sound like the corniest sci-fi trope that you could think of, it also sound suspiciously like Sanderson's previous novel, The Final Empire. Nevertheless, Sanderson's previous record of sensational writing and post-apocalyptic power struggles with the divine yet evil always has back for more.

I enjoyed Steelheart, but I would have to say it is my least favourite Sanderson novel so far. Previously this was Alloy of Law, which was only saved because it belonged to the Mistborn universe; I think I just have a beef with anything that moves into more sci-fi and modern day territory. Give me a traditional swords and sorcery fantasy any day.

The world-building and plot of Steelheart felt a lot shallower compared to previous works, due mostly of course to the relatively shorter length of the book and the fact that it was set on Earth. For the very first time in a Sanderson novel I felt myself becoming dissatisfied, or even bored halfway through. Things do get a little predictable in there.

Without giving anything away, it is the final chapters that really make up for the rest of the book, where Sanderson appears in all his shining glory to not only prove he had us fooled the whole time (as always) but to finally give us the meatiness we were craving.

Because of those final chapters alone I am now eagerly anticipating (Let's not kid ourselves, I was always going to throw any other book across the room as soon as a Sanderson appeared) to release of the sequel, Firefight, apparently in Fall 2014. But first, I want me some Words of Radiance!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brent Weeks shares new draft blurb for The Broken Eye

The Broken Eye is Weeks' third installment in his Lightbringer series and one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. In an email to fans, Week's shared a new draft blurb for the 900-page book, which is set to be released next August!
As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe.  But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley.  Worse, he no longer has the one thing that defined him — the ability to draft.

Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.
Read my review for The Black Prism here and The Blinding Knife here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

REVIEW: Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

Knife Sworn is the second installment in the Tower and Knife Trilogy after The Emperor's Knife (see my review - with spoilers - here).

What was frustrating earlier on quickly became a highlight for me in this novel - it was confusing as all hell. There's a lot to say about reading a story through the experience and perception of protagonists that are probably a little unhinged. As readers we take their word as gospel truth, especially after being privy to their internal dialogue. But when that view is limited, so too is ours, sometimes without us realising it.

Emperor Sarmin, affected by his closeted upbringing and now left with the aftershocks of being one of the Many as well as trying to rule Cerana, is not having a great time. There are gaps in his logic and memory, and we are swept into it without so much as a paddle, let alone a life raft. Grada is also one very strange individual, who the pressure has obviously gotten to.

The first third of the book leaves you struggling to keep up, giving you only snatches of information and certainly no solid ground to get your bearings. Characters such as as Nessaket and Rushes give us enough reprieve to get a semblance of a story together, but Sarmin remains thoroughly batty until the end. The magic and religion layered into the story are never explicitly explained or handed over to reason, although I found it easy in the end to roll along with the complex mystery of it all.

I did find that in comparison with book one, Knife Sworn feels like it was written by a different author, such is the change in tone and direction. Not even the characters feel the same. Even though the blurb claims that the book is the story of Sarmin and Mesema and focuses on Sarmin's decision to name a new Knife Sworn, this is hardly the case.

Mesema has been relegated to the role of bedside table, which is a real shame as she was a great presence in The Emperor's Knife. Sarmin and Mesema's relationship which seems to strong at the end of book one now seems almost non-existent. And on the matter of the Knife Sworn ... well it couldn't have had a less signficant role if it tried, not to mention that it was extremely late to the party.

Knife Sworn for me just felt like a watered-down version of The Emperor's Knife. Sarmin is once again faced with a new magical plague, tenuously linked to the Patterning. There's a half-hearted attempt at some political undertakings, but they really just die in the rear. What it ultimately feels like is that The Emperor's Knife was a story in itself, and that Knife Sworn is just left to find a sequel amongst the pieces, after most of the good characters have been killed off. The ending did have potential, but was extremely rushed and fell flat.

Honestly I don't really know how I feel about it all. It was truly a complex, mature and enjoyable read, and I was particularly drawn to the world that Williams created ... but some things were just a little inconsistent and rough for me; it lacked a clear purpose or drive. Nevertheless, still an interesting read if you like high fantasy with a strong signatory world and magic system.

Book three, The Tower Broken, comes out this November - still on my to be read list!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

REVIEW: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Firstly, to anyone out there who has been waiting to read The Republic of Thieves since finishing Red Seas Under Red Skies in 2007 ... my sincerest apologies to you. I on the other hand, read them both in the last two weeks. I mention this only partly as a glib taunt, but also because the lack of wait and anticipation colours my view in much the same way it did for my reviews of A Song of Ice and Fire, compared to those who waiting years between installments.

This is a series that has definitely been slow to grow on me. I found The Lies of Locke Lamora somewhat unremarkable and it took more than half of Red Seas to really start getting into a position of favour. I hit the ground running with Thieves, which picks up seamlessly from the events of book two, which was great for me, in much the same way as an accelerating getaway car avoids the long arm of the law.

But to the actual review! Thieves follows an almost identical formula from it's two predecessors, alternating between past and present. In this case, the past returns us to a time when the Gentlemen Bastards are still under the tutelage of Father Chains except that this time, lo and behold, we finally learn all about the mysterious Sabetha. It is not surprising in fact, that this whole book, in both timelines, revolves around Sabetha, or rather, her relationship with Locke.

All things considered, the choice to put off this part of the story until now worked quite well. The mystery of Sabetha was only referenced lightly in previous books; enough to create some suspense, but not nearly enough to frustrate or impede the story at hand. What I really loved was being able to go back and once again experience the characters (such as Calo and Galdo) that have since departed the story - there's nothing better than the joy of experiencing something that you thought lost. My only issue with Lynch's formula for each novel is that I feel that these 'past' events should have affected or at least have been referenced in 'present' events of previous books. While there are no major oversights, it still does feel a little bit like Lynch is creating or adding history retroactively.

The present day arc is equally as entertaining and flows smoothly alongside its past counterpart. Lynch cleverly mirrors both storylines; both telling of the kindling and rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's relationship respectively.

Locke Lamora continues to shine as the golden boy of this series and more and more brings to mind a younger and perhaps more adventurous Tyrion Lannister. Locke's unfailing wit reaches new heights in this installment and as things go from bad to worse, so too does his regard for his own well-being. This translates directly for us as the reader, to some downright laugh out loud moments. Even in his exposition, Lynch doesn't hold back on the colourful language.

Sabetha still remains a bit of a mystery to me and I can't help but feel only some of it can be put down to 'it's because she's a woman OoOoOoO.' Her and Locke obviously have a complicated relationship, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, I still can't figure out why. She seems to be incapable of handling even the slightest argument, instead choosing to flee the continent at any given moment. It all seems a bit too convenient for me.

The standalone highlight of this book is Lynch's masterful use of prose and vocabulary, making for a thoroughly crafted and intelligent read. I can't really elaborate more or give it higher praise than that, other than by saying he has the writer's equivalent of the comic timing of the world's best comedian. When the character's pause, you pause, when the action is happening, your adrenaline starts going and you read god damn faster!

The world of Locke Lamora continues to expand within the new settings of Karthain and Espara. While Lynch has never been one to spend copious amount of time describing the environment in detail, a colourful and unique world is built nonetheless. I think that by the end of the series the protagonists will have taken us through every city, one by one, book by book.

The tone of Thieves really surprised me and I actually found it very light on, especially compared to book two. Red Seas had us in dire straits (see what I did there) and managed to get some real emotional hooks in. This book not only felt briefer, but a lot safer. Although it could be seen as a nice respite it certainly makes Thieves stand out as a transitional book in a larger series, rather than a milestone in it's own right - a shame considering the six-year wait fans have endured.

I don't know how or why, but I was under the impression that Thieves was the last of a trilogy. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a shock ending, riddled with foreshadowing and catastrophic potential and then ask my good friend Google who tells me there are in fact seven books. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in for the long haul. And in that case, Lynch definitely needs to shake up the formula before things get downright repetitive and boring.

Which brings me to my biggest criticism of not only this book, but the series in general and certainly it's biggest downfall. Lynch ticks all the right boxes as I have mentioned above but somehow I'm still not hooked; there is no fire. I am definitely not aching to read the next book. Don't get me wrong, I will be sure to read it to get my next dose of scathing Lamora humour, but not because I care about the fate of the characters or story. I can't put my finger on why exactly this is the case, but it's a pretty major drawback. It's certainly a combination of feelings I have not experienced before.

I think if you have enjoyed the series so far then it is worth continuing with it; The Republic of Thieves maintains the elements that you have grown to love and gives you another shot of Lamora goodness (or wickedness). I'll be looking out for book four, The Thorn of Emberlain!

This is a review of an advanced reading copy supplied by the publisher. The Republic of Thieves is expected to be published on October 8th, 2013.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

REVIEW: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

I wasn't a huge fan of The Lies of Locke Lamora and I remember writing in my review that I would probably only read Red Seas Under Red Skies when I had nothing better to do. I was given an ARC for The Republic of Thieves, book three in this series, and thought I better do the right thing and you know, read the series in order.

I'm happy to say that I am now sold on the Locke Lamora franchise.

It was a slow start however. I found that almost the first half of Red Seas featured the some of the same elements of Lies that turned me off - chiefly, that it just didn't make me care about anything or anyone. I was never able to empathise with or experience the humanity of Locke or Jean. Sure they're hilariously witty and fabulous characters in their own regard, but I could have walked away from the book at any moment and not felt a pang of regret or curiosity. The Spire heist also felt very familiar to the Salvara gig in Lies.

The 'flashback' storytelling makes a return in this installment, but it by and large more successful than in book one, where it was just darn frustrating. Luckily (for me) this was abandoned by half way through, leaving us with a clear, linear chronology, as I think the whole series should have been.

There's a point in the story when events take a swift turn left off the road and go careening into the sea, which let's face it was to be expected. There's an ocean on the cover after all. To begin with I'm not sure how I felt about this ... it seemed like Lynch was doing a cut and run on the story so far, getting bored with current events and taking a sudden interest in all things nautical. I found myself thinking, "Ugh, how long is this going to take?".

However, that's where things finally got interesting. Firstly, we got some great fresh characters that weren't absurdly rich or powerful pompous asses with targets on their foreheads. And females at that too! Locke and Jean's relationship really starts to develop and that in turn increases the depth of their characters ten-fold. There's even a love interest, which was a highlight for me in this book.

The last fifth of this book was sheer brilliance. Lynch masterfully combines an incredible and mind-boggling triumph with more than a few tragic moments for our protagonists that had me considering whether I was going to put the book down and have a 'moment'.

Lynch's wit shown vicariously through Locke is prodigious and definitely on par with authors like Terry Pratchett. I mentioned this in my review for Lies but I'll say it again, Locke really is a protagonist for the ages. He's like those naughty kids in class who you know you shouldn't laugh at, but you can't help yourself because they're so inappropriately hilarious. 

Red Seas Under Red Skies was a big step up for me from The Lies of Locke Lamora, with definite growth evident in all areas of the story. It did take quite a while to warm up, but I guess I can say in the end it was worth it. This isn't a fantastically groundbreaking novel or series, especially if you're looking for something really fantastical to bite your teeth into, but it does offer excellent prose and intelligent humour abound. I'll be moving straight onto Republic of Thieves, which I must admit seems a luxury as some fans have been waiting six years since Red Seas was released ... sucks to be them!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

REVIEW: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

This was one of my most anticipated books of 2013 after reading Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns last year and wow did it live up to expectations! It takes a certain kind of book to keep me reading until 1:00am and this is one of them.

Bravery is a quality that I regard highly when it comes to novels, and The Broken Empire trilogy is oozing with it, both in terms of Lawrence's writing and the infamous protagonist, Jorg Ancrath. I was so pleased to see that even though some goodness and maturity had crept into Jorg as he grew older, he retained his ruthless and somewhat sociopathic tendencies that so endeared me to him. There is something so satisfying about being constantly caught off guard by a protagonist, particularly one written in first person. There are some truly delicious scenes (almost always involving a smattering of gruesome murder) that got my adrenaline going every time.

The structure of Emperor of Thorns is similar to it's predecessors, alternating between present and past events in a way that expertly reveals facts just in time to be of use, while eliminating premature spoilers. Some events in EoT take place before those in KoT and are used to flesh out and explain the shock ending to book two. Genius!

The world building in this installment introduces much more information about this post-apocalyptic Earth, creating stronger links to the now ancient past before 'The Day of A Thousand Suns'. This ticked so many boxes for me and my obsession with anything eschatological. Lawrence becomes more generous with detail and the story begins to rely more heavily on technology as well as real-world references, particularly geographical ones. There is even a comical inclusion involving a janitor. 

I did feel like to elements of the story that were introduced in this book and then became crucial to the conclusion arrived a little late to be fully credible, such as Kai Summerson and the 'sworn'. The conclusion was undeniably fantastic with some great choices and balance by Lawrence, although I couldn't help but feel it was a little too fantastical a climax for a story that was so grounded and gritty. I also questioned the level of skill and intelligence some characters, Jorg included, acquired at such a ridiculously young age.

The Broken Empire trilogy has undoubtedly become of my favourite series to date, up there with the works of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin. I was constantly impressed with the wickedly fast pace, the humour and wit, the fascinating story in an epic post-apocalyptic world and most of all, arguably the most engaging protagonist I have ever encountered. Here's to you Mark Lawrence!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

REVIEW: The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

The Crimson Crown is an absolutely brilliant conclusion to the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. I've thoroughly enjoyed this series and my only continual criticism is that it isn't long enough.

Elements that irked me from book three, The Gray Wolf Throne, were swiftly remedied in this installment. It felt as if Chima had held off all the good bits for the final book, leaving the penultimate novel a little safe and uneventful. The character of Crow for instance, finally became an integral part of things and his mysterious past revealed, although admittedly with little fanfare.

Like its predecessors, The Crimson Crown is fast-moving, easy to read, easy to love and well thought out. The plot is relatively simple, but absolutely water-tight, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves without the slightest interruption to the suspension of disbelief. This is a great book to sit down with for a day-long reading session (I did 8 hours today).

Chima does tend to skimp a bit on any kind of conflict, even though there is quite a lot of potential for it (there being a war going on and all). There is some half-hearted murdering and an attempt at some hostage situations, but it gets nowhere gritty enough and is glossed over a little. Of course this may just be the author aiming at a more YA audience.

All of the characters are instantly loveable, if more than a little archetypal. Raisa and Han make the perfect protagonists, backed up with some great secondary characters like Cat and Fire Dancer.

But the best thing about this series as I have mentioned is how easy it is to read and enjoy. After being immersed in Bradley P. Beaulieu's Lays of Anuskaya, which requires constant attention, it was really nice to not have to do any extra thinking. Not that that's always desirable, just an observation of this series in general. Give it a go for engaging, entertaining and fast read!

Friday, June 28, 2013

REVIEW: The Flames of Shadam Khoreh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Concisely: this story is brilliant and you should definitely read the entire trilogy.

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is an intensely satisfying and captivating read and a great ending to this series. Beaulieu has crafted an incredibly mature and complex story that seemingly never takes the easy way out. It was refreshing to experience characters that have changes of heart, who get things wrong and even at times, lead the reader completely astray with their conjecture. 

For me this book was a much truer reflection of humanity, which is more of a tangled web rather than a single thread. At times the story felt messy and unclear but I appreciated this for the complexity and touch of realism it gave.

While The Winds of Khalakovo dealt primarily with the politicking and conflict between and within the Grand Duchy and the Maharrat, The Straits of Galahesh and then more so The Flames of Shadam Khoreh not only bring more factions to the party, but begin to deal with the fate of the world on a grand, cosmic level - very similarly to Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. While I felt this was a great and natural progression for the story, I did miss the days of Winds, which I think is by far the best installment in this series. I would have been quite satisfied the remain in the realm of the courts of Anuskaya and seeing how that panned out, but instead the story takes vast leaps and bounds into infinitely bigger territory.

This is where it falls down a little for me. The protagonists in this series are great; Nikandr, Atiana, Nasim, Styophan, all consistent and well formed. However it is the secondary characters and antagonists that remain thoroughly confusing to me. Sukharam, Kaleh, Sariya, Bahett, Ushai ... all are so ill-defined that it actually seems that their presence is required only as plot devices when the need arises. Their motivations and allegiances change more often than the Prime Minister of Australia does and with very little justification. One moment Kaleh is a ruthless killer supporting Muqallad and Sariya and then she isn't and then she is and then she's is an innocent girl who's siding with the good guys ... Admittedly in some of these examples the characters are playing a ruse, but still. I mean, what the hell Ushai? WHAT IS YOUR DEAL!?

I swear some characters are brought along for the ride just to be petulant and/or obtuse.

This brings about problems in the story that I mentioned in my review of Straits, where it seems like Beaulieu has only a tentative grip on the hugely multifaceted magic system and tends to cut corners to position things where he needs them.

Taking all that into consideration, Flames is still brilliant and a credit to the fantasy genre. There are many strengths in this book I haven't even touched on (mostly because I brought them up in reviews of the two prequels) such as the exquisite use of language and names, impressive world-building and incredibly rich cultures that have been ingrained in the characters and story.

I will definitely be reading more of Beaulieu and you should too!

Monday, June 10, 2013

REVIEW: The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

It really took me a long time to get through this, not because of the book itself but because of my lack of reading time due to my various choreographic projects. But I finally found some free time this weekend and polished it off.

After reading and loving The Winds of Khalakovo I had high expectations for The Straits of Galahesh, some of which were met and some not. The brilliant things about this book were so easy to overlook because they resumed seamlessly from where they left off in Winds and because of the confident manner in which Beaulieu employed them.

The use of Russian culture and language was once again an absolute highlight, allowing this series to completely standout from a genre that is all about inventing a plethora or original place and character names. Unlike Winds, I found I was completely across the entire cast of characters and even most of the duchies/islands/cities/mountains/palotzas, which I have to admit made the second installment in the trilogy a lot easier to maneuver through.

The world of Straits is not described with great depth, yet it is still incredibly rich and well built and like most elements of the series, fresh. Built into the geography itself is (one of) the magic systems that I also found intriguing - matriarchs of each royal family who can enter the aether, which along with the spires, assist with the flight of the airships.

The story crafted by Beaulieu in Straits is complex, original, captivating and successful on many levels, however for me there were some things that really let it down. I have to preface this by saying that I, or my reading and understanding, may possibly be to blame and I stand ready to be corrected!

It seemed to be that Beaulieu had some pretty big plot holes in this one - well, not so much holes as parts that were totally contradictory or made little logical sense. Of course we take into consideration that magic is, well, magic and in essence is mysterious and unexplainable. But that's no get out of jail free. Worst of all were some examples where Beaulieu *seemed* to demonstrate that he didn't have a real grasp over elements of his own story.

The role of the akhoz was always dubious. They were created to stabilise the rift over Ghayavand, but the theory behind this is never explained at all and they then became a multipurpose tool and carted out for this and that ceremony. Then there is a conveniently easy ritual between Khamal and an akhoz which has such a huge effect with very little reasoning behind it. Yet (without giving too much away) when Sariya and Muqallad perform the same ritual with Nasim (a choice in itself that has no logic) it has an outcome that does not align with Khamal's at all. 

There are even just silly little things, like when one protagonist has to kill someone to achieve his goal, even though it is plain to every character in the scene that if he waited approximately 3.4 seconds longer, it wouldn't actually be necessary. It's OK though, because apparently everyone who is killed can be magically unkilled and keep living a little longer. Even more ridiculous is the fact that this protagonist develops the ability to stop time and somehow doesn't kill the bad guy who is an arms length away. But the bad guys can control anyone's mind at will ... they just choose not to sometimes ...

It's stuff like that that belongs in bad, overpriced Hollywood fantasy epics. It makes my blood boil.

Other than that I was still very confused about a few things, chiefly Sariya's true intentions and Muqallad's goals, but I think some of that came down to both my understanding of the text and Beaulieu's intentional vagueness (ie, saving it for later). There were a lot of twists and double-crossing which was great and made for a keep-you-guessing plot, but I don't feel like it was concluded very well.

While these provided some epic eye-roll moments for me, I still really enjoyed the essential story and craftsmanship of Straits and I was never even close to a moment where I was prepared to give up or anything of the like. 

I'm now a total BPB fan and will be moving straight onto The Flames of Shadam Khoreh to finish of the series. I would totally recommend that all fantasy fans give this series a go, just be prepared for some irksome moments if you're an anally retentive want-to-know-it-all like me!

Friday, March 1, 2013

REVIEW: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

It's been a very long time since I've ready a Discworld novel ... I started buying them and rereading them from the beginning in these lovely smart black covers. However, I've only ever read about a third of them in total, and I remember a friend really liking this one, so I skipped a few.

I also have to add that I've been on a bit of a reading hiatus and there is only one entity to blame: Pokemon. For some reason or another I have become heavily addicted to my Pokemon Black 2 game for the DS, brought on by the revelation that I can connect to the Internet and open up a whole other realm of possibilities, much to the dismay of my Pokemon-hating partner.

Anywho, I did get around to finishing off Going Postal, which I have to say stands up there with the best of the Discworld novels. I mean, pretty much anything featuring Vetinari is a winner for me as he is the epitome of the dry-as-a-nun's-vagina-humour that Pratchett does oh so very well.
"This woman might have been two women. She certainly had the cubic capacity and, since she was dressed entirely in white, looked rather like an iceberg. But chillier. And with sails. And with a headdress starched to a cutting edge. Two smaller women stood behind and on either side of her, in definite danger of being crushed if she stepped backwards."
I have become aware of the fact that most male protagonists of Pratchett's are in essence quite similar, as well as the use of the same humour book to book, and so even though I have loved and admired the Discworld series from a young age, I find myself in constant fear of finding it repetitive and tired. I mean, it hasn't happened quite yet, but no longer do I cry with laughter as I used to (I merely chuckle inwardly).

I did enjoy reading from the viewpoint of Moist von Lipwig, who while also constantly aware of the madness of the world around him, isn't quite so passive and downright petrified as a character like Rincewind. He likes to take charge and make the impossible possible, and if you can't, well it was impossible to begin with right?

The biggest highlight of the book was the use of the best pun I have to say I have ever come across in 'Deliver Us' at which I 'lost my shit'. I was a little disappointed at the turn of events part way through in which said delivering was rendered not applicable, however the thread of the story remained satisfying and relevant.

Even though Discworld is entirely fictional, I can't help but see the mirror that it holds up to the real world - and it's a brutally honest one. I have a feeling that if everyone in the world thought like Mr. Terry Pratchett, then it would be a hell of lot better a place. Not only would we be calling a spade a spade, but the spade would then not be offended by being called a spade (rather than it's preferred name, manual handled digging device); none of this PC bull crap.

So really, a very rambling and non-informative not-really-a-review. Ain't nobody got time for actually analyzing Discworld. Alright, back to Pokemon!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

REVIEW: Vengeance by Ian Irvine

It is with a large amount of sadness that I say that this is one of the most disappointing reads I have ever encountered. Irvine has for many years been an author I have held in high esteem, if not one of my favourites, for his Three Worlds saga. Apart from being the first book I ever bought, The View From the Mirror series had such a profound effect on me (I even did an independent study on it in high school) and so I was really looking forward to a new work by Irvine.

To put it bluntly, this book felt like it was written by an inexperienced teenager. Nearly every element of Vengeance was so clumsy and inconsistent, I had to pause at least once every two pages to roll my eyes or wrinkle my nose with distaste. I even completely gave up a quarter of the way through and after a week's break, had to force myself to finish it.

Rix is by far the most perplexing protagonist in the history of everything. Even by the end I had no idea what his character actually was. His reactions and reasoning are so ridiculous in some scenes, it sounds like he is being narrated by a six year old girl. 

Many of the books problems come from the pace. In two pages, Rix lusts after another character, swears to remain chaste, meets said character, leers, becomes revolted by her and then randomly rides away, leaving his companion behind for no discernible reason other than it helps the plot along. Absolutely nothing about the characters is precedented or follows through other than Tobry's 'mortal fear of shifters', which Irvine mentions no less than fifty bajillion times.

There are even many situations where the characters leave a climactic and dire situation, which should leave them emotionally and mentally if not physically wounded, and yet mere hours later they are chilling on the couch with wine. Absolutely zero consistency in anyway shape or form.

Don't even get me started on the gaping plot holes, not the least of which is a glaringly obvious oversight in the chronology of things which leaves a good sixty year gap in a part of the backstory.

Vengeance in some ways is very similar to Irvine's previous work; he definitely knows how to stick it to his protagonists, getting them in sticky (that's putting it lightly) situation again and again without reprieve. However, while I think this really worked in the Three Worlds saga, it was overkilled in Vengeance to the point where it became exasperating and unbelievable.

The story itself, while improving dramatically in the last half when elements finally started coming together, was unnecessarily complicated in parts and vastly underdeveloped in others. The terminology introduced in Cython was ridiculously confusing and more than a little naff - actually a lot of things in this book were naff ... like naming the volcanoes 'the vomits'.

The greatest problem I had was that in fact I believed the antagonists to be in the right and began rooting for them ... and it wasn't done in any kind of clever 'there are no clearly good or evil' way either, it was just that the protagonists were clearly on the side that started the whole thing and were in the wrong. 

Were there any good things about Vengeance? I have to admit that by the last half I was a lot more invested in the story and it became generally easier to read, although whether this was because it had actually gotten better or that I had just become accustomed to it, I'm not sure. Tali is a character is far more consistent and interesting and was honestly this books saving grace - she reminded me quite a lot of Karan and Tiaan, two of Irvine's previous strong female protagonists.

By the end of the book I was really ready for it all to wrap up, and it could have, except Irvine then throws in some extremely late minute curve balls, setting up for the next two books. I do feel like I want to continue with the story, but only out of obligation rather than because I actually enjoyed it.

So other than harbouring some bitter disappointment, I am now genuinely perplexed as to how an author can produce works of such vastly different quality ... one friend suggested that he got a ghost writer to do it ... it wouldn't surprise me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in Retrospect

So it's been a big reading year for me, literally reading double the amount of books that I read in 2011. This probably has a lot to do with not studying the final year of my degree, which involved over 50 contact hours a week. 

Obviously there aren't enough books here to make up a top ten or some such list and I even struggle to pick my top/favourite read for the year (usually my favourite book is the one I most recently finished). I can pick a few standouts however. Firstly I have to mention the A Song of Ice and Fire series (an obvious choice) but one that I think is always understated. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and The Blinding Knife were my favourites for the year.

I don't think 2013 will bring another doubling of books read (unless I quit my job) but I will be aiming for a similar amount. I've been thinking for a while that this year I want to tackle the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

A visual list is below. Happy New Year everyone!