I've come to a point in my reading life where I start planning the books I'm going to read well in advance. A new Dresden Files novel in the Spring. New Erikson & Esslemont novels in the Fall/Winter. A new Joe Ledger novel around February/March. Since starting this whole review gig, I've added George Mann to my list. For whatever reason, he work always entertains me.
Now, I dig Mann's Ghost series, I really do. But I get REALLY excited for the Newbury and Hobbes novels. This series just pushes all the right buttons for me. A copy of THE IMMORALITY ENGINE finally came to my doorstep, and I ignored everyone and everything while I started and finished it in virtually one sitting.
I absolutely love the setting and the blatant parallels to Sherlock Holmes. Sir Maurice Newbury is one of my more favorite characters to read, and his assistant Veronica Hobbes is his perfect match. You'll recall (and if you don't, this is where I remind you) that one of my main complaints for this series has been the small amount of screen time given to Hobbes. She was such an interesting character, but I never really felt like I was allowed to understander her from a reader's perspective. If I didn't know any better, I'd say Mann was reading my mind (or my reviews...whichever makes more sense). This book is told almost primarily from Hobbes' eyes. And it is awesome.
There are a lot of questions for readers going into this novel. What is the Queen's real goal? What is the deal with Hobbes' sister? Can Newbury keep it together without falling completely under the spell of opium? For the most part all these questions are addressed and answered. It was quite refreshing actually. What the readers end up with is a fairly solid trilogy that answers a ton of questions while setting up further story.
Again, I can't stress enough how great it was for me to get a majority of PoV sections from Veronica Hobbes. I just find her character so extremely interesting. She is very much a woman ahead of her time, and in this specific Steampunk setting it works absolutely perfectly. Don't get me wrong, I love Newbury. I love his Sherlock Holmes persona. I love his toughness. But Hobbes? For me she is excellent. I could read another novel right now from her PoV and be totally immersed.
You'll notice I haven't said much about the actual plot. The thing is, readers want to know if a series maintains its quality through the whole ride before starting it. All of you awesome readers want to read a review for one of the latter books in the series without having the earlier books spoiled. I get it, I really do. For the most part I can make that work. So, here is what you need to know:
THE IMMORALITY ENGINE is terrific in every single way. Once you read this book, the whole series will take on a different light. The real villains will seem more intelligent and more frightening. The main protagonists will seem more human. Suddenly a ton of small details from the first two books will pop out. George Mann did an amazing job making this novel work.
And seriously, look at this cover of the US edition. A mechanical horse with a Gatling gun on the side? If that doesn't make you want to read the book you are dead inside, and I pity you.
What else can I say to get you to read this book and this series? THE IMMORALITY ENGINE (and the prior novels) is about pure enjoyment and fun while reading. You get mystery, action, a little romance, Steampunk and supernatural stuff all wrapped up in one novel. I love this book, and I will endeavor to give George Mann a huge hug should I ever see him.
Recommended Age: 15 and up.
Language: Very, very light. Almost none.
Violence: To me, this was the most violent novel of the series, but there still wasn't a ton. This series is about the mystery.
Books in the Newbury & Hobbes Series:
THE AFFINITY BRIDGE
THE OSIRIS RITUAL
THE IMMORALITY ENGINE
Celia West had it good growing up. At least that's what everyone thinks. She's the daughter of the wealthiest man in Commerce City, and heir to the West fortune. Dad and mom are also superheros. Everyone asks what it was like growing up with Captain Olympus for a dad and Spark for a mother. Celia avoids the question, but if she answered it straight up she'd say, "Not as awesome as you would think."
But Celia has since graduated from college, moved out of the luxury penthouse she grew up in and into her own place, and works as a forensic accountant at one of the city's biggest accounting firms. She only wants to be normal. And pretty much avoid her estranged father.
Then her boss assigns her to the city's district attorney as a consultant on the Case of the Century: prosecuting the notorious villain Destructor for tax evasion. Mom and Dad and the rest of their superhero team spent decades dealing with the Destructor's...well, destruction in his attempts to annihilate Commerce City and the people in it. Dad votes to 'visit' him in prison and end the trial hoopla before it even begins. Too bad he doesn't.
Carrie Vaughn could have made AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE into a comic book farce, poking fun at the genre as it seems others have done lately. Instead, even with the book's satire, on the whole it's a nod to superhero comics, with a feel-good story. But even if AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE can be a little sappy, it doesn't mean it's all squeaky clean. Celia overcomes a conflicted past, even the good guys have grey along the edges, and the villains are villains for a reason.
Told from Celia's straightforward PoV narration, the story moves forward at a steady clip, revealing along the way what life was really like being the child of supers—including her short stint as the villain's henchwoman just to tick off her father. As we learn more about Celia, it's easy to like her and appreciate her struggles, even if they weren't exactly the everyday variety. Well, except that she keeps getting kidnapped. You'd think she'd get smarter about that after a while.
It takes place in Commerce City, your typical Metropolis-type city. The superpowers of strength, fire, speed, water are typical. But then, they aren't the main characters of the story, so not a lot of time is spent explaining their powers or the how or why.
While the story is entertaining, and the characters interesting, there are relationships, characters, and plotlines that go nowhere, or end up meaning little by the end of the story. These are the things that kept this book from the 'like' category. While I enjoyed the main storyline, Celia's relationship with her parents, and the sweet love story involved, I couldn't get past the contrived climax and certain pointless plot elements.
In the end, even though AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE isn't perfect, I still I enjoyed it, and the novel's issues won't keep me from reading it again.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Fewer than five instances
Violence: A few characters die, but it's not overly graphic; most violence is off-screen
Sex: A couple of referenced scenes, but without detail
You know, sometimes I’m a whiner. I admit it. If there’s something in a book bothers me, I mention it. Something I think could be better in a story? It bubbles out. I’m just trying to stay honest, really. There’s a certain set of pieces that I think help make a story good. I also believe that you faithful readers share my opinion of at least part of that set. So when writing these responses, I always do my best to show you the playing field, lay out my set of rules, and then stay consistent from one review to the next. And then someone like Jesse Bullington comes along and shows me that, yes, sometimes, you can even break the big rules and still come out on the other side smelling like roses.
THE ENTERPRISE OF DEATH is Jesse Bullington’s second published novel, but it’s not the second book in a trilogy. Huzzah! Not only does Mr. Bullington stand out in this respect, but he pulls off a mean set of chops with some style as well. Between his photo and the sparse, rather gothic, cover art of the book, I had absopositutely no idea what to expect from this novel.
Awa is a Moorish slave, traveling with her mistress and mistress’s eunuch, when they are captured by a devious necromancer and, after her companions are killed, Awa is turned into an unwilling apprentice. The necromancer’s motives are, of course, devious, and we learn more of his magics and his desires as he tortures Awa to the best of his ability. Most of the story revolves around how Awa deals with her necromantic powers and the wiles of her teacher, though it does also revolve around her friends. Niklaus Manuel Deutsch of Bern is an artist turned mercenary, that he might have money with which to subsist and to paint, who has been called upon to deliver a witch to Spain. In little time, the paths of the two cross, and we are blessed because of it. There are also several other minor characters that play a part, though none of them for very long, and yet despite this I felt there was quite a bit of good characterization for all players introduced.
At first, I thought the story was going to be a historical fantasy, 16th century Europe and such. It certainly came across that way. There are so many elements that Bullington has woven into the tale that seem to come straight from the books: the monarchy, the cultures, the history, the religion, and the superstitions. Even some of the characters are plucked right from the pages. Yet, it didn’t feel like a historical fantasy to me. It was just a fantasy that had a lot of history built into it.
Bullington’s prose is easy to read. Quick. Funny. It had me hooked from just about the first page, but then he started jumping heads all over the place and that brought things to a screeching halt. Suddenly I had no idea what was going on or who was who, and I found myself reluctantly settling into my SufferingChair to wade through the confusion. I’ve mentioned before my difficulty in caring about stories that don’t keep some kind of limited perspective from the main characters. Thankfully, this trend didn’t continue. Though there was still considerable head-jumping throughout the novel, it was more akin to that found in Dune, if you’ve read that one (which you should have).
The pacing for most of the novel was lightning fast, though there was a section toward the middle that started to drag a little. This coincided with a part of the story that I didn’t really understand. There’s a timeline that gets hung over Awa’s head along the way, and in order to escape the consequence at the end of that timeline, she needs to accomplish a certain task. Well, to say the least, she doesn’t seem to try to be accomplishing that task with very much vigor, and the story suffers some for it. I really liked the conclusion though and in how it all wrapped up.
In the end, the story seemed to be about friendship, though it was littered with betrayal and hatred, with the grotesque and the creepy, with the weird and absolutely the unsettling. This is one of those novels that I think deserves a warning for the weak of constitution. This guy has put together a whole load of stuff that’ll make some of you squirm for a month. Others may never forget some of the twisted stuff Bullington throws around on the pages like a millionaire might his twenties. A good read, but just...yeah. :)
Recommended age: 18+, for the entire gamut
Language: Strong and frequent, occasionally distracting
Violence: Lotta peoples dying and being brought back to life and gory messes
Sex: Quite explicit in places, including several scenes mixed with the dead, and a high number of references in general
Jesse Bullington's Website
With all the trouble Kitty has gotten into since she was turned into a werewolf, it's hard to imagine that it could get any worse. But there's a reason why book #9 is named KITTY'S BIG TROUBLE--by the end you'll understand.
But, instead, let's go back to the beginning. In the last book, KITTY GOES TO WAR, she learned about the U.S. government's use of werewolves in combat, and she asked herself: how long have they been doing it, and who else in U.S. history could have been hiding their own supernatural origins?
These questions lead her on a strange chase across state lines and eventually points clues to Roman, a very old vampire she's crossed paths with before. So is it coincidence that vampire ally Anastasia calls Kitty the very next day asking to help stop Roman from acquiring an ancient and powerful artifact?
Vaughn does stretch the connections here a little thinly, as Kitty, her husband Ben, and friend Cormac, traipse through Kansas and then San Fransisco. But once they get to California, and Anastasia explains why she asked for their help, then things really get moving. And from there on out the pace moves quickly, and in a direction you won't expect.
Set in San Fransisco's Chinatown, most of the action actually happens underground, in a series of mazes that shouldn't exist. In rooms that shouldn't exist. That houses people who Kitty once thought of as myths.
But it's less the setting than the people who will keep you reading. I enjoy Kitty and Ben's relationship more and more. We get to learn more about Cormac and the sorceress spirit he houses in his body, and their unusual partnership. Anastasia and Roman, as vampires, are old and mysterious and rather self-absorbed, so it's hard to really enjoy them as characters. There are other, new characters who are fun to read about, but I don't want to spoil your fun.
Sure the title alludes to the movie Big Trouble in Little China, since they are both set in the same city/neighborhood. But it's more than that. Something happens, and Kitty is given a new responsibility that's bigger than ever. Sure KITTY'S BIG TROUBLE is a good, consistent addition to the series, but in a lot of ways it's really a segue of what Vaughn promises will follow. And Kitty doesn't disappoint.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A handful of instances
Violence: The usual smattering, but not particularly gory
Sex: Vaguely referenced by a married couple, otherwise just some cuddling
It’s not often that I let go and enjoy a book just for the ride. I’m more of an intensive reader, who looks for what he wants, enjoys it when it’s there, and complains when it’s not. Simple. Cut and dry. But there’s that something other that comes along every once in a while and just grabs you. There’s something about it. It’s got class. It’s got style. It’s got “Moxy”, kid.
MOXYLAND is Lauren Beukes' first novel, and if you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere (like I feel sometimes) you might not know that she missed getting the Campbell for best new writer this last year by just a hair. MOXYLAND was a very interesting novel for me. Not only is it Science Fiction, but it’s told through four separate first-person viewpoints. This would normally be a tough row for anyone to handle, but Beukes pulls it off really well.
Kendra, Lerato, Toby, and Tendeka are all young hipsters living in a near future South Africa where technology bumps a go-go and the Government rules with an electronic fist. Everyone’s wired up through their cell phones, and the cops use that to full effect. Screw up once? They tase you hard. Want more? Cell phone privileges revoked, and then it’s game over for you, because on-line presence is so important to the life of the future. The world Beukes has painted for us is filled with internal nano-tech, and viral crowd-control, and bit of the Big Brother a-la 1984. People have become advertisements and sports coats broadcast your picture gallery of choice. Right from the get go, we’re dropped into the middle of this nitty-gritty, chaotic landscape, with street slang tossed like hot popcorn through the air. It’s so hard to just not be dragged into this novel with eyes wide and fingers itching to turn the page.
The pacing of the book was fast and even, with most of the forward plot progression dealing with the efforts of Toby and Tendeka to put one over on the Big Man Government. They’re the street-level rebels that don’t like how they’ve been treated, and can’t handle the fact that the Government has all this power over them. Anything they and their pack of friends can do to throw a finger in their direction, while staying below the radar of the police, is on the agenda for the day. Lerato is Toby's buddy, a brilliant programmer that plays occasionally to the tune of her friends and hacks the corporate firewalls through dangerous backdoors. And Kendra, the art-school dropout, gets caught up in the middle of everything.
As with most first-person viewpoints done well, characterization is great. Each of the four players came across to me as complicated and full. They’re in the middle of their lives, the middle of their story. No farm boys here. No little girls waking up from eternal sleep to find a new world surrounding them. This was one of the most engaging things about this book for me. It was immersive in a way that I have only very seldom found. At the same time though, the multiple viewpoints did take a bit of getting used to. Three of the main characters sounded really similar to one another, with Lerato standing out. The others got a bit muddled for me at first, and only after a while became distinct enough for me to differentiate between them. Regardless, each was easy to read and immediately engaging. Really impressive all, especially given that this is Beukes debut novel.
The piece that kept this novel from being great in my mind is a complete, finished story. The end really left me wanting. There’s a big twist for one character, and a very literal ending for another, but there wasn’t a whole lot that really left me feeling satisfied when it was all said and done. The book is fairly short as it is. I would have liked to see more of the story. More of the world. I wasn’t ready for it to be done. So give it up for Lauren, peoples. She’s definitely one to keep on the radar. Check this book out.
Recommended age: 16+
Language: Some, but not a lot
Violence: Fighting with cops, but nothing gory
Sex: A couple scenes, but they're quick with little detail
Lauren Beukes' Website
Admit it. Once upon a time you read Tom Clancy too. There's no shame in that admission. Clancy had some awesome stuff...you know, before he just seemed to lose his touch. CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. WITHOUT REMORSE. Yeah. Awesome. But here's the thing, there came a point where the story took a back seat to Clancy showing off how much he knew about the technical aspects of everything military related. If you go on for a full chapter talking about how a bullet works, and then don't do anything with that chunk of pages, you're doing it wrong in my opinion. It's about the story. It's about the characters.
Tom Clancy went away well before he wrote TEETH OF THE TIGER (I still shudder), and there wasn't really anyone who captured my imagination the same way.
This is the part where a lesser reviewer would say, "Until now!" I refuse to say that.
DEAD SIX is Military Fiction. It is also Larry Correia's first published collaborative novel. DEAD SIX is co-written with Mike Kupari, a newcomer to the writing scene. Now, I've read a lot of Larry Corriea's solo work. Typically it involves monsters get shot in the face with guns. Larry is unapologetically pulp. He writes for the fun factor, and he's proud of it. But here's the thing, he actually knows his stuff when it comes to weapons and the military.
When I read Military Fiction, I've noticed that if the author (or in this case, the co-author) is a guy who was/is actually in the military, the novel has some added "pop" to it. This is where Mike Kupari comes in. The guy, by definition, is a complete stud. Have you seen "The Hurt Locker"? It's about those crazy guys that go defuse bombs that are set with the intention of killing, well, everyone. Kupari is one of those guys. Seriously. Writer, off duty. Bomb defusing guy filled with awesome when in the field. Credibility? Pssshh. He sweats out more credibility in an afternoon that most of us every gain in a lifetime. And as cliché as it sounds, you wouldn't know by reading the novel that Kupari is new to the writing scene.
DEAD SIX is written from two First Person PoVs, each written by one of the authors. One PoV is Lorenzo, one of the best thieves and assassins in the world. His job is to kill the other PoV, Valentine. Valentine is a member of Dead Six, an elite military organization that is sent to the Persian Gulf nation of Zubara to perform counter-terror operations.
So how does DEAD SIX read? It reads like the good Clancy novels where the focus is on character and and story rather than textbook-like, useless details. There is a lot of action here. Kupari writes like a pro I never expected from a first-time author, and Correia writes like the pro author I've come to expect. This novel is actually pretty grim. The body-count is really high. Both Kupari and Correia manage to keep the tone dark and serious, all the while giving the reader enough humor to keep things from being too depressing.
Every little while I would stop an say, "Man, that was crazy over-the-top!" But then I would stop and think, "Nah, not really that over-the-top at all. Kinda scary. AND EVEN BETTER!!"
Here is what I like the most about this novel. I absolutely love the way the two PoVs contrast, yet have similarities. They are very much like opposite sides of the same coin. When they start having indirect interactions with each other, the enjoyment factor for the reader skyrockets. Then when they have direct interactions, it gets even better. This is the reason why I've always been a fan of collaborations. When both authors feed off of each other, the story's quality is insanely awesome. This is truly a case where the novel is greater than the sum of its two fantastic parts.
I'm pretty much always impressed by the way Correia goes about his business. It's why I like him, and why I will always read his novels. Not to take anything away from Correia (long-distance high-five, buddy), but I was seriously impressed by Kupari. I knew which author wrote each PoV (nope, not telling), and there was no drop-off in quality from one co-author to the other. I ran into Kupari at a local convention and told him as much. I don't think he believed me. You all know me well enough by now to know that I always tell the truth (and that I'm the most humble guy in the entire universe...by far). When I say it, I mean it. Kupari could stop being Captain America today and become a successful author.
So did I like DEAD SIX? Nope. I friggin' loved it. Every word of every page. I haven't felt this taken by straight-up Military Fiction since I read CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER.
Recommended Age: 17+
Language: Military, assassins and crime lords. Yeah. A lot.
Violence: I feel silly even discussing this in a Military Fiction novel. Tons.
Sex: Nothing detailed.
In THE POSTMORTAL, Drew Magary explores what the realistic fallout would be if scientists discovered a cure for aging. A “vaccine” that would stop aging in its tracks. Take it when you’re twenty-five, and you’ll be twenty-five forever. On the surface, this sounds really appealing. Who wouldn’t want to live forever, after all? But that’s where the “realistic” part comes in. The future Magary paints is much bleaker than the knee-jerk reaction everyone automatically thinks of.
This near future is seen through the eyes of John Farrell, who gets the Cure relatively early on, when it’s still on the black market and officially banned by the US Government. Farrell takes us from the dawn of this new age all the way to its natural conclusion, at least for him. At each stage, Magary does an excellent job exploring the nooks and crannies of a society that’s had death relegated to such an afterthought. What happens to Hollywood, for example, if the movie stars stop getting old? You don’t really get many new movie stars, for one thing. The established stars become entrenched in their roles, and new ones have an even harder time breaking in to the business. Imagine a world where authors aren’t just competing with Stephen King and John Grisham, but with Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Poe, Shakespeare, and all the other greats. As an author, the thought gives me nightmares, although as a reader, it would be epic!
The book has a lot going for it. Compelling characters with conflicts you can relate to (not always a given in a Science Fiction setup like this one), a plausible near-future setting, and a "What if" foundation that really makes you want to keep reading, because surely it can't get any more horrible for these people. (Hint: it can.)
My biggest gripe with the book (and it’s fairly substantial) is that the basis of the novel seemed off to me the entire time. Yes, scientists discover the cure for aging, but it’s treated by everyone as the cure for death. The two don’t go hand in hand in my mind. After all, how many people actually die of old age these days? You’re not suddenly immune to cancer, accidents, car wrecks, drowning, gunshot wounds, choking--the list goes on and on of things that can still kill you. Sure, the death rate would decrease, but it wouldn’t decrease at the marked rate depicted by Magary.
In the end, this is a fairly moot point, however. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that Magary does have his characters eventually find the cure for cancer and other diseases. Science is rushing along so quickly (both in his imagined future and in our own present) that it’s not a huge leap to believe this can and will happen. And once those two cures are developed (one for aging, one for disease), then it’s definitely believable to me that the results could be as catastrophic as Magary depicts.
I enjoyed THE POSTMORTAL, both as a thought experiment and as Science Fiction. It was interesting to see how something that seems so good on the surface can have so many far reaching consequences. I’m not convinced it would play out exactly as Magary portrays it, but he makes a good enough argument for me to concede the very frightening possibility.
Recommended Age: 18+
Violence: Lots of it, at times very detailed and gory.
Sex: A few fairly explicit scenes
DEMONSTORM was the end of the Legends of the Raven series. Main characters died horrible and glorious deaths. As readers we all shed a collective tear (or twenty) at the sacrifices the characters made. But then James Barclay wrote another end to the series with RAVENSOUL. I mean, really, what's a guy to think? There wasn't really any room to add onto this story. It was done.
Or so I thought.
James said an interesting thing to me in an email that I think really changed my viewpoint on the novel for the better. He said that DEMONSTORM is the end, but to think of RAVENSOUL as a bonus story full of closure. Having read RAVENSOUL now, I can say that this helped me a great deal. This novel is the last ride of the Raven. As awesome as DEMONSTORM was (and I freaking loved it), I felt like some things were kind of left floating. RAVENSOUL gives the reader a massive sense of "This is totally the end."
This novel picks up a while after the finale of DEMONSTORM. Sol, once the Unknown Warrior, is now the ruler of Balaia, and Denser is Lord of the Mount. The rebuilding of the world is coming along nicely...and the the dead start returning. This includes those of the Raven who died in previous novels. A dimension hopping race known as the Garonin have sealed off the afterlife and are after Balaia's mana.
Barclay's strengths have always included characters. No matter which novel of his you read, you can bank on the characters being very easy to like (or hate depending on what he wants you to feel). RAVENSOUL feels a bit like meeting a few of your old friends for dinner. You see how they've changed, and how the last few years have molded them into completely different people--for better or worse. The trademark wit and action of the previous Raven novels is here in abundance. The novel feels like the natural progression of the series.
I want to point out how well Barclay manages to make the reader feel emotion. Not gonna lie, DEMONSTORM had me shedding more than a few tears. I didn't think Barclay could outdo that level writing excellence. But man, there is a scene at the end of RAVENSOUL that just thinking about it makes my eyes get watery. It's one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I've ever read.
So this is it for the Raven. I'll admit that this isn't my absolute favorite Raven novel. I think DEMONSTORM still holds that position. But this is a close second for me. The Garonin are worthy foes for the Raven and for the Elves. RAVENSOUL is a must read for those of you already reading this series. If you haven't read Barclay yet, I'm beyond confused. You should have started reading the series the minute you read my review of DAWNTHIEF back in the day.
The bad news? This marks the end of the Raven. The good news? There is still more Barclay to read. Not only does he have an Elves prequel series focusing (partially) on Auum, he has another series called the The Ascendants of Estorea. Yep, there is more Barclay to read. All is well in the world.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: At times it pops up, and it can be quite strong.
Violence: No Barclay is complete without copious amounts of blood and gore.
A while back I was given my first exposure to Jasper Kent's TWELVE. In short, TWELVE completely blew my mind. A mixture of Horror and Russian historical fiction, Kent's first novel, in my opinion, was nothing short of brilliant. I'm still extremely upset that it didn't end up on the Hugo ballot. If you haven't read TWELVE, stop reading this review of the sequel. There are some unavoidable spoilers for book one in this review. Do yourself a favor and go buy the first book. You will love Jasper Kent for all eternity. I sure do. My wife may or may not be jealous.
Seriously, this is your last warning.
When I took a vacation to England earlier this year it won't come as a shock to most of you that one of the first things I did was find a bookstore. I don't think I passed a bookstore without going inside to browse over the course of the entire trip. One of the many books on my shopping list was Kent's THIRTEEN YEARS LATER. The novel takes place--wait for it--thirteen years after the first novel in the midst of the Russian Revolution. Aleksei Danilov is older, but he is still a spy. He has put himself in position to out the entire network of people who wish to overthrow the current tsar, Aleksandr the First.
And then Aleksei comes across a message from his long dead friend Maks. His friend who died at the hands of the vampires in the prior novel. The suspense and mystery that made the prior novel so good are both injected into the novel right away. The vampires from the prior novel were of the non-sparkling variety, and were freaking terrifying. So the instant they were reintroduced in THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, my heart started beating just a bit faster.
What makes this novel great isn't just the promise of Horror elements being mixed with Historical Fiction. The skill with which Kent writes his characters and handles the historical information is the key to the success of this novel. Aleksei is brilliant. To see how much he has changed from that character we were all introduced to in TWELVE is exactly what we like to see in a series. It is an odd sort of progression. He is more hardened from his experiences with the vampires (much more cold-blooded in some ways), yet at the same time he is much more soft-hearted due to his children. Speaking of, his son, Dmitry, is a welcome character. The inexperience of his youth is so well portrayed.
What I appreciate the most about THIRTEEN YEARS LATER is Kent's ability to make me enjoy the history of the setting. He doesn't the reader over the head with unimportant details. Even better than that? This made me want to pick up some history books and brush up on some Russian history. Not only that, but Kent's ability to lend some much needed freshness to the vampires themselves is so refreshing.
In my mind, TWELVE scores an easy 9.8 on my "Books Completely Filled with Awesome" scale. THIRTEEN YEARS LATER didn't quite capture the lofty score of its predecessor. In only scores a 9.7. I know. How can Jasper Kent live with himself?
THE THIRD SECTION is the next novel in the series. I honestly can't think of any novel I'm more excited for.
Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: Some fairly strong language at times
Violence: Some of the creepy stuff Kent pulls off is simply astounding.
Sex: Talked about, but never graphically.
Buy this whole freaking series! It is completely awesome!
1 - TWELVE
2 - THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
3 - THE THIRD SECTION
Yes, I know, this review comes a little late. After its being nominated for a Hugo. After it being out for over a year. Despite this, I'm still glad I'm the one who gets to review it. Yay me!
It's probably a good thing that it is me, because while it's impossible to deny the EBR Overlords' discriminating tastes in the Speculative Fiction literary world--because, well, they are always right--even they will pass on a perfectly good book because it simply doesn't appeal to them, or they just don't have time. They can be quite benevolent that way. Again, yay me!
I'm speaking, of course, of last year's phenomenon THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by newcomer N.K. Jemisin, a novel with a clichéd and dull-sounding jacket summary, which likely caused many a bookstore browser to pass it by for one that sounded more unique. At least until their friends read it--this book's initial popularity was via word of mouth.
The reason why is Yeine, the PoV narrator. Young woman. Barbarian foreigner. Potential heir to the throne. She tells a compelling story that begins with her arrival at Sky, the palace of the court, where demigods walk the halls, she vies with two cousins for the throne, suspects her grandfather of murdering her mother, and unravels everyone's hidden agendas...even her own.
It's true, this book is not what it first seems. It is much more.
But that doesn't mean it's an easy book to swallow. The court at Sky is a hedonistic den of murderers. Their god Itempas killed his own sister and enslaves his brother and children. Yeine wants desperately to believe in the good intentions of the people she loves and trusts, but even their motivations become suspect. It very nearly makes the reader despair at the folly of men and the destructive flaws of their gods. None of these problems appear to be fixable in any way. So what's Yeine to do?
While Yeine is a layered and fascinating character, the prose is formal and as a result the PoV narration can feel distanced. It takes some time to draw out the kind of person she is and her motives; at first all she can do is observe and that can be dull. But then things happen and she slowly gets more interesting. Other key players are her grandfather and heir-cousins, the palace steward and magician, but they're all rather one-dimensional.
The characters that Jemisin threw all her writing talents at are the gods. A millennia or more ago, Itempas punished all the other gods, and either killed or enslaved them. He gave a portion of his murdered sister's soul to the Arameri people, which enables their highborns to command the god and demigods who live in the palace, and who are bound into corporeal form. They can go free if Nahadoth promises Itempas to serve him completely; but Nahadoth refuses to bow to the man who killed his sister-lover, even if it means suffering in a semi-mortal state, with the pain and humiliation that involves.
Nahadoth and the demigods notice Yeine as soon as she arrives, and attempt to solicit her assistance in their bid for freedom. This is the main storyline, but don't forget Yeine's mother—she may be dead but she remains a key player in this big mess. The plot starts out cliché enough, but then Jemisin throws in a twist. Then another as Yeine uncovers more secrets about her grandfather, mother, and the gods themselves. The plotline is a convoluted one as it weaves between characters living and dead, so be sure to give the story your full attention, because you won't want to get lost.
The majority of the novel takes place in the palace called Sky, a luxurious and magically maintained city unto itself, from where the Arameri control the rest of the world with an iron fist. They have the blessing of Itempas, the god of daytime and order, and as a result are able to use magic to enforce their control. Magic is learned by scriveners, because it's the language of the gods and their sigils from which the source of magical power is tapped. In KINGDOMS we don't see it in action much, so I would have liked more, but perhaps there will be more to see in the next novel. Beyond Sky, we get only a taste of the rest of the world, including Yeine's home country of Darr, and their customs and history. There isn't time for more detail, but it's still interesting.
By the end, Jemisin has built up so much tension, interwoven plotlines, exposed characters' secrets, and explained so much back story that she promises a big climax. Fortunately, she delivers—and it's above and beyond what's required, becoming a mind-blowing and satisfying conclusion.
Is THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS perfect? Well, no. The storytelling has some inconsistencies, and a couple of the secondary plotlines lose steam and peter out; I mentioned other issues earlier. Overall these are minor, the biggest factor being less about the quality of the book than the potential audience—this novel won't appeal to everyone.
Recommended Age: 17+
Violence: Some on-screen torture and deaths that involve blood, but otherwise infrequent
Sex: Frequent references, including deity incest; a handful of detailed scenes
Admittedly, there are some great perks to being a reviewer. The lavish lifestyle includes all-expense-paid trips to foreign countries, supermodels, perfectly cooked steaks...OK, none of that. I get books. Lots and lots of books. Some are awesome, and some are terrible. One of the greatest perks is reading a novel I'd never have picked up on my own and discovering how fantastic it is. That happened to me last year when I read Marie Brennan's A STAR SHALL FALL. Set in historic London, the novel unexpectedly shoved me down in my comfy reading chair and didn't let me up until I had finished the novel. Understand, that sort of thing rarely happens to me anymore.
Brennan's latest, WITH FATE CONSPIRE, quickly became one of my must-reads of the year. So when it came in the mail (personally sent by the author herself, no less) I happily returned to my comfy chair and began reading. The concern should be obvious. Could Brennan easily capture my imagination again? Would the literary lightening strike twice?
Yes. Yes it did.
WITH FATE CONSPIRE is a completely absorbing novel. I think, though, that much of the reason I loved Brennan's latest is that she didn't write the same type of novel again. Oh sure it is still about the Onyx Court. Faeries are still hidden right under the noses of the mortal Londoners. But this novel is SOOOOOO different. This story tales place in London of the 1800's with the underground rail system being completed. As you can imagine, the iron rails are causing immense destruction in the Onyx Court. WITH FATE CONSPIRE is the tale of a civilization of faeries trying to save their home and preserve it for the future. This isn't the love story that A STAR SHALL FALL was (though that element isn't totally absent). This is a tale of corruption and redemption.
One of the main characters of the novel is Eliza, a girl who saw her childhood love abducted by faeries years ago. Her goal at first is simple; find her lost love. The other main character is Dead Rick, one of the fae. He has no memory of his life prior to a few years ago, and his memories are being held hostage. They are two wildly distinct characters, and neither one ever got to the point where I thought, "Geez, i wish we could get to the other character again..."
However with these individual character stories comes my only real tiny issue with the novel. That bit I mentioned about Eliza looking for her lost love? It's mentioned on the dust jacket. It's her main motivation for the entire story. Yet as a reader, the story tried overly hard to avoid telling me what happened until over half-way through the story. Sure it was a great reveal when it happened, but seeing it earlier (like, at the very beginning) in full detail wouldn't have hurt the story in the slightest, and would have given me a much better reason to identify with her plight right at the onset of the story.
But that's it. That's the only small thing that stood out. The rest was absolutely great.
The writing was fantastic. There are very few authors that really impress me with the way they write. Bakker. Valente. Gaiman. Brennan, for me, is right there. I love how she writes. Her descriptions of old London are vivid. If I'm honest, I'm seriously jealous of how she does it. Her pacing is slow, but never dull. I often felt like I was slowing down my reading purposely so I could catch all the little literary goodies she has buried in the pages. And even though this novel (as is the case with her prior novels as well) is slower, I found the reading to be easy and relaxing. The pages flew by.
I love how believable her characters are. Everything in this setting is bleak, yet the characters never truly give up hope. They will go to any length to meet their diverse goals.
Brennan's work isn't for everyone. There are some readers who just won't like this novel as much as I do. Then again, that's kind of the point. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. I love these books. WITH FATE CONSPIRE is absolutely fantastic. It can be read as the fourth book in the series, or by itself. Whichever way you read it, the important part is that you DO read it.
Like I said, being a reviewer has its perks. One of those is being able to discover an author as awesome as Marie Brennan.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Based on the types of characters encountered, and the time period, there is a lot more swearing than in the prior novel. It never really feels shock value though.
Violence: Violence isn't really relied on in this series. Sure there is some great, brief action, but it isn't a focal point.
Sex: Talked about, but nothing detailed.
How to start this one. [[sigh]] Seriously, I have no idea. This book was just such a massive disappointment. Well. That was actually easier than I thought it would be. Just say it, I guess. Now I can go have a breakdown.
THE WHITE LUCK WARRIOR is the second novel of Bakker’s second trilogy set in the world of Earwa the Three Seas. The Prince of Nothing Trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy series. Both Steve and Nick are of the same opinion. After reading those first three books, I was really excited to hear that we’d be getting more of this story. Two more entire trilogies, in fact. I have to say, though, that after making my way through THE JUDGING EYE, my compatriots and I were less than enthusiastic about things. Regardless, I decided to reserve my own judging eye (eh? eh?) until a later date and continue with the series. Right now I’m regretting that decision quite a bit.
THE WHITE LUCK WARRIOR follows three main story-lines, much like its predecessor. We have the progression of The Great Ordeal, a massive, multi-national army pressing into the northern country, to where the evil of the Consult waits to be destroyed; the progression of Achamian and the Skin Eaters, as they drive toward Sauglish and what Achamian hopes will be the undoing of Anasurimbor Khellus; and finally we have Khellus’s wife, Esmenet, who has been left behind to try and keep the empire together.
Bakker’s prose is, of course, really well done—that’s nothing new—so even the really dense chapters that have little to no dialogue in them, race past your eyes with ease. His use of italics and ellipses though…atrocious. Horrific. Ludicrous. It’s like he was trying to make the book mysterious and somehow life-altering by using those two methods alone. Forget about the story, isn’t this mysterious? Isn’t this life-altering? Seriously over the top and destroyed my ability to enjoy what plot there was in the book. They got in the way BIG TIME!!!!!! and were COMPLETELY ANNOYING!!!!!! (Kind of like TextInAllCaps and LotsaExclamationPoints...)
The first half to two-thirds of the book is almost completely given over to travel across the wilderness, be it from Achamian’s group or The Great Ordeal. In the case of The Great Ordeal, we learn the names of seemingly every captain and general and head honcho in the bunch. Names and titles and countries and over and over and over. And flags and standards and armor and UGH. Enough already. Give us some story! From Achamian and Mimara we get navel-gazing after navel-gazing thought as they plod on and on and... Granted, what else are they supposed to think about while traveling through the wilderness or the jungle or the mountains or wherever else they may be? Between these two story-lines, readers are getting The Slog of Slogs, indeed (a reference from the journey these two separate groups are taking). Sound interesting? Wait, there's more.
Thankfully, the entire book wasn’t consumed by the Slog of Slogs. Outside of it, though, plot development felt very minimal. In the last 150-200 pages or so, things finally get moving. There's development of Esmenet's situation, which I enjoyed once things started happening, though the time spent on Kelmomas's storyline after everything goes down was disappointing in particular. After the slow plodding and detailed renditions of everything else in the book, the development of his character during this part of the story felt very rushed and like it had been given very little attention. In fact, he mostly just tells us what happens to the kid. That's a pity too, as after finishing everything it seems to me that Kelmomas is going to play a very important role in things, indeed. Perhaps the most disappointing was the extremely minimal role that the White Luck Warrior played in the book. After his introduction in THE JUDGING EYE, I had some high hopes, but the way he ended up being handled reminded me of how frustrated I was after finishing THE BRIAR KING and finding out the minimal role the title character played in that book. Of course, every book in that series was disappointing, but that's beside the point.
Then, surprise of all surprises, the climax of Achamian's story arc AGAIN revolves around another "tribute to Tolkien"? Are you freaking kidding me? After the end of The Judging Eye, I would have thought Bakker would go somewhere else for some source material, but no. Stick with the classics, I guess. Oh well.
I remember watching two separate interviews with Bakker. The first one was completed sometime during his process of writing the Prince of Nothing trilogy. He talked about how he’d write and rewrite the scenes with Khellus, agonizing over whether or not he was getting the character right, as Khellus was supposed to be so much more intelligent than anyone else. So much smarter than even the author that was writing him. Effort. Strain. Work. And I loved every bit of it. The second interview was taken just after The Judging Eye was released, I believe. I don’t remember much about that one except for a single comment Bakker made, describing his writing process as "throwing a lot of sh*t on the walls and seeing what stuck". (That's a quote!) For me, that says it all. I’m done with Bakker. For those readers that can handle all the Slog for such little progression, interesting and good or not, I wish you the best. As for the rest of you? Stick with his Prince of Nothing Trilogy and then look somewhere else. This round just ain't worth the price of the ticket.
Recommended age: 18+, as before with his stuff, though there's significantly less adult content this time around
Language: Regular and strong
Violence: Lotsa, lotsa
Sex: A couple scenes, fairly strong
And, dependent upon how your tastes roam, links to the Forum for Bakker's books and Bakker's blog
If I haven't said so before, Night Shade Books is putting out some seriously great stuff. There just comes a point where I get tired of all the same crap out there, and need something completely different. I've had this type of experience before with other novels from Night Shade like THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO and NEVER KNEW ANOTHER. This time it was Kameron Hurley's GOD'S WAR that had me nodding in appreciation.
GOD'S WAR is an SF novel taking place on a world that is currently entrenched in a Holy War, and has been involved in this same Holy War since...well, forever. If you are a male, you get sent to the war front and have what amounts to an almost zero-percent chance of survival. The war is brutal. This story follows Nyx, a female bounty hunter who used to be a sanctioned assassin (they call them "bel dames" in the novel) as she takes on a mark that has potential to alleviate all her financial concerns. Of course, as a reader, you know that nothing good can possibly happen in this type of scenario.
Pretty much everything technology-based in GOD'S WAR is done through bugs. Most everything is organically grown and repaired through small and large creepy crawlers. Organs and limbs can be regrown. Everything has a kind of dingy feel to it.
The characters in this novel are all deeply flawed, and perhaps that is why I enjoyed the novel so much. Perfect characters are boring. Characters that have to overcome themselves as much as their external obstacles, however, really work for me. Nyx is the main character, and she is essentially a complete screw up. Her decisions--often poor ones that he has alternative but to make--lead to terrible situations. The other main character is Rhys--a "magician" from the opposite side of the war. He has a limited ability to control bugs. The dynamic between the two main characters is great. The weird loathing trust that has a slight hint of attraction is extremely well done.
The tone of this novel is very grim. Very dark. There is a overall sense of hopelessness that this Holy War is eventually going to kill everyone. And that is where the main story comes into play. That job I mentioned earlier? It not only pays well, but just may end the war. Of course, there are ways to end a war while making things so much worse. That is what this novel explores. Of course all of this is reinforced by some pretty wicked-awesome world building. From politics to religion, Hurley covers it quite well in the novel. It's all top-notch, really.
There were a few things that nagged at me while reading. I mention them because I would be completely enjoying the novel, and then get yanked out periodically. The main thing was transitions. When switching from one PoV to another there would be no time anchors. Sometimes only a little time had passed, and at others a LOT of time had passed. It's like the clarification that would have smoothed this all over was cut just to get to the next section in a hurry. GOD'S WAR isn't long. Smoothing these parts out would have made this novel one of the better ones of the year for me. Additionally, another really minor thing is how it seems like Nyx's forward motion in plot centers around her being abducted every few chapters. It gets a tad worn.
But look, the rest of the novel more than makes up for those small annoyances. The real test is whether or not I see improvement in the second novel, INFIDEL. And yes, I will most certainly be reading it. GOD'S WAR is exactly the type of novel needed by readers everywhere to get them past the monotony of general SF and Fantasy.
Go buy this novel. You'll dig it.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Lots and lots.
Violence: Even more violence than language. Nyx cuts off people's heads as proof of her bounty being complete.
Sex: A ton of references, and some scenes (non detailed). Gay or straight, GOD'S WAR isn't picky. Actually there are some pretty good reasons for some of the homosexual relations in the novel. It isn't there for shock value.
Go check out Kameron Hurley's site: