I am not the ideal target audience for a YA novel. But lately...man, it seems like there have been some amazing YA novels coming out. I suppose this is the benefit of being a reviewer--reviewers have to read everything. Because of this, my already broad reading tastes seem to be in a continual state of expansion. They evolve. But whatever, right? You just want to know what I thought about the YA novel VODNIK, by Bryce Moore.
Before we begin, I can already see some of you readers wondering where you have heard that author's name before. He's an occasional reviewer here at EBR. Before you all grab your torches and pitch-forks, remember that I am ALWAYS honest when it comes to reviewing a novel. If I like it, I like it. If I hate it, I hate it. Bryce approached me a while ago asking me to review his novel, VODNIK. I believe my exact words were, "OK...but you realize I have to be honest right?" He realized the position I was in, and still agreed. I guess he felt pretty confident.
With good reason.
VODNIK is about a boy named Tomas. After a fire burns down his family's home (along with all their possessions), they decide to move back to the country they are originally from, Slovakia. Tomas is typically emo for the first few chapters, but mercifully moves past that stage quickly. I'd like to thank Bryce personally for not subjecting the reader to page-after-page of angst. Bryce: We are still friends, and you can continue to do reviews here. Look what writing good books gets you!
Anywho, much of Tomas' character growth--of which there is a substantial amount--involves crazy stuff which begins to happen. He starts seeing things that no one else can. He starts seeing visions of the past. All of this is tied to his family's mysterious past, and the strange happenings that made them move from Slovakia to the USA when Tomas was only five years-old.
VODNIK is a YA novel that revolves around Slovakian folklore, and this angle is what makes Moore's novel such a compelling read. It's so fresh and different. These mythological creatures Moore has brought to life on the pages are so different from what I normally read in folklore-centric novels. It's hard for me to do anything but applaud. Seriously. The act discovery that Tomas goes though--both external and internal--makes VODNIK have a more broad appeal that most basic YA novels.
Now, there are a few things I should comment on before I give you readers my final recommendation. VODNIK is not perfect. Many of the things I'm about to bring up will likely not bother a soul. But they bothered me, and this is my review. Tomas is a movie/TV junkie, and so many of his references are based on US pop-culture and cinema. It allows the author to sum up a huge amount of description in a single quote, and makes a reader familiar with the references laugh quite a bit. However, many of the references will be lost on much of today's youth. Much of the humor is based in these references, which I thought were hilarious. Will a teenager--the target audience of this novel? Hard to say.
I personally found the pacing to be off a bit. It's a bit like running on tread-mill and having it stop suddenly. Your momentum carries you into a none-too-gentle encounter with the control panel...and then the machine turns back on at full speed. It can be a bit jarring. I think this has to do with the novel progressing from one set-piece to the next and summing up the in-between with "Some time passed." I like a little down-time where we get to see some more simple character moments that don't involve all the weird stuff going on. I need better transitions. But that could just be me.
My last nitpick is about predictability. Again, this could just be due to my having read far more novels than is healthy. I knew what was going to happen. I'm no Paul Atreides (I had to interject my own "pop culture" reference!), but it was no mean feat to see where the story was going. It didn't ruin the novel by any means, but I was a tad bummed when everything I had predicted happened.
Yeah, I had some issues with a few things in the novel, but overall I really liked VODNIK. There is a ton of promise here, and Bryce Moore is excellent at characterization. The human characters are fantastic and realistic, but it's the supernatural characters that make this novel breathe. The vodník is such an erratic (intentionally) and fun character. The Death, Morena, is appropriately alien in her thought processes. It is obvious to me that Bryce writes these supernatural Slovakian beings with glee.
The other thing Bryce does with effortlessness is portray the racism of the area. Most of it devolves into bullying, but where it doesn't the situations are morally disturbing. Handled so well, yet I can see it being even better if the stakes are raised in the sequel.
VODNIK is a terrific YA novel. There's no doubt about it. It's uniqueness and characters overcome the shortcomings. You should buy it and read it. It's well worth your investment. Prospective authors should read it as an example of how to write a non-conformist Urban Fantasy. The best thing I can say about VODNIK is that it makes me want to read the sequel RIGHT NOW!
Recommended Age: 13+
Violence: Nothing gruesome, but there is some stuff that is written to make you very angry at certain individuals, and feel the humiliation the main character feels. Lots of racism.
Sex: The PoV, Tomas, is a teenage boy. He is keenly away of good looking females. But nothing even close to explicit or even uncomfortable.
I think most people will feel as I do about VODNIK. That means you should have a copy in your collection. Here's your link:
Sarah Pinborough, I could hug you. Should we run into each other again, just expect a completely gleeful hug from me.
Think back on all of the Horror novels you've ever read. The vast majority of them are stand-alone novels. The vast majority have also likely sucked. Horror has issues--you know it, and I know it. Horror authors tend to get so caught up in "How much blood and guts can I show" or "Satanism is scary" that their books turn into giant clichés. They all fall back on the same, tired tropes of the genre, and they forget that great Horror is really defined by characters and story. I'm convinced this is why most Horror is limited to stand alone novels. Guys like McCammon, Wells, Wilson and Lumley have crafted excellent series because they focus on the right stuff. They are able to carry a focused story over several novels.
In my own long-winded fashion, I guess this is my way of saying that I've added Pinborough to my list of "Best Horror Authors". Her third and final novel in the Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy, THE CHOSEN SEED, is an incredible end to an incredible Horror series. I put it right there with my absolute favs. The Repairman Jack series. The Matthew Corbett series. The Harry Keogh novels. Yeah, for me Pinborough's Cassius Jones trilogy is in the same league.
THE CHOSEN SEED starts with Cass Jones on the run. After the events of THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL, Cass now finds himself with hardly a friend in sight, framed for multiple murders, recovering from a gunshot wound, and still looking for the whereabouts of his nephew. Mr. Bright is till around, of course, as is the rest of his shadowy organization. It's all a very hopeless situation which sets up the book perfectly for the finale.
THE CHOSEN SEED starts out much slower than the prior two novels, and its pacing is much less procedural as well. This novel is less about solving a murder here and there, and more about Cass finding out about himself. Why is Cass special? Why is his nephew, Luke, so important? Who IS Mr. Bright? Every question has an answer, though the answer is rarely filled with pleasant dreams of rainbows and gumdrops. This IS a Sarah Pinborough novel after all.
I have to be VERY careful about what I say in this review because one little stray comment could ruin everything. There is a nice revisit from a past character, and it's completely awesome to see Mr. Bright not fully in control. Cass is suitably frustrated and beaten down, so his actions are all 100% believable.
Keep in mind that THE CHOSEN SEED will change your entire outlook on the series. I had a pretty good idea where it was going very early on, but once my suspicion was confirmed I had one of those movie montage moments. You know, the one where you see all the prior scenes as all the pieces snap together or become suddenly clear? It was just like that. When you get to the end there will be that moment where you point at the page and think, "Yep, this was probably the idea that spawned this whole series in the author's mind." For me it was like I got a brief glimpse at the core of Pinborough's raw, creative process.
What more can I say? The writing is accessible while not being dumbed-down. Again, the pacing is slower than the prior novels, but it doesn't hurt the story in the least. The characters are the natural evolution of what they started at in the first book, A MATTER OF BLOOD. When all the answers start coming to light, they are big, epic, and perfectly handled.
I don't often get that feeling of warm fuzzies when I finish a series. Finales are usually a let-down if the author even gets to the finale in the first place. THE CHOSEN SEED is, in my opinion, a near perfect ending to a near perfect series. I don't know what more I could even ask for. This is Horror where we see how under-prepared characters deal with an impossibly huge situation. In the end, I was left feeling completely satisfied.
THE CHOSEN SEED, and the whole Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy, is all about characters and story. It doesn't get any better than that.
You owe it to yourself to read THE CHOSEN SEED, and thus you owe it to yourself to read the entire series. We will be getting this full series in the US starting in 2013, but I really don't expect you US readers to wait that long. It's worth the price of importing. For all the lovely UK readers, if you haven't read these books you may want to go see if you are sick or something. Sarah Pinborough's The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy is easily one of the best Horror series out there.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: As in the prior novels, there is a ton.
Violence: Not quite as visibly violent as the prior novels due to Cass not investigating murders.
Sex: Nothing shown, but talked about quite a bit.
Quit screwing around and buy this series. All of it. (Though if you want to wait until the official US release I won't hold it against you...)
A MATTER OF BLOOD
THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL
THE CHOSEN SEED
I know there are those that will disagree with me, but I believe that there are times when “the numbers” just flat-out lie. Everything in the publishing industry, as has been frequently stated, comes down to the numbers. Writing and selling books is a business, and if the author doesn't make his/her publisher enough money, then the numbers will tell them that the best idea is to drop the author and move on. Sometimes though, as I said, the numbers will lie. Sometimes, sometimes, the best thing to do is to put the numbers away and just go with your instincts.
SHADOW AND BETRAYAL is an omnibus of the first two books of the Long Price Quartet (A SHADOW IN SUMMER and A BETRAYAL IN WINTER) originally published by Tor in 2006 and 2007, and is the beginning half of my favorite fantasy series ever, bar none. Yes, there are other series I've read wherein I've enjoyed individual books more, but for a series as a whole, this one absolutely takes the ever-present cake (which is not a lie, in this case).
Of all the mighty cities of the Khaiem, Saraykeht is the heart and lifeblood of all its wealth. It is through this grand city that the mighty cotton trade flows, empowered by the all-important poet Heshai, who is both master and slave to the mighty andat, Seedless. The andat, singular ideas given human volition and form, are the power of the East. They provide not only economic strength--in the case of Seedless by removing the seed, or the-part-that-continues, from cotton or unwanted children from their mother's wombs--but political clout (read: intimidation) as well. Thus, there are those from outside the Empire of the Khaiem that would love to see that power fail.
The story mainly follows three characters. Itani is a young man that had once studied to become a Poet of the andat, but left after finding out more about their methods, and has become a dock worker in the famed city of Saraykeht. Maati, another poet-hopeful and once friend of Itani, has been assigned to assist, and some day take the place of, the poet Heshai. Also involved, is Amat, a woman of some repute, that must run from what she knows of trade to survive in the halls of a brothel and save the life of a young foreign girl.
The first thing that really pulled me into these books was the completely different setting, the engaging, believable characters, and the fluid prose. Instead of western medieval, the setting is decidedly eastern, with very formal ways of communication, including a set of physical poses and cants. This formality within the story gave a sense of importance to the relationships between the various characters that really intrigued me, and was an easy way of relaying more information in a fast, succinct way. The development of the world in the small circle that surrounds the main characters was very well done. In this, Abraham gives readers the knowledge they need about the wide-world without including gratuitous info-dumps and thus makes is very accessible and real. I'm also one that loves clear prose, and this stuff is crystal, people.
Another part of this story that I really loved was the way the magic was integral to the world. This isn't just another world of “outcast magic users”. In the world of the Khaiem, life itself revolves around and is driven by the “magic” of the poets and their captive andat. It is this simple magical construct that allows the relational stories that arise between the Khaiem and their enemies, between Itani and Maati and their common lover, and between Heshai and Seedless, to be so complex without confusing the issues surrounding them. The story is at once personal and epic at the same time. It is a story of a nation and how the choice of a single individual can drive that nation into the ground or on to glory.
I remember the first time that I read A SHADOW IN SUMMER. I read it twice, actually. My opinion was that it was a solid book with a great core of world-building, characters, and story. What it wasn't was a rip-roaring adventure of inventive mayhem. (If that's what you're looking for, might I suggest the Burton and Swineburne books of Mark Hodder, or the Ketty Jay books of Chris Wooding.) Instead, these books were more focused upon the individual, the forces pushing and pulling them toward decisions they make, how those choices weigh upon their souls, and the impact those decisions have over their lifetime. This is an intelligent story, and one that I loved. It's epic and yet each book is only 350-400 pages in length. Yeah. I know. Unheard of, right?
One minor problem for me included the fact that these first two books were fairly similar to each other in the sense of their structure and goal. The real step-up comes in the third and fourth books though, and so from this side of things I can say that this problem is indeed a very minor one.
I do find it interesting, on this side of things, that Tor has decided to publish this series again. The first time around, while they had Mr. Abraham under contract to write the series in the first place, they decided not only to not publish a paperback version of the fourth and final novel in the series (THE PRICE OF SPRING), but to let him find another publisher as well. My guess is that it probably had something to do with “the numbers”. But were the numbers lying? In some ways, the publication of these two omnibuses (the first here, and the second soon to follow) is validation that Mr. Abraham did do something right when he wrote these books. Because, for some reason, the numbers are now saying that he's a good bet. Me, I've always thought he was a good bet--right from the first time I finished A Shadow in Summer--and I can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve for us next.
This series is some absolutely great reading for all lovers of fantasy that didn't catch it the first time around. Don't miss it this time. Do yourself a favor and pick up something from Mr. Abraham. If you're tastes are anything like ours, you won't be sorry you did.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Infrequent, but strong at times
Violence: A few of the scenes get pretty violent and killing is handled very personally
Sex: A couple ends of scenes and memories, spoken of but not in detail
If there was ever a time to get into the awesomeness that is Daniel Abraham, is is now. Buy this book. Now. Here's your link:
SHADOW AND BETRAYAL
I have Plants vs Zombies on my iPhone. As I read THE FIRST DAYS: AS THE WORLD DIES, I'd occasionally switch to my smaller version of the zombie apocalypse. Why? I guess because the story is better.
In a desire for full disclosure you should know this is my first zombie book, even though I've watched my share of zombie movies. So I may not be the best judge of this sub-genre. But I do know what makes a book good.
A good book will have characters that interest you. The first pages introduce us to Jenni and Katie as they experience the beginning horror of the zombie apocalypse. Jenni is a young mother in an abusive relationship. Katie is a high-powered attorney in a happy same-sex marriage. When the world begins to fall apart around them, they find each other and somehow survive. We follow them as they save Jenni's step-son and try to find safety. They start out interesting enough as strong, female characters--which is great in this kind of story. But the strange thing about these characters? They're hyper aware of their own motivations and behaviors. We get a clunky laundry list of what makes up these women's personalities, and it was often inconsistent with their actions.
I admit that I love me some romance, but I grew frustrated by THE FIRST DAYS. As soon as the male characters entered the stage, more than fifty percent of the story became about who's going to get it on with whom (a mere 2 days after the deaths of their loved ones!). The love triangles were forced, the progression of their romantic relationships didn't feel realistic and brought out inconsistencies in Jenni's and Katie's personalities in order to fit the relationship better. We do some have PoV scenes from the romantic interests, Travis and Juan, but their characters lack any real depth, and mostly serve as eye candy. The redeeming thing despite all this is that the women do maintain the strength that helped them survive in the first place--as well as a goofy sense of humor. But in the end it wasn't enough to make me like them.
A good book will also have good writing. I know that sounds obvious, but I'm referring to the stuff other than the characterization and plot. In other words, a good book won't have cliche prose, it will have smooth transitions between scenes, the pacing will be steady, there will be a firm sense of the setting, the author won't have to bludgeon a reader over the head with heavy-handed descriptions of character emotions... THE FIRST DAYS did have some of these good things, but not with any consistency.
To me, the most important thing that makes a book good is the story itself. Frater structures THE FIRST DAYS fine enough, considering all the running around and fighting. However, it was still loosely enough plotted that I had to force myself to keep reading--the story just didn't grab me. Frater tries for a climax near the end of the book, but after a series of battles against the zombies it's hard to give the last battle any special significance. Then the resolution that follows meanders with awkward story line tie-offs and ends with an odd epilogue and possible new tensions for book two (/yawn).
If other zombie books out there are like this, I'm glad I haven't wasted any time on them. However, if enough of you suggest a particular book, I might be persuaded otherwise.
Recommended Age: 17+
Violence: Gore, blood, body parts flying every which way
Sex: Mostly referenced; a couple of brief scenes with moderate detail
I suppose if you really must read it anyway, you can find it here:
THE FIRST DAYS: AS THE WORLD DIES
AGE OF AZTEC is the fourth entry in James Lovegrove's excellent Pantheon series. Don't worry if you have yet to read any of the other Pantheon novels because each book is a standalone adventure. Lovegrove has successfully carved out his own unique niche, a fusion of near-future Military Science Fiction and Alternate Historical Fiction based around the pantheons of the ancient world.
It is 2012 and the Aztec Empire rules the entire world. Dissent is eliminated with extreme and uncompromising prejudice. The Aztecan theocracy practices gruesome rituals of human sacrifice and the downtrodden masses line up voluntarily for the honor. In the midst of the cruelest regime in human history a masked vigilante rises to fight the totalitarian system and free the people. He is called a terrorist. He goes by the title, the Conquistador and Chief Inspector Mal Vaughn is hot on his trail.
The Conquistador, Stuart Reston, has much in common with other well known fictional champions of justice. Reading AGE OF AZTEC I couldn't help but make comparisons to Zorro, V from V for Vendetta, and of course Batman. That said the Conquistador has quite enough to differentiate himself from other infamous masked vigilantes. The Stuart Reston is ever so slightly unstable. He is arrogant and foolhardy, brash and attention seeking. Reston is addicted to empowerment he feels from his alter-ego and the pain it allows him to veil through blood shed. I took a while to warm to Reston but once I had embraced his nemesis relationship with Mal Vaughn I was hooked.
And of course if I am going to pay credit to the Conquistador I also have to tip my hat to Chief Inspector Mal Vaughn. Mal is an implacable copper working for a system she doesn't quite believe in any longer. Personal doubts aside she is a driven individual whose career--and very life--depend on catching Public Enemy Number One. Mal is every bit as engaging as the Conquistador, if not more so. The real chemistry of the book is when both characters clash verbally, resulting in brutal exchanges of dialogue that are rife with parry and riposte.
The gods are the foundation of the entire Pantheon series and in each entry Lovegrove has managed to deliver variety. The explanation behind the gods in AGE OF AZTEC is utterly different than any of his previous novels. What aspect does remain the same is how intricate and complex the relationships are between the gods themselves. In mythology the gods are often just amplified representations of humanity and Lovegrove uses this to create characters that are simultaneously alien and yet still relatable. The Aztec pantheon is fascinating and refreshing, and it is clear that despite the fictional nature of the story Lovegrove has done his research.
If the gods are foundation upon which the Pantheon series is built than the influence exerted by the presence of the gods is the brick and mortar. AGE OF AZTEC presents a world where the Aztec Empire was not wiped out by the Spanish, but instead gifted with super advanced technology by the gods. The Aztecs then use this technology to subjugate the entirety of human civilization. In a way AGE OF AZTEC is a sort of reverse-steampunk. Lovegrove doesn't waste time on info-dumps, instead allowing readers to piece the puzzle together with a bare minimum guidance. Life under the Empire's rule is altered but still recognizable. Everything from beverages to sports and even names, reflect the Aztec dominion.
AGE OF AZTEC channels many genres. The novel starts out with as a swashbuckling, man against the regime sort of affair. With Inspector Vaughn's PoV comes a police procedural flavor. Finally the novel climaxes in a military assault of cataclysmic proportions. Though comprised of various influences, Lovegrove creates something that is surely his own sub-genre, godpunk as I noticed it being coined in other reviews of the Pantheon series.
The last time I had this much fun reading a book it was Larry Correia's SPELLBOUND. That alone should tell you something. I read AGE OF AZTEC in three extended sittings, staying up late into the night. Rarely ever does a novel surprise me in terms of plot direction (call me jaded) but this book got me with not one twist, but two. I had no idea how the book would finish until the fantastic ending. Fans of Alternate Historical Fiction, Military SF, and even Fantasy can all find something to love in James Lovegrove's AGE OF AZTEC.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Frequent and colorful.
Violence: Human sacrifices and pitched combat, there is some bloody stuff to behold.
Sex: Mentioned and alluded to, sometimes explicitly
Here are your links to all the Pantheon novels:
AGE OF RA
AGE OF ZEUS
AGE OF ODIN
AGE OF AZTEC
Sometimes the only way to stop an unstoppable alien spaceship is with a group of outcast sociopath’s. Or at least that’s what the novel FAITH, by John Love, would have us believe.
Faith is the name given to a mysterious and seemingly invincible ship that is coming to attack humanity. The ship has been seen before and every time it has struck, Faith has left that civilization on a downward spiral towards decay. The only chance of stopping it is an Outsider ship--a slender ship packed to the gills with weapons and crewed by people with special abilities. The term "Outsider" is derived from the the crew including some sociopaths. The Outsider ship must then do battle with the alien vessel of unknown abilities and weapons.
The plot synopsis I had read of the book immediately intrigued me, not to mention it was billed as Space Opera and Military SF. Then I heard comparisons to Peter Watts work and I thought his book BLINDSIGHT, which is a very similar story if you sum it up...and I thought that story was BRILLIANT. I ordered it as fast as I could and got right to reading.
I’ll sum it up for you. The book was good. I enjoyed reading it. I kept coming back to it. It was fun. Lots of fun, even. The problem was, I couldn't buy-in to it.
Maybe it was the comparison to Watt’s work that killed it for me. In BLINDSIGHT we see some very disturbed and disturbing characters that are truly creepy and foreign. They are as alien as the ship they come into contact with, and I loved that. Here in FAITH I’m supposed to believe that these are people who could not be tolerated in normal society. They have unique gifts, major issues, psychosis and flaws. But in the end, they worked together as a crew relatively well. It wasn’t the model of efficiency, but I expected the crew to appear scarier, more damaged. I wanted to see a group of very deranged individuals tackle the unknown. The characters had flaws, but they felt tacked on to me and not the driving force of their personality.
The battles between the Outsider ship and Faith were interesting and fun, but again I didn’t buy it. The whole time reading the book we are told that an Outsider ship is the only chance of defeating Faith, our only hope. Not only that, but if other ships came in to help the Outsider ship, it would distract the Outsider ship, hinder it, rather than help it. Sounds cool. But in the end, reading the fights I didn’t see why another ship would get in the way or why another ship (or another 100 for that matter) wouldn’t help. Fun battles for sure, but I just didn’t buy the premise.
I don’t mean to sound harsh about the book. I liked it. I really did. But I was hoping to get lost in the book. I wanted to be carried away and not come up for breath until the end. Instead it seemed more to me like a friend who is exaggerating a story. “I once caught a fish that was ten feet long and weighed four hundred pounds!” He tells a fun story, but you don’t believe him. That’s what this felt like.
Age Recommendation: 18+
Language: A fair bit. Not a ton, but it’s there.
Violence: Yes, though not as much as I expected. Most of the action takes place between two star ships
Sex: Alluded to but never shown outright. A few crass references as well.
Want to try this one out? Here's your link:
Reviewing books has its ups and downs. On one hand you are given free books to read and asked to give your opinion of them. Reading and stating my opinion are serious hobbies of mine. On the other hand, sometimes you are asked to read books about dragons. Dragons. I do not like dragons. I have not enjoyed reading about dragons for a long, long time. You'll imagine my surprise then, when I completely fell in love with James Maxey's GREATSHADOW.
The elements have been tamed by dragons. Through powerful magic the dragons of bound themselves to nature. Of these dragons Greatshadow is feared most of all. As the primal dragon of fire, Greatshadow's merciless influence is universal. In order to finally slay Greatshadow once and for all the Church of the Book assembles a team of mercenaries and adventurers unlike any other. A team so unorthodox it might be able to get the job done.
Dragons. Groan. Magic. Yawn. Mercenaries. Curse you conventions of fantasy! But then I start to read GREATSHADOW and I realize that it is far from a traditional adventure. The world the story takes place in is not some pseudo-Medieval Europe. Instead readers are introduced to the Isle of Fire, a lawless volcanic tropical paradise replete with ancient history. Maxey gives tantalizing glimpses of a wider world across the ocean but focuses primarily on the verdant wonderland that is the Isle of Fire. This sort of pirate-aesthetic goes a long way toward separating GREATSHADOW from the endless masses of Tolkien knockoffs. The inhabitants of this world range from pygmies to ogres and all manner of fantasy creatures. Most surprisingly of all is just how cool Maxey's take on dragons is. Multiple magic systems are also present and though they are only vaguely defined they all operate within the constraints of fictional universe.
And the characters! The eccentric band of adventurers that set out to slay Greatshadow resemble exactly the sort of team of heroes a kid might gather from his favorite action figures. The cast is really an accumulation of superheroes plucked from comics and plopped down in this fantasy setting where they flourish. Under a lesser author this approach would be really cheesy but rather than being campy it comes across as endearing. There is a woman who is nearly impervious to damage, a holy knight who is protected by armor prayed into existence and wields a hammer that allows him to fly, an ice-ogress shaman, a cleric whose magic comes from truth, a heretic whose magic comes from deception, a shape shifter, a faceless man, a man with skunk genetics, and more.
Despite the relatively short length of the novel for such an epic quest, character development does not suffer. Though Maxey doesn't go into intense detail with each individual character he does make it evident what their motivations and relationships are. Each character is propelled by something different and each character has their own set of flaws. Perhaps my favorite character would be Lord Tower, the holy knight with conflicting feelings of lust and shame. I also really liked the cleric, who despite his intolerant nature, remained a true follower of his faith. And faith really becomes a big part of the relationship dynamic amongst the characters. Each person has their own beliefs and ideologies to go along with their motivations. Many of these faiths clash, creating an unstable alliance amongst the adventurers. Maxey never tells which belief is correct and it's easy to wonder if perhaps all of them have their own merit.
GREATSHADOW is told from a limited first person perspective that is really a sort of third person perspective at the same time. Stagger, the narrator, is not the main character of the novel. Instead he dies in the first chapter and follows around Infidel, the lead protagonist and his heart's desire, for most of the story. As a blood-ghost Stagger is primarily an observer but he also occasionally has the ability to act over the course of the story. I found this distinctive PoV style to be very compelling, especially when it comes to developing a bond with Infidel and the world as a whole.
GREATSHADOW is a remarkably charming quest, set in an invigorating new world. As the opening to a series, GREATSHADOW succeeds at grabbing the heart and piquing the interest for future entries.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Present but minimal.
Violence: Very comic-like in nature but there are a few grisly deaths.
Sex: There is a bit of innuendo and one actual scene that is described with class.
Pick this one up!
Lex Bartleby has an attitude problem. Once a straight A student, she now likes to fill her school days by punching, kicking, or biting anyone who might have the nerve to annoy her. Her grades are in the toilet, and she just has trouble giving a damn. In an effort to break through to her, her parents send her off to live in with her Uncle Mort for the summer in a tiny village called Croak.
Once there, she discovers anything but a pastoral farm scene. Her uncle is a Grim Reaper, and Croak is a town devoted to killing people. Not in a cold-blooded sort of way. More of a necessary-duty-for-death-to-function angle.
What follows is a twisty-turny plot that is somewhat sporadic and flighty, but keeps the pace going with a good sense of humor. Gina Damico’s CROAK drew me in from the first chapter. Lex is different from your standard YA fantasy protagonist these days: she curses, she likes to get drunk, and she’s got a mean streak a mile wide. I liked the huge contrast to other books I’d read, and the premise was more than intriguing. For the first few chapters, at least, the book kept it up.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t quite keep the pace for the entire novel. Lex loses some of her spunk once she arrives in Croak, and the world Damico has created starts feeling uneven and inconsistent. There are just too many soft spots in the world building for me to completely fall in love with the book. One non-spoilery example would be that Croak has about 80 residents, and they work in teams to take care of all the deaths in New England and its surrounding states. Now that I’ve done all the math (looking at population numbers, mortality rates, and the like), it seems a bit more plausible, but it would have been really nice for Damico to have Lex wonder how in the world so few people take care of so many deaths. This might seem nit-picky by me, but it’s only one example of many. While on one hand, the book has a hard edge to it, the center of it has a tendency to trend to early Harry Potter gooeyness. That contrast isn’t the world’s best combination. The depiction of the afterlife is another hard pill to swallow, if you’re looking for more specific examples.
In the end, the voice and premise of the novel were enough to keep me intrigued. I really genuinely liked the characters, and I very much wanted to see what happened next. It’s clearly the first in a series, and I’ll be checking out the next one when it comes.
If you like YA fantasy but have been wanting to see it trend a bit darker, then check this book out. It’s morbidly good fun
Recommended Age: 13+
Language: A fair bit. Mainly of the PG-13 variety.
Violence: A series of grisly deaths in inventive ways. If this isn’t a selling point to you, then this really isn’t a book you’d be interested in reading.
Sex: Some implied, but nothing you’d blush at if your mother read.
Anyone looking for some more Dresden-ish stuff? PI with a dark past stalking the urban fantastical with ghosties and ghoulies galore to entertain? Sound interesting? I'm sure to some of you it will. In all honesty, I've only ever read the first two Dresen novels--yes, you will probably throw things at me for this. Just please avoid tomatoes as I might be violently allergic--but I did enjoy them both, and although the Dresden books are a bit better, I think I can easily throw this book in with those without a second thought.
EYES TO SEE is by no means Joseph Nassise's first novel--he has something like twelve others under his belt. This is, however, his first novel with Tor, and is a pretty good showing overall.
Jeremiah Hunt is the main protagonist of the story. He's a PI that lost his daughter years ago and has been on the hunt (heh-heh—Hunt is on the hunt) ever since. His intensity surrounding this quest has lost him his wife, his home, and, through events of his own choosing, his sight. Through a run-in with powers strong and arcane, Hunt now sees that which thrives in the dark. Sunlight blinds him, and so he's learned to live at night. But the dark isn't all that Hunt sees. His unique "reverse" vision also allows him to see ghosts and other denizens of the supernatural sort that inhabit the streets of Boston. He even has a couple ghosties of his own. He survives financially by banishing minor ghosts from their local haunts, and emotionally by draining what few new leads he can about his daughter from the Boston PD.
And then he's called in on a case that gives him a real lead on his daughter, and the chase is on.
The biggest thing this book has going for it is its quick prose and good world-building. The story flies along from one crime scene to the next, from one battle to the next, from one bad guy to the next, and nearly all the down time is filled with helping us to learn about this other-world that Hunt has learned to inhabit. At times it flirted with being cliché, but never took that last necessary step and made me get annoyed with it.
Page time is split between two Hunts (past and present), the villain, and two other minor characters. The book would have been so much better if the story had just stuck with Hunt though. Both minor characters were distractions that never seemed to lead anywhere, and the POV from the villain sapped a lot of potential tension that could have been raised otherwise. I do also somewhat wish that Hunt's past-timeline would have impacted the present-timeline more. It felt more like it was just there to explain what happened to him to make him the way he was. In that way, it reminded me of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. In that one, even though the story of Locke as a child was interesting and fun, it didn't impact the main story line at all and bugged me a bit as well. Although, you might be saying, LOCKE LAMORA is not exactly bad company for a book to be in, and I would have agree with you, though the only correlation between these two is the source of my minor annoyance. Moving on.
Unfortunately, the ending was a pretty big let down. Although it was pretty action-packed, most of the events leading to the climax felt contrived and convenient, instead of natural. Things had to happen in a certain way for the ending to happen the way it did, and so that's the way they happened. Done and done. Despite this fact, I still liked the time I spent with these pages and will be visiting the sequel with a decent amount of anticipation.
Even though this isn't Nassise's first book, there were still a bunch of aspects about the story that felt amateurish to me. It'll be interesting to see what Tor's expertise will bring to Nassise's writing and storytelling skills in his next offering to us. He's definitely starting in a good place. Check this one out if you have some spare time. It's a fun read.
Language: Infrequent but strong
Violence: Police scenes get gory and occasionally disturbing
Sex: A few strong references
Joseph Nassise's Website
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EYES TO SEE
Well. Geez. I know who is getting my vote for the John W. Campbell Award this year. And the David Gemmell Morningstar Award.
I'd heard so much about Mark Lawrence's PRINCE OF THORNS. In fact, I'd heard so much that I was starting to fall into the "There is so much hype that it is bound to be terrible" camp. I finally caved and went out and bought the novel. And holy crap...wow. Didn't catch that the first time? Let me restate that. Holy Fraking Crap! This novel was AWESOME!
"Is revenge a science, or an art?" It's a question asked by the main character of the novel, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath. He's really only a boy, but his youth was destroyed when he watched his mother and brother murdered when only ten years-old. It's the kind of thing that breaks a person, and when the pieces get put back together, they form a much different picture than the original. I was sold on this novel right from the opening chapter, yet those doubts kept creeping in, telling me it would last. Those doubts were kicked out the door. PRINCE OF THORNS was awesome from the first paragraph to the last.
I'm trying extremely hard not to run around in circles, laughing like my 2 year-old is prone to do. PRINCE OF THORNS reads a bit like a dark and dirty version of a David Gemmell or Robin Hood novel that got some influence from Glen Cook and Joe Abercrombie. Uh huh. Awesome.
The introductory premise of the novel is simple enough. Revenge. Jorg wants revenge on those that killed his family. But it becomes soooooo much more than that while still staying true to that original goal of revenge. But let me be clear: this is not a novel for those of you wanting a "good guy". There really are no good guys here. That said, I became attached to Jorg because of how broken he was and how he fought for everything.
PRINCE OF THORNS is told in 1st Person, which could have absolutely wrecked this novel. Instead it lets the reader appreciate Jorg's views on things. The writing as a whole was silky smooth and relentlessly dark. Honestly, I've having a hard time fathoming that Lawrence is a brand new author. His work just seems so professional. So full of experience. The action scenes are paced near perfectly. The "slow" moments all have direction leading towards the final goal of the novel.
OK, it can't all be awesome, right? There has to be some negative thing that was bothersome. Uh, no. I will warn you readers out there, however. For a while I thought this was Alternate Historical Fantasy. And then something crazy happened that made me lean more towards Post-apocalyptic Fantasy. I thought it was an amazing twist. You might feel differently.
Seriously, I can only say positive things about Mark Lawrence's debut. The label "Fantasy Debut of the Year" gets thrown on so many mediocre novels these days. PRINCE OF THORNS actually IS the debut of 2011, and in my not-so-humble opinion is one of the best debut novels I've ever read.
This is the reason I read, folks.
Recommended Age: 18+
Violence: Soooo much. It was so well done.
Sex: Talked about a lot. Rape is alluded to quite a bit.
Buy this book. It is worth every penny.
PRINCE OF THORNS