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2013 December | Fantasy Review Barn

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Monthly Archives: December 2013

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The 2014 Barneys: Day 7

The Barney for Best Faustian tale…

The first nominee is Sir Terry Pratchett.  Yes we checked the rule book; he is eligible for as many Barneys as Nathan wants to nominate him for.  So, you know, neiner neiner.

Eric is a favorite of mine, and remained so after my latest reread.  It is short, hilarious, and one of the best books I know of to grab when I need something to tide me over between heavy reads.  I will never tire of Rincewind being sucked into what seemed like an open and shut demon tempting of a soul (three wishes gone wrong, that kind of thing).  We had to consult the judges due the lack of an actual, you know, devil.  But we decided to allow it under the ‘if it’s Terry Pratchett we allow it’ clause.   You can no doubt guess who the front runner is here.  Hell this award is all but wrapped up.  But, as there was another book nominated I guess we have to look at it as well.


Johannes Cabal The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)The second contender is Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.  Hey, a much better contender than expected.  To compete with the master for this award we needed a book with a character than could go toe to toe with Rincewind, and Cabal fits the bill.  Not sure who would win in a fight, because Rincewind is already two continents away, but the question of who got the best out of their deal with devil is something that can be measured a little easier.  The difference in styles is noticeable; Rincey doing his damage with his ever present dumb luck and Cabal using his incredible intelligence.  Both books are hilarious.  Eric gets a few bonus points for including the walking psychopath that is luggage.  But then again, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer includes both trains AND an evil carnival.

Damn, another close race, who will the judges choose?

The winner is…. ME!  My story involved selling my blog’s soul to WordPress and seeing traffic more than double as a result.

That’s right Sir Prachett and Mr. Howard, you get nothing this year!  But hey, it’s an honor to be nominated, right?

I am so happy!  I hope my award doesn’t get lost in the mail with the rest of them.

My review of Eric.

My review of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 6

Barney Award for best main character equipped with claws, fangs or wings that isn’t a dragon (because obviously the dragons would win this award outright, no contest, because they’re just, like, AWESOME):

Fantasy depends on non-human characters; some are usually good guys (hobbits, dwarves, angels, elves) and some are usually bad guys (orcs, goblins, demons, zombies). A few are bad guys turned love interest (werewolves, vampires), which is slightly bizarre. Some are dragons, and dragons are so cool they make any story better (seriously; authors, take note, we need more dragons!). But how many of them are genuinely alien, and not simply humans with some odd characteristics: immortality, or the ability to hurl fireballs at moments of stress, or shapeshift into something or other? And how many of those are main characters, the plot-drivers? Vanishingly few.

I’ve read two books this year that rose above the welter of furred-and-fanged seen-it-all-before weirdo-fest. ‘The Demon of Cliffside’  by Nathan Fierro was one of those serendipitous discoveries that justifies (honest!) the endless hours trawling blogs and reading tweets. It was a casual query on the fantasy subreddit: anyone know any books with really original settings? And someone popped up and said: yes, my mate’s written this book set in a place with constant rainstorms. And so it was, but it was also much, much more. Because the main character (the unnamed and undefined ‘demon’, so called because no one quite knew what she was) was a fascinating and entirely alien creature. She’d been living there for thousands of years, and latterly humans had arrived and built a city around her. She’d adapted, as she always did, but the humans brought out a new aspect of herself. Since the book is alchemypunk, that leads to all sorts of brilliantly realised consequences. A fantastic foray into fantasy by an author who seems to have appeared from nowhere.

My review

Martha Wells is a bigger name, and ‘The Cloud Roads’ is a book you might have heard of, and it is in many ways a much more conventional story. Main character Moon is an orphan, scrabbling to survive in a world where he’s an outsider. He knows he doesn’t fit in very well with humans, but he never suspects that the reason is that he’s not human. He’s a Raksura, a shapeshifter with one state that more or less passes for human, and another state that definitely doesn’t, and he spends his life suppressing the urge to shift every time he gets angry or loses control. It isn’t until he meets another Raksura flying around that he realises what he is. The Raksura are nothing like humans. They are socially organised creatures (like bees or ants) with queens and breeding males and worker types, and they settle disputes by fighting. Wells explores this ‘otherness’ in astonishingly realistic detail. There’s some great world-building behind the characters, and if there were a Barney for best aerial combat scenes, she’d have won that too. A terrific read.

My review

Since I can’t choose between two such terrific reads, I’m going to declare this: a TIE!

Footnote: ‘The Demon of Cliffside’ is a self-published gem. I posted about some of my other finds of 2013 here.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 5

The Barney for Best Hidden Vampire Tale goes to…

The Killing Moon by N.K. JemisinThe Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1)

I refuse to read vampire books.  Know what I mean?   Is there anything worse for a high brow critic such as myself than the crass, popular entertainment that vampire tales provide?  HA!  May be good enough for the masses, but not the likes of me.  (Harrumph, harrumph).

So I pride myself on reading a better sort of fantasy; secondary worlds the differ from the norm, completely unique characters, and the use of lots of large terms that may or may not require a dictionary.  Again, absolutely no vampires allowed.  (Huh?  What about Carpe Jugulum?  It’s a Pratchett book.  Um, no, don’t remember vampires in it, can we move along?)  Ahem, sorry about that.

So I have a major bone to pick with N.K. Jemisin.  Because she tricked me in a major way.  I read The Killing Moon.  I loved The Killing Moon.  I even rated it five stars, something I am not known for being real generous with.  And right there, right there hiding in plain sight, is a damned vampire tale!  I almost missed it. But the Gatherers are government sponsored, Goddess blessed vampires; stealing ‘dream blood’ (how could I miss this clue!) that they gradual become addicted to.  They end up craving dreamblood, if that isn’t a vampire I am not sure what it is.

So now my world is upside down.  If I like vampire tales what else do I like?  Perhaps salmon flavored candy?  Broccoli bread?  Root canals without anesthesia?  I just don’t know any more.  Pass me another vampire book, I guess anything is possible.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 4

The Barney Award for best piking use of creative swearing in an epic fantasy:

The Light of Kerrindryr by H Anthe Davis

World-building is a fundamental part of fantasy. Some fantasy authors draw a squiggly-edged continent, add a few kingdoms, three rivers and a mountain range, decides how many gods are in the prevailing religion and – we’re done! On with the story! This author is not quite like that. You want to know where the highest rainfall is? Which are the best grain-producing regions? Where the stables are in the army camp? How the ogres count? (Seriously; in base six, if you want to know, which gives the mathematical module in my brain a frisson of pure delight.) And it goes without saying that there are languages and some creative swearing, which, by Morgwi’s balls, is piking awesome. [Notice that this award is for creative swearing, not simply repeated use of the f-word, otherwise Richard K Morgan would win, hands down.]

All the human characters here are fascinating, but there are non-humans, too; ogres and skinchangers, goblins and some really creepy beings called eiyet. Creepy oozes out all over the place, and there are moments of pure horror, in the Hitchcock sense of chills up the spine, rather than the more usual sense these days of grossness and spilled entrails. There are also magically enhanced – well, things, for want of a better word. There is a certain blurring of the distinction between alive and not-alive which gave me the heeby-jeebies, frankly.

The story is complex, subtle and many-layered. Compelling characters, a fully-realised world, an action-packed plot that zooms along at a rate of knots and never feels in the least contrived, and a wonderful ending with plenty of emotional resonance. A beautifully conceived and written book with real depth.

My review

Footnote: this is a self-published gem. I posted about some of my other finds of 2013 here.

For more about the author’s incredible world-building, here’s the website.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 3

The Barney for Best Barbarian Warrior not named Logan Ninefingers, because let’s face it no single warrior in modern fantasy can compete, because wow was Logan awesome. I mean when he beat The Feared I almost shouted out loud, and I was sitting in a Subway around ten o’clock at night when I read it.

What?  Oh, ya, the award.

The Grim Company (The Grim Company, #1)The first nominee is Brodar Kayne from The Grim Company, by Luke Scull.  Note how he is not the Bloody Nine.  He may be a Northern barbarian on the outs with the land’s ruler, and he may be the best around despite not getting any younger, and he may have tragic backstory including a lost family.  But he is NOT the Bloody Nine.  I have seen him described as more cuddly and that description could certainly work; he is a hard man but genuine in his desire to get better.  And despite his similarities to Logan his story stands up on its own, part of a fun weave that made The Grim Company an exciting new entry for us lovers of dark fantasy.


The Heresy Within (The Ties That Bind, #1)The second nominee is The Black Thorn from The Heresy Within, by Rob J. Hayes.  Now this guy is certainly not Logan Ninefingers, despite being the most dangerous barbarian around and running with a crew of big nasties.  And despite that fact that his reputation for killing (specifically of killing arbitrators) is often enough to force him to kill again.  But unlike Logan there isn’t that hint of wanting something better coming from The Black Thorn, his nasty isn’t hidden behind an awesome nickname.  Betrim (his real name) and The Black Thorn are the same person, not two sides of a coin.

So who wins?  Surprising even myself the winner is… Betrim, The Black Thorn!  While I enjoyed The Grim Company more on the whole (though both books entertained me), when it comes specifically to Barbarian Warriors Not Named Logan Ninefingers I enjoyed Betrim’s path more.  He was the best character in his book, whereas Kayne was often overshadowed by a strong surrounding cast.

So congratulations Mr Hayes, your creation has won a coveted Barney award.  From what I understand, the trophy has already been lost in the mail.  Sorry.

My review of The Heresy Within

My review of The Grim Company

The 2014 Barneys: Day 2

The Barney Award for most totally unredeemable, raping, pillaging, blowing thing up and killing things main character:

Broken Empire Trilogy (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns) by Mark Lawrence

You know a character has made the big time when he or she is instantly recognisable from a single name. Gandalf. Drizzt. Fitz. Dumbledore. And here’s another one: Jorg. One of the most unforgettable characters in the entire fantasy genre. Anti-heroes have found a niche in the recent trend for grittier, less sugar-coated fantasy, but Jorg is anti-hero turned up to eleven. And yet, despite all the terrible things he does, and the guilt-free and gleeful way he generally does them, he’s someone it’s very easy to root for.

You can enjoy this book at multiple ways. One is the straightforward political story – the fractured empire with the unremitting squabbling for supremacy amongst those who see themselves as entitled to claim the emperor’s throne. Then there is the slowly revealed world left behind by the Builders, with their high-tech gizmos, some of which have survived intact, even though their original functions may have been long forgotten. There’s a cool game observant readers can play – spotting which modern device is actually masquerading as an unfathomably mysterious Builder artefact. Finally, there is magic – inadvertantly released into the world by a Builder-created catastrophe and over time spinning increasingly out of control, so that even the dead walk again, led by the mysterious Dead King.

Many readers simply can’t get past Jorg’s gleeful no-morality approach to life. If you’ve never read it and you’re not sure if you want to, a couple of pages will let you know. The series isn’t perfect. Nothing is. It is lumpy in places, and slow in others, and sometimes Jorg is too over-the-top for words. But it’s also sharply funny and slyly clever, and written in an incisive, focused style. A masterpiece of in-depth character analysis, with an ingeniously interwoven setting and a mind-blowing and absolutely right ending. A fine piece of writing.

Reviews of ‘Prince of Thorns’

Reviews of ‘King of Thorns’

Review of ‘Emperor of Thorns’

The 2014 Barney Awards: Day 1

The Barney Award for Best inclusion of phrenology in a book goes too….

Yes, the good old pseudo sciences are where it is at this year, but what are the chances that I would read not just one, but TWO books that mention the classical study of phrenology?   It just screams for an award!  But who will win?  Let us meet the nominees.

The Six-Gun TarotThe first book that made mention of this fun and exciting science was Six-Gun Tarot.  Did you read it?  Why the hell not?  It was pretty good; wild-west fantasy has a lot of potential and this debut, while a bit hodgepodge, was entertaining throughout.  But that is not what you are wondering, is it?  You could care less how good the book is, you want to know how did it handle the delicate issue of phrenology?  Glad you asked!

“It’s been proven by all the sciences, m’boy-biolgoy, alienism, phrenology.”

That’s it?  One throw away line?  Well, I guess we will take it, at least it is helping to shine a light on the cause.  But let’s check out our other nominee.

Sir Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms.  Again, just a passing reference (though I happen to know the subject comes up again in Night Watch, later in the series).  But Pratchett not only gives us the good stuff, but he beats expectations yet again; introducing retrophrenologist Zorgo.  That’s right, rather than reading your personality by the shape of your skull, he can fix your personality, with the use of a small hammer, by reshaping your skull.

Oh folks I hate to say it, but the first year author just didn’t have a chance, Pratchett is a heavyweight in the phrenology mentioning field and poor Belcher couldn’t keep up.  The prize of course goes to Men at Arms.

Wait a minute, the contest was rigged!  The sole voter is a man who has dedicated a quarter of his reviews to the winner!  I demand an impartial judge!

Err, congratulations to Terry Pratchett, who I just know will cherish this award more than any other on his shelf.

My Review of Six-Gun Tarot

My Review of Men at Arms.

The 2013 Barney Awards

The time has come again for the most irrelevant awards in the blogosphere, The Barneys!  Twelve days of completely unasked for, completely unappreciated, coveted by absolutely no one awards in which Pauline and I go through the books we read and highlight a few that stand out.  Rather than the typical best of list we prefer to do it our own way.  Expect silliness.

You may laugh, you most certainly will cry (especially if you read my posts and care a lick about grammar), you will stay for the popcorn (bring your own popcorn).  If all goes right, you will have fun.

Starts tomorrow, then one a day from there.  Can’t wait that long?  Check out last year’s Barney Awards!

Enjoy!  Oh, and I will try to keep up with linking them below.

(Only Pauline and Nathan will be posting awards.  Anachronist is doing a Paranormal Parody for the holiday season on her site).

Day 1 – Best inclusion of phrenology in a book.

Day 2 – Most totally unredeemable, raping, pillaging, blowing thing up and killing things main character.

Day 3 – Best Barbarian Warrior not named Logan Ninefingers, etc etc.

Day 4 – Best Piking use of Creative Swearing in an Epic Fantasy

Day 5 – Best Hidden Vampire Tale

Day 6 – Best Main Character Equipped With Claws, Fangs or Wings That isn’t a Dragon

Day 7 – Best Faustian Tale

Day 8 – Hottest and Most Drool-Worthy Male Love Interest

Day 9 – Best Appearance of Grown Men in School Boy Uniforms

Day 10- Most Scary Created World

Day 11 – Best book to renew my faith in Star Wars

Day 12- Best deployment of a time machine.