Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quick Take - Sacred Hunt, by Michelle West

I have recently finished both The Hunter's Oath and The Hunter's Death, by Michelle (Sagara) West. I had been meaning to read them for some time, but had not gotten around to it. I have 200+ books sitting around in various stacks (here in The Omnibus Cave), so when searching for a new read, I wait for one of the many to mystically reach forth and seize my attention.

It is my understanding that West later continues in this setting with the Sun Sword series (six books) and the House War series (a projected five book series, with four already out). I have seen it mentioned elsewhere that West plans to continue writing in the Essalieyan setting in a new series, sometimes referred to as the Black Gauntlet and sometimes as the End of Days. Outside of the Essalieyan setting, West has written a series called The Sundered (published between '91 and '94) and an episodic series called Chronicles of Elantra ('05 to present).

The Sacred Hunt is a quick duology that introduces the reader to the Essalieyan setting. Originally released in the mid-90s, Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death are among the earliest of West's bibliography.

The Good:

West handles characterization better than most. West's characters 'come alive' from her story and are easily believable. West also has a setting that holds a great deal of promise. While the Sacred Hunt does no more than to scratch the surface of this, her subsequent series in the same setting surely go more in depth on topics of culture, history, theology, et al.

The Bad:

One thing that I have particular difficulty in dealing with are editorial and proofread errors. There are spelling mistakes that can jar the reader's rhythym. There is also some haphazard sentence structure. While neither common, nor rare, there is the occasional sentence that can also break the reader's rhythym, requiring the re-read and re-re-read of the sentence in order to simply figure out precisely what in the hell? the sentence was trying to communicate.

An element of West's style that began to irritate me a bit was the confusing use of generic pronouns (e.g. he, she). The twist of the tale would change from one POV to another, and yet spend a paragraphy or two, or sometimes a page or two, using the word he, or she. By the time the reader is able to finally deduce which particular POV this is, the reader's perception has to be reset, and then the reader needs to re-read that previous portion in order to fully appreciate the gravity of what has just transpired in its appropriate context. While this may have been intentional, and seem clever on face-value, it becomes a chore.

The Remainder:

Overall, I am not sure whether or not I liked West's writing style. I instinctively want to say I liked it. Under more intense and analytical consideration, West's style may have been the catalyst for some of the elements I listed under "The Bad." It's hard to say either way.

I would describe West's style as something part way between a stream of consciousness and regular dialogue. As one reads the tale, one gets the sense of eavesdropping on another's own internal, mental dialogue. For the overwhelming majority of the time, I found that it worked rather well.

The Verdict:

Recommended to Highly Recommended

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

School's out!!!

Many events have conspired to keep me from the ways in which I once used to burn through 'free' time. Foremost among them, full-time attendance in graduate school, is now over. Yesss!!

I will have some reviews to go up, but I will also alter how some are done. Books that are new, widely discussed, or especially good in my opinion; will get the full review treatment. Everything else will get the something much less detailed. I am considering posting those under the tag of 'Short shrift,' unless I, or anyone else, can think of something better. I will also have reviews appearing at SBR again, as well as occasional reviews at SFFWorld.

Reading sci-fi (extremely limited amounts) and fantasy fiction has introduced me to many interesting people on the internet, and I would like to revive the Sunday Night Spotlight interviews, as well.

First up in terms of books will be a quick review of Michelle (Sagara) West's Sacred Hunt duology, probably to appear here and at SBR. In terms of SNS interviews, I have several people already in mind that I think would make for great conversations, at least among the SF&F crowd.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Heaven's Needle

Heaven's Needle, by Liane Merciel
Mass Market Paperback: 473 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star Books (Simon & Schuster), ©2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5916-3
Copy: Purchased

Blurb: Unaware of the danger, two inexperienced Illuminers set out for the village of Carden Vale, at the foot of Duradh Mal, to minister to the people. The warrior Asharre, her face scarred with runes, her heart scarred by loss, is assigned to protect the young clerics. But in Carden Vale they find unspeakable horrors - the first hint of a terrifying ghost story come true.

The Sun Knight Kelland has been set free by the woman he loves, the archer Bitharn, but at the cost of undertaking a mission only he can fulfill. Joined by a Thornlord steeped in the magic of pain, they too make their way to Duradh Mal. There lies the truth behind the rumors of the dead come back to life, flesh ripped from bones, and creatures destroying themselves in a violent frenzy. And if Kelland cannot contain the black magic that has been unleased after six hundred years, an entire world will fall victim to a Mad God's malevolent plague...

Liane Merciel released a well-crafted debut effort (The River Kings' Road) a little over a year ago, also reviewed here. It was a fine effort, in fact an effort that left an indelible imprint which served as a reminder to acquire and read her next work as quickly as reasonably possible. After having just completed the final, and stunning, of four hundred and seventy-three pages, I am rather relieved. Perhaps a fear of the worst prevailed as the approach to this work, but happily it can be said that Merciel suffered no sophmore jinx. Heaven's Needle is everything one might have hoped for, and certainly everything Merciel promised it would be.

In Heaven's Needle, Merciel brings back a couple of characters from the first book, Kelland and Bitharn, and a host of new characters. The new characters include a Thornlord of Ang'arta, a sigrir warrior woman of the far northern seas, some novices of Celestia, some tragic, if ethically challenged, victims and a Mad God. Based upon the ending of the first book, and the SBR interview with Merciel, it was expected that the next novel of Ithelas was due to take a darker turn - and it sure did that.

Kelland and Bitharn are agents of Celestia. Referred to as the Bright Lady, she is the goddess of sunlight, healing, love and, generally speaking, all things good. While the story briefly introduces many of the gods of this world, only three play a major role. Celestia, Maol and Kliasta. Kliasta, referred to as the Pale Maiden, rules over things such as pain and agony. Maol, the Mad God, is equal parts plague, madness and stomach-pumping vileness.

Kelland and Bitharn join forces with the Thornlord Malentir, a follower of Kliasta and under more ordinary conditions a natural enemy. This unlikeliest of alliances is bound for Duradh Mal, a once powerful fortress now utterly dead, abandoned and corrupt many centuries later. Another party is also involved in the region. From this other party is a character with a great background story, Asharre. Asharre is a sigrir from the North and she has become rather grim of late, and for very good reason. Nothing further will be said of Asharre, other than Merciel has another top-shelf character to work with in the Ithelas world.

The element of horror involved in Heaven's Needle is well rendered. The sense of madness infecting the victims of the Mad God is gut churning and wretched. The loss of connection to reality and the seduction, by confusion, of the individual's free-will is horrifying. As if the things suffered by the victims weren't bad enough, what the victims do to themselves is even worse. As the protagonists reach points of confrontation with evil and madness, the reader may be inclined to put the book down to avoid soul abrasion. It is herein attested to that you will just pick it right back up to find out what happened and if any of it will be permanent or irrevocable.

Stepping back to take in the wider view presented by the totality of the two books, one might be reminded of World War II. Specifically in the context of how several different things must contemporarily occur in order for something so horrifying to take place on such a horrifying scale. These first novels of Ithelas seem to be the staging groundwork for a much larger conflict which lightly percolates beneath the surface...for now.

Heaven's Needle is an excellent work for Merciel. In this particular opinion, Merciel has created something that will certainly be followed, as well as having created a fan. I would like more Ithelas, however I would like it right now...please.

Highly Recommended

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Sabbatical...kinda

I have been away as a result of numerous things. Alongside the minutiae of the day-to-day, I have since begun school full-time, as well as work full-time. I am working on a master's degree to brighten my horizons in the "new economy." Also, there is going to be another addition to the family in mid-July. Thus, I have been a scrambling fool with increasingly less time to accomplish things.

I think I may have finally acclimated to the pace, however. Though my amount of reading time has significantly decreased, I hope to be able to bring forth a couple of reviews each month. Per usual, my review will also appear at Speculative Book Review. In a not so usual turn of events, my reviews may begin to appear elsewhere also, but we shall have to see.

By the beginning of spring, in 2012, I hope to be tearing it up all over the place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Against All Things Ending

Against All Things Ending, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Paperback: 575 pages (uncorrected proof ARC)
Publisher: Putnam, ©2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-15678-6
Copy: provided by Putnam

Blurb: Thomas Covenant is alive again, restored to his mortal body by the unimaginable combined force of his own white gold ring, Linden Avery's Staff of Law, and the ancient dagger called High Lord Loric's krill. His resurrection is Linden's defiant act of love, despite warnings from mortals and immortals that unleashing this much power would destroy the world. She brought his spirit back from its prison in the Arch of Time, and revived his slain body, so that Covenant lies whole on the cool grass, and the world seems at peace. But the truth is inescapable: The thunderclap of power has awakened the Worm of the World's End, and all of them, and the Land itself, are forfeit to its devouring. If they have any chance to save the Land, it will come from unlikely sources - including the mysterious boy Jeremiah, Linden's adopted son, whose secrets are only beginning to come to light.

While this review won't be seeing the light of day until the release date of Against All Things Ending, it must be composed now (i.e. 8/14/2010), lest all that swirls in my mind be lost in the interim.

Any of Donaldson's multiple Chronicles of Thomas Covenant can be characterised as being garbed in the viscera of human emotion. The tale brings the reader into such intimate acquaintance with loss, sorrow, rage, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-condemnation and, ultimately, despair, that the sensation of drowning amidst one's own stunned silence prevails. The same is true with Against All Things Ending.

Donaldson's use of archaic terms throughout the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are well known. Aside from driving the reader to the dictionary, the terms used also provide a meaning unattainable with more modern equivalents. Donaldson also employs a dynamic use of simile. In fact, the only element to Donaldson's style that has ever failed to satisfy, and it is a recurring one, is excessive description during periods of travel which undermines the overall sense of the novel's pace.

The tale unfolds through five main, and sequential, acts. In labelling them, according to their setting, they are: Andelain, Gravin Threndor (Mount Thunder), the Spoiled Plains (where the group splits), Muirwin Delenoth (a region south of Kurash Qwellinir, i.e. the Shattered Hills, which ring Foul's Creche - Avery's party) and Ridjeck Thome (the proper name for Foul's Creche - Covenant's party). Those who love and defend the Land are confronted by numerous enemies and an impending apocalypse. Throughout this tale, lives are lost, choices are made and consequences are borne, willingly or not.

Throughout, Linden Avery and Thomas Covenant are their typical selves. Surely, there has been some dislike of the two characters over time. However, it seems most likely that the antipathy for the characters stems from the characters' penchant for: 1) unintentional destruction and damage, 2) subsequent self-doubt and loathing and, 3) the emotional or mental paralysis suffered by the character, consequently. Such circumstances can be disheartening and drive one to look away when descried in another. Perhaps because it brings on a disturbing sense of discomfort - reminding us of similar events we have suffered. No sane person wants to go there ever again.

And, so, there are many who criticize Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant as being rather bleak. The works are are not intrinsically so as the author has demonstrated throughout why nothing is "too bleak." Ranyhyn are still Ranyhyn - noble. Giants are still Giants - cheerful and faithful. Haruchai are still Haruchai - ready and able. For all of the dreariness a reader may encounter in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the author does provide, in extremely subtle ways, salvific relief.

By way of example, Linden Avery has a conversation with Stave, a Haruchai by birth and former Master. Linden asks why the Masters distrust her as though she were a second Kevin Landwaster. She asks what is so similar between the two of them. Stave responds by saying, "If." Linden asks for elaboration and gets it - in spades.
"If, Chosen. That you share with High Lord Kevin Landwaster, who is now forgiven by his sires. If.

Summoned to a parley with or concerning the Demondim, if he had not sent his friends and fellow Lords in his stead. Concerned and grieving for your son, if you had heeded Anele's desire for the Sunstone. You believe that you might have acted otherwise, and that you are culpable for your failure to do so. Thus you open your heart to despair, as High Lord Kevin did also."
Stave continues,
"Chosen, you have rightly charged the Masters with arrogance. They have deemed themselves wise enough, and worthy, to prejudge the use which the folk of the Land would make of their knowledge. After his own fashion, Kevin Landwaster was similarly arrogant. In his damning if, he neglected to consider that his friends and fellow Lords selected their own path. He commanded none of these to assume his place. Indeed, many among the Council valued his wisdom when he declined to hazard his own vast lore and the Staff of Law in a perilous vesture [perhaps author meant 'venture']. Yet those voices he did not hear. Arrogating to himself responsibility for the fate of those who fell, he demeaned them - and failed to perceive Corruption clearly. Faulting himself for error rather than Corruption for treachery, he was self-misled to the Ritual of Desecration, and could not turn aside.

So it is with you."
In an attempt to drive the point home, inexorably, Stave concludes his comparison of Linden Avery to Kevin Landwaster: demean all who stand with you by believing that there can be no other fault than yours, and that no fault of yours can be condoned. Doing so, 'You tread paths prepared for you by Fangthane's malice,' as Manethrall Mahrtiir has said. Thus you emulate High Lord Kevin.

In your present state, Chosen, Desecration lies ahead of you. It does not crowd at your back.
Avery, as is her wont, has assumed "the weight of the world" upon herself. Stave explains that Avery has, at her side, Ranyhyn, Giants and Haruchai that are ready, willing and able. Stave asserts that it is futile, and the road to despair, for Avery to assume total responsibility for defending the Land and battling it's enemies. It is in this way, that Stave provides 'salvific relief' - by emphasizing that no one need necessarily be alone with their burdens.

Since the 1980's, I have read and enjoyed the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Within, there lies a deep, rich and well disguised symbolism that is extremely relevant to the conduct and endurance of an individual life. They are stories that offer the reader maimed and loathsome lepers, both literally and figuratively, which demonstrate the virtues of perseverance and resolve, while disdaining apathy, self-abasement and despair. It boldly and confidently delivers the message that nothing, and no one, is irredeemable or unforgivable.

Against All Things Ending, as with any other Chronicle of Thomas Covenant, does more than merely entertain. It is a story which explores the width, breadth and depth of the concept of free-will, especially how to recognize it's pitfalls and gracefully accept it's consequences.

Must Read

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review: The Grave Thief, by Tom Lloyd

The Grave Thief, by Tom Lloyd
Format: Paperback, 490 pages
Publisher: Pyr, ©2009
ISBN: 978-1-59102-780-5
Series: The Twilight Reign - Book 3
Copy: out of pocket


Scree has been wiped from the face of the Land in a brutal demonstration of intent. While those responsible scatter to work on the next step in their plan, the stakes are raised - all the way to the heavens - as the Gods themselves enter the fray. Returning home to a nation divided by fantaicism, Lord Isak is haunted both by the consequences of his actions in Scree and by visions of his own impending death. As the full extent of Azaer's schemes becomes clearer, he realizes prophecy and zealotry must play their part in his battle plans if there is to be any chance of surviving the coming years. As a white-eye, Isak has had to embrace the darker parts of his own soul, but now the savage religious fervor sweeping his nation must also be accepted and turned to purpose, in the name of survival. With the battle lines vague and allegiances uncertain, the time for heartless decisions and ruthless action has come. Two figures oppose Isak and his allies: the greatest warrior in history, who dreams of empire and Godhood, and a newborn baby whose dreams have no limit.

In this third installment to The Twilight Reign series, Lloyd has hit full stride. Each major element of his story crafting has distinctly tightened up.

Previously, the cavalier approach to dialogue and/or character interaction kept the reader at arm's length when reading through more dramatic stretches of story. It did not 'read' consistently with the rest of the tale. The Grave Thief is more adept at drawing the reader into the dramatic, with credibility, than the previous two books were. Otherwise, Lloyd's style remains the same - which is more than adequate.

While there are no new characters of note, the characters within the story each take on a level of gravity, or relevance, not previously possessed. To be sure, principle characters to the story have not diminished in their relevance, but the more peripheral characters have each noticably developed significant depth and relevance to the story on the whole.

Following the collapse of the city of Scree, in The Twilight Herald, all contending factions are drawn to the twists of fate in the Circle City. A city of merchants and commerce, it is, largely, devoid of the militant strength to defend itself in the face of the moves and counter moves of the Vukotic family, Lord Styrax of the Menin nation, the shadow - Azaer, King Emin's Brotherhood, the Farlan nation - led by Lord Isak - and the gods themselves.

While The Grave Thief does not answer as many questions as hoped for, it certainly did induce a great deal of anticipation regarding the next book in the series (thankfully, it came out 2 days after completing the read of this one). To say that The Grave Thief ended on a cliff hanger would be an extreme understatement. As a recommendation, I would suggest having book four - The Ragged Man - on hand prior to finishing The Grave Thief.

In summary, Lloyd and his series continue to improve on a good thing with each successive installment.

Highly Recommended

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Challenge Review: A Shadow on the Glass

A Shadow on the Glass, by Ian Irvine
Format: paperback
Publisher: Aspect (Warner Bros.), ©1998
ISBN: 0-446-60984-6
Copy: Out of pocket

From the back cover:
In ancient times the Way Between the Worlds was shattered, leaving bands of Aachim, Faellem, and Charon trapped with the old humans of Santhenar. Now Llian, a Chronicler of the Great Tales, uncovers a 3,000-year-old secret too deadly to be revealed - while Karan, a young sensitive, is compelled by honor to undertake a perilous mission. Neither can imagine they will soon meet as hunted fugitives, snared in the machinations of immortals, the vengeance of warlords, and the magics of powerful mancers. For the swelling deluge of a millennial war is rising, terrible as a tsunami, ready to cast torrents of sorcery and devastation across the land...

From 1998, this is Irvine's debut, and it shows. The first third to half of the book leaves one with the impression that the author had a vast, massive idea in mind, but didn't know how or where to begin. The means by which the various characters encounter, or know of, each other seems rather contrived. In other words, it read as though the author were 'trying too hard.'

Early segments of dialogue were very strained and incongruous to extant circumstances, and read very awkwardly. Characters, who barely knew each other, would heatedly argue as though they had known each other for many years one moment, and then immediately apologize - returning to the semi-formal, rather polite, dialogue usually employed between relative strangers.

The plot consisted, mainly, of perpetual peril. Our main characters, Llian (bard, of the spoken word variety) and Karan (a sensitive empath, who can affect others with her emotive feedback) escape peril, become assailed and/or captured, nearly come to permanent harm and escape again throughout the tale. It is an element to fiction that certainly works, but not if there is nothing else within the tale with which to contrast it.

The tale does have a long, shadowed past, however. Indeed, one of the key plot points is that Llian has, in his research, discovered a 3,000 year old secret. It appears that the key story in the history of the world, at the pinnacle of the last age, is something which has been misrepresented for three millenia. This particular element kept my interest throughout the tale, as each person, race and locale had some relevance to the distant past. As a result of the history revealed thus far in this debut, it is clear there is a great deal more to be known - not only to the reader, but key characters as well. It is this aspect alone that convinces me to continue onward into the next book of this series, at some future date.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book Challenge

Alright, so I am now back from holiday (i.e. spent the past week in Maui) and realized I forgot to post about this myself. So I'm chipping this in from over at Speculative Book Review.

Not long ago Seak from Seak's Stamp of Approval and Only the Best Sci Fi/Fantasy gave [me] and [Tyson] the ultimatum to read a novel by an author we have never heard of or by the cover alone. [Ty] and I are not ones to shy away from a challenge so we took it upon ourselves to each find a book that would fit the criteria for Seak's trial.

While [my] choice was a lot older and mysterious compared to [Ty's], [I] also had the benefit many exceptional used bookstores that [I] could peruse to find [my] choice.

Shadows on the Glass by Ian Irvine

An ancient war closed the Way between the Worlds, leaving the four human races of Aachim, Faellem, Charon, and Santhenar to inhabit a single realm. Thousands of years later, Llian the Chronicler discovers an ancient and dangerous secret, while a young woman gifted with magic embarks on a search for a powerful artifact. Irvine's series opener promises a grand-scale epic fantasy that features a pair of unusual heroes and a complex world rich in history and variety.

[I] picked th[is] novel due to the fact that there were runes running along the edge of the cover. (Mmmm, runes. Milk please)

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Shale is the lowest of the low-an outcast from a poor village in the heart of the desert. In the desert water is life, and currency, and Shale has none. But he has a secret. It's the one thing that keeps him alive and may save all the cities of the Quartern in the days to come. If it doesn't get him killed first...

Terelle is a slave fleeing a life as a courtesan. She finds shelter in the home of an elderly painter but as she learns the strange and powerful secrets of his art she fears she may have traded a life of servitude for something far more perilous...

The Stormlord is dying in his tower and there is no one, by accident or design, to take his place. He brings the rain from the distant seas to his people. Without a Stormlord, the cities of the Quartern will wither and die.

Their civilization is at the brink of disaster. If Shale and Terelle can find a way to save themselves, they may just save them all. Water is life and the wells are running dry...

[Ty] picked this one because [his] mom sent it to [him] thinking that [he] would enjoy it.

Seak's choice is also a good one.....

Flight to the Savage Empire by Jean Lorrah and Winston Howlett

"Bloodlust! In the Aventine Empire, gladiator games still slake the multitudes' undying thirst for blood. Magister Astra hated the games - with her telepathic powers, she felt the warriors' agonies as her own. But the Master had once again sent her there to tend the wounded: it was a punishment - but for what? Even her strongest Reading couldn't tell her. Not until an unexpected death and an exotic, mind-bending drug brought her into the path of the ex-slave warrior Zanos did Astra begin to understand the web of deceit, greed, and vengeance that would send them both in a desperate - Flight To the Savage Empire."

In the coming days and possibly weeks we will be posting our reviews of the challenge issued by Seak and Seak himself will be posting his review.

Since all three of us have gone out on a limb we now are challenging our readers to go out there and find a book from an author you have never heard of or have heard of but know virtually nothing about them and give that author a chance. You just might find a new series to read and at the very worst you have something to complain about to your friends and families. Best of luck and good hunting

Also, if you have not stopped by and checked out these other great sites, please do and check out the books they chose for the Book Challenge:

Simcha @ SFF Chat

Melissa @ My words and pages

Amanda @ Floor to Ceiling Books

Seak @ The Stamp and Only the Best Sci-Fi

Ryan @ Battle Hymns

and, of course, Ty @ State of Review and one of my nefarious partners in crime at Speculative Book Review

So go ahead, judge a book by it's cover and read the thing. Then let us know whether you found a 'diamond-in-the-rough' or a dead-mound-in-the-rot. Incidentally, Keeper Martin's Tale has recently been reviewed and is, thus, ineligible. =)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review: The Twilight Herald, by Tom Lloyd

The Twilight Herald, by Tom Lloyd
Format: Paperback, 503
Publisher: Pyr, ©2009
ISBN: 978-1-59102-733-1
Series: The Twilight Reign - Book 2
Copy: out of pocket

Back of the book: Lord Bahl is dead and the young white-eye, Isak, stands in his place; less than a year after being plucked from obscurity and poverty, the charismatic new Lord of the Farlan finds himself unprepared to deal with the attempt on his life that now spells war, and the possibility of rebellion waiting for him at home.

Now the eyes of the Land turn to the minor city of Scree, which could soon be obliterated as the new Lord of the Farlan flexes his powers. Scree is suffering under an unnatural summer drought and is surrounded by volatile mercenary armies that may be its only salvation.

This is a strange sanctuary for a fugitive abbot to flee to, but he is only the first of many to be drawn there. Kings and princes, lords and monsters - all walk the sun-scorched streets.

As elite soldiers clash after dark and actors perform cruel and subversive plays that work their way into the hearts of the audience, the city begins to tear itself apart - yet even chaos can be scripted.

There is a malevolent will at work in Scree, one that has a lesson for the entire Land: nations can be manipulated, prophecies perverted, and Gods denied.

Nothing lies beyond the reach of a shadow, and no matter how great a man's power, there are some things he cannot be protected from.

After having truly enjoyed book one, a better than average debut, book two is as much a pleasant surprise as the first was. The Twilight Herald expanded, in many ways, upon the foundations established in The Stormcaller.

The voice and narrative of the tale remains third-person, as much such tales are and Lloyd's style remains relaxed, if not cavalier. The down side to that is that it becomes difficult to take the darker and more brooding elements seriously.

That having been said, the cast of characters grows mildly, while the book's POVs expand heavily. The various regions, plot lines, characters and agendas reveals a surprising jump in scope. If you like, think of it as Lalazan - Malazan's little brother.

After book one, the reader should be readily familiar with Isak, a young, white-eyed wagon rat, elevated by the Gods to the position of Krann among the Farland nation. A white-eye (stronger, larger, greater longevity, powerful instrinsic and instinctive magical ability) cannot viability interbreed with your garden variety human being, although they are created by garden variety human beings, although the occurence is rare enough. Unfortunately, a white-eyed child spells death for the mother as they are physically large enough to kill the woman in labor. The various gods of Lloyd's realm select young white-eye candidates to become heir to the throne (i.e. Krann), while the current ruler reigns. Book one is exclusively about Isak, the Krann of Farland. At the end of book one, Isak becomes Lord of the Farlan and it is here that book two begins.

However, book two reveals to us the white-eye leader of the south - Kastan Styrax. White-eyes can, however, produce viable offspring among themselves. Styrax has a son of his own who serves as his Krann. Styrax is an experienced ruler, conqueror and planner. Styrax has long planned, flawlessly it would seem, for all he now attempts. While he appears equal to any task, someone or something has taken great pains, of colossal effort, to possess his son. Can the brutal Styrax save his son? If so, will it be worth having saved whatever creature remains as his son?

Morgien, the 'man of many spirits,' knows more than is revealed. Having invited many other souls in to share existence with his own, Morgien has come to understand many things others dare not inquire after, including the true nature of possession.

Zhia Vukotic has seen it all, literally. Having been doomed by the Gods, along with her brothers, to walk the earth without aging, yet being perpetually held sane and overpoweringly sympathetic to the suffering of mortals. It is a curse that burns, literally as well as figuratively - the Vukotics are vampires. Zhia remembers a time when she was mortal and loved. She was the consort to the last true king and, coincidentally, most powerful ruler to have ever lived.

King Emin of Narkang, rules a region of half-breeds cast off by the tribes of men, fashions many things of his own - his kingdom being perhaps the easiest. The King of Narkang has already acquired knowledge of things deeper than most dare and, yet still, delves ever deeper.

The ghost of the last true king, Aryn Bwr, is anything but peaceful. In an age where the stories about the savage, brutal and barbaric elves streaming forth from the Wastes are treated like poorly aged fiction, the ghost of their most fierce member, the last true king, wanders aimlessly while once again seeking power.

And what of the gods who have placed all of this into motion several millenia ago? They are in hiding, or so it would appear. What should happen to the gods if their believers are turned? Will they only become a shortened scream that has no voice? Azaer, a shadow worshipped by some, certainly thinks so and means to find out. And so a cult of the shadow grows, quietly and slowly, in power. In fact, many thousands of years ago, it is said that a shadow spoke to Aryn Bwr and handed him twelve weapons of power. In those days - the days of the Great Wars - gods died, or so the legends say. In fact, the legends say gods died horribly.

The significant, but measured increase in backstory, characters and plot threads truly adds weight to this series. Thus far, each book has had a naturally resolved ending. However, each ending seems to remind the reader that winning numerous battles is no guarantee of winning the war or enjoying the victory if you did.

As of this review (typed on 8/26/2010), the fourth book - The Ragged Man - has just been released. It is a read that is eagerly anticipated.

Highly Recommended

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: The Stormcaller

The Stormcaller, by Tom Lloyd
Paperback: 449 pages
Publisher: Pyr, ©2008
ISBN: 978-1-59102-693-8
Copy: Out of pocket

From the back of the book: In a land ruled by prophecy and the whims of Gods, a young man finds himself at the heart of a war he barely understands, wielding powers he may never be able to control.

Isak is a white-eye, born bigger, more charismatic, and more powerful than normal men...but with that power comes an unpredictable temper and an inner rage he cannot always hide. Brought up as a wagon-brat, feared and despised by those around him, he dreams of a place in the army and a chance to live his own life. But when the call comes, it isn't to be a soldier, for the Gods have other plans for the intemperate teenager: Isak has been chosen as heir-elect to the brooding Lord Bahl, the white-eye Lord of the Farlan.

The white-eyes were created by the Gods to bring order out of chaos, for their magnetic charm and formidable strength make them natural leaders of men. Lord Bahl is typical of the breed: he inspires and oppresses those around him in equal measure. He can be brusque and impatient, a difficult mentor for a boy every bit as volatile as he is.

But now is the time for revenge, and for the forging of empires. With mounting envy and malice, the men who would themselves be kings watch Isak, chosen by Gods as flawed as the humans who serve them, as he is shaped and molded to fulfill the prophecies that circle him like scavenger birds. Divine fury and mortal strife are about to spill over and paint the world with blood.

The Stormcaller is the first book in a powerful new series that combines inspired world building, epoch-shattering battles, and high emotion to dazzling effect.

Well, that's more than a mere blurb, but it does pretty much cover the main plot points. And a fine plot it is. While the info dump/assimilation quotient goes above average here, there is a Dramatis Personae at the end of the book for the reader to untangle all of the various personages walking through the storyline, as though it were a subway station. The faction tracking portion of keeping the plot straight was a bit difficult due the double-edged sword of: 1) info dump and, 2) lack of information on things that will probably be revealed in later installments. Other than the aforementioned potential snags, the plot of the story is engaging. The story elements of the setting (or world-building, whatever) have a nice mix of the imaginative and the "tried and true."

The characters really work for this tale. One could conceivably describe the characters as Eddings-esque (as a categorization not necessarily a criticism), but it would be more fair to describe them as being withheld from unnecessary over-complication and, yet, still vibrant. Each character carries a key emotive role, for the reader, and it worked in this instance.

The tale is third-person in nature, even during several key dreamscape sequences. One gets the sense that the author was attempting to veer away from the third-person during the dreamscape sequences, but didn't completely commit to doing so.

Overall, a very fun read and debut. One which shapes and stores an expectation for the next book in the series.

Highly Recommended

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

...and another...

I collect blog roll additions like they were free signed first editions. In the case of Dazed Rambling, I should've found it sooner as this is James/Winter, who is one of us.

What do I mean by that, you may wonder? Wonder no more, perplexed one. We who blog on sf&f tend to find ourselves in similar corners of the universe. There is, in fact, a singular planet which draws/creates many such bloggers. It is the planet SFFWorld and we are it's predominant life-form, if I do say so myself. ;-)

So head on over and visit James' place - just don't pet the Grrthalian, it's not what it appears to be.

Nevermind, you'll know it when you see it...or when you're missing an arm.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review: Shadow's Son

Shadow's Son, by Jon Sprunk
Paperback: 278 pages
Publisher: Pyr, ©2010
ISBN: 978-1-61614-201-8
Copy: Out of pocket

From the back cover: In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples. Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and sorcery from the Other Side, his only allies are Josephine, the socialite daughter of his last target, and Kit, a guardian spirit no one else can see. In this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won't be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir's hazardous back alleys to its shining corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must clam his birthright as the Shadow's Son...

This work was certainly a quick read, without any slow portions. It's a rather straightforward tale of an assassin, Caim, who struggles with elements of his past. Elements he clearly does not fully understand. Some such elements arrive in the present and, consequently, threaten any possibility of a future. Caim spends the majority of the tale playing catch-up to others' agendas. Agendas which have no spare room for Caim to continue consuming oxygen.

Our protagonist, while very skilled, does have another layer. He has some ethereal connection to the realm of shadows. This connection manifests on occasions where Caim is intensely afraid or angry. His lack of direct control of this connection causes some complications. When active, Caim's connection to the realm of shadows allows him to be completely unobserved - possibly even invisible. As the tale unfolds, the reader becomes aware that this connection may do more than Caim suspects.

The tale also gives us a couple of other main characters to this tale, in the form of a love interest and side-kick. Josephine, the love interest, is introduced to the reader as something of a naive, bubble-headed socialite. Events unfold abruptly which carve the innocence completely off of her. Kit, Caim's side-kick, is an ethereal being that has been with Caim since he can remember. Even Caim has no idea what Kit really is, and where she goes when she whimsically vanishes, either because of boredom or in a fit of pique. In fact, even when present, Caim is the only person capable of seeing Kit. Sprunk's characters are not overly complex, but are well rendered for their roles in the tale.

Sprunk's tale is composed, and reads, from your garden variety third-person limited omniscient perspective. Of particular note, is Sprunk's plot. While Sprunk hints and foreshadows a great deal about the realm of shadows, the nature of Caim's companion, Kit, and Caim's past, it is not done in the sort of glaring, over-the-top, super-charged fashion that is becoming increasingly common (not necessarily a "bad" thing - simply a different approach). Sprunk is very measured and deliberate with the doling out of content in his debut. Indeed, there is the sense that Sprunk will have his readers returning for further episodes (I'm reminded of Kung Fu and The Incredible Hulk - of 1970's American television) of Caim - the Shadow's Son.

In summary, Shadow's Son is a fair debut effort. It does not burden the reader with massive assimilation workloads (e.g. cast of characters, innumerable political intrigues, geography, magic system) and maintains the reader's attention throughout. While the tale was, in a sense, simplistic, only the tip of the iceberg has been exposed thus far. Sprunk has a great deal of room in which to expand and elaborate on Caim, his world and his story.

Fair to Recommended