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Anthology Review: ‘Book of Apex: Volume 4′

The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex MagazineI am what, second to last stop on the blog tour for this collection of stories?  Honest to God, what else is there going to be to talk about by the time it gets to me?  Writing this in advance I won’t have the advantage of reading all the posts that come before.  But I can hazard a few guesses.  I will make the assumption that every story in the book will have been dissected, rated, and then have a comb ran through them again.  There will most likely be interviews with authors galore, which I will find interesting because in some cases they will probably be longer than the story in this Apex collection.  In short, I find myself wondering if the average reader of this blog tour is going to be bored by the time they get to me.  After throwing out a couple of ridiculous ideas (including, I kid you not, running the stories through a giant death match until only one is left standing) I decided to keep it simple and talk more about my experience with short stories in general and this collection specifically.

When first offered the chance to read this collection my first thought was to pass.  I just don’t do short stories.  Novellas, yes.  But short stories are a rare thing for me to read.  When I do read them I tend to drift toward stories that build on an existing narrative, such as the new Shy story by Joe Abercrombie in Dangerous Women, then I return the rest of the collection unread.  I just tire of the pattern so common in short stories; quick set up followed by a crazy twist, The End.  But I looked at the list of authors included and I just couldn’t turn it down.  If I get to read Valente and Valentine, plus try Tidhar after hearing so much, well I guess I could give a short collection the old college try.

Glad I did.  There were still a few I struggled with, and I was reminded over and over about the limitations of the short story format, but there were some real gems here that I would hate to give up now that I have read.  It was better by far than most collections I have tried; it just feels like it had higher standards than the typical themed collection of various authors.

Problems with the short story format?  Ya, I had them.  There were a couple of stories in this collection that seemed absolutely pointless.  As in, nothing happened and even a couple pages is too many for that to happen.  (No, I won’t be pointing out which stories I didn’t like).  Perhaps more frustrating in my mind were the stories that I really liked but want so much more from.  There were a few that made me think they could be amazing novels if fleshed out a bit more.  As short stories they were good, but damn it I want more!

But despite the reservations, did I enjoy this collection?  Oh I did.  Set aside the frustration of wanting more from some of the stories; I wanted more because they were so good.  Just give me those stories and I would have called this a good, but flawed, collection.  Flawed of course being based on my bias as a non-short story reader.  But even with those biases I would call this collection a success because intermixed with a lot of good and only a couple of bad stories were some brilliant ones.

It should come as no surprise that Catherynne Valente gives us a gem and it comes right to start the book, easing my fears and letting me work into unfamiliar territory.  The Bread We Eat in Dreams is everything I wanted, short but completely contained, just as magical as anything she has written.  Maybe I am a sucker for a demon story.

Who is Adam Troy-Castro and why have I not heard of him before?  During the Pause is a true sci-fi masterpiece that everyone needs to read.  Or have broadcast directly into their minds.  It works within the short length because of its ‘real time’ element; everything important is contained within the impactful message being passed along.  Absolute horror, but with just a hint of something that could be hope.

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo.  I said I hate the ‘set up the world then toss in a twist’ pattern of short stories earlier but this one showed once again there are exceptions to every rule.  I could think of a lot of things that could go wrong with a reality TV show involving the supernatural but even I may have missed this obvious flaw.

Other can’t miss stories if you are the type to just skim through the volume?  Try out Decomposition if you want something disturbing, Ironheart for proof that war is hell but it could always be worse, Tommorow’s Dictator for your typical dystopia done a bit smarter than the current trend, Trixie and the Pandas of Dread for a grim laugh, and The Performance Artist if you hate yourself and don’t want to sleep.  Oh, and if that isn’t enough I also read the sweetest little fairy tale that should be easy enough to spot by title.

Ultimately I am glad I read this collection, and I think it is worth a read for others who, like me, may be a bit skeptical of the format in general.

Anthology Review: ‘Book of Apex: Volume 4’

The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex MagazineI am what, second to last stop on the blog tour for this collection of stories?  Honest to God, what else is there going to be to talk about by the time it gets to me?  Writing this in advance I won’t have the advantage of reading all the posts that come before.  But I can hazard a few guesses.  I will make the assumption that every story in the book will have been dissected, rated, and then have a comb ran through them again.  There will most likely be interviews with authors galore, which I will find interesting because in some cases they will probably be longer than the story in this Apex collection.  In short, I find myself wondering if the average reader of this blog tour is going to be bored by the time they get to me.  After throwing out a couple of ridiculous ideas (including, I kid you not, running the stories through a giant death match until only one is left standing) I decided to keep it simple and talk more about my experience with short stories in general and this collection specifically.

When first offered the chance to read this collection my first thought was to pass.  I just don’t do short stories.  Novellas, yes.  But short stories are a rare thing for me to read.  When I do read them I tend to drift toward stories that build on an existing narrative, such as the new Shy story by Joe Abercrombie in Dangerous Women, then I return the rest of the collection unread.  I just tire of the pattern so common in short stories; quick set up followed by a crazy twist, The End.  But I looked at the list of authors included and I just couldn’t turn it down.  If I get to read Valente and Valentine, plus try Tidhar after hearing so much, well I guess I could give a short collection the old college try.

Glad I did.  There were still a few I struggled with, and I was reminded over and over about the limitations of the short story format, but there were some real gems here that I would hate to give up now that I have read.  It was better by far than most collections I have tried; it just feels like it had higher standards than the typical themed collection of various authors.

Problems with the short story format?  Ya, I had them.  There were a couple of stories in this collection that seemed absolutely pointless.  As in, nothing happened and even a couple pages is too many for that to happen.  (No, I won’t be pointing out which stories I didn’t like).  Perhaps more frustrating in my mind were the stories that I really liked but want so much more from.  There were a few that made me think they could be amazing novels if fleshed out a bit more.  As short stories they were good, but damn it I want more!

But despite the reservations, did I enjoy this collection?  Oh I did.  Set aside the frustration of wanting more from some of the stories; I wanted more because they were so good.  Just give me those stories and I would have called this a good, but flawed, collection.  Flawed of course being based on my bias as a non-short story reader.  But even with those biases I would call this collection a success because intermixed with a lot of good and only a couple of bad stories were some brilliant ones.

It should come as no surprise that Catherynne Valente gives us a gem and it comes right to start the book, easing my fears and letting me work into unfamiliar territory.  The Bread We Eat in Dreams is everything I wanted, short but completely contained, just as magical as anything she has written.  Maybe I am a sucker for a demon story.

Who is Adam Troy-Castro and why have I not heard of him before?  During the Pause is a true sci-fi masterpiece that everyone needs to read.  Or have broadcast directly into their minds.  It works within the short length because of its ‘real time’ element; everything important is contained within the impactful message being passed along.  Absolute horror, but with just a hint of something that could be hope.

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo.  I said I hate the ‘set up the world then toss in a twist’ pattern of short stories earlier but this one showed once again there are exceptions to every rule.  I could think of a lot of things that could go wrong with a reality TV show involving the supernatural but even I may have missed this obvious flaw.

Other can’t miss stories if you are the type to just skim through the volume?  Try out Decomposition if you want something disturbing, Ironheart for proof that war is hell but it could always be worse, Tommorow’s Dictator for your typical dystopia done a bit smarter than the current trend, Trixie and the Pandas of Dread for a grim laugh, and The Performance Artist if you hate yourself and don’t want to sleep.  Oh, and if that isn’t enough I also read the sweetest little fairy tale that should be easy enough to spot by title.

Ultimately I am glad I read this collection, and I think it is worth a read for others who, like me, may be a bit skeptical of the format in general.

Sci-fi Review: ‘Honor’s Knight’ by Rachel Bach

Honor's Knight (Paradox, #2)Due to the magic of pinky swears and twitter promises the opening to this review was written before I had even picked up the book.  Here goes.

Holy fuckballs, this book is awesome!

That’s it.  Promise fulfilled, no mystical curses will rain down on me.  And it is a good thing Rachael Bach wrote another great entry into this series or we would have one awkward and confusing review on our hands my friends.

But of course it is good, because Dev Morris is awesome and the Glorious Fool is going to find her trouble so she can continue to work her awesome mojo.  Still dealing with everything that happened during Fortune’s Pawn has left her a bit of a confused mess though.  She has some memory lapses, finds herself physically repulsed by the cook, and can’t really explain what happened to trash her armor when her partner died.  Lucky for her the generous captain has promised a bit of bonus pay, so a shiny new blade with a little extra UMPH is in the future.

She is going to need it.  She didn’t exactly have an easy ride in the first book but everything is going to eleven this time around.  A much more focused story, thought in fairness it required the heavy setup the first book provided to make it all work.  The series continues to be action packed and I am not sure I could ever tire of seeing Devi in action; blades a flying and guns a shooting.  That suit is awesome even when the adversary is the environment, how enjoyable can reading about getting out of an old abandoned mine be?  (Answer, more than expected).

Being told in the first person this series shines because of Devi’s narration.  I love the confident sarcastic girl that she has remained despite the memory loss.  I actually miss her partner from the first book; arrogant ass that he was.  His constant bravado let Dev show of her own strength more often; her new partner is too goody two shoes to set Devi off.  Oh sure, Dev deserves to have a backup who is confident and can save her likes she saves others, but it takes away a dynamic for me that I missed a bit.

A big part of this series thus far deals with Devi and her relationship with a certain ship cook.  These two were awesome with each other, and strong confident Dev had no problem letting Rupert know exactly what she wanted.  And it worked.  And it was great.  And then the events at the end of Fortunes Pawn ruined everything!  So how did this dynamic work this time around?  Well things can’t ever go back the way they were can they?  Not with what happened.  But physical attraction still can have a strong pull, right?

He let me go before I could tell him to get his claws off me, which was absolutely what I’d been about to say, even though the phrase forming on my tongue had felt more like I’d, glad you’re okay.

And if things ever get back to anything resembling how they were, it is certainly going to be on Devi’s terms, not Rupert’s.

“But,” he said, “I shot you.”

“I shot you first,” I reminded him.

Aaron has proven to me that she adds depth with each new book in a series and this is no exceptions.  Get past the sarcastic narrator and the ‘will they or wont they’ love story, push through the awesome battle armor fueled fight scenes and nasty slave taking reptiles aliens.  All that is wonderful and it can’t be discounted, but what really matters here is I have once again become completely invested in the story that is being told.  There is no one great big bad threat; any thoughts on having one great evil to go after are quickly quashed.  Almost every side has an angle, and Devi doesn’t have an easy choice on who to throw in with.  When one side seems more noble she sees their nasty edges, even the most altruistic action could have devastating effects.

Though I enjoyed Devi alone a bit more in the first book that was dictated by the circumstances she was in; it was easier for her to be carefree ‘get in and shoot them’ when the stakes were not so apparent.  Now she has to keep a more level head, think about the affects it has, and do to the best of her ability was she sees as right.  And while it may take some of the fun out of her, it makes her story a hell of a ride.

I laughed.  I considered crying.  Is the third book out yet?

4 Stars

My review of Fortune’s Pawn

All our reviews of the author.

Review copy received through NetGalley at no charge for review.  All opinions are my own.

Fantasy Review: ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Diana Wynne Jones

I think I would have been into fantasy at a lot earlier age if someone had introduced me to Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Diana Wynne Jones.  As is I didn’t discover her until Eight Days of Luke was being mentioned as being similar to the much later published American Gods.  I read it, loved it, and read a few of her other books the same year.  And yet the book she is best known for, the one that inspired a very popular movie?  Never read it.  Until now.

A floating castle holds the wizard Howl, known for abducting young women all over land.  But when young, but sensible, eldest daughter Sophie is cursed to look grandmotherly she no longer needs to fear such things.  So when the opportunity comes she joins the castle, bargains with the demon powering it, and eventually is even noticed by Howl.  Looking for an opportunity to break her curse she finds herself knee deep in a battle with a witch, searching for a missing prince, and dealing with Howl’s tantrums.  Of course she finds out that Howl perhaps isn’t the legend that the stories say he is. 

Jones was aware of and playing with genre tropes before it was cool.  Her Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a riot, especially since almost twenty years later almost everything she pokes t is still very prevalent in the genre.  But Howls Moving Castle is ten years older than that book and having fun with it just as much.  I knew I was going to like the book when Sophie showed how aware she was of her fantasy surroundings; being the eldest daughter forcing her life path.

I find it ironic that it was Gaiman that first pointed me to Jones, because for reasons I can’t quite explain I feel I finally have that recommendation for lovers of Gaiman’s works.  Howl’s Moving Castle reminds me a lot of Stardust.  It is a whimsical tale that has a fairy tale feel to it, without actually have been taken from any existing fairy tale.  It has familiar elements (demons, witches, etc) doing unfamiliar things.  And lead player Sophie is aware, at least subconsciously, that she is living by some pretty silly fairy tale rules.  Okay, maybe the witch doesn’t do much that surprises but my point still stands.

I find myself not having much else to say.  I liked it quite a bit, but that has proven to be a pattern when reading the author.  I would say I recommended it, but I think everyone has already read it so that doesn’t mean much.  So…

4 stars

International Giveaway: ‘The Barrow’ by Mark Smylie

Obviously I loved this book, check out my review if you haven’t.  Dark and gritty, surprisingly deep yet full of adventure.

Who wants to win their own copy?  The folks at Pyr have a copy up for grabs, open internationally, so let the giveaway commence.  As has become the pattern around her all you need to do is enter the Rafflecopter below.  No comments, no following (though it is always nice); just pressing enter.  Once again, gain an extra entry if you share it with others. (Want another chance?  I happen to know The Bibliosanctum has a giveaway going as well, open until Feb 24).

Here is the blurb.

The BarrowTo find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin’s sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed.

Open Midnight 2/21/14 to 3/3/14
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fantasy Review: ‘The Barrow’ by Mark Smylie

The BarrowYou know those prologues that are long info dumps full of information that won’t have anything to do with the story until the halfway point of the book; at which point you have inevitably forgotten the characters introduced within and therefore miss the important revelation until after you reread the fucking book completely?  Don’t you hate those?  Wouldn’t it be better if the prologue was a kick ass adventure in its own right; introducing the stories main characters within their natural setting and actually setting the tone for the book rather than the author wanking about how cleverly they hid important clues?

The Barrow had a prologue that grabbed me quick and held on tight, it has been a while since I was invested in a story so fast.  No easing in, no foreplay what-so-ever.  We meet a crew raiding some ancient ruins, get a quick rundown of a few important people, and watch everything go to hell on them.  Some manage to escape, they head back to the city, and then the story actually gets its start.  By the time I actually saw the words Chapter One I was in love, and everything kept moving the right way from there.

Oh this book ain’t going to be for everyone.  Did you think my first paragraph of the review was a bit crude?  Then turn back now, because it was nursery school talk compared to what you may read in The Barrow.  Rough and creative uses of the more colorful aspects of the English language are only the beginning of the hedonism within.  Sexual depravity is a major theme, sexual acts are described in heavy detail and are guaranteed to make a reader either blush or just toss the book away in disgust.  But for me it fit the gritty nature of the book perfectly; men and women driven by passion, lusts, and their own agendas.

But this isn’t a cheap dark fantasy relying on shock value and sex to keep a few teenage boys interested in what lies within the pages.  This is a debut that stands out for its complexity and intelligence.  I have been known to accuse a book of not knowing what kind of story it wants to tell but this did something different; The Barrow knew damn well what kind of a story it was but refused to tell the reader until the end.  Oh, the basics are easy enough to follow; treasure hunters look for a famed sword in dangerous places.  But as we are told early on, “never get distracted by the obvious bright bauble.”  I could read this one again right now; I know there are threads I want to follow from start to finish all over again.

A lot of names drop in this book, and it takes some skill to make them all stand out.  Being dark fiction (and I guarantee GRIMDARK will be thrown around quite a bit) one would expect the characters to be a who’s who list of stock characters and tropes, yet this is one more thing Smylie does absolutely right.  Almost no one here fits the standard grimdark archetype, yet we still get the varied cast of dubious ruffians.  A man called Black Heart who can casually let someone die; yet takes great pains to ensure his crew’s families are taken care of.  A young girl presenting as a man; her role in the tale defined by her deeds rather than her gender or any fear of discovery.  There is an evil wizard, or is he?  Guess all you want, it will come through at the end.

Best of all is that as great as this book started (which I will rave about for quite some time), it ended even better.  No let down; just escalating action and twists and turns and stuff I want to go back and read all over.  Everything I thought I knew was wrong, up to and including the entire purpose of the trip for almost everyone involved.  As climaxes go it is one of the best I have read (well…, no never mind, not going there).

I love getting everything I hoped for in a new book.

5 stars

Review copy provided by the publisher.