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Update – I broke my blog but we are fixing it.

It appears that blogloving is now working again.  This is for all intents and purposes a functioning blog again.

A recap; I moved hosting and broke the blog in the process.  As you can see it is looking better, closer to where it was before.  I am still having a couple of issues but I think this can be worked out.  Here is where I stand.

-Graphics- none of my media moved.  not a huge deal but it does mean my Tough Traveling banner is showing on no old posts.  We will call this ‘the least of my worries.’

-Sadly none of the Tough Traveling link ups made the move.  I can go back and add the code one at a time, and I will, but it will be a slow process because it is BORING.

–The follow us on the sidebar isn’t tough to recreate but it is time consuming.  I am holding off on it for a bit though because of my biggest concern.  Which is..

–Bloglovin, by far the way most people follow the blog, is not picking up my feed.  I have a couple of people who had e-mail subscriptions–guessing that those are gone too.  If anyone has any advice on this let me know, else I will just keep trying to hit the correct Google Keywords to make this happen.

Appreciate the help I found; stick with us because this will be back to normal soon enough.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Scarlet Tides’ by David Hair

The Scarlet Tides (Moontide Quartet #2)The Scarlet Tides, second book of the Moontide Quartet by David Hair, fairly non-surprisingly picks up where the first in the series left off. This is both completely obvious and slightly telling; you see I found the second half of the first outing infinitely better than the first. So picking up from that point is obvious from a narrative angle; and also a major plus from the enjoyment side.

The setup is a very familiar one. Pseudo –Europe goes on a crusade against a pseudo-Middle East. Those who dislike a lot of real world parallels will not be thrilled; those willing to immerse themselves in the world anyway will not be disappointed. One of the things that sets this tale apart from some of the others who have borrowed the crusade theme is that it follows both sides of the struggle. From there we see splits and a multitude of different cultures within the factions themselves. No mindless hordes or oversimplification of the ‘Us vs. Them’ theme; there are a lot of different motives at play all over the map. A lot of cultural clashes and fights about values here, some leading to understanding and some…not.

A fine line between epic with a capital E and something a bit more personal follows. On the one hand the cast is huge and it took me a while to reconnect the different names with their story lines. With the alternating PoV style it employed I didn’t see any single PoV a second time until around the hundred page mark. But once it got into its flow this ended up working well; it isn’t that the PoV cast is exceptionally large, rather we get to spend enough time with each character to actually get to know them. While the background cast is huge and at times intimidating the main characters become as familiar as a person can want.

For a book with a big old war in the background of everything that is going on this is surprisingly rarely a war novel; another way it differs from the major titles I would want to compare it to. Instead it is a nice blend of political maneuverings, double dealings, relationship building, and even the boredom of a long march. Magic and its affects make the world a bit more manageable but we are still dealing with a sprawling map with events taking place all over it. Hair plays it right; interweaving some stories with others until they all connect but without forcing improbable coincidences to force the cast into one place.

Complaints are few. It is a very familiar tale though the setting shows that to be by design. No character is one of a kind or even all that memorable; some of that comes from each of them being fairly realistic (in a magic using fantasy kind of way) without the over-the-top caricatures we almost expect from our epic fantasy any more. And on a personal front I find that no matter how good the story is reading seven hundred page bricks turns into a struggle after a while.

The series has been a slow burn so far but some pay off is coming. Obviously this is a series with a plan in place and it will take a war to settle it. A possible hero of the ages has been introduced but I genuinely like the character so I am willing to wait it out. And while Hair hasn’t thrown too many curves at us yet I remain hopeful that the next book is just as compelling as this one. For if it is, watch out, this could turn into a must read series in a hurry.

4 Stars

Big thanks to Mogsy for gifting me a copy of this book that promptly sat on my shelf for half the year.

Fantasy Review: ‘Sword of the Bright Lady’ by M.C. Planck

Sword of the Bright Lady (World of Prime, #1)This review was originally published a few days ago.  We had some serious website issues since then and lost a week’s worth of stuff.  The author had responded to some of my criticisms in the comments but those too were lost in the hosting fiasco.  Sorry to all involved.

Ten copper is equal to one silver, ten silver is equal to one gold. After a battle the victors go around the field and harvest a glowing ball of energy from each of the dead; collect enough of it and a person can level up one rank. Die and a person can be revived, but will lose a level of rank. More rank means better magical abilities; higher ranked men can shrug off sword blows with ease and heal even the deepest wounds in seconds. After a duel the victor gets all the lootz from the loser; usually keeping any magically enchanted items and selling off the mundane stuff.

The latest online roleplaying game from Blizzard? No, unfortunately this is the world in which protagonist of Sword of the Bright Lady finds himself transported to in this thoroughly mediocre portal fantasy offering. Now I have accused books of feeling like a video game before but I can’t think of a book that was this blatantly a video game in written form. The harvesting of tael and the ability to lose it upon death is the collection of XP, plain as day. I have collected glowing stuff from my kills in too many video games to mention. There is a color coded system to check people’s affiliation so a person can always check the manual if they get lost. And at one point Christopher, our poor lost soul of destiny, looks through his recently acquired spells through a visual menu like apparition in front of him; complete with a silent guide to act as a tutorial.

I wanted A Connecticut Yankee tale here, and in a way I got one. But instead of King Arthur’s Court we ended up in Azeroth; and did so without a trace of irony to be found. There was a decent story to be found here; Christopher using his mechanical knowledge to change society around him. But it walked a predictable line and was surrounded by so much silliness that it was hard to take seriously. Of course the protagonist shows gunpowder to a disproving audience, changes the course of warfare, and becomes a man of destiny within a world he barely understands. There was quite literally no other way this story could have gon. It was what I expected, it was what I got. Enjoyment can be found in these stories and I got a bit of satisfaction when everything he did was inevitably proven to be right. I admit that for all the predictability I saw through the story I was caught off guard by the ending; in retrospect it was obvious but the author managed to fool me and kudos to him for that.

Unfortunately the detractions to the book outweigh the strong ending and various comeuppances that the baddies of the tale get. Beyond the silly set up and incredible ease in which Christopher bends the world around his will. It is actually surprising to see a book fail the Betchell test these days but this one does it rather miserably. The closest it comes to passing is when one woman addresses a table that has a second woman at it; it may be the only time in the book two women are in one scene — surprising because this is a land of endless war missing a large percentage of its male population. Of the six women of note in the book three offer themselves to Christopher in some fashion. And despite a large portion of the male population dying in the war women are still left with the prospect of a good marriage being their best (only?) hope in life (with a bit of an inconsistency arising from a high ranking church official).

For those who look for well-paced plotting first and foremost in their fantasy novels this book will probably work well. But it is pretty easy to overload on portal fantasy; they all too often deal with one super character changing the world and need something unique to break form the back. Granted, this one had a unique feel, but it wasn’t one that worked for me.

2 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Q & A: Robert Jackson Bennett talks ‘City of Stairs’

Robert Jackson BennettCity of Stairs, is any book getting more buzz this fall? I have already reviewed it, and I loved it. Based on the other reviews I have seen around so – did – everyone – else. I admit I am late to the party here, one of those who suddenly finds himself in need of digging through the authors backlog because City of Stairs was my first. In some ways I see Bennett as an indie band breaking into main stream; the people already in the know are just nodding their heads and telling the rest of us ‘I told you so.’

So excited about this new release I was, so nervously I ask the author if he will answer a few questions. Graciously he says yes.  Enjoy.

Thank you for answering a few questions.  I will be honest, I really only had one to start with when I asked if you would answer a few.  Hopefully the rest of them don’t seem too contrived.

1. Review after review talk about Sigrud.  And I get it; he is a great City of Stairscharacter with a great arc.  But Shara is smart, capable, the main character and perhaps most importantly, the one Sigrud respects enough to follow.  Does it bother you that Sigrud has overshadowed Shara in some of the early discussions?  

Not particularly. I could tell when I was writing it that Sigrud was, in a way, the Ron Swanson of City of Stairs, a masculine archetype taken to comical, satirical extremes, without engaging in some of the more unsavory elements of masculinity (rape, groping, misogyny, etc). Sigrud is never behaving as he should in any given scene, and that’s immensely enjoyable to watch.

2. Could you tell us, in a spoiler free way of course, if you have a favorite scene from the book and a give us a peak into it?

Probably Vo and Shara having dinner together. That’s a tremendously enjoyable scene with so much subtext to it. They’re both bruised idealists that have disappointed each other, but still have hope. It was fun to write, and I hope was fun to read.

The Troupe3. From twitter I know that there is a sequel in the works.  I also know Mulaghesh is the main character (Did I spell that right?  I copied it right from twitter and don’t have my copy with me).  Can you give us any other hints about what to expect?

Sure. As I’m writing it, it’s Mulaghesh and Sigrud in the polis that once belonged to the Divinity of war and death, searching for a missing Ministry agent and trying not to interfere in one of the great construction projects intended to bring aid to the Continent. They’re two soldiers and killers in their own right, and both they and Saypur itself are wondering if they can change and move beyond their pasts.

4. I know genre labels are hard.  You wrote an excellent post titled The Genre Fountain that went over the topic.  But I have read several books recently that, if not a genre in their own right, belong in the same category as City of Stairs.  The “Gods are real and influence the world” sub-genre we will call it (for brevity sake, of course).  Have you read any other books that would fit into this very narrow label?  If so, do you have any favorites?

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Not particularly original choices, but true ones. They both write in the same sort of vein, I think. Not all the time, but quite frequently.

Thank you for your time, I am afraid I am out of questions.  I know five or six more will come the second the post is live, but that is the nature of being an unorganized blogger.  Best of luck to you and City of Stairs, I certainly am pushing it on everyone I meet.

One last thing. If you think my questions suck, or just didn’t see the one you wanted to ask, you are in luck. Robert Jackson Bennett will being doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything later tonight (Sept 22).

Review: ‘Ace of Skulls’ by Chris Wooding

The Ace of Skulls: A Tale of the Ketty Jay (Tales of the Ketty Jay)‘Quit your damn sulking! This is bigger than you!’ she cried.

‘Nothing’s bigger than me!’ he shouted back. ‘Me is all I’ve got!’

Damn, I really hate to see this one end. Oh sure I get it; watching a series stretch out for book after book when the ideas ran out in book four or five is no fun and I should be thankful that Wooding is quitting while the series is still rocking. But I really like this cast, really like this world, and have no problem what so ever listing the Ketty Jay series as one my favorites of all time.

He cried out a warning, thrust out his gun and fired three shots. Two window panes exploded and a nearby door jamb suffered a grievous wound.

Ace of Skulls provides everything I already loved about the series. Best cast of characters around, plenty of adventure in a space pirate style that brings out the best of Firefly and Disney’s Tailspin, and plenty of well-timed humor. Usually gallows humor, or friends insulting each other, but I like it.

As a series ender it goes off with a bang. All the diverse plotlines that Wooding could have stretched into a TV series (perhaps staring Nathan Fillian on Fox?) were somewhat surprisingly drawn together with ease; I expected quite a few loose ends or a horribly contrived ending. Drawing them all together took an epic battle to pull off, but the result was pretty seamless. This being a much more upbeat series (despite some heart wrenching moments) it should come as no surprise that the ending verges on sickenly happy for everyone involved, but this is something I am ok with when appropriate to the series tone.

Know something even better? The one constant drag on this series, a character who never gets developed by shows up to annoy Captain Frey in every book comes back. And this time around she actually does something! No doubt she cements her spot as most hated character for what she does but I was just happy to see this series one down point suddenly show some agency; and finally stop being completely beholden to Frey’s actions. Pleasant surprises indeed.

As a series ender it was so good it is easy to overlook some of the annoyances. It was much more rushed than previous outings; lots of big battle action scenes. Sounds weird for what is essentially an adventure tale but that was never the highlight of the books for me. There was a twist that was hardly a twist at all but rather something I kept waiting from the moment it was set up. And if there was one plotline I would have liked a bit more closure on it was that of the golem Bess, but maybe I am just a big softie.

Hey, it is an ending to a series four books long. This is as close to a review as I can give. Love the book, love the series. Recommended to just about everyone looking for a fun read.

4 stars for the book, 5 for the series as a whole.

Tough Travels – Witches


Each 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.

This week’s topic is WITCHES

Witches are special and probably at least the equal of WIZARDS.

I could have stretched this topic for three of four weeks. We are going to have to come back to this one at some point, there are too many awesome witches and I hate to leave them out.

Granny, Nanny, Magrat, Agnes (Perdita X)Discworld– They get first mention Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14)because they deserve it. Because they are awesome. Because, and you may have heard me say this once or twice, Granny Weatherwax is the best character in fantasy literature. And her surrounding cast are in a three way tie to hold on to top spots as well.

Granny, Granny, Granny. What to say about her that I have not already said. Let’s see. She has broken age old gender restrictions to get a young girl into a wizarding academy. She plays games with Death, literally Death with the scythe, and wins. She has beat elves, vampires and people who need no supernatural to be evil. Joined by Nanny, who seems so much simpler until you run into her iron side they help people in terrifying ways. It is just a joy. Don’t have time to give Magrat and Agnes their due today but know that they too are awesome.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)MorwenDealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede – Who say’s witches have to be evil? Morwen proves that she is friend to dragon and young princess both. She just doesn’t have time for greedy wizards. This is a great time for me to once again recommend listening to the audio version of Dealing with Dragons. With its full cast presentation it is quite a delight.

Grand High WitchThe Witches by Roald Dahl – Ok, some witches are evil. And not just a little evil, casting small hexes or whatever. Some witches have grand plans to turn all the children of the world into mice. You should be able to see them though. Watch for them itching their scalp, check those fingernails, and for the love of god stay away from formula 86.

Side note, when working restaurants an item was 86ed once it was gone. I have no idea why, and a quick search shows that several areas of the U.S. lay claim to its origin.

ElphabaWicked by some pretentious pratt Gregory Maguire – Short list for the most Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years #1)overrated book I have ever read. Did anyone actually enjoy this? It was one of the first of the new wave of fairy tale retellings and the ability to be awesome was all over. But instead it was pseudo-metaphysical and damn near unreadable. I would give more details but it has been a few years. Let’s just say, BLEH.

Gave the world a thoroughly mediocre musical with better than average music. But Nathan! Are not musicals all about the music? If that was the case I would rate Wicked higher on my list. But they took Maguire’s already suspect story and wrapped it in a happy ending with ‘twists’ that could be seen by anyone not drunk at the showing. Avenue Q deserved the Tony that year, the vote went the right way.

Still I picked Elphaba because my wife’s folks named their dog after this wicked witch.

MelisandreA Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin – So I have a thing for redheads. Don’t judge me. I think her role in this tale has only just begun.

Samantha Bewitched – do do…do do…do do do do duh do.

Along with Julie Newmar’s Catwoman my junior high crushing came from daytime reruns. I guarantee I am not the only one who spent a portion of their summer vacation watching this old classic.

Join us next week as we look at tour COMPANIONS

COMPANIONS… You will normally meet them for the first time at the outset of the tour. They are picked from among the following: Bard, Female Mercenary, Gay mage, Imperious Female, Large Man, serious soldier, Slender Youth, Small Man, Talented Girl, Teenage Boy, Unpleasant Stranger, and Wise Old Stranger.

Take the topic as you will, I am just going to pick my favorite secondary characters from the genre.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

DNF Round-up – Three I Lost Interest In

Over the last few months I have dropped a couple books after getting a decent way through them. Too many books, not enough time. I used to be a major completionist (this should totally be a word) when it came to books but my pile is too big to force myself through them anymore.

Obviously I cannot call what follows a review because I didn’t read near enough of the books to give a final judgment. So I leave you with a few words about why they were not working for me.

Midnight Thief (Midnight Thief, #1)Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne – Perhaps more a case of YA overload than anything else. But despite the protagonist looking like someone I could grow to like I just wasn’t enjoying her story. Sometimes I can forgive the teenage wonder trope, other times I can’t. But what I really can’t seem to take anymore are worlds where adults take a backseat to a group of teens. A guild of Assassins who seem to be led by a teen (or young twenty something) and is filled by lots of other young people. Perhaps we meet adults later on? Not sure, but an early planning meeting with all the maturity of a frat party planning session seemed to suggest no.

Moving on.

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica – Portal fantasy. Something that misses more often than hit for me but I was willing to give it a try. But I despise a story that goes back and forth between the worlds and I didn’t connect with the protagonist anyway. Tag on a magic system that seemed to allow whatever fit the author’s conveniences (look, now you can understand everything I say!) and I dropped this one and have not looked back.

The Gifted Dead (Gifted, #1)The Gifted Dead by Jenna Black – I dunno, is this book for me? I thought it may be from its description because I like the occasional ‘what if’ future. But it appears to be more of a paranormal romance, something I can take if well done. This one however started to lose me with its X-man magic system in which everyone gets their own unique power, called gifts. But that wasn’t what made me put it down. I decided to leave it alone when a man is punished for failing a mission by having his sister raped by her husband and father in law. No worries though, her Gift allows her to leave her body and watch her own assault without emotion…

But perhaps it is up someone’s alley. I’ll leave y’all with a quote to help with these decisions.

Some people got Gifts of invisibility, or mind reading, or imperviousness to fire … Isabelle got fucking. But at least she made good use of it.

Maybe next time

Midnight Thief and The Gifted Dead copies for review provided by publisher.



Fantasy Review: ‘Two Serpents Rise’ by Max Gladstone

There has been a twitter hashtag game going strong for the last few days where people Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence, #2)have been describing movies badly. No doubt it has originated from an old Wizard of Oz description that ‘a young girl kills the first person she meets, then teams with three strangers to kill again.’   And after finishing Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise I realized how much fun I could have with this game in literature. Because on the surface this has the ability to be the most boring book of all time.   Let’s play!

Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion is called in to pin point the source of a water contamination. Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition. After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has.

Can’t you feel the excitement? But by adding a few words…

Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion (of live human sacrifice to the gods) is called in to pin point source of a water contamination (i.e. nasty monsters that can come right through the tap). Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss (immortal skeleton who took down the gods) calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition (a company that harnesses the power of two giant snake like deities’). After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has (i.e. major destruction and possibly the breaking of the world).

That feels a bit more like it.

My love of this series is growing by the book. A world where gods are real is always a plus, and their contractual way of using and trading power is completely unique. These gods are powerful yet so vulnerable as man has in many ways caught up to them.   We first saw their power at work in Three Parts Dead as a god of fire puts his force behind running a city; in Three Serpents Rise we see the other side of things as the gods in question are harnessed against their will.

The Craft is shown again; a mixture of heavy contract law and necromancy that only makes sense if the books are read. But the way it can weave between mundane and extraordinary at a moment’s notice is a true testament to the strength of the author’s grand idea.

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy this outing quite as much as the debut but that should not suggest I didn’t love the book. I appreciate that the author isn’t just recycling ideas, I do. But with everyone in this outing actually working toward a purpose that I could possibly get behind I found myself missing a nice evil villain. Maybe I was just spoiled buy the amazingly creepy lawyer from Three Parts Dead. Fortunately the other characters of the story held up strong. The main duo had actual chemistry and I felt for them when the world acted to keep them apart. But the background cast threatened to steal the show in this one. A living skelton, the last priest of the gods who fell, even coworkers and friends lived their own lives within the larger story.

A strong second outing that has me pining for the next book already. This ‘living gods’ sub-genre is currently my favorite in fantasy; get on it before the substandard clones start showing up in mass.

4 Stars