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Tough Traveling – City of Wizards

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

Today’s tour topic is… City of Wizards

City of Wizards is normally a good thing, since only good wizards seem to live together.  This city will be on a hill in someplace that is hidden/hard to get to…. Be sure to check out your own guide for the rest of the definition, though it is obvious that this guide needs revised looking at my list.  Which includes…

Ninavel Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer- I was thrilled to do this entry mostly The Whitefire Crossing (Shattered Sigil, #1)because Ninavel is such an awesome city.  Not just a city occupied by a strong wizard population, it is a city that is possible only because of the wizard population.  Living in a magical anarchy where the wizards can practice their craft however they see fit, the only rule is they help with the maintenance that holds it together and keeps it watered.  While not entirely inhabited by wizards (someone has to run the stalls and stuff, right?) it is still very much a wizard’s city.  But it is certainly not one I would choose to live in, running into a bloodmage does not feel like a good start to a day.

Hadrumal The Theif’s Gamble by Juliet McKenna –  A city of wizards, where wizards do their research into the strange past of Einarinn.  I have only read two of McKenna’s books so I don’t have all the info, but in the early books it felt more like a university of magic than a full city.  But there is a council, an archmage heading things up, and all the little touches one would expect from a magical city.  Someday I hope to read the Hadrumal crises, a second series set in the same land, and learn what happens when a rogue magician breaks the laws set out by the seat of Hadrumal and starts using the magic for war.  I am guessing…things get nasty.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Diagon AlleyHarry Potter– Ok, so maybe this is cheating because it is only a small part of the city.  But honestly, who didn’t feel the magic when they first read this?  I was in college for god’s sake; I can’t even blame it on youth.  But a street where all the wizards of the land can get together, buy and sell items of their trade, and practice their craft right in the middle of a muggle city is to awesome.  Also a place I really would love to visit.  Home of a Goblin owned bank, shops of everything imaginable, and for some reason, candy that taste horrible.  Why would anyone, even wizards, willingly buy candy that tastes horrible?

Os AltaShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Though it isn’t a city of wizards per say, it is the city where all the wizards (Grisha) of the land live, so count it.  Here various Grisha spend their time learning their craft, following the Darkling, occasionally being taken advantage of by the Emperor, and bickering like a junior high lunch room clique.

Oz – Frank Baum –  Follow the yellowbrick road, right?  Can anyone find me an older The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1)example?  I am sure it is out there, but I had to count it.  It is the city one goes to if one wants to see a wizard as far as I am concerned.

It is tearing me up to remember a book or series  have read where the land of wizards is in effect a wasteland from the way they tore the land up.  (I know Prachett talk about this in Sourcery, but I am thinking of a book with an actual visited city).  Maybe someone can help me remember this one?

Be sure to check out the other travelers and add your own traveling if you are joining us!

We got an easy on next week, join us as we meet a few Dark Lords

Dark Lord – There is always one of these in the background of every Tour, attempting to ruin everything and take over the world  He will be so sinister that he will be seen by you only once or twice, probably near the end of the Tour…

Fantasy Review: ‘Dealing with Dragons’ by Patricia C. Wrede

I give up.  It has all been done before.  Every single good idea has been taken, even those Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)that just warp old good ideas.  1990.  This book came out in 1990 and gently mocks fairy tale as well as anything I have read or watched that has been written since.  Was Shrek really that original?  Survey says…no.  Every single Neil Gaiman short story is a little less fresh.  Let’s face it, we shut it all down because nothing more needs to put into writing.

Okay, the hyperbole was a bit much but color me just a bit surprised at how enjoyable this one was.  Sure, lots of good recommendations on Goodreads; five stars abound.  But it came out in 1990, surely this is just nostalgia?  Nope, this really was a great little twist on an old tale.  A gentle prodding rather than the crude style currently used of twisting stories so hard that nothing is left but shock value. 

Cimorene really doesn’t enjoy being a Princess.  Unlike her older sisters she doesn’t feel the need to do embroidery until a Prince comes along to sweep her off her feet.  She would rather take fencing lessons (stopped for not being proper) or learn Latin (not proper) or magic (…..) or hell, even just how to cook.  But it just isn’t done, it’s not proper.  So after taking some advice from a talking toad that is NOT a magically transformed Prince, she decides to go join the dragons.  After all, dragons are always stealing away princesses, surely one would welcome a willing captive (and it has to be more exciting that being a princess).

And it is.  Cimorene learns the ways of dragons, meets several mythical creatures, befriends a witch, and gets caught up in the plans of wizards.  While a parody of sorts, this book doesn’t take it’s time resorting to cheap joke after cheap joke.  Rather it crafts an entertaining, if simple plot (hey the book is only 200 some pages), dropping in a mix of twists along with some traditional fairy tale characters and situations.  With a slow but steady pace, a great protagonist and some interesting side characters (some caricatures, but deliberately so), and a conclusion that was as transparent as can be but managed to hide a few details anyway everything in the story worked out nicely for this reader (listener).

If you are a person who likes twisting of tropes, this is a great read.  If you are a person who needs a quick read for a vacation or between epic bricks, this is a great read.  If you want a strong female lead that bucks convention just by acting like an actual human being, this is a great read.  If you are looking for a guidebook of North Atlantic waterfowl, probably not the book you are looking for.  But if you just want to be entertained then jump right in (though judging by my Goodreads profile, most everyone already has).

4 Stars

Audio- As entertaining as this book was on its own, and I will be grabbing a copy for my shelves as my kiddo gets older, please treat yourself to the audio of this book.  This is not an audio book, this is an audio production.  A large cast provides unique voices for each character, all held together by a narrator with perfect pacing.  Clocking in at five hours there is almost no reason not to.

US/Canada Giveaway: ‘The Scroll of Years’ AND ‘The Silk Map’

The Silk Map (Gaunt and Bone, #2)In only a couple of weeks The Silk Map by Chris Willrich comes out.  This will be a must read for me because The Scroll of Years was such a great debut  It featured just enough weird to stand out without ever moving into true weirdness, three separate duos of characters that could have carried a book on their own, and yet another unique take on dragons.  I think a whole lot of you want to read it.

What is that?  You have not read The Scroll of Years yet?  But you want to read them both?  Well the folks at Pyr understand that well, and they have a solution.  Here is a chance to win the set, then there can be no excuses for not being ready to read and enjoy this new series.

Up for grabs to one lucky winner is a copy of both books, The Silk Map and The Scroll of Years.  US/Canada only this time around, and the rules remain the same.  Click the Rafflecopter button and your in.  One extra entry if you spread the word.  (Again, if you are scared of Rafflecopter don’t be, it only takes an email address so we can contact the winner).  Good luck to all the entries!

This giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner.

Tough Traveling – Guild of Assassins

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

Today’s tour topic is… Guild of Assassins (and Assassins in general).

Assassins, Guild of… – The second most frequent guild after the Thieves Guild.  Indeed, it is possible that these are the only two, and that in Fantasyland crime is the sole organized activity.  They are said to be very good at their job, which is of course killing people for money, and to proceed on all occasions with strict regard for laws and protocol.

Harder to write than I thought it would be, I struggled to come up with examples from books I have actually read.  Assassins are crazy popular in fantasy for sure, yet apparently I have skipped most the stories they are featured in.  As such, a short list today, and I basically had to allow any assassin training in order to get even that.  Behold, today’s examples!

The Ankh-Morpork Assassin’s GuildDiscworld by Terry Pratchett Perhaps the most structured of all the examples, here is the ultimate academy for gentlemen.  Anyone can hire a common thug, but for a more personalized touch one must go this prestigious institution.  By hiring a guild assassin a person knows they will get it done with class.  For the right fee they may even be willing to send someone after those who don’t technically exist.  In fact at current times there are only a couple of assignments they are not willing to take; not because they are proving too hard to get, no sir.  But because removing them wouldn’t just change the current game, it would break the board.

But this isn’t just a place to ‘go shopping.’  This grand institution also acts as a school for the true gentlemen’s calling.  Just don’t upset the teachers.  One, they are all trained in the school you are hoping to get through.  And two, they may just make you try to get within range of Samuel Vimes.  Also present is the second largest library around, a hall of portraits (which funnily enough don’t have portraits of people who graduated from the school), and a museum full of all kinds of interesting things (provided, of course, you are interested in what they have to show.

WetboysNight Angel by Brent Weeks Go ahead if you have not read Week’s trilogy and start laughing now.  Yes, ‘Wetboys’ is the term for the most feared professional killers of the land in the Night Angel trilogy.  There are regular old assassins around, don’t worry.  But they are often just thugs who kill people for money.  As the tale explains, assassins have targets that they aim for.  Often then get them but not always.

But Wetboys are something different.  They are professional killers who also have magic, and if they take an assignment that target’s already dead.

I will admit, that is about all I remember.  I only read the first book, and it involved a young street rat following the most feared assassin and asking to be trained.  Because he had the talent there was, I dunno, a training montage?  Or something.  Anyway, WETBOYS!

EveryoneDance of Cloaks by David Dalglish As I recall every single person in this book was an assassin.  The entire city ran on the industry provided by hired contracts, and thrown knifes always either hit an eye or the jugular.  There were assassins of breathtaking beauty, those fighting for a religious cause, and just plain old nasties.  Training comes early in this land o’ GRIMDARK.  We see a man judge his son worthy when said kid kills his older brother at eight years of age.

So there you go, if you are in to that sort of thing, Dalglish has you covered.

FitzAssassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – I count it because it is right there in the title.  Fitz learns to be an assassin.  Someone had to teach him so it counts.  But it really shouldn’t because Hobb is way too subtle with this.  How does one know how to hire Fitz?  Why is he not shown as a super ninja assassin with an air of perfection?   Where is the giant pile of bodies that an assassin’s tale should have piled up?  Hobb was not thinking of my weekly feature when she wrote this one.  (Sarcasm filter).

Whew, two weeks down.  Let’s keep it going.  Next week’s tour stop will be..  City of Wizards.

And be sure to check out others Traveling with the Tough Guide.

Fantasy Review: ‘Unwrapped Sky’ by Rjurik Davidson

One could be forgiven completely for not knowing what to expect from Unwrapped Sky Unwrapped Sky (Caeli-Amur, #1)going in.  The cover suggests that Minotaur are present, which is true but gives no clues as to the greater substance.  The back cover hints at dissent within a city, perhaps violence in said city’s future.   But what this book is really about is power, pure and simple.  Who has it, who wants it, and what people are willing to do with it when they control it.

Things are changing in Caeli-Amur.  The three major houses still show full control on the surface, but their ways are breaking down the common man beyond typical labor problems.  New technological marvels can be made, but the magics required to completely them warp those who wield them.   Hoarding the secrets of thaumaturgy for their own uses the houses pass along only enough help their goals, withholding the protections the workers using them daily.  Strikes are common occurrence, and put down with deadly force.  Within this a resistance grows, holed in the relative safety of the underground, willing to stand up to the houses and start a better future.   But even the idealist must contend with a power struggle to bring forth their vision.

A dark tale with a new weird vibe, for the first time I actually understand the Mieville comparisons that are inevitably thrown out for any new book that plays games with reality.  Not just with its weirdness, of which there is plenty.  Mutants coming in from a wasteland, creatures from the other side, minotaurs and sirens.  But this is a political tale through and through.  Almost every aspect of this book is rooted in the cause of the proletariat class of Caeli-Amur.  And it doesn’t hurt that Davidson seems to have Mieville’s talent for turning a phrase.  Though more accessible than, say, early Bas Lag books, Davidson’s way with language rises above the average fantasy tale.

While some dark tales are easily summed up with the flippant ‘everyone is an asshole,’ in Unwrapped Sky this isn’t the case.  Indeed, each and every major character genuinely seems to and to improve things for all.  They all have a heart.   But to the last it will always require just one more step up the power chain to make it happen.  Within the houses there is the power struggle one would expect from those exploiting the workers.  Boris rose from the exploited to work with the houses and wants to make things better for his former colleagues.  It genuinely pains him to watch a strike shut down with extreme prejudice.  If only the seditionists would calm down and let him work from within.

Kata is the closest thing to a protagonist we see, and she is the least idealistic to start the book.  In fact her early chapters make it very hard to root for her later.  Yet by the end I wanted so much for her, and was pained when she disappointed me with actions less true.  She works with, and works to betray, the dreamer Max, he with grand visions based on philosophies and ideas of unification.

Woven into it all is the life of the city itself.  Caeli-Amur itself should be considered a character, and what a character it is!  A deep history, multi layered society, still suffering from the abandonment of the gods and the loss of rights of common men.  Philosophy is more than a study in this land; for many it is a way of life, for others a path of violence.  A corrupted vision of the underground that can’t be explained, the invasion of new-man technology, and there is a threat from the outside only slightly less dangerous than the threat from within.  A promise to those who fall in love with mythical cities; Caeli-Amur will join your list of the best.

I have few reservations about this book.  At times Max’s story seemed to be watching from the outside toward the end.  A pivotal character throughout, he gives the illusion of importance in the second half without actually affecting anything.  Though rape is often an act of power vs lust, and this is a tale of power and man’s struggle with it, I do feel the need to put a rape warning out there.  I wouldn’t recommend this book so wholeheartedly if it was handled with anything other than realism and respect, but it is hard to read.

As a debut there are few I have read that are better.  Political tales seem to be in right now in fantasy.  This one joins The Goblin Emperor as books I read within a month that features politics more than action.  And if this niche of the genre continues to put out such high quality outings, I say bring on more of it.  Let’s have political tales released every month.

5 Stars

Sci-Fi Review: ‘Heaven’s Queen’ by Rachel Bach

Heaven's Queen (Paradox, #3)Ending a series can be hard.  All those pesky plotlines gotta come together, characters need resolutions, and no matter how the author crafts it there will no doubt be a corner of the internet telling them just how wrong they got it.  I think I would write two books in a trilogy and fake my death, it’s the only way I could avoid the pressure.

But I have now gone through a full series with Rachael Aaron/Bach twice, and no one remembered to tell her how hard this is supposed to be.  Because she flat out nails the endings.  Twice now I have watched her series get better and better.  Twice she has taken premises that were almost Saturday morning cartoon in their starting simplicity and added element after element until I was screaming at my kindle to JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS.  Me likey Heaven’s Queen.

I have spent quite a bit of time on the series as a whole, and on how awesome Dev is, and how much I like power armor and named weapons and nasty man eating lizards getting sliced up by power blades.  You no doubt already know that there were some serious sci-fi style weird shit going on that answers were needed for.  Honestly these books have come out rapid fire over what, six months?  Go catch up on the first two books, you don’t need me to give a summary of this.  Let’s just move on to praising another great finish.

What do we get this outing?  We get more Dev and Rupert romantic tension; the same I love him I hate him I am totally going to punch him stuff we have had for two books so far.  Hope you like it, it should be expected by now.  But as in the previous outings this is so much more than a love story, this is a story that has seen Dev grow so much in such a natural way.  She is still a devil be damned, shoot first and let god (emperor) sort ‘em out alpha she has been throughout.  But her conscience, never completely absent, forces her to make the hard decisions on what is most important to her – and you know she is going to follow through once that hard decision is made.

We get all the resolution we need.  Yes, this includes the romantic angle, but also the forty two answers we were waiting for about in this story; life, the universe, everything.  We have come a long way from strange glowing bugs with no feasible explanation, a long way from a story of a young gunner looking for a spot of glory and into what it became.  Poor Dev though she had seen it all as a mercenary before joining the Glorious Fool; but through this book she saw the full might of the universe thrown at her without it ever feeling like too much to me as a reader.

And this is to me the genius of this series.  It was completely over the top, 100% pulp; at least it should have been.  It was about power armor cutting through aliens on a trader ship when it started for god’s sake, and there are so many Warhammer 4K allusions the book cover may as well be winking at me.  But with a strong strength of character, a slow burn of a sci-fi mystery, and truly alien aliens it rises above.  Even the cliché’s stopped being cliché.   Example?  I fell in love with the strange little religious fanatics that acted like space cadets because I understood how they got to where they were.

A strong conclusion, pulp with some heart, a protagonist that I just can’t help loving, and romantic tension that never got stupid (oh sure there was some forgiveness for some pretty big failings, but while that may not be healthy it sure as hell is realistic when passion is involve).  Truly this is a series that has a little something for everyone, and this is a book that finishes said series wonderfully.

4 stars.

US/Canada Giveaway: ‘Unwrapped Sky’ by Rjurik Davidson

Want to know my next read?  I will tell you.  Starting tomorrow I am starting Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson, a book I have looked forward to for some time because just look at that cover.  And it has minotaurs!  (Can we all get together and come up with the collective noun for minotaur?  My suggestion is a ‘crown of minotaur,’ because it sounds cool).

And the good people at Tor want you to have a chance to read it too.  What we have is three finished copies up for grabs to residents of the US and Canada, one each for three lucky winners.  Here is the blurb.

Unwrapped SkyCaeli-Amur: an ancient city perched on white cliffs overlooking the sea; a city ruled by three Houses, fighting internecine wars; a city which harbours ancient technology and hidden mysteries. But things are changing in Caeli-Amur. Ancient minotaurs arrive for the traditional Festival of the Sun. The slightly built New-Men bring their technology from their homeland. Wastelanders stream into the city hideously changed by the chemical streams to the north. Strikes break out in the factory district.

In a hideout beneath the city, a small group of seditionists debate ways to overthrow the Houses. How can they rouse the citizens of the city? Should they begin a campaign of terror? Is there a way to uncover the thaumaturgical knowledge that the Houses guard so jealously? As the Houses scramble to maintain their rule, it becomes clear that things will change forever in Caeli-Amur.


All you have to do to enter is click the button down below, we don’t even make you follow us.  As always, a bonus entry can be gained for sharing the news.

Good luck to all the entries, and look for my review as the giveaway winds down.

(If you have never used rafflecopter don’t worry, all it takes is an email so we can contact the winners)

This Giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to the winners.

Tough Traveling – Ancient Engineering Projects


Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of book that felt designed to hit all the right notes of a popular series. Yet despite its familiarity almost by the numbers feel (*cough* First Law *cough) I never felt that it was derivative of the works it could be compared to. It took a well-worn feel and gave it a life of its own. I immediately was ready for Sword of the North to come out so I could continue the adventure.

Sword of the North is a very different animal than its predecessor despite keeping the same general feel. The Grim Company had its feet firmly planted in the Grimdark thing (call it a genre, sub-genre or whatever have you). It started with a man using magic to drop half an ocean onto a rival’s city after all. From there it followed a familiar path of people trying hard and ultimately failing in their futile efforts; that things were only going to get worse was perfectly clear.

I felt there was actually a bit of hope, a bit less chance of tragedy, hell a little bit of happiness hidden in a few pages. Don’t get me wrong, this book still walks on the darker side of fantasy complete with high body counts, betrayals by people you actually like and nasty people getting big wins. But unlike ‘grimdark’ books I found that characters I have liked through two books have for the most part stayed likable. I feel that there are people who actually care in this world, which of course takes out some of the caricature feel common in dark fantasy. What’s more, some characters actually show some will to improve themselves. What a concept! We are halfway to a comedy (by classical definition).

We continue to follow characters met in the first book; Brodar Kayne as he heads North to check on a rumor about his family along with the grim man who goes by Wolf. Cole, who should be a celebrated hero for his deeds in book one, instead wakes up in a penal colony. Sasha, following her sister into a confrontation with The White Lady (would be savior from The Grim Company). And the half-mage; a man digging into secrets that could prove important at a later date (and pissing off important people while doing so). The land is learning that anyone powerful to dispose of a despot should probably be looked into, war is coming to the north (with the help of some barely under control demons) and lots of dying people is pretty much inevitable.

I enjoyed each of these character’s paths, save one. The story’s expanded scope, and an overall villain much more interesting that that who ruled the first book, was well woven and entertaining. Minor anachronisms are forgiven (and Pulp Fiction homages are noted but ultimately ignored) for sake of a good read. But the grizzled barbarian who helped carry the first book, one Brodar Kayne, was given the short end of the story this time around. It felt like the author knew what to do with each piece of his puzzle save this one. So on a travel quest he goes! Picking up as large of a quest party as possible along the way, one piece at a time, just to keep the story going I suppose. It led to an entire POV that I wanted to skip each time it came up, never a good thing and for this reader slowed the story down greatly.

This is a shame because in a lot of ways I think Scull is giving us a more creative and in depth story this time around in every other aspect. As inevitable as ‘same as the old boss’ style mechanics may be it always breaks the heart when it turns out to be true. And the new bosses minions are one of those little unique touches that always makes me smile when I read fantasy. I can safely say that for the most part this book clicked all around for me. It just falls into that common trap of having too many pages that don’t add anything to the story.

3 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.


Fantasy Review: ‘The Towers’ by Jordan Jeffers

The TowersAin’t that a shame?

My tears fall like rain.  –Fats Domino

Catching me quickly with a rare info dump with some actual style, the intro to The Towers had the voice of a village elder telling the story of a land’s founding.  We can only take it as fact as there is nothing to tell us otherwise, but quickly it is apparent that we are dealing not just with a founding story but also the very basis of a religion adhered to strictly by all with coercion.

Of course any religion has the potential to go semi askew over time.  Seven shames (deadly sins?) are prohibited, and a trip to the unshamers lays in wait for those who commit them.  But here is where it gets interesting.  You see the unshamers physically remove the shame from shamers, placing it in talisman.  And these talisman are the only thing the land has to fight against real nightmare of the land, a hoard of horrors that attack the land like clockwork every seventy years.  But it seems the horrors are suddenly twenty years ahead of schedule.

Ah, a nice Catch 22.  Shame is needed to fight the nightmare, but by definition should be avoided.  And the process of unshaming has its own issues; often it is tied to a painful punishment enforced by the same magic that removes it from a person (time spent in feeling the pain of childbirth seems particularly popular).  So of course it leads to a few who may resent it, especially as women seem to be singled out for their shame much more than their male counterparts.

It is an interesting set up, as are the other Christian allegories.  A Christ like figure died to save the people from the horrors the first time, and showed how people could sacrifice themselves to be a tower of light.  The people live by 100 commandments rather than ten, giving the powers of the land plenty of ways to see SHAME in them.  Anyone can be the lamb who saves the people, but each can only do so much requiring a great many possible lambs.

So all this is cool, as is the long pass of towers the horrors must pass through to do their evil; each defended one by one until hope is lost at which point… Well, a bell is rung.  From there, I would hate to spoil things, but it makes each chokepoint during the inevitable battle a bit more emotional.

What are lacking in this book, unfortunately, are characters I care about.  The general was as humble as anyone could hope for, an old ‘lamb’ is so obviously the most pious man around that his eventual role should be obvious to anyone paying attention, and the evil characters are just a bit too much (not the mindless hoard, those can be as evil as they want to be).  I did enjoy the stranger in town, who was supposed to provide an outsiders perspective on things to this isolated town.  But outside of her, just didn’t feel it.

There was also a weird goat thing going on that I wasn’t much of a fan off.  Either the author is in on the Goodkind joke (if you don’t know, I can’t help you) and took it to extreme levels or he really felt I needed a few PoV chapters from an incredibly intelligent goat. I could have done without them.  Don’t even get me started on the goat’s noble act that makes me think the whole thing HAD to be a parody.

Consider this one worth reading, if only for the potential in the religious set up.  But despite some major shows of sacrifice, some well-timed deaths, and all the things that are supposed to make ones heart race I never really got emotionally involved.  With the conclusion also being fairly heavily foreshadowed I felt there could have been so much more to this.

3 Stars

Copy provided by author for review purpose.