Tough Travels – Well Traveled Road

tough-traveling

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.

</div>

Fantasy Review: ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru CormorantAnd I was having such luck with early hyped debuts lately.

It would be easy to get caught up in The Traitor Baru Cormorant, in many ways it is a fine debut that shows an author with a lot of promise. Certainly there is ambition in this book; nothing about it looks like an author taking the easy way down any path. And maybe that is the problem I had here. It may be too ambitious for its page count. It starts down one path, darts to another, and ends with a complete left turn that is of a less twist ending and more of a ‘fuck you’ for following along to this point. King Author getting arrested at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is more sane than the ending of this one.

Here is a book that originally hooked me. A young girl watches as a new trading partner solidifies its grasp on her nation of birth. It is quickly apparent that we will be watching a youth grow up in a land of transition; cultural assimilation through technology and education. And with that an accelerated path of forced acceptance of the ‘Masquerade’s cultural values.   Sadly this is false hook, Baru’s education is given only a quick run before she is shown graduating and moving on to her first assignment as a supposedly assimilated new citizen. The old culture is a distant memory and an allusion; ignore it because it will never be important again. It is a false thread, a motivation that the reader isn’t allowed to connect too. From here on out we watch as Baru is left with the impossible task of stopping a rebellion in a land that is refusing to be dominated…with only scant knowledge of the land but in full control of the economic situation.

There is a KJ Parker vibe going on that I think many will dig; it certainly allowed me to forgive some of the faults. This is a book that revels in the minutia and has a savant digging through all those little details. Baru is interesting enough with her conflicting emotions, obvious mistakes and bare knuckle comebacks from said mistakes. Her likability waxes and wanes by design; she appears to be driven by something noble but her tactics are downright ruthless even early on. Do not doubt the darkness of themes; even in the early going it is clear the ‘Masquerade’ won’t tolerate customs they don’t like and some bad things are coming for Baru’s people.

Ultimately what turned me off in this were way too many leaps of faith required to accept the plot. This starts very early on with Baru rolling the dice and picking just the right person to befriend for what proves to be a long term relationship. This trend picks up when the nitty gritty of the scheming begins in her job as a royal accountant; almost every move seemed less calculated by logic and more by ‘look at this hand while I shift the cards.’ It goes without saying that your mileage may vary when it comes to plot leaps but credibility was lost with me almost immediately.

No, scratch that last paragraph. Your mileage probably won’t vary. This story is needlessly complex to the point of absurdity and it all becomes even harder to swallow as my mind starts realizing just how some allies were moved out of the way in pursuit of a final outcome that I have decided is best described as laughable.

This is a book that almost fooled me with its slick style. I wanted to like a book that opens with girl happy in a family quite unlike any I have seen on page. I love the thought of a savant with a grudge. Following the little details was fun and it wasn’t until I stepped back that I realized they were fooling me into thinking said little details actually matter in some way.

This is a book that I am sure will get some split reactions. Early reviews I read have mostly been positive but I rarely stand alone when I start seeing issues (Oh look, mixed reviews linked down below). And I had such high hopes.

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Other Opinions: Little Red Reviewer, Amal El-Mohtar, Lynn’s Book Blog, Fantasy Literature, Book Pushers, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Tough Travels – A Lady and Her Sword

tough-traveling

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.

</div>

Tough Travels: Portals to Another Land

tough-traveling

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.

</div>

Q & A: Alex Marshall talks ‘A Crown for Cold Silver’

A Crown For Cold SilverFIVE VILLAINS. ONE LEGENDARY GENERAL. A FINAL QUEST FOR VENGEANCE.

Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.

Now the peace she carved for herself has been shattered by the unprovoked slaughter of her village. Seeking bloody vengeance, Zosia heads for battle once more, but to find justice she must confront grudge-bearing enemies, once-loyal allies, and an unknown army that marches under a familiar banner.

One of my favorite reads of last year, A Crown for Cold Silver, is being released in paperback this week.  Alex Marshall was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, writing it, and the series as a whole.  My attempt to sneak in a question about the pseudonym was unfortunately spotted though.  No big reveal coming is today =)

First off, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I am honored and I absolutely loved A Crown for Cold Silver. Because I hope my readers have the same interests as me I hope you don’t mind a line of questioning designed to sate my own curiosity!

I have talked about your book quite a bit because it is a book I really enjoyed. It was dark, gritty, funny, deep, and subversive as hell. But one question has come up in various conversations that I can’t seem to answer. Do you consider A Crown for Cold Silver to be a parody of the popular dark fantasy style (GRIMDARK) or is it a loving homage? Or were you considering the larger fantasy picture at all as your wrote it?

I consider it to be part of a long and worthy tradition, one that is very near to my heart…but no tradition is perfect, and applying a critical eye to even those that that we love helps contribute to the whole instead of detracting from it. So while there’s humor in the work that’s predicated on certain preconceptions about dark fantasy, the novel is by no means a parody. I approached the project with the utmost sincerity.

Something a little more plot specific I was wondering about. It took me a while to realize Maroto considered Zosia in a very manic pixie dream girl type of way, something that Zosia wanted no part of. This may be closely related to the previous question but did you deliberately built up specific tropes just to break them back down?

As mentioned, I’m obviously aware of all the tropes we know and love—and those we groan at—but whether I played with or against them depended on the how the characters and their world came to life, versus an overwhelming desire to take the piss. Mostly. My goal is always to tell an interesting tale that grows organically from the personalities of the players, not shoe-horn in heavy-handed statements, even those I agree with. I’m not naïve enough to think I’m reinventing the battle ax here, just offering my own modern style on a classic design.

Quite frankly I found A Crown for Cold Silver to be hilarious; often I was laughing at very inappropriate times in the story. I know writing humor is one of the hardest aspects of the craft. Does mixing humor with more serious tones make it easier, something that just flowed with your writing? Or was it always a struggle to craft just right?

I’m glad you appreciated it, and yes, it has to flow naturally or you’re in serious trouble—forcing in humor is even worse than forcing in messages.

All of Zosia’s ‘villains’ were well crafted with unique personalities. Maroto seems to get the most page time so let’s ignore him for a bit. Do you find yourself with a personal favorite villain while writing?

That’s a tough question, in part because we only see the rest of the Villains through the perspectives of their friends and foes, and in part because I’m rubbish at picking favorites in the first place. I suppose I’ll go with Hoartrap the Touch, if only because writing about weird wizards is obviously its own reward.

Last one, I promise. Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect in the future from you and this world?

I’m not going to be done with Star and it’s many villains for some time—Book II is already in the bag, and the third is in progress. In the sequel we’ll see the scale of the peril vastly expand, even as personal conflicts sharpen to fatal points. We’ll also get to experience the perspective of characters who have thus far existed on the periphery, and the world will grow larger and richer even as its entire future is threatened. Before the end readers won’t have to wish on any devils to discover the eldritch secrets of the First Dark, and even if few of the characters particularly enjoy the ride I suspect my audience will.

Thank you so much for your time. As I said, I loved the book. Good luck in all your future endeavors.

It’s been my pleasure, and thanks again for reading.

 

Marshall, Alex (1608265)Alex Marshall my friends!  Anyone good enough for a blurb from Kameron Hurley ought to be good enough for all of us.

Alex Marshall is a pseudonym for an acclaimed author who has previously published several novels in different genres. – See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/alex-marshall/#about

Tough Travels- Magic Systems

tough-traveling

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.

</div>

My August Reads

UprootedLet us take a trip together down my last month of reading. While at one time (like last month) I prided myself on writing a review on everything I read I found that even I have a price. Like many people I found that my price was shockingly low; a good beer and several nights of Fallout Shelter was all it took for me to compromise on my morals.

And let me tell you it feels good. Expect this compromise to be made even more in the future.

But I have been reading, if not at the rate that I was once accustomed to.   And this is a book blog. So I suppose I ought to talk about some books.

First let’s talk about Fables. Perhaps you have heard of it? I don’t do comics much. Not long ago I thought I was going to get into comics more but after reading the first issue of Suicide Squad I realized this still isn’t a medium that catches my eye much. Oh sure Watchmen is still a regular reread and Sandman holds a place in my heart. AND, I admit, Rat Queens is quite enjoyable though the second volume is not up to the quality of the first.

But I had never gotten to Fables despite it being right up my alley; fairy tale re-imagining should be old by now but to be fair Fables has been doing it for quite some time. Sure it turns out the author is kind of a jackass but that doesn’t take away from what has proven to be a semi-addiction. I have read the first seven volumes. I admit it peaked early on, once that adversary’s identity came out it has not held up as well but I don’t regret reading it. For now I will put it down though, I have more Pratchett books to read as my bedside table books.

Uprooted is a wonderful book by Naomi Novak that deserves a full review. Three attempts to write one later is what started myself down a slide of android video games. Uprooted feels like a fleshed out fairytale; a young girl goes to a scare place and grows into her own with a backdrop of an evil forest. I love it. It was never predictable and never let the reader know where it was going to go. Just when it looked like there was no end in sight for the conflict within the book the protagonist finally takes over and finishes things right. I admit, I hate neatly tied packages and believe it or not I am not a huge fan of happy endings. Uprooted ends on a melancholy yet hopeful note. And while there is a conclusion to the story not everything is tied up so neat that we know the whole story is over. This was a damn good book from an author that I have always respected but was tiring of from her previous never ending series.

Moving on to Dark Assension. I do believe I have made my feelings clear on the FortitudeDark Ascension (Generation V, #4) Scott. I do so love it. I have criticized the covers on more than one occasion; I still think they make the books look like cheap TV show tie-ins. But you cannot fault what is between the pages. Now urban fantasy series often have a flaw built right into them and it is the same thing that makes them so damn marketable- they are ripe to become episodic and several times I have eaten up a series and realized that things are not really going anywhere book after book. I am pleased to report M.L. Brennen is not letting this happen to hers.

By the end of this forth book I came to the realization that the series could end today and I would be disappointed just fine. Not because I don’t want more, because believe me I do. But there was such a shake up of the status quo in this book that it could be read as an open ended conclusion. For three books we saw Fortitude meet a new fantasy creature, solve a new problem, and learn a little bit more about his vampire powers. At the end of the book he was still safely the baby of his family; his mother being the sweetest little lady mafia don in the world, his brother watching over him, and his sister the coolest enforcer of any large syndicate. Then BOOM. Dark Ascension hits. And now we have a whole new playground to build in. I love the lack of complacency and the unwillingness to stick to a winning formula just because one can. And as such this series will remain a must read for each new book.

The House of Shattered WingsFinally we come to The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. This was a highly anticipated book for me as I loved her trilogy of Aztec based fantasy mysteries. This is one of those books I can objectively call very good; Urban Fantasy unlike anything else bearing the genre label. I enjoyed the fallen angel aspects, respected the way it tied its historical aspects with the fantastic. I can even call the characters more complex than the book’s page length suggests they could be. What I can’t do, sadly, is say I particularly enjoyed the book. It was a mystery that failed to catch my interest and a book I kept reading because I recognized that it should be good.

September is starting strong. Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore has been read and I am reading The Traitor Baru Cormorant and enjoying it very much.   Hell, I may even review it.