Dawnthief

The next time you run across Lou Anders from Pyr SF&F, buy him a drink. In fact, buy him two, he won't mind. Then, ask him where you can find James Barclay so you can buy that gentleman a drink as well. In Lou's on-going crusade to bring the US great fantasy titles from the Brits, he brings us James Barclay's DAWNTHIEF, and in doing so takes us on and honest-to-goodness adventure.

Do you remember a few reviews back where we reviewed WINTERBIRTH? Do you remember how upset we were with the comparisons people had been drawing between it and David Gemmell's work? Well, we are pleased to tell you that Barclay's DAWNTHIEF is truly worthy of the comparison to the works of the late Gemmell. In fact, we are quite sure Gemmell would be more than proud of Barclay's work, and the reception it is bound to receive here in the US.

Now, there are a few things to make note of when reading this novel (getting our few nitpicks out of the way early). DAWNTHIEF was originally published back in 1999 in the UK. In the fantasy industry, that was a very long time ago, and the state of the genre has changed. The novel feels very much in the tradition of 90's Heroic Fantasy based in role-playing games. Also, to our initial dismay, it has elves in it. We don't exactly like elves in novels anymore... Lastly, there are some rough transitions from scene to scene, likely due to this being Barclay's first novel.

Alright, now that those small things are out of the way, here is the good news (and there is a lot of it). We want you to picture a collaborative dream in which Gemmell and George R.R. Martin worked together. You have the intense, fast-paced, heroic action of Gemmell mixed with the brutal tone that Martin is famous for. Sound awesome? It should, and that is exactly the type of novel Barclay gives us with DAWNTHIEF. It is definitely much more brutal than Gemmell's novels, but not quite as harsh as Abercrombie's. Let's just say the body count is...high. Just how we like it.

Elves. Even the mention of them bothers us. It especially bothers us when authors try to fool us by using elves, but calling them by different names (once again, see our review on WINTERBIRTH). So, call us pleasantly surprised when we realized we enjoyed the elves in Barclay's novel. What made it good for us? Barclay didn't force it down our throats. He essentially just said, "Hey, this guy is an elf. Nifty huh?" If he hadn't told us there elves, we wouldn't have noticed. It was just a character trait. In DAWNTHIEF, it worked surprisingly well.

The characters are enjoyable, witty, and extremely skilled in the art of killing you dead. The world is surprisingly deep for what many will erroneously consider (but not you right? RIGHT?) a hack-n-slash generic fantasy. To us, it was obvious that Barclay extensively built the back-story of his world. There are few times where he "tells" rather than "shows," but we get a good sense of a world deceptively rich in history and detail.

Remember, this is Barclay's first novel. He has published eight other novels since (and 2 novellas). With a first novel that holds so much promise, DAWNTHIEF has made us quite excited to read further in the series. Barclay himself said his books got better and better with each novel under his belt.

DAWNTHIEF was supposed to be released next month (September), but is apparently on sale early on Amazon.com. Go grab yourself a copy of Barclay's first novel, and pre-order NOONSHADE which will be released in October (though more than likely it will be available in late September judging by Amazon's track record with releasing Pyr novels early).


Recommended Age: 17 and up for content (see below).
Language: Every now-and-again we get some strong language. Nothing close to what we see in Abercrombie, but notable all the same.
Violence: Hello? Love child of Gemmell and Martin...of course there is violence. The main characters are all mercenaries. They kill for a living.
Sex: Two scenes, both fairly graphic, but not overly long.

Judging from Barclay's website, he seems like a pretty awesome guy. Go by and say "hi," and thank him for one of the best action novels released in the US in a long time. And tell him we sent you.

http://www.jamesbarclay.com/

And yes, we were serious when we said go buy Lou Anders a drink. Just don't get him too drunk, we need him to keep working so we (and you too) have good books to read. Go thank him. Now. Honestly, if you haven't gone to this website yet after all of our linking, you have issues.

http://www.pyrsf.com/

Gardens of the Moon

Since DUST OF DREAMS is coming to the US soon, we thought we would go back to the series' roots to both introduce newcomers and invigorate the old-timers. GARDENS OF THE MOON, by Steven Erikson, is not a simple novel--in fact this novel has, arguably, the steepest learning curve of any fantasy novel to date. This review will be a tad longer than usual, but it deserves nothing less.

GARDENS OF THE MOON is the first tale in Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Currently we have eight novels released in the series (with the ninth out in the UK now--yeah, yeah, we are waiting for our import copy), three short stories, and two other novels written by Erikson's co-creator of this vibrantly imagined world, Ian Cameron Esslemont. We tell you this so you will understand the investment of time, should you start this series. The best part of all of this? Erikson doesn't make us wait half a decade between his encyclopedia-sized tomes (you know who we are talking about). A book a year is the pace Erikson has set, which is downright awesome.

When you start GARDENS OF THE MOON, you will be introduced to approximately 9 million characters. In the first chapter. OK, we exaggerate a bit, but you get the point. As opposed to the more traditional approaches to Epic Fantasy, where we have page after page of exposition, Erikson throws us right in the middle of the action. It is possible for even the most experienced fantasy reader to feel a bit...behind. Maybe asking if there was a novel before this. There isn't, and that is what intrigued us initially.

Of course as with all Epic Fantasy, this world the story takes place in has been around for ages, with its own history and what have you. The difference is that Erikson doesn't bother going into it all. Despite the length of the series, it comes across as a very day-in-the-life-of. And Erikson makes no apologies for this difficulty, and shouldn't have to. The story is reward enough.

If reading Epic Fantasy is like diving into the deep end of the pool, this book is like diving into the ocean, with sharks.That may sound intimidating. Our response to that would be, simply, it is. But after the intimidation passes, and you make friends with the sharks, this ocean has infinitely more to offer than the standard deep end of the traditional Epic Fantasy.

This steep curve may discourage you from attempting to read the books in this series. Simply put, you need to (remember, you should do what we say). Book one is wildly entertaining, if difficult to follow at times. Books two and three will convince you that this is, perhaps, the greatest fantasy epic in print. It is equal parts epic, heroic, and dark fantasy, with an uncanny knack for making you laugh despite the utter horror that is being inflicted on these characters.

We once spoke with Jim Minz--the editor who brought Erikson to the US after other editors thought the Malazan series was too intellectual for our readers here--and he said that Erikson's novels were like reading a novelization of the classic war movie Platoon...only not as happy...and much more brutal and entertaining.

This series will blow you away, and it might just make you reconsider the quality of every other fantasy novel you have ever read.

Recommended Age: 18 and up. Not because of mature content, but because we worry at the ability of a kid sticking with this first novel, and understanding what is going on.
Language: Hardly any. It impressed us that Erikson is able to express so much without using hardly any swearing.
Violence: Oh yes, but somehow it doesn't feel over-done or gruesome. Is it Erikson's prose? We don't know, but somehow we get the awful brutality and emotional impact of the violence without being overwhelmed by it.
Sex: There are some moments of innuendo, but nothing graphic. Once again, impressive.

Note From Steve: It always scares me to recommend Erikson to anyone, because I want so badly for everyone to love his work like I do. I was introduced to this series by one of my best friends, Ryan McBride, and I feel I owe him a considerable debt for changing my view on fantasy. After I was hired on at the Waldenbooks by Ryan, he asked me what types of fantasy novels I read. Here is how the basic conversation went:
Steve - "I like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and Robert Jordan--"
Ryan - "What is wrong with you? Take this Steven Erikson novel home and read it by Monday."
Steve - "But I--"
Ryan - "Do it or I will fire you."
Steve - "Ok..." (queue sad music from Arrested Development)
I read. I loved. I made it my mission in life to get people to read this series. Just when I thought I couldn't be more impressed, I read book 2, DEADHOUSE GATES, and book 3, MEMORIES OF ICE. I tell you honestly, that I have never been so emotionally stuck by novels as I was by those two. Ever. Steven Erikson turns me into a simple fan-boy. I bought a BEAUTIFUL edition of GARDENS OF THE MOON from Subterranean Press for $125 (the cover shown in the review). I feel like it was a bargain, and I would have paid the $500 for the crazy 1/50 limited copies if I had the cash on hand. I import the novels from the UK just to get the best looking edition of them, and so I can read them 6 months sooner. Buy this series NOW.

Please go pick up these novels. You may have seen the US cover art and been turned off. We don't blame you (remember, Steve imports them from the UK just to avoid the US covers). However, it seems the US is re-releasing trade-sized novels (Nick's favorite type of format) with the new UK covers:

AWESOME.

Check out the Malazan online community. They are good about explaining many of the confusing aspects of the series.
http://malazanempire.com/site/index.php

Finally, go by Subterranean Press and check out the Limited Editions they have. They are of amazing quality, and the care with which they handle the shipping of these expensive novels is impressive.
http://www.subterraneanpress.com/

The Last Colony

We often wondered if the reason Scalzi was nominated for various Hugo awards was due to his insane amount of blogging (why do you think we started this site, eh?). Last year, his novel THE LAST COLONY was nominated for the prestigious 2008 Hugo Award. He didn't win, and initially we thought, "Guess we were right, as always."

The thing is, we read THE LAST COLONY, and realized that he should have won in that field of competition.

Scalzi will be the first one to tell you that he was more than happy to even be nominated, and that the other authors were very deserving of their nominations. Sure, we thought the other 2008 Hugo nominated novels were great, but THE LAST COLONY should have won.

This is the 3rd book in the OLD MAN'S WAR universe (OMW, or as Nick calls it...Steve's life), and it is refreshingly different from the prior two entries. OLD MAN'S WAR won the Campbell award back in 2006, and was a great romp through space and war. GHOST BRIGADES, to us, was a disappointment. THE LAST COLONY gives us a look into the colonization process in the OMWU, and gives us back our hero from OMW, John Perry. The political intrigue and interactions in this novel are a welcome addition, and yes, there is violence, and it is great.

One of the great things about this series is that the books are accessible to both die hard fans of Science Fiction and those, like Nick, who don't particularly care for it. The mix of science, plot, action, and intrigue were a sort of alchemy that ended up with both of us wanting more at the end of the Trilogy.

Scalzi gives us fast-paced Military SF, and it makes a fun, fast read. As he once told Steve at a convention, if you can't gobble popcorn down with glee while reading his novels, he hasn't done his job. With THE LAST COLONY, that mission was a success.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Ever known anyone in the military that doesn't swear? This is Military SF. Of course there is language.
Violence: Oh yes. Get your popcorn ready...
Sex: Not in this one. In the previous two novels, yes, quite a bit.

Scalzi doesn't really need our help, but we feel duty bound to point you to his well managed blog, Whatever (yes, that is what it is called). It is a fantastic blog, and you get to see how crazy he is. That's a good thing. Tell him creator's of the Scalzi Award sent you (you'll have to ask him about it).

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

Also, if you liked THE LAST COLONY (and you should), go check out Scalzi's YA novel ZOE'S TALE. It is essentially the story from THE LAST COLONY told from Zoe's perspective. It was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award.

Fantasy 101

Instructors:
Nick Dianatkhah, PhD in Being Attractive.
Steve Diamond, PhD in Being Awesome.

Office hours:
By appointment only.

Course Info:
What you can expect from this course is a selection of recommendations from your instructors to give you a doorway into the fantasy genre.

Introduction:
In a departure from our normal structure,to answer the request of a number of our readers for some more entry level recommendations, we decided to give a crash-course in the Fantasy genre. After all there is definitely not a shortage of entries, both good and bad, to be read. For someone just looking to broaden their horizons and breach the unknown of the Fantasy genre it can be daunting to say the least. We are here to offer one or two, of many, paths into the fantasy genre and your future enjoyment of some of the best fiction available. Your instructors will each choose three books that they recommend for beginner-level fantasy readers. These books will be door openers, if you choose to continue, to the more advanced books and authors that we have been reviewing up til now.


Steve's Picks:

The Sword of Shannara
You know what this book is? It is Lord of the Rings, the simpler version. I'm not kidding. This book is your classic example of the "epic quest to thwart the evil lord" storyline. The best thing about this novel (and all of the novels in this list) is the accessibility of it. Anyone can read it. THE SWORD OF SHANNARA is a gateway-novel suitable for anyone 12 and up (or even younger if your kid is a really advanced reader...like I was). There is no questionable content here, and hints of the themes that make our advanced readings so enjoyable. Also, if you really dig this novel, you have 19 sequels you can read (the first, immediate sequel is my favorite book that Brooks has written).

Pawn of Prophecy
I wasn't sure if I should choose this novel, or REDEMPTION OF ALTHALUS. However, PAWN OF PROPHECY is the beginning of a series, and that is the theme I am going for. Series, in my opinion, tend to give readers a feeling of excitement, and David Eddings does just that with his novels. Nick and I have discussed how Eddings manages to take one characteristic and make it the defining characteristic of a given person. Often times you know who is speaking without even looking at the dialogue tags. This is one of the essential building-blocks of great fantasy. I just recommended this series to my 15 year-old cousin, and he loved them. No questionable content. Great for all readers 12 and up. Oh yeah, and Eddings wrote over 20 novels...they should keep you busy.

Magician: Apprentice
I am cheating, in a sense, here. Raymond E. Feist wrote a novel titled MAGICIAN, a classic coming-of-age story about a boy who goes from a "nothing" to the greatest magician in history (well, the history of this created world anyway). The book was later split into two novels, MAGICIAN: APPRENTICE and MAGICIAN: MASTER. Honestly, you should pick them both up to start out with. Feist has been writing for a VERY long time, and puts out a novel a year. This series is broken up into pieces, and will keep you entertained for ages. I think this series is at 30+ novels now.



Nick's Picks:

The Redemption of Althalus
David Eddings is a great way to enter the fantasy genre. He has strong, albeit simple, characters that are entertaining to read about. I vacillated back and forth on this choice, but ultimately included it, a fantasy stand-alone, because it really took his experience with two sextets and two trilogies and boiled it all down to a single volume. THE REDEMPTION OF ALTHALUS is entertaining, light, easy to read, and gives plenty of introduction to a lot of the characteristics of fantasy. It's not the most amazing book you will ever pick up, but in a genre bloated with multi-volume series it is refreshing to have a story contained in a single volume, that stretches multiple nations, plot lines, and dozens of characters (which is the draw of the larger series).

The Hobbit
I'm not the biggest Tolkien fan, I admit that right from the start. In fact, I wouldn't even consider myself a fan of his writing. I am a fan, however, of what he did for the genre. So I am including THE HOBBIT here as my number two pick for a couple reasons. It a stand-alone, which in my opinion is important for newcomers to the genre. It is easy to read, lacking most of what makes The Lord of the Rings so ridiculously unbearable, but including what makes it fun. Grandpa Tolkien set an example that fantasy authors, years later, evolved from and imitated. Even though he isn't my favorite, by any means, he deserves to be included in a beginner's fantasy reading list.

Dragon Wing
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have established themselves as a staple of fantasy, for better or worse. There has been a lot of criticism levied towards them about their writing, but the fact remains they are hugely successful and know what fantasy is, at it's core. The series this book begins (THE DEATHGATE CYCLE) shows the depth of world-building, and the exotic, foreign qualities that can only be shown by the fantasy genre. My only qualm about including this book is that it is the beginning of a seven book series, not quite as easily accessed for newcomers. Despite that, DRAGON WING obviously made it here because it is that outstanding of a depiction of what to expect.

Best Served Cold

We will leave you for the weekend with our review of this stand-alone novel by Joe Abercrombie set in First Law Trilogy universe.

There are few books we have looked forward to more, after finishing THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS, than Abercrombie's next. So when we first heard word of BEST SERVED COLD we could barely contain our excitement. In other words, Steve ran around squealing like a 15-year-old girl and clapping excitedly.

Right from the get-go you know what this book about, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. It's a fast-paced, action and twisted humor-filled tale of a woman's pursuit of revenge. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Monza Murcatto makes that sound like a silly understatement.

In BEST SERVED COLD Abercrombie introduces a smattering of new characters who meet up with some of the most interesting supporting cast from his First Law Trilogy to great effect (Nick literally cheered out-loud when the Northman took the 'stage'). If Joe were a nuclear physicist, and the characters components in his lab, BEST SERVED COLD would be one hell of a bomb. Each of the characters have believable strengths, faults, and motivations. Despite the fact that they are all pretty awful people as far as morality goes, they are sympathetic, and we think everyone can find a bit of themselves if these characters.

The plot really is simply about revenge (Really, did you expect anything else with a title like BEST SERVED COLD?), and there are very few surprises. But Joe's execution of the telling of this tale anything but simple. Much like Patrick Rothfuss did with the coming-of-age magician tale (THE NAME OF THE WIND), Joe Abercrombie is the puppet master behind the new king of the revenge story. Has there been a better attempt/success? It is our not-so-humble opinion that there hasn't. Ever.

Something that intrigued us early on is that Abercrombie acknowledges, through his characters, the toll their actions take. They understand they are awful people, and consider the cost of their actions frequently. This is something we haven't seen a whole lot of in recent fantasy books. It is refreshing to see the gray characters (because really black and white characters bore us to death) reflect on their actions a bit. In BEST SERVED COLD, we found our favorite shade of gray. Almost black.

There is a very real magical quality in the way Abercrombie writes that entrances us. There is an artistry behind the words, and it sucks us in. From the opening scene of BEST SERVED COLD, we are reminded of what makes Abercrombie so good. The banter between the the characters--and the exciting events that the characters are wrapped up in--makes us nearly weep with happiness. Weep. Us. We know, right?


Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: The main characters are poisoners, murderers, criminals, soldiers, and torturers. Do you really think they would have a problem swearing? They swear like its their job.
Violence: Luckily, swearing isn't their job. Killing people is. They do it well. Lots of it.
Sex: There are a couple sex scenes, some innuendo, reference to sexual acts, but Abercrombie, again though, seems to treat it all mostly as a joke.

Joe is a great guy, and will answer your emails. Go check out his site:
http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

Thank his US publisher Orbit for the great production value of this book:
http://www.orbitbooks.net/

Also, despite this particular book not being published by Pyr, remember to go check them out since Lou Anders is responsible for bringing Joe to the US with his First Law Trilogy:
http://www.pyrsf.com/

Nick's Note: The book rested on my desk--taunting me while I was busy with others--for a few days, which is no mean feat seeing as Abercrombie is in the trio of my favorite authors (the others being Bakker and Lynch) before I finally picked it up.

I didn't move from that spot until I had turned the last page. As you can tell from the review, Abercrombie has overthrown Bakker as my top pick.

If you think I'm overzealously gushing about this novel, buy it, read it, and prepare yourself for the realization that I am totally right, and this book deserves it.

If you haven't read the THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY, shame on you! Go buy and read them while you're out and about.

Winter Duty

WINTER DUTY is the latest entry in E. E. Knight's Vampire Earth saga, and it gets the story on track. The prior entry--the seventh novel--was generally regarded (and rightfully so) as a sub-par effort in an otherwise fantastic series. Thankfully, WINTER DUTY is a welcome return to the quality of the prior novels.

For those uninitiated with the series, here is a brief lesson on this apocalyptic take on vampires (before you point fingers and go rabid, remember, we like vampires as long as they don't sparkle at us). The world has been overrun by the Kurian Order, which are basically monsters that have a remarkable similarities to vampires, (Duh. The series is called Vampire Earth) and they actually act like it. They will kill your face until you are dead. Eureka! Queue the angelic chorus!

The world we know has been reset and replaced by a harsh and unforgiving one. Knight has a real gift that allows him to show in gritty detail how insane the circumstances really are. Education consists of things a Boy Scout would learn on a camping trip...well, if Boy Scouts learned about guerrilla warfare and how to resist interrogation (we already sent a letter to Boy Scouts of America requesting new Merit Badges in said categories. They have yet to respond). Technology is an eclectic mix of eras from the Middle Ages, Civil War, and the World Wars, with an occasional appearance of something made of more modern quality. The Kurians hold all the cards, control most of the world, and have most of the resources. Oh and let's not forget to mention their big scary Reapers (vampiric-ish, nearly indestructible, enforcers that are full of awesome) that do their dirty work, and all the regular old humans willing to sell everyone else out for the chance of mercy from the Kurians.

This is the world of David Valentine. Grim huh? Now you see why we love it.

The protagonist of the series is likable from the start, and he stays that way. Watching his progression and development has been entertaining, and has been a real study in the art of character growth over the course of a series. The development takes a somewhat more interesting approach in WINTER DUTY. Without spoiling anything, the focus is turned more towards Val (as his friends call him) and his dwindling group of 'freedom fighters,' their relationships, and the challenges that lie ahead of them.

Jim Butcher could take a lesson from Knight here. This is what a setup book should be. There is less action here than we expected from a Vampire Earth novel, but what is there is well done and thrilling (Less can, indeed, be more. You paying attention, Michael Bay?). Despite the book being obvious set up, we feel that something was accomplished, and that this entry in the series warranted our time and money.

The characters are really getting the conflict piled up on them (Sucks to be them. Yay for us!). The more they get pushed, the more interesting they becoming, and the more engaging Vampire Earth becomes for us. WINTER DUTY does a great job of making this happen.

Knight also does a masterful job at taking jabs at poor leadership, whether it be in the military, government, or trade. It is executed well--and is a recurring theme throughout the series--but it doesn't leave the bitter taste of a political bent or agenda (you know who we are talking about). Instead, it lends great humor, intrigue, and conflict to the plot.

Final verdict? We liked it. It isn't as strong as his earliest entries, but it is a good one, stepping back in the right direction. Thanks, Knight, we look forward to the future adventures of David Valentine. Bring them quick!

If you haven't been reading these novels, you are missing out on some fantastic story-telling. There are some who felt the first book, WAY OF THE WOLF, was a tad slow. Don't let this keep you from Knight's work. Book 1 starts and ends with high amounts of pure awesome, and the series never lets up (except for one, forgivable novel). Go grab the first part of the series, and cancel your plans for a week. Remember, Amazon.com is your friend, and you are slaves to our opinions.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Nothing really graphic, some cursing where one would expect it.
Violence: This tale is pretty violent, but it isn't excessive or gratuitous.
Sex: Innuendo.

Go check out what E. E. Knight has to say in his blog at:
http://eeknight.livejournal.com/

Devices and Desires

The first thing that comes to mind to mention for K.J. Parker's first entry into her Engineer Trilogy, DEVICES AND DESIRES, is that the author knows how to do her research. There are very technical descriptions for nearly everything in the novel, and it really lends a lot of credibility to both the story and the writer. However it isn't without drawbacks.

We will get to those later though; let's do like we were taught and focus on the positive. The book was interesting and the plot is engaging. Most of the character's exploits are fun to read, with a few exceptions. The plot is also laden with political intrigue and it plays out remarkably well.

OK, we did our job as reviewers and at least acknowledged the good.

The biggest failing of the book is it's most basic premise. The main character, the titular engineer, sets out to create a machine capable of reuniting him with his lost family. Fine and dandy. Where everything goes awry, however, is that we have no idea where this guy mastered the art of psychological manipulation. Wasn't he an amazing engineer?

We can believe he can improve upon machines, which is the reason he is exiled and separated from his family, but we cannot simply believe he has the capacity to create a multi-national machine made entirely of human components. The engineer plans every little choice, move, and action every other character in the series makes, and manipulates them all into making those said choices. It is simply, and completely, unbelievable. Machines are predictable and controllable. People are not.

You're saying, "Up yours, you elitists. You want believable? This is fantasy. Have you forgotten?" (By the way, thanks for acknowledging that we are, indeed, elitists. We are like the Marines, only much fewer, and much prouder. Moving on...)

No we haven't forgotten. What makes fantasy strong is the characters and how believable they are. That is how the fantasy is capable of such exotic and unfamiliar settings and such. Without believable characters the fantasy genre collapses. K.J. Parker seems to have forgotten this when she created her supposed everyman, who is in all actuality, an intellectual superman.

The other drawbacks of Devices and Desires are the coincidental events that would make Stephen King happy. (Yep. That's right. We just made a dig on two authors in one sentence. Yippee for us.) By the end of the book, you will most likely be doing the same as we did. Shaking your head saying, "What? Really?". The plot also slows down in parts from Parker's expansive detailing of the technical machinations of the engineered creations in the book. If you are a technophile, this may interest you--it interested us slightly. But all told, it was too high in volume, and detracted far too much from the pacing of the plot.

Our final decision about the book is that it is "meh." Worth the read, not your money. Visit the library and check it out first to see if you like it. Or borrow it from a friend (but remember to treat the book nicely). The second and third entries, EVIL FOR EVIL and THE ESCAPEMENT respectively offer much of the same fare. If you liked this first book, your mind won't be changed by the others and you will be satisfied by the ending. If you are like us and thought "meh", or hated it, you will wish you had stopped after the first book, we do.

Recommended Age: 18 and up (if only because we think it may be a little too technically verbose for teens, but then again they may like it).
Language: We don't remember anything real explicit.
Violence: Lots of people die, but it is handled very mildly.
Sex: None.

Nick's Note: I really feel like this trilogy should have been named The Gambler Trilogy, because that is what the main character does most. He gambles, and almost always, arguably, wins. That's not exciting. What makes winning so awesome when you're gambling, other than the money, is how rare it is.

The Steel Remains

THE STEEL REMAINS is Richard K. Morgan's first foray into the fantasy genre, after a strong history in Science Fiction, as well as a winner of an Arthur C. Clarke Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and a John W. Campbell Award. Obviously, we were interested to see how he would do in his new genre experiment. There was very little that disappointed, though we did give thoughtful pause as to just how good it actually was.

Morgan doesn't seem to be one for half measures. We are under the impression that he is either 150% or 0% in his writing. In this first entry into a planned trilogy he establishes that he does indeed have what it takes to be an epic fantasy writer. However we wonder whether we can place him on the level of Abercrombie, Martin, and Bakker, and are interested for the series to be finished so we can decide.

Everything in this story is set to maximum. The gritty, dark feel, the explicit and graphic violence and sex, the rough language, the engaging plot, the interesting and threatening characters all propel this story straight at your face like a baseball from a major league pitcher. The story is about as comfortable as sandpaper but for some reason we couldn't stop reading it. Morgan handles the pacing and narrative with all the grace of a bunch of guys pounding on you in a bar room brawl. We sure enjoyed the punishment though.

The characters are beyond engaging, and while we wished there was just slightly more plot in this first entry, we enjoyed what was there immensely. There are prophecies, dark sorceries, flawed heroes, and all the accouterments that one would expect to come along with those. However, that's not to say this tale is one of cliches and tropes, as they are broken and turned on their heads at every turn.

As far as reading goes, we are not squeamish by any definition of the word, however a lot of the obscenity heavy pages, extremely graphic sex, and violence leaves us wondering if much of it was included just for simple shock value. We couldn't find much redeeming reasoning for a lot of it, especially when it took up valuable space in the book for actual plot. That said, we are anticipating the sequels to see where the plot goes.

Recommended Age: Definitely no younger than an adult. 18 and up.
Language: More than we expected that's for sure. If harsh language offends steer wide.
Violence: Again, more than even we expected, and extremely visceral.
Sex: Explicit and graphic to say the least, and more than one scene.

If you think you can handle all the explicit content we recommend you get started on this promising trilogy, and go pick it up and if you're fan of this book and want to see Morgan's other work, or just want to check out his SF head over to www.richardkmorgan.com


Nick's Note: In our review of THE JUDGING EYE we made mention of the content being for adults, and I'd like to, again if you couldn't tell from the review, make that same mention here. Also if you are looking for a philosophical and psychological bent as a reason for the graphic nature like we would find in Bakker's work, you won't find it Morgan's book.

The Swordbearer

With THE RETURN OF THE BLACK COMPANY, a Tor published omnibus, coming next month we thought we should get some Glen Cook on the site in preparation.

THE SWORDBEARER is one of a number of Glen Cook's earlier works that is being reprinted by Nightshade Books. It was written, originally, in 1982 and showcases a lot of the themes and ideas that would later be used in what we, and many others, consider one of the greatest entries into the military fantasy genre, THE BLACK COMPANY.

As per Glen Cook's usual, THE SWORDBEARER is a fast-paced, action-packed tale. It follows a somewhat traditional fantasy story, with a magical sword taking center stage in the hands of a boy protagonist, Gathrid. The writing is very indicative of the genre in the '80s. For readers today, this book does nothing groundbreaking. Many of the familiar fantasy tropes are present and there are more than a handful cliches tossed about.

To be honest, THE SWORDBEARER doesn't showcase Cook's writing very well, and the there are really no surprises in the telling of the tale. Regardless the 256 page novel moves quickly and if the reader can ignore some of the faults in the meat of the book, it is an enjoyable read.

The character's development only scratches the surface, and leaves the reader guessing a lot of the time. The story reminds us of classic sword and sorcery fantasy in every way possible.

At best the book is a light read for a quick afternoon, but anyone expecting anything more will be disappointed and should look to something else. Any fans of Glen Cook will probably derive a lot of enjoyment from the book than anyone else as it provides a lot of insight into the growth of the writer.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Really nothing explicit.
Violence: Well, what are you expecting from a book entitled THE SWORDBEARER? "A grease-down and shiatsu?" As Turkish would say.
Sex: Not so much.


We have met and talked with Glen Cook on a few occasions and he is, without a doubt, one of the nicest and humblest guys you could have the pleasure of meeting. Pick up his Black Company books, they are as good today as they were when he first wrote and published them. Also, check out his newest books THE TYRANNY OF THE NIGHT and THE LORD OF THE SILENT KINGDOM

Send some love to Tor and Nightshade for their reprints of the Black Company and Dread Empire series respectively.
www.tor.com
www.nightshadebooks.com

Also if you're like us (and we know you want to be) you probably love the cover art for THE SWORDBEARER as much as we do. You can thank Raymond Swanland for this gem, as well as all of the cover art for Glen Cooks latest books and reprints. Check him out at:
www.raymondswanland.com

The Strain

How about a requested review from one of our readers?

Have you ever watched the movie 28 DAYS LATER? The basic plot is that a virus gets loose among the population of England. This virus turns people into rage-crazed zombies, whose blood, when given to a non-exposed person, turns them into a zombie within 30 seconds. Essentially, in the movie, we see the initial release of the virus, and then we cut to 28 days later (get it?) and the aftermath of the spread of the virus.

THE STRAIN, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, follows this basic premise, only instead of zombies we get vampires. It's difficult to say if we liked this book or not. It has promise, and it has the monster version of vampires, so that's good right? Well yeah, kinda. THE STRAIN begins with a plane touching down and then going completely dark. One second the pilots are chatting with Air Traffic Control, and the next nobody can raise them on any channel. They call the CDC in to check out the situation. When they board the plane, everyone is dead (see where this is going?). The first gap in logic is here. All the main characters--the main one, Eph, is from the CDC--comment that all the people on the plane seem to have just taken death peacefully. Considering the fight people put up later in the novel when being attacked by vampires, it is never explained why these 200+ passengers just said, "Sweet, take my blood!"

The marketing on the book states that Del Toro and Hogan have reinvented the vampire. This is simply not true. A virus/parasite that creates vampires has been done (see I AM LEGEND and NECROSCOPE). Really, there is nothing new here, other than a thin attempt to link a biological agent to most of the general mythology of vampirism. There is no effort taken in this novel to explain why a silver-backed mirror can show the true nature of the vampire. There is no effort made to explain how this biological agent relates to the fact that vampires can't cross running water (much less a freaking ocean). The ending itself (which deals with a major vampire myth) is where the huge problem, and an intentional logic gap occurs--though I can't tell you it what it is without ruining the ending. Also, the logic the characters follow that goes from "this is a virus" to "let's behead everything!" happens in the span of a paragraph. One of our main characters is an old man with a heart condition, who had all of the bones in his hands crushed (and NEVER ATTENDED TO), yet he can easily grip the handle of a sword, and DECAPITATE vampires with one swing...like cutting through butter. Yeah. Like we said: thin. And really, these are just a few examples.

Now, it can be easy for many readers to ignore these things, and if you can, the story progression can be a fun, popcorn-novel ride. And to be fair, THE STRAIN is book 1 in a trilogy. For all we know, every single plot hole and logic flaw will be answered in later novels. But they should have been addressed in THIS novel. The writing isn't bad, and the action can be GREAT. In fact, there are some moments where we could absolutely visualize the scenes, and it creeped us out. But therein lies the crux of the situation: a lot of this novel feels like Del Toro work-shipping a screen-play to his potential viewers. This would normally be fine, as Del Toro is awesome, but this is a book, and it needs to have the feel of a book, not a screen-play. We wanted to like this novel SOOOOOOOO bad, but it just wouldn't let us.

Look, if you can turn your brain off, THE STRAIN is a fun novel that ends with nothing resolved. We would recommend that you wait till you can get it for a cheap as possible, or until future volumes come out. However, if you think too hard here (or, really, at all), you will punch holes through the plot and characters like they are tissue paper. The decision is yours, and we won't judge you either way (maybe). All this said, we are relieved that the vampires are monsters. This is a step back in the right direction.

Recommended Age: 16 and up
Language: Only a handful of times, but it is always the f-word.
Violence: Lots and lots. They are vampires who kill instead of sparkle.
Sex: Not really, some innuendo.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Have you met Dexter Morgan? Surely you have watched the Showtime series based on his character, or even better, read the absurdly entertaining novels by Jeff Lindsay?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, you have problems.

It's time everyone met Dexter, a blood-spatter specialist who works for the Miami Police Department. He is good at his job. He has a girlfriend. His tries to take care of his sister (also in the Miami P.D.).

Dexter Morgan is also a serial killer.

DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER is the first novel in an on-going series by Jeff Lindsay. In this first novel we are introduced to Dexter as he takes us on an introductory ride to one of his kills. Don't worry, Dexter only kills the scum of Miami. He kills the murderers, rapists, child molesters, and worse that escape punishment. A sympathetic serial killer. We love it, and so should you.

Now, if you actually watched the television series without reading the novels, this first book holds a few surprises. The supporting cast is quite differently portrayed and the attitudes of the characters are slightly different in the novel. The body count is higher as well. More importantly and interestingly, we get a more in-depth look into the mind of our Dearly Devoted Dexter (see what we did there? We took the title of book 2 in the series and used it in a sentence. Aren't we clever?). This first book has Dexter tracking down a serial killer whose "work" seems to call to him...whose work seems to be a personal message to Dexter.

DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER is wildly entertaining, and well worth the money of a purchase. Luckily, after this first book, the TV series and the books diverge quite radically, giving us more Dexter to enjoy.

Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: The novel takes place in a police department. In Miami. And our main character is a serial killer. Oh yeah, there is a lot of language.
Violence: If you are actually asking this question, we are going to send Dexter over to your house to kill you. Violently. There is a ton of violence in this series of novels.
Sex: Mostly innuendo, though we do get some sex. This isn't like the TV series that seems to force that content on you.

Go check out Lindsay's site.

http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/dexter/

Winterbirth

"The world breeds no heroes now."

This line from the novel WINTERBIRTH, by Brian Ruckley, sums up our main observation after reading the novel. WINTERBIRTH is marketed as both Epic Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means we have heroes in some sort of capacity. It also means we should have blood and battle...and in high quantities. Epic Fantasy usually involves some sort of epic quest, or a huge, all-engrossing plot that the heroes must stop. Heroic Fantasy means we have heroic and tragic last-stands.

There was nothing epic about this fantasy, and as for battles...can someone please explain to us why the first battle in the novel happens more than half-way through the book? OR WHY THERE WERE NO OTHER MAJOR BATTLES AT ALL IN THE ENTIRE NOVEL? It's enough to make us think we are taking crazy-pills.

Call us bitter. Call us angry. It's ok, because we are. There are so many other novels out there that we could be reading; novels that would make us proud to review. WINTERBIRTH took us away from those novels.

It's not that the writing is poor. It is actually quite good, and it alone kept us reading. But what is Heroic Fantasy without the blood and sword? In a word: boring. Ruckley's novel is at its best when the characters (with whom we have absolutely no attachment - another problem in itself) are wading into their limited engagements of fighting. The paperback of this novel counts 688 pages - epic in length for sure, but bland as tofu. Maybe 20 pages are of Heroic Fantasy mayhem. The marketing on the novel suggests Ruckley's work is in the tradition of the late and great David Gemmell. We believe Gemmell would scoff at only 20 pages of action in a novel.

In addition, we feel a little taken advantage of. The prologue to the book mentions a race that sounds awesome, only then to tell us they were the victims of a genocidal crusade. So...no cool race. Another of the races that we have frequent contact with in the novel sound, act, and look suspiciously like elves...only they have an unpronounceable name...but don't worry, they speak a foreign language that looks like elvish, only it isn't. Look, if it's an elf, call it an elf (this is where we thank the UK author James Barclay for his honesty).

As you can tell, we are frustrated. We wanted to like this novel, but that proved an impossibility. This isn't to say that we can't enjoy a novel that doesnt have action. Take R. Scott Bakker's first novel THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE. Astonishing in its greatness, and very little action throughout. We just felt that in this particular book it's absence wasnt outweighed by other cool stuff.

Recommended Age: 13 and up...if you can stand it.
Language: Nope.
Violence: The few times we get it, it is great, and it is brutal. Too bad we rarely get any.
Sex: Alluded to, but never shown.

The Judging Eye

It was hard to approach this book without wetting our pants in excitement. R. Scott Bakker is Nick's favorite author, by far, and owes Steve for introducing him to The Prince of Nothing series.

After reading the book a number of times we have decided how we can proceed on this review. We will make a concession right here and now. As much as we'd like to, it is completely impossible to review this book without comparing it to Bakker's earlier trilogy set 20 years prior to the events in, this, the beginning of his second trilogy.

We love Bakker and his work, but the heartbreaking truth is that THE JUDGING EYE doesn't even come close to the powerhouse of his first trilogy. If this is a sign of things to come Nick may just have a breakdown.

Let's start with the action. It is overblown to the point of ridiculousness. In the first series there was maybe a handful of characters that could do what was done by nearly every character in combat in THE JUDGING EYE, lending weight to the fantastical action sequences. We also know, pretty much from the get-go, who is going to survive the action scenes. They were frenetic and deadly, but at the same time they were disappointing and lackluster.

The characters must have had some sort of intellect draining disease over the 20 years since The Prince of Nothing series leaves off and THE JUDGING EYE picks up. Kellhus is one dimensional, and utterly boring in this installment. Achamian is irritating with his relentless self pity and hatred (which is a MAJOR disappointment - Achamian was THE MAN in the first trilogy). There is a complete lack of female characters who have not been sexually taken advantage of. Bakker's misogyny is quite evident here.

Kellhus and Esme's children make no sense. Kellhus has...certain abilities...but they came from both thousands of years of genetic sifting, as well as training. His children not only share their genes with Esme, who isn't exact;y a genetic trophy winner, but they haven't had the specific training Kellhus has. Despite this however, all his kids are basically emotionless replicas of him. Makes for a confusing and boring read. Not to mention, if they are all intellectual superheroes, like Kellhus, how come they can't figure out why certain things (avoiding spoilers, remember?) happen to and around them?

The plot was almost all set up. Of the few things that actually happen, some are beyond the suspension of belief, which is saying something while reading a dark fantasy like this.

The entire book really just hearkens back to Bakker's reverence for Tolkien, and it shows just a little bit too much. His own plotting ability seemed to get lost and he just took his own world and fit it to THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. You see, there is this wizard, he has a team of warriors, they go into deep, dark caverns, they fight an endless horde of nightmares, and there is even a giant demon. Sound familiar? It should, to anyone that has even heard of fantasy before, and it especially should have sounded familiar to Bakker. So this begs the question...how did Bakker think he could get away with this?

Final conclusion. Bakker spent 20 years writing his first trilogy. We don't think he was prepared to write his newest entry into the series this soon. THE JUDGING EYE showcases Bakker's vocabulary, and ability to write descriptions, but little else that was positive.

If you are a Bakker fanatic like both Nick and Steve, go and pick it up, just don't expect it it compare to The Prince of Nothing Trilogy. If you don't know who Bakker is, pick up his first novel, Go grab his first stuff off Amazon.com - start with THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE, and treat yourself to the beginning of the deepest fantasy trilogy available right now. If you are somewhere in the middle, we say wait on THE JUDGING EYE for the trilogy to be finished and see where Bakker goes with it.

Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: Plenty of it.
Violence: Yep. Its here, but it is so overblown it could be read like comic book action.
Sex: It is present, both in act and allusion. Nearly every female character has a history of sexual exploitation. A few of the main characters are ex-prostitutes and have recurring issues because of it.

Special Note: What you have to understand about Bakker, and specifically his Prince of Nothing Trilogy, is that he doesn't pull any punches. This is the darkest of dark fantasy. THE STEEL REMAINS by Richard K. Morgan has nothing on Bakker. There is a huge amount of violence, language, and sex in Bakker's work, not to mention a VERY deep study on manipulation. BakkerBakker's work, but the very aspects of it that make it so much more than any onther fantasy novel also make it very hard to recommend without worrying that we are going to offend the people who trust our recommendations. Just keep this in mind when you are deciding on the purchase of Bakker.

The Graveyard Book

Lest you dear readers feel we have a prejudice against novels that are written for young adults or children, we are here today to prove you wrong.

Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a prime example of a brilliantly written children's book. Granted, as a children's book it's a simpler read, and in many ways not as beautifully complex as the anvil sized tomes we prefer. But some of the most brilliant and enjoyable things in the world are easy and simple (bashing on TWILIGHT for example is the easiest, simplest thing in the world--and yet both enjoyable, and a mark of intelligence).

In addition, while THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a simple read, it is by no means simple.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a brilliant twist on Rudyard Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK. It's a story about a boy who escapes the murder of his family as a toddler to be raised by a host of undead creatures--ghosts, vampires, ghouls and werewolves--in an ornate graveyard. Like Mowgli before him, Nobody Owens learns from his tutors, explores the world around him, and eventually must face the murderer of his family--Shere Khan for Mowgli, and the sinister man Jack for Bod Owens.

It shouldn't surprise anyone (least of all, us), that Gaiman's work shines here in melding the sense of an innocent fairy tale with depth, darkness, and meaning. We think the genius of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK lies in it's subtle and powerful examination of humanity. Oh, it's a children's book, yes. But even something so mundane as school takes on an unusual cast--it's part of life, part of living, and something Bod desperately wants. While Bod struggles to learn what it means to be alive, and to be human, the other-worldliness of the book is enjoyable as well, and we watch Bod learn the traits of the dead: instilling terror, projecting himself into other's nightmares, and fading completely out of view. While the story is enjoyable, and a fun read, it's this depth of meaning we love.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK deserves it's two awards--the 2009 Newbery, the 2009 Locus award for the Young Adult Category--and is in the running for more: The 2009 Hugo (we voted for it), and the 2009 World Fantasy Award. Not even we are elitist enough to know the other award's it's surely been nominated for.

If the simplicity of a children's book is just too much a price for someone to pay for such a brilliant, masterful tale, then perhaps they just aren't as self-confident connoisseurs of creative storytelling as we are.

We know all you dear readers care as much about such things as we do.
Check out THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Neil Gaiman's Now.

Recommended Age: We would have enjoyed this in the third grade--other readers? Perhaps 10 and up.
Language: None.
Violence: The violence causing Bod's situation may be something to be aware of for younger readers. Nothing gratuitous or graphic.
Sex: This book is ages 10 and up. Seriously? You're checking for this? Move on.

We'll be covering more of Gaiman's work, as he is one of our favorites. Visit his website at http://www.neilgaiman.com/ and then check out whether The Graveyard Book wins the Hugo this Sunday at http://www.thehugoawards.org/.

Turn Coat

It is with irony that we, the superheroes of book reviews, feel betrayed by Jim Butcher's latest Dresden Files novel TURN COAT. We debated long over what we should say in regards to this novel, and more importantly, this series. How about a history lesson? No?

Too bad.

Back when Steve "used to be important" (sorry, inside joke) at the bookstore, one of his regular customers said he wouldn't read another recommendation until Steve read the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. There were only seven books out in the series at the time. Steve read them, and thought they were great fun. He, in turn, forced his superior attitudes on Nick and Rob. They concurred as to the overall awesomeness of Harry Dresden, the Wizard P.I. in Chicago (it just sounds awesome huh?). Books 8 and 9 were released, and we figured we had found the golden series. Book 10 came out, and though it felt like nothing but pure setup for the rest of the series, we forgave Butcher. After all, Butcher wouldn't betray us right? He wouldn't turn on us would he?

Then TURN COAT came out (See what we did there? Clever huh?)

So that you can understand our displeasure at the end of the novel, let us pose a question. Have you ever watched a TV show (*cough*smallville*cough*) or read a comic where after all hell breaks loose, and all the important people die (or everything seems to get better, even), the show/book hits the Magic Reset Button? Suddenly everything is back how it was at the beginning? All the character growth is negated?

Welcome to TURN COAT.

That isn't to say the book doesn't have redeeming qualities. We get to see some of the characters that we don't see much of, like Listens-To-The-Wind, for example who is a complete BAMF (We feel slimy referencing Dane Cook, but really there is no other way to describe this guy) in this book. Harry's werewolf buddies have some real development, as well as a slew of other characters that have long since needed some attention.

There are moral questions raised by multiple characters that would have been interesting had they been compounded with actual character development (See above for the magic reset button). Harry is shown to be a good guy, despite all of his darkness, by his actions in this book, but that is contradicted by Michael's plot-line in this, and the last, book.

The writing, as usual, is top notch. The plot is centered around the search to uncover a traitor among the Wizards Council (Well duh right? Could it be anything else with a name like TURN COAT?). The mystery style of the book is well done, as we have come to expect from Butcher, though we nailed who the traitor was from his/her first appearance.

The bottom line? We think that Butcher realized he was only 11 books into a 22 book serious and ran out of ideas for conflict so instead of writing it in, he is just going to rehash what has been done in the series already. There is an awful lot of setup for the obviously massive conflict coming, and for that we thank Butcher. We just wish he could have done that without deciding to ignore the development of the previous 10 books.

Here is what we recommend: books 1-9 are great, read them and enjoy them for the popcorn-novels they are. As for books 10 and 11, if you feel like reading novels that make you pissed off, borrow them from a friend or library. Otherwise, leave them be until we read the 12th book next year and tell you if we have forgiven Butcher.

Recommended Age: 15 and up
Language: Yep, there was some. Nick, in fact, swore a lot when he finished the novel.
Violence: Sure, we got violent when we threw the novel at the wall across the room.
Sex: We weren't in the mood after finishing. Our significant others were even more displeased at the effects of Butcher's novel than we were. Sad huh?


Look, Butcher is a good guy, and he has a great "How I got published" story. Hopefully TURN COAT was an aberration rather than the future of the series. Go visit his website and support him--he does deserve it for what he has done up until now--and will hopefully deserve it after Book 12 is released.

www.jim-butcher.com

The Twilight Herald

Don't worry. Despite having the word Twilight in the title, THE TWILIGHT HERALD is nothing like the book in our last review. This is Tom Lloyd's second entry in his Twilight Reign series, and it is much grander is scope and larger in size than the opening book, THE STORMCALLER.

In a word (and you only need one from us): AWESOME.

Tom Lloyd is a newcomer, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have what it takes to blow us away with his story telling. He has managed to create a believable, original setting using the familiar fantasy tropes and bending or breaking them to his will. Populating his enormous, top-notch world is an exponentially growing list of characters, most of whom are distinct and interesting.

Isak, the main protagonist of the series, becomes a lot more interesting in this second book than he was in THE STORMCALLER--despite having less actual 'screen' time--but his friends and enemies once again steal the scene like they did in the first entry to the series. Lloyd's depictions of his characters allay all of our fears, and proves to us that he knows his characters inside and out; Lloyd has thought them through, and has gone to great lengths to make them believable and interesting. No easy feat considering the number of superhero-esque people walking The Land.

In THE TWILIGHT HERALD, the story focuses on the city of Scree, where the major players in this series are all drawn for one reason or another. We particularly liked the sheer number of points of view in THE TWILIGHT HERALD. We get a very real handle on the motivations and machinations of many of the characters. The only negative we could find for the book was that we felt inundated with the characters talking, talking, talking, and still talking. However, despite this the slow buildup of tension intrigued us every step of the way. The climax is explosive and leaves us breathless, waiting for THE GRAVE THIEF, the series' third book.

The moody, gloomy setting of this second book only heightens our excitement for the destruction and doom that is going to follow. This is writing done well. We don't need the author to tell us in footnotes or interviews that things are grim--his writing shows it and we feel it.

The battles are big, brutal, and beautiful (enough 'B' words for you?), the politics are fun to read and create a sense of depth greater than even those lauded colossal fantasy series (you know who they are), and the world feels very real (except for the lame name of the world 'The Land').

Go buy it.

Recommended Age: 15 and up.
Language: We can't remember anything particularly foul.
Violence: This book makes Quentin Tarantino look like an amateur. Not only is it gratuitous, but extremely well done. Thumbs way up on this part.
Sex: References to adultery, and promiscuity, but nothing that isn't on prime-time TV.


Nick's note: I was in my local B&N looking for something new and exciting, and being disappointed. Then I saw a lone copy of THE STORMCALLER. I picked it up on sheer production value alone. As I chatted a bit with Lou Anders, while I was reading THE STORMCALLER, about why he liked it, I realized Tom Lloyd was the real deal. THE STORMCALLER wasn't without a few minor shortcomings, but it showcased Tom Lloyd's talent and made me hungry for THE TWILIGHT HERALD. I wasn't disappointed when I started and finished Book 2. I got the same giddy feeling reading Book 2 that I got playing Final Fantasy Tactics back in the day. In fact, in a lot of ways it reminds me of that story. Tom Lloyd, for me, is on the verge of joining the ranks of my favorite authors.

Do us a favor and go by Tom's website, and give him your undying love for writing AWESOME fantasy novels. Guess who we are nominating for the Hugo Award next year?

http://www.tomlloyd.co.uk

And once again, go give Lou Anders and the folks at Pyr SF&F a big hug for publishing incredible novels here in the US.

http://www.pyrsf.com

Twilight (Seriously!)

What's this? Two reviews in one day? Well this one was a special request from some fans, and we were more than happy to oblige.

It's time we shared the hate...

There are few things in life that we don't understand. Why do people clip their finger and toe-nails in public? Why are Utah drivers incapable of using their turn signal? Why do people think Megan Fox can actually act? But mostly, we don't understand ONE MAJOR THING:

When ON EARTH did sparkles on a VAMPIRE become cool? We just each threw up a little. Steve more than a little actually. It was gross. It was like an emetic taste test here.

Don't get us wrong, we like vampires. E.E. Knight's VAMPIRE EARTH series rocks (for Nick especially), as well as the classic style of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice. Steve goes for the Brian Lumley variant, and the kind from the show Supernatural (a guilty pleasure). While we all give two-thumbs-up to the 30 Days of Night variety. Rob is of the same general opinion. See? We like vampires!

We just don't know WHAT happened during the writing of TWILIGHT. As Stephanie said in an interview on a talk-show (we want to say it was Ellen - she's funny, we are allowed to watch her talk-show with our significant others. Let it go.), she woke up one morning with a completely original story about a girl who--wait for it--FALLS IN LOVE WITH A VAMPIRE! We know! No one has EVER done any variant of that story before.

EVAAAH!!!

The writing is, as we gamers say, terribad. The romance is heavy-handed and repetitive, with the characters repeating the most mundane asinine dialogue possible. We understand they are teenagers, but is this really how they think? If so, the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012 might not be so off-base...

Look, if you want to read romantic vampire stories, good for you. Go read Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, or pick a book at random from the romance section of your local bookstore. Don't bother with this drivel called TWILIGHT. There are no REAL vampires in it. It is a hoax. The writing is awful. There is no real plot. Cereal boxes have better characters. Real vampires would point and laugh at the lauded Edward. Bella, the heroine, can only be enjoyed while on heroin...barely. Reading how she wants to cuddle with a guy who is cold as a corpse, just once, was enough to ignore her for the rest of the book. This was very difficult as her annoying little quips and selfish whining pop up ad nauseam.

Now, it is only fair that we say a few positives. First, if we had as much dinero as Stephanie Meyer, we would be happy campers. We might feel guilty like we had swindled the world, but we would be rich. Secondly, Meyer is getting people to read. We can't stress how important this is in this day and age. We may think, like Stephen King before us, that Meyer is untalented as a writer, but hey, the more people who read, the better books they can potentially get in to.

We realize our warnings have come late, but we only pray to the literary gods that it won't go unheeded for those who are thinking of reading it. If you cannot overcome your complusion and must purchase the book, go here.

Recommended Age: Resist the urge...EVERYONE is at a higher mental age than required by this novel. As are most animals. And rocks.
Language: Ugh. The terrible writing has clouded our brains and we cant remember.
Violence: If they were real vampires, we would have violence galore. But no: bait and switch.
Sex: Nope, and all the future sex-lives of all the Twilight fanatics are drying up with each subsequent read.

Head on over to Stephanie's site and offer her a little bit of your wisdom on teenagers and vampires, two subject she apparently needs to brush up on.

http://www.blogger.com/www.stepheniemeyer.com

The Vondish Ambassador

Unlike Rome, the Empire of Vond was built in a day—well, nearly—as the Warlock Vond conquered countless smaller kingdoms, shocking the known world of Ethshar. Until he stopped suddenly and disappeared, that is. Emmis, a lone dockworker finds himself hired as the Empire’s Ambassador . . . suddenly caught in the political intrigue, mystery of Vond’s power, and schemes of vengeance that go with the job.

Lawrence Watt-Evans doesn’t get the notice and praise he deserves. Readers often know him from his recent ANNALS OF THE CHOSEN trilogy, though many readers don’t know him at all. If you are included in the latter category, we pity you. To understand the beauty of THE VONDISH AMBASSADOR, one first needs to understand the beauty of Watt-Evan’s Ethshar series, and his writing.

Ethshar could be Discworld’s younger, less goofy brother. The world contains about seven different magic systems, and currently encompasses fourteen books which can be read in nearly any order—making the series a gold mine of enjoyable experiences. The true beauty of the series, and Watt-Evans’ writing, is that the emphasis is all on the characters. Oh there’s an enjoyable setting, villains, magic, action, and romance enough for all you plebeian readers out there. But these characters are everyday people, without power, without control, and often without any grand goal but simply finding their purpose.

THE VONDISH AMBASSADOR and others in the Ethshar series may seem simple and dry for many readers. But the everyday nature of these stories transcend carbon copy epics, gross facsimiles of gritty fantasies, and the derivative drivel of the same old fantasy. It’s simple. Among all the overwrought layers of legends, and impossibly built up heroes, simple is refreshing and unique—and that’s what good fantasy is about.

Pick up THE VONDISH AMBASSADOR.

Recommended Age: 13 and up
Language: None—though there may be euphemistic expletives.
Violence: Present in small amounts, un-gratuitous and tame. This is primarily about
suspense, mystery, and tension.
Sex: None.

We Three Literary Kings have met Lawrence Watt-Evans, and affectionately refer to him as LWE…though he doesn’t know that…yet. LWE is extremely personable, and we think you should get to know him too. You can do so at:

http://www.watt-evans.com

Many of the Ethshar novels were written as weekly serials, paid for by weekly donations from his fans before being published. Learn more about Ethshar at:

http://www.ethshar.com

Warbreaker

There is this guy named Brandon Sanderson, and if you read fantasy with any regularity, you know who he is. If you don't know who he is, you should really read more. Seriously. Not only is he the talent in epic fantasy, he is finishing the WHEEL OF TIME for the late Robert Jordan. Sanderson is a gifted author, and WARBREAKER, his newest novel, shows why.

Color (as in dyes, etc) is power. A person's breath let's them breathe life to inanimate objects. A talking sword that begs to kill things. Sound like an intriguing magic system? It should. Sanderson has made quite a name for himself by inventing unique and enjoyable magic systems. WARBREAKER essentially starts with the wrong, untrained daughter of a king being sent to another country to prevent a war from breaking. A great start to a great novel.

While we found ourselves engrossed in the world created in WARBREAKER, it's not to say it didn't have a few...shortcomings. We like our epic fantasy gritty and dark. We love action. We do like a little humor, but prefer it to have it's place with certain characters, and only in certain situations. If we want humor everywhere, we pick up a Terry Pratchett book or a Douglas Adams novel. In WARBREAKER, it seems like everyone is trying to be witty. We enjoy it with the character Lightsong. It has some funny moments with the mercs. But it seems like everyone wants to be the king/queen of the witty quip. It's not a bad thing, just not what we prefer. Also, it is in need of a sequel, which we won't be seeing any time soon, but look forward to.

WARBREAKER is more light-hearted than we typically enjoy, but it was still an excellent novel. This is a fantastic work that appeals to a huge audience. While we felt his MISTBORN series was superior (And that is what we are all about), WARBREAKER is, in our awesome opinions, a book you should have bought the week it was released, here.

Recommended Age: 13 and up
Language: If there was any, we don't remember it.
Violence: There is some, but this is more a novel about political intrigue. Though the sword is pretty awesomely violent.
Sex: Yes and no. Hard to describe it without having a spoiler. What little there is has been handled tastefully, and has purpose.



Not that he needs more publicity (wink), but head to his website.


http://brandonsanderson.com


Also, the crazy awesome Dan Dos Santos is the artist of the beautiful cover of WARBREAKER. Go give him some respect. He's earned it.


http://www.dandossantos.com

The City and The City

Read on for our completely incredible opinions on THE CITY AND THE CITY by China Miéville.

China Miéville is an author who doesn't settle for one genre. He has sampled many, many different genres, and somehow manages to give them each a unique creative style all their own. While many might argue what genre to lock Mr. Miéville in, we at Elitist Book Reviews think he is nearly as awesome as we are and doesn't need to be bound to a single style.

While THE CITY AND THE CITY is a fairly large departure from his previous works, Mieville blends the familiar and the unknown together to create a believable mystery. The protagonist, Tyador Borlú, loves his city and country of Beszel, and works there as a police inspector.

The story begins when Borlú becomes involved in the murder investigation of a postgraduate woman, whose body was dumped in Beszel. Throughout the murder investigation we become acquainted with the very special and peculiar relationship Beszel has with the city and country Ul Qoma.

These two very different countries occupy the same physical space. Even us of great intellect and ability for the abstract thought were just a bit boggled. As we read about Borlú's investigation we were continually exposed to words/terms like crosshatching, grosstopically, unseeing, and breaching.

The relationship between the two cities will hold your attention--much more so than the actual murder investigation--and may just frustrate readers as the bizarre relationship is never completely clear. However, we felt this lack of clarity makes the book even that much more fun and unconventional as we tried to figure out if there is some fantastical element to the division of the cities, or if it is simply laws and customs separating one city into two distinct entities.

The plot is intriguing enough to keep reading, but it is stretched thin and somewhat predictable in a number of places. Without the unique relationship of the cities, this would read as a very simple mystery book where the readers, especially if you are as awesome as we are, figure out the 'whodunnit' way before the characters do. With the addition of Beszel and Ul Qoma, THE CITY AND THE CITY becomes an extravagant tale of political intrigue and will spark your imagination in ways no other author has yet.

Miéville is one of our favorite authors, and is a favorite author among other authors. Perhaps we had our expectations a little bit too high as we approached THE CITY AND THE CITY but despite how enjoyable it was, the execution seemed somewhat lacking and the length was disappointing. However if you want an intelligent and brain-bending setting that will leave you thinking, here is a book for you.

In our opinion which should be, as we have said before, fact to you, THE CITY AND THE CITY was worth our money and is most likely worth yours, go pick it up here:
THE CITY AND THE CITY

Recommended Age: 18 and up
Language: Borlú and his teammates swear like professionals.
Violence: There is very little actual violence in the main segment of the book, consisting of largely a few gunshots, but being a murder mystery, implied violence is abound.
Sex: There is a slight bit of nudity described.


Special Note: Keep in mind that when you do read and love this book, this isn't quite like Miéville's other novels. Though we LOVE his other works, PERDIDO STREET STATION and THE SCAR, there is a possibility that you won't like how graphic or foreign they can be.