Six hours. Six. That'd be how long it took me to devour this book once I finally got my hands on it. Started at 10:30pm, and by the time I finished my wife was considerably less than pleased with me, but DANG was it worth the ride. Now what to do with myself though, with no obtainable news about when the next one is coming out? Eek! No, no. Double eek!
GRAVEYARD CHILD is the fifth of a planned ten-book urban fantasy series by M.L.N. Hanover, pseudonym for the very prolific author Daniel Abraham. With the end of this book being the halfway-point of the series, I was expecting some awesome goodness. I mean, I'm used to Mr. Abraham delivering, but it was time for some big guns. And yes, they were there.
At this stage of the series, it's very difficult to write a good review of the entry without including spoilers for previous books (read EBR's review of book four KILLING RITES here). So, if you haven't read anything in this series yet, stop reading now, visit the bottom of this page for links, buy several copies for you and your friends, and by that point you'll probably know exactly what to do next. If not, here's a very cryptic clue: buy the next in the series, read, buy, read, etc. until you get...here!
As for the rest of you...
At the end of the last book, Jayne Heller has finally come to the conclusion that she has to turn back to the place where she never wanted to go again. She has to go home. It takes very little time at all for Hanover to get things moving. From head butting with her VERY religious father, to the return of the Invisible College, to the introduction of the Graveyard Child itself, this story runs from one surprise to the next and takes a couple loops besides. Honestly, I didn't expect it to get so crazy so fast. I expected lots of conflict with the dad, based on the building Hanover has done over the past four books. What I wasn't ready for was another complete upheaval of the story and how the characters, and thus we the readers, understand everything there is to know about their world. There were reveals in this book that had been set up in early scenes of the very first book, UNCLEAN SPIRITS. Great job of planning and execution in my mind. So good.
Hanover does two things really well in his writing, and they shine again in this book. The first is to create very real characters. They're flawed. In many ways, they're failures, and he portrays them and their concerns and worries and heartache in a very direct and sympathetic way. The second thing he does well is relay a large amount of information with as few words as possible. You won't find any mellifluous constructions of pontification in this book. No frilly frills. No lengthy filler. It's straight. It's lean. And yet it relays so much.
All of the books in this series have felt to me like they contain some of the highest story-density of any books I've ever read. They're short. Did I mention how little time it took me to burn through it? And yet when I was done, it felt like I had read a much larger book. Like I got more story than I should have, given the size of the book. Just used to authors that meander a little more, I guess.
The one that thing that this book didn't have, that most of the other has had, is a definite direction for where it was going next. There are a few doors that have opened with regard to the Daughter of the Black Sun and the source of Jayne's fortune, but the characters aren't being driven in any single direction like they have before. Maybe that's a kind of a little breath of relief after the craziness of the events they just went through, but it almost feels like that sensation of reaching the top of an arc, right before the descent begins and your stomach drops down into your toes.
Can't wait for the next installment. No word about it yet that I've been able to find, but I'll definitely be ready when it gets here. Black Sun's daughter is a great spin on urban fantasy, with strong characters, and a roller-coaster story line that'll keep you guessing and wanting for more.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Fairly tame, but gets strong in a couple places
Violence: Doesn't get very gory but there is quite a bit of intense violence and threat of violence here
Sex: Mentioned a few times, unmarried girl is pregnant, not much besides that
Here's links to 'em all:
Seth MacGregor is Sithe, and lives in their realm beyond the Veil, apart from full-mortals. Abandoned by his witch mother, he lives in his father's clan as an outsider, unruly and wild. He idolizes his older brother, Conal, who will inherit their father's captaincy of their dun/village.
Conal is loved by many, which draws the irritation of their queen, the beautiful but cruel Kate NicNiven. And when Kate exiles Conal to the human world, Seth chooses exile, as well.
In the human world it's the end of the sixteenth century, when superstition and religious upheaval lead to brutal witch hunts. When Conal and Seth draw the attention of a new priest in town, they decide to return to the Sithe and risk Kate's wrath.
FIREBRAND surprised me because the cover looks like your average corny fantasy. Fortunately it's more than that. Tautly written, the prose is lovely yet not flowery. If you're a fan of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles (if you love traditional fantasy, Cornwell's historical fiction series is worth reading) or even Mary Stewart's Arthurian series, FIREBRAND has the same feel--setting up the world and a people in a way that builds on each other.
The first person PoV character Seth is a complicated man. We follow him from his youth as he struggles to hold his own among a hard and warlike people. He's hot-headed, dark tempered, and utterly loyal to Conal. Philip did a great job portraying a young man in a culture foreign to ours, yet she was also able to make it feel real to readers. Seth's narration of those around him shows an ability to understand people, even if he doesn't like most of them.
The differences between the Sithe and human worlds felt pretty basic, which is really my only complaint with FIREBRAND (hopefully this will be remedied with sequels)--although these differences are enough for now to make the prejudices between the people believable. The straightforward story moves between Seth's father's dun, Kate's underground court, and the human world, and it was easy to visualize the places and people.
The strength of FIREBRAND is Seth himself and the story of his life and how much his brother Conal influences it for the better. It's easy to see why Seth idolizes his brother and is willing to sacrifice his own well-being in order to follow him. A lot of the story does revolve around what Conal does, which made me wonder why Seth was the PoV narrator, but I'm willing to see where the series goes. They spend the story of FIREBRAND at the mercy of Kate and the world around them, until they finally take matters into their own hands in an exciting final chapter that turns their world upside-down.
FIREBRAND is a quick read and would be appealing to many different readers, teenagers and adults alike.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A mere handful of instances
Violence: Bloody battles, yes
Sex: Implied and referenced but nothing on-screen
Find this good start to the new Rebel Angels series here:
I made the mistake of starting AN OFFICER'S DUTY before reading the book that came before: A SOLDIER'S DUTY. I was completely lost and from what I read, the PoV character Ia was an insufferable know-it-all so I stopped. It reminded me too much of the annoying Kris Longknife books, only with more infodumps. As a result I wasn't interested, but with Steve's prodding I tried again--from the beginning this time.
In SOLDIER we learn that Ia is a precognitive and when she was 15 years old saw the end of humanity itself. From that moment forward she dedicated her life to taking the steps necessary to prevent the coming apocalypse when an alien race would wipe out mankind.
So she joined the military. Because, really, it was the best way to get done what she wanted. Plus, a Marine precog? Yeah, imagine how those fights go.
Anyway. In OFFICER Ia continues her plans to manipulate future events, and during her leave she visits her family and prepares them for the future. Then, after her leave is over, because of her field commission she must attend officer academy. It's all a part of her long-range goal of captaining a ship on Border Patrol and setting herself up to where she can ruin the alien Salik race's plans to start a war with the Alliance. But when she gets to the academy she runs into a grey spot in her psychic predictions: her own roommate, the handsome and brilliant Meyun Harper.
The premise is actually kinda cool: a space prophet. That's basically what Ia is. She's predicting the end of humanity in three hundred years and the arrival of a savior. But in order to prevent the end of mankind certain events must take place, and the only one who can make sure they happen is her. But in order for her to do that she must first hone the necessary skills and place herself in positions of authority. This means joining the Marines, spending years on tours of duty, making a name for herself, strengthening some powers, manipulating people, etc. She has a Big Plan and Jean Johnson's Theirs Not To Reason Why series documents Ia's execution of that plan.
It's interesting, no question. The fights are cool and unique, especially those that take place on the space ships; the interactions between family, friends, and co-workers felt genuine; comments on different alien cultures and physiology are interesting; and it's easy to understand why Ia makes the choices she does. Johnson's prose is uncluttered and easy to read, Ia's PoV is straightforward and moves quickly (sometimes too quickly glossing over events, but there are years to cover in each book), and the tension is enough to pull readers along.
However, OFFICER is a frustrating book to read. Maybe it's me because there are people who do like (unlike me) the Kris Longknife books--those kind of people will love this series. Or maybe it's because of the excessive SciFi/military information (i.e., we had to learn all the ammo types in her Basic Training in SOLIDER--and that's only one example of the plethora of infodumps). Or maybe it was frustrating because Ia's abilities make her too perfect, and since she's perfect, her holier-than-thou attitude grates my nerves. We're talking some seriously melodramatic dialogue/monologues as a result--and she says this stuff over and over. It's hard to sympathize with a person like this.
Or perhaps I'm too much of a stickler for a recognizable plot. Ia doesn't broadcast her plans more than the bare minimum and it's frustrating because I don't know where the story is headed, except a string of events that eventually lead up to an exciting and over-the-top crazy ridiculous climax (can anyone say deus ex machina?). How could one person have all of these abilities? The woman is super human, there's no way she can lose. Where's the tension in that?
I'm currently 50 pages into the sequel, HELLFIRE, and it's high time this girl ran into real problems, because no one is this perfect. But then again, she is a space prophet, so what do I know?
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Made-up words only
Violence: It's military SF, so guns and blood and severed limbs
Sex: Innuendo and implied (in case you're worried this is a romance because of the author's previous works, I'm here to tell you that it most emphatically is not a romance novel)
Find this series here:
A SOLDIER'S DUTY
AN OFFICER'S DUTY
My review of book three, HELLFIRE, will be forthcoming.
After the disappointment of the so-so TONGUES OF SERPENTS (EBR review), it was a relief to see Novik back in form with CRUCIBLE OF GOLD. I'm beginning to see the longer-range purpose of Novik's series, and with several exciting scenes and more serious characterization, I have hope for the future.
In SERPENTS, Laurence and Temeraire were banished to Australia and spent the novel touring the country. A little boring. So when CRUCIBLE came out last year I decided to wait to buy it until they released the paperback. Now I'm wishing I hadn't waited, but at least it means that the sequel BLOOD OF TYRANTS is now available.
At the start of CRUCIBLE we learn that Laurence has been reinstated as an Aerial Corps captain, and that he's been assigned the duty to travel to and support the Portuguese (England's ally) interests in Brazil. He's reunited with Captain Riley and Ambassador Hammond on the dragon ship Allegiance and they set off in the Pacific toward South America. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
Sunken ships, misbehaving sailors, deserted islands, captivity by the French, escape, dragon fights...so much happens in CRUCIBLE. En route to Brazil, Temeraire and his coterie of dragons and their captains must first pass through Chile where they find that the local population are 'slaves' (it's more complicated than that, but to explain would spoil the story) to the dragons, and that the Chilean empress is being courted by none other than Napoleon himself.
We see more of Laurence here, he's less wishy-washy now that his captaincy is restored. There is more of Granby and Hammond, who are both interesting (if a trifle flat). But the majority of the story revolves around Temeraire and his dragon friends, the gentle giant Kulingile as well as the uncontrollable fire-breather Iskierka. We see more interaction between these dragons as they work together (and sometimes at odds), and watch as their understanding of how the Chilean dragons change their own perceptions about the people for whom they feel responsible.
The landscapes are new as the dragons and their captains explore the lands and learn about cultures much different than their own. This is a frequent theme in Novik's books, so if you found past iterations boring, beware. They run across old friends/enemies, forge new alliances, and learn more about themselves as the world's wonders open up to them. Too much time is spent on what the dragons eat and there are other petty annoyances (poor Riley and Granby! and a strange addition of miscreant sailors...). But I liked the infusion of new politics, strategies, and battles. I can only hope Novik is picking up steam for what's to come.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: Some with blood
Sex: Vague references
Find the most recent installment of the Temeraire series here (there will be two more books after this one to finish off the series):
CRUCIBLE OF GOLD
It's been a while, hasn't it? If you are like me, you've read Scott Lynch's first two novels several times while eagerly awaiting his THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES. There have been very few novels that I, personally, had anticipated as much as this one. I guess the real question is whether or not the wait was worth it?
For me, yes. I'm a patient sort for the most part. There are so many amazing novels to read that waiting doesn't bother me as much as it used to. That, combined with the knowledge that Lynch was facing some pretty severe personal issues, made me not care too much at the oft delayed 3rd novel in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence. It's been five years since RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, but now that the novel is here, I find I hardly care about that wait.
Here is my one and only warning. If you haven't read both THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, don't read this review. I can't help but spoil a few things from those terrific novels here. That's it. You've been warned.
THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is a very different novel from the previous two. It picks up pretty much right where RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES leaves off with Locke being poisoned. He has very little time to live, and Jean is doing his best to find a way to cure his friend. This leave Locke ripe for the manipulating, which the Bondsmagi of Karthain promptly do. They want Locke and Jean to rig an election for a certain political party in Karthain. Their opponent is none other than Sabetha, Locke's ex-lover whom he still loves.
What is promised here is a story of politics, manipulation and corruption on a massive scale. I was definitely intrigued. Except we really don't get much of this.
THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES really isn't about manipulating an election (though some of that comes into play). This is the Locke and Sabetha story. They story of how they met. How their relationship grew. How they finally became lovers. How they react to each other after not seeing each other for five years. Buried under everything, this is a love story and a tragedy. If you can't accept that, this novel will be a disappointment to you. I figured out this piece rather quickly, so I was able to enjoy the novel for what it was, and enjoy it I did. Immensely.
The questions that have always plagued me since first reading THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA centered over who Locke really was, and who Sabetha really was. They have always been more than just normal people, and I wanted some answers to those questions. They way this is all told is through a series of flashbacks (as usual in a Scott Lynch novel) to the time before Sabetha left the Gentlemen Bastards, and then the current political events in Karthain. The flashbacks cover a time when the whole of the Gentlemen Bastards are packed off by Father Chains to learn stagecraft. As usual, it all goes wrong.
The previous novels in this series have all had some grand scheme that Locke and Jean were trying to execute. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is a bit different in this regard. The big scheme is actually fairly limited to the flashbacks, and the political machinations devolve mostly into elaborate pranks (with the exception of a beautifully maneuvered finale). As such, the tone of the novel feels more like the main characters are just reacting to events rather than proactively setting and enacting large-scale schemes.
I don't want you to think I didn't like the novel. I did. In the end I loved it. It was paced far better, and was infinitely more cohesive than RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES. It just didn't go into the politics as much as I would have liked, and the characters were less active than in prior novels.
That said, I have come to the conclusion that Lynch is one of the most engaging wordsmiths in the business. His writing is captivating. I loved just reading the words, and the way he structures his chapters. It is extremely hard to pull of meaningful flashbacks in a novel, and this novel is half flashback--indeed I would say the flashback story is of far more importance than the current story.
The other thing I love is how consistent the characters are from book to book. This isn't to say they are stagnant, because they do learn. The Locke Lamora from THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is a radically different character from the one he is in the REPUBLIC OF THIEVES. It's the logical reactions that Jean, Locke and Sabetha have that make them real. It's how their progression is consistent and, again, logical. They are never out of character, and that takes tremendous skill as an author.
I should also mention that within the flashbacks Lynch even created an original play. The play--titled The Republic of Thieves, of course--obviously is a window into the Gentlemen Bastards, and into the Locke/Sabetha relationship. It's awesome, but you can see how everything in the novel is focused on those two.
So what does this novel accomplish for the series? It's a question I asked myself frequently after finishing the book. In reality, it's pure setup. It sets up a super-villain of sorts. It sets up Locke and Sabetha with very real context. It moves Locke and Jean from the mess and tragedy at the end of RES SEAS UNDER RED SKIES into the next phase of the series. It gives us teases as to how bad things are going to get for Locke. In some ways the novel accomplishes little, while in other ways it accomplishes a ton.
Whether or not you will like the book will depend--wait for it--entirely on you. I loved it. The novel is a far more personal novel, and I really appreciated that tone. There aren't many novels out there that can compete with THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES.
Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: Tons. Just like the last novels.
Violence: When it happens, it is brutal. But this novel has far less than previous volumes.
Sex: There are actually a few scenes in this book. They don't get too explicit, but there is some detail. Additionally there are a lot of vulgar references throughout the novel.
Stop screwing around and buy this series:
THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA
RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES
THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES
The father has gone to the corner store to get milk for breakfast. Unfortunately, while he's there he runs into a little trouble that keeps him from returning home in a timely fashion: the delay involves a time-traveling stegosaurus, pirates, aliens, and wumpires. It's a miracle he even gets home. When he tells his kids the story for some reason they're a bit skeptical.
FORTUNATELY, THE MILK is cute. Adorable even. It's little book with a whimsical story and fun pictures. You could probably read it from cover to cover while in the bookstore and make a decision about it for yourself.
Gaiman's storytelling is smooth and full of everything strange and amazing. The idea that the morning milk could be so crucial to a father's adventure and escape is, of course, absurd, but that's part of the story's charm. Certainly this book isn't on the level with his other works, but I get the feeling that Gaiman wrote it on a whim, and perhaps even as a vehicle for the illustrations by Skottie Young.
You see, it's the illustrations that make FORTUNATELY a gem. Sure they're only black and white line drawings, but they're quirky in their detail, energetic, and gloriously hilarious. I easily spent more time staring at the illustrations than I did actually reading the story. The illustrations are the story.
If you love Gaiman and have to own everything he writes you won't be embarrassed to buy this book. However, FORTUNATELY, THE MILK is meant for parents looking for something fun and new to read at bedtime that won't bore you to tears--and may even make you laugh.
Recommended age: 5+ to be read to, and probably 8+ to read on their own
Find this book here:
FORTUNATELY, THE MILK
In SILVER (EBR review), we were introduced to the werewolves Andrew and Silver. Now that they've recovered from their injuries, they're beginning to think about the future. Unfortunately, the future doesn't always go according to plan.
Coming up is the werewolf Convocation in the neutral territory of Arizona. Weres from other packs think Andrew should return to the East Coast and challenge the Roanoke alpha. It's something Andrew wouldn't have considered before meeting Silver, but the current alpha is weak and leadership needs to change. His biggest concern, however, is Silver, who may be dominant, but as a result from events in book one has lost her ability to shift. Should her condition change Andrew's decision?
As in the first book, SILVER, Rhiannon Held's story revolves around the culture of werewolves, their hierarchies, and behaviors. It's about werewolves and how they interact with each other and the world around them. Sometimes I didn't quite follow the logic of it, but that's more my opinion on how werewolf culture should work and not an inadequacy in Held's writing.
TARNISHED's story flows from events caused by the characters and the natural consequences of the choices they make. I like how the set-up was straightforward, but Held unfolds the action in an unpredictable way. The story moves forward at a steady pace and is never boring, the succinct prose easy to read.
Told from Silver and Andrew's PoV, Held adds a third PoV character, Susan, the human lover of the Seattle pack's alpha. Susan struggles to understand the alien culture of the man she loves as well as their young child. Silver is dominant, but having lost her ability to shift makes her question her ability to be alpha alongside her mate. And Andrew wants to do the right thing, but is still figuring out what that is. Susan's PoV is a nice addiction and Andrew is likable, but as in SILVER the real star of the show is Silver herself. She can still see and interact with Death, and while she is sometimes lost in her own little world, she has a keen ability to observe and understand the people around her. I also like the chemistry between Andrew and Silver.
So far it's a very readable series that feels different from other werewolf fiction out there. It would be a great series for older teens to start out their Urban Fantasy journey.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A few dozen instances
Sex: Referenced, implied
Find this series here:
THE FICTIONAL MAN by Al Ewing was not an easy book to read. The main character Niles Golan is a jerk. He's spent his entire life in denial of his own faults (of which there are many) and now that he's alone and miserable he's finally beginning to understand why.
In Niles' world cloning technology exists, but there's too many legalities involved in making clones from real people. The workaround is "fictionals," which are people created from tubes that are the live embodiment of fictional people, for example Sherlock Holmes. Imagine what it would be like to see James Bond in real life--or at the least playing himself in a movie.
But if fictionals aren't real should they be able to have a relationship with real people? Will their wiring allow it? How would real and fictional people interact? What would life be like for a fictional--never growing old, always being stuck being a certain way?
Niles doesn't consider himself a "realist," or a person who considers fictionals to be second-class citizens. His best friend is a fictional (Bob Benton, the Black Terror!), he hired a fictional life coach since his last therapist was so ineffective, and at the bar he often visits sits a woman he stares at who's a fictional (maybe). But as the story progresses it becomes painfully obvious that Niles does have an issue with fictionals, the question is how long will it take him to realize it for himself?
Because Niles is not a very sympathetic protagonist, and he stumbles around his life without any purpose other than his own self-aggrandizement, I had a hard time caring about where the story went. Sure the premise is interesting, and Ewing presents it in a very close-up, visceral way that makes the reader think about prejudice in general and the stereotypes involved. And sure Ewing can tell a story about a very flawed man in a very flawed world where rose-colored glasses were long ago thrown down and ground under foot. But, ultimately this book wasn't for me, because...well, I happen to like roses and nice people and protagonists I want to root for.
Set in an alternate current-day Los Angeles, THE FICTIONAL MAN revolves around Niles' movement as he attempts to come up with a movie pitch based on a remake. But Niles finds layer after layer of background inspiration, and he's compelled to uncover the mystery. Among the mystery are Niles' memories, self-narration, visits with his ex-wife and friend Bob, and so on--all of it together, it's all just so weird. This is an uncomfortable book to read, and it doesn't help that the steady pace is slow and pedantic. The prose is great, very clean and smooth, and it's obvious Ewing's skill with words. Doesn't make the story less weird, though.
So if you like weird stuff with seriously flawed characters and a subtext asking what being "real" really means...then THE FICTIONAL MAN is for you.
Recommended Age: Adults only
Violence: Some punches thrown but that's about it
Sex: Lots of references and details
Find this book here:
THE FICTIONAL MAN