I've been looking forward to reading THE DAEMON PRISM since reading THE SOUL MIRROR in May. I had no clue what to expect, or where Carol Berg was going with the story. After the stunning climax in MIRROR, what else could happen? As it turns out, there's an even bigger plot we haven't discovered yet.
At the end of book two, Anne and Dante retire to the country where he can teach Anne her new-found magic skills. Portier has gone into hiding to recover from the events on the mount, but also to study the myths and history that would make people believe he is a Saint Reborn. They had discovered and thwarted the nefarious plots of the aspirant--but it turns out that the conspiracy is even deeper, and they must stop the evil that would bind the world of the living and dead together permanently.
SPIRIT was narrated in first person by Portier, MIRROR by Anne, but DAEMON is primarily Dante, a PoV that is a complicated, tortured soul. He's proved in every book that he's willing to do despicable things in order to see the mystery through, and will even risk his friendships and the relationship with the woman he loves. Berg has made a deliciously tortured character in Dante, whose past has shaped him, and we finally get to see in DAEMON exactly what that means. Many are convinced he's the evil that needs to be stopped, but Anne, Portier, and Illario are steadfast in their trust that he's doing what's ultimately the right thing. In DAEMON Anne, Portier, and even Illario make brief appearances as first person viewpoints to round out the narrative; but here, it's Dante who shines.
When the narrative started I had a hard time understanding how this new plot line continued that of the previous books. It begins with Anne returning home to her parents to help with the household, leaving the blind Dante alone and feeling abandoned. Until a former soldier appears at his doorstep with a dream that has tormented him for years, and fears it will cause him to go insane. But Dante learns that the dream is actually someone looking for him, and he's compelled to find out what it's really about--something about magic stones and setting free the beautiful woman trapped by them.
I tried to figure out how this seemingly random storyline coincided with the previous books, and for a long time I felt like it was a contrivance. But, as in the previous books, patience wins out--Berg has a bigger picture in mind through the entire series. Dante's story is compelling, and it's worth the wait to watch it slowly build and come together in the final climax of the series.
We also see more of the world outside of Sabria; before we were limited to the capital city and a few areas around it. This time we travel to Dante's hometown and beyond, to cities where history is catching up to and influencing the present. Berg's world is varied without being overwhelming, with a rich history that's interesting to unravel and explore. I only wish there were more.
If you've read the previous books, yes THE DAEMON PRISM is worth the effort to see it through. Berg does take her sweet time telling the story, but there is a purpose to it, and when the threads start coming together in the final 70 or so pages, everything gets mashed up and jumbled and exciting.
I know I gush; however, I'm not completely blind to the book's imperfections, including some unanswered questions, abruptly tied off character story lines, and pacing issues through the middle of the book. Yet, they are small issues when one looks at the series as a whole, because the overarching narrative is fascinating and compelling.
Can you read THE DAEMON PRISM without reading the first two? No, and you wouldn't want to. The previous novels are worth the slow buildup of information--magical, historical, religious, character--and the time it takes to see this series to the very end.
Recommended Age: 16+ more for comprehension than content
Language: Fewer than five instances
Violence: Death, torture, and grisly magic rites, much more than in previous books
Sex: Referenced and described in a handful of instances (including as part of a death ritual), although without detail
This phenomenal series contains:
THE SPIRIT LENS
THE SOUL MIRROR
THE DAEMON PRISM
A good friend of mine lent me his copy of THE LAST PAGE by Anthony Huso saying that it was a book he thought I would really enjoy. He compared the book to China Miéville (of whom I am a rabid fan). I’d heard some other good things about it as well so I picked it up and read it. Here’s the blurb, (mostly because I’m not sure I could describe the book succinctly by myself).
The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what's living in the city's sewers.
Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold's reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold's dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy--adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood--and she has been sent to spy on the High King.
Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph's veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.
Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.
With comparisons to China Miéville it can’t really be surprising that I was slightly underwhelmed with the finished product. There is much in THE LAST PAGE to be admired and there are certainly wonderful ideas, but as a whole it just didn’t satisfy me the way I was hoping it would.
And I feel bad about that. This review is going to come off seeming like it was a “meh” book. It will certainly be filed in the "Books That Are Mediocre" category. But that doesn’t really do it justice. To me that feels like I’m saying that the book was OK. Not true, there were parts of the book that were good. There were parts that were very good, excellent even. And then there were parts that I didn’t like so much, and others I thought could be better.
Let’s start with the good shall we? (I’m an optimist that way.) The ideas. Just like in a standard China Miéville book, THE LAST PAGE has quite a few really weird slightly gross and totally enthralling ideas swimming in it. There are moments that just stick out; pictures, scenes, and scenarios that are just so darn cool you want to paint them and hang them on your wall (except that some of them are really gross and you don’t want that on your wall). The other thing I really rather enjoyed was the writing itself. There were moments when the language was just gorgeous. It was thick and vivid and really helped paint that mental picture. One scene in particular when the (not gonna spoil it) finally (not gonna tell you). Man, that was sweet!
But then there were times when the language was actually an obstacle. My dad told me he had seen someone refer to the writing as “Someone threw a thesaurus at a wall” and honestly at times THE LAST PAGE felt that way. It felt as if he were trying TOO hard to wow me with how cool the language could be and it got confusing. Sometimes the language worked, others it didn’t.
The other problem I had with the book was the story itself. It seemed less to me a coherent story that moved along with good twists and turns, than a random series of events to take us from one cool idea to another. For me it lacked direction and focus. The character arcs for Caliph and Sena just didn’t do it for me. They didn’t grow enough as characters or come to great conclusions or do much of anything other than take us from cool idea to cool idea.
All in all though, I’m glad I read THE LAST PAGE. Like I said there are some images and ideas that I will take with me and for that I am grateful. It was even enough for me to give Huso’s next novel a shot when it comes out. Overall the ideas are great. If he can clean up the story and characters a bit for me, that will be something to read!
Age Recommendation: 16+ Bits of language, gross scenes and a bit of sex stuff thrown in.
Language: A bit. Not abundant, but obviously there.
Violence: There’s some gross stuff thrown in.
Sex: A few scenes and references
This book is one that tends to affect different readers in different ways. If you want to give it a shot, here is your link:
THE LAST PAGE
One of the very few Science Fiction series I truly enjoy is "Diving" series written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch for Pyr. The series follows the character Boss as she progresses from diving the wrecks of space ships to leading a huge corporation that is focused on controlling thhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gife scientific progression of a dangerous version of stealth technology. Why do I like this series so much? I think it mainly boils down to two points. 1) I like the main character, and 2) it is one of the more accessible SF series out there.
The latest entry to the series, BONEYARDS, follows on the heels of the prior novel. Boss is helping Coop--the captain of the Dignity Vessel that was thrust 5000 years into the future (Boss' present)--investigate the whereabouts of the Fleet. As I type that out I realize just how important it is for you readers to start this series from the beginning. There simply isn't any way to enjoy this novel without having read the prior two novels, DIVING INTO THE WRECK and CITY OF RUINS. Without those novels you have no hope of having any real connection to the main character, Boss, or any of her crew.
So, if you haven't read the prior novels stop screwing around and go pick them up. They are awesome.
Anyway. Back to the review.
BONEYARDS is divided up into two separate stories. We have Boss' sections, which are told in 1st Person as usual. Then we also have chunks told in 3rd Person from Squishy, a character you should remember from the prior novels. While Boss is helping Coop, Squishy is off on a solo mission to destroy the Empire's base researching stealth technology.
The Boss sections are fantastic, and are exactly what most readers will be looking forward to. There are moments of internal doubt and weakness that act as a counterpoint to the hard exterior that she wears as a leader of a massive corporation. The Squishy sections, however, will likely be a tad more difficult for readers to enjoy. It isn't that they are bad, because they aren't. Half of Squishy's sections are flashbacks to her life working with the Empire. While they do serve as a window into her head, as a reader I just wasn't as invested in her character as I was in Boss. This made the pacing slow down dramatically, and I found that I would often check ahead to see how much further until the Boss sections.
While I wish the Squishy sections could have been a little more dynamic, they do work well once you get used to her sections. And on the whole the books works really well.
Until the ending.
I distinctly remember looking down at the page number seeing I only had twenty pages left and thinking, "There's no way to wrap this up." Remember, the title of the novel is BONEYARDS. Without spoiling exactly what the Boneyards are in the novel, I feel like I should mention that they never actually spend any time in them. They look at it from the outside, then decide (for various non-spoilery reasons) to go back later. Instead of going into the Boneyards, we get a very quick meeting of the Boss & Squishy storylines. It's really kind of weird, because the ending is both satisfying to read because of Boss's resolution, but it is also flat due to Squishy's ending. I literally said out-loud, "Well that was cool...except...wait, that's it?"
BONEYARDS is half a novel. It's a really good half novel, and there is a definite resolution on a personal level for Boss, but I really needed more. In a glass half-full way, this is a good thing. I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and would have gleefully read another 300 pages that dealt with the exploration of the Boneyards, and the consequences of the finale of the this novel. Instead I got a bit of a flat cliffhanger.
So should you read this novel? Absolutely. I really liked it, and I think you will too. This is SF that everyone can enjoy. But you need to go into it with the understanding that this feels like there should be a BONEYARDS Part 2 floating around. Even as half a novel, it is still very enjoyable and has actually made me looking forward to the next book even more.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: As with the prior novels, there is some swearing. It can be strong, but it doesn't permeate the novel.
Violence: A bit towards the end, but it isn't focused on.
Sex: Referenced, but never shown or talked about in detail.
You should be reading this series. Here are your links to pick them up:
DIVING INTO THE WRECK
CITY OF RUINS
Pern is a planet inhabited by human colonists, whose way of life is affected by the deadly Thread that rains down at intervals from a nearby star. The only way to stop the Thread from reaching land and causing destruction is to burn it en route using genetically engineered telepathic dragons with their dragonriders to guide them.
Anne McCaffrey's Pern stories are based on science, the dragons not merely existing as mythological story fodder, but for a purpose. The series deals with themes of colonists wanting a pastoral society verses the technology needed to deal with threats to survival—and as a result switches back and forth between fantasy and science fiction flavors. Dated in spots, but still worth reading.
It was books like this that started an entire generation of female readers onto the SF path—and if my own tween daughter is any indication, they still do.
DRAGONFLIGHT was published in 1968, parts of which were novellas that originally appeared in Analog magazine the year before. The book is always in print and will be available at even small libraries. The Dragonriders of Pern series covers a thousand years, most taking place after DRAGONFLIGHT, with a few prequels.
Recommended Age: 12+
Violence: Some and not usually graphic
Apparently a movie version will begin filming in 2012. We'll see if this actually sees the light of day.
Also, Michael Whelan painted several of the covers, which are worth taking a closer look at.
I feel kind of like a broken record here. Once again we have another book by the amazing Catherynne M. Valente is out. Once again the book is wonderful. Once again the prose is beyond the capacity for mere mortals to absorb without crying. Once again I am left enraptured at the end of her tales wanting more. How many times can I say that Valente is writing flat out brilliant stuff and you guys should go out (and I mean the DAY a book of hers is released) and buy it? You need me to say it once more? Very well. If you insist. Buy it! Buy it now!
THE FOLDED WORLD is second book in the Dirge for Prestor John series. It picks up where the last book, THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED, left off. Of course this is Catherynne M. Valente and stories rarely flow in an uninterrupted straight pace. So when I say that this book picks up where the last book left off, it’s true and then it’s not true. The last book contained three separate stories. The stories were copied from books plucked off of a tree. The books needed to be copied quickly as the book fruit was starting to rot. The stories wove in and out of each other introducing us to characters in various stages of their lives. This book follows in that vein as three more books are plucked from the tree.
We get another tale of Hagia, the blemmye wife of Prester John, this time much earlier in her life as she goes to war. We have the tale of Vyala, a lion charged with raising John’s deformed daughter (my favorite character thus far in the series). And we get the tale of another John Mandeville thrust into another part of the kingdom of Pentexore.
Some of the stories take place before the events in Habitation and others take place after. This time the tales focus on war, the effects of it on inhabitants who will live forever, and it’s consequences. The book felt more focused here for me than the last one. Both books serve to continue the story of Pentexore, and of John’s reign while he is there, but this one in particular had more a focus, and would stand alone better in my opinion.
In the end, however, the world is the big winner here. There are some wonderful characters. There are those whom we met previously who are more sketched out in this volume. There are those we meet for the first time here. As usual they are weird and a little unsettling, and entirely wonderful. Yet all of it serves as a backbone to this wonderful place, Pentexore, that the stories are taking place in. As enchanting as the stories are (and they are), it’s the world that I go back to visit each time.
I won’t say much more about THE FOLDED WORLD beyond that. Anything I write here won’t do justice to the tale that Valente is writing. Let it suffice to say that these (THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED and THE FOLDED WORLD) are great books. These two novels are different, hard to describe, and hard to compare to anything else out there. And they are completely wonderful.
Age Recommendation: 16+ not based so much on anything here, but the last volume contained some sex and other things, and I think you should read the books together.
Language: None to my recollection
Violence: A few scenes here and there. One in particular, but not too gory.
Sex: Mentioned a few times. Not shown in this book.
If you aren't reading this series, you are insane. Here are your links to pick up these amazing novels:
THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED
THE FOLDED WORLD
REAMDE is the second Neal Stephenson novel I have read, the first being the all time geek classic SNOWCRASH. Unlike SNOWCRASH and, from what I understand, the majority of Stephenson's other works, REAMDE is a pretty contemporary affair. Fans of irreverent, pop-culture laden science fiction will be disappointed in no small degree. Those looking for a fast paced thriller, on the other hand, may want to give REAMDE a chance.
The story starts out with Richard Forthrast, family black sheep and video game entrepreneur. Richard has made quite a name for himself in the business world by building an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game from the ground up with a focus on harnessing the revenue stream of Chinese "gold farming." The game's success attracts a group of hackers that unleash a scheme to ransom players own encrypted data files back to them for a fee. I could go deeper into the plot, but not without giving away major spoilers.
REAMDE starts out strong as Stephenson introduces readers to Richard and his family as well as the vastly imaginative concept behind Richard's MMO titled, T'Rain. Stephenson is well known for utilizing infodumps as a method of world building and this is clearly evident at the beginning of the novel. Richard's personal history and the nature of T'Rain is established early on. Not once did I find an infodump to be boring or jarring. Stephenson is a highly intelligent author that has obviously done extensive research on the topics he writes. T'Rain in particular is a brilliant creation, not from just a gaming standpoint but from a money making standpoint as well.
The problem with REAMDE is that Richard and T'Rain feature prominently at the start but vanish towards the middle. Richard reappears at the last third of the book and T'Rain gets a little more spotlight but the book is not really about either of them. It is difficult to go into too much detail without broadcasting any spoilers but a couple hundred pages in the plot gets hijacked by a seemingly random occurrence that ends up taking priority through the rest of the novel. Granted, this is obviously was Stephenson was planning but it feels like the story got derailed and continued chugging along off the tracks instead of making any attempt to link back up. REAMDE is much more about international terrorism than it is about online gaming and computer hacking.
Once you get past this abrupt change of pace of course REAMDE makes for a solid thriller. The cast is diverse, ranging from Zula the adopted niece of Richard to Hungarian hacker Csongor, ex-Spetznaz security consultant Sokolov, and British spy Olivia. There is plenty of globe trotting and a fair bit of action especially in the last hundred or so pages. Stephenson takes special care to properly write about the handling of firearms and writes believable action sequences. The villains are pretty flat, standard ne'er-do-wells with no deeper motivation than to kill.
The thing is, fans of Stephenson will probably be expecting something a little deeper than REAMDE. There is no real theme to the novel, no probing into culture or psychology. And if Stephenson fans will be off put by the lack of depth, thriller fans will likely be unwilling to sit through hundreds of pages of build up. There are a lot of moving parts to REAMDE and it takes every bit of the considerable length to (somewhat coincidentally) guide all the chess pieces into play for the final showdown.
If you are going to read REAMDE don't rush out to be the massive hardbound, weapon of blunt destruction edition. Pick up a copy at the library or wait for it to be converted into a smaller (but still considerably deadly) paperback.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: It's there but not in any great quantity
Violence: Yes, plenty of shooting but nothing too gruesome
Sex: It happens twice or so but strictly off scene
Think this book is for you? Here's your link to pick it up at far less than the bloated cover price:
Do you know what a cornucopia is? I'm not sure if this is the greatest analogy or not, but the imagery of a cornucopia is immediately what came to mind when I was reading this novel. Based on that single word, your impression of the book right now is probably dependent upon your own connotation of the word cornucopia. The idea of a cornucopia in my head is a pretty generic one, without any kind of preconception of the pieces contained by the...uh...aforementioned cornucopia. (How many times can I feasibly use that word in a single paragraph without having it ruin me? Best not to ask.) Anyhow, generic is pretty much where this book landed. Solidly in the land of mediocrity.
LOW TOWN is a debut novel (yeah, there was a rash of newbs in our pile and guess who got em?) by Daniel Polansky. I went into the book with high hopes. In essence, the book is about...mmm...well, it's about a whole lot of things, and they're all mashed up into one big--
Nope. Not going to say it. Put on your big-reader panties, everyone. I'm going with implication this time.
The story itself revolves around the character of the Warden and is told from a first-person POV. This kind of presentation was probably the one thing that saved the book, as I'm a reader that's big on character and it's fairly difficult to avoid putting character into first-person prose. The Warden is a guy that hustles drugs for the meaner parts of Low Town, although he's not without competition. He's a pretty unsympathetic guy that's been through the ringer as a former member of the elite police force of the city, and at the outset of the story he really doesn't care about much of anything or anyone. Just there to make a buck and shaft everyone he can. Even his so-called friends.
But then someone starts killing kids and he gets tied up in it. Although, you should probably read that one as: his former employer tells him to find out who's doing it or take a one-way trip to feed the fishes.
This is really where the story starts, and unfortunately it comes in at about a third of the way through the book. Up until that point in the story, I couldn't find much of a rhyme or reason as to what was going on or why things were happening. There was no direction. Although this problem does shrink somewhat as the book progresses, the feel of the book kept jumping all over the place. The world building suggested a dark, gritty city where the dregs of society live, and yet when a couple of kids get murdered everyone is all of a sudden appalled at the very idea of killing an innocent child. Another issue was that the near history feels very medieval, but then the main character has WWII-like memories come up, with trenches, and black-powder bombs, and hand-held guns. There's even a very Harry Potteresque feel to a couple scenes that totally took me for a loop. It was just all over the place. This made the story fairly difficult to get into, but once I got used to it, I did just kind of go with the flow.
Polansky's prose is decent for the most part. In sections, the lack of supporting detail made it difficult to follow what was going on. In others, everything seemed fine. So, kind of a mixed bag in the presentation department as well. He definitely could have used a few more commas though. There weren't enough of those by a long shot, and repeatedly made for a lack of clarity that got annoying.
The thrust of the novel is ostensibly a combination of noir and fantasy, but it felt mostly like sketchy noir with a very light sprinkling of magical influence. Still, besides being somewhat predictable at the end, it wasn't what I'd call a bad book. It absolutely didn't stand out in any way, shape, or form for me though, and thus earned its rating quite handily. It was just there, right in the middle of the mediocre pack, waving its arms and screaming at me, trying its best to catch my attention. I guess I've just seen so much better stuff out there that I couldn't spare more than a passing glance.
Another one for the shelves, but not necessarily your precious time.
Language: Infrequent but strong, frequently distracting
Violence: There are some pretty messy deaths via magical construct and otherwise
Sex: A few references, some brief anatomical description
AWAKENINGS is Edward Lazellari's debut novel and not a bad one at that. It's not often that I come across one as good as this, in fact. It's a story that struck a chord with me, landing somewhere smack in the middle of John Connelly, Mike Resnick, and a jaunt through the backless Wardrobe.
The plot revolves around the efforts of a couple parties from a magical world named Aandor to find a prince that has been lost in our world. It's difficult, really, to say much more than that without including some spoilers, as the development of the story is so intimately tied with the progression of the book. This was one of the things that I really liked about the way the author put the story together. Each piece of the story that is revealed comes as the characters interact with one another and try to piece things together themselves. Thus, anything more detailed that I might include to whet your collective appetites might spoil the plate, and I'd rather avoid that.
Suffice it to say, there are several characters of interest (a police officer, a druggie with low morals, and a high school kid), lots of engaging action, and a little amnesia thrown in to mix things up. Readers start out knowing who the various search parties (both nefarious and well-intentioned) are searching for, and it's obvious fairly quickly who the targets are. Thankfully, the author never tries to hide this from us. Along in the mix are some trolls, some gnomes, and a relative of Mr. Fantastic's that has wicked-sharp claws and blue ink for blood. Oh, and the dude that can pull your beating heart out of your chest without killing you. He's in there too.
As an aside, it was also pretty funny. I like books that make me laugh. You too? I thought you might.
One of the main characters, Seth, really reminded me of The Prisoner from King's Dark Tower series. (Ah, and we come back to the beginning. See how I did that? Yes, I accept applause. You can make notes in the comments section...) It's hardly ever a bad thing, for me, to see a story channel a favorite character of mine from a previous read. Here, Lazellari does something very similar to what King did, in that he takes a character that is quite supremely unsympathetic and gets us to like him. From Seth we get humor in abundance and eventually some guilt, and it all really worked for me. I loved the high degree of characterization in the book. The author has done it with each of those we spend time with, and secondary characters as well. You get the high school kid that's beaten by an abusive step-father. You see the confusion and heartache as the more fantastical characters learn about their past lives. You see the affect of this new-found history on the officer's wife. All good stuff.
The one complaint I have about the book is that it essentially stops right in the middle of the story without any kind of resolution, minor or major. We have a couple chapters that summarize where each of the characters is and, Bob's your uncle, we're done. The one thing that the ending does have going for it is that there is a fairly large change in the situation of each of the various characters. A plot turn. Still, it just didn't feel like a proper ending. Even if there are going to be sequels. It was like Empire Strikes Back without the reveal from Darth Vader. Luke lost a hand. Okay. Um, now what? It doesn't ruin the ending, but there just isn't any punch to it. You know? (You caught that one too? I thought you might.)
On the whole though, I'm completely impressed with this new entry and will be looking forward to Lazellari's next installment. In some respects, I think the sequel has potential to totally come off the rails and end in catastrophe as we move from the "real" world and into the magical one. And yet this first chapter of the story has also shown the very distinct possibility of being one of those fantasy stories that sticks out amongst all of the other magical-world crossovers. We'll see. Definitely not a book to miss, and fairly high on my scale of Like.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Frequent and strong
Violence: Pretty high
Sex: Lots of references from Seth, and one low-detail scene
Sounds pretty good right? You want to try it out for yourself? Here's your link:
What a truly disappointing task it is to write a mediocre review for a highly anticipated sequel. I finished reading Richard K. Morgan's THE STEEL REMAINS a short time ago. The book had some rough edges that needed some buffering but it was a promising start to series by a well established author. I read the book as quickly as possible so that I could start THE COLD COMMANDS the moment it arrived. Sadly, this is one sequel that left me unfulfilled. This review contains some things readers may consider SPOILERS, so please read at your own risk.
This is from the Amazon product description of The Cold Commands: "An expedition is outfitted for the long and arduous sea journey to find the lost island of the Illwrack Changeling. Aboard are Gil, Egar, and Archeth: each fleeing from ghosts of the past, each seeking redemption in whatever lies ahead. But redemption doesn't come cheap these days. Nor, for that matter, does survival. Not even for Ringil Eskiath. Or anyone--god or mortal--who would seek to use him as a pawn."
Here is the problem. This expedition? This expedition never gets under way. In fact the expedition is never even outfitted. Shoot, it's two hundred pages into the book before the purpose of the expedition is brought to light. Afterward a group of expeditionaries is assembled but nothing else comes to pass, leaving readers to assume that this expedition will be part of the third novel. This is the biggest problem with the novel. At the start you can feel the momentum, the characters being guided toward this plot beacon. And as the pages fly by the characters only seem to creep closer by the inch. The gun is introduced in the first act but forgotten about completely by the third it seems. As I got closer and closer to the end I found myself imagining the cast of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail screaming "GET ON WITH IT!"
Like the last novel I found Ringil and Archeth's perspectives to be the most compelling while Egar's story failed to hold my interest. Sadly Ringil's perspective seemed to flounder during this novel as well. Ringil starts out with a bang, rescuing slaves and killing evil doers. But then he winds up in the Gray Places, and his perspective loses focus. The real gem of THE COLD COMMANDS is Archeth. Once again I found myself enthusiastically waiting for her chapters, eager to learn even the smallest bits about the Kiriath or the Helmsmen. The are some new supporting characters introduced but there is no real effort to develop them any further than their direct relationships with the main POV's.
The best part of this series to date has to be Morgan's inclusion of science fiction elements into this fantasy world. The Kiriath and their technology, specifically the mysterious Helmsmen are intriguing. Unfortunately the horrifying Aldrain have a limited presence in the novel, even if their machinations are clearly going on in the background. My favorite overall moment of the story is when the Helmsman responsible for delivering the warning to Archeth and the Empire explains the earliest history of the world and the origins of the Kiriath/Aldrain conflict. More of this would have been welcomed.
The novel is not completely without pros. Ringil is, as ever, a fascinating character. Fans of the genre are unlikely to find an anti-hero as unique as Ringil Angeleyes. As ever, Morgan's anger and sharp wit is at play. Fundamentalist religion takes a heavy hit, as does imperialism. The forces of the world are painted in shades of black. There is darkness in the world and Morgan does not shy away from violence and more controversial issues. THE COLD COMMANDS is not a bad novel. Richard K. Morgan is a highly skilled writer, especially when it comes to dialogue. That said, THE COLD COMMANDS strikes me as irrelevant, a prime example of "middle book syndrome." The stage is set for the third book in the series, but this installment seems superfluous. I'll go ahead and buy THE DARK DEFILES, but I'll be more careful with my expectations.
Recommended Age: 17 and up
Language: Plenty of strong language and creative cursing
Violence: Blood and gore in spades, not for the squeamish
Sex: Several explicit scenes, heterosexual and homosexual in nature. There is also a rape scene very early on
Should you want to grab these books, here are your links:
THE STEEL REMAINS
THE COLD COMMANDS