Sometimes it's way too easy to make a call on a book. There are some indicators that, when they come up, scream, “Run away!” One of the classics is when you get to the end of the first chapter and the last sentence is something with a flavor similar to:
It all started less than 24 hours ago...
Oh, yeah. Those? They're doooozies.
SLOW APOCALYPSE was my introduction to John Varley's work. I was looking forward to a good read going in, what with the cover quote from Tom Clancy, even if the title promised something significantly less than exciting. I mean, who puts “Slow” in the title of any kind of book they want to sell? I don't know.
The premise is that there's a scientist who loses his girlfriend in the United States World Trade Center attack, and then decides to serve up a dish of revenge to those responsible. His method of attack: create a strain of bacteria that will cause subterranean stores of oil to turn solid. Unfortunately for everyone (literally), the bacteria finds a way to go airborne and takes out every oil store in the entire world. The side effect of this solidification process is an excess of hydrogen gas that wreaks havoc with the earth, causing quakes and eruptions and giant jets of flame bursting from the ground.
Where does the story start? Dave Marshall, a sitcom writer living in Los Angeles and the inimitable hero of our story, finds out about the impending oil disaster from a military contact of his in the first chapter...and then the whole story proceeds to fall apart. Yeah, I know. Chapter 1? I thought the same thing. The whole rest of the story (nay, the entire book) is one big, long series of observations and so little of anything else. Oh, let me count the ways.
1.) After stocking up on foodstuffs Dave turns on the TV and watches...and watches...and watches all of the mess that begins to happen in...THE SLOW APOCALYPSE. Dun, dun dun!
2.) Craziness starts to happen in LA (earthquakes, explosions, rioting, etc). Dave roams around the neighborhood, sets up for the long-haul at home, and views some of the destruction in person. Copious amounts of street names, building names, valley names, hills, and corners abound.
3.) The craziness ramps up as violence escalates. Dave decides to find a way out of LA by driving around the city. Enough map references here to drive my Aunt Margie back into the mental asylum.
Now, yes, there's more that happens. There's some turmoil in Dave's family (estranged wife and teenage daughter). Some of Dave's friends are in danger. There's some nasty biker gangs that make a few appearances. There's plenty of social commentary about how we're too fat as a people, don't care enough about things that really matter, and get tied up in those things that don't. There's all the stuff that you'd probably expect to make a showing in an actual situation like this.
But the problem is that it's all so BORING with a capital B (repetition included on purpose). Yes, it's a story. Yes, it's realistic. Yes, it's even probable. But is it anything I'd want to read? No. Uh, double no actually. And yet I did, as we always do. Oh, the torture the EBR reviewers endure so that you loyal readers can know to avoid these books like the warm, half-full jugs of way-past-expired milk that they are.
Now, Mr. Varley has been around for quite some time. Obviously, he didn't get that cover quote from Tom Clancy by writing books like this. I've seen a lot of places where people said they seriously love this guy's books. Maybe this one was just a stinker. Granted, it was a pretty bad stinker. So, I say go find a book of his that has some decent reviews and give it a try.
Just stay away from this one.
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Very little, but there's some of just about everything in small doses
Violence: Again, very little, but when the gore comes in it comes in small bubbles and spurts (heh, heh--get it?)
Sex: Two scenes that are over fairly quickly, but get somewhat detailed
Atticus and Granuille are in trouble. Of course. But the stakes are higher than usual. The Norse god of mischief, Loki, is on the loose and needs to kill Atticus before he can start the Apocalypse. At the same time our favorite Druids are being tracked by the goddesses of the hunt themselves--Artemis and Diana--in retaliation for giving Dionysus grief in TRAPPED. The only safe place for them is in the world of the Tuatha De Danann, but the only way they can get there is to find a gateway on English soil, and they must run fast across Europe if they want to live.
Hearne's prose is a delight to read. His metaphors are clever and hilarious, and he tells the story with enough detail to help readers understand what's going on, all without cluttering the narrative. The previous books are told from Atticus' PoV, but in HUNTED we get some of Granuille's PoV--also in first person. Atticus' narration continues as entertaining and insightful as in previous books; and surprises even himself that after living 2100+ years he still has a few things to learn. Granuille's prose style threw me off, it felt too old-fashioned for a 21st Century chick, but having her viewpoint was important to the story.
I like Atticus and Granuille. And I also found the various gods and mythological creatures as entertaining as the main characters. Hearne portrays the gods with all their unique quirks and specific abilities, and how that would affect behavior. I find particularly fascinating the way he portrays the Morrigan and her relationship with Atticus, how her powers are limited to who and what she is. Oberon, Atticus' wolfhound pet, continues to play the role as the comic relief, even if it often feels repetitive.
HUNTED is mostly a transitional story as clues to the big picture are discovered and loose ends are tied up before the Big Event coming in following books. However, that doesn't mean this book needlessly suffers from middle book syndrome. The hunt is exciting, the roadblocks interesting and grounded in events that happened in previous books. The ending is important and big and messy and awesome.
Here we see what Atticus can really do, and the difference between druid-newb Granuille and her arch-druid is staggering--there's a long way for Granuille to go before she has Atticus' skill with magic, knowledge of his surroundings, and even understanding his own limitations. But she's smart enough to know that there's still lots to learn, and has the determination to do it--she only has to live through all the problems Atticus seems to attract.
A while back I read and reviewed Hearne's debut novelHOUNDED (EBR review). His Iron Druid Chronicles (of which there are 6 books so far) has gotten mixed reviews--more favorable than not, but still some people are bothered by Hearne's style and the way he tells the story. Because it's not perfect. Or the way they would write it. Or whatever.
I say take this series at face value: as entertaining and imaginative. Sure it could be more serious or more strict with the mythology. And maybe you have trouble with the main character's age yet relative immaturity. If so then maybe this series would be a waste of your time. That's ok, there are plenty of other people who will enjoy Hearne's storytelling.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A handful or two
Violence: A fair amount, and sometimes detailed and unpleasant
Sex: Referenced fairly frequently, sometimes crass (and deserving of an eye-roll)
Find these books here:
TRICKED (I particularly enjoyed this one where the Native American god Coyote recruits Atticus for a job on the reservation.)
Note: At the end of book six HUNTED the publishers include Hearne's novella "Two Ravens and One Crow" which should be read before reading book five TRAPPED. It's not mandatory, but it helps with plot issues that would otherwise annoy.
It's Risa Jones' fault that the first key to the portal of hell was found and used, and why dark energies are beginning to leach into the world. OK, maybe it's not all her fault, but she's convinced that none of it would have happened without her interference. Or her existence.
Guilt, however, doesn't stop her from continuing her search for the second key with the hopes of keeping it out of the wrong hands. But it seems everyone has their eye on her and are always trying to pull her strings. Such as the vampire council leader Madeline Hunter who makes her investigate the gruesome death of a vampire whose insides were sucked out completely, leaving only a dried-out shell.
At her side is her Aedh protector Azriel, a dark angel and reaper of spirits, who has lately become more to her than merely a bodyguard. Together they sprint around Melbourne, trying to find the husk-leaving demon and the key at the same time. But Risa is young and relatively uneducated in a world filled with old priests, angels, vampires, and demons--how is she going to stay one step ahead of everyone who wants the key?
DARKNESS UNMASKED is the fifth book in Keri Arthur's Dark Angels series, which is a spin-off from her popular Riley Jensen Guardian series. She's written plenty of novels and you can tell that she hammered this one out pretty fast (and that in their haste the editor missed a few errors)--but that doesn't mean it wasn't a fun novel. Imperfect, but still popcorn-type fun, nonetheless. Arthur has built up a storyline that's been woven clear from book one and is reaching a feverish pitch with the most recent installment.
Risa is our first-person PoV narrator. She's got a little bit of a potty mouth but she has a big attitude. For her benefit there's her demon-sword Amaya, a few magical skills of her own, and plenty of friends who can help out with things she can't do. Plus there's the handsome Azriel to keep her alive so she can finish her quest without having to become a martyr. Without all this to back her up, Risa wouldn't have made it as far as she has. But unfortunately, being who he is can cause trouble for her friends, and she's willing to do whatever it takes to keep them safe. She's a fun character to read, not overly emo, or unrealistically kick-butt. The side-characters are interesting in their own right if light on the characterization because the story is so lop-sidedly Risa's.
Arthur tells the story at a breakneck pace--sometimes moving so fast from scene to scene that I barely had time to get my bearings then, wham, the action and Risa and Azriel have whisked off to the next scene of mayhem. While the sequence of events mostly made sense, this breakneck movement and tossing around of seemingly random information was hard for me to track, clear up to the exciting ending. I wonder if maybe this is what ADD feels like.
The setting in Australia is fun for me because most Urban Fantasy I read is set in the U.S. Arthur is obviously familiar with the location and it shows with Risa's movements around the city, its architecture, and the people who live there. The world of magic, shape-shifters, demons, spirits, witches, sorcerers, and other magical creatures all move around Arthur's imaginative world with a unique style. It's rather exciting to explore and experience. Sometimes I'm not clear on what everyone can do magically, which can be frustrating, because I need to understand the limitations Risa is trying to work around. Still, it's creative.
We get a few revelations (some seemed kinda 'duh' moments for me, but whatever) and things change for Risa as she grows more confident in her own abilities. DARKNESS UNMASKED is a great setup for what promises to be the following and final two novels in the series.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Yes, quite a bit actually
Violence: Scattered and moderately gory
Sex: Frequent scenes with detail, and otherwise plenty of innuendo
Find this book here:
You were first introduced to Isabella Camherst in A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS (EBR review) in what Steve called a fantasy version of Downton Abby...kinda. I would also like to point lovers of Novik's Temeraire series, and even those who enjoy Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series, to this exciting new world Marie Brennan has created.
THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS begins three years after NATURAL's fateful expedition to the mountains of Vystrana. Isabella agrees to a second expedition, but this time it's a further-flung journey to study species on the continent of Eriga. It's a good thing she loves dragons because anyone with less passion would have given up by now considering the deck stacked against her: Isabella's family disapproves of her adventures, even scientists must deal with local politics, and the climate is not only oppressive it's dangerous. The mountains of Vystrana tested her strength, and now the jungle known as the Green Hell will test her resolve.
Along for this expedition is Mr. Wilker, the only recurring character to appear with consistency. If you recall in NATURAL, Isabella and Mr. Wilker didn't get along much, but here they have to rely on each other and come to a mutual agreement. There is also Isabella's mechanically gifted friend Natalie, who has to escape her family in order to join the expedition. There are various locals and a big-game hunter who stirs things up a bit, but on the whole the story is about Isabella and her experience. As a result the secondary characters don't go into much depth, but Isabella is such a fascinating person and her description of people and events is entertainment enough.
The locale is more in-depth here compared to NATURAL, but there are a lot of place and race names to keep track of. I mentally attempted to parallel the place/race with real-life equivalents, but that only gave me a headache. And there's a lot of politics: the local king, settlers from Isabella's country, locals who live in the swamp, and those who live on the other side of the swamp/river, potential invasions, foreigner meddling, etc. We have a lot to learn about Isabella's world.
Personally I wanted to skip all that for the dragon hunting. Fortunately, despite this front-heavy information, once all that is out of the way we get into the story itself. It's worth pushing through because it does matter to the story, and fortunately Brennan doesn't make it boring. And there's plenty of dragon information to whet one's appetite. Once Isabella arrives on Eriga we begin to get a better feel for the politics and culture, and as the story unfolds everything makes sense.
Brennan's prose and storytelling are a pleasure to read, compelling, delightful, and entertaining. Just like Downton Abby. Definitely worth your time.
Recommended Age: 15+ (my 15-year-old daughter loved the first book and snatched up this one as soon as it arrived)
Language: Very little
Violence: Peril (human and animal related) and off-screen deaths
Sex: Vague references
Find this enjoyable series here:
A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS
THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS
DJ Jaco, the sentinel for New Orleans, has proven her mettle. In ROYAL STREET (EBR review), Hurricane Katrina changed boundaries with the Beyond, flooding the area with preternaturals, her mentor disappearing in the chaos. In RIVER ROAD (EBR review) she solves a wizard's murder and settles a mer feud. Now in ELYSIAN FIELDS it appears that one of the historic undead has emerged from the Beyond to continue what he started in 1918...as a serial killer.
But an undead serial killer isn't the extent of her problems. Her friendship with newly turned loup-garou Jake is on the rocks and now her best friend Eugenie's boyfriend Rand is making googly-eyes at DJ. Nothing seems to be going right...well, except that her relationship with Alex is heating up.
I enjoy DJ's narration as she flails around, attempting to give the impression that she knows what she's doing. She gets herself into all sorts of trouble--sometimes it's her fault, but most of the time it isn't. Her elven blood means that she has the attention of the Elf lords, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The Elders send a wizard to give DJ elven magic lessons, but he's a jerk. And no matter what she does, her problems only seem to get worse.
ELYSIAN FIELDS has a larger cast than previous books, but fortunately we're familiar with enough of the regulars that we don't get too overwhelmed. The good news is that the added variables notch up the excitement; the bad news is that someone trying to jump into the series starting with this book will get lost as a result of all the people involved. Fortunately, readers will be carried along in Johnson's exciting pace up until the end, so if they just go with the flow, things work themselves out.
We learned more about DJ's magic and how the world around her works in previous books; we do get to learn a little about Elves, but not a whole lot. Here it's the politics of preternatural relations that drive the story more than the setting or DJ herself. And since it's politics, the story felt a little convoluted as DJ discovered motives and those involved. I liked the previous books better because they were about the different preternaturals and DJ's magic. But I get the feeling this is a set up for something bigger, and I'm definitely interested in seeing what happens next.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Less than a handful
Violence: A couple of scenes
Sex: Innuendo and one on-screen scene
Find this awesome series here:
The second book of The Stormlight Archives, WORDS OF RADIANCE, comes crashing down on us after a near four year absence. And ooh boy, does book 2 deliver on what it's promising. If you haven't read the first one, THE WAY OF KINGS, go read the review here, and then buy the book at the link at the bottom of the page. Finishing the last Wheel of Time book kept Brandon Sanderson busy, and it's obvious that he picked up a few things from Jordan, both good and bad.
Let's start with the good, eh? This book clarifies and answers a lot of the questions the first book left us with. Questions about the Knights Radiant and where they went, how they came into be, and more are all explained very well here. Explanations about lashings, magic, and creatures permeate this book, letting you know why certain things are the way they are in Roshar. All of it, literally every scene is painted in a way that grabs your attention and demands you look closer at the world.
The fight scenes are beautifully realized making them quite easy to picture and visualize. Some of these scenes highlight what Sanderson learned from the combat scenes in MISTBORN, (can't say too much, spoilers). But unlike his first book, his descriptions serve us well in envisioning his heroes. In the first novel, it seemed like Dalinar was the only character I really got a solid feel for. This time, the dialogue has improved dramatically, and I found myself enjoying some of the other characters much more. Shallan and Jasnah in particular leapt off the page in a way that I felt the first book failed to deliver. The interludes showcased different characters, including new viewpoints that brought the world into sharper focus.
Brandon added a time-bomb to this book and it drives his story. The idea of the deadline kept most of the pacing quick and focused around the shared threat, and the fact that most of the characters eventually end up in the same location helps to keep his story on track in a way the first book lagged through. (I'm looking at you, Jasnah).
Brandon has really dug his teeth into this epic fantasy and his careful world building helped to keep the readers on track. When Brandon stays on track, this book is great, and when it's great, it's really showing why Brandon has such a following and why he was picked to finish one of the most popular fantasy series of all time. This is his best work to date.
But, no one is perfect, and a tome weighing in at over 1000 pages has a lot of room for errors. There were times when Brandon left the pacing behind and gets distracted enjoying his own characters (this time I'm looking at you, Kaladin). The setting is great and his detailed worlds is what drives Brandon's success, but there are a few points where he wanders into unnecessary details--he could have trimmed 100 pages off this book, maybe more.
And the cover art. I'm a huge Whelan fan. I hunted down his Stormbringer book cover just to own it, and I loved his A MEMORY OF LIGHT and THE WAY OF KINGS covers. However, this cover just doesn't do it for me. It turned me off on the book before I even started reading it. I am very disappointed and I know Whelan can deliver a much more epic and heroic-looking piece. I hope he does the third book and gets a chance to show off. That being said, there is some bonus art from Whelan as the endpapers for the hardback novel, and it's awesome.
Brandon learned a lot from Jordan and picked up some great habits...and some very bad ones. Long-winded exposition pushed me away from the stories a few times, while some dialogue jarred me out of his characters. A lack of conflict and action bogged the book down a bit in the middle.
All of these issues pale when you get to the final tenth of the book. Suddenly, the first 1900 pages of this series make sense, and you get a pay-off that's two books in the making. And man, oh man, oh man, oh man, is it one heck of a payoff. That end section alone should cement Brandon in the halls of epic fantasy for all time.
If you like epic fantasy, Sanderson, or awesomeness in book form, you should probably read WORDS OF RADIANCE. In fact, who am I kidding? Everyone should read this book. And the first one. You won't regret it. I promise.
Recommended Age: 13+
Language: In-universe cursing
Violence: Not as much as the first book, but it's there, especially at the end (one scene was particularly brutal)
Find the first two books of the Stormlight Archives here:
THE WAY OF KINGS
WORDS OF RADIANCE
Does this look familiar? It should. I originally posted this review back in 2010. So why am I redirecting you to it now? Well, because this awesome collection can be purchased with ease now, and without murdering your wallet, from Tachyon Publications. This is the collection I recommend to everyone who is new to Joe R. Lansdale, because I loved it so much when I first read it in 2010. So anywho, here is the review for any of you who missed it the first time around.
I like supernatural stuff. I like the Old West. It doesn't take a genius to see that I really like supernatural stuff in the Old West. DEADMAN'S ROAD, by Joe Lansdale, nicely fills that niche. In short, this collection of short stories and a novella make for pure entertainment.
The stories in this collection star Reverend Jebidiah Mercer. He's your typical Old West Reverend...well apart from his alcohol addiction, gunslinger skills, and his penchant for violence. You see, he sees himself as the Lord's Messenger in the Old Testament sense. Wrathful and all that. He is a compelling character that, despite his faults (or perhaps because of them), you love to root for him.
DEADMAN'S ROAD contains the following stories: "Dead in the West", "Deadman's Road", "The Gentleman's Hotel", "The Crawling Sky", and "The Dark Down There".
"Dead in the West" is the novella that introduced the world to the good Reverend. It all has to do with an Indian Curse that leads to a zombie infestation. This story takes up over half of the collection, and it is easily the strongest of all the Reverend's adventures. It is in this story that we see the most character development, and the best story and plot progression. Really, the collection is defined by this story, and it manages to have that pulp quality while still managing to give a light (but distinct, in my opinion) literary flavor.
The remaining tales are all short stories, ridiculously fun, and pack serious punch. "Deadman's Road" deals with a ghoul of sorts. "The Gentleman's Hotel" has ghosts and werewolves. "The Crawling Sky" deals with some bizarre creature thing that wants to kill the Reverend. Lastly, "The Dark Down There" is about a pack of kobolds killing miners with the Reverend teaming up with a 300-pound woman named Flower. While all the stories are awesome, none of them match the strength of the novella "Dead in the West", which has me begging for a TV series and more stories from the Reverend. That being said, "Deadman's Road" and "The Gentleman's Hotel" were my favorites of the shorts.
The overall positive this collection brings is Lansdale's pure ability to give the readers an uncompromisable, visceral description of the horrors the Reverend is facing. He describes the grotesque in a way rarely ever seen. Amidst all the horror and supernatural, Lansdale never loses sight of the western flavor of the stories. The Reverend is put into intense, horrific situations that grab you by the head and force your eye-lids open so you get every gut-wrenching detail. It is this near perfect blend of western horror that makes this collection one that should be read by every horror-lover out there.
What an amazing collection...
Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: All sorts.
Violence: This is a seriously grim and grisly collection. Awesome right?
Sex: Mentioned quite a bit.
Here's your link! Quit screwing around and buy this book! DEADMAN'S ROAD
Note 3-5-2014: This collection was my first exposure to Joe Lansdale, and not only has he quickly become one of my favorite authors, but he has changed how I read and write Horror. I had the opportunity just over a month ago to sit down for lunch with Mr. Lansdale, his lovely wife, daughter Kasey, and son Keith. Quite simply, they are one of the nicest, most genuine families I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
This anthology has attached to it one of those feel-good kind of stories that just makes you want to buy the thing. The editor, Shawn Speakman, contracted Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011, accrued a bundle of debt because he didn't have health insurance at the time, and these stories were put together as a means by which to alleviate some of that debt. Each of the stories contained in the anthology were ones that the authors contributed freely to Mr. Speakman's cause and showed them to rally round the flag, so to speak, of a fellow author that was in need. It was a reminder to me that even big-name authors are real people with real problems too. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that. So regardless of what I thought of this anthology (it was good, people – don't let my little misdirections fool you) my hat goes off to each of the authors that contributed to the anthology. Bravo, my friends. Bravo.
UNFETTERED is an anthology of 23 stories written by 22 different authors (Terry Brooks, had two) that had essentially no direction given to them at all. This was a “make an offering” kind of anthology. Some were new, some were old. Some were great. Some not so much. There was fantasy, and sci-fi, and a few that were more like “what?”. My breakdown of the stories into our typical rating categories landed thus:
Didn't Like: 2
So, for an anthology, that's pretty dang good, people. There was a ton of great stuff here. A few of of the authors were new to me. Several of their stories made me want to find more of their core writing. That's one of the really cool things about anthologies, in my opinion. Gives you a good idea of an author's writing and story-telling ability without having to give over too much of financial or temporal commitment. I've outlined a few of my favorites (so hard to choose...)
Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey -- Started slow but ended grrrrreat. This is a previously-unpublished story that sparked the religion in her Kushiel series. Two nobles, one from a foreign country, speak about the current state of affairs and some of the religion of the local country. A man accused of murder is chased by the local guardsmen past these two men. They observe the ensuing events and are forever changed by them.
Mudboy by Peter V. Brett -- This story was going to be an introduction for a new character in his third book, but it was ultimately cut. Very young boy, living with his family in the demon-infested lands of Brett's world makes a mistake that he'll never forget. Really well-done. Made me want to read more of Brett's stuff.
Heaven in a Wild Flower by Blake Charlton -- Post-apocalyptic USA where some kind of atomic bomb has resulted in a large amount of people being reincarnated over and over again. There are still some natural-borns, but they are dying off. When a natural-born finds a floating, reincarnated baby, if they pick it up, there are some kind of nanobots that connect the two such that if the child dies, then the parent also dies. This was one of the stories that had the most direct connection to cancer. Really well done.
Select Mode by Mark Lawrence -- Main character is a teenage version of the main character from his Thorns trilogy. Kid is being taken to be judged by an "arch" along with another man. He is expecting to be killed. Very well-written. Feels kind of old-school medievalish but there are obvious sci-fi elements that are part of the surroundings. This is exactly the kind of stuff I expected from Richard Morgan's fantasy books, but didn't get.
There were lots of others that I really liked (Daniel Abraham's, for example), and a few that I could have done without. And because everyone is going to ask about it, the Wheel of Time story was okay. In all, I'm glad that it was cut out of the book. It totally didn't fit with the rest of the story in AMoL. So, cheers all around for that.
This is a great anthology, for those that like what they have to offer. Yes, it's pretty stacked with great authors, so my overall enjoyment of it wasn't all that surprising. Actually, after I had read the introduction (written by Mr. Patrick Rothfuss) I was convinced that even if all the stories in the anthology absolutely sucked, the cost of the book was worth the introduction. He did a bang up job of it.
All around, a great offering from the publishing world, and well-worth my purchase.
Recommended Age: 15+
Violence: There's definitely some violence (did you see Mark Lawrence's name in the author list?), and it occasionally got gory
Profanity: A light sprinkling of the entire range, but nothing egregious
Sex: Nothing memorable
Your link: Unfettered