2013 August | Fantasy Review Barn

Home→Published 2013August
Monthly Archives: August 2013

Fantasy Review: ‘The Tainted City’ by Courtney Schafer

Oh boy, finally a book that allows me to use up all the reviewer clichés in one go!  You don’t know how long I have waited for this.  Stop the printing; I am sure the next round of paperbacks is … Continue reading

Fantasy Review: ‘Ritual of the Stones’ by Rob Donovan

I love the premise here: every twelve years twelve people are chosen for a ritual; they wake one morning to find a coloured stone beside them, or under their pillow. They then have to travel to the capital, throw their … Continue reading

Posted in Donovan | 1 Reply

Up In The Loft – Books In Storage For Now

Less than a year ago when this blog began I put in a submissions page because that how it is done.  I don’t think we had big lofty goals for the blog, we wanted to watch numbers grow but never … Continue reading

Sci-Fi Review: ‘Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan

This is a break away from fantasy for the author, but not very far. It’s technically science fiction – a guy builds a time machine in his Detroit garage, and after a diagnosis of terminal cancer he decides he has … Continue reading

Streampunk Review: ‘Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl’ by David Barnett

Steampunk adventure!  This book was like reading a blockbuster movie, and it was a whole lot of fun.  Like most blockbusters that come up in the summer months you have to prepare for some conveniences, assume all the characters will … Continue reading

Posted in Barnett | 2 Replies

Fantasy Review: ‘Emperor of Thorns’ by Mark Lawrence

It’s a strange thing, but I had ‘Prince of Thorns’ sitting on my Kindle for a full year before I got round to reading it. I’d read the reviews, I knew something of what it was about, I knew it … Continue reading

Posted in Lawrence | 1 Reply

Fantasy Review: ‘Cold Fire’ by Kate Elliott

Another infuriating entry in the Spiritwalker Trilogy.  How can a book do some things so damn good, and make a complete mess out of others?  I was going to finish off the book, then be done with the series despite … Continue reading

Fantasy Review: ‘The Alchemist of Souls’ by Anne Lyle

If I just throw out my random thoughts about this book could someone do all the work and put it into a cohesive review?  Because I have honestly tried three times, and have deleted everything I wrote each time.  So … Continue reading

Posted in Lyle | Leave a reply

Fantasy Review: ‘King of Thorns’ by Mark Lawrence

Nathan’s review [23rd December 2012]: While I try to keep them at a minimum, this review may contain some spoilers to ‘Prince of Thorns.’ What a difference fifty pages makes.  I had almost put the sequel to ‘Prince of Thorn’ … Continue reading

Posted in Lawrence | 4 Replies

DNF: ‘The Emperor’s Knife’ by Mazarkis Williams

I see the issue with my ranking system here.  ‘The Emperor’s Knife’ is not a one star book.  There is too much good in it.  Highly ambitious, fairly unique, and with some fairly strong writing in the early going.  But … Continue reading

Posted in williams | 1 Reply

document.write(“”);]]>

web analytics

*/]]> */]]> */]]>

Fantasy Review: ‘The Tainted City’ by Courtney Schafer

Oh boy, finally a book that allows me to use up all the reviewer clichés in one go!  You don’t know how long I have waited for this.  Stop the printing; I am sure the next round of paperbacks is going to want a few of these blurbs for the back.  I’ll even make it easy and place quotes around what a publisher may want to blurb, because that is the kind of helpful guy I am.

“Even better than the original!”

‘Whitefire Crossing’ was a fine, fine book on its own.  A quick pace, tight cast of characters, plenty of excitement and a world that was laid in front of the reader in just the right amounts to avoid ever being dull.  While it tied up its loose ends, we were left with both of our protagonist in captivity, an extremely pissed of powerful mage promising to get his way.  Can the series shift from a two man escape story to a save the land type of one?  Oh yes, it certainly can.

Back to the city of Ninavel, home of magical anarchy, we go.  Dev is bound to rival Alathians, those who imprisoned him in WC.  Something unknown is attacking the confluence, the magical force that drew all the mages to Ninavel in the first place.  Whatever it is it’s threatening to tear down the Alathian’s magical barrier as well, so an unlikely alliance is forged between their chosen team and, Ruslan (main villain of the first book), enforced by an oath sworn to the ruler of Ninavel .

“The rare middle book that holds up on its own!”

What this second outing gives us is a completely different style, but it does so in a way that makes it seem similar.  The two POV narration style is back, with Dev in first person and Bloodmage Kiran in third (I have tried to reword that sentence a couple times, and you know what, the awkward phrasing stays.  Don’t judge me).  As they end up working for rival sides this allows us to keep up with both ends of the investigation, giving the book a magical whodunit feel with a apocalyptic threat hanging over the entire investigation.  This shift in style keeps the book from ever being in danger or rehashing old territory, despite some similar threats to the protagonists.  Dev helps with the investigation, but still is trying to save his friends daughter, all while knowing he is surrounded by people who can kill him with a thought.  Kiran’s story takes a completely different turn that would be hard to discuss without spoilers, but his love then hate relationship with Ruslan again plays the biggest role.  

Knowing that the city of Ninavel doesn’t just feed the mages the power they crave, but the magi are the only thing keeping the city’s residences alive, the stakes feel quite high indeed.  No the world won’t end, but one city certainly could be snuffed.  So while we know this is a middle book, and we know it is likely the protagonists are going to survive, it is not so clear whether or not anyone else they have interacted with will.

Speaking of the magic, a small note.   Though mysterious it stays believable, and it is one of the more memorable set ups I have read recently.  But I sure would like to learn a bit about the non-blood mages; there is supposed to be a diverse cast of them but we never see how they are really different.

The book finishes up in a similar manner as the first one.  With the main storyline wrapped up nicely but enough interesting threads to have me craving the sequel.  One of the most interesting dynamics of the book was the heroes being forced to work with a major villain to go against a different villain.  Especially when the secondary villain’s cause seems nobler, even if his actions to reach the goal are deplorable.  It is only a minor spoiler to note that though Ruslan may be working with Dev and Co., he remains a baddie throughout and the third book promises some big fireworks for a possible final showdown.  Great stuff.

Oh geez, time is almost up; better throw out a few more clichés!

“I have been a fan of the author for years” –Oh, not really true, just discovered her this year.

“A truly unique voice” – Good, but not really snappy enough.

“The best Urban Fantasy I have read in a long time” – Wait, how did that one get in there?

“The series has had me hooked from page one” –There it is, that’s the ticket.  Let’s go with that one.

4 Stars

Up In The Loft – Books In Storage For Now

Less than a year ago when this blog began I put in a submissions page because that how it is done.  I don’t think we had big lofty goals for the blog, we wanted to watch numbers grow but never expected to get a whole lot of focus.  I assumed I would get an occasional submission from a self published author, and at first that is what happened.  And at first I read all of them.  About one a month would come in, and I thanked each author and tried their book.  It was a nice little dynamic that added a little variety to my reading.

About four months ago a floodgate opened.  I read, on average, a hundred books a year.  That’s not quite two books a week. Last week I got four submissions.  I have even started receiving them from traditional published authors from mid-level publishers, though that is rarer. Obviously I can’t read them all, though believe me I want to.  I want to read every damn book I see.  Some of these submissions are really interesting, I just can’t seem to fit them in.  Love steampunk, but I have read three that might fit that category this month, and have four more lined up through galleys and submissions. Chances are I will only read one or two of them over the next few months.  A time frame I expect to garner even more options.  A vicious cycle.

I don’t want to stop taking requests, I have found some real gems from them.  I just didn’t think it fair to continue to ignore some of these, and don’t want people to think I am not listening.

So I wanted to start a semi-regular post, borrowed from some other bloggers, in which case a showcase a few books that look interesting but just are not going to make my reading schedule at the present.  That is not to say they won’t in the future, but I hate for readers to miss out on even knowing about them due to no one mentioning them.

Because we love cutesy names here in the Barn, these books will be moved from the main shelf into the loft, thus the feature’s name.  Without further ado, a few books that have caught my eye.  All synopsis are from Goodreads.
————————————————————————————————————-

Odd Men Out by Matt Betts

The Civil war has ended but not because the South surrendered, instead it’s on hold while both sides face a new enemy—the chewers, dead men who’ve come back to life. Cyrus Joseph Spencer didn’t fight in the war and couldn’t care less about the United Nations of America that resulted from it. His main concern is making money and protecting his crew from all manner of danger. But when tragedy strikes he’s forced to take shelter onboard a dirigible piloted by the U.N.’s peace-keeping force. It’s soon apparent that many more dangers are lurking and Cyrus must decide whether to throw in with strangers in a desperate bid to protect the country or cast off on his own.

I love me some Steampunk as I have said before.  This is the book threatening to come back down the most.
————————————————————————————————————-

Bang Bang by Patrick Malloy

Youthimax is a cure-all miracle drug from Johnson and Johnson which has all but eliminated death in modern society. Which is great news. Unless you work at a funeral home. The O’Rourke Funeral Home in West Philadelphia has fallen into obscurity, along with it’s two sole employees. Max and Bligh waste the days away sleeping in coffins and counting shovels until that fateful day that they decide to become serial killers. 

An intersting premise, but I am not much for horror books, even if they promise black comedy.  Plus the Goodreads’ synopsis was a rambling mess, leaving me less than excited.  But the book certainly caught my eye, so in it goes. 
————————————————————————————————————–

Theatre of the Gods by M. Suddain



This is the story of M. Francisco Fabrigas, explorer, philosopher, heretical physicist, who took a shipful of children on a frightening voyage to the next dimension, assisted by a teenaged Captain, a brave deaf boy, a cunning blind girl, and a sultry botanist, all the while pursued by the Pope of the universe and a well-dressed mesmerist.

Dark plots, demonic cults, murderous jungles, quantum mayhem, the birth of creation, the death of time, and a creature called the Sweety: all this and more waits beyond the veil of reality.

This one was a little different, I actually requested the galley and just cant find myself in the mood for sci-fi.  So in storage it goes, and one day, who knows? 
————————————————————————————————————

That’s all for now. 
Barn Image by Alan D. and Elaine R. Wilson via http://www.naturespicsonline.com.

Streampunk Review: ‘Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl’ by David Barnett

Steampunk adventure!  This book was like reading a blockbuster movie, and it was a whole lot of fun.  Like most blockbusters that come up in the summer months you have to prepare for some conveniences, assume all the characters will find a way to end up in the same spot, and do your best NOT to wonder what the hell the protagonist is thinking at times.  But if one can enjoy the typical summer movie, and sales figures show that most people can, then “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl” should become a very popular book.

Gideon is a fisherman’s son.  In a nice change of pace, despite having his head in the clouds, he is a strong, responsible young man.  He has big dreams of following in the footsteps of his favorite penny-dreadful hero, Captain Trigger.  When his father is lost at sea a chain of events starts up that gives him his chance.  He heads out to find the famous captain and start his adventure!

From there it is pure pulpy goodness with all the normal steampunk trimmings.  Airships and pirates, supernatural beings, smart alleck men and plucky women.  Based in an Elizabethan England that truly threatens to span the globe a reader can also expect little historical cameos that will either work or drive them loony.  In this case I felt the cameos worked well, Bram Stoker as a chronicler especially.  The inevitable ragtag group will globe trot to solve the mystery, and often to save the title’s heroine, Maria.  Friendships are made, double crossing is to be expected, and eventually all the pieces come together (tied up very nicely I may add).  Because it is obviously a first book of a series not everything is OK at the end, but the book ends on just as strong of a note as it started, with a hint of more adventure to follow.

Steampunk fans rejoice, there is a highly enjoyable new book on the lighter side of the genre.  Gideon avoids being a trite farm boy on a mission by proving to be smart and able, learning as he goes in a fairly believable fashion.  Sure his willingness to believe penny dreadfuls is a bit strange, but haven’t we already talked about suspending belief a bit?  Bent is a no-worries smart ass journalist good for a lot of laughs.  The crew has fun interactions, the plot doesn’t get so complicated as to tie itself up in a knot, and the action scenes are fun but short enough to avoid becoming a grind.

If the book is going to turn off some readers it most likely is going to come from the plight of Maria, the mechanical girl from the title.  She is at her core a toy in the form of a beautiful girl who has been given sentience.  Hidden in this light hearted action movie-like romp is a character that has been put through a living hell.  She is abused throughout the book; physically, sexually, and mentally.  At each point it is used to advance the story; even Maria shrugs it off and goes on without dwelling on it.  It doesn’t ruin the story, it is not gratuitous and in fact is easy to overlook.  But I couldn’t not see it throughout the story; she is the lynchpin of the story but never by her own design.

Hey, I am a man who loves a Steampunk romp.  I am happy to see a new series started that looks like it has a lot of potential.  I found a whole lot to like about what I read, and hope to read more in the future.

4 Stars

Review copy received through NetGalley.

edit:  Crossed out a pretty embarrassing historical mistake.  Sometimes writing these late at night causes problems.  Sorry!

Fantasy Review: ‘Cold Fire’ by Kate Elliott

Another infuriating entry in the Spiritwalker Trilogy.  How can a book do some things so damn good, and make a complete mess out of others?  I was going to finish off the book, then be done with the series despite already having the concluding volume in my hands.  Then in the last hundred pages this meandering tale suddenly got a cohesive plot and found its purpose, ensuring that I will give the final book a try.

Cat may be one of my favorite first person narrators in the genre, which is an amazing upgrade of the first book in which didn’t care for her much at all.  She is completely, utterly, one hundred percent captivating.  She is smart.  Her tongue is razor sharp.  She both infuriates and captivates those around her.  She fights her own fights when needed, gives ground when it is prudent, and relies on her allies when it is possible.  Hilarious when drunk or trying to one up love interest Vai, her voice single handedly kept me reading through some really rough early chapters.  Even the romance angles that were fairly unbelievable in the first outing felt more organic this time around.

My favorite part of ‘Cold Magic’ was the world Elliott was building and it is expanded on nicely in this outing.  I am a sucker for alternative history and too often it leaves me wanting.  Not so the world of this trilogy; Europa is in a long Ice Age, Rome never fell, the Americas are something completely different.  No traps of well-known figures from history being forced into awkward situations.  Even without the magic it makes for something unique.

But I will be damned if I know what was going on for fully half of this book.   And while some questions were answered by the end of the book, I am not sure the path it took to get there was completely worth it.  A leap of faith led to a cross continental jump.  Cat learns a bit about her parentage and I am just as confused as ever as to its importance.  A whole lot of talk about “the Great Hunt;” which had so much build up for something so…isolated?  Hardly a worldwide event the whole magical community should know about.

Strong conclusion though, finally tying up loose ends that have been hanging since the first book.  I kinda get cold mages now, and fire mages were a nice (if obvious) addition.  It appears Cat and her cousin Bee (did I mention Bee?  Ya Bee was just as awesome as Cat in this book), it appears that the two of them of a grand adventure in front of them next time around. 

3 stars.  Again.  Just like the first book.  And here is hoping the third outing is as focused and fun as the last third of this book, if so it could elevate the whole series in my mind.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Alchemist of Souls’ by Anne Lyle

If I just throw out my random thoughts about this book could someone do all the work and put it into a cohesive review?  Because I have honestly tried three times, and have deleted everything I wrote each time.  So here are my thoughts, and feel free to email the review back to me when you’re done.  K?  Thanks!

-Wow, totally thought this was a first contact book based on the blurb, but really it deals with two cultures still feeling each other out, but with strong trade ties already in place.  I also expected protagonist Mal to be a scoundrel with a heart of gold, but there was very little scoundrel and a whole lot of heart of gold.  So all my expectations were wrong.

-I do like the characters.  Two main characters, both entertaining.  Both were fairly straight and narrow, but compelling enough to show that fantasy’s current focus on morally ambiguous characters isn’t the only way to keep a reader interested.  Perhaps too much focus on some of the secondary characters at times, several of them ran together in my mind; page flipping was needed to keep them straight.

 
-Does Angry Robot have all the best covers?  I really like the cover.

-Nice to see the Skraylings being an example of anti-orking.  Rather than being a people of a single mind, it is obvious that they are much like humanity, with different members of society having different ideas of what is best. 

-Something about the theatre setting that ran through the background of the book just worked. It allowed the diverse cast to act realistically.  Not sure I completely understood the contest of plays that was going on, but it was a fairly unique setting for a story anyway.

-Romance angle was light and handled very nicely.  Realistic crushes, casual sex for some and chastity from others; another example of each characters having their own lives and agency.  Did I mention I liked the cast?

-See how scatterbrained I am?  I haven’t even mentioned the story itself.  It was quick paced, bouncing mostly between two PoV’s with some small passages going to others.  The Skraylings were just mysterious enough to be interesting without feeling completely alien.  There was some good action, villains convinced they are morally right, and some double crossings.  I would have liked some more of the espionage angle but I got an interesting tennis match instead, so I will take what I can get.  All said, it was interesting throughout, I was never bored, and I am happy I read it.

Ok, if you’re willing to write this review for me be sure to throw in a little plot summery.  Let them know that Mal is a reluctant ambassador’s guard who’s past involves an unknown incident with the Skraylings that has him scared; and that he thinks the Skraylings may know about it.  Mention young Coby, hiding under the guise of a man allowing her more options to work.  Add in that a plot is active against the Skraylings, the Queen, or maybe both.  Xenophobia is present, restrictive religious laws are in place, and many people have something to hide.  Or just point them to the book blurb, because this book it too hard to summarize in a paragraph.

Lastly, be sure to make it a lot more coherent than my ramblings, and feel free to make it witty.  I want to look good.  Thanks!

4 stars

DNF: ‘The Emperor’s Knife’ by Mazarkis Williams

I see the issue with my ranking system here.  ‘The Emperor’s Knife’ is not a one star book.  There is too much good in it.  Highly ambitious, fairly unique, and with some fairly strong writing in the early going.  But as loose as my ranking system is, a book I can’t finish is a one star affair, and for god’s sake this book bored me to tears.  Not at first, I got to the half-way point with no problems.  But from there I was doing anything BUT reading.  I watched a few bad TV shows, played a lot of Candy Crush, and stared at my Kindle.

A lot of time spent in a dreamlike state, another plain in which someone is touching the minds of many others.  I have enjoyed this in some book (such as Wooding’s Weavers trilogy).  But I found it to be quite a mess in this effort, some cohesion is necessary and I wasn’t seeing it.  I also had almost no connection to any of the characters.  Reluctant assassin just kinda drifting though the story, Jafar (or some other generic advisor) is of course working behind everyone else’s back .

   
Perhaps in another state of mind this would have worked better, perhaps I may give it a try again if I am in the mood for something a bit trippy.  But when I got through forty percent of the book the first day, and it took me three more to get through another twenty, I think I made the right decision.  Recommended for someone looking for a challenge, but not me.

A side note, that is a sharp damn cover.  Dark guys in hoods may be trite, but this one looks damn good.