Do you remember the first F. Paul Wilson book you read? I do. For a lot of us, it was THE TOMB. I was working at Waldenbooks, stocking the shelves, and I came across the paperback. I took a moment (totally on company time) to read the back, and then I proceeded to stash to book away so I could buy it at the end of my shift. I read the novel. I loved the novel. I've been a fan ever since.
DARK CITY is the second novel in the Repairman Jack: Early Years Trilogy. I read and loved the first novel, COLD CITY (see the review here), and I kinda figured I was going to enjoy this one as well. Shocker: I loved DARK CITY.
This novel picks up directly after the events of the first one in the trilogy. Jack is figuring out who he is, and who he wants to be. He's learning the art of the "fix". And true to form, he is roped into extraordinary events.
What I liked most about DARK CITY was seeing Jack really becoming an active participant. He was kind of taken along for a ride in the first novel, and here we get to see him make tough choices, and clever choices. All of that ruthlessness we see in the other Repairman Jack novels? Well, we get to see some of those origins here. For example, we finally get to see how Julio ends up with the bar. It's classic Jack, and deliciously fun to read as Jack's plan unfolds.
The first novel dealt with Jack's involvement in the breaking up of a child trafficking deal. It was pretty dark, and very brutal. In this novel, Jack is dealing with the consequences of those actions he took. I don't just mean in a physical way with people trying to exact revenge upon him (though there is that angle here too). The whole business causes a mentality change. Consequences of morality, and mentality. It's here that we truly see the Jack that we will know and love in later novels.
I'm not going to lie, I was having trouble with a mob side-story that runs through the novel. At first it felt aimless, and I was beginning to wonder if it was filler. And then Wilson brought it firmly into one of Jack's "fixes", and then solidified it as being important in the next novel. It takes a special and experienced kind of author to pull of something like that. Having read a lot of Wilson's fiction, I think it shows more than anything that he is still progressing as an author. Think about that for a moment. There are a lot of authors that tend to rest on their past success. But I never feel that way with F. Paul Wilson. I always feel like his newest novel is his best effort, and that he is always looking to wow the reader.
It's hard to talk much about this novel without getting into specifics about both it and it's predecessor. Here is what I will say: he manages to tie mob stories, terrorism, Jack's "fixes", child trafficking, and his ever-present Secret History of the World into one streamlined plot. That's what we read the Repairman Jack novels for, after all. The action, the characters, the "fixes" great and small. It's all here with rough edges--not because of poor writing, but rather because of great writing.
Seeing the unrefined Jack is what makes this trilogy so much fun.
I'll point this out again: if you have ever felt the prospect of reading this series to be a bit daunting, start with the Early Years trilogy. It is a terrific place to start for the first time, or to be refreshed on how awesome this character is.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: Well yeah. A bunch.
Violence: There wasn't anything really gory in this novel. It's violent, sure, but it's never over the top.
Sex: No explicit scenes, but Jack's "girlfriend" is super crass. So is Jack's gay friend.
Here are your links. Go get 'em:
When I was a kid, I read T.H. White's THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. I recall reading it twice, back-to-back, never quite getting enough of the legend of King Arthur. There is something inherently awesome about those stories, something that pulls at me. Anything that has a sliver of Arthurian legend in it automatically piques my curiosity.
I was recently sent a copy of Mark Plemmons' Role-Playing Game core book, CORPORIA, with a polite request to give it a peek. I don't normally review RPGs, not because I don't like RPGs (I do), but because I'm never quite sure how to review them. However, in the case of CORPORIA, I'm making an exception.
Check out this first paragraph from Chapter 1 of the book:
"Corporia is a tabletop role-playing game set in "The City", a future metropolis ruled by an alliance of powerful mega-corporations. Players take on the roles of members of the Knightwatch, the elite supernaturally-powered special operations unit of the Watchman private security company, under the the auspices of its mega-corporate entity Valyant and Chief Executive Officer Lance Martin - the reincarnated Sir Lancelot du Lac. The Knightwatch resolve extreme incidents involving manifestations of other-dimensional energies (aka the Flux), including mutated humans, monsters from other dimensions, and corporate experiments gone wrong."
So yeah. think Cyberpunk King Arthur. That's all I needed to know.
Let's go down the list of chapters to give you a good idea of what you'll find in the book, as well as any particularly cool things or particularly bothersome things. I'll keep it as spoiler-free as possible since, after all, my ultimate recommendation is that you should buy this book and play it with your RPG group.
Chapter 1: The Basics
Pretty straight-forward. This is where it details out the absolute basics of the setting, what role-playing is (eeeeeeeasy there...keep it PG:13. I'm talking about gaming you dirty-minded....), and the basics on how to play the game (what dice to use, etc.). honestly, there isn't much to talk about here. It's pretty clear what kind of dice to roll, and when.
Chapter 2: Human Resources
This is where it gets fun. One of the main reasons I am in a constant RPG group, and the main reason I got into playing in the first place, is because of character creation. I love the aspect of making a new character and creating that back story.
In CORPORIA, the character creation is both awesome and a bit muddled. Plemmons has given players a gajillion character archetypes. They are seriously so incredibly varied that my mind immediate started pulling together imaginary groups that could have endless combinations. Yet at the same time, when I went to create a character from scratch as an experiment, I found I didn't quite know where to begin. It wasn't until I'd read the entire book (the character creation chapter twice) that I realized what exactly to do. And a lot of that came from a summary that was found at the very end of the book. All the information is here, but it needs to be organized better, and worded a bit clearer. That said, with an experienced GM, this wouldn't even be an issue. My concern is with a brand new group where everyone is starting this game for the first time.
Chapters 3 & 4
These chapters deal with all the accessories you get for your character. Assets, spells, weapons, etc. The cool thing to me was the augments section. It is obvious a lot of thought went into these sections. I'm not going to go into it too much, but I found them pretty awesome.
Chapter 5: The City
My favorite section of the book. This chapter deals with all the different districts in The City. It is shocking to me just how deep the info is here. It would be easy to overlook it as "fluff". That would be a huge mistake. While there is fluff here, there is a TON of data. Simply reading the description of each district made my mind whirl with potential story ideas. And I don't just mean for GMing a game. But for fiction set in the universe. For modules. For the fun of pure imagination. This section was absolutely incredible for me.
Chapter 6: Game Mastery
This game makes it very easy to get started in an adventure. all of the prior chapters lead very nicely into this one. I'll leave it at that.
Let's talk about the book itself. RPGs aren't just about the info in them. Look at any Legend of the Five Rings book and you will see that they are pieces of art. So how does CORPORIA stack up against the rest?
The book's size is slightly smaller than your average RPG core book. I don't mean just in thickness. In actual dimensions. Honestly, at first I was a little put off by it. but then I began reading through the book, and found that it was actually a lot more comfortable to hold and read than other core books. I don't know that I want all RPG books to become this size, but I don't have any issue with it anymore. The paper used seems a bit thin, almost like a magazine, but overall it isn't an issue.
The cover art is striking. A knight set against skyscrapers. It pretty much pulls together the whole theme of the book. The art on the inside, however, is not my favorite. Rather than using original art, it is all photography and, essentially, cosplay. While I imagine it is way WAY cheaper, I just wasn't a fan. I'm used to this style of art from Flying Frog's games, but here a lot of it just seemed cheap. My hope is that in a subsequent version it can all be replaced with actual art...cause this setting deserves it.
At the end of the day, I think your group will decide if this is a good RPG. A good group will have an amazing time with this game. A bad group will ruin any game, no matter how good.
I personally think this is a killer RPG. There are so many ideas here. So many ways to play this game. While there are some things that bothered me about the book itself, those have no impact on the actual GAME.
Simply put, there just isn't an experience out there like this one. Anywhere.
Get the book here:
Helen thinks she can't do anything right. Of course those realizations are all after the fact. Take, for example, the marriage to her husband Alastair six months ago. At the time it was the best possible thing for her, and she even thought she could grow to really love him. But lately she's discovered he's not who she thought he was.
A lot of that is due to his new involvement with Copperhead, a group of men who want to rid the city of fey and dwarvven. Completely. In IRONSKIN, Helen discovered the dangers of the fey personally, so her fear is genuine. But she's still of the "live and let life" philosophy and finds Copperhead's methods alarming.
In a desire to be useful, Helen agrees to help her sister Jane convince the fashionable ladies of society that keeping the fey faces that make them beautiful actually put them in danger. But will she mess this up, too?
Set in an alternative England of the early 1900s, you can jump into COPPERHEARD without having read IRONSKIN. It's a fun series with interesting characters and a well-plotted mystery. The first book was told from Helen's sister Jane's PoV, but here she takes a back seat. I especially enjoyed Helen's PoV voice, her wry observations, and her personal struggle to understand herself and the people around her. She's not as feisty as other heroines, but that doesn't make her contributions insignificant. Rather like Eff Rothmer in THE FAR WEST; but where Eff is thoughtful and conscientious, Helen is determined and competent...if rather vain. The secondary characters were well-drawn and fun to read, particularly the flamboyant Eglantine and her menagerie of hangers-on.
The one thing I wish I knew more about was the fey. There's more here about the Great War than in IRONSKIN, but the story doesn't expand much beyond talking about a Fey King (there used to be a queen) who punishes fey by ripping them apart and leaving blue vapor bits around town. Fey energy is used for lights and other devices. We do learn that fey can take over a person who has fey on their body...say a fey face like Helen and the society ladies. And how magic in her face gives her emphatic abilities. Fortunately there were enough details that the story made sense.
Connolly deals with themes of racism, women's rights in marriage/divorce, and suffrage with a subtle hand. She blends these issues in a story about women who are capable in a world that would pass them by. And by the end you will see Helen for the heroine she doesn't know she is.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: Some; one scene is more amusing than scary
Sex: Vague references
Find this series here:
Gideon Smith's father is a fisherman, and one day the ship returns to port in Sandsend, England, without his father or the crew. Determined to find out how a ship could lose its crew on a calm sea, Gideon begins to hear reports about monsters appearing in the local caves. He happens across a Mr. Bram Stoker, who is searching for inspiration for a new story. But Gideon's obsession with World Marvels & Wonders, a penny dreadful that recounts the heroic exploits of Captain Lucian Trigger, at first makes Bram wonder about the believability of Gideon's story.
They part ways: Gideon to London to look for Captain Trigger and Bram to investigate the arrival of a Russian ship without its crew. We are thrown into an adventure with vampires, mummies, automatons, dirigibles, and Egyptian artifacts. The characters are varied, with a cast of recognizable heroes: the inexperienced but enthusiastic youth, the cynical reporter, the mentor, the woman dirigible pilot, the pirate, and etc. The world terrain is different than we're used to, steampunk technology is everywhere, and yet much of it is still familiar.
GIDEON SMITH AND THE MECHANICAL GIRL uses these with flair in a pulp fiction style. The main character is likable, but even our heroes have their dark sides, who despite their foibles can overcome their weaknesses to save the day. It's a story of love, hope, redemption, and what makes a true hero.
So why did it take me so long to read this book? Why did I drag myself through each chapter and PoV?
GIDEON SMITH is not a bad story or poorly written. In fact the prose is pretty nice, the plot engaging and twisty enough to keep you guessing. There are so many cameos, such as Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Google her, seriously), Bram Stoker, Walter Jones (Henry's father), and so many more, many of whom I found amusing if somewhat distracting.
It's an entertaining enough read, but Barnett adds things that give it a dark edge which turned me off to the story. It's really a personal thing, you may not be bothered, and perhaps even like the realistic dark side of people and events. For example, the reporter was a crass, profane guy who was obsessed with the female form in a way that was juvenile and not funny. Or the married man knowingly being drawn into circumstances that hurt his reputation and strained his relationship with his wife. References to the automaton's sexual slavery. There are other examples. I guess I didn't see how such additions made the story better and all it did was make me want to put the book down because it caused me to distrust the characters when I should have been compelled to keep reading about them.
Another problem was the pacing, which suffered up until the end as characters move from place to place, make discoveries, cross paths, and etc. This is just the style of Barnett's storytelling, the prose more interested in detail of movement than actually moving the story along. I think the voice/prose/style is great for the genre, but because I felt that disconnect from the characters the story felt slow.
Barnett makes up for the pacing by the last quarter when events start snowballing and we make discoveries that build on what's come before. By the exciting end you are rooting for Gideon and you may even want to check out the sequel as a result.
Recommended age: 17+
Violence: Fairly frequent, although not gruesome
Sex: Referenced, one character in particular is quite crass
Find this first book for a new series here:
GIDEON SMITH AND THE MECHANICAL GIRL
And the sequel is out:
GIDEON SMITH AND THE BRASS DRAGON
I've often wondered how long Jim Butcher can keep it up. After all, how often have we all seen just how difficult it is for an author to be good for two books in a row. I'm not saying Butcher is perfect--I personally feel that he has two pretty weak novels in the Dresden Files--but that's two weak novels out of FIFTEEN. Good heavens.
And let me be clear. SKIN GAME is not a weak novel. In my opinion, it is among the best of the series. It has a lot of what made books five, six and seven incredible.
First off, there are gonna be some light spoilers here for the previous novel, COLD DAYS. There's no helping it. So if you haven't read COLD DAYS, stop here, read that novel, then read SKIN GAME. You'll be all set, and will had a ton of fun.
SKIN GAME is a heist novel. With Harry in the service of Queen Mab as the Winter Knight, he often has to do the dirty work. This time that dirty work involves working for Nicodemus Archleone and the Order of the Blackened Denarius. If you recall, the last time Harry dealt with Nicodemus, well, things didn't go well for our heroes. Especially Michael Carpenter.
Mab lends Harry out to Nicodemus in order to fulfill a bargain she made. What follows is quite simply your typical heist novel. Except for the item being stolen is the Holy Grail. And they are stealing it from Hades. So yeah, other than that, totally what you'd expect.
SKIN GAME is easily my favorite Dresden Files novel since PROVEN GUILTY. I think it has to do with Butcher finally getting back around to some of the best stuff in the world he has created. The Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Knights of the Cross. Michael freaking Carpenter. Butters. Karrin.
Think about it. Most of these parts? We haven't sen them since book ten, SMALL FAVOR. I know there are reasons, but geez. I was going into withdrawals. Michael and Harry have always had the best kind of rapport, and to see it in full swing again, was completely awesome. I was also happy to see how Karrin reacted to Harry. Look, the "will they, won't they" thing has toed the line for a LONG time. It's addressed directly in SKIN GAME (not gonna say which way).
Say it with me, folks. Character growth. All the messing up that TURN COAT did has been more than made up for (I'll just pretend that novel never happened). Michael, Karrin, Butters (holy crap, Butters!), and most importantly, Harry. There is significant growth in this novel. Significant.
Humor is back and in full form. Nearly every joke is timed perfectly. Only one felt forced (and unfortunately it was used over and over). The action is fast and hard-hitting. One of my new favorite characters makes his debut--Goodman Grey. The pacing in flawless. Yeah. This novel is completely awesome.
SKIN GAME is Jim Butcher at his best. I loved it. I loved what it accomplished, and I loved what it set into motion. With the fifteenth novel in his series, Butcher manages to keep the fire alive. More than that, he stokes it to a white-hot blaze. There is no settling here, and never once did I feel Butcher was taking the easy way out. It all felt completely natural. I haven't been this excited for the next novel in the Dresden Files in years.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: About normal for a Dresden novel. Can get really strong, but mostly sticks to mild profanities.
Violence: Very much so. Poor Harry gets his butt kicked a lot in this one. And that's the mild stuff.
Sex: One fairly explicit scene. Lots of references.
Go grab it folks:
Roen Tan is a truly ordinary guy. He's got a software-coding job he tolerates, his roommate is smarter and better-looking than he is, he visits the bars on weekend, could use a gym membership, and can't bring himself to asking out that cute co-worker for a drink.
Until one fateful day when Tao, an alien stuck on Earth for thousands of years, is forced to find a host body ASAP--he cannot survive long in Earth's toxic environment--and Roen is it. This event changes Roen's life completely as he is thrown into a war between aliens, with his own life in the crosshairs. He must train while his identity is still unknown, or else risk dying and sending Tao on to another host.
THE LIVES OF TAO follows Roen's training and brings us up to speed on the Quasling's secret war among the humans. While humans were barely a thought, the Quaslings were stranded on Earth and were key in human development; sometime during the Middle Ages, they broke into factions, their differing philosophies of human development the reason. You can blame WWI and WWII on their struggle, and even events such as a the Spanish Inquisition. You'd think that beings who have lived for thousands of years would know better.
Personally I think this is more a guy book. I'm sure there are some women who'll enjoy it, but I found THE LIVES OF TAO goofy, campy, and boring. Chu tries to make Tao sound wise, but it doesn't come across naturally--like a high school kid trying to sound wise without having really lived it.
The prose was pretty utilitarian. There was enough description to get by, but the emotions felt tacked on, as though his editor told him to add some in before the final draft, or else Roen would have felt like a robot (he still kind of did). Roen has conversations with Tao in his head, but I couldn't always tell the difference between this and what he does say out loud, so that was awkward and confusing. It's easy to compare Chu with other Campbell Award nominees, such as Max Gladstone, and look at a couple pages of only the prose--it's easy to see that Chu has a long way to go before his prose loses its awkward choppiness.
Roen himself wasn't a very exciting guy. Not that he had to be exciting, but he didn't have much more than a standard personality. I guess that was the point, kind of like the T.V. show Chuck, how the regular guy ends up becoming an agent. But TAO falls flat. Does he have any hobbies? Interests? The secondary characters fare even worse, with Roen's roommate a mere caricature, his girlfriend woefully undeveloped, and even Tao the wise one himself felt bland.
The story is ok, even a little fun what-if. And I understand the point of the story as Roen deals with his new-found knowledge as well as the new military life that doesn't suit him at all. But it was so boring. I just didn't care about Roen doing another tai chi training, or splurging on pizza because of a rough workout, or his crush on trainer Sonya (the host of another alien). It all felt like a meandering lead-up to what should have felt like an exciting, explosive ending, except that his description of action is a perfunctory and bland recount of what fist went where.
My biggest gripe is what the entire story ends up revolving around: Tao forces himself on Roen, who ends up having to train and completely turn his life around for some alien with unknown purpose. How's Roen supposed to know Tao is actually the good guy? Roen ends up becoming a solider in a war he didn't sign up for and for which he's woefully inadequate, no matter how much training he gets. Just doesn't seem like something a nice alien would do to some poor shmuck.
Read THE LIVES OF TAO and vote for it if it's better than the other stuff on the Campbell Award Nominations list, but I doubt it is.
Recommended Age: 14+ pretty safe stuff for your teenage boys
Language: Not much
Violence: A fair amount, but not gruesome
Sex: Vague references
Find this book here:
THE LIVES OF TAO
UPDATE: Thanks to all those that entered! There were a lot more of you than we anticipated... Pretty sure that speaks more to the awesomeness of Brian McClellan and Daniel Abraham than to us here at EBR...
...oh who am I kidding. This was because of us!
Here are the winners:
THE WIDOW'S HOUSE (when released) - Joel Prinster
THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN - Erin Terry
Congrats to the winners! And a HUGE thank you to Orbit for letting us give these novels away!
That's right! Lady elitists and gentleman elitists, step right up!
So, how awesome is Orbit these days? Answer: completely. They put out some of the best quality fiction on the market, and a number of my favorite authors write for them. There are two novels that I cannot wait to read and review, and you all should be feeling the same.
And Orbit is kindly letting Elitist Book Reviews give a copy of each of those away.
Before I tell you the books, here are the rules:
1) Email us at the web address on the blog.
2) Put "Orbit Giveaway" as the subject line.
3) In the body of the email, put which of the two novels you want, and why.
4) USA entries only.
5) Love EBR for the rest of your life.
So here are the novels:
THE WIDOW'S HOUSE, by Daniel Abraham. If you haven't been reading this series, I encourage you to stop everything (unless you are driving. If that's the case, what are you doing checking the internet WHILE DRIVING!?). I love these novels more than just about anything being put out these days.
THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN, by Brian McClellan. Brian is a good friend of mine, and his novels are excellent. My biggest nomination disappointment this year was that he wasn't nominated for the Campbell Award. But hey, he won a Gemmell. Seems like the better deal.
Contest ends next week, on July 8th.