I've been meaning to try out James Enge's work for some time now. I've seen some high praise (there is a blurb by Lev 'effin Grossman on the cover for instance) and so my expectations were high when I cracked open A GUILE OF DRAGONS. This novel is a prequel to Enge's Ambrose series and I saw that as a perfect opportunity for a beginner to jump in. As a book filling in some background detail for a beloved series fans may be satisfied. For those yet to be initiated this may not be the best entry point.
Here is the book description courtesy of Amazon...
"Before history began, the dwarves of Thrymhaiam fought against the dragons as the Longest War raged in the deep roads beneath the Northhold. Now the dragons have returned, allied with the dead kings of Cor and backed by the masked gods of Fate and Chaos. The dwarves are cut off from the Graith of Guardians in the south. Their defenders are taken prisoner or corrupted by dragonspells. The weight of guarding the Northhold now rests on the crooked shoulders of a traitor's son, Morlock syr Theorn (also called Ambrosius). But his wounded mind has learned a dark secret in the hidden ways under the mountains. Regin and Fafnir were brothers, and the Longest War can never be over."
Sounds pretty epic right? Right? Yeah, I thought so too at first. A GUILE OF DRAGONS starts out pretty well. The birth of Morlock is a cheerless one. The baby Amrbose is left to his own when the parents, both traitors of a sort, are exiled from the realm. The baby soon comes into the care of Tyr, lord of the dwarves and friend of Morlock's father. Morlock grows up under the mountains amongst the dwarves, eventually leaving to become a Guardian. This is where the main story picks up.
The intro is good. I like the way Enge binds our world to his fictional setting with the Sea of Worlds. And the fictional setting of the Wardlands appears very cool at first. The idea of a fantasy land without a monarchy of sorts is refreshing. The Graith of Guardians is an interesting concept, policing the realm and enforcing the law in a mostly benevolent manner. I liked the culture and lore of Enge's dwarves, as he gives reasonable explanation to a lot of genre tropes. I even liked Morlock at first. Orphaned by traitors and raised by dwarves I grew an intimate connection to Morlock.
But all of this cool stuff fizzles out after the opening chapters. The interesting and unique setting becomes a drab and dull affair. World building details are sparse and the majority of the plot takes place in and around the mountain city of the dwarves. The characters become just as bland as the setting. As fascinating as Morlock starts off he completely fails to develop. I was surprised at just how little attention was given to building this beloved character.
I was also under the impression that Morlock is a maker of sorts, a skill learned under the tutelage of the dwarves. As I understand it, this is a major aspect of the series. Morlock does not make anything over the course of A GUILE OF DRAGONS. This doesn't matter to me so much but it may disappoint fans. The action is also minimal and lackluster. Again, I don't know if this is a deal killer for fans but it could be.
Overall this book was pretty blah. I just wasn't feeling it and I struggled to finish. It could be that my high expectations set the bar unfairly high. I don't feel like that is the case but it is something to consider. Fans of the series may know better what to expect. It could be that I'm not the proper audience and all of these things are strengths of Enge's writing. The thing is that there are good ideas here, great ideas really. And there is some solid writing. It's just that the whole thing felt half baked. If you are a fan then you are probably going to buy this to complete the collection. Otherwise I recommend giving this a pass--or at least see if the sequel resolves these problems.
It may be best to just start with BLOOD OF AMBROSE after all.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: I didn't notice any foul language, if there is some it must be minimal.
Violence: Don't let the cover fool you, the violence is also minimal.
Still want it? Get it here.
Unfortunately for A.M. Dellamonica, here at EBR we don't have an ecofantasy label. So if you search for more ecofantasy on the site you may have trouble sorting it from all the other fantasy out there. By labeling it ecofantasy Dellamonic is screaming to you her political leanings, but fortunately they don't get in the way of telling a fascinating story.
BLUE MAGIC is the second book in a duet. I didn't have trouble getting into the story despite not having read book one (INDIGO SPRINGS). Dellamonica brings us up to date quickly without burdening the novel with tedious infodumps. If anything, Dellamonica seems incapable of writing a word more than is necessary.
The story revolves around Astrid, enchantress, witch--and now refugee camp leader and potential savior of the world. She's doing her darnedest to keep the vitagua well--the physical source of all magic--from exploding and forcing its way into the world, thereby causing massive death and destruction in the process. The well will explode, of that there's no doubt, but Astrid is trying to make it so the damage won't be as severe.
Too bad that everyone seems to think that just nuking Indigo Springs, the town where the well is located, will solve the problem. While trying to keep the U.S. military off her back, Astrid has her army of volunteers to help spread magic and prevent Armageddon. But she still needs help, because right now she's the only one who can use the vitagua to enchant object and disperse the magic before everything goes boom.
Enter Will Forest, the reluctant wizard. His children are missing, his wife has run off to join the cult of destructive witch Sahara Knax, and his role with the U.S. government military is becoming foggier by the day. Astrid must recruit him or else die of exhaustion from trying to do it all.
Explaining this story in three paragraphs is a gross over-simplification of a complex and twisty novel (it continues what was likely a complicated and twisty first novel). The cast of characters is vast, and since it's a carryover from book one, we don't get as much background, and it's sometime hard to remember who everyone is. Fortunately, we only have four main PoV characters: Astrid, Will, Astrid's "father" Everett, and Juanita (a U.S. Marshal). Since the story anchors around these four, we understand that the rest can be put aside as necessary to keep moving forward.
And forward we move. Quickly. Dellamonica starts with a bang and carries us swiftly from scene to scene, throwing information and people and plot and setting at us with wild abandon. Don't worry, just drink it in as you go and you'll assimilate enough to understand what's going on, despite problems with flow and transitions. Characters will suddenly decide to act and then magic moves them halfway across the world and there will be a fight and then it's over and everyone is home or dead or dealing with the fallout. The execution of the plot is unruly and sometime awkward. But here it's the ideas that will grab you.
BLUE MAGIC deals with the interesting concept of how a non-magical society would deal with the sudden reality of magic invading our world with strangeness and yet wonder at the same time. For centuries the Fyremen have been suppressing all of the sources of magic vitagua. But trying to bottle magic was an impossible task, and everyone must now deal with the fallout of their good intentions. How would governments try to handle it? Astrid and her altruistic volunteers want to help people, but must release the magic on the sly. The Fyremen won't give up and continue to hunt down any magic user. Those who've used magic for selfish purposes have given people like Astrid a bad name. It's all mixed up and promises an explosion of an ending.
I had a hard time actually liking anyone in the story, with the exception of Juanita. This is likely from not having read the first book. But even Astrid, our heroine, was passive and flat, working to put out fires and let people come to her. She works herself crazy and in ways that seem impossible wish fulfillment--she was hard for me to comprehend.
Ultimately, BLUE MAGIC is less about the characters themselves, than it is about the magic itself and how having magic would affect our lives--for good or evil.
Recommended Age: 15+ more for comprehension than content
Language: A handful
Violence: There are a lot of deaths, some of them more gruesome than others, but they lack detail
If this series sounds interesting, check them out here:
For a guy who scoffs at the urban fantasy genre I sure have been reading a lot of it lately. Doyce Testerman's HIDDEN THINGS for instance. Now I have to add Chuck Wendig to the list of authors that I need to keep an eye on. BLACKBIRDS is a dark, profane, blistering read that takes an unromantic premise and makes it even more coarse and filthy than you'd suspect possible.
Miriam Black surrounds herself with death. Should her skin make contact with your own she will get a psychic vision detailing your exact time and manner of death. For years she fought to save lives but there is no stopping fate and now she subsists as a vulture, surviving off the remnants of those who pass away. That is, until she meets a truck driver and sees his demise, a horrible murder. But before his death he calls out a name, her name. Now Miriam will try anything in her power to circumvent the natural order.
Sounds pretty morbid to begin with doesn't it? You don't even know the half of it. BLACKBIRDS is like that series of American horror-thriller films, Final Destination...had Final Destination been directed by Quentin Tarantino. Wendig does not flinch away from smearing BLACKBIRDS with handfuls of grime. The attitude is very grindhouse: sex, violence, and bizarre subject matter. Oddly enough BLACKBIRDS never struck me as gratuitous. Wendig paints an intimidating picture, smeared with blood and other bodily fluids, but under the veneer is a very human story.
Miriam Black is the embodiment of everything I want in a good female protagonist and a good anti-hero. I'm more critical of these two archetypes than any other. Miriam loves to hear herself talk. She loves to lie. She likes bad news. She curses like a sailor. She is a tramp and a scavenger. She is damaged, spoiled, cast-off goods. And still, past her razor-wire tongue and paint-thinner sarcasm there is a real person. Miriam is immediately likable. Her caustic demeanor is softened by her hilarious intellect. She has a tragic history that explains her gutter trash behavior and gloomy outlook on life. Here is a person, neither bad nor good, who has done bad and tried to do good. This is a character that has found that fate gets what fate wants and there is no denying the inevitable. Miriam is at once sad and broken, angry and strong beyond measure. She is a survivor.
With such a compelling protagonist it wouldn't have been hard for the supporting cast to be outshone but they manage to hold their own. Ashley Gaynes is probably the strongest of the support. Like Miriam he falls into that grey area between good and bad. Louis is agreeable, sweet, sad, and damaged. He is the most decent of the characters though he could use a bit more detail. The villains could also use more detail but they are still well written.
BLACKBIRDS may be as gruesome as Final Destination but has much more soul. Final Destination is all about the glorification of death for the purpose of fascination and entertainment. In BLACKBIRDS death is dangerous. It is threatening and frightening and mysterious. As I mentioned earlier, despite copious amounts of violence the story never struck me as gratuitous. Everything served to further the plot or the theme of the novel.
What sets BLACKBIRDS apart from much of the urban fantasy genre is that the character is the focus of the novel. Yes, Miriam has the curse of death sight but the supernatural elements are sparse and don't smother the very real human story. I have a copy of the sequel, MOCKINGBIRD, which I intend to begin reading very soon. If you like your fiction reeking of stale whiskey and cigarettes, sporting black eyes, bleeding from nicks and scrapes, sticky with grease and sweat and other fluids best not to mention, with Death peering over the shoulder, then this is the book for you.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: This probably features the most profanity of any book I've read all year.
Violence: Brawls, torture, and death. It is descriptive and gory. Not for the feint of heart.
Sex: Sexual acts and sexual conversations, also not for the feint of heart.
Want it? Get it here.
This is my first James Herbert novel. As most of you know, I'm trying to round out my Horror reading. People have been telling me over and over that James Herbert is the guy. Since Herbert had a new novel coming out, I thought that this was a good time jump in.
ASH follows the story of paranormal investigator, David Ash. Now, prior to this novel, Ash was also in the Herbert novels HAUNTED and THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH. To Herbert's credit, I never once had trouble with feeling lost. ASH begins with the investigator taking a job to investigate some mysterious happenings at Comraich Castle--including the crucifixion of a man who was alone inside a locked room. Everything about the contract is shady, but the pay is astounding.
Once again, this is a horror novel. Once the reader is told that the Scottish castle is an asylum/refuge for some the insanely (heh) rich, you pretty much will think to yourself, "Well, there's no way this ends well."
The story is told in that 3rd Person Omniscient style that many Horror authors seem to favor. Herbert executes it well, and I was never once confused. In the beginning, the suspense and feeling of impending doom/terror is perfectly done. Seriously. It make me jealous, and I'm doing my best to study it for my own writing. Absolutely killer. David Ash is a great character, and he is well written as the broken man who has lost everything on more than one occasion.
Side characters are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are just terrific. Other times--sometimes even with the same character--I was left scratching my head. For example, the main female character is pretty good for most of the story, but Herbert introduces a sexual past that feels incredibly forced. Worse, the side characters rarely matter--especially the "guests" of the castle. We are forced to read their sordid backgrounds, very few of which matter at all. I'm not exaggerating. Most of them are just thrown in for a supposed "cool factor". Instead, they feel like filler, and are often poorly executed.
The first half of the novel is entertaining. The hauntings in this castle are pretty awesome. The descriptions are fantastic, and it shows where Herbert feels he most comfortable.
And then things spiral out of control. And I don't mean this in a good way.
Foreshadowing is clumsy. Characters make dumb decisions. Ash has the same argument with a dozen different people multiple times. Information is withheld using the excuse of "that's confidential". The thrill of the mystery slowly fades away, and is replaced by a convoluted, contrived story dealing with Nazis.
The most unforgivable part about the story is the ending. Without spoiling any actual details, it was frustrating when Ash doesn't actually do anything. His entire purpose in the story was pointless. The events would have happened the same way regardless of his involvement. The whole novel I was wondering what kind of crazy thing Ash was going to do to expel these hauntings...and instead the situation resolves itself.
In the end, I liked Herbert's ideas, but I think this story sounded better in the outline and just couldn't stand under the weight of its issues. I'm left feeling that ASH was stunningly mediocre. I almost didn't like it, but the first half of the novel was good enough to keep it from drowning completely.
Will I give Herbert another chance? Yes. From what I understand he is either stunningly terrific, of horribly mediocre. ASH falls into the latter category.
Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: Tons, depending on the character.
Violence: In extreme amounts, and very "Horror" in presentation.
Sex: One of the most awkward, poorly written and long sex scenes I've ever read. Tons of references to rape, incest, homosexuality, etc...
Still want to try it? Here you go:
This past April I visited New Orleans for the first time. As a tourist I saw all the sites: the French Quarter, walked Magazine Street, St. Louis Cemetery #1. One morning I took a walking tour hosted by a local, and he talked about the history of New Orleans and its inhabitants. We all had a good time. Then he talked about hurricane Katrina and everyone went quiet. He had lived it and survived to tell the tale.
So did Suzanne Johnson, and while ROYAL STREET is your typical Urban Fantasy, she handles the Katrina angle with the reverence it deserves, thereby adding with fascinating detail a compelling setting.
The story starts with our plucky heroine DJ (short for Drusilla Jane), who feels like her wizardly training has progressed enough for her to tackle the more complicated jobs sending back those who come across from the Beyond: like vampires, old gods, and even the occasional historical undead. But before she can get any headway with the local sentinel/mentor Gerry, Katrina starts heading their way and she is forced to evacuate and wait out the storm.
But then Gerry disappears and the Elders send her back to New Orleans to repair the surge of rifts caused by Katrina. Fortunately they send help in the form of handsome Alex Warin, whose preference for the use of force frustrates DJ. Alex's cousin Jacob--a bar owner in the French Quarter--rounds out the love triangle.
Johnson paces ROYAL STREET well, from page one clear until the end, tying the events and characters together deftly. The opening scene isn't a mere throwaway to introduce our heroine. Characters we meet along the way matter to the story--even the seemingly random dog. It's not simply a string of events, and by the time we reach the exciting climax we've already connected the dots and are ready to watch DJ fix the problem.
DJ herself is unlike most kick butt Urban Fantasy heroines. Sure she's a wizard, but her style of magic (green congress wizard) requires incantations and time, unlike her mentor Gerry whose physical magic (red congress wizard) packs more punch. She doesn't know how to fight or even handle a gun. But she can make a nasty smoke bomb in a pinch. She learns to come to grips with the danger of her situation and the new responsibilities given to her and does the best she can.
The magic is interesting as well as the explanation as to why wizards must keep tabs on those magical beings who cross over from Beyond. New Orleans is a popular setting for Urban Fantasy magic and mayhem as a result of its vibrant history. But the reality of living with Katrina and the havoc it caused really add a nice flair to the story--especially since Johnson is a native. She gives a good sense of the city, its flavor, and what the city itself means to those who lived through the hurricane.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A handful of mild references
Violence: Fighting and blood, with minor gore
Sex: A couple of steamy moments but otherwise only referenced
Check out this fun book here:
It's too soon to be declaring any book as the best of the year in any category. But! It can be said that THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray is pos-i-tutely one of the most enjoyable and promising of 2012. This is an urban fantasy, historical fiction, mystery epic that accessible to young adults while still managing to be entertaining to an older audience. Finding the rare gem like this is the very reason I read.
Evie O'Neill has been shipped off to live with her uncle in New York City. The exile is intended to be a punishment but Evie sees only opportunity in the bright lights of the Big Apple. The city is full of potential and Evie's uncle is only concerned with managing the The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult - jokingly referred to as "The Museum of Creepy Crawlies." Life is good until the police seek Uncle Will's assistance with solving a series of occult-based murders. Evie has a very unique and unnatural gift that may enable her to help catch the crazed killer...if the killer doesn't catch her first.
THE DIVINERS is pretty mature for YA fiction. I never imagined it would be half as serious as it is. Sure there's the matter of a serial killer but I expected the supernatural aspect to overshadow much of the darker subject matter. That is far from the case. In terms of tone I found it very similar to Jonathan Stroud's THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, one of my all time favorite YA books or I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells. The suspense and horror is quite real. Slasher flicks have never bothered me, gore is gore, but the religious themed horror films have always found a way to get inside my head and THE DIVINERS is no different. There is no direct violence here but there are some grisly murder scenes (nothing worse than displayed on television). No, the real creepy ingredient here is the realistic portrayal of occultism.
For an urban fantasy novel THE DIVINERS is mostly grounded in the believable. Sure there is mysticism but it's pretty toned down. The serial killer and the cult that spawned him are a radical fragment of Christianity. History is full of stories of such End Times sects but this particular one really takes the sinister cake. You know what they say, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid." THE DIVINERS never reaches hide-under-your-blanket-with-teddy levels of dread but Bray does maintain an aura of menace throughout.
This perpetual menace takes root in the shadows cast by the dazzling bright setting. New York City in the 1920's is a happening place, buzzing with the energy of a post-war America. It is a modern age of industry, the flapper era, a time of hopes of fame and fortune. America is a young country, comprising all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs. Bray takes all of this and weaves it into an imposing backdrop. From the attitudes of the era (good and bad), to the language THE DIVINERS comes off as authentic and sincere. After reading it I can't help but going around saying, "And how!" at every opportunity. Read it and you'll understand, 1920's slang is jake!
The characters are a perfect manifestation of the period. Evie O'Neill, "that awful O'Neill" is a modern girl. She never knows when to leave well enough alone. She is a party girl, a flapper with a devil-may-care attitude. She is a little spoiled and a bit selfish, but she's got heart. Evie sees opportunity and she isn't afraid to reach out and grasp it. The entire cast is as lively and varied. From the reserved and mysterious Jericho to the charming and daring Sam Lloyd, from the soulful poet Memphis to the sexy and resilient Theta. Each character has hopes and dreams, fears and secrets. Evie's perspective is the main arc of the novel but Bray does explore events from multiple threads. I almost feel as though Bray introduced too many characters, given that only a few take part in the finale but I can forgive this as laying foundation for a series of novels.
And maybe that's what impresses me most about THE DIVINERS. Sure this could be read as a standalone adventure. I just don't know why you'd want to. The search for the serial killer is intense and captivating, fraught with intrigue and peril. THE DIVINERS reminds me of Larry Correia's writing. Of course the protagonists of this novel aren't running around slaying monster (or spirits rather) but Bray writes urban fantasy historical fiction with the same attention to detail and scope of imagination. There is a storm coming, and the events of THE DIVINERS are just the beginning. I would wager there are more books to come, filling in the features of these characters that just now appear obscured.
THE DIVINERS is an A+ effort in every dimension, as urban fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, young adult, and thriller. This is an epic tale (a hardy 600 pages) and even though I was able to read this one as an eBook for free I will be purchasing a physical copy for my bookshelf. THE DIVINERS features the tone of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, the scope of the MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL series, and the heart of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. And how!
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: A few curses, very very minimal.
Violence: There's no fighting per se, but there are some gruesome murder scenes.
Sex: Kissing is the most that's described. As a YA novel it should be noted that there is suggestion of a rape and an abortion (very very brief and mostly vague but still).
Want urban fantasy that thrills? YA fiction that matters? Mystery that captures the mind? Buy it here.
Ephraim is your typical high school socially awkward guy. He doesn't much like school. He's got a goofy best friend, but not many other friends. There's a pretty girl he likes who doesn't know he exists. There's the bully who picks on him. Unfortunately his dad left years ago and his mom is a drunk. He really can't imagine life worse than it is now.
But that all changes when a quarter shows up in his his locker with the note: "Make a wish and flip the coin to make it come true." Only nothing goes as Ephraim plans.
When my children were younger I read HALF MAGIC to them. It's a sweet, old-fashioned book about four children who find a magic coin. The problem is the coin only grants half of a wish. It made for some hijinks and in the end the kids realized that wishes don't necessarily make your life better. At first I thought that E.C. Myers was going for the same theme with FAIR COIN, only with an older audience. Boy was I wrong. But in a good way.
Myers doesn't take the story where you think it will go. I don't want to spoil it for you, so all I'll say is that Myers twists and turns and reveals everything in an orderly and understandable fashion. The plot has great forward movement and is engaging. The climax fell a tad short with a too easy solution, but overall was exciting and a logical conclusion, if too tidy for the tone of the book.
Ephraim, our PoV hero, is easy to like. Life's been rough and he only wants to help others out and get the girl if he can. When things start going wrong he tries his best to fix things, but ultimately understands that maybe the coin isn't all it's cracked up to be. The story does get dark, and the people you thought you knew, they all seem to change and it gets confusing and...well, eventually we realize things aren't as they seem.
If your teen is bored with vampires and wizards, FAIR COIN is a smart and fun change from the current YA scene.
Recommended Age: 15+ for sexual references (between teens)
Language: Less than a handful of the harsher stuff
Violence: Some shootings and blood; references to abuse
Sex: References and innuendo
Want to check out this book? Find it here:
I think I've mentioned before how I like to see authorial “progress” from one book to the next. Seeing them get better in at least one aspect of their craft with each progressive offering to the reading masses gives me hope that there will, someday, be more authors that I love to read. In general, I think that most authors fall into this category. It's hardly ever that I find one that seems to have regressed further from the goal that I think each of them should strive for: greatness in storytelling. As I'm sure you can guess by now, this book is one of those.
LANCE OF EARTH AND SKY is the second in the planned Chaos Knight trilogy and continues the story of Vidarian Rulorat and the empire of Alorea. Mostly, however, this is a story about the empire, as Vidarian factors so little in what actually happens.
After the end of SWORD OF FIRE AND SEA (spoiler for the first book!), a dimensional portal of sorts has been opened and all sorts of chaos has been spread across the land. The natural magic present in the world has quickly faded away and been replaced by an elementally-based magic system that feels very much like Wheel of Time run through the rule-based powers of Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) from the Incredibles. Use the element—water, air, fire, earth—that is available and channel it into streams that you can ultimately weave together and blast people with.
The replacement of this magic has upended the entire world, killing off a large number of leaders that have been magically lengthening their lives. In the wake of this chaos, the trading company that has been dictating what the government of Alorea was doing, begins to take a decidedly more direct route to governing. Additionally, the opening of the gate has brought in magical items and constructs that have been absent for centuries. The changes that have come in the wake of the open portal are constantly reiterated throughout the book. Almost like a mantra.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. Regression.
The crux of the problem with the book was that where SWORD was very linear but adventurous, LANCE is very linear and pointless. The main character, instead of doing anything of import, spends nearly every waking moment meeting someone new, introducing himself to them, drinking another cup of kava, or listening to other people talk. It was uber-frustrating. When he finally does do something vaguely interesting, the outcome feels more like he did it so that the author could showcase another part of the world-building.
If anything, further world-building seemed to be at the heart of the book, and yet none of it really did anything to develop the world. Thus, instead of the presentation of the world feeling like an oil slick riding across the surface of an abyss-deep ocean (good), it comes across more like a puddle of water spread across the concrete (severely lacking).
There were a couple aspects of the story that stayed consistent between the two books: there are still a ton of characters surrounding Vidarian, nearly every one of them able to communicate telepathically. About half of them this time can shape-change as well though. The ending was also incredibly lacking in impact again. Incredibly, the largest-seeming event in the entire book is given away on the back cover. There was very little in the book that held what I like to see, and that's a solid reason in my mind to stay away from the rest of this series.
On the up-tick, if you're looking for a book to just stroll through, with no real thinking necessary, and give you a great way to suck up a few hours, grab this one. It'll definitely be good for that.
Recommended Age: 15+
Violence: Very low key, no gore
Profanity: Very mild and infrequent
Want it? Get it here.
Over the last couple of years, Adrian Tchaikovsky has become one of my favorite authors. Very few authors actually take their setting and story and move it forward technologically. In Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series, we get exactly that, along with huge amounts of character progression, thrilling large-scale battles, and intense small-scale fights.
THE SEA WATCH is the sixth book in this projected 10-book story. I guess the best way to describe it is by saying THE SEA WATCH, in a way, is the Shadows of the Apt series' 20,000 leagues under the sea. The results overall are great, but that doesn't mean the novel is absent some missteps.
THE SEA WATCH is Stenwold Maker's book. By this point in the series he feels he has lost nearly everyone. For all the good he has done, the people of the Collegium look at him like he is a warmonger and a lodestone for misery. Then, when ships start going missing, Stenwold is the only one who listens and sees the threat.
The first thing to point out about THE SEA WATCH is how slow it is. This is easily the slowest novel in the series due in large part to the politics of the first 1/3 of the novel. Since the novel is almost entirely from Sten's PoV this isn't surprising, but it still is noticeable. There are lots of meetings and behind-closed-doors discussions. As a fan of the series, if you know this going in, it likely won't bother you.
Another reason this book feels so slow is due to how much explanation is needed in the midpoint of the story. Without getting into too many specifics, this novel is about, unsurprisingly, sea-kinden. Throughout this series we've been introduced directly--or in passing--to so many kinds of kinden. But that was done over the course of five novels. Now, we are introduced to an equal number of sea kinden in ONE book. These new people, their cultures, the way they live, their own abilities, and the unique dangers in the water are all SO MUCH to digest all at once that the story bogs down.
I feel I should clarify that last bit. Yes it bogs the story down. However, it is still completely fascinating. Up at the beginning of this review I talked about how the evolution of the technology--that progression of setting and world--was so awesome in this series. THE SEA WATCH does something similar, but in the sense of giving the readers the piece of the puzzle we have been missing. What happened when the societies when from inapt to apt? What was that change like? We get this picture from Sten's eyes as he sees the sea-kinden go through this evolution. Absolutely, positively fascinating.
There are some chunks in the middle of the novel that seem repetitive, and maybe could have been condensed to make the pacing a tad better, but overall I was pleased with this novel. The banter between Stenwold and the Spider Teornis was fantastic, and the subplots dealing with the Spider held so much weight. Just the story being told here, and the spy-novel undertones, make THE SEA WATCH a great read.
And then that ending...man. Stenwold showing just why he is soooooo awesome. That final bit alone made the entire novel a must-read.
THE SEA WATCH is one of the better novels in the series, and it shows how much Tchaikovsky has grown as an author. As a huge fan of Tchaikovsky's work, I was not let down in the least. In fact, I was blown away by how massive he has made this wonderful world. Not to mention I love Tchaikovsky's characters and the way they have grown over time. I cannot wait to see were the series goes from here.
Simply put, The Shadows of the Apt is a series that every reader of Fantasy should be devouring.
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Some, but not much.
Violence: Oh yeah. Tchaikovsky does it right.
Look, you really should be reading this series. It's one of the most unique out there. Here are your links:
EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD
BLOOD OF THE MANTIS
SALUTE THE DARK
THE SCARAB PATH
THE SEA WATCH
Anyone out there like movies that are based on actual historical events? I think there's something to be said for them, but in general I find that regardless of how much I love them, the endings always end up being particularly less that I had anticipated. This book was totally like that. Steve's going to love this, because this time around, I totally agree with his overall opinion of Ms. Parker's latest offering, SHARPS: full of unfulfilled promises. I do still disagree that this description applies to the Engineer Trilogy, but in this case, he's totally spot-on.
SHARPS is another stand-alone from the veritable K.J. Parker, an author whom the reading public still knows so little about. It's another book about war, and what people are willing to do to get what they want. It's another book full of sarcasm, and multi-hued characters. It's another book of swords and mayhem. And if she didn't write it so dang well, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did.
But I did. Cause, boy, was it fun.
Permia and Scheria have been at war with one another for the last forty years. Their history is chuck-full of battle and death and betrayal and hatred, but the two countries are on the mend now, and in an effort to try and bring closure to the differences between them, to help being them together instead of driving them further apart, a fencing tournament has been organized, and four of Scheria's finest have been dispatched on a tour of Permia in which their techniques and skill will be on display. Unfortunately, things don't exactly turn out for our heroes, our “bringers of peace” so to speak, because there are players in the background that aren't so keen on seeing peace between the two nations happen at all.
This was rather an intriguing novel, and one that I dove into with a good bit of fervor. I've always enjoyed Parker's novels – haven't read one that I didn't like yet – and this one didn't disappoint. It was full of sarcastic wit and dry, dark humor. I could hardly read for more than several minutes without finding myself laughing along with the story.
SHARPS is a bit of something new from Ms. Parker, as the story focuses upon several characters, instead of just a single one. Giraut is a playboy that has gotten himself into a bit of trouble; Suidas, is a war veteran with a very bloody past; Phrantzes, an aging fencing champion with more than just a little self-esteem problem; Addo, the son of a war hero, the Irrigator, who was responsible for drowning an entire Permian city; and Iseutz, the lonely girl on the team, of which we ultimately learn so very little.
In the beginning, this host of characters gives a very busy feel to the book, and at times it was difficult for me to distinguish between each of the male characters because of their out-of-the-ordinary names and the fact that all of them fought with swords. Parker has always been good for having unique names, but with the multiple POVs this time around, it became a bit distracting at times.
One of the aspects that I've always loved about Parker's writing is her level of detail and that feeling like I'm just keeping my head above water when it comes to understanding the larger world behind the story and characters of interest. There's more there behind the story than what I'm reading. This is helped in some small measure by the fact that this story, as well as her others, seem to fall into the same “world”, in fantasy-speak. Even though each of the stories told in her novels are probably spread from each other by large quantities of distance and time, there are bits and pieces that come through occasionally to remind you that they are all indeed connected to one another by something much larger.
The pacing and development of the story were great. As each of the individual characters learn more about one another and each of their histories, the plot thickens. Also, as the fencing team as a whole learns more about the situation that they're in, and the citizens of Permia respond to events occurring within their own country, we get a larger sense of what is going on, and it made me really excited to get to the end of the book and find out how it'd all play out.
Unfortunately, the ending wasn't anything like I'd expected. It wasn't a complete let down, but it was significantly more low-key. More of a this-is-how-everyone-turned-out kind of ending, which is what I've come to expect from movies that are based on historical events. Fiction is more exciting, in general, than history, and that's why I love Fiction! The author gets to decide the ending. And even though the ending of this one was a bit of a disappointment, I still have to recommend the book as a good read. I mean, I still tell everyone how much I loved the movie Valkyrie, and the ending of that movie was a complete bummer.
If you're a fan of Parker's stuff, pick this one up. It won't disappoint. If you're one that gets hung up on the "unfulfilled promises" thing or aren't a fan of hers in general, take a pass. SHARPS is very much a Parker novel.
Recommended Age: 17+.
Profanity: Infrequent, but strong.
Violence: Several injuries by sword and subsequent fixing by doctors, fairly grisly in a few parts.
Sex: Brief, but somewhat descriptive scene, at the beginning.
Want to give it a try? Here's your link:
My first introduction to Tim Lebbon was in the SWORDS & DARK MAGIC anthology a while back. In a collection of stories full of absolute WIN, Tim Lebbon's "The Deification of Dal Bamore" was one of the best. After that I read ECHO CITY and was similarly impressed. Lebbon's ability to write Horror the way Miéville writes Weird Fiction is astounding.
And then I heard Lebbon was going to write a YA novel, and it would be published through Pyr SF&F. Holy anticipation, Batman!
LONDON EYE, Lebbon's YA novel, is the first in a series that follows a group of teens as they enter London in search of their families, and the truth about what really is happening in the city. You see, London isn't what it used to be. A terrorist attack poisons the city, killing a majority of the people there (just imagine the numbers) as the city is quarantined.
The setting is the the first thing that jumps out. I love the idea. I love that London has been quarantined, and the mystery surrounding it. The characters in the novel all wonder what really goes on in that poisoned city, and it sets up the mystery and suspense well.
This being a YA novel, the characters are the most important part of the novel. It is my opinion that all great YA novels have one thing in common: strong, likable characters. In the few works of Lebbon's that I have read, it usually took me a bit to warm up to the characters. LONDON EYE is no exception. For whatever reason I just couldn't make myself care too much about the teenagers. Jack, the main character, just didn't draw me in. Neither did his kid sister, or his girlfriend, Lucy Anne (who becomes ridiculously annoying in the last part of the novel). Two other friends round out the group, but I never really felt they mattered much.
Can you see why this is an issue to me? All of the characters are just...there. They are stuck reacting to every situation, and really never make any actual decisions on their own until the end of the book--literally, the very end. They begin making active decisions, and the book just ends. In a book that is so short, hardly anything happens. The teens go into the city, get attacked, meet a few of London's survivors, then the book ends. I wasn't left thinking about this book once I had finished it. I turned the last page, closed the book, and moved on to the next one. For me, this all comes down to the characters not holding my interest.
All this said, there is a lot to like in LONDON EYE. I've already mentioned the setting. Did I mention the paranormal elements? Yeah. See, this poison (or whatever it actually is) that caused untold numbers of people to to die also evolves a small number of humans. They develop powers that allow them to heal, seek out bloodlines, employ telekinesis, use voices as weapons, control animals...you name it, someone can do it. To go along with this is a group of people--Choppers--that hunt out these evolved survivors to capture and experiment on them. It's all very grim and horrific.
This leads me to my next criticism. I can't help but feel like Lebbon was holding back. He does the weird and horrible better than most authors. It is one of his greatest strengths as an author. In LONDON EYE it feels like he is just about to do something awesome...then remembers he is writing YA. The perception while reading is that Lebbon is worried about his ideas being too much for the readers. The novel is already for the upper end of YA--what the cool kids call New Adult--but it ends up in a sort of limbo. I do think that as Lebbon writes some more YA, he'll find his stride. I mean, he's freaking Tim Lebbon.
LONDON EYE, when you really look at the full body of work, feels like the first half of a novel. Right when things started to get interesting, the book ended. I was left wondering if my ARC was missing 150 pages. The setup is good, but by the time a sequel comes out, I worry that any small measure of interest I had in the characters will be lost. The setting and paranormal elements were enough to carry the story for me, but I feel like we are missing out on a huge amount of potential so far.
Will I read the sequel? Probably. I do want to see what happens next. I want to see Lebbon really grab this new type of novel (for him) by the horns. I trust Lebbon, so I'll give this series another chance. I just wish the "sequel" had been the second half of this novel so there was the tiniest bit of resolution.
Recommended Age: 15+.
Language: Fairly strong for a YA novel, but not frequent.
Violence: In some scenes, Lebbon goes absolutely crazy. He lets loose. Then in others he totally holds back. Inconsistently, insanely violent.
Sex: These are older teens in a dystopian future. They talk about sex, and have sex. Nothing detailed, but it's there.
Want to give this a shot? Here's the link:
I was a little late to get on board with Alastair Reynolds. I only picked up a book of his two or so years ago, but once I found him he quickly became one of my favorite authors. He writes the type of book I love: big, grand space operas with vast ideas that can take place over thousands of years and span across galaxies.
Recently I’ve tried to get my dad to try Reynold’s books out. He kept asking me which book of his to start with. I honestly didn’t have an answer. It seemed like everything he had written (that I had read) had some great stuff in it. I enjoyed all of his books.
Sadly after reading BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH, I can tell him which book not to start with.
While BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH had some great moments and certainly showed that this series can become something really cool and special, this book sadly wasn’t up to the usual standards that I hold Reynolds too. Which isn’t to say it’s not a good book. It really is. It’s a lot of fun and would be a great book by some authors. But it’s not Reynolds best in my opinion.
Here’s the blurb from Amazon: One hundred and fifty years from now, Africa has become the world’s dominant technological and economic power. Crime, war, disease and poverty have been eliminated. The Moon and Mars are settled, and colonies stretch all the way out to the edge of the solar system. And Ocular, the largest scientific instrument in history, is about to make an epochal discovery…
Like I said earlier, the book is fun, and I really did have a good time reading it. It just didn’t hold up after the fact. You know what I mean? There are those books that you read and read and enjoy, but then after you’ve put it down, it kind of wanders out of your head. You don’t think about it much, it doesn’t leave a big impression on you. This is one of those books. It just didn’t stay. And even now looking back on it, I can see some really fun scenes and some big ideas, but that’s all it is, fun scenes. Not great characters for me, not a compelling story, just moments.
The weird thing about BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH is the end of it really did leave me wanting to read the next one. The book, in and of itself, didn’t blow me away but DID manage to set me up to where I’m anxious about reading the next in the series. With most authors I would be wary. I naturally ask myself, "Sure he set me up for some cool things to happen, but is he going to come through on those ideas?" Or, "Is the next book going to wow me where this one only showed the potential of wowing me?" I’ve read enough of Reynolds' work to believe that this book was just the slow set up to something big and amazing to come. I could look back on this book as the beginning of a great epic story.
Like I said, with someone of Reynolds caliber, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH falls right on the line of "Mediocre" and "Like", but good follow ups could make this the start of a fantastic series.
Age Recommendation: I dunno, 14+? 16+? There’s nothing really bad here, it’s just a bit complex and full of science explanatory stuff.
Language: Not much that I remember
Violence: Nothing to be upset about
Sex: I don’t remember any. Maybe referenced, but that’s about it.
Want to read it? Here is your link: BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH
Did you read VARIANT by Robison Wells? If you answer, "Yes" then by all means read on. If you answer, "No" then STOP. Just stop. Go on Amazon and buy a copy, read it, and then you can come back to browse this review. VARIANT is one of the best YA books of 2011, far superior to the YA fiction behemoth that is THE HUNGER GAMES in my not-so-humble opinion. Now here is the highly anticipated sequel, FEEDBACK. I'm going to try and give away as few spoilers as possible but if you haven't read the first book please check out our review of VARIANT here instead of continuing on.
Here's the Amazon book description (if you find this spoilerish send them your hate mail):
Benson Fisher escaped from Maxfield Academy's deadly rules and brutal gangs. The worst was over. Or so he thought. But now he's trapped on the other side of the wall, in a different kind of prison. A town filled with familiar faces. People from Maxfield who Benson had seen die. Friends he was afraid he had killed. They are all pawns in the school's twisted experiment, held captive and controlled by an unseen force. And while Benson struggles to figure out who, if anyone, can be trusted, he discovers that Maxfield Academy's plans are darker than anything he imagined—and they may be impossible to stop.
VARIANT was like a beautiful thriller conglomeration of THE HUNGER GAMES (the ideas not the execution), LORD OF THE FLIES, and the psychological horror/thriller film CUBE. It was streamlined and focused and creepy and brilliant. Reading it brought to mind the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and even bits of ENDER'S GAME. Too much name dropping? Probably, but you'll live. The point is that VARIANT kicked serious butt and because of this my expectations going into FEEDBACK were incredibly high. By now you've probably noticed I do this thing where I build up expectations that can't possibly be met.
FEEDBACK starts off right where VARIANT left off. Benson and Becky have escaped the Academy but are surrounded by miles of forest. They are actively being pursued and have no idea where to go or what to do when they get there. Becky is badly injured. And then Benson discovers that some friends he thought dead are actually very much alive.
The sense of mystery and paranoia that permeated life at Maxfield Academy in VARIANT was the most compelling aspect. Student life at Maxfield was this strange mixture of clashing gangs, constant surveillance, and paintball. Yeah, I said it. Paintball. Benson and Becky have escaped all this and made it to a town inhabited by friends they previously thought lost. So Benson and Becky trade one kind of prison for another. In FEEDBACK there are no bars, no rules, and no gangs. And that is largely where the problem is. This newly introduced town just comes across as a sort of limbo, much like that long and tedious camping section of that last Harry Potter book. There are no gangs but the town is divided into two factions: those dedicated to escaping and those who have resigned themselves to their fate. Unfortunately the faction dynamics aren't explored to a great degree. The psychological themes of VARIANT that I found so absorbing (the banality of evil) are mostly missing in FEEDBACK. There is however one scene that really struck a chord with me, a sort of trial by mob that carries the same dark weight as the first book.
The same could be said of the characters. I was already a fan of Benson. Yes, when this series gets made into a huge blockbuster movie you will likely catch me wearing a "Team Benson" t-shirt. Don't judge. Benson struck me as a great YA character. He's not overly angsty. He's not a vampire/werewolf. He takes charge of his own fate. He's a troublemaker and he wants to be free. He's still great in FEEDBACK but he gets another degree of depth as he tries to cope with the guilt and responsibility that comes with the consequences of the end of VARIANT. The rest of the cast falls a little flat though in the sequel. So many of the characters have returned from the first book that there just isn't enough time spent developing or examining relationships. Returning characters feel vaguely like strangers and new characters feel even more indistinct.
The good news is that readers will gets answers. The ending feels rushed (and a bit contrived) after so long spent hiding in the town but Wells does provide an answer to the big question. Some readers are bound to take the reveal better than others, and I'm sure some already suspect what it may be. Those who took the twist of VARIANT in stride will be fine. Those who didn't probably won't. I'm still considering the implications of the finale.
I'm disappointed and it's not even because FEEDBACK is a bad novel. It's not a bad novel. I recognize the things I love about the first book in it. Benson is a great character and I was very invested in how his story turned out. I love the thriller elements of this setting Wells has created. FEEDBACK needs more. More character development, more exploration of the themes, and more time spent on the conclusion. Additionally, the clarity of writing just wasn't as clear in the sequel as it was in the original. VARIANT proves that Wells has the talent for all of this, FEEDBACK is just lacking. Then again it could just be my expectations tainting things. Regardless, if you haven't read VARIANT and chose to disregard my initial warning GO BUY IT and then you can decide whether or not to read the sequel.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Very, very little. Almost none.
Violence: Yes, some...sci-fi violence and some more disturbing violence.
Buy VARIANT here.
Buy FEEDBACK here.