Arising from the Ashes

I am reviewing again, though this won’t be the place to read them.  Most of my reviews are currently being seen at Booknest.eu.  I also contribute to The Speculative Herald.  Both are wonderful sites and I hope any old readers who find me add both to their feed immediately.  When I have a new review I will cross post it here so people wanting to find all my stuff in one place can.  Please visit the sites and comments are always both welcome and helpful to rebuilding my ‘brand’ on these sites. Continue reading

Tough Travels – Well Traveled Road

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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.

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Tough Travels – People on Boats

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Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is PEOPLE ON BOATS

Grab a map of Fantasyland and you are sure to see there is water.  Of course not everything important is going to happen on land, right?  Sometimes people actually have to get on a boat and hit the water.  Where, being fantasyland, anything can happen.

Were I to make a list this week I promise it would have been wonderful.  The obvious choice would have been Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  I also would have picked Hawkwood’s Voyage by Kearney, thrown in a little Jingo for my Pratchett reference, and skimmed like mad to see if I really did remember some time on a boat when reading Cold Fire by Kate Elliott.

I might also, had I made a list, wondered a bit about the strange coincidence that both Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercombie set their current series in post apocalyptic settings that featured a lot of travel on boats.  Kinda cool.

I would have tossed out the YA portal fantasy Steel by Carrie Vaughn for a bit of local flavor to wrap it all up, though a bit of Rime of the Ancient Mariner or perhaps Beowulf could have finished it up (despite that fact that I have only read excerpts of the last two).

But I didn’t do a list this week.  Instead rejoice in the fact that I have finally got a list of the topics for the rest of the year ready to post next week.  Which will make everyone’s life a bit easier.

Join us next week as we look at FATHERS

Comes in two types in fantasyland.  Either a semi-mystical figure proving impossible to live up to or the overbearing type who doesn’t understand why his daughter doesn’t accept the traditional princess role.  He may be tough to get along with but usually does think he has his kids interests in mind.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

On Rereading

I am going to throw out a couple of numbers. These numbers are just guesses, because Jurassic Parkthey involve things I never actually tracked, but I don’t think they are all that far off and are presented not as hard stats but just to give a general impression. So I think everyone should be OK with them.

Jurassic Park – 20

Small Gods – 12

Tom Sawyer – 10

Dragonflight -6

To Kill A Mockingbird -5

The Thrawn Trilogy – 5

The First Law – 3

God’s War -3

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell -2

This numbers represent, to the best of my guessing ability without a time machine to double check them, how many times I have read the books in question. Now Jurassic Park is an outlier for sure, it was the first adult novel I was given and in fifth grade it was as good as gold for me. I read it five or six times back to back and continued to reread it periodically right through high school. Likewise Tom Sawyer was a book I have held a copy of forever and I had to read To Kill A Mockingbird twice for classes.

Every other book listed is a title I have picked up in high school or later and then reread, for pleasure, several times since. I am a re-reader and I am not ashamed of this fact. If there was one thing that was ever going to derail my blogging it was the burning desire to go back to old favorites again. As I pushed through a growing pile of new releases and other new to me books my book shelves started singing my name. ‘Nathan,’ they called. ‘Nathan, we have all your old favorites’ right here!’

I have finally snapped. I refuse to refuse the siren call. I grabbed City of Stairs, very likely my favorite read of last year, and I pushed everything else back to read it.

And it was wonderful.

And I will most likely do it again.

Let that sink in. I reread a book less than a year after reading it the first time. For a person whose online persona is built entirely around being up to date on current reads this is not common. Especially as said person has watched his reading time cut in half or more by a change in jobs.

I understand why people don’t reread, I really do. I did not grow up in a family of re-readers. My mom and dad both read, but neither saw a purpose in buying a book that will only be read once (obviously our entire philosophy on reading was different from the start). They both figured that once you knew the story then what was the point? And as a person will a chronic need to know the ending (to the point of reading Wiki synopsis of books I have no plan on actually reading) I suppose I understand this.

Then of course is the blogger’s nightmare; a reread of an old book is one new book not getting read. And it isn’t just bloggers who feel this way. There are so many quality books out there, and the feeling of discovering something new and wonderful is such a great feeling, I really do understand the desire to keep looking for the next book love.

All of this, and a thousand other reasons why people don’t reread, I understand.

But I don’t actually get it.

When it came to City of Stairs I found myself thinking about it again during a recent Tough Travel’s topic. And I remembered how cool it was when they found a list of items in the Unmentionable Warehouse. And then I was trying to remember exactly how Sigrud took on the sea monster. And.. And… And……..

I was nose deep.

And yes, Shara was just as awesome. How did I forget the scene where she gets so angry that she…cooks. And not pancakes and fried eggs, no, Shara is too pissed for that. She goes gourmet fucking meal on those ingredients.

And yes, Sigrud was still something else. The man saves the day not once but twice and still sits in the background of Shara, that is something spectacular.

And little details were remembered, while other details missed the first time were found.

Most importantly I didn’t have one single thought that I was wasting my time. The story was just as fresh, even if I knew where it was going. I was enjoying reading this as much as any other book I have read this year. Which makes sense, because I enjoyed it as much as any book I read last year as well. Why would things be different this time?

Of course I have been doing a Discworld reread for some time now. And there have been a couple books, especially in the early days of the blog, that I had read once before and reread in order to drop a review. But for the most part I have resisted the call of the bookshelf and told myself that they would all be there when I finished blogging. That resistance is now broken. I refuse to deny myself one of life’s greatest pleasures.

A good story is always good, great prose always appreciated, and characters that become your friend never get old. Rereading great books should not be a guilty pleasure it should only be a pleasure. And if the old blog suffers a bit from it, so be it.

Hell, I may reread City of Stairs before the sequel hits.   Just because I can.

U.S. Giveaway: Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett

Thanks to the good folks at Crown you have a change to win one of three copies of Mother of Eden, sequel to the much praised Dark Eden.  Let’s look at the blurb!

Mother of Eden“We speak of a mother’s love, but we forget her power.”
Civilization has come to the alien, sunless planet its inhabitants call Eden.

Just a few generations ago, the planet’s five hundred inhabitants huddled together in the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, afraid to venture out into the cold darkness around them.

Now, humanity has spread across Eden, and two kingdoms have emerged. Both are sustained by violence and dominated by men – and both claim to be the favored children of Gela, the woman who came to Eden long ago on a boat that could cross the stars, and became the mother of them all.
When young Starlight Brooking meets a handsome and powerful man from across Worldpool, she believes he will offer an outlet for her ambition and energy. But she has no inkling that she will become a stand-in for Gela herself, and wear Gela’s fabled ring on her own finger—or that in this role, powerful and powerless all at once, she will try to change the course of Eden’s history.

I will soon be reading Dark Eden and begin my quest to catch up on this series myself.  The rules are simple enough, if you live in the US you can win.  Just enter through the Rafflecopter below.

About the Author
Chris Beckett is a university lecturer living in Cambridge, England. His short stories have appeared in such publications as Interzone and Asimov’s Science Fiction and in numerous “year’s best” anthologies. Learn more about Chris and his books at http://www.chris-beckett.com/ .

This Giveaway is over.  Congrats to the winners!

Fantasy Review: ‘Miserere: An Autumn Tale’ by Teresa Frohock

Miserere: An Autumn TaleThis is perhaps the most impossible to describe book I have read yet at its core it is a very simple, linear story. I can’t seem to make sense of this seeming contradiction.

Woerld (yes I checked that spelling) is a land between the worlds. A barrier between earth and hell with its own thriving life as its denizens mostly do their best to keep fallen angels where they belong. It would appear that the Judeo-Christian mythos is somewhat grounded in reality here; yet obviously missing a few important facts. On Woerld the religious of the land all worship the same gods in different ways; oft reminiscent of their Earthly counterparts. Events on one plain seem to affect all the others.

When a young girl on earth walks through a portal (portal fantasy alert!) she finds Lucian, an exiled former exorcist who abandoned his lover for his sister (who then rewarded him by destroying his legs and leaving him relying on cane). The young girl is forced to get a crash course in living within her new land as she acts as a foundling to Lucian. For his part Lucian isn’t even sure he should take on the duties as her teacher due to his exile; and he makes things worse when he broke some very specific rules in order to rescue her.

This is a book of betrayal and redemption wrapped in one of the most emo packages imaginable. Plenty of brooding, self-loathing, and other muses of dark poetry which fits the quasi-religious setting well. I said it was simple but that doesn’t come from the setting, which takes most of the book to fully reveal it self, but rather from the plotting. Most of the book is Lucian and his young ward trying to escape the wraith of Lucian’s sister; a woman actively working to…well I am really not sure. But it is bad, and involves daemons and take overs of the hostile variety and lots of torture.

There are a couple of things that I really appreciated about this book. One is a simple thing; a set piece that for some reason tickled my fancy. A single rose acting as a guardian; hostile flora is big on my list of things more fantasy needs. The other major plus was how seamlessly the book handled the ‘portal fantasy’ aspect. I usually despise portal fantasies but here it fit the setting. The young girl is not the first who is pulled down; several characters in this story came from Earth and others came from Woerld. So people, like Lucian, have no problem helping the new foundlings and we as a reader are left with less annoying inconsistencies as people figure out the new way of life.

I give this book some major kudos for creativity and its page turning ways. At times my eyes rolled at the high school goth vibe, and I admit the ending came together just a bit too fast for my liking. This book sits on many bloggers list of majorly under-appreciated fantasy and in a way I can see why; it is completely unique and for the most part compelling. I can’t say it will leave a long term impression on me but I am glad I finally got it off my backlist.

And that is one kicking cover.

3 Stars

2014 Barneys- Colorado Book Club

The Barney Award for Best Book to be read in Colorado now that Pot is Legal

That is right, just by walking outside I find the atmosphere a little more mellow, the conversations a little more stimulating, the amount of pharmacies a bit mind boggling. My state legalized this stuff and it is only fair that our book clubs start taking advantage of our state’s new…mindset. And while I don’t partake myself who doesn’t want a tape recorder in on some of these book club meetings? Nobody doesn’t, that’s who (early double negative, that grammar warning suddenly seems apt doesn’t it?). And while discussions of beat poetry will always be the norm I am pretty sure I can sneak a few fantasy books into the pile. The best of the best for this? Let’s find out.

Unwrapped Sky (Caeli-Amur, #1)Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson- Oh hell yes, this is a great book for a bake in (or so I would assume, again, not my thing). To start with we get the political. Nothing stonies like more than a good old theoretical politics (well, maybe their Ben Harper CD). A strictly structured class based society with major labor strife. Not since Perdido Street Station has there been a fantasy novel to appeal the inner wannabe communist.

But there is also the good old weird shit that an altered state of mind could spend days looking for hidden metaphors within.   Do the Minotaur represent Marx himself, or perhaps the entire proletariat movement? And the siren!? Obviously it is a metaphor for the Iraqi war, or the military-industrial complex, or something. One would have to be a fool not to see it! Or perhaps, one would have to not have a cloud of smoke around them not to see it; the rest of us can just nod our heads and walk on by.

Of course being that our hypothetical group of users is most likely male we should expect a long discussion about the practicality of lusting after a mermaid. Followed by about a hour of frat boy boasting of how exactly one would ‘have relations’ with said mermaid. Things best left to Troy McClure’s imagination will come up.

On second thought, maybe this book club isn’t such a good idea, just give Davidson his award and let’s move on…

Congratulations Rjurik Davidson!  No doubt you have never seen your book mentioned with narcotics of questionable legality before.  I am sure this an award you shall cherish forever!

Introducing the 2014 Barney Awards

barneys2013The time has come again for the most irrelevant awards in the blogosphere, The Barneys!  Over the next couple of days you will get completely unasked for, completely unappreciated, coveted by absolutely no one awards in which Pauline and I go through the books we read and highlight a few that stand out.  Rather than the typical best of list we prefer to do it our own way.  Expect silliness.  (Feel free to take the time to look through last year’s awards as well).

You may laugh, you most certainly will cry (especially if you read my posts and care a lick about grammar), you will stay for the popcorn (bring your own popcorn).  If all goes right, you will have fun.  And if you watch real carefully you will see people unfollow this blog at a record pace.

This year we are doing things a little different, sharing the blame if you will.  It won’t just be Pauline and I handing out awards no one wants because I have invited a few friends to hand out their choices.  Hopefully this turns into an annual event bigger than Smugglivus, and not just because then I could have my entire December content taken care of by others while sipping on this fine Pale Ale I have discovered.

So sit back, have fun, and winners can expect their award in four to six nevers.

The Requisite Halloween Post

Halloween. Not sure it was ever my holiday. Sure I like dressing up but I grew up outside of town; door to door trick or treating was something other kids did. I also don’t have a lot of knowledge of horror films. If I started listing my favorites you would get a couple of Hitchcock films and the realization I don’t really know any others. I like Young Frankenstein and Nightmare Before Christmas, but that would be a boring post.

This being a book blog I should post a few scary reads. But much like in cinema I just don’t read horror. Because scary books scare me, duh. But I think doing a Halloween post is pretty much a requirement if you have a blog. So why not?

Here are a couple of my favorite non-horror books that still somewhat fit the typical Halloween parameters. Read them. Or be plagued by malevolent spirits. Your choice really.

The Circus of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney –I have shouted the praises of this book out on The Circus of Dr. Laojust about every internet forum I have ever been part of. I have a confession, I didn’t like Something Wicked This Way Comes. Too simplistic, too transparent, too much Power of Love(queue Huey Lewis). No when it comes to carnival’s of the strange I much prefer that of the incredible Dr Lao.

Start your day off with a parade consisting of three floats. It would be laughable if anyone could agree on what they saw. Was that a bear or a man in the cage? Just how big can a snake be? What else should a sleepy Arizona town do but turn out and check this strange man’s carnival out?

The Circus of Dr Lao is a wonderful little book that shows a town true wonders – and watches them go back to their daily lives. Imaginative and fun, full of wonder and just a hint of melancholy. Infuriating at what it won’t show you, this book can be a bit of a tease. Name another book that has an appendix pointing out irregularities and obvious errors.

It was written in 1935 but if I tagged Neil Gaiman’s name on a copy and passed it around I bet it would fool more than one.

The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L Howard- We just keep coming back to Something Wicked This Way Comes comparisons don’t we? Another evil traveling carnival but this time from the viewpoint of a truly despicable man. Johannes wants something and the only who can help him get it is Satin. Easy enough.

To enjoy this story you have to be okay with following around a horrible person as he tries to bag souls for the man downstairs. The joy comes from the inventive way he uses his carnival to suck in rubes; and watching him play games with hell along the way.

The series takes a bit of a steampunk turn in the second book, then goes right back to horror in a journey through the Lovecraftian Dreamlands. But with more humor than scary tentacled monsters; always a plus.

A Dirty Job or Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore- I have read a lot of Moore A Dirty Job (Grim Reaper, #1)and he has a couple of books that fit the Halloween them. Both are absurd, hilarious, and slightly demented. A Dirty Job is about a man trying his best to raise a baby girl who just might be the living incarnation of Death. The first half of the book is one of the funniest things I have ever read (though like many of Moore’s works it starts to bog down in the end).

Bloodsucking Fiends is a vampire parody that is actually funny. It has it all, even if the things that go bump in the night are frozen turkeys being used as bowling balls during the night shift. And it has the better ending of the two books. It was followed by two sequels though, I would recommend avoiding those.

 

Tough Travels – Monsters

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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 MONSTERS

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

And of course I totally picked this topic for Halloween. I swear, I saw what week it was and picked this one on purpose. That is how I roll.

The UnicornLords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett – Used the same Pratchett book two weeks in a row, what are the odds? (One in forty would be a starting point I guess). Now I know what the thought process is here, Unicorn? Really? Nobody thinks unicorns are evil monsters do they? They are playful, and frolicky, and ya maybe they ignored Noah and didn’t get on the arc but that is not a sign of evil.

But look at is closely. It is a large wild horse, which can be intimidating enough. And then some nut job decided to add a single large spike to the top of its head. Take it out of the elves’ realm and surround it by rocks filled with iron and now you got one pissed off, nasty monster roaming the countryside.

Clawbaby Gleam by Tom Fletcher – I have no idea what this thing is and never quite Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)figured out what it wanted but it totally counts because it is a nasty thing that fits in any horror film. All sharp edges and determination, the Clawbaby follows around the protagonists group leaving death around it. Oh, and it cries like a baby. Because that isn’t scarey at all.

Slate MothsPerdido Street Station by China Miéville– What is the statute of limitations on spoilers in this book? Can we talk about slate moths yet? Their crazy wings, the terror they spread their inter-dimensional presence that makes them next to impossible to kill? The most feared insect within a city since fleas (and most people didn’t know to blame the fleas when plague was sweeping through).

Objectively The Scar is the better book of the series but my heart always goes to Perdido Street Station because it has fucking slate moths.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy CoveLust LizardThe Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore- Look, all I am saying is if you don’t want your tanker trucks to blow up on the outskirts of town then you shouldn’t make them so seductive. How is a sea monster supposed to help itself?

Museum Monster –Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child- Trips to the museum are supposed to be fun. They should not lead to disappearances and bones with all the marrow sucked out of them.

Never quite sure how these types of books should be classified. Obviously it is labeled as a thriller and it is, but it has those sci-fi elements in it a la Michael Chrichton and James Rollins. I kinda like these modern day science gone amok thrillers. .

Fluffy – Harry Potter – What are you doing?

Trying to think of monsters for this week’s list.

Fluffy?

Well why not?

White RabbitMonty Python and the Holy Grail – A beast so horrible, so disgusting, so deadly, only a hand grenade can properly take care of it. A HOLY hand grenade. Count to three, then throw it. Not four, nor two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out…

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Ok, I have a new topic picked for next week and there will be plenty more from Jones book. But it is becoming harder to pick each week and ensure I get a topic with a variety of answers. So soon we will have to expand beyond the book. I’ll get a suggestion box up in the next couple of weeks but until then start thinking of a few topics you may want to see. Anyway…

Join us next week as we look at NOVICES

Novice is a term in frequent use. There are not only Novice Priests and Priestesses and nuns: you will also encounter novice healers and bards, and sometimes also novice mages…Novices are always young, frequently skinny and undernourished, and clad in robes.

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