As you will all recall, our Fantasy 202 post involved a lot of Horror. It is an under-appreciated genre that contains one of (in our opinions) the best writers out there: Brian Lumley. His novels, over the years, have continually been able to impress our critical minds. With the paperback due out soon, Tor sent us a copy of Lumley’s NECROSCOPE: HARRY AND THE PIRATES.
Upon first taking the book in hand, the reader will first notice two things. First, the cover is done by the true Necroscope series artist, Bob Eggleton (one of our favorite artists)…and yet it seems almost YA. Second, PIRATES is very thin, only 189 pages. Suffice it to say, PIRATES is not YA. It contains two novellas, and a vignette (as Lumley calls it) that are set during the Lost Years of Harry Keogh’s life. For the uninitiated, the Lost Years mark the 8ish year period between books 2 and 3. We’ll say right here that if you haven’t read NECROSCOPE and VAMPHYRI! You shouldn’t read PIRATES yet. It just won’t make enough sense to you. If you find yourself in that camp, do yourself a favor and buy those novels yesterday.
Harry Keogh is the Necroscope, meaning that amongst his several ESP powers, he can talk to the dead. In the first of the novellas “For the Dead Travel Slowly” Harry has returned to the area of his youth in an attempt to find his missing son and wife. While there, he encounters an ancient evil in the forests that is responsible for hundreds of horrors over the centuries. It is a terrific tale in which we are shown a jaded and vulnerable Harry. His body has been destroyed (literally, he inhabits a new body at this point per the end of VAMPHYRI!), and his family his missing. His feelings of loss and frustration are palpable. The plot of the story itself, as well as its resolution, are executed in only the way Lumley can manage.
The second novella “Harry and the Pirates” continues with Harry looking for his family, but becoming sidetracked when a long dead pirate wishes to tell Harry a story. Who doesn’t like a good pirate tale? Of course Harry listens. As the reader would expect, the tale becomes more strange, and Harry begins to feel that something is wrong. Again, another fantastic novella, though the ending will throw some people off if they haven’t read beyond the first two novels in the series.
The final vignette “End Piece: Old Man with a Blade” is only a few pages, and follows the PoV of Death as it watches Harry. There are some clever insights here, but no real meat. The purpose of PIRATES is the first two novellas.
Lumley has a unique way of writing. His descriptions of horror are truly horrific, and yet he can still manage to inject witticisms when the situations are in need. PIRATES won’t win any new reads for Lumley, but it will give fans of his work (and there are many of them) some more Lost Years tales to enjoy. If you are a huge fan of Lumley, you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about paying the $24 for the 189 page hardback. We wouldn’t have (especially Steve, who is an extreme Lumley fan). However, if you are a more cost-conscious fan, then wait to pick up the paperback that comes out on July 20.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Yup, but not a ton.
Violence: Oh yes. And it is always so well described.
Sex: Some mentions to it (especially in the first novella), but nothing like in you would find in Lumley’s other novels.
Brian Lumley's awesome website:
New J.V. Jones? Yes please. WATCHER OF THE DEAD made us want to sing the "we love J.V." song over and over. Yes, we wrote a song about her. We are Gods to you, our loyal reader-slaves, who are you to judge us!?
There are very few authors we like as much as J.V. Jones, and even fewer with the attention for detail that she has. If you couldn't tell from our previous mention of her, we just might have a little (OK, huge) crush on her. But it is with good reason!
As we flipped open the cover to the first page and began reading, we were blasted by the cold of her setting. The world she has created is so real and believable that it was hard for us not to go to the closet and put on a jacket for our read-through of WATCHER OF THE DEAD. Jones' writing, while sometimes getting lost in descriptions, gives such a tangible realization of the world and its inhabitants. In addition, we were immediately struck by the bleakness that inhabits this world. Jones has an uncanny ability to strike such a dark tone in her work. It is easily one of the things she does better than nearly everyone in the genre.
While we got the chills on the outside, we felt warm fuzzies on the inside reading about the characters Jones has created. We are attached to all of them. Jones is a master of characterization. She is also equally a master at making awful things happen to the main characters, and we definitely appreciate it when authors don't coddle their characters. We especially loved Raif in this book, which should be obvious since WATCHER OF THE DEAD is primarily about him. He has gone through some cool transformations, and the tolls exacted on him have been costly to say the least. However, there were, without giving spoilers, a few characters we wished Jones had spent a lot more time on. This is a common occurrence in multi-volume epic fantasies like this, but we were still disappointed when a few characters had limited screen-time.
Now, we realize we are mostly just gushing with praise for Jones, so to be fair, and so this doesn't just read like a fanboy review, there were things we took some issue with. Namely the plot thread with Angus. The first book put such an emphasis on his family and the events surrounding them, that we expected what followed in the next books to be big and exciting. Yet in book 2 and 3 Angus didn't do much but stand around (To be fair, most of the characters didn't get too much done in Book 3). In WATCHER, that storyline is largely resolved, but it was done in such quick and anticlimactic fashion that we wondered why it couldn't have happened way earlier. We felt pretty cheated there. There were also some plot threads that simply went missing, and some editing errors which bugged. Nothing worth crying too foul though.
The story is definitely not resolved by the end of WATCHER, but things are clearly coming to a head and we can't wait for the next installment. Until then we will continue singing praises of her and her series, and praying she is faster about getting Book 5 done, that she was with Book 4. We should address here what is seen as a double standard. We were once asked why we give Martin so much crap about the time between novels, but saying nothing of Jones. Well, simply, we just started her series a relatively short time ago. So it hasn't been that long for us. So there.
It should go without saying, but we will say anyway. If you are new to J.V.'s stuff, don't start here. You will be lost. The series is heading down the Jordan and Martin path of plots, sub-plots, and characters. Start at the beginning.
If you are looking for something in the vein of Bakker, Martin, Abercrombie, and Erikson, look no further than Jones. We were huge fans of J.V. Jones before WATCHER OF THE DEAD, and this book improved on Book 3 and completely cemented her in our Hall of Fame.
Recommended Age:We think we can safely stick to the 16+ despite the fact things are getting darker.
Language:Everything here is tame.
Violence:In strong Jones' style, there was fantastically clear and destructive violence.
Sex:An act or two. Nothing sticks out in memory as being too racy or graphic.
Go take a peek at Jones' site, and let her know how awesome she is.
We have received quite a few requests to review ACACIA: THE WAR WITH THE MEIN, and we decided that we should probably honor those requests. We ARE very kind and giving, after all. Yeah, we know the book isn't a new release, but it seems a shocking number of people haven't read it. Luckily, our good buddy Rob was all sorts of anxious to do this review, and you all get to benefit. Enjoy--EBR.
Is your George R.R. Martin starting to sag? Do you still love his epic storyline, but hate the wait? Do you find yourself wondering if there will ever be a way to get that same gritty, edge-of-your-seat sensation without waiting years (or is it decades?) for character and plot progression? What if we told you it was possible? And what if we said that you could get it on-time? Early, even? That you could have twice the Martinesque, twice as fast? You wouldn’t believe us, would you?
Believe (feel free to drop a "hallelujah").
We've got what you need right here—and his name is David Anthony Durham.
A well founded writer of historical novels, Durham’s skill at crafting realism, culture, characters, and conflict is outstanding. He’s transplanted the richness, grittiness, and complexity of our world into The Known World of Acacia in the same way George R.R. Martin transplanted the intrigue and fullness of the War of the Roses into Westeros. Durham, in fact, has written for Martin's WILD CARDS series, and is a big fan of Martin's style--perhaps this is why we see so many stylistic similarities. ACACIA: THE WAR WITH THE MEIN, the first book in the Acacia Trilogy (That’s right—only THREE books), has replaced all our angsty Martin-pining with hope for a new future. A future where series have, you know, endings.
The Empire of Acacia has held sway over The Known World for centuries, both through a history of backstabbing and racial subjugation, and by supplying its subjects with an opiate known as the Mist. Those years of peace come at a great price, however, and the bill’s come due in the form of assassins, vengeful nations eager to avenge themselves and their ancestors, and the greed and addiction bought by human lives. Leodan--Ruler of the Known World--faces these threats, and prepares his four children for a plan that will preserve them and guide them towards a united world, free of its vices and vicious enemies.
David Anthony Durham won 2009’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He deserves the recognition. His story is epic and diverse, while his prose (while lacking at times) can be beautiful and poetic. He stepped up to the plate for the first time (in the fantasy genre, anyway), and hit one out of the park. With the second book in the series already released, we’re thrilled to get our hands on a work that’s so thorough, so involving, and so riveting, with a sequel already available.
And while Durham’s admitted, “I could be happy writing in this world for a long time”, he’s also promised, “there will be at least three books and a reasonable amount of closure by the end of that cycle.”
Closure. That’s right, Martin fans, we’ll throw in the closure for free. Go pick this novel up, and while you are there, grab the sequel THE OTHER LANDS. If you are looking for a novel about nations in war, with that almost-Historical Fiction feel, this is the novel for you.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Mild--Unlike Martin's Westeros, this world has no idea what the 'F' word means.
Violence: All sorts of violence. Durham seems to be a student of historical war, and it is accurately and vividly represented here. It is detailed, but not overly graphic.
Sex: Yes, but not gratuitous.
Go take a look at Durham's website:
Good Fantasy and SF novels (or really any novel for that matter) are not created in a vacuum. Our favorite authors were inspired or influenced by authors whose work came first. Those influences were, in turn, influenced by even more ancient works.
A few weeks back, we were having a discussion with our good friend, and occasional contributor, Rob. Somehow we ended up discussing this very point, and Rob said something like, "Man, a post about these REAL classics would be great." We decided that it was indeed a great idea, and the hunt for material for these "Elitist Classics" was soon underway.
As it turns out, there were a lot of Classics.
So, in a series of posts that will be added to our University of Fantasy (and SF) canon, here are the "Classics" according to us. This post will figure more on Fantasy. Keep in mind, this isn't a limited list. There are dozens of older works that could be included here, but we have chosen to limit it just a tad.
J.R.R Tolkien: THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Many readers and authors of fantasy point to the works of Tolkien as one of the influences that weighs the heaviest on the genre. Certainly there had been other works prior to Tolkien's, but his is what made it popular and accepted. As we have mentioned before, THE HOBBIT is actually our preferred novel of Tolkien's, but THE LORD OF THE RINGS is awesome in a darker, more serious way.
C.S. Lewis: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
Lewis and Tolkien were contemporaries and friends (there were, in modern terms, in the same writing group). Lewis' NARNIA series has captured the imaginations of millions of readers over the years. Look, if you haven't read this series, you must be living under a rock...
Mervyn Peake: GORMENGHAST
Along with Tolkien and Lewis, Peake's Gormenghast series is widely pointed to in terms of influential works. Most of this series takes place in a huge and dominating castle which is almost a character in itself (Hogwarts has nothing on Castle Gormenghast). One could argue that the more "realistic" of todays fantasy has its roots in Peake's creation, as there are no other races besides humans, and no magic in this series.
Where do you think Tolkien got a huge chunk of his inspiration? Both Tolkien and the composer Wagner took their inspirations from this epic German poem. Dwarves, dragons, treasure, and a Ring. Yup, it's all here in this 13th century (though it is based on heroic motifs and people from the 5th and 6th centuries) text.
Robert E. Howard: CONAN
Yes, we are well aware that he wrote other stuff besides Conan in his short life (committed suicide when he was 30). Essentially, he created the Sword and Sorcery type of fantasy that has lately seen a resurgence. From Moorcock, to Leiber, to Jordan, to the modern writers, Howard is arguably on of fantasy's most influential authors. Personally, we enjoy his horror just as much as his fantasy.
THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH
We attended a panel at World Fantasy where Steven Erikson, David Drake, and Jeff VanderMeer (awesome group of people, yeah?) were asked the question, "If you couldn't pick Glen Cook as a main influence for non-conciliatory fantasy, who would you pick?" They unanimously chose GILGAMESH. This is as ancient as it gets, taken from tablets in Mesopotamia. If you ever took Art History, chances are you (like us) read this epic. It is incredible.
In future installments of the Elitist Classics, we'll talk about Steampunk, SF, Horror, and Mystery.
Chime in on what other works you think should be considered Fantasy Classics.
So, you want to be an Elitist Reviewer too? Well, you are in luck.
Contrary to popular belief, we do have lives. We work full-time, attend college, have families, aspire to be authors ourselves, and require sleep (sometimes). In short, we want to recruit a few peoples to be reviewers for us.
Here is what would be required of you:
1) Be a US resident. UPDATE: We changed our minds. So there. You can be from anywhere, but the book reviews will adhere to the US release schedule.
2) Read and review at least one to two books a month--if you read and review more, that's fine too. At times, we may very well direct you on what books to read--we have Billy Corgan-like issues. Other times we will leave it up to you, as long as you tell us what you are going to review.
3) We will read and edit your review before hand.
4) If you are located in Provo or Salt Lake City, Utah, we may give you an ARC to read. If not, become friends with your local library and/or B&N. We don't make money off this blog, so paying money to ship you ARCs just isn't feasible.
5)Your reviews will follow our Hive-mind format, and you will avoid profanity in the review itself.
Make sense? Good.
This is a serious offer for those who want to make a serious effort. We have pride in our work, and we are also control freaks. We want your work to be high-quality, and we want it to be reliable. If you don't think you can be reliable, don't bother entering our "contest."
This is a competition. We will pick a book, and you will read and review it. Here is how it will go down:
1) We pick a book or two.
2) You read it and review it.
3) You email us the review along with your "I'm a US resident" details.
4) We read your review. We will judge it on originality, quality of writing (it doesn't have to be perfect, we WILL edit you reviews after all), clarity of writing, and whether or not your review was in line with what we thought. We want you to have similar tastes as us. Shocker right?
5) The one or two reviewers we felt were best, we will choose to be permanent reviewers on EBR.
Again, EBR is a big deal to us. We are beginning to show up on the covers of books. We want to maintain the confidence that publishers, agents, editors, publicists, and readers have in us. We are special, and we want to keep it that way.
The book of choice for the contest?
DUST OF DREAMS by Steven Erikson
THE FOLDING KNIFE by KJ Parker
JULIAN COMSTOCK by Robert Charles Wilson
This contest will go until the 4th of June.
Q-- Can I review both books for the contest?
A-- Sure, if they both are solid reviews, it will give us confidence in you. However, if one sucks, it will screw you.
Q-- How long should the reviews be?
A-- Look at our reviews (there are dozens of them). While the lengths may vary in some cases, they are almost all around the same length.
Q-- Is it OK to put spoilers in the review?
A-- No. If you do, we will send ninja-zombies after you. Then we will delete your submission.
Q-- Where will I be on the EBR totem-pole?
A-- We (Nick and Steve) are the main dudes (and handsome ones at that). The site is ours. You will be an active participant, which puts you between us, and the guest reviewers who only participate occasionally.
Please email us with any other question.
In our ongoing effort to read all the Hugo nominated novels for 2010, we continue with Robert J. Sawyer's WWW: WAKE. Maybe it's just us, but it seems like Sawyer is consistently nominated for the Hugo for "Best Novel". Does this mean his books are always awesome? For many people, yes.
But not for us.
WAKE is equally fascinating and frustrating. Enjoyable yet boring. It has moments that read like a simple YA novel, and others that go on like that boring university class you fell asleep in. If it bothered you just reading this paragraph, you will understand how we felt reading the whole book.
WAKE, the first book in an advertised SF trilogy, is mainly about 15 year-old Caitlin Decter. She was born blind, and early into the novel she is contacted about an experimental procedure that may cure her blindness. It should be fairly obvious that the procedure will work. While Caitlin goes about having her sight restored, the other main plot of the novel (which was actually a series of installments originally published in Analog) is about the emergence of an intelligent entity from the World Wide Web. Lastly, there are two sub-plots about a plague in China, and a chimp that has learned to sign and paint. Caitlin's story and that of the AI entity mesh together well, but the rest feels like an afterthought. Perhaps this will be cleared up in the sequels.
Really, the biggest problem with WAKE is that it feels like a jumble of interesting ideas that didn't blend together as intended. It also feels like Sawyer lost sight of telling the story so he could have his characters discuss--for the reader's benefit in "maid & butler" fashion--the scientific ideas that spawned the idea for the story in the first place.
Caitlin's story never reaches a balance. Her "teenager in a new school" portion of the story is stale. Her "I'm a whiz-kid" segments don't blend well with the other portions. By the end of the novel, Caitlin is relied on (however unintentionally) to solve problems other individuals of vast intelligence find baffling. Not to mention, every problem is solved with casual ease...in a few minutes. To us, if solving problems and mysteries of this magnitude is this simple for the characters in WAKE, then these characters should have solved every other major problem in the world. In a day. In a sense, it was reminiscent of the problems we had with the younger characters in Card's EMPIRE series--there is no sense of realism to them. In WAKE, Caitlin is the main PoV, and since her character doesn't grab us, we have problems with the story. The minor characters follow suit. They were all, to us, flat. They were only there to serve as a vehicle for the scientific ideas that Sawyer wanted to discuss.
And guess what? A lot of you will be OK with this. If you like the way Sawyer writes, you will absolutely love this book. If you like the "teacher-classroom" styled discussions that go for pages upon pages, you will love this book. This is an "idea book" masquerading lightly as a character and story driven novel. If you liked FLASH FORWARD and ROLLBACK, you likely won't have much issue with WAKE.
What Sawyer does well, even though for us it grew tiresome, is make everything easily understandable. The concepts that a lessor author may struggle to define clearly, Sawyer helps us understand with ease. Perhaps this is why his readership is so high. Kudos.
Would we read the sequel, WWW:WATCH? Maybe. WAKE wasn't bad at all, but we have come to expect better stories and characters. Again, readers of Sawyer's other work will love this, and perhaps consider it one of his strongest efforts. Those same readers will be way excited to read the sequel.
But for us? Mediocre. Deserving of the Hugo? At this point, we would understand if it won, but we are still pulling for China Miéville's CITY AND THE CITY.
Recommended Age: 16 and up. Sometimes way younger. Sometimes older. It's remarkable inconsistent in its tone.
Language: Yup. A fair amount.
Violence: Not really.
Sex: Nope. Some teenage discussions on it, but that's all.
We love when sequels improve upon their predecessors. You'll recall we gave a favorable review to Adrian Tchaikovsky's EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD. Sure, there were issues with it, but that doesn't mean the book wasn't good. The second book in Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series is DRAGONFLY FALLING, and for the most part it improves upon the original in every way.
DRAGONFLY picks up right where EMPIRE ends. The Wasp Empire is is poised to invade the Lowlands, and are beginning with strategic cities used in trade and manufacturing. Our main cast of characters from EMPIRE are all here, and are in different corners of the known world trying to convince different races to band together against the Wasps. Really, this sounded like it could have become bogged down in people talking and negotiating. This kind of thing bugs us (Get it? Bugs? Never mind...) Did that happen? Uh, no.
You see, DRAGONFLY FALLING is all about war. Lots and lots and lots (that's a lot of lots) of war.
We love action and war scenes as much as the next reader, and these scenes are well done for the most part. But while they strengthen the novel, they simultaneously hurt it. Especially in the middle of the novel, the pacing is lacking. Or maybe it was just because we began to feel jaded by all the war and siege. Seriously, there is enough war here for three novels. Three big novels. The pacing does pick up nicely at the end, and Tchaikovsky does a good job illustrating the horrors of war, but man, we are talking nearly 500 pages of wars and battles. Even to us, it was a tad excessive.
"Well gee-whiz guys," you say, "why should I even read it then?" Why? Because we say so. Also because of the characters, world, and the introduction to some awesomely sinister stuff brewing behind the scenes.
What Tchaikovsky does best, we've decided, is make his characters unique and likable. He humanizes (insectizes?) nearly every character that is introduced, no matter what side of the conflict they are on. There are the characters who fall definitively on the Good Guy/Bad Guy teams, but the majority end up in the middle. True to our hive-mind...uh...mentality, we both were floored by how effortlessly we liked characters that were newly introduced. Our main PoVs are growing up and making hard and meaningful choices. The new PoVs grab our attention and refuse to let it go.
The world Tchaikovsky has created just gets better with every page of his series. New races--some previously thought as myths--pop up, and we get a better look at the already-introduced ones. We specifically liked the concurrent wars going on with the Ants towards the end of the book. One army was good, one army was bad; but they weren't fighting each other. It was executed extremely well both in terms of writing, and in emotional impact. In addition, the industrial revolution in this setting is fascinating, and the invention of new weaponry and transportation is superbly done.
Beneath all of it, we get a strong sense of the sinister. We love the sinister. So should you.
Did Tchaikovsky solve all the issues we had with EMPIRE? No. The PoV switching is still jarring in places, though it HAS improved. The clarity of fight scenes? Still rough in places, but again improved. In short, with DRAGONFLY Tchaikovsky has done nothing to put us off of the series, and has done a lot to make us want more. While not for everyone--and some people just won't like the exclusive focus on war in DRAGONFLY--we positively enjoyed it, and liked it even more than book one. Thankfully we have book three, BLOOD OF THE MANTIS, sitting on the top of our stack of books to review, and book four, SALUTE THE DARK was just announced by Pyr.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Some, but nothing excessive.
Violence: It's a novel filled with war. There is a lot of violence, especially when new inventions are introduced.
Sex: Never any shown. It is alluded to and described, but never explicit.
We would feel terrible if we didn't again mention how awesome the covers are for this series. EMPIRE was cool. DRAGONFLY was excellent. MANTIS (which we'll review in a few weeks or so) is unbelievable. John Sullivan is the artist. His work is fantastic.
And, of course, Adrian's website:
Joe Ledger is back! After battling zombies in PATIENT ZERO (read our review of PATIENT ZERO here), our hero gets no rest. In Jonathan Maberry's THE DRAGON FACTORY the stakes are even higher, and Joe is thrown in the midst of political, genocidal, and transgenic turmoil.
The story starts by introducing a couple of guys as the greatest mass murderers in the history of the world, an "Extinction Clock," and then a couple jerk-face NSA dudes attempting to bring Joe Ledger in. Sucks to be them.
The plot of this newest Joe Ledger novel mainly follows the exploits of Echo Team. Also focal points of the book are two groups of genetic researchers and scientists, all at odds with each other, and both doing unspeakable, craptastic things to the world, including unleashing big crazy dudes named Berserkers and releasing weaponized versions of icky diseases.
THE DRAGON FACTORY is just as fun as it's predecessor. It is 496 pages and we ripped through it at breakneck speed. It keeps up the pacing and the interest almost the whole way. There weren't any dull moments, which says something for the novel since it jumps PoVs SO MANY TIMES (sometimes for just a page or two before the character bites it). There was a bit of PoV breaking during chapters, which, if you have been reading our blog, you know is a pet peeve of ours. It wasn't terrible though.
The ending was superb. Endings are the bane of books like this. A lot of suspense and pressure being built up, but in the climax they usually are a let down. Not so with THE DRAGON FACTORY. The climax is intense and the final pages leave us wishing next year would come quicker so that we could see where a damaged and jaded Joe Ledger takes the story.
Speaking of the condition in which Maberry leaves Joe, we love the fact that this is not only action-packed, filled with science-geek stuff and great characters, with an interesting story, but it has a ton of heart. By the end of PATIENT ZERO, we thought the characters were pretty rad. By the end of THE DRAGON FACTORY, we LOVED the characters.
The whole time while reading this book we both kept thinking, "Tom Clancy, we wish you had a time machine so you could learn how to do these stories right from Jonathan and go back and fix your mockery of a career." Same goes for OSC's Empire and Hidden Empire.
Do yourselves a favor and pick up THE DRAGON FACTORY, and if you haven't already, PATIENT ZERO.
We seriously can't wait for THE KING OF PLAGUES, the follow up and concluding novel in the Joe Ledger Trilogy.
Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: Yeah. We have military people, ex-military people, and crazy people. Expect foul language.
Violence: See above. There is quite a bit of violence going on here, and it is brutal!
Sex: A few acts. Mentions of acts. Two of the main characters have and record multiple threesomes with a bunch of random "victims," though it isn't shown.