Carrie Vaughn writes books for the female demographic, no doubt about it. Her Kitty Norville series (review of her latest book in that series coming later) has scooped up quite a bit of popularity and recognition, so really it was only a matter of time before she started branching out more and more. DISCORD'S APPLE is her latest effort towards giving her readers something a little different from her normal releases.
Here is where we repeat the disclaimer: Carrie Vaughn writes for the female demographic. She doesn't write for guys. We are guys. Are you following our logical progression?
This doesn't mean we didn't like DISCORD'S APPLE. To be honest, we were surprised how much the ideas grabbed us. DISCORD'S APPLE is set in an alternate present day. The world is on the verge of an all-out Apocalypse, or perhaps even in the middle of one. Wars are all over the place. Nukes are being set off. Rationing is in full-effect. It's a fairly grim world. We really wish it had been even more detailed, and more described, because we seemingly only get a taste of how bad things are.
In the midst of this Apocalypse, the main character of the novel, Evie Walker, is going though a personal Apocalypse. Her father has cancer. Evie takes a break from her normal job in Los Angeles--she's a writer for a comic book--to go be with her father. The story has three different time periods. Evie's, which takes place in the small of Hope's Fort, Colorado; the end of the Trojan War (and the decades thereafter), following Sinon the Liar, the man who convinced Troy to bring the infamous Horse through the gates; we also get brief glimpses of Evie's ancestors, and the responsibility they have/were given.
The characters are all good, if a little too black-and-white for our taste (even the "Liar" character). The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. The gods are fickle. No real surprises there. Really this novel is all about the the combination of these seemingly unrelated ideas. For the most part, Vaughn does a great job. There are times when the main PoV, Evie, gets a tad too whiny, but it's pretty easily forgivable due to what she is going through.
Being Urban Fantasy and all, of course there is a mystery, and the question of a passed along birthright. There is a basement room in the Walker home that Evie's father is the caretaker of. In this room are dozens of mysterious items that random people are showing up to ask for. What are the items? Who are the people? Read the book and find out. We aren't going to spoil it no matter how many times you ask.
If there is one thing in this book that bothered us, it was Evie's profession. There are numerous times in the novel where we get Evie writing for her comic. Now we get that she is putting her own fears and frustrations into her comic. It's a metaphor for her life. We just had a really hard time caring about her profession at all. We would rather have had more focus on the world, or on the things that are actually happening in Evie's life. What it felt like was Carrie Vaughn projecting herself into her Evie character, who was in turn projecting herself into her comic book character. It was just a bit much, and took away from the actual story that was being told. And really in the end, it didn't matter much at all, and felt like it was just there to take up space.
DISCORD'S APPLE is a short book. 300 quickly-read pages. The writing is on par with her other series, the characters good but simple, and the story decent. While it felt a little bare-bones, Vaughn's readers will find quite a bit they can enjoy here. If you are unfamiliar with Vaughn's work, but don't really want to jump into a full series at the moment, DISCORD'S APPLE will give you a good glimpse of her style and story-telling technique. Guys: This won't be your thing. Gals: You'll probably really dig this.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: There is none for about half the novel, then suddenly there is some pretty strong language.
Violence: Very little.
Sex: Yeah there is some.
Okay, so let’s be up front. I’m completely jealous of Stephen Deas. Yes, it’s true, and no you can’t laugh at me because I’m not going to allow you to. So there. The largest portion of this jealousy stems from the fact that he lists K.J. Parker on his acknowledgments page. K.J. Parker. That nearly dropped me right where I was. At the bus stop. I’m also jealous of him though because Mr. Deas was one of those newbie authors with a humble number of publishing credits to his name, when one of the “Big Guys” over at Gollancz decided to ask him to write a book for them.
Not only was he asked to write a book though, he was asked to write a book about dragons. Dragons you say? Bah! Humbug! Cliché! Overdone! Boring! Exclamation point!
Um…no. So let’s get to it.
THE ADAMANTINE PALACE is the first of a trilogy of books (we’ve talked about this before, yes? Fantasy = Trilogy) set in the world of The Dragon Realms. Over each realm lords a king and/or queen, which each have their own set of dragons to use as they please. There’s an overseer of the conglomerate of kings and queens, the Speaker, who lives in the Adamantine Palace and is kind of the king of the kings, so to speak. Heh, heh. The job is filled by a prior king/queen that has given up the rule of their kingdom and is given to someone new every yea-many years. Also, a certain number of alchemists work in (but not for) each of the realms to keep the dragons tame and under the control of certain Dragon Knights, accomplished through the dragon’s diets.
The bulk of the story revolves around two main events, which are somewhat related through vague character connections but not by much else. The first deals with the transition from the current Speaker to a new Speaker, and involves much intrigue, politics, betrayal, and revenge. Prince Jehal and newly crowned Queen Zafir, secret lovers and ruthless players of the political game, are keen on gaining the prize of being Speaker for themselves. Queen Shezira has been promised the position. Speaker Hyram is old and sick (possibly being poisoned?) and is easily swayed by each party. Whose hands will the realms ultimately be placed into? You have yet to find out.
The second story-line revolves around the awakening of one of Queen Shezira’s dragons from its drug-induced tame nature and follows its subsequent outrage at being kept in such a state. This story-line is told in parts through the dragon itself, but "mostly" from the viewpoint of a sell-sword associated with the general area.
Mostly, you ask? Yes, my little one, please show some patience.
First up. Dragons!
The dragons in these books are towering beasts with unconscionable appetites for mass carnage, blood, violence…you get the picture. We’re not talking Temeraire (though there are times for such creatures to be lauded upon), we’re talking old-school, vicious, animalistic. These dragons, as compared to those in Temeraire, are the equivalent of interview-with-the-vampire vampires as compared to those sparkly ones that those here at EBR really don’t like to talk about. They tear into herds of cattle, boil river water in its bed with their fiery breath, and thrash knights in armor like my kid-brother used to after coming upon a group of my meticulously-positioned little green army men. But remember, all of them but one are currently under “command” of the Dragon Knights.
The story rips along at speed--with such short chapters there’s not much choice for it to do anything but. It’s entertaining, intriguing, and begins to set up a world that seems very much like one I’d enjoy spending time with. There’s a lot to love about this book: great writing, interesting characters, fairly detailed world, good history to it, and the thing starts in just the right spot--with change. On the whole, the journey from beginning to end was one that I’m glad I participated in.
A perfect book then, you ask? No. There are definitely down points. The first of which is the fact that there’s no real focus on character. The story is told from the viewpoints of way too many of them--around eight or nine if I’m remembering right. Characters that show up in the beginning disappear mid-book, some only get a chapter or two, others raise their heads midway and then fizzle into nothing. The most difficult character-related issue that I had though was that most of the few characters that do stick around through the book are pretty unsympathetic. They’re selfish and murderous, back-stabbing nearly everyone that they can for the express purpose of getting what they want. Okay, fine, but why should I care if they win or not then? The ones that I’d love to be able to know and understand just disappear, or they never really get started in the first place. The ending left a whole lot to be desired, but that was because there pretty much wasn’t one. Both storylines just kind of stop, with some minor conclusion to the one occurring inside the Adamantine Palace, but just mid-stream in the other. If there had been a better payoff and a more concise character focus this would easily have landed into the realm of Books We Like. As is though, the whole thing kind of fizzles in the end because of these problems.
So, is the book worth reading then? Absolutely. It’s fun, fast, and something you can sink your teeth into. Literally. (Though frankly if you do so to a book you don’t personally own, I’ll deny ever having suggested this.) If you’re cool with a quickly-told, decent story and can deal with all the myriad of insignificant characters, then you should probably pick it up. It’s not perfect, none are, and really it could have been better, but it's good enough that I think a lot of people will still be able to enjoy it. Besides, I'm hoping that most of these problems will be avoided in the next book. I'll definitely be waiting to find out.
Recommended age: 18 and up. Mostly because of the unanticipated sexual content.
Language: Yes. Occasional but regular.
Violence: Um…dragons? Not too much otherwise.
Sex: Way too much for what this book was supposed to be focused on. Frank language and discussion in several scenes, and mild interaction in a few others.
Stephen Deas's website:
I was first introduced to the work of Catherynne M. Valente a few years ago when my brother bought me THE ORPHAN TALES: IN THE NIGHT GARDEN. Based entirely on that one present he is now my favorite brother. That book was amazing. I almost cried when it was over because there wasn’t any more of that fascinating story to read. I never wanted it to end. Needless to say when Valente’s PALIMPSEST was released I picked up a copy immediately hungry for another beautiful story.
PALIMPSEST is the tale of a sexually transmitted city.
For some of you that may be all you need to know, and I won’t say I blame you. When I find sex in a book I usually try to skim the scene for vital information but generally skip it. Just not my cup of tea. Those of you who want to know more about the book read on.
PALIMPSEST follows the lives of four different characters: a bee keeper, a locksmith, a book binder from Italy, and a Japanese girl obsessed with trains. Each of these characters finds their way to Palimpsest by having sex with someone who has already been there. As these four enter the city, they are bonded together and able to share impressions with each other both in Palimpsest and the waking world. In addition, when they awake they have been marked with a strange tattoo-like mark in the form of a map of the piece of the city. The book follows these characters in alternating chapters first as they wander around the real world trying desperately to find a way back to the fantastic city, and then follows them in turn during their stay in the city.
The city of Palimpsest itself is a character full of wonderful and weird denizens. I relished the time I spent in that city through the eyes of the various characters. It is truly a beautiful place. Fascinating, magical, haunting, flawed and at times creepy. In other words, it felt real. Not a real city, not somewhere you’ve ever been, but it had an air of believability. This isn’t Wonderland or Oz--here there be monsters. I was surprised also to find myself intrigued as much with the real world as the imaginary one. The characters Valente has sketched for us are weird and wonderful. Each has their own quirks and problems and I found myself caught up in their lives and their interactions with the world (both real and Palimpsest).
The best part about this book for me was the language. I find myself inadequately prepared to describe in words the beauty of Valente’s prose. This book is a feast, where others are an appetizer. If her words were brush strokes on a canvas, her name would be whispered in the same breath as Michelangelo and DaVinci. It’s that beautiful. This is not a quick read (not if you do it right). This is a book that lives with you. I often found myself reading and rereading sentences just to enjoy the word play.
The only problem I had with the book was the sex. There was A LOT of it. Each time a character goes to Palimpsest, they need to have intercourse with someone else who has been to the fabled city to get there. None of the scenes are particularly long, most of them just a paragraph or two, but like I said, there’s a bunch of them. The problem is…I understand what she's trying to do. When two people get together and form a relationship, something new is formed, something more than just a mix of the two, something bigger. Palimpsest is a symbol of that union, be it good or bad. The metaphor works well, as the only way that any one can get to Palimpsest is to give themselves to another. Each person contains a bit of the city in them, and depending on whom you sleep with will vary the location of where you go. But like I said I don’t like sex scenes. After awhile it got really old and it seemed to me that Valente had a checklist of sexual scenarios to run through during the course of the book. She checked them all off her list by my account.
Is the book brilliant? Absolutely. Is it well written and an interesting story? Yes. Is it worthy of the Hugo nomination it got? For sure. Is it good enough to win? I think it may. Is this a book for everyone? Absolutely not. The thick language could be a deterrent for some (not me, I loved every minute of it), but I’m sure that what will keep most people away is the sex. Read at your own discretion. If you want a brilliant read that I have no reservations giving, read both of the books in the Orphans Tales series. It doesn't get better than that.
Recommended Age: 18+. Maybe you missed it, but there’s a lot of sex in here.
Language: A bit, but if the sex doesn’t put you off, the language won’t.
Violence: Not much, a few gruesome moments here or there.
Sex: Uh, yeah.
Because we are the benevolent Book Gods that you have to know, love, and worship, we have a treat for you today. A review AND an interview. Without further ado, we present JC Marino, author of Dante's Journey.
Welcome to EBR John, thanks for doing the interview. We like to start things off here by giving authors a chance, to in their own words, tell the world how elite they are. After all, to be a guest here at Elitist Book Reviews you must be. So lets have it.
I used to work at Digital Equipment (affectionately called DEC, for those of you who remember). The mentality there was to never toot your own horn, but to let the product do the talking for you.
Ahhhhh… sweet memories.
If I WERE to toot my own horn, not that I would… I would say that I’ve lived a lot of life and have done many things out of my comfort zone.
I’m like Frank Sinatra. I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve also been a Soldier, a Security Specialist, an AI Knowledge Engineer, a 3D Animator, an Information Security Engineer, an eDiscovery Engineer, and now a Novelist.
How about a little bit about yourself and your background?
Well, I was raised in a typical Boston, Italian-American Catholic family through the sixties and seventies. Typical in some ways… not so typical in others.
We were sort of like the Sopranos… you never really knew where you stood in the family dynamic.
I joined the Air Force as soon as I was of age, dropped out of school, and left.
Fast forward six months… I’m walking around an F-111 in Mt Home AFB, Idaho at 2:00 AM, and realizing what I now have to do… GO BACK TO SCHOOL.
From that point on, I went to school to learn what ever I could.
I eventually left the service, became a Software Engineer specializing in Artificial Intelligence, got a job with DEC, and moved to LA.
In LA, I learned something from an admin person I met at work. Everywhere else in the country, an admin person who wants to write is an admin person who wants to write. In LA, he’s a writer who’s temporarily working as an admin person.
In Hollywood, you’re not defined by what you do for work; you’re defined by your dreams.
This admin person got me hooked on to continuing my education, but not in software engineering… rather in where my dreams were: writing.
So I continued my education at UCLA in creative writing and story-telling.
That’s why, today, I’m NOT an out-of-work AI Software Engineer… I’m a NOVELIST.
Would you tell us the story of your road to publication? What was a particularly challenging moment in getting your book published?
This is as long a road as the DNA strand of a Jurassic Park dinosaur. I’ll try and keep it at the Reader’s Digest level.
I started out in screenwriting. After years of getting my work optioned, working for producer wanna-bees for years for free, I decided to switch to novels.
I discovered one thing from Hollywood (and those wanna-bees)… if you want to get anyone interested in your work, you’re going to have to let them know that you’re bound and determined to do it with or without them.
So, after several bouts with the huge publishers, I looked into the smaller independent ones.
I read a lot about them (thank God for Google).
I made a list of the top five I was interested in, and sent them a questionnaire. The ones with the answers that showed a good fit for what I was looking for, I called.
I got it down to one (Star Publish) and thus, started the publishing side of the fence… then came editing… cover art… etc.
Each one of those steps is a story in and of itself, but like I said… the Reader’s Digest version.
Did you struggle with retaining your own artistic integrity balanced with remaining true to the original subject matter? What were some of the ways you accomplished this?
If you asked me this in my days as a screenwriter… the answer would be YES.
A producer (or director or agent or manager or…) would actually say how much they loved my screenplay and how they were going to make the deal of the century with it. BUT, this is how WE are going to have to change it.
I always remember the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island when I hear how “we” have to do something. “Wow… you certainly went from WE to ME in a hurry.”
Of course, I did all the work (sometimes over years)… made the changes that I told them wouldn’t work. Then got blamed when what I said wouldn’t work didn’t.
But, as for the experience with Dante’s Journey, and my novel writing experience with Star Publish, there was no such struggle.
The thing about Star is that most of the people in it are also writers. They bend over backwards to keep the voice of the writer alive and well.
With the smaller independent publishers, there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the big advantages is that the writer gets the last word on where the story goes.
What about Dante's Inferno inspired you to write Dante's Journey?
I was born and raised Catholic, as well as going to Catholic school (for eight years). I can’t say this for the whole Catholic faith, but a lot of the teachings in the school I attended was about sin and the wrath of God.
When I joined the military, I was really out of my element.
I got to know a lot of different kinds of people and realized that the Italian Catholic Bostonian view of the world was just a small part of the whole.
I eventually got a major thirst for other religions and faith. One night, on armory duty, all alone, I read a book called The Worm that Never Dies. It was about Hell and scared the HELL out of me.
It eventually led me to reading more and more about faith, Hell, and sin.
I found Dante’s Inferno and, though I don’t believe Hell is physically like that, I do understand the symbolism. I was fascinated with the text and story.
The whole nature of sin thing got to me. What is “sin” anyway? I remember an old Outer Limits episode where an alien void of emotion asked a human being to explain “love” to him.
How do you do that?
Sin isn’t defined by action alone. It can’t be. For everyone that kills for money, there’s someone else who kills to save a child.
Anyway, Dante’s Inferno always stayed with me, so when I moved to LA, I started writing the screenplay version. It was originally written for Bruce Willis and had a very “Die Hard” feel to it.
But the characters evolved and the feel eventually changed to what you see now.
What were some of the challenges you faced in creating the characters Dante encounters during his Journey?
As I said above, the original idea behind the story was more for a Bruce Willis “Die Hard” type.
At that time, all the characters were made up and based on your typical archetypes.
I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I eventually thought to make the name of the main character a variation of Dante Alighieri… thus his name ended up as Joe Dante.
That’s about when I had the revelation to give most of the character names some variation as the character names in the original work.
Then, I thought, why not actually base the characters themselves on the characters on the original.
So… Dante Alighieri is Joe Dante, Boston PD; Hector (the reluctant warrior from the Trojan War) is a Hippie draft dodger with the heart of a fighter; Beatrice (the original Dante’s true love) is Joe’s wife; Filippo Argenti (Dante Alighieri’s mortal enemy) is Argenti the drug dealer who had Joe’s family killed; Socrates is, well… Socrates. But you get the idea.
Then I went back to storytelling 101… conflict conflict conflict…
So, the dynamic relationships and motivations became more mysterious and conflicted.
In the original, Virgil was Dante’s tour guide because Dante loved and respected Virgil’s work in life (Virgil was a poet).
But in Dante’s Journey, Joe and Virgil don’t even like each other at first. They’re forced to work together. Joe wants to find “justice” for his family’s murder. And Virgil needs to get Joe out of Hell for mysterious reasons… or does he?
What past experiences in your life helped shaped Dante's Journey?
Eight years of Catholic school.
The funny thing is… when you know something and have known it for most of your life, with no thought of even keeping it a secret, you automatically think everyone knows it to.
So many people know so many things without realizing other people don’t.
Someone who grew up around horses on a ranch, for example, when first going to the city and talking to a stranger would probably assume they also know about riding horses.
But to someone like me… a city kid… my only exposure to horses is something to bet on to win, place or show.
There were so many parts of my life that I just took for granted and thought nothing of it. The way Joe grew up was similar to me, so it was fairly easy to write for that character.
Growing up Italian Catholic… doing my time in the military… the conflicted feelings you have with family… etc.
What can you tell us about your future projects? What is coming down the pipeline and when?
Ahhhh… for that, you can go to my website at www.jcmarino.com.
I saw a movie a while back, titled “Memento”. To me, movies like this are what story-telling is all about.
It gets the audience involved by telling the story backwards, showing them what it’s like to have short term memory loss.
I was inspired to write a story about a rare medical condition and tell it through the eyes of the protagonist. My next novel, “Everything but the Face” is about a gallery owner who’s attacked and left with a rare condition called Prosopagnosia, or face-blindness.
To her, everyone has the same horrific empty, expressionless face. In other words, everyone looks the same.
She has to solve the murder of her boyfriend, stay one step ahead of the killer, keep her paranoia of the suspicious police at bay, and confront her inner demons.
As “Dante’s Journey”, the story is told in the first person (through the eyes of the protagonist). It was necessary in order to get the reader to feel what it’s like to have this disorienting condition.
Who is she talking to in any given chapter? We don’t know. We only know who they say they are. So, who can a woman with trust-issues trust when everyone looks exactly the same?
What do we have to do to get cameos in one of your future books?
It depends… do you want to be the good guy, bad guy, mentor guy or victim?
(Steve likes to be the victim, Nick likes to be the bad guy. Just like in real life)
Is there anything you would like to add or say to our readers?
I think anyone who read/liked the original Dante’s Inferno would love Dante’s Journey. It will be fun for them to see the updated characters.
And those who haven’t read it, but are interested in religion (the concept of Hell… the nature of sin… etc) and/or fantasy will also enjoy it.
It’s sort of like how Smallville is to Superboy. It’s great to see the updated characters and how they’re different from the original, but it’s also entertaining if you’d never heard of Superboy before Smallville.
The novel is written in layers and Hell is separated by levels.
Similarly, different types of people will enjoy the novel for different reasons.
I think it’s a very unique book as it doesn’t rely on swords, sorcery or magic, but rather the human condition within the extraordinary situation of one man finding himself in Hell.
I think the reader will see certain aspects of him/her-self in Joe (or even some of the other characters) and question their own place in the world, as well as their possible place in this particular afterlife.
I want the reader to look at the inferno and say “Heck, I could end up in THAT ring.”
Plus, it’s a fun book. It’s light enough to keep the reader smiling, yet heavy enough to keep them thinking, guessing, and even philosophizing.
Thanks again for coming John. It's been a pleasure. We will see you next time around for EVERYTHING BUT THE FACE.
When we first got an email from JC Marino about possibly reviewing his novel, despite agreeing quickly, we were a bit nervous about it. Usually authors that have need of contacting reviewers themselves, and not through a publicist...well let's just say there is a reason they don't have a publicist. So when we opened of the package, and saw the goodness of the production quality of Dante's Journey we already knew we had been mistaken and had no reason to not be super excited about it. We had a complete blast reading Dante's Journey.
What's even better, is we had a complete blast talking about it after we had both finished it. No, it wasn't a bunch of discussions on the NEUROPATH level, but it was fun to sit and talk about how the modern retelling evoked certain parts of the original work of DANTE'S INFERNO.
The main character in DANTE'S JOURNEY is Joe Dante, a half-Irish, half-Italian cop in 1961 who has lost everything. He wakes up in a bizarre place and sets off in pursuit of the man who killed his family. We don't have to beat around the bush. He wakes up in Hell. Duh!
The character's dialog is simply fantastic. The phrasing and word usage really points out the time period the book is set in. (Does Hell have a time period? Hm...) While the dialog shines we wanted quite a bit more in various places of description. The book moves extremely quickly, and is pretty description-light in places. While Marino certainly evoked the feelings of despair and tireless torment in Hell, he could have really sunk us into the setting by slowing down a second here and there to really send it home.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in this work, is the fact while it is set in Hell, the tale retains a sense of humor and keeps it light. It would be easy for a book like this to fall... no, jump, right into a mire of religious castigation about sin. But it doesn't. (Whew, Nick just breathed a sigh of relief.) It's obvious JC Marino has a sense of humor and had a great time writing the book.
The storytelling style used in DANTE'S JOURNEY is one of our very favorites. It swaps between Joe's life(death?) in Hell and his life before he came to Hell. The juxtaposition of what is going in both realms throughout the book is interesting and keeps the suspense going.
For fans of the original DANTE'S INFERNO there are plenty of things that are familiar, but there are just as many twists. This was a nice surprise. We didn't want just a modern copy of the story. Marino's book retains a very strong sense of the familiar and it is fun to see the close parallels to the original, but it is where they diverge that are the best parts of the book.
We should say that despite our familiarity with the original work, a person could very easily pick up DANTE'S JOURNEY with no prior experience to the story and enjoy it. While we had description and clarity nitpicks, we totally give DANTE'S JOURNEY a thumbs up and recommendation.
As he said in the interview John's website is www.jcmarino.com
Recommended Age: 16 and up
Language: We were surprised. There is cursing, but not very much.
Violence: There are some action scenes, but nothing incredibly gruesome. Hell could have been particularly violent, and there is a bit of it (uhhh eternal torture anyone?) but nothing to be concerned about.
Sex: Even in the circle of Hell you would expect it, there is nothing really. Some references is all you'll find.
If you haven't read any Naomi Novik you're a little behind the times, but that's okay, because I can give you a quick run-down on the series thus far. We first meet Captain Laurence and his dragon Temeraire in HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, which is set during the Napoleonic Wars, where battles aren't only fought on land and sea, they're also fought in the air with dragons. However, these aren't your run-of-the-mill dragons, most of them are huge and have their own aerial crew with captain, lieutenant, riflemen, bombers, and etc. Captain Laurence, who became Temeraire's rider by happenstance, has spent his military career playing by the book; but Temeraire, unlike most dragons of the British Air Corps, is very intelligent and has his own ideas about how things should be done. This combination makes for some fine adventures that take place from France to Africa clear to Temeraire's country of origin, China. Novik follows the Napoleonic Wars pretty faithfully in the first books, but then the series veers from history when Napoleon attempts to invade England.
At the end of book five, A VICTORY OF EAGLES, Temeraire and Laurence are sent to Australia as punishment for treason, the prison colony the only alternative to execution for their crimes. Which is frustrating for their fans, because the pair have been nothing if not loyal to the British Empire--even if doing the right thing doesn't always mean following orders. Despite being treated as traitors, they obey king and country and head for the land down under with three eggs and England's only fire-breathing dragon in tow to start a new covert, where at least they can stay out of trouble. As TONGUES OF SERPENTS begins they hope to gain the good graces of the Australian royal governor and eventually be pardoned.
However, what they find on arrival is Captain Bligh, the infamous former captain of the Bounty, whose leadership of the Australian colony has been taken from him. This leaves Laurence in a pickle while waiting for official word from England: he could give himself over to Bligh who's the legitimate governor of the colony and use Temeraire as a blunt force object to wrest back control, but estrange himself from everyone else in Sydney as a result. The other option is even worse: help the current governors, who appear to have been justified, but leave a permanent scar on Laurence's record for helping those who went against orders. Either solution will only dig his traitorous hole deeper. What's a dragon rider to do?
Why, cook up a plan to wander across Australia and avoid the problem altogether, of course.
The main characters, Temeraire and Laurence must struggle through a foreign climate, difficult people, and a nebulous future. Unfortunately, with no rank Laurence seems to fade into the background, making him wishy-washy for a good three-quarters of the novel. It's Temeraire who shines the most in SERPENTS, as he experiences disappointment and the consequences of making hard decisions--and matures in the process. Despite efforts to protect the three eggs in his charge, nothing goes as planned, and the duo and their friends struggle to solve their problems as they cross an unfriendly landscape.
As ever, the mysterious Tharkay continues to be a favorite, and is often the voice of reason. We're also revisited by the snobbish Captain Rankin, whose dragon died of neglect in the first book. He's slated to take captaincy of one of the eggs brought to Australia and lead up the covert there. His presence is an interesting complication of frustration and comeuppance. During SERPENTS we don't get to make many new friends--and most of those are dragons--but instead get to know a few old ones a little better.
The best thing about Novik's books is her prose, which feels authentic for the time period, pulling readers right in to the story. She tells her stories with a minimum of fuss, so the pacing is usually fast, making her novels quick reads. And fortunate for us, Novik has been consistent across the series with pacing, prose, characterization, and flow, and it continues into SERPENTS, making the series reliably solid.
But if I'm being completely honest, when I found out that the sixth book was coming out in July I was feeling a little 'meh', even with the big cliffhanger at the end of VICTORY. The books feel almost episodic, but even episodic series will have a slow buildup of tension from an overarching issue. Sure you could call the war the big tension, but now with Temeraire and Laurence out of the action, it was hard for me to be excited about where the series is headed. SERPENTS didn't completely dispel my worry, but I know that Novik does have a grand plan for Temeraire and Laurence, and she won't leave us unsatisfied.
If I were to compare SERPENTS with any other in the series, it's most like the third book BLACK POWDER WAR, in which Temeraire and Laurence trudge across the route from China to Istanbul. Both books are lulls in the series, serving as transitions while responsibilities and opportunities shift for our heroic duo, building up storyline for what's to happen next. Although with another 'trekking across a foreign land' episode, I'm beginning to wonder if this series is less about the Napoleonic War than it is getting a picture of what the entire world was like during that time period.
If you want to start Temeraire and Laurence's adventures, don't begin with TONGUES OF SERPENTS, as it won't have the same appeal like it does to those of us who've read the previous books and as a result are deeply invested in the characters and their plight. Instead begin with HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON. You won't regret it.
Recommended Age: 14 and up.
Language: A handful of words, but otherwise minor.
Violence: Even though it takes place during the Napoleonic War, there's not a whole lot in this one, mostly a small battle at the end.
Sex: Implied, and even then there's very little.
In 2006 Novik sold film rights for the Temeraire series to Peter Jackson, and here's hoping he can make her vision come to life. Word is that there are two to three more books predicted in the series.
It's really not an exaggeration when we say SWORDS & DARK MAGIC was easily one of our most anticipated titles of the year. In fact, that doesn't even say enough. Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, this collection, to us, was like the Holy Grail of short story anthologies. Why? The first three stories in the collection, in the order they appear: Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Gene Wolf. Yeah. That's just the first three stories.
First we need to get something out of the way, and yeah it's a tad petty. The subtitle of the collection is "The New Sword & Sorcery". Honestly, this isn't a fair or accurate subtitle. Don't get us wrong, there are plenty of swords and plenty of sorcery to be found amidst these 500+ pages of awesomeness, but there isn't anything groundbreaking here. There isn't anything here that is re-inventing the genre. No, the subtitle should have been something more like "New Tales in Sword & Sorcery".
Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about the anthology.
It is fantastic. Are there weak stories here? Yeah. The thing about short fiction anthologies, however, is that you have a collection that appeals to a variety. As we stated earlier, the anthology starts with stories by Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, and Gene Wolfe. Then you have James Enge, C.J. Cherryh, K. J. Parker, Garth Nix and a guy named Michael Moorcock. But see, we aren't done yet. Then you move on to Tim Lebbon, Robert Silverberg (maybe you've heard of him?), Greg Keyes, Michael Shea, Scott Lynch, Tanith Lee, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bill Willingham, and ending the collection with Joe Abercrombie. If you can't find something to LOVE here, you have issues. You see, for every story we felt weak and mediocre, there was another story (or two) that were just unbelievable. The good stories were SO GOOD, that any runts in the litter could be easily forgiven.
So, which stories did we like the best? The stories we mention below won't surprise you; you DO know our tastes quite well after all.
The Deification of Dal Bamore — Tim Lebbon
A grim tale of sorcery and revolution. Lebbon's descriptions are so clear. All the is happening here a criminal--a possible martyr to a cause--is being escorted to receive a token trial followed by execution. Things go deliciously out of control, of course. Makes us want to brush up on our Tim Lebbon. Such good stuff here.
Dark Times at the Midnight Market — Robert Silverberg
Really all we should have to say is, "It's a Silverberg story. Of course it is awesome." Even then, it was surprising how much we enjoyed this story. "The Midnight Market" is a Majipoor tale. To some, that will be enough to know whether you will like it or not. To the rest, the Midnight Market is a place where essentially anything can be acquired...though right now it is going through a bit of a recession. This story is all about the comedy. It is timed and executed with perfection.
The Singing Spear — James Enge
One of the best stories in the collection. Enge is so absurdly underrated. His character Morlock Ambrosius is a man of legend. A sorcerer of unparalleled power. And, uh, a complete drunk. "The Singing Spear" is a tale about what Morlock does when his bartender is killed. Enge is freaking terrific. This story will make you want to read more of his stuff. We suggest starting with BLOOD OF AMBROSE.
Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company — Glen Cook
An all new Black Company story? Featuring Croaker? This story begins with our beloved cast of characters realizing things have been far too good lately. In their experience, that is never a good thing. Balance and all that. Everything you like about Cook is in this story. He is one of our favorite writers. Ever.
Goats of Glory — Steven Erikson
You knew it was gonna be on here. It starts a tad slow, but when it gets going, it gets GOING. Five soldiers wander into the town Glory. The gravedigger sees them coming and begins digging five graves. In true Erikson fashion, we get great humor mixed with amazingly described action. We loved this story. The ending was absolutely PERFECT. Was this the best story in the collection? Almost. It pains Steve to admit it, but there was one story that topped even this treasure.
The Fool Jobs — Joe Abercrombie
If this is what we get to see in Joe's upcoming THE HEROES, we are going to be in heaven. The main character? Craw. You may or may not remember him from the First Law Trilogy. Craw, along with a...colorful...cast of characters are sent into a small town to get something. They don't know what though. They'll know it when they see it. Seriously. Humor and action. A seriously incredible story. Was this the best story in the collection? Almost. You know how much Nick loves Abercrombie. But even he had one story above it.
(Fanning yourselves in anticipation yet?)
In the Stacks — Scott Lynch
The. Best. Story. There was no debate. No arguing. Lynch's "In the Stacks" is just a freaking masterpiece. Not nearly as irreverent as his other works, yet just as imaginative. It takes place in a wizard's school. The students, as a final exam in their current year of schooling, must return a library book. Really. The library, of course, is violent and sentient. We feel that people forget just how good an author Lynch is. This story will remind you. And make you want to re-read LOCKE LAMORA and RED SEAS. And make you salivate in anticipation for his next book. Unreal.
So there you have it. Just because we didn't mention the story you were eying doesn't mean it wasn't good. Moorcock's was great. Parker's was actually good as well. As was Wolfe's. We just don't have time to talk about all of them.
This is a collection that should be on every shelf. The main problem with it? It makes us want the next novel by these authors now...no, make that YESTERDAY.
As a final note, we want to mention the introduction to the collection, "Check Your Dark Lord at the Door" by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan. This is the history of Sword & Sorcery that everyone should know. Serious kudos to these guys for taking the time to show where the genre came from, and then for giving us this terrific collection.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Yup. Though not as prevalent as in the author's full length novels, there is still a significant amount.
Violence: Hello? Sword & Sorcery? Of course there is violence. It is almost always crazy awesome too.
Sex: Talked about, joked about, and alluded too. But never shown.
Jonathan Strahan's Site:
Lou Anders' Site:
If you are like us, you will appreciate the value of a Limited Edition of this book that is numbered, and signed by EVERY AUTHOR IN THE COLLECTION. Check it out at Subterranean Press.
So, I don’t particularly care for science fiction. Call me a hypocrite, yes you may, but don’t be too harsh, because there may be some hope for me yet. In fact, you might have already heard of him. His name is Alastair Reynolds.
I don’t remember how I came across my first book from Mr. Reynolds or what possessed me to pick it up. Perhaps it was the fact that I really did (somewhere deep inside) like science fiction and wanted to find something good. Or maybe it was an impressive review that I found about one of his previous books. Then again, it could have been the contract he has with Gollancz, which speaks for ten books over the next ten years for £1m. Whoa. Regardless, I picked up HOUSE OF SUNS by him shortly thereafter and was far from disappointed.
TERMINAL WORLD is a standalone book set against the backdrop of a far-future earth where one of the largest population centers still around is called Spearpoint. It’s a miles-high inverted cone that spirals up into the atmosphere with no realizable purpose but to house several strata of technologies and peoples. Each of these technologies is held in check by the unknown workings of the “zones,” and affect in detail the lives of those living on Spearpoint’s outer surface. High above in the Celestial Levels, post-humans called Angels float on the thermals and currents. Those that descend into a lower zone quickly die. In Neon Heights, life is much like you’d expect from that in a modern city--cars, commuters, buildings agog--all familiar but for the sharp drop near the outer shelf. There are also zones where steam prevails, and others where it’s nothing but the wild-wild west. Crossing borders to some extent is permitted, though cause extreme discomfort, sickness, and sometimes death without the aid of “anti-zonal” medications. Electricity, steam, combustion, guns, lasers, they all work in their requisite zones, but simply don’t in others. Really cool ideas all.
In amongst this network of awesome futuristic backdrop works Quillon, an angel that was secretly modified years ago to infiltrate the lower zones but ultimately went AWOL. Unfortunately, a pack of angels has finally found him. Luckily though they don’t want to give him a lobotomy. There are, however, other more sinister angels who do. For the technology to modify their bodies has somehow gone missing, and within Quillon’s brain lies the only copy of the plan.
Then it’s time for Chapter 2.
One of the things that Alastair Reynolds has done in both of his books that I’ve read is give me realistic, intricate, engaging characters and put them into a world that is mind-blowingly new and complete. Science fiction is all about the ideas: the original, the unfamiliar, the enlightening. He does all this and more with grand panache, and even gives us a great story to go with it. Bad guys, betrayals, and blimps. Oh my!
Despite how dense this book was, I found myself tearing through the pages. His prose is easy to read, his ideas easy to understand, and the book incredibly easy to get drawn into. On the whole, I enjoyed it (can you tell?), though there were parts that got a bit slow. A large portion near the middle of the book kind of felt like a “world-building” section, though props to him for giving it to us as an integral part of the story and not as pages and pages of exposition (as so much science fiction does). He helps us to feel the world, to take a stake in it, to understand how these people live and survive on a hostile, heat-ravaged planet, both inside and outside the security of the cities. He unfolds their history and makes things terrifying and awesome to them, feel terrifying and awesome to us. My only real complaint with the book was about the ending. Guess I expected a bit more action. Even though the ending was satisfying and uplifting and full of promise for our characters…a few more explosions or something would have been kind of cool.
In the end, I say, “READ ALASTAIR REYNOLDS!” in a mighty, booming voice that will ring through your head until you do. He deserves the praise. He deserves the money. He deserves your money. Buy his books. And then tell him we sent you.
Recommended age: 16 and up
Language: Yes, a mild amount. One of the main supporting characters has a potty mouth.
Violence: Some. Killer cyborg dogs that eat your brains. A number of people get shot. There’s a few medical scenes. Not a whole lot of major page-time though.
Sex: A few references, nothing direct.
Lois McMaster Bujold is easily one of my favorite authors, from her Hugo Award winning PALADIN OF SOULS to the immensely popular Miles Vorkosigan series. When she began The Sharing Knife series I was excited to see her writing new fantasy, and picked up BEGUILEMENT when it first came out in paperback in 2007. The fourth and final book, HORIZON, was released in paperback this past January.
If you liked PALADIN OF SOULS this new series may pique your interest: like PALADIN it has a love story, magic, fascinating characters, and a well-developed setting. However, if you're a fan of Miles and the excitement and high adventure he usually falls into, The Sharing Knife may be too leisurely to grab your attention.
That isn't to say the series isn't well written or interesting, because it is. Bujold's prose is among the best in speculative fiction today, and this series is no exception. She knows how to paint a picture that flows authentically from her PoV characters. The Earth-like world feels real, from the harsh climes of the north, to the expanses of farmland, to life along the river. And, as always, the magic is subtly woven into the story.
But since it's a story about two people who fall in love and get married, many male readers may never get past book one. Oh well, their loss.
Dag is a Lakewalker, a nomadic people with a purpose: to hunt down and rid the world of 'malices'. A malice is an immortal monster that appears at random to consume everything around it, and the only way to kill it is with a Lakewalker sharing knife, which is made using their magic 'groundsense'. Anyone not a Lakewalker is considered a farmer, and are treated as inferiors since they have no groundsense of their own. Dag has been patrolling for over thirty years and taken part in nearly as many malice kills, making him a legend among his own people. At the start of BEGUILEMENT, Dag is foundering, his tragic past weighing him down.
Fawn crosses paths with Dag during a routine patrol gone chaotic with the discovery of a new malice not far from her family's farm. She's almost killed by the malice, but Dag saves her, and for the first time in her life she's admired and taken seriously. So begins their unlikely romance, much to the dismay of their families--and not only because of the age difference, but because they come from two different worlds.
The story isn't all about the romance, equal time is spent on groundsense: the subtle magic that Lakewalkers rely on to tell them about the world and people around them. Groundsense is the natural manipulation of their environment, from healing to sensing surroundings to strengthening their handiwork. Dag takes an unconventional approach to his magic as he struggles to innovate in order to solve problems previously thought to be insurmountable. As a result of his magical discoveries, Dag realizes how he can begin to heal the rift of distrust between Lakewalker and farmer--recognizing that none of his progress is possible without his farmer bride Fawn at his side.
Each book builds on the previous ones, with new information about the setting and magic expanding our knowledge of the world and its inhabitants. BEGUILEMENT sets the tone for the series, as well as the foundation for the setting and its characters. LEGACY deals mostly with the problems associated with Dag and Fawn's Lakewalker-farmer relationship. PASSAGE is the weakest and slowest of the novels because it's even more character and setting driven as Dag tries to solve problems with his groundsense. The series momentum doesn't really get rolling until the last half of HORIZON, with its meaningful climax and tidy resolution.
Unfortunately, the series may disappoint Bujold fans, and her new fantasy readers would be better served to begin with the excellent THE CURSE OF CHALION. While I enjoyed the romance between the fascinating Dag and Fawn, as well as the details of how groundsense works, Bujold takes too long to tell the overarching story. The excitement potential with the malice troubles is spread too thin and the pacing may frustrate readers who want to see a quicker payoff. The four-part series breaks up awkwardly between the books (likely because it was originally planned as a duet) and would have been better if it had been written as a more streamlined trilogy.
If you like beautiful prose, world-building, complex characters, the nitty-gritty of what makes magic work, and you're patient enough for a satisfying conclusion, then this series is worth reading. If you prefer Miles-like action-packed craziness, then not so much.
Recommended Age: 16+
Violence: A few fights with monsters or bandits, but not particularly graphic.
Sex: In the first and second book there are a handful of detailed, but tasteful scenes. The later books mostly have innuendo.
Shocking though this may be, here at Elitist Book Reviews, we tend to think we are pretty awesome (like we said, shocking). Between ourselves (Steve & Nick), our newly acquired "Team" of reviewers (Vanessa, Dan, and Shawn), and even our occasional Guest Reviewers, we are a pretty solid bunch.
Now we don't want our faithful readers to take this the wrong way--because we love you guys and gals--but we have needs. Mostly to be recognized for what we do. We've been around for close to a year now. We've reviewed a sizable number of novels, and interviewed some terrific authors. We done good. Amidst it all, we mix serious opinions with our cutting wit and honest criticisms. Honesty is our best quality...as well and handsomeness and humility.
It turns out that there is a Book Blogger Appreciation Week from Sept. 13-17 of this year. Yeah we know. Crazy. People actually have a way to show appreciation for us nutty people who take absurd amounts of time to review novels for the grateful masses. We think it is a great idea.
For the unaware, maintaining an active Review Blog is actually a lot of hard work. It can feel like a full-time, unpaid job. If we feel sappy, we call it a labor of love (awwwwwwwwww!). You see, we love reading. We love Speculative Fiction (Fantasy, SF, Horror, etc.), and we love sharing our opinions on it. We love that through us, people have discovered books that have ignited their imaginations. We love that we are helping people be, stay, or become excited to read.
Our first year has been fantastic. We maintain a pretty awesome and active readership who freely share their opinions. You guys are awesome! We've had you all say numerous times that we are one of the better blogs out there. We agree (shocker).
As such, we are registering our not-so-humble blog for Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW). With any luck, we'll make some sort of finalist's list of blogs for Speculative Fiction--not gonna lie, winning would be completely awesome. But really, we just want to support other bloggers: our jobs are hard, but rewarding. And we want to put ourselves out there for the people that haven't discovered us yet. The more review blogs you read, the more educated you become. You become literary elitists yourselves. You know, like us!
So, first off, head over to the BBAW website and check them out:
Next, the following will be several links to the reviews that show-off our style the best. The BBAW want this so all the judges read the same posts (we'll obviously make fans of them...). For our faithful readers, we wish we would have known about this sooner, we would have polled you to see which reviews and interviews you thought were the best. Alas, it is left up to us to toot our own horns...
...but let's face it, we are good at that.
Here we go:
Best Speculative Fiction Book Blog
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/07/i-am-not-serial-killer.html
BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/08/best-served-cold.html
GARDENS OF THE MOON by Steven Erikson - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/08/gardens-of-moon_9674.html
TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer (seriously, we did it) - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/08/twilight-seriously.html
SHADOW'S SON by Jon Sprunk - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/06/shadows-son.html
Best Author Interviews
Kristine Kathryn Rusch - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/01/interview-with-kristine-kathryn-rusch.html
R.A. Salvatore - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/10/ra-salvatore-interview.html
Tom Lloyd - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/11/tom-lloyd-interview.html
Dan Wells - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/09/interview-with-dan-wells.html
Gail Carriger - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/10/soulless-review-and-gail-carriger.html
Best Written Book Blog
THE SILVER SKULL by Mark Chadbourn - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/02/silver-skull.html
KRAKEN by China Miéville - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/06/kraken.html
RETRIBUTION FALLS by Chris Wooding - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/04/retribution-falls.html
NEUROPATH by R Scott Bakker - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/01/neuropath.html
Elitist Classics Part 1 - http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/05/elitist-classics.html
Well there you have it. These are some of the reviews and interviews that best represent us, and that we have the fondest memories of. A solid list if we can pat ourselves on the back for a minute or five.
We had fun (mostly) reading these novels, and our readers always had fun reading the reviews. The BBAW is a fantastic venue for all of us hard-working bloggers to be recognized for our awesomeness.
For the judges of the BBAW Awards; enjoy. We hope you become fans of the blog.
For our readers; enjoy...uh...again.
For new readers; please remember that we are the center of the universe, and therefore are always right.
--Steve & Nick
I feel really bad. How am I supposed to review the fourth and concluding volume of a series? Either you’ve already read the first three books and nothing I say will sway you to read it or not, or else you haven’t read any of the preceding volumes...and in that case what are you doing reading this review? It’s gonna have major spoilers!
So, that being the case, I’ve decided to do the only decent thing I can and review all four books in one single review. That’s right, four reviews for the price of one. Are you ready? Here we go.
BRIGHT OF THE SKY - Book One of the Entire and the Rose series. It’s really good. You should go read it.
A WORLD TOO NEAR - Book Two of the Entire and the Rose Series. It’s really good. You should read it after having read BRIGHT OF THE SKY.
CITY WITHOUT END - Book Three of the Entire and the Rose series. It’s really good. You should read after having read the previous two volumes. Are we noticing a pattern here?
PRINCE OF STORMS - Book Four of the Entire and the Rose series. It’s really good. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but it really was.
I loved this series. Let me spell it out for you a bit. The book takes place in two universes, our own, and a universe called The Entire. The Entire is a universe that was made by almost omnipotent Lords called the Tarig. In order to keep the Entire alive they need energy, massive amounts of energy. The way they plan on getting that energy is by stealing it and thereby destroying another universe--ours, to be exact. In this fourth and concluding volume, Titus Quinn has gained control of The Entire and now must find a way to not only keep his home universe safe, Earth included, but also find the energy for the Entire, his new adopted home, safe as well.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it’s not. There are dozens of characters and a myriad of intricate plots and schemes littered throughout the series. While reading I was given the impression of watching a spider weave a beautiful web--all the lines intricate and adding to the whole. Kay Kenyon does the same here. She is a master storyteller at work and it was a joy to be along for the ride. Her characters, all of them well drawn out and intriguing, populated a wondrous world that I loved visiting over the four volumes. There are varied species of creatures and breathtaking backdrops for the very human story Kenyon is telling. This is something special.
The biggest problem I had was that Pyr (publisher of the entire series) decided to give me the concluding volume in the same month that they finished David Louis Edelman’s brilliant Jump 225 trilogy, thereby ending my two favorite ongoing SF series at the same time. Now what do I have to look forward to?
PRINCE OF STORMS was a great read. Each of the books in the series managed to be captivating on its own merits while still adding to the overall picture. Kenyon does a brilliant job tying up all the loose ends and ending the series with a bang. In fact, some of the things she threw into this concluding volume were my favorite.
Those who are put off by Hard SF won’t have a problem here. There’s science involved, but Kenyon doesn’t feel the need to club you over the head with it. Instead it’s a human story. In fact it felt reminiscent of the worlds Brandon Sanderson, Daniel Abraham, or Ken Scholes have created (good company, yeah?). It’s new and refreshing and very accessible. Do yourself a favor and go pick up BRIGHT OF THE SKY right now.
Age: 16+ Not much objectionable in here, but there’s some language here and there and there are a lot of characters and plot-lines to keep track of.
Language: Some, but not a lot. Viewpoints on earth have a few characters who use “colorful” language.
Violence: Again some, but not too graphic.
Sex: Surprisingly yes. The first three volumes mentioned sex but never showed any. This volume did, which was surprising. Only once that I remember though.
The lovely Kay Kenyon deserves your praise (and has mine, and that of the EBR Overlords), go give her some virtual high-fives:
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR, by Mark Charan Newton, has finally been released in the US. There was a fair amount of hype about the novel coming out of the UK, and where there is hype, there is usually heaps of disappointment (anyone remember BONESHAKER?). However in this case, we are treated to a solid debut novel.
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR is pushed as a Fantasy Mystery, though in reality the mystery element is pretty low-key. Villjamur is an ancient fortress inhabiting one of the islands of an archipelago whose inhabitants are preparing for the onset of an ice age. Within the city, we are witness to a string of brutal murders of various Councilmen. This is where the Mystery element comes in, as we are introduced to Jeryd, one of Villjamur’s investigators. Additionally we have Eir, the daughter to the Emperor of the Jamur Empire; Tuya, the prostitute; and Byrnd, the Commander of the Night Guard (the elite, personal guard to the Emperor and his family). The PoVs jump around quickly (and come from more characters than the ones mentioned), but they are always clear, and never break any of the PoV switching rules that other authors are guilty of. The characters are all solid, if a tad predictable at times. We found we were easily interested in all of them, and never once skipped PoVs like we do in a Jordan novel (cheap shot, we know).
While VILLJAMUR is a good read, it does have some problems (though some people won't see them as such). Mostly, it seems like Newton is holding back the whole time. There are some truly imaginative ideas here, but not enough time is spent on them. The different races are awesome, but under-utilized. The mix of magic and technology is impressive, yet unfocused. Really, a lot of it felt like Newton was trying to go the route of Weird Fiction like China Miéville, but pulled back in an attempt to grab a little more of the mainstream audience--hard to fault him for that. VILLJAMUR is a good book as is, but had Newton let loose some more, it could have been incredible.
The other issue we have is in relation to the city of Villjamur itself. We never really had an idea of the size of it. It seems huge, but at the same time we never see the scale. Additionally the encroachment of winter is never fully realized. We’ve read JV Jones, and in her current series you can FEEL the cold as you read. In fact we have to put on warmer clothes when we start to read her books. The weather is 100% tangible. In VILLJAMUR we don’t get that. Every so often, we will be reminded of the cold by a character saying, “I’m freezing” or something similar. Newton would do well to read over some JV Jones and get a real feel for how winter should be written. It would make the plight this world faces much more grim and REAL.
If you have paid any bit of attention to the release of this novel, you know that a main character, Byrnd, is gay. You want our opinion? This is how you should handle a character of this persuasion. Newton does it right. Byrnd’s sexuality feels like it is part of his character rather than just thrown in for eye-popping shock value (looking at you Richard K. Morgan) or because absolutely nothing is happening and you want there to be some façade of character diversity (paging Robin Hobb). In other words, don’t beat us over the head with it, or make it feel tacked-on. Make it part of the character. Mr. Newton, you did awesome. Long-distance high-five.
Is NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR worth your time? Heck yes! The mystery element could have been disguised better, and Newton needs to really let loose, but VILLAJMUR is still a great novel. Its tone is dark, its characters real, and its ideas fantastic. Again, if Newton will stop being so conservative with the weird, he could very well turn into a top-shelf author.
Thank goodness the second book, CITY OF RUIN, is already available in the UK (and therefore in Steve's collection). We are extremely optimistic, and have some high hopes. Can't. Wait.
Recommended Age: 17 or 18 and up.
Language: Yep. We’d say somewhere in between Barclay and Abercrombie.
Violence: Well yeah, we are talking about some murders, the threat of war, as well as some other stuff (vague, we know, but we don’t want to spoil it)
Sex: Yes. He is descriptive, but never too crazy. Newton doesn’t go into Richard K Morgan territory, but he can still get a vivid point across.
Mark seems to be quite the active blogger, which is fantastic. Go check out his site:
As much as it pains us, because we love Gail Carriger, we were a bit disappointed when we finished CHANGELESS, book two in The Parasol Protectorate. It's possible most of what we didn't like about CHANGELESS comes from a comparison to SOULLESS. It just didn't match our expectations following her excellent first effort.
You see, all the cute things that worked FOR Gail in Book 1 (SOULLESS), started to work against her here in CHANGELESS. We thought the plot basis in Book 2 was much more interesting than the first book, but it was slowed waaaaay down by the dialog and interchange between characters. This led to the great idea for the story feeling unfocused.
We did love the return to the awesome Alexia-verse. We really do love the world Gail has created. The expansion on the setting--in the form of the Werewolf politics--was intriguing and entertaining. With less attention on the world however, our attention was pushed to the characters and plot. Like we said earlier the plot (less of a romance, more of a mystery) was more fun than the first book, if slowed down by all the forced silliness.
The majority of the book is pretty much setup. Standard middle book fare.
First off, we feel we need to get this off our chests:
Please. No more about Ivy's hats. We just can't bear it anymore. Ivy's over-the-top silliness and fashion faux pas were OK in SOULLESS, but this book's focus was different. It didn't work, and this nonsense was...uh...nonsense. All it did was slow the book down, and didn't add any laughs. There were points in the novel where we literally laughed out loud, but not one of them ever included Ivy or her hats.
As for the characters:
A lot of their actions or speech felt somewhat uncharacteristic from what we learned about them in the first book. Akeldama is more reserved. Ivy is dumber. Alexia is tougher and lost a lot of interest (for us) when she became less vulnerable. We felt something was off while reading the book, and the reasons why became very apparent in light of the ending, which we will get to. It seems that Gail made Alexia strong during this book so she could be broken down at the end of it. Madame Lefoux is a fun addition to the story despite the awkward scenes she was involved in.
Speaking of the ending, it just didn't work. At all. That may seem harsh, but we are beyond annoyed that Gail decided to follow the ridiculous trend of splitting one book into two. The ending was a 100% unnecessary cliffhanger. We don't hate cliffhangers in general, but this ending felt beyond the scope of the story Gail was telling in CHANGELESS, and seemed put there simply to string readers into her third book. In fact the main plot of the book was resolved, and then the extra was thrown in. It would have made a good beginning to a book, but made an absolutely horrid ending. Again, unfocused. The content of the ending is also contrary to the overall tone of the series up until now. It was a jarring transition from light, fluffy, and fun to somber and serious. A move, if you follow our blog, you know that we can appreciate. Darker is better (mostly)! Yet the way this ending and transition was presented was completely lacking in feelings of awesomeness.
Now, we realize that was a lot of things irritating us, and we focused on that for a good reason. Those elements could very well be deal breakers for readers, and we wouldn't blame those readers at all. There is, however, good news for fans of Gail. Her writing is really, really good. In fact there is a marked improvement here from her first book. There is one thing that no sane individual could say about Gail; that she doesn't do her research. She very obviously does, and uses it very well. The parts of the book that focused on the Shadow Council were by far our favorites. We loved the glimpse into the Queen's management of the supernatural. Spiffy stuff indeed.
Bottom line, CHANGELESS is a decent book with flaws that is not nearly as entertaining or charming as SOULLESS. We had a good time reading it (Except for any part that included Ivy. We wished we had Alexia's parasol to beat Ivy to a pulp with) despite the significant amount of things we didn't like about the book. We should also throw in a disclaimer here that we probably aren't the intended audience of this novel (series). While we loved SOULLESS, the problems with its sequel, CHANGELESS, drop the book very securely into the "Books that are Mediocre" section. Here is hoping BLAMELESS is a redemption of sorts.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Who could bloody tell whether there was any swearing going on in this book with all the random vocabulary.
Violence: Do beatings with a parasol count?
Sex: Par for course for Gail. There are some references but it is handled with over the top humor.