Swords of Exodus

Been a long time! Miss me? Of course you did, what a stupid question. Well a new Larry Correia book is out and you couldn't expect me to pass up an opportunity to read/review it now could you? Another stupid question - I'm Correia's biggest fan. But, of all Larry's books DEAD SIX has probably been the one I've liked the least. That's not to say that DEAD SIX is a bad book, but I didn't consider it up to Larry's standards. It was fun and action-packed but the writing was a little rough around the edges, the collaboration between Correia and Kupari wasn't seamless, I wasn't sold on the characters, and I couldn't find any merit in either of the romantic relationships. That said, I wasn't discounting the series as the second half of the novel runs a whole lot smoother than the first. I'm quite pleased to say that SWORDS OF EXODUS by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari is infinitely better.

If you haven't read DEAD SIX the following description could be considered spoilerish. Please skip the italicized portion if this is the case.

As DEAD SIX closes Michael Valentine has been captured by the US black ops group only known as Majestic. The paramilitary force known as the Swords of Exodus want Valentine - they know the location of the secret base where he is being held but they need an expert thief to help them break in.

Lorenzo is enjoying a hard-earned retirement on a personally owned island with his girlfriend. He has left behind a life of crime and violence for love. But then Exodus comes knocking at his door with bad news. Lorenzo's brother has been kidnapped. Exodus is willing to help find him, but in return Lorenzo must free Valentine from the clutches of Majestic. 

Meanwhile, deep in former Soviet Central Asia, a warlord has risen in the power vacuum left by Big Eddie's death. In a lawless international town known as the Crossroads weapons, drugs, and slaves are trafficked under the warlord's watchful gaze. Exodus has marked the tyrant for death but assaulting such a stronghold will not be easy and soon Valentine and Lorenzo will find themselves in far deeper than ever before. 

I wasn't sold on Valentine or Lorenzo after finishing DEAD SIX. I didn't like the relationships that either character entered into or how those relationships progressed. I'm a stickler for romance as you may have noticed by now. If it's going to be done then it needs to be done well - and I just did not see that happening in the first book. I also couldn't help but grimace at the number of coincidences that had Valentine and Lorenzo bumping into each other early on in the novel. I understood the purpose and I was a fan of the concept - two diametrically opposed anti-heroes continually antagonizing each other - but after a while I found that the excuse of "coincidence wore thin."

SWORDS OF EXODUS manages to improve on both of these aspects. If you read the first book then you know what happens with Valentine's love interest. I find that this coupled with the torture he suffers at the hands of Majestic interrogation make Valentine a much more interesting character. He is a much harder man this time around and it lends credence to the mercenary personality. Another love interest pops up (to my dismay) but this one is played more subtle and slowly. It's far more complicated and that is much easier to swallow. I'm still not sold on Lorenzo's relationship but I do appreciate that it grounds him and gives him a vulnerability that he would otherwise be lacking. It's also worth nothing that the duo work better when they're on the same side, attacking a problem from different directions and with different modus operandi. The antagonism is still there (it takes no effort to believe that these two dudes dislike each other) but the plot doesn't rely on coincidence to connect their individual threads.

"If there were pots of gold at the end of rainbows, I can only assume that you'd have a lot of gold and there'd be a lot of murdered leprechauns buried in Ireland."

One of the cool things about SWORDS OF EXODUS is that our two reluctant heroes are forced to work alongside some less than scrupulous characters in order to further their goals. Anders makes an appearance and I was almost able to forget all the horrible things he did in DEAD SIX. Almost. Then there's Katarina, a truly terrifying she-devil that makes Lorenzo look like a box of kittens. Reaper is back of course, and we meet some fanatics from Exodus. As far as Correia villains go Sala Jihan, the Pale Man, leaves a little to be desired. He remains a mysterious character throughout all of SWORDS OF EXODUS and so his motivation is never really touched upon. In a way this shroud of secrecy makes Jihan even more sinister, but it's unlikely he'll (yet) be remembered as one of the top picks from Larry's rogues gallery.

The Crossroads is an extremely cool setting. It's like the Wild West - if the Wild West were set in the unforgiving mountains on the border of Russia and China. It's the sort of place where someone can be gunned down on the street and no one would bother to look twice. It's dangerous and exotic and it fits Valentine and Lorenzo like a glove. Much of the novel takes place here, though there are brief stints in the United States and a short tour of Exodus's base of operations.

Exodus is fleshed out much more this time around (as befits the title) though there are a number of mysteries surrounding the organization for the next book to explore. The same goes for Valentine, Majestic, Project Blue, and even Sala Jihan. I will say that my biggest problem of the novel might be how little is revealed in the end. There are a lot of secrets floating around and it feels as though very few of them are exposed during SWORDS OF EXODUS. It's the secrets tied to Sala Jihan that left me pondering the novel long after I finished reading it. Without saying too much it seems as though there might be some supernatural elements surrounding the Pale Man, and though this could easily be contributed to PSYOPS it still has me wondering what direction the third novel in the series will take.

SWORDS OF EXODUS is a bit of a slow burner compared to DEAD SIX but I'd hesitate to call this a bad thing. Correia and Kupari set up an epic final assault that is well worth the price of admission alone. Once again it is clear that these two authors write what they know and the action is as crisp and clear as has come to be expected. In a recent article it was suggested that Larry Correia is eligible to be one of several possible successors to the late great Tom Clancy. It's not just the action that proves this, but also the eye for technical detail, politics, and conspiracy. I'd like to add that if Correia is a potential successor than Mike Kupari certainly deserves to be credited as well. That problem I had with the collaboration in the first book? It's non-existent in SWORDS OF EXODUS. It would be difficult to find where Larry's writing stops and where Mike's starts. It is a seamless product and I commend the two for making it so. And you know what? If we're lucky the third book in the series might be Correia and Kupari's equivalent of Clancy's RED STORM RISING, what I consider to be the single best techno-thriller, military fiction book ever written.

Recommended Age: 16+
Violence: If Larry ever writes a non-violent book I'll be sure to warn you.
Profanity: A good amount.
Sex: One particularly suggestive scene but nothing explicit.

Get the first book, DEAD SIX here.

Neverland's Library - Kickstarter

I love Kickstarter so much. There has been such a surge in good boardgames, RPGs, and Anthologies thanks to the crowdfunding website. I thought I'd share a link to one of the newest Anthologies on Kickstarter, NEVERLAND'S LIBRARY.

From their Kickstarter page, here is the goal of NEVERLAND'S LIBRARY:

The goal of this project was to create a fantasy anthology based around the theme of Rediscovery. Blending established, and lesser known authors, we hoped to capture the reader’s imagination and bring them back to a time when they first discovered their love of fantasy fiction. For readers who haven't already fallen in love with the genre, we hope to offer immensely entertaining bite-size stories that will pull people in and inspire their imagination!

I love it. I love the idea, and I fully support it. This project has some extremely talented authors involved in it, including Mark Lawrence, Marie Brennan, Miles Cameron & Jeff Salyards (plus a ton of others).

There are five days left on the project, so hurry and get in on it. It's already funded, so you are guaranteed to get some fantastic pieces of short fiction in this anthology. Here's your link to the Kickstarter:


As a bonus, I have an excerpt from Jeff Salyards' story. It's a prequel piece about the lead character, Braylar Killcoin, from his Bloodsounder's Arc series.


The Height of Our Fathers
by Jeff Salyards 

My sister had long dark lashes that would often hook together to form a net in front of her eyes, and she would blink furiously to free them, eyes rolling white like a frightened horse. And this seemed to happen more frequently when she was excited, as she was when we stood before the tomb. I was looking around the mound, into the woods, trying to see if anything was coming upon us. This wasn’t the first time we’d broken into graves, but it would be our last. Together at least.

The Vorlu believe that each of us goes on a journey in the afterlife, that everyone should be outfitted according to our deeds and station. A babe is buried with a wooden toy in the hollow of a young tree, tarred in, so the two might grow strong and old together. A priest is laid in the earth with his bones and runes, staff and oils. A warrior, his war gear: spear, axe, shield, what have you. But a warlord—a leader of men, a pillager, a great man—he’s either burned in a pyre or buried in an underground vault in his helm and mail, armed with his finest sword, often accompanied by his horse, and his crypt is filled with fruit and meat, milk and mead, furs, coin, hunting horn, drinking horn, bow, glass, musical instruments, perhaps even a slave or two. Everything he would need in the afterlife to pass the time in comfort. A rich grave, indeed. And just the kind we stood in front of.

My sister, Soffjan, looked at me, eyes dark and alert, the cromlech of our ancestors leaning this way and that in the dying light, our breath beginning to show in the air. She looked at me, at the tomb, and then laughed. “Grandfather never did much like company.” I had misgivings, but I deferred to her that night, as I did regularly when we were growing up. She suggested our first robbery two summers before. It had always been graves from villages far off, but we couldn’t go much farther without our absence being noticed, and if someone from another tribe caught us at our business, the punishment would be death. If someone from our own tribe caught us, we figured we’d be publicly flogged or made to clean smegma for a year. And while scraping the prick of an unwilling stallion was deterrent enough for most, it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.

We stood in front of the mound, a pebble cairn as tall as a man with a layer of white quartz around the entrance shining bright as snow, and seeing nothing in the darkening woods, we moved the carved slab blocking the entrance. It wasn’t overly heavy—presumably fear of hobgoblins or spirits kept intruders at bay—and after looking at each other briefly, my sister and I entered the grave and waited for our eyes to adjust. The outlines of things would be enough—most of the tombs are constructed the same way, so we knew what to expect. We passed through the antechamber, crept into a corbelled passageway that led down to the burial chamber and all the goods contained therein.

There, we were completely blind. Most cats would have thought better and retreated at this point. I moved slowly, but I couldn’t help bumping into some jars and a bowl. Soffjan hissed, but it was hard to tell from where. And then I heard her stop moving and draw in breath. I asked what happened. She didn’t answer. I tried again. “What, what is it? Tell me!”

She said, “He’s here.”


There was a canyon where I lived in Utah with a species of flowers that grew on both sides of the canyon, and over time the ones on the south vs. the north sides diverged in their taxonomy. This happened over a matter of decades, the main culprit being how much light they got. PANDEMONIUM by Warren Fehy takes that concept to the depths of the Earth: completely separated from the surface and its influence for millions of years, how would subterranean species evolve?

In terrifying ways, apparently.

Biologists Nell and Geoffrey are specialists in new and dangerous species--having recently survived an encounter on the lost and isolated Hender's Island. Their expertise catches the attention of a Russian tycoon who has purchased a Soviet-era underground city and wants to turn it into a paradise, so he gives them an offer they can't refuse. He neglects to tell them, however, the real reason why they're there: species from Hender's island have escaped and he needs Nell and Geoffrey to tell him how to stop them.

Fehy includes photos at the back of the book for the creatures from Pandemonium and Hender's Island, which are based on mollusk physiology, and behave aggressively--survival of the species is their mantra. If they escape the underground city, it would only be a matter of months, maybe years, before they wipe out the human population.

It's pretty easy after knowing the above what's going to happen with the story. Nell and Geoffrey prove their moxie, the tycoon gets his comeuppance, military personnel are brought in and have a limited time frame to save the survivors before the place is nuked in order to save humanity. Yadda yadda.

The predictable story is framed with lame dialogue, an omniscient PoV that's all over the place even within a scene, and stock characters without clear motivations. Fortunately the pace moved quickly--enough to keep me going, at any rate--and the descriptions of the deadly species are interesting enough.

It was exciting but also forgettable at the same time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A handful of instances
Violence: It's a horror story along the lines of Jurassic Park, so yes there's blood and death, sometimes grisly
Sex: Vaguely implied

Find this book here:


The Lost Prince

Every so often I run through the list of books I've recently read and try to find follow-ups to those I liked. The sequel to Edward Lazellari's debut novel AWAKENINGS (EBR review) was one that pestered me for what seemed a very long time. I kept looking for something but never saw any news about a sequel. And then Steve plopped it in my lap, and I was absolutely floored when I realized that it has been less than a year since the debut. In all fairness, having a newbie author get a 500+ page fantasy novel out within a year is actually, in my opinion, quite decent. I guess some part of me was just really looking forward to this one.

THE LOST PRINCE is the second book in the Guardians of Aandor series, which is, not surprisingly, going to be a trilogy. This book picks up almost immediately after the end of AWAKENINGS. One of my complaints about that first book was the fact that the story just seemed to stop, and this quick pick-up kind of reiterates that. Looking at things from this side the first two books should probably just be tackled as a single 800-page novel. But seriously, what kind of publisher would have picked up a 800-page debut? Answer: none. Score one for Lazellari.

The plot for the book is surprisingly simple: find the prince. There are the good guys that want to return him to Aandor; there are bad guys who want to inflict death upon him; and there are the nebulous types who are in it for their own reasons. Prince Danel is the prize. But how can a book that is so simple be so great? Well, as they say: the devil is in the details.

All of the previous characters from AWAKENINGS are back plus a few new ones. Cal MacDonnel, the married New York cop who now knows he's from a noble house, engaged to another woman, and captain of the guard in the fantasy realm of Aandor. Seth Raincrest, the porn photographer who is actually a wizard in hiding is having trouble casting any spells. Daniel Hauer, the 13-year-old accidental murderer of his step-father and heir to the throne of Aandor. Honestly, I could go on for a while with all the characters in this book. Suffice it to say that there are a bundle and they were actually all done quite well. Characterization is one the of the many shining aspects of this book. All sorts of them get point-of-view time: good guys, bad guys, traitors, neutral parties. Each of them were great.

Although, the sheer number of characters frequently got in the way of me being able to follow all of them and keep them distinct from one another, especially with regard to the “bad guys”. This also made the beginning feel like it was moving really slow. It took a good 20% of the book before I felt like the story was progressing. This was due to a bundle of new POV characters and catching up all of the current characters to where we were in the story. The middle half was a great ramp-up though, and by the time the last third to fourth of the book hit, things were really moving.

The end of the book was crazy good. I remember stopping once and finding myself standing in line at the grocery store with my jaw hanging open and realizing that the line had moved a good long ways since I had last noticed. But even with all of the really cool action and back-and-forth between the various parties as they try to find the prince and finally end up converging on him (REALLY good stuff there), the place where Lazellari completely outdid himself was in staying true to each of the stories of the individual characters. It's the individual characters that drive this story.  Seth's redemption story was especially good for me.  Just solid.

There is one factor that I have to point out that might be a big sticking point for a lot of people and that's the sexual content. The issue is that it involves the prince, who is as you may or may not remember is supposed to be 13 years old. As with all of the other character stories in the book, the time spent with these interactions is significant and detailed. And yeah, it bothered me. The glorification of the deeds was especially evident and overdone. I have no idea why this needed to be in the book. There isn't a lot of extraneous stuff at all in the story, and I can't help but expect that the prince's escapades will come back to bite him at a later date (and thus make these sexual interactions important to the plot of future books), but it all really stuck out like a sore thumb and in my opinion was significantly more than necessary or wanted.

It seems ludicrous to me that Lazellari is writing books that are this good this early in his career. And apparently he's still got a full-time job external to writing to boot. Will be exciting to see where he goes with things once the harness comes off and he can really spend his time writing. Watch this guy. I expect big things to come.

Recommended Age: Adults
Violence:  Not a lot of bloody violence, but most of it is with swords (fantasy world, remember?) so it can get graphic at times
Profanity:  Strong but fairly infrequent
Sex:  Frequent references by one character (porn photographer) and a couple strong scenes involving the 13-year old prince.

Find this amazing debut series here:



The Suprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet

I'm the mother of two boys: 10 and 9 years old. One is an avid reader and one isn't, but I read as part of their bedtime ritual and search far and wide to find books all of us will enjoy.

Enter Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda series. The man is a genius: middle grade kids, a mystery, Star Wars, and origami? There's something in there for everyone. Oh, and they're hysterical.

In book four of the Origami Yoda series, THE SURPRISE ATTACK OF JABBA THE PUPPET, Tommy, Mike, Dwight and the gang are back, and this time even Harvey is on their side: they are in open rebellion against Principal Rabbski's new FunTime™ learning program designed to boost the school's test scores. With electives cancelled in favor of dumbed-down videos, the kids think the only thing FunTime boosts is their boredom. They seek out Origami Yoda's insight to solve the problem. His answer? This is more than even Origami Yoda can handle and announces that the only way to get school back to normal is if everyone pitches in.

Principal Rabbski is as cunning as Boba Fett, sly as Han Solo, and ruthless as Darth Vader, and is determined to make the kids of McQuarrie Middle School behave...or else. Origami Yoda has been right before, but will he be right about takes-no-prisoners Principal Rabbski?

Since it's book four we've spent the last three books getting to know Tommy, Mike, Dwight and the others pretty well. Angleberger does a good job differentiating them, and they feel like real kids dealing with real-life problems in creative ways. My boys' particular favorite is the eccentric Dwight, who at first seems to be the mastermind behind all the chaos, but the rational serenity of his finger puppet Yoda makes you wonder...

In previous books the mystery surrounded the validity of Origami Yoda's powers of prognostication. But since that's been firmly established, now the kids have an even bigger problem to solve, and simply being kids limits them, their schooling being decided by adults. I wonder a little about Angleberer's topic (government mandated testing and the resultant curriculum), and being a parent myself of middle school kids understand the frustration of the kids and how teachers' hands are tied. He skirts sounding agenda-driven just barely by the way he uses FunTime and the over-the-top way the kids react to its obviously ridiculous design. But I love the way the kids work together in a way to solve their problems and how using the origami puppets make the kids think in new ways.

The actual design of the book is great, with each chapter a different viewpoint--this really helps us get to know the kids and the way they think. The doodles in the margins are hilarious (my boys love pointing them out), and Tommy and Harvey's comments at the end of each chapter help with continuity. And you can't help but appreciate Harvey's snark. The best thing, though? The instructions for origami Star Wars puppets at the end of each book. Currently I have an army of origami Ewoks all over my house.

The only bad thing is that this book is to be continued! The previous books were self-contained stories so I was a little disappointed to get to the end only to have to wait for the next installment and I hope the solution. For now I will have to be satisfied with Jabba's surprise attack at the end. Yes, I squealed.

Recommended Age: 8+ and yes even their parents will enjoy this fabulous series
Language: None
Violence: None
Sex: None

Find these books (buy them!) here:





The Night Circus

I'm not usually a proponent of breaking the rules, but very occasionally allow myself an indulgence. When I first picked this book up, I knew I was asking for trouble. My wife actually accused me of choosing it because I wanted something to pick to pieces, and that might have been slightly true. But only a little. It's more likely that I chose it because occasionally I'm just a glutton for punishment.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, and I actually felt kind of bad for a bit when I found that out after structuring this entire review. I really don't like knocking down newbies. Even ones that are getting a ludicrous number of places--including People and USA Today--to lavish her with laud, and praise, and honor.

The “story”, such as it is, surrounds a very particular kind of circus that is only open during nighttime hours and contains all sorts of fantastical tents and acts. Within this backdrop, two very old men with a high level of magical prowess each train a student to participate in a game of skill where there will only be one winner. This is complicated though, when the two students fall in love. However...

Describing this book with that summary (one that is very similar in content to the one used to promote the book) is almost as large a travesty as me deciding to list the book as being within the fantasy genre. Because although the concept of the game is probably the most prevalent of the few ideas in the book, very little time at all is actually spent on it.

Instead, the chapters revolve around two things: giving background information on the multitude of characters and waxing verbose through descriptive surroundings (including all of the circus tents). The students don't even know who each other are. Neither of them knows the rules. They just do their thing with regard to the circus and hope that they come out well for them. Finding any kind of actual plot line was incredibly difficult. I really had to laugh though, when I read one part of the Q&A on the NIGHT CIRCUS Amazon page:

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of developing this story?
A. It didn't have a plot for a very long time. (Read more...)

Yes, there's more to that quote (and feel free to follow the link and read the rest. It's about a third of the way down the page), but this portion not only contains the crux of the entire response, it succinctly wraps up my thoughts on the story as a whole: there was no plot. It was simply an idea. An idea that was avoided and disregarded and talked around. There was no point to the novel. No excitement. No anticipation. Instead, it was a very pretty, empty shell of a book that absolutely stymies the logical portions of my brain that say, “Honestly. How can anyone find this stuff good?”

Readers who like to read pages and pages of descriptions and character history (but mostly descriptions), dig in. You'll love this one. Those that like actual story, like us, will find this book a great waste of their time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Violence:  Someone dies after being stabbed
Profanity:  One F-word, just like the obligatory single offering in nearly every PG-13 movie of the 90's -- otherwise, I can't remember any at all
Sex:  One short scene with moderate detail

The Night Circus

Red Seas Under Red Skies

When you first novel is THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, you've made things very difficult on yourself. Scott Lynch's first novel was incredible. So incredible that it set the expectations for RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES incredibly high. I remember reading RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES and feeling a bit disappointed. Why? Because it wasn't the best novel ever, of course. How could I expect anything less after reading the first novel? It wasn't fair, and now that I've finished a re-read, I have a much better point of view on the novel than I did originally.

Let's face it, shall we? While RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES isn't as good as THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, I feel that it is still an amazing novel and better than 99% of the stuff out there in the Fantasy genre. It's just that RED doesn't blow LIES out of the water that has people feeling the disappointment.

Now I know what you're thinking. "But, Steve," you muse. "RED does have problems, right? You aren't just ignoring them because you love LIES so much, are you?" Indeed, RED does have some issues, and no, I'm not ignoring them.

RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES begins just after THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA leaves off. Locke is in a bad way physically, mentally and emotionally. Jean is dealing with Locke's inability to cope with the guilt he (Locke) feels after the events in Camorr. This portion of the story is told in flashbacks while we read the "current" part of the story of Locke and Jean trying to pull a heist on a gambling establishment called the Sinspire in Tal Verrar. While LIES was more of a novel about confidence schemes, RED is more Ocean's Eleven...at least in the beginning.

And this is perhaps the biggest issue people--including myself--have with RED.

The book starts out promising a heist novel and then switches gears 1/3 of the way into the novel...into a pirate novel. This does two things. First, it gives the novel an impression that it didn't quite know what it wanted to be. Second, when the pirate parts start, the pacing of the novel is restarted completely from scratch. It isn't a permanent reboot within the novel as we revisit the heist here and there, but any time the novel shifts from pirates to casinos, the pacing restarts. Honestly, it feels like the heist story was what the novel was intended to be, then Lynch realized there wasn't enough meat here for a full-blown story.

That said, it's not like either of the portions of the story are bad. Not in the least. I loved the heist story. I loved the pirate story. It was the odd juxtaposition of the two that threw me off initially when I first read the novel several years ago. Upon a second read, this didn't bother me near as much, and I could just enjoy the novel. And I have to say, the sea battles in RED are thrilling. As usual, Lynch's action scenes are chaotic and well described. It still amazes me how people don't talk about Lynch's ability to write action.

What Lynch still excels at in RED is his sense of the characters. While Locke and Jean have just a shaaade too much false conflict, I love their interaction. I love the banter they have between themselves and with the other, side characters. Speaking of side characters, I love both Zamira Drakasha and Ezri Delmastro. Lynch writes them so well. I love the little quirks, and the major character defining elements to each of them. They mesh so well with Locke and Jean, and so it makes the ending of the novel that much more powerful.

On my second read-through I read RED as if it were a tragedy, and for some reason that made me enjoy the novel quite a bit more. There were some points that still made me tear up even though I knew they were coming. That's good writing. Good characterization.

Scott Lynch is such an amazing writer. There are moments where he easily approaches a literary lean, but then others where it's almost pulp. Horror in some places, with good comedy in others. Happiness mixes with tragedy. It is in these contrasts that Lynch sets himself apart from his peers.

RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES isn't as good as THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, but how many novels are? Seriously, think about that for a minute. RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES is still a fantastic novel, and it holds up exceptionally well upon multiple reads.

My re-read of the series has concluded and I'm convinced that this is a must read for every fan of Fantasy. If you haven't read Lynch's work thus far, now is the perfect time to start. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is set to come out next week (10-10-13).

Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: Tons. Just like the first novel.
Violence: Definitely. Throats are cut, dudes are stabbed, fires consume people.
Sex: It's talked about, but never shown in detail.

Get the novels here: