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Fantasy Review: ‘The Heresy Within’ by Rob J. Hayes

Update 7/15/15:  This book has been picked up by a publisher.  I reviewed the self published edition at the time of review.

Note:  This radio show doesn’t exist, this conversation never happened, I didn’t receive and early copy or advise the author in anyway.  Oh, and it occurred (or rather, didn’t) some undetermined time in the past.

Ok welcome back to Grimdark talk *heavy metal music plays,* we have on the line Rob, how you doing Tom?

Good, good, my name is Rob, but thanks for having me Nathan.

Alright, Rob here is looking to put out his new book, ‘The Heresy Within’, and sent me an early copy in order to insure it is appropriately GRIMDARK. *heavy metal music plays*

Have you had a chance to read it Nathan?

Yes I have and let me tell you there is some real potential here.  Let me tell you what I like, and then you can chip in with anything you feel I missed and questions you have, that work for you?

Sure thing Nathan.

Ok, good.  Look, you have a real good story here.  I mean your plotting is exceptional.  You kept it to three main points of views, and you mixed them wonderfully so they come together naturally.  I really liked that.  I was interested throughout; there was some nice action without ever being too over blown, and even the ending fit right in with the rest of the story, plenty dark but with enough “happy” to keep readers from getting too depressed.

Glad you liked it.

Yes.  The characters were a bit trope filled, but let’s be honest, it appears all the subversive nature of Grimdark was done by its originators.  Most people looking into this book won’t care as long as they stay entertained.  You have a member of the inquisition, a renowned barbarian warrior type, and even a female, um, blademaster.  You sticking with “blademaster?”

Ya why?

No reason, nothing wrong with a violent Saturday morning cartoon.  Hell it fits right in with the over the top nature of this book.  There was even a ratty old rope bridge over a croc filled river wasn’t there?  Ya, go ahead and keep blademaster as the official name of the impossible to get into secret society. We got a great base to work with here, but we need to polish it.  You ready to get to work Tom?

Again, it’s Rob.

Ok Rob, let’s do this. You got all the Grimdark credentials, a serial killer, a giant with a heart of gold who goes violent at a moment’s notice, lots of violent people with awesome nicknames.  In order to be appropriately Grimdark your just missing one little thing.  I know you have a whole lot of sex in the book, even some that is only quasi consensual.  But we need to get more rape involved.  Can we have a villain’s backstory involve putting a young girl before her army in order to break a siege?

Sure, I think I can add that into a scene where it doesn’t even affect the story, no one will notice.

Great, great.  I also notice that you have obviously based the “wild lands” in which most the story takes place after the African Savannah.  Yet all your characters are white.  In some way we have to make sure we mention other cultures and races, you think you can do that?

Sure thing, I will call them “Black Skins” and reference them living in an unseen Southern land in some offhand way.  OH, and I can make one token character black as well.

Good enough, that should keep the PC police off your back.  Well, lastly I guess we just go over the dialog.  I actually kind of dig the slang based conversations, especially the use of words like ‘ta” and phrases that start with “jus’ like.”  Can I read some of my favorite quotes to our listeners Tom?

My name is, never mind, yes, read away.

Good, good.  Here we go.

“After that I rode with them fer a while ‘till the Hangman caught ‘em.”
“Hangman Yril?’ Henry asked.

See, I would have thought that was just a general hangman, but your clever phrasing actually made it the nickname of an unseen character.  Very nice.

“My Name is Jezzet Vel’um.  Thanquil Darkheart sent me to kill you,” she told the corpse but it was too late.

I wouldn’t have known if the corpse was listening if you hadn’t told me it was too late, again.  Telling, not showing is the way to go.

“Then one day both lads had woken up with their throats cut.”

Oh, we are running out of time here, so I guess we will leave it on that note.  This has been, GRIMDARK TALK! *Heavy Metal Music plays*

3 Stars, because despite piling it on I really did enjoy the story.  It was well plotted and despite some very awkward phrasing the writing style usually worked for me.  But I can’t help but think if ever I have read a book that needed a strong editor, I just read it.  It could have have been a lot better with a bit of polish.  Still, I can see myself grabbing the second book in the future, so base everything else I said off that.

Five Female Authors That Prove Dark Fantasy Isn’t Just For Boys

Edit: 4/21/15 –  As KJ Parker’s identity has been released as one Tom Holt his inclusion on this list is an obvious major error. Oh well, live and learn.

Simple enough list brought on by a forum discussion that I saw recently, but really have seen pop up in one form or another since I started visiting the various fantasy forums around the web.  A poster says something like this; “I don’t usually read female authors because I prefer darker fiction.”  Of course it is ridiculous, but it seems to be a common thought.  For many readers, often newer to fantasy, dark fantasy = GRRM, Abercrombie, Lawrence and Weeks.  Females write YA and UF, right?  Crazy talk, so perhaps a quick and easy list would provide a starting point otherwise.

Then while I peruse my favorite blogs I notice Bookworm Blues has posted a list of her favorite female authors from various sub-genres within speculative fiction, brought on by a realization that when she thinks of epic fantasy she often thinks of male authors first.  It was a nice post, with some great comments (as of time of writing).

And I thought, I have wanted to do these five point style lists for quite a while, so what a perfect place for me to start one.

Listen, I don’t want to bring up the tired argument over who is nobler than whom due to the percentage of their reading material coming from one gender or the other.  This is not that kind of blog.  I just want to celebrate good books, and that is what I am going to do here.

Without further ado, I present five female authors that prove dark fantasy isn’t just for boys.

1.  God’s War – Kameron Hurley-  Perhaps the poster child of great dark fantasy.  Take away the humor present in Joe Abercrombie’s works, add in some guns and a whole lot of bugs, and add some of the most realistic relationships between characters I have seen and you will have an idea of what Kameron Hurley has going here.  A fantasy style book in a sci-fi setting all the prerequisites of darkness are present.  Never ending war?  Check.  Protagonist that walks the line between good and bad? Check.  Large body count, including several of the main cast?  You betcha.

Followed up by a sequel that was perhaps even better, Hurley’s series is well worth the time of anyone who enjoys their fantasy dark and dangerous.  I have got to remember to buy the third book in the series next time I head the bookstore, this is one of the few series I am insisting on paper copies of.

2.  Empress – Karen Miller- Ok I will be perfectly honest.  I did not enjoy this book at all.  But Miller has a strong following, so please don’t let me detract you from trying it on your own.  Because let me tell you, I can’t think of a darker book written by a male or female.  This book starts with the “protagonist” watching her father assault her mother.  The “protagonist” then grows into one of the most unlikable characters I have ever read about, worse than the villain of most books (which makes perfect since, as she apparently becomes the villain for the rest of the series).

A religion in which absolute obedience to a very demanding god was something that kept me reading this book to the end.  Disagreements were often settled in a scorpion pit.  Sometimes doing the “right thing” by the gods involved doing something that would scream “wrong, very wrong” to the rest of us.  There was a lot to like about the book for sure, so go ahead and try it.  You may like it better than me.

3. Firethorn Sarah Micklem- It has been a couple years since I have read this one, and the details of it are admirable murky in my mind.  But I couldn’t leave it off my list, after all I rated it 5 stars in my pre blog days.  I don’t want to misrepresent the book, so I will stick to what I remember and hold there.

Firethorn was story in a smaller scale book that the others on the list, dealing with one camp follower on the trail of a war that isn’t really seen in the text.  It is the book about one girl’s struggle.  It is about the OTHER people we don’t see in fantasy; those who are not rich, powerful, or destined to change the world.  It is a dark, low magic tale with absolutely beautiful imagery.  Perhaps not the high action dark adventure that everyone is looking for, but anyone looking for something a little different but still dark (because that’s the damn theme today) should give it a try.  I remember the title character being amazing and the book having one of my two favorite fantasy religions (the other being in The Curse of Chalion).  Mostly I just remember the book being damn good.  I may have to read this again this year, the site deserves a proper review.

4.  The Last Stormlord– Glenda Larke- The book that is directly responsible for this site coming into existence; Pauline found my plea for a co-reviewer after reading my clumsy review of this book.  A Dune like vibe where water is king, what first got me about Larke’s tale is the tropes she didn’t use.  A young girl raised as a prostitute is never actually raped!  A young man with a chance to go on a revenge fueled rampage doesn’t fall into that trap.

But beyond that it was a great opening book to a strong series.  It had duel main characters that were both strong enough to carry the book on their own, and together they were so much better still.  And yes, the book was dark.  Brutal was the word I used in the review the first time.  High death count, a real feel that time is running out (and dehydration for all seems to qualify for any darkness test we could apply.  All the magic is based around water, and if a magic user instantly taking all the water out of a person’s eye doesn’t make you cringe, well, your tastes run even darker than mine.

5.  The Killing Moon NK Jemisin- So incredibly unique, so incredibly good.  I had a hell of a time describing this one in my review; I think I went with vampire assassin dystopia.  Then backed out, because if there were vampires involved they were so cleverly hidden I didn’t realize that was what I was reading about until half way through.

In no way could I do the book justice in two paragraphs, so please go read it.  It has an Egyptian vibe, assassination in the name of religion, corruption at all levels, and a coming war.  Wrap that in incredible world building.  Oh ya, and to fit the theme it was plenty dark.  After all I did say assassin right?  Night time gatherers who provide euthanasia to keep a land relatively crime free, but at what price?

6.?  Anything by KJ Parker – Twice we have seen someone involved in publishing refer to KJ Parker as a her.  If her identity, or at least gender, was known for sure the author would be at the top of the list.  But as it is the best kept secret in fantasy…  I guess I shall have to save Parker for another list.  YOU, however, should put it at the top of your reading list if you enjoy dark fantasy.

Honorable Mentions
– Courtney Schafer, whose series has its share of bad men doing bad thing.  Aliette de Bodard, who wrote a nice blood sacrifice filled fantasy trilogy set in an Aztec Empire.  Linda Nagata, known more for hard sci fi but her “scoundrel lit” is what sucked me into her writing.

I am absolute positive I missed a lot of peoples favorites, so please tell me, who else should be on this list?

Nathan’s A-Z Bookish Survey

I saw this the other day floating around the blogosphere and it has taken me forever to finish it, but it was pretty fun.  One question per letter.  I notice Pauline has already done it as well.

AUTHOR YOU’VE READ THE MOST BOOKS FROM: Should be obvious to everyone who knows me at all, but Terry Pratchett by a long shot.

BEST SEQUEL EVER: Let’s go with A Storm of Swords.  Best book of the series thus far is the middle one.

CURRENTLY READING:  ‘The Heresy Within’ by Rob J Hayes

DRINK OF CHOICE WHILE READING:  Ice cold Cola of any sort.  If I drink other favored drinks I just count reading out for the night.

E-READER OR PHYSICAL BOOK:  I am slowly converting to the e-reader crowd.  It is just so much more comfortable in almost every situation.  Unless I can actually sit with my legs up and have zero distractions, in which case give me my paper copy and I am in heaven.

DATED IN HIGH SCHOOL:  I doubt I would have any better luck with the fictional characters than I did with real life girls in high school.  Shy and awkward didn’t really go away until college.

GLAD YOU GAVE THIS BOOK A CHANCE:  I put off Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for a long time despite hearing great things.  Thought it looked kind of dry.  Was very wrong, and all the buzz was right.  Loved the book.

HIDDEN GEM BOOK: Going to go with The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko.  Looking back I should have probably rated it even higher than I did, it has really stuck with me.

Early one for me.  My dad was reading a chapter or two of Tom Sawyer to me each night.  I got tired of waiting and finished the book on my own one summer day.  Realized then I was the type of person who could sit and read for hours at a time if there are no distractions.

JUST FINISHED: A short novela called ‘Flash Gold’ by blog favorite Lindsey Buroker.

KIND OF BOOKS YOU WON’T READ:  I will try most anything once, but thus far I have avoided anything labeled purely as Romance.

LONGEST BOOK I’VE READ:  I spent a summer of high school in Oklahoma putting fences up on a farm (only to have a 100 year flood take them all down at the end of the summer).  The only books in the house were Louis L’amour westerns (which I read) and an eleven hundred page epic called Maia by Richard Adams.  I don’t have fond memories of it, but wasn’t into fantasy at the time.  I wonder how it would hold up, and have meant to get back to it for a while. Someday…

MAJOR BOOK HANGOVER BECAUSE OF:  I enjoy humorous books, and forgive weaker plots in them, but the third Christopher Moore vampire book has put me off the author for the time being.  That cow has been milked dry man.

NUMBER OF BOOKCASES YOU OWN:  Seven between the wife and I.  My fiction fills about four of them. 

ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:  Almost any book makes this list, especially before blogging I was a major rereader.  If I had to guess which title I have read the most not written by Terry Pratchett I would guess maybe one of the Pern books?  I read them over and over in junior high and high school, so it would be a good guess.

My chair in the bedroom by the window (pictured at the top of the page).  Although I don’t get to use it much.

QUOTE THAT INSPIRES/GIVES THE FEELS:  I have used this one on various forums for a while.
“…I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world?  Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…” -R. Scott Bakker, The Warrior-Prophet

SERIES YOU STARTED AND NEED TO FINISH:  Oh geez.  I suppose the most obvious would be Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame series.  Why I have not bought the third one yet is beyond me.

THREE OF YOUR ALL TIME FAVOURITE BOOKS:  Small Gods, American Gods, and Devices and Desires.  Pratchett, Gaiman, and KJ Parker.  I stuck with fantasy or else it would have taken me weeks to decide.

UNAPOLOGETIC FAN BOY FOR:  Pratchett, Gaiman, and I will still defend Anne McCaffrey for all time.

VERY EXCITED FOR THIS RELEASE:  UK already has it, but in March us U.S. Americans finally get Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding.

WORST BOOKISH HABIT:  Stockpiling books.  Read one before grabbing another Nathan!

X MARKS THE SPOT: START AT TOP LEFT AND PICK THE 27TH BOOK ON YOUR SHELF:  ‘The Difference Engine.’  Which I won several years ago and still have not read.

YOUR LATEST BOOK PURCHASE:  The Merchant of Souls by Anne Lyle.  And I liked it.

ZZZ-SNATCHER BOOK:  Chris Wooding’s Kitty Jay series is the one that I am almost obsessed with reading through in one go, even if it means going into the night..  I think I read the first book in two sittings and the second only a few as well.  Time was I could read books in one sitting, but those days are long gone.

Steampunk Review: ‘The Emperor’s Edge’ by Lindsay Buroker

Pauline’s Review:

I was bouncing around websites looking at reviews for something else when I tripped over this. It was free, it had good reviews, it sounded intriguing – a female enforcer (cop) in a steam-punk fantasy setting – so I downloaded the sample, and just kept reading. It’s not deep, but it’s pacy, funny and has interesting characters, and sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood for.

I’ve never read anything steam-punk before, but it was well done. The setting felt perfectly believable, with steam-powered this, that and the other, and a lot of mechanical devices just there, without too much isn’t-this-clever authorial explanation. And, being fantasy, there’s magic too, which is cool, although it’s a relatively minor part of the story. I very much liked the winter setting, which made the snow and the frozen lake significant factors in the plot. Combined with the steam-powered machinery, this gave the story a nicely atmospheric feel.

The main character, Amaranthe Lokdon (and no, names are not the author’s strongest suit), is terrific – intelligent and self-sufficient, able to think her way out of trouble and only occasionally needing to be rescued by a bloke. I liked Sicarius the laconic assassin too, and super-smart emperor Sespian (see what I mean about the names?). And there’s a backup team of colourful characters, and some perfectly credible villains, too. It’s always nice to find bad guys whose motives are a little more complex than simple global domination (although there was an element of that, too, of course). And all the characters behaved believably; in particular, Amaranthe’s conflicted emotions when face to face with her former enforcer colleagues or when seeing Sicarius in cold assassin mode was nicely done. She felt like a truly rounded personality, if a little unnaturally bouncy and resourceful, but then that very much fits with her being one of only a few female enforcers.
The plot – well, it’s certainly imaginative (not the hackneyed emperor’s-in-trouble motif, but the creative plan to rescue him). There are a lot of implausibilities, it has to be said, and Amaranthe’s unlikely team falls into place surprisingly easily for such a motley crew. Sicarius, in particular, seems like a confirmed loner, yet he signs up for Amaranthe’s slightly hare-brained scheme remarkably easily. And it surprised me how often they walked openly around town, despite Sicarius being a notorious assassin and Amaranthe having her face plastered over the wanted posters, and sometimes Amaranthe was a bit too keen to confront possibly hostile enemies or beasties. But still, her seemingly unlimited capacity for devising ingenious escapes more than compensated, and frequently put a big grin on my face as she insouciantly walked out of yet another scrape.

My only complaint is that sometimes the plot devices were a little too obvious; so when there’s a piece of machinery or a spade lying around, you know it’s going to come in handy before too long. And is it just me, or are there an awful lot of secret passages and ducts in these buildings? I don’t know whether it’s intentional (because the protagonist is mid-twenties), but the book would fit perfectly well as young adult. There’s no swearing or sex, one not-very-graphic near rape (but isn’t there always?) and the violence is not particularly gory. It’s all good clean action-packed stuff, without a single sagging moment. The romance is fairly low-key, too.

The ending is suitably dramatic, and even though the outcome was never really in doubt, it becomes a real page-turner. As always, the situation is resolved by ingenuity and dogged perseverance rather than brute force or magic. Of course this wouldn’t be fantasy without a certain amount of badassery on display, but still, the majority of the fighting is more of the elbow to the chin or tripping up variety, and there’s always an air of disappointment from the heroine that differences couldn’t be resolved more peaceably. It’s notable, actually, how often Amaranthe simply talks her way out of trouble. This is an entertaining caper with loads of humour, a believable and interesting setting, and a nice mixture of characters. Despite the implausibilities and contrivances of the plot, it’s a fast, enjoyable read. Four stars. [First posted on Goodreads April 2012]

Nathan’s Review (published 1/17/13)

One of the hardest things about doing a blog with several reviewers is I often want to immediately go read a book that was just reviewed for the site.  Usually I refrain and tell myself to wait a while, but this time I couldn’t resist.  Thanks Pauline!

Steampunk in a good way; it is much more concerned with the characters and the plot than it is about coming up with lots of gadgets.  Amaranthe Lokdon is one of the few female enforcers on the, um, force.  Until recently the job wasn’t available to women, and Amaranthe is finding the glass ceiling is holding strong against any future promotion.  But after singlehandedly busting up a robbery attempt she catches the eye of the Emperor Sespian, and things may start going her way.  The emperor’s chief advisor gives her a personal mission, to kill famous assassin Sicarius.  Of course things are going to spiral out of control, and after finding out she has been sold out, she turns to criminal endeavors in an attempt to foil plots against the emperor she is still loyal to.

The pacing is lighting fast.  By keeping the story fairly simple the fast pace should never lose the reader.  The smart plan Amaranthe comes up with has a lot of loose ends that she needs to tie up, and the group she puts together cleverly finds their way through many of them, while avoiding the dangers coming from both enforcers and criminal gangs.  Lots of fun adventures, and there was a good amount of humor (mostly from banter between Amaranthe’s group).

Amaranthe is a great character, confident and resourceful.  At times she has to be rescued, but usually she finds her own way out of problems, and at times she does the rescuing.  Her motley band of misfits is an engaging bunch as well.  The male escort turned bodyguard was constantly entertaining, and almost always funny, but proved to be more than comic relief.  He was easily my favorite supporting character.  The main villain throughout the book is no doubt evil, but still is doing what he feels is best for the empire.  Even emotionless assassin Sicarius proves to have a little more to him than killing.

Oftentimes authors think they are smarter than the reader and try to sneak in clues that are more obvious than they realize.  Buroker does the opposite, to a really neat affect.  I rolled my eyes at how obvious it was the emperor was being poisoned (minor spoiler sorry, but this happens very early in the book).  But to my surprise, Amaranthe figures this out almost immediately, I didn’t sit on this as a reader wondering when she would figure it out.  Another time a character gives a James Bond villain type speech, with all the motives and plans spelled out.  But rather than buy the speech, our protagonist wonders if he was instead trying to influence her or her cohorts.

There are a few plot lines that were a little too simple for my tastes.  Every building had a secret passage or two, people acted the way Amaranthe hoped a little too often, and her group followed Amaranthe loyally almost immediately, with no real reason.

4 stars.


Anachronist’s review (published 09-19-2013)

A high fantasy novel with steampunk elements, featuring an intrepid female protagonist and a stone-faced, ninja-like assassin who simply have to work together and can’t help liking each other more and more – what can go wrong? Add to that a handful of colourful secondary characters: an elderly professor, drowning his sorrows in wine, a handsome and vain swordsman, a surly street rat dabbing in magic, a young and idealistic emperor who, living in a splendid isolation, is being slowly poisoned by his closest advisor…sounds so nice, right? And yet…

Ok, let’s start on a positive note. The camraderie and interaction between the characters themselves was the best thing about this book, and honestly, it could be quite humorous at times. And here my praise stops – even it did not make up for the shortcomings in the main leads and the story itself.

Somehow neither the feisty Amaranthe Lokdon, nor the mysterious and deadly effective Sicarius, always clad in fitted dark clothing, won my heart. Ok, I admit it, perhaps it is too early to judge them so harsh, it is just the first part of a long series but they all seemed a tad too schematic – to a point when I could easily guess their thoughts and choices even before they opened their mouths or did anything. Their roles were also pretty clear from the very beginning. Maldynado, the most handsome gigolo and coxcomb in the city, and Books, the unhappy prof turned drunkard, were destined to provide comic relief whenever the sour Sicarius and the surly former gang member, Aksytr, were making the narration uncomfortably stiff. Amaranthe was there to attract trouble and then save the day, the emperor and the rest of her band from venal courtiers, sadistic magicians, brutal enforcers but mainly from themselves. Sometimes, I admit, she was being sweet, but more often she was obnoxiously noble – to such a point that I had to roll my eyes and remind myself of some of those deliciously dark antiheroes who pick their teeth with honourable men and women. It is such a kind of heroine which unleashes my worst instincts. Her goodness of heart is supposed to turn even the most hard-hearted criminal into her ally, she outwits the most powerful and corrupt politicians in the empire, while outthinking the most devious foreign spies and wizards. Reading about it you better never ask yourself ‘how come’ because the moment you do so you are doomed and the whole reading enjoyment is evaporating like champagne bubbles.

Now there is the romance between Amaranthe and Sicarius. Perhaps not a bad idea per se; still I couldn’t forgive the fact that it has been moving slower than a drugged sloth in a sheepskin catsuit on a greased branch; I know the purpose of that pacing – I don’t doubt that the romance will be artificially dragged on and on until the very last installment (the series features seven books, no mean feat) where most probably those two will finally kiss and proclaim that they love each other. Still I resent it. It’s like buttering a slice of bread with just a fraction of a normal portion you need to do it right – frustrating to say the least of it.

The action is nonstop – it is one of these novels which can make you almost physically tired. Amaranthe gets in so many scrapes and scuffles, is captured, escapes, is recaptured, escapes again… I forget how many times. Her captors are pretty inept and some of her escapes are pretty implausible so you should keep a very tight control on the logical part of your mind while reading about them. Now those names…Maldynado? Seriously? Why not marinade when we are already there? Sicarius? Sure, otherwise we wouldn’t guess he is a perfect, cold-blooded killing machine. Emperor Sespian? Why stop short of thespian? The capital of the empire is called…Stumps *rolleye* because no other name would be more imperial. The main baddie’s name is Hollowcrest, making you wonder why the young Emperor trusted him at all…oh wait, he was so naïve and trusting, poor thing, he most probably couldn’t help himself even if all his excuses ring a bit hollow.

Final verdict:

Definitely something for younger/less blasé readers than me. It might be just because of my dark fantasy fixation but I think the only way to enjoy this novel is to read it as a comedy, ignoring the missteps as far as the plot goes and laughing at the characters mercilessly. I don’t know if it is enough to make me pick the second book.

Two stars.

Books in the series
The Emperor’s Edge
Dark Currents
Deadly Games
Blood and Betrayal 
Forged in Blood I
Forged in Blood II

Sci-Fi Review: ‘Star Wars: Razor’s Edge’ by Martha Wells

The basic background.  It is Star Wars,  Leia is the protagonist, with Han and Luke taking role of support characters.  Set after A New Hope the rebels are trying to set up their new base on Hoth.  A supply deal is derailed by pirates.  From there, Star Wars stuff, only from Leia’s perspective.  Run, get captured, meet some Imperials, find the mole.  You know, Star Wars stuff?

Well look at that.  A few months back I wrote a small post about the horrendous state of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  I had a great many complaints.  I was tired of seeing every book dealing with a new threat to the entire galaxy, bigger and scarier than the last!  I was tired of every book involving every single character; it was unrealistic and made the galaxy seem very, very small.  And as a person who wants to know how every story ends I was damn tired of reading horrible books because they held important info for the book I actually want to read.

And even though Razor’s Edge was already in development when I wrote that little post (it was probably already at the printers), I am going to pretend that the publisher read my post and rushed to it Martha Wells.  Because this book is everything I want in a new Star Wars book; in fact I think I may be in love.

Let’s go through it shall we?

1.  Smaller scale conflict – Holy mother of god, it turns out a good Star Wars book can involve nothing at all that is capable of destroying a planet, take over the galaxy, or even destroy it.  In fact if Leia fails in her mission it won’t even spell the end of the rebellion, just a major setback.  It is more believable and just as exciting.  It didn’t require an ever escalating sense of danger.  The threat never got so insane as to go over to silly.  I have always judged Star Wars books on whether or not they would work as a book without the setting behind them.  Razor’s Edge would be an interesting James Bond (Jane Bond?) in space adventure.  It passes this test with flying colors.

2.  Smaller cast- Sure the book has the big three (Han, Luke, Leia for those non SW geeks).  But they are all working toward the same goal from the start, rather than brought together by an increasing number of unbelievable coincidences.  And there was none of the “bring in Lando, and Wedge, and Ackbar, and..and..and..” that plagues so many EU books.

3. Prerequisite reading – NONE!  Oh, you could read the horrible novelization of A New Hope if you want but let’s be honest, if you have not watched Star Wars you’re not picking up EU books.  Chances are you can recite the movie by heart.  So you are not going to have any problem with this book.  Ironically the real reason I read this book was so I was ready for the Star Wars novel coming out by Daniel Abraham.  Now I feel Abraham and his partner have go their work cut out for them to match this one in quality.

So the book’s setup is everything I hoped for, but I forgot to talk about the book itself.  Sorry, got a little excited.

Wells is obviously a talented writer, though in the past I have personally had a hard time getting into her books for various reasons.  No issues this time, she had a quick pace that books like this require and did all the little things right.  Leia and Han had some great give and take.  The background cast had a bit more depth than a typical SW book.  Some minor prodding at tropes made me smile without going out of its way to be subversive.  (I particularly liked the doubting of an origin story, how could names of obscure systems stay true for thousands of years)?

So who would like this book?  I put it in the must read for fans of the EU.  It should appeal to fans of light sci-fi as it focus much more on the adventure and much less on the mystical jedi stuff (this is pre Luke meeting Yoda, the most we see is some feelings of intuition).  And maybe even anyone else looking for a quick read, there is a reason Wells is so respected; just because it is Star Wars doesn’t diminish that.

The best Star Wars book I have read in years (I know that is not saying much, but still.  It was a good book).

4 Stars

Review Copy received through NetGalley.  Then later won through Firstreads.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Grim Company’ by Luke Scull

Ok, here is the deal.  We know the hype, and boy did ‘The Grim Company’ manage to generate some hype.  And yes, we know that Joe Abercrombie references are out there and plaguing the author wherever on the internet he tries to go.  So I will do everything I can to NOT mention that other author for the rest of the review.  I will admit the comparisons are very apt, and fans of one will probably like the other, and leave it at that.  Feel free to slap me for any other mention of that OTHER author, and let us deal with the book at hand.

Awesome set up.  Start by meeting a man who at first you want to feel a bit sorry for, but learn a bit more about him and realize he is a real piece of work that you want nothing to do with.  Get just a bit of his backstory then watch the world quite literally fall on him.  Yes he dies, and yes it is that type of book.  You know, GRIMDARK?  But while some people shy away from the label I am a reader who has no problem with it when done right, and Scull knows what he is doing.

The gods of the world are dead, slaughtered by the most powerful wizards of the land.  Whatever they were killed for, unknown.  What brought the godslayers together is similarly unknown, but it appears their peace was short lived.  They each have their own little corner of the land.  Our story starts, after the death of a city in the prologue, in a city under the iron rule of Salazar.  The population lives in fear, mind reading hawks search for sedition, and there are only a few pockets of opposition.  The background is introduced with perfect pacing, without infodumps or those awkward conversations where people spout random info about the world.  In fact pacing is a major plus throughout, I love the easy flow writing style employed by the author; not once was I bored or lost, never needing to turn back a few pages.

*SLAP* – Sorry, I was about to compare characters from The Grim Company with characters from another series.  There really is no need, the characters stand on their own.  Yes some of them will seem similar, they fit within some well know tropes.  A pair of aging barbarians, perhaps with a little more heart than was to be expected.  Of course an old barbarian warrior is one who has managed to stay alive, and one of them may be the greatest fighter of the age.  They were great, Brodar Kayne is a character to watch out for, I can’t wait to see more of him.  Again, similar to stuff I had seen before, but worth watching anyway.

A young, out of his league, rebel named Davarus Cole provides some comic relief to our proceedings, though not from the typical sidekick role; he is actually one of the most important catalysts for the whole book.  A young man who thinks himself a hero, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Not sure I was supposed to laugh when he threw his knife and it hit his opponent hilt first, but laugh I did.  His fellow rebel and only female protagonist Sasha continues an unfortunate but common tradition of this type of book; her contribution is negligible.  The main cast is rounded out by a crippled smart ass minor magic user, with his manservant acting as the compulsorily enigma with hidden depths.

The story itself involved a war between the mage lords; specifically Salazar and a mysterious White Lady who seems to be a more benevolent ruler.  Of course things are not always what they seem, and one should always be careful who they hitch their boat to.  All the characters are caught up in the struggle in one way or another, and best of all, I was digging each of their individual storylines.  While not as deep as some in the genre (the politics especially were fairly simple) the fast pace the book held is worth some small sacrifices.  No bloat, in an epic fantasy novel, who knew that was even possible?  And for so much to happen in that quick pace, and so much back story added in, it makes for an impressive work.

Self-contained but still obviously the first of something bigger (Google says a trilogy, who could have saw that coming?).  We still don’t know what started the God’s war, we know the godslayers are the best defense against some truly nasty monsters coming from a world fractured by the deaths of gods (one cool tidbit comes from the way the god’s corpses are still radiating magical power five hundred years later).  And there are hints that something even nastier is getting ready to come into the picture in the near future.

I liked it.  A lot.  This is a book that shows I still have a soft spot for hard tales.  It won’t be for everyone.  The Grim Company didn’t do a whole lot that was new or revolutionary and but I still enjoyed almost every second of it.  One of the nicest things I can say about a book is that I know for sure I will be rereading it, and that holds true with this one.  Can’t wait for the second book.

4 Stars

Review copy received from the publisher.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Crown of the Blood’ by Gav Thorpe

First things first, big props to the Goodreads reviewer who coined “sandalpunk” to describe this book.  The whole punk thing should have probably stopped after cyber and steam (though to be honest, I have also used bio-punk to describe something), but really in this case it works.  So that’s that.

Or rather it isn’t, because now I have started a review with a term to describe the book, without telling anyone what the term means.  Stupid stupid stupid, come on man do you expect everyone to get on Goodreads, scroll down, and find the review that coined the term?  Explain yourself!  Ok, sandalpunk is fantasy set in a faux roman or Greek setting (I believe the person who coined it specified Roman, but screw that I am co-opting it and adding Greek so I can count Kearney’s Macht trilogy).

So ok, Ullsaard is a general for Greater Askhor (Rome), a land ruled by a two hundred year old book that laid out the path for the entire empire to take.  The long and short of it is this; conquer the whole world under the crown of a single family known as “the blood.”  They take over, put up governors to run the lands, build up the infrastructure, and move on to the next one.  Ullsaard has his eye on a much larger campaign than his current one, which involves chasing “savages” around a desert type environment.  When he is called home he intends to make his case to the king and instead gets caught up in politics of succession.  Things go south and the real plot begins; armies go on the march, deals are made, providences are conquered.

I was digging the first half of the book.  I liked the faux-Roman feel.  Ullsaard was interesting and not a prototypical hero.  He was mostly likable, but not always; a hothead and a complete idiot in some areas.  His entanglement into the political web should have been completely avoidable but he was so damn sure of himself that he walked right into trouble.  In short he felt like a realistic general who learned real fast what the Peter Principle is.  The Empire itself was probably the highlight, following a specific path set up by a hero of fairly recent memory, enforced by a mysterious organization.  The Brotherhood had a boring name, but was one of the better and more interesting examples of a mysterious organization I have found.  They have a hidden side that is only explored a little in this first book; their more visible front provides the backbone of the clerical side of the empire.

So here I am digging the book, noticing that it was a rare exile journey that didn’t involve a small band of travelers as Ullsaard always had an army behind him.  Then his son joins up and provides the political smarts he was missing.  And suddenly the second half goes, if not quite all bad, certainly in the wrong direction.  The big reveal could be seen from ten miles away, Ullsaard’s complete overconfidence gets annoying, and a couple secondary characters storylines were complete filler.  Worst of all, everything moves way to fast.  Ullsaard is able to take a single large city, next thing we know he is the biggest force around.  There was no build up and everything was too easy. 

Fairly action packed and kinda stands on its own, but a decent ending sets up the rest of the series.  The mystical portions of the world were largely in the background, but obviously a part of the world.  The ending made clear that they would be much more prevalent in the next book, which is good news because it means more of The Brotherhood.

Final verdict?  Not as good as I hoped it would be, or even thought it would be after the strong beginning.  Some may be turned off by the misogynistic culture the empire lives in, and the very violent military life shown on page (such as injured soldiers being killed off after battles so they don’t slow the armies).  And as always when a carnivorous service animal is used by an army (large felines as mounts this time), I wonder how the hell they feed them while on the march.  But I enjoyed the book more than I disliked it, and since I already have the second one on my shelf I will give it a try in the near future.

3 stars.

My copy of the book was received from the publisher. 

Wheel Of Time For The First Time: ‘Eye of the World’ by Robert Jordan

Oh boy here we go.  For two years I have been saying I was going to start reading The Wheel of Time, see the series that it seems everyone else in the entire world has read.  I knew it would be difficult, after all I am no doubt jaded by reading so much other fantasy before it; I will be seeing clichés throughout.  I also in no way, shape, or form can say that I am going into this reading with as a blank slate; for a series I had read not one word of I know an amazing amount about The Wheel of Time.  I would have had to hide under a rock to not pick up huge chunks of information about this amazingly popular series; instead I use my phone to browse fantasy message boards all day (fantasy fiction message boards, get that thought out of your mind you sick @#%#!).

So I grabbed my new (used) paperback copy and prepared myself.  Warnings are there, I know to expect braid tugging, arms crossed under breasts (anyone else try this at home?), weapons being fingered, and random attacks of orcs (sorry, trollocs), all following around the one true hero of the world, Rand whats’his’name.  I already KNEW that the first book is way too similar to Lord of the Rings for some people, and I already knew that Terry Goodkind stands accused of borrowing a little too literally from Jordan.  So with all this in mind, and book in hand, I wisely kept a pen and notepad (ripped piece of paper with an old grocery list on the back), because I know every little mistake I make will be jumped on immediately.  I am dealing with sacred ground here.

As I know that it would absolutely pointless to review a book that everyone I know has already read, I won’t even try (although the amount of hits I get for Gardens of the Moon would show there are NEVER really enough reviews of popular books around).  So what follows is instead a steady stream of random musings spelled out as I attempted to decipher my notes, which I notice I stopped taking about two thirds of the way through.  Guess I got a bit caught up in the book.


OOO, a dark rider, what a start.  Already at the edge of my seat.  Wow, I could have skipped the beginning of the book and reread Fellowship of the Ring.  This plot line isn’t just borrowed, it’s exactly the same.  Mat and Perrin/ Merry and Pippen, dark riders, mentions of how no one in town ever goes on adventures except Rand’s father.  They a run from the riders and their orcs, led by a “warder,” who turns out to be an amazing warrior but also maybe a king (oh , did I mention spoilers are possible throughout?  Ya, spoilers are possible throughout…For a book you have probably already read).  They are joined by Gandolf, but this time he is in the form of a breathtaking beauty.  They split up; they all find their own special way to help this journey.  Hell, Mat even picks up an item of special power that corrupts him completely and makes him an annoying little asshole the whole book.  I dreaded seeing him on page just as much as Frodo (confession, I enjoyed the non-hobbit sections of LotR way more than the journey of the damn ring).  And toward the end we found a Ent in the form of a Trolloc (sorry, an Ogier).  Ancient keepers of nature that have long lives and year long discussions.  All in a fight against an ancient power who controls men and has died once but can’t be kept down.  Pure Lord of the Rings.

Similarities aside, this is still a damn easy and fairly fun read so far.  If one thing stood out to me more than anything else it was the way Jordan writes nervous chatter.  It was actually entertaining and felt very real.  I know that some horrible forced romances are to come later in the series, but for now they actually feel flirtatious and fun.  Likewise the banter isn’t forced, some of it witty and some of it a bit clumsy, just like real life banter would be.  I enjoyed most of Jordan’s writing style, not as flowery as Tolkien of course but easy to follow and rarely clumsy unless it is supposed to be.  Early on a few phrases were jarring; my favorite is “he looked not best pleased to find her there.”  And there are some quirks that area already driving me up the wall.  One book in and I am pretty sure I have all the info I need to write “The Complete History of Music” for this world, every song title was listed, as well as what song from a different town it used the same tune from.  Also, much as I loved the theory behind the pattern and what not, can we stop saying Ta’veren every two pages?  The concept wasn’t even introduced until around page 500, then it became the central idea of everything.

Jaded reader time!  Where I talked completely out my @$$ and make comparisons that don’t necessarily need to be made.  Often times a book is accused to being a D&D narration (Dungeons and Dragons, don’t even pretend you didn’t know what I meant).  Perhaps this is because Jordan followed Tolkien so closely, and of course D&D is shameless in wanting to be LotR, but Eye of the World was D&D to the bone.  Each adventurer was his/her own class, Warder/mage/swordsman/axeman, there was even a bard.  In true video game fashion the world felt tiny, because despite the length of their journey every time there was trouble someone knew exactly where they were and how to get to a convenient place of power, such as an abandoned and forgotten city(that may be the largest in the world).  And finally, despite the fact that Rand journeyed in a completely strait line, village after village, there was never a bigger ambush waiting, the dumb enemy was always behind.

Enough with the prerequisite bitchin, because this was a whole lot of fun.  Rand was boring but the supporting cast looks awesome.  Loved the bard.  Moiraine (spelling triple checked) and Nanaeve’s battle of will was great.  I know Min comes back from preexisting knowledge, and maybe that slanted me, but dang I enjoyed her in the short amount of screen time she had.  Mat was annoying, even more so as the cursed dagger was the biggest non-secret in the history of the world, but Perrin’s path is actually pretty cool.  I may join the Tinkers in their search for a perfect song; it was how I spend most of high school anyway.

Oh ya, a few questions that may get answered in later books or perhaps if I ever reread the series (which at current rate would happen in about twenty five years or so).  I know what the white cloaks ARE, but who the hell do they work for?  Does the Queen have so little power in her own land that they thrive on anarchy and act as a force of their own?  Same with Aes Sedai.  Do they work within existing political structures or are they a force of their own?  Did Moiraine have any authority on her journey, or just the respect of the right people? 

Lastly a rating, because while not a proper review I rate everything these days.  Haters gotta hate and all that, half this large block of text was negative, but I know what a influence this has been on so much more that I have read.  My rating may not make perfect sense, but I can easily see how this series took a hold of so many of my contemporaries; how it became the go to series for so many of my friends.

5 Stars.  Without a moment of hesitation. 

Fantasy Review: ‘Soul Music’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 16 of The Complete Discworld Reread

Remember that rash of movies that came out a few years ago that sold themselves as parodies?  Their names were nothing more than the genre they were supposed to be hilariously mocking.  And the “jokes” usually were nothing more than a scene from another movie reworked with one small thing changed.  They were supremely unfunny, most people only got tricked into watching one of the hundred or so were put out, and what few small chuckles they provided were lost because all you could remember were the easy jokes they took.  I already went through this with “Moving Pictures,” which made Soul Music almost unbearable.  At least the former had a thousand elephants.

Better than Moving Pictures, at least the plot made sense; had a little life even.  Music as a force of creation: music with a life of its own.  A guitar bought in a mysterious little shop ends up in the hands of Buddy, who starts a new craze called Music with Rocks in It.  Crowds go wild.  Meanwhile, Death leaves the scene… again… and someone else has to take over. 

Enter Susan, practical young orphan living in a girl’s boarding school that contrary to all fantasy tropes DOESN’T abuse, starve, or otherwise hinder her life.  She is also Death’s Granddaughter.  Death takes off and she inherits the duties.  She turns into a great character too, in later books, but I am not seeing it in this book much.  Mostly she refuses to believe the evidence right in front of her eyes for a while, and then spends her time stalking Buddy and protecting him from harm. 

But really this book is just a long damn string of musical puns, most of which are well below Pratchett’s usually standards.  Is a group of people playing “Pathway to Paradise” in a music shop a joke, an homage, or just lazy?  Don’t even get me started about a dwarf coming up with “rat music,” a cheap throwaway joke not even worth a chuckle.  

More plot holes and inconsistency within the world than normal; why did people keep dying when Death went away this time?  Susan didn’t really take the duties all that seriously, at least that we saw.  No, you know what?  I am done, not going through any more of my notes.  Everyone is allowed a bad day, and my favorite author is allowed a clunker or two.  I can keep going after this book, but why?  More good books in the series are on the way, so focus on the positive.

A more coherent ending than the other pop culture parody (Moving Pictures).  Ridcully once again proved to be entertaining; I loved him eating breakfast with Death(Susan).  We see the start of Hex, known to fans of the series and missed in my first read through.  Susan does become a great character, and she wasn’t bad here, just fairly forgettable.  

Basically I would recommend this to someone in need of a Discworld fix that has tried everything else.  I see it recommended as a starting point once in a while due to its standalone nature, but I can’t imagine this book convincing someone that this is a series to follow.  I really didn’t enjoy rereading this book, though I don’t remember hating it the first time around.

2 Stars.  Perhaps if I had reread it before Moving Pictures it would have been that book that got the majority of my ire, however the two similar books were just too much.