The second book of The Stormlight Archives, WORDS OF RADIANCE, comes crashing down on us after a near four year absence. And ooh boy, does book 2 deliver on what it's promising. If you haven't read the first one, THE WAY OF KINGS, go read the review here, and then buy the book at the link at the bottom of the page. Finishing the last Wheel of Time book kept Brandon Sanderson busy, and it's obvious that he picked up a few things from Jordan, both good and bad.
Let's start with the good, eh? This book clarifies and answers a lot of the questions the first book left us with. Questions about the Knights Radiant and where they went, how they came into be, and more are all explained very well here. Explanations about lashings, magic, and creatures permeate this book, letting you know why certain things are the way they are in Roshar. All of it, literally every scene is painted in a way that grabs your attention and demands you look closer at the world.
The fight scenes are beautifully realized making them quite easy to picture and visualize. Some of these scenes highlight what Sanderson learned from the combat scenes in MISTBORN, (can't say too much, spoilers). But unlike his first book, his descriptions serve us well in envisioning his heroes. In the first novel, it seemed like Dalinar was the only character I really got a solid feel for. This time, the dialogue has improved dramatically, and I found myself enjoying some of the other characters much more. Shallan and Jasnah in particular leapt off the page in a way that I felt the first book failed to deliver. The interludes showcased different characters, including new viewpoints that brought the world into sharper focus.
Brandon added a time-bomb to this book and it drives his story. The idea of the deadline kept most of the pacing quick and focused around the shared threat, and the fact that most of the characters eventually end up in the same location helps to keep his story on track in a way the first book lagged through. (I'm looking at you, Jasnah).
Brandon has really dug his teeth into this epic fantasy and his careful world building helped to keep the readers on track. When Brandon stays on track, this book is great, and when it's great, it's really showing why Brandon has such a following and why he was picked to finish one of the most popular fantasy series of all time. This is his best work to date.
But, no one is perfect, and a tome weighing in at over 1000 pages has a lot of room for errors. There were times when Brandon left the pacing behind and gets distracted enjoying his own characters (this time I'm looking at you, Kaladin). The setting is great and his detailed worlds is what drives Brandon's success, but there are a few points where he wanders into unnecessary details--he could have trimmed 100 pages off this book, maybe more.
And the cover art. I'm a huge Whelan fan. I hunted down his Stormbringer book cover just to own it, and I loved his A MEMORY OF LIGHT and THE WAY OF KINGS covers. However, this cover just doesn't do it for me. It turned me off on the book before I even started reading it. I am very disappointed and I know Whelan can deliver a much more epic and heroic-looking piece. I hope he does the third book and gets a chance to show off. That being said, there is some bonus art from Whelan as the endpapers for the hardback novel, and it's awesome.
Brandon learned a lot from Jordan and picked up some great habits...and some very bad ones. Long-winded exposition pushed me away from the stories a few times, while some dialogue jarred me out of his characters. A lack of conflict and action bogged the book down a bit in the middle.
All of these issues pale when you get to the final tenth of the book. Suddenly, the first 1900 pages of this series make sense, and you get a pay-off that's two books in the making. And man, oh man, oh man, oh man, is it one heck of a payoff. That end section alone should cement Brandon in the halls of epic fantasy for all time.
If you like epic fantasy, Sanderson, or awesomeness in book form, you should probably read WORDS OF RADIANCE. In fact, who am I kidding? Everyone should read this book. And the first one. You won't regret it. I promise.
Recommended Age: 13+
Language: In-universe cursing
Violence: Not as much as the first book, but it's there, especially at the end (one scene was particularly brutal)
Find the first two books of the Stormlight Archives here:
THE WAY OF KINGS
WORDS OF RADIANCE
Does this look familiar? It should. I originally posted this review back in 2010. So why am I redirecting you to it now? Well, because this awesome collection can be purchased with ease now, and without murdering your wallet, from Tachyon Publications. This is the collection I recommend to everyone who is new to Joe R. Lansdale, because I loved it so much when I first read it in 2010. So anywho, here is the review for any of you who missed it the first time around.
I like supernatural stuff. I like the Old West. It doesn't take a genius to see that I really like supernatural stuff in the Old West. DEADMAN'S ROAD, by Joe Lansdale, nicely fills that niche. In short, this collection of short stories and a novella make for pure entertainment.
The stories in this collection star Reverend Jebidiah Mercer. He's your typical Old West Reverend...well apart from his alcohol addiction, gunslinger skills, and his penchant for violence. You see, he sees himself as the Lord's Messenger in the Old Testament sense. Wrathful and all that. He is a compelling character that, despite his faults (or perhaps because of them), you love to root for him.
DEADMAN'S ROAD contains the following stories: "Dead in the West", "Deadman's Road", "The Gentleman's Hotel", "The Crawling Sky", and "The Dark Down There".
"Dead in the West" is the novella that introduced the world to the good Reverend. It all has to do with an Indian Curse that leads to a zombie infestation. This story takes up over half of the collection, and it is easily the strongest of all the Reverend's adventures. It is in this story that we see the most character development, and the best story and plot progression. Really, the collection is defined by this story, and it manages to have that pulp quality while still managing to give a light (but distinct, in my opinion) literary flavor.
The remaining tales are all short stories, ridiculously fun, and pack serious punch. "Deadman's Road" deals with a ghoul of sorts. "The Gentleman's Hotel" has ghosts and werewolves. "The Crawling Sky" deals with some bizarre creature thing that wants to kill the Reverend. Lastly, "The Dark Down There" is about a pack of kobolds killing miners with the Reverend teaming up with a 300-pound woman named Flower. While all the stories are awesome, none of them match the strength of the novella "Dead in the West", which has me begging for a TV series and more stories from the Reverend. That being said, "Deadman's Road" and "The Gentleman's Hotel" were my favorites of the shorts.
The overall positive this collection brings is Lansdale's pure ability to give the readers an uncompromisable, visceral description of the horrors the Reverend is facing. He describes the grotesque in a way rarely ever seen. Amidst all the horror and supernatural, Lansdale never loses sight of the western flavor of the stories. The Reverend is put into intense, horrific situations that grab you by the head and force your eye-lids open so you get every gut-wrenching detail. It is this near perfect blend of western horror that makes this collection one that should be read by every horror-lover out there.
What an amazing collection...
Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: All sorts.
Violence: This is a seriously grim and grisly collection. Awesome right?
Sex: Mentioned quite a bit.
Here's your link! Quit screwing around and buy this book! DEADMAN'S ROAD
Note 3-5-2014: This collection was my first exposure to Joe Lansdale, and not only has he quickly become one of my favorite authors, but he has changed how I read and write Horror. I had the opportunity just over a month ago to sit down for lunch with Mr. Lansdale, his lovely wife, daughter Kasey, and son Keith. Quite simply, they are one of the nicest, most genuine families I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
This anthology has attached to it one of those feel-good kind of stories that just makes you want to buy the thing. The editor, Shawn Speakman, contracted Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011, accrued a bundle of debt because he didn't have health insurance at the time, and these stories were put together as a means by which to alleviate some of that debt. Each of the stories contained in the anthology were ones that the authors contributed freely to Mr. Speakman's cause and showed them to rally round the flag, so to speak, of a fellow author that was in need. It was a reminder to me that even big-name authors are real people with real problems too. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that. So regardless of what I thought of this anthology (it was good, people – don't let my little misdirections fool you) my hat goes off to each of the authors that contributed to the anthology. Bravo, my friends. Bravo.
UNFETTERED is an anthology of 23 stories written by 22 different authors (Terry Brooks, had two) that had essentially no direction given to them at all. This was a “make an offering” kind of anthology. Some were new, some were old. Some were great. Some not so much. There was fantasy, and sci-fi, and a few that were more like “what?”. My breakdown of the stories into our typical rating categories landed thus:
Didn't Like: 2
So, for an anthology, that's pretty dang good, people. There was a ton of great stuff here. A few of of the authors were new to me. Several of their stories made me want to find more of their core writing. That's one of the really cool things about anthologies, in my opinion. Gives you a good idea of an author's writing and story-telling ability without having to give over too much of financial or temporal commitment. I've outlined a few of my favorites (so hard to choose...)
Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey -- Started slow but ended grrrrreat. This is a previously-unpublished story that sparked the religion in her Kushiel series. Two nobles, one from a foreign country, speak about the current state of affairs and some of the religion of the local country. A man accused of murder is chased by the local guardsmen past these two men. They observe the ensuing events and are forever changed by them.
Mudboy by Peter V. Brett -- This story was going to be an introduction for a new character in his third book, but it was ultimately cut. Very young boy, living with his family in the demon-infested lands of Brett's world makes a mistake that he'll never forget. Really well-done. Made me want to read more of Brett's stuff.
Heaven in a Wild Flower by Blake Charlton -- Post-apocalyptic USA where some kind of atomic bomb has resulted in a large amount of people being reincarnated over and over again. There are still some natural-borns, but they are dying off. When a natural-born finds a floating, reincarnated baby, if they pick it up, there are some kind of nanobots that connect the two such that if the child dies, then the parent also dies. This was one of the stories that had the most direct connection to cancer. Really well done.
Select Mode by Mark Lawrence -- Main character is a teenage version of the main character from his Thorns trilogy. Kid is being taken to be judged by an "arch" along with another man. He is expecting to be killed. Very well-written. Feels kind of old-school medievalish but there are obvious sci-fi elements that are part of the surroundings. This is exactly the kind of stuff I expected from Richard Morgan's fantasy books, but didn't get.
There were lots of others that I really liked (Daniel Abraham's, for example), and a few that I could have done without. Some of the longest were the worst, in my not-so-humble opinion, and I wasn't surprised to find that my opinion of those stories coincided with our opinions of the author's other work here at EBR. And because everyone is going to ask about it, the Wheel of Time story was okay. In all, I'm glad that it was cut out of the book. It totally didn't fit with the rest of the story in AMoL. So, cheers all around for that.
This is a great anthology, for those that like what they have to offer. Yes, it's pretty stacked with great authors, so my overall enjoyment of it wasn't all that surprising. Actually, after I had read the introduction (written by Mr. Patrick Rothfuss) I was convinced that even if all the stories in the anthology absolutely sucked, the cost of the book was worth the introduction. He did a bang up job of it.
All around, a great offering from the publishing world, and well-worth my purchase.
Recommended Age: 15+
Violence: There's definitely some violence (did you see Mark Lawrence's name in the author list?), and it occasionally got gory
Profanity: A light sprinkling of the entire range, but nothing egregious
Sex: Nothing memorable
Your link: Unfettered
Thousands of years in the future humans have created an inter-planetary empire, and they've done it by using powerful starships to take over human and alien planets. While the starship officers are human, the crew is comprised of ancillaries, people who resisted empire annexation of their home planets, taken into custody and stored for future use. An ancillary's mind and identity is wiped when they're hooked into the ship's central AI--in essence, an ancillary is the ship.
Breq used to be an ancillary to the starship Justice of Toren, but is the only survivor. The separation from her ship is sometimes disorienting for her, but at the same time what she learned while an ancillary has made her deadly. And she plans to use that ability to seek revenge for what was taken, even from the Lord of the Radch herself.
Ann Leckie takes her time telling Breq's story in ANCILLARY JUSTICE. We're told in parallel the current story (the quest) and past events when Breq was an ancillary (the why for the quest). The result is a slow narrative as Leckie attempts to reveal piece by piece the whole sordid story and the politics surrounding it. The prose is clean with the feel of Le Guin or other writers of that era, without being overbearing. The writing doesn't draw attention to itself, but I still found myself stepping back to study what Leckie was doing because it seemed so effortless yet evocative.
While the second half of the book moves quicker that the first, it's still slow, and that will put off more action-oriented science fiction readers. The plot is straightforward, but it's the deliberate pace of the story that will deceive you into thinking it's more complicated than it really is. So what's the problem causing this tepid pacing? It's Breq's navel-gazing.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE tries to be a space opera, but first-person narration focuses the story so pin-point small on the PoV narrator that there's not a lot of room left to help readers understand the true scope of events. Don't get me wrong, I was utterly fascinated with Breq's story, what she was, or rather what she had been, and how that defines her. How she misses what she once was and doesn't seem to wonder who she was before she was an ancillary. But it is this very character-oriented story that will frustrate readers because Leckie hints that there is so much more, but can't give it to us because of the limitations of the narrative.
And what else is there? There are many different worlds. There are aliens. There are AI ships and an ever-expanding empire--and don't forget the ancillaries. There's the Lord of the Radch, who has cloned herself in order to rule said empire, and is in effect immortal...yet also at war with herself. There is a sort-of caste system. There is some gender bending (the Radch language uses "she" for male and female) that drove me crazy but at the same time was also oddly liberating--it kept me focused on what made these people tick beyond their gender, which can influence how we see even fictional characters.
There's early buzz for this book, putting it on the short-list for awards season. Certainly ANCILLARY JUSTICE was different in a lot of good ways, and written by a lady with serious writing chops. But at the same time you can't compare her to a Lois McMaster Bujold or an Ian M. Banks, obviously, because Leckie is starting out and Bujold/Banks (and others too numerous to mention here) are firmly established in the genre, and have even broached the same issues Leckie has. But where Leckie is scratching the surface, Bujold/Banks have been digging in the trenches for years and have shown us consistently the wonder and awe of the universe. Whether Leckie deserves the buzz is yet to be seen, because right now ANCILLARY JUSTICE isn't enough to stand on its own.
Recommended Age: 16+ more for comprehension than content
Language: Maybe five instances
Violence: A handful of instances, and while blood is referenced there is little detail
Find this book here:
Luna Masterson can see demons. Unfortunately most other folks can't, so she's concerned that everyone thinks she's crazy. Like her brother, Seth, who is patiently skeptical. She lives with him and her one-year-old niece so she can help out after his wife abandons them. Luna does her best to not shake things up so she can be there for her family.
Until she meets Reed Taylor, who talks to something that people can't see...only it's not a demon (yep, it turns out that angels do exist!). Luna and Reed's mutual interest is apparent from the start, and he asks her out. But in true Luna style she messes up their first date; of course, she can blame the demons for that one.
The fight with the demon turns out to be game changing because it "marks" her, which is like sticking a homing beacon on her, only she can't get rid of it. Now every demon she happens across has it out for her, and she begins to realize that there's a reason the stakes have changed, and she knows she needs to find out why or else her very soul is at risk.
NAMELESS is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series called The Bone Angel Trilogy by Mercedes M. Yardley. The story is told from Luna's funny (seriously, I lol'd) and witty first-person PoV. It's her narrative that carries the story as she tries to figure out not only what's going on, but also her place in a world where demons influence people, but 99.9% of the population doesn't see any of it or even believe it's happening. She hasn't quite figured out her role in all of this--it doesn't help that she's inherited this ability from a father who never really understood his purpose, either.
And therein lies the rub. She doesn't know why she sees demons. She can do some sort of thing that protects a house from them, but we never learn how. Does this mean she has magic? Or is it as simple as pouring salt around the foundation? She can beat up the demons, but I'm not sure how she can (she uses her fists, knives, and general cat-like fury), or even what happens to them when she's successful. Demons talk to her, and most want to possess her, while others sort of float around, and yet others want to "help"--which pretty much only involves warning her that bad things are going to happen. She doesn't seem much interested in solving her lack of education in all things demon. There are the beginnings of world-building--demon hierarchy, demons can only come in a house when invited, etc--but it falls flat because so much is left unexplained. The concept for the book is there, but the story still felt full of holes, like it's a glorified outline without the detail to give it depth and interest.
The plot is a simple one that moves forward in a straightforward and predictable fashion clear up to the end. The pacing and flow suffers from the occasional hiccup in scene movement and jumps in time--the short, choppy chapters don't help this problem. The novel reads more like an introduction to Luna and her relationship with Reed than a set-up to a trilogy. I'm not clear what Yardley was trying to accomplish with this first book, but since the book read fast and I enjoyed Luna's voice, I'm willing to try book two and see where the story goes.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A handful
Violence: A fair amount of blood and other unpleasant imagery
Sex: A reference to an affair but without detail
Find this book here:
One hundred years ago Telsharu was imprisoned after a failed attempt to kill the emperor. Telsharu still lives, and in the opening pages of THE TALE OF TELSHARU, he secures his escape from prison in order to finish the quest he began all those years ago.
Xansul, the youngest son of a noble house, secretly leads a group of rebels who struggle for freedom against a tyrannical emperor. He risks his own life and the future of his freedom fighters when one night he sneaks onto the palace grounds to test the security.
ShianMai, the emperor's youngest daughter, wants only to gain her father's favor, and works via politics to bring down the rebels by exposing their sympathizers and leadership. But her naiveté puts herself and those she loves in danger.
Daryun and Aisina operate their own martial arts training school in the mountains far north of the Imperial City, but even that remoteness doesn't shield Daryun from his duty to aid the empire when the famed prisoner Telsharu escapes.
Sure TELSHARU borrows from well-known stories like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and even Kung-Fu Panda--but then Mechling and Stubbs turn those stories on their heads, taking the familiar and breathing into it new life. It's a good thing, too, because the opening prologue and chapters felt a little quaint and even silly, the prose too self-aware (even by the end when I was used to the prose's rhythm, I still stumbled over some of the phrasing), the setting rather ordinary and full of unfamiliar words. But what will grab you here are the characters and the very difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
Told in a rotating third-person PoV between Daryun, Aisina, Xansul, ShianMai, and Telsharu, we come to appreciate their distinct personalities: Daryun's humble strength, Aisinia's determination, Xansul's sense of justice, and ShianMai's innocence. These are their strengths and their weaknesses. I enjoyed each couple's relationships with each other, how they support each other, and become better people by knowing the other--it is these characters who will carry me to the sequel. Even the villainous Telsharu's actions and motivations were choreographed with an empathetic hand.
The setting is a pretty standard Sho-gun Era meets Ancient China. However, the authors weave more details into the story about martial arts itself, the different disciplines, how warriors incorporate it into their own lives. This knowledge isn't tacked on, it's an integral part of the story. Even the way demons are introduced into the story feels seamless and natural. The fights had a sense of detail about how true fights worked, and as a result they felt real and visceral, even if flashy at times (not necessarily a bad thing).
The pace is consistent throughout the novel, the plot moving forward at a steady clip, with enough twists and tension to suck you into what at first seems a borrowed story, but eventually evolves into something more. It didn't go where I expected it to, and by the exciting end I was drawn into the disastrous choices the main characters make--for good reasons or for bad--and the equally disastrous consequences. I'm interested in seeing how the Tales of the Seventh Empire series continues.
Recommended Age: 14+, it would actually be a great book for young teen boys who like ninjas and whose parents want to keep their books clean
Violence: A fair amount scattered throughout; blood, death, torture, but lacking grisly detail
Find this book here:
THE TALE OF TELSHARU
The sequel recently came out:
THE SCOURGE OF NARAK
James and his wife Linda are scientists at the famous biotech company GeneFirm, where they've engineered a gene therapy that will eradicate cancer as we know it. But the world's population may not get the chance to enjoy a cancer-free future when a deadly supervirus outbreak becomes a world-wide pandemic.
Pat is paid a visit by agents of The Department of Homeland Health Care (HHC) to inform him that his BMI over 30 has qualified him for a mandatory "health retreat" where he will learn to curb his caloric intake as well as explore the benefits of regular exercise. The retreat ends up being as horrific as he expects; but the ray of light is the exotic co-ed Modest, who's inherited her mother's gene-manipulated pink hair and cat eyes.
Joshua Alan Parry starts VIRUS THIRTEEN at a sprint, and the story's pace ramps up as we're carried along as James tries to discover what's really going on, as Pat tries to survive the rigors of the retreat, as the HHC agents go about their job--all clear up to the explosive ending. But despite the pace, the "thriller" label, and the mere 310 page length, I took forever to read this book. Here's why:
I just didn't care.
Maybe it was the flat characters. James--even though he's the main character--wasn't more than a superficial supposedly brilliant scientist with a beautiful wife and smart kids. Pat was the fat guy who...wait, I'm not sure what his purpose was in this book other than to show how horrible the new government bureaucracy is. There's the HHC agents Mac and Marnoy who provide an odd sort of comic relief. There are various other characters we slip into the minds of. All shallow.
Maybe it was the omniscient PoV narrative that flitted between characters within the scene. At first it was okay, but the last couple of chapters caused a severe case of whiplash. The prose was easy enough on the eyes, but the descriptions were clumsy, including the awkward cliched metaphors.
Maybe it was the simple plot and predictable ending. The science is interesting at a basic level, but it never really fleshes out beyond the idea. Not to mention the inconsistencies and flaws in the narrative (brain surgery but walking and having sex the next day; etc), so many things are left unexplained. Maybe I didn't care because it was all these things together that made this story forgettable.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Scattered throughout
Violence: Some blood and death, but not gruesome
Sex: Referenced and brief scenes
Find this book here:
Captured as a slave while a child, Laura escapes and finds a new life in the home of a mountain healer and midwife. Clever and industrious, Laura learns her new profession so well that her adoptive mother, Crescia, sends her to Solerno's famed medical school so she can become a physician and bring her worldly learning back to the midwife's humble cottage.
Laura works hard to be accepted among her male peers--this is thirteenth century Italy, after all, so that's no easy task--but her medical brilliance is impossible to ignore. However, having lived a sheltered life with Crescia, Laura finds herself unprepared when she falls in love with another student, and makes a choice that changes the rest of her life.
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, but there's no magic. In fact, SOLD treats the fairytale as though it symbolizes the everyday human experience. Let me explain, and even though you know the Rapunzel story, I'll try not to spoil Robins' retelling for you.
Told via the women (and a little by a man), SOLD is the story of women's experience with love, motherhood, profession, and heartache. Laura's family was killed by slavers, but with Crescia's help she overcomes her fears. Not that Laura is weak, she is far from it; in fact she can be rather single-minded, to her detriment. Agnesa is the young, innocent bride of a favorable union of mercer houses. She looks up to the educated medica Laura, and seeks her friendship and medical advice in conceiving a much-wanted child. Beita is Laura's young adopted daughter, willing to please, but also curious about the world around her. Her mother wants her to be accepted into the medical school, but as Beita grows to womanhood she comes to understand that her shortcomings may disappoint her mother.
With the limitations of a short book and three distinct PoV characters it was hard to get very deep into their personalities; even if what we were shown was interesting, it still felt like only an introduction. Still, I liked Laura, Agnesa, and Bieta (and token PoV male Tibalt), I only wished there were more.
The setting was well-done, and it was easy to visualize the hills above Solerno, the city itself, and the people who lived there. The dialogue, details of everyday life, and even the people themselves added to the story that made the era come alive for me. The pacing was steady, and even though it doesn't move particularly fast, I found myself quickly engrossed in the story. SOLD is an easy book to read, Robins' prose is flawless and carries the story from scene to scene with grace and beauty.
Despite the quality of the writing, the novel isn't perfect. Rapunzel is not an easy story to work around, but Robins does her best to make sense of what the fairytale could have meant underneath the drama of long hair, a maiden in the tower, a handsome prince, and an ugly witch. Some readers may be disappointed by the story's simplicity, no magic, and lack of feeling like a fairytale. Despite the inherent tragedy of Rapunzel's story, the retelling has a sweet tone, and ultimately the theme is one of love and forgiveness.
Recommended Age: 17+
Violence: Some peril and death, but relatively mild
Sex: Since there are three different love stories sex is referenced fairly frequently; there is one graphic scene and other less-detailed scenes; rape is referenced
Find this sweet book here:
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE
After having only very recently lauded praises on Mr. Abraham for a great middle book in his urban fantasy series (EBR review), I found it kind of humorous that I would now be writing a review for a great middle book in his epic fantasy series (no need to go anywhere for that review--you can just keep reading and find it presently). This guy keeps putting out quality books, and it's no surprise that this is yet another in his growing list of entries to our Books We Love.
THE TYRANT'S LAW is the third book of The Dagger and The Coin epic fantasy series by Daniel Abraham. Halfway done now and though it seems like there is so much left to go, there are only two books left to come. This book picks up where the previous one in the series, KING'S BLOOD (EBR review), left off, and follows the same four characters.
Geder Palliako, Lord Regent of Imperial Antea is continuing his war against the fleeting goal of wide-spread peace and stability for the kingdom. He's sending his armies and bands of his Spider Priests to bring one nation after another beneath the banner of the spider goddess, spreading himself far beyond the point of thin. Yet despite his success and power, his weakness and driving desire to find true friendship allow him to be shifted by the many winds that are blowing.
Beneath Geder's nose, living in the Antean capital city of Camnipol, Clara Kalliam has begun in earnest to try and manipulate the social and political strings with which she is so familiar and is yet now far-removed from after being ostracized from the court after her husband's assassination attempt on the Lord Regent.
Cithrin bel Sarcour has become an official apprentice of the Medean Bank and is sent to a far off city to work beneath the tutelage of its Magistra and learn how the bank manages its dealings. Yardem Hane accompanies her in the absence of Captain Marcus Wester, and for a time they believe that Geder's war will not reach them. But they soon find they are wrong.
Marcus Wester accompanies Master Kit in his quest for a rumored poisoned sword in far-off Lyonea with which they mean to kill the goddess of the Spider Priests and terminate the domination that Master Kit is certain will otherwise come to pass.
Again, as in previous books of the series, character development is key to this story. It's just one of the reasons I loved the book so much. Abraham handles each of these stories with a deft hand, showing the shaping and formation of the people each of these characters is becoming. Cithrin, as she grows more into the woman that she's been pretending at for so long now, and in her fight against the inner demons of her past experiences and choices. Geder, as he is torn between wanting what is good and right for the future of Antea and handling the horrible weight and intoxicating power that comes with his position. He wants it all so badly, that it takes very little for those around him to manipulate him to their purposes. Clara, as she learns to control the world from within her new set of limitations and place in the Antean court. In a lesser-author's hands, these character changes could easily have come off feeling weak and contrived. But not here. There is a breath and life to these characters that makes it all just seem...right. This is how it would have happened had it been real.
Purely fiction? Says who?
Solid writing. Steady world-building. Great pacing. Each and every chapter accomplishes something important. All the boring parts of the story have been left out. Hooray! He gives us brick after sturdy brick in this wall, building to an ending that will change everything. I was completely unprepared for just how central Clara is becoming to the story. Or for what Captain Wester and Master Kit find in their travels. Or for the choice that Geder makes at the end that may very well begin the process of his eventual fall. Each piece of this puzzle elucidates more of what is really behind everything that has come before, all that is now, and all that will yet be. While along the way we learn just what The Dagger and The Coin really mean to this world that is painted vivid and replete with texture.
This is fantasy how it is meant to be done, people. Take a word of advice from those that know. This is not a series to miss. Mr. Abraham is not an author to pass by. Buy his books. Be part of the reason that he gets to keep doing what he loves to do so that we can keep reading the stories that we love to read.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Not very much, but offerings from the full gamut are included.
Violence: There is a war going on, so it's discussed quite a bit, low levels of violence, no gore.
Sex: One high-level scene, general references, and some mild discussion.
And the links:
THE DRAGON'S PATH
THE KING'S BLOOD
THE TYRANT'S LAW
I swear, I don't have a man crush on Daniel Abraham. Neither does anyone else here at EBR...
...OK that isn't entirely true.
Look, the dude is awesome. Whether he's writing Urban Fantasy under the name of M.L.N. Hanover, or straight-up Fantasy as Daniel Abraham, he's equally good. Same goes for James S.A. Corey, which is the name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck working together while writing Science Fiction. I don't want to sound like I'm giving all the credit to Abraham for the works of James S.A. Corey. I'm not. Ty Franck is doing his part, and absolutely killing it. I mean...geez.
I'm gonna open up here. I just don't like Science Fiction that much. I keep trying, and trying, only to find the same things that bother me. Shallow characters. Over-reliance on neat technology. Assuming the reader has a PHD in Theoretical Physics. Ignoring basic Physics that even an idiot like me can see through.
The pair that makes up James S.A. Corey somehow understand my pain, and those that share it.
ABADDON'S GATE is the third novel in The Expanse, and while it has many of the issues of the typical middle book of a series, it is still far-and-away one of the best SF series on the market today.
This newest novel follows Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante as they join a massive flotilla going to investigate the gate opened by the protomolecule at the end of CALIBAN'S WAR. Before I go on, I have to warn anyone reading this:
DON'T READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE 2ND BOOK IN THE SERIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(yes, extra "!'s" added for extreme emphasis)
That's your warning. Don't cry to me if you ignore it.
So yeah. Freaking Detective Miller is BACK!!! Kinda. Maybe. Is it actually him? That's a big part of the mystery of this book. Holden teaming up with a Miller that only he can see to figure out what the protomolecule was up to when it opened the gate. As is usual in the series, a whole separate group of PoV characters is introduced, who each have a huge role to play in the story.
This is where I had my biggest issues with the novel...though they really aren't that huge. By the end of each book in the series, I become used to the PoV characters outside of the crew to the Rocinante. It usually takes a while. So when they don't show up in the next novel, I lose a bit of that continuity. Same thing happened when I started ABADDON'S GATE. I just had a hard time with the new characters. Only this time I never really got over the newness of them. One seems to solely exist to show how religion and faith have progressed. The other to serve as a villain of sorts for much of the novel (though her agenda felt forced). I think my reactions are partly based on my brain saying, "Don't bother getting attached. They will be gone in the next novel anyway." Not gonna lie; to me it's a problem.
But aside from that, I don't really have much to complain about. In fact, one of those characters I'm bugged about still managed to bring in two of the elements I found most interesting in the novel: religion and faith. I'm a religious guy, and I tend to be bothered a bit by the casual dismissal of religion in 90% of SF novels. It isn't just that it isn't present, but that the authors seem to go out of their way to make it seem like anyone who does believe in any sort of religion as an idiot--including the reader. That isn't the case here in ABADDON'S GATE. Corey seems to take a realistic look at how religion and faith could continue to be a valid and inspiring parts of people's lives, regardless of how far in the future we are. The novel also has the characters tackling very hard religious issues. I have to hand it to the authors, and thank them. Thank you for not taking the easy way out.
And this is why I am so impressed by this novel, and all the others that Abraham writes. It's the attention to detail in all forms. I don't know what his or Franck's personal philosophies are. But I like that, regardless, they seem to be handling them all with respect and with care. Why is this important in storytelling? Because it makes every character that much more believable. Their varied fictional mindsets are real and distinct within the context of the story. The attention to detail here is what set this novel and series apart from all other SF.
Now, as to the story itself, and what is through the gate the protomolecule opens...well. Let's just say it opens this universe up infinitely. The series name "The Expanse" suddenly has more meaning than ever before. ABBADON'S GATE is, in essence, a transitional novel. The scale and the stakes have been increased dramatically. I can't wait to see where we go from here.
ABBADON'S GATE isn't perfect. That's OK. It still adds awesome stuff to, in my mind, the best on-going SF series out there right now.
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Seems like it was more than usual.
Violence: This one was pretty violent in a few parts. As usual, it was handled extremely well.
Sex: Nothing detailed.
Here are your links. Buy them for yourself and all your friends:
Disclaimer: horror isn't a genre I enjoy. Really, in the slightest. I can count on one hand the number of horror movies I like. I've never read a horror anthology before, so needless to say, I wasn't terribly excited about reading SPACE ELDRITCH II: THE HAUNTED STARS. But I love Science Fiction so...what the heck.
I should lead with a note here, I did read SPACE ELDRITCH (the first anthology) for continuity's sake. This edition contains:
"A Darklight Call’d on the Long Last Night of the Soul" – Michaelbrent Collings
"Dead Waits Dreaming" – Larry Correia
"The Implant" – Robert J Defendi
"Plague Ship" – Steven L. Peck
"From Within the Walls" – Steven Diamond
"Space Opera: Episode Two—The Great Old One Strikes Back" – Michael R. Collings
"The Queen in Shadow" – David J. West
"The Humans in the Walls" – Eric James Stone
"Seed" – D.J. Butler
"Full Dark" – Nathan Shumate
"Fall of the Runewrought" – Howard Tayler
Those are some pretty good names (author-wise). So let's go over the highlights.
We'll start with "Fall of the Runewrought" by Howard Taylor. This is a continuation of Howard's story from the first SPACE ELDRITCH anthology (which I liked). I think the highlight for me here was that Howard has developed a consistent and interesting world. The use of magic runes to create new tech was a great blend of magic and technology and it didn't feel stale after the first story. The change from a single protagonist to a military-unit style storytelling was a different perspective on how his world has adjusted. I think this was the best story in the anthology. Hands down.
"The Implant" by Robert Defendi bothered me quite a bit. It wasn't poorly written or crafted, but I felt like it better belonged as a Warhammer 40k fiction than something original here. It had a lot in common with those stories, so if you like that, then you'll probably like this. Not a story in the plus column, but not necessarily because of Robert's writing. To me, the subject material wasn't what it needed to be.
"From Within the Walls" by our own Steven Diamond was my second favorite story outta the set. It was short, but interesting to read. It starts on a space station prison that operates with a lone "janitor" to take care of the maintenance. Things start to go bump in the night. There's voices and such, and our protagonist discovers some very interesting things. It's a little underdeveloped due to length. It could use some more...fleshing out (heh).
"The Queen in Shadow" by David J. West struggled to hold me. I almost put the book down during this time and walked away. The story treats the reader like they can't understand logical progression and everything needs to be explained to them. And in the greatest faux pas of horror storytelling, the protagonist is a colossal idiot. Just...dumb. I was actually rooting for the demise of several of the characters here.
"Dead Waits Dreaming" by Larry Correia is next. Larry normally writes urban fantasy (not too far removed from horror as is), and this was a little out of his realm. However, I think Larry delivered a strong effort and the story shows the craftsmanship in his writing strongly. This one I enjoyed.
Recommended Age: PG-13 minimum.
Language: Yuuup. Nothing horribly offensive, but there is some.
Violence: It's horror. Things die. Horrifically.
Sex: None that stands out.
Find these anthologies here:
SPACE ELDRITCH II: THE HAUNTED STARS
Lately I've been trying to pay more attention to the specialty publishers out there. They put out such quality work, that I've decided to make a concerted effort to tell all you readers about them. This time around, let's talk about Cemetery Dance, and one of their newest collections of short stories, TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS.
This collection, edited by Richard Chizmar, is a celebration of Cemetery Dance. It's been 25 years since Cemetery Dance put out their first issue, and so this collections contains stories by just some of the people who have helped it become the amazing specialty publishing house that it is today. Here's the Table of Contents:
"Turn Down the Lights..." an introduction by Richard Chizmar
"Summer Thunder" by Stephen King
"Incarnadine" by Norman Partridge
"The Western Dead" by Jack Ketchum
"An Instant Eternity" by Brian James Freeman
"In the Room" by Bentley Little
"Flying Solo" by Ed Gorman
"The Outhouse" by Ronald Kelly
"Lookie Loo" by Steve Rasnic Tem
"Dollie" by Clive Barker
"The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero" by Peter Straub
Afterword by Thomas F. Monteleone
The introduction, by Chizmar, really highlights how special this anthology--and indeed this entire 25 year journey--is been to him. It's deeply personal, and it really set the stage for the stories that came later. As usual, it's a bit tough to get into specifics when talking about short stories. So I'll briefly highlight the ones that stood out to me.
"Summer Thunder", to me, shows why Stephen King is best when doing short fiction (at least in my opinion). It's a story that follows some of the survivors after an apocalypse. But these are the usual scum that Kings usually tend to write about. These are just normal guys, and it lent a very believable vibe to the story.
"The Western Dead", by Jack Ketchum, is predictably a story about the undead in a western setting. Nothing ground-breaking here, but fun nonetheless.
"An Instant Eternity", by Brian James Freeman, turned out to be one of my personal favorites. of the collection. It's about a photographer in a war-torn area. It's Horror without the monsters. It's Horror because of a normal man being put in a horrible situation because of his bravery. Loved it.
"Flying Solo", by Ed Gorman, was my favorite story. It's about two older gentlemen going through cancer treatment that "fix" problems for people. I wish this story had been longer, if for the sole reason of being with these characters a bit more.
"The Outhouse", by Ronald Kelly, was a fun romp of a Horror story. Nothing more, nothing less.
The remaining stories, for me were a mix of good and bad. With short fiction it always comes down to personal preference. There are people out there who will love every story here, or specifically the ones I didn't personally care for. That's the draw of anthologies. My only personal note on the collection was that it didn't seem focused. I tend to like themed anthologies, and that wasn't the case here. Still, it's a minor quibble.
Now, should you buy TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS? If you like Horror, absolutely. It's a bit pricey at $35 for a hardback, but you get what you pay for. It isn't just the stories, it's the book itself. Have you ever held a book published by Cemetery Dance? Their books are always quality. From the covers, to the pages, to the binding...man, it's great. It truly feels like it's a cut above all normal publishers...because it is. Of course, if you have a ton of money to spend, and you love good art, you should check out the $75 edition of this collection. It has a bunch of terrific art in it, and is signed by those artists.
Gotta love Cemetery Dance.
Recommended Age: 17+
Violence: There sure is, but it doesn't really get too graphic.
Sex: There are some typical Horror, shock-value references here. Mostly Clive Barker's story.
Here are your links:
Amazon: TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS
Cemetery Dance: TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS