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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spacing out... merely another symptom of my condition (i.e. ubiquitously absent cognition). Anyway, I announced a blog roll addition the other day and was soooooo fixated upon finding a cool picture to go with it, I forgot to announce the other blogroll addition I have recently added, Bookworm Blues.

Sarah, the force behind Bookworm Blues, has plenty of reviews already - and they are well worth checking into. Of note, Sarah has reviewed many of the 'big hits.' If there is a book you've been considering, because of it's buzz, do yourself a favor and make sure to see if Sarah has reviewed it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review: The Escapement

The Escapement, by K.J. Parker
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Orbit, ©2007
ISBN 10: 0-316-00340-9
ISBN 13: 978-0-316-00340-7
Copy: Out of pocket

From the back of the book: The engineer Ziani Vaatzes engineered a war to be reunited with his family. The deaths were regrettable, but he had no choice.

Duke Valens dragged his people into the war to save the life of one woman -- a woman whose husband he then killed. He regrets the evil he's done, but he, equally, had no choice.

Secretary Psellus never wanted to rule the Republic or fight a desperate siege for its survival. As a man of considerable intelligence, however, he knows that he has a role to play -- and little choice but to accept it.

With The Escapement, K.J. Parker brings the Engineer trilogy to a close. The climax that has built thus far, explodes (literally) before the gates of Mezentia. The result, while not necessarily expected or anticipated, is in keeping with the style Parker has set thus far. In that sense, the ending seemed symmetrical and orderly, while also being bittersweet -- probably more bitter than sweet.

The destruction brought about by love and duty is a dominating theme throughout. In that sense, each character defines their circumstances as, "having had no choice." While I found the characters' reasoning, positions and definitions unpersuasive, it remained consistent, coherent and self-contained.

Truly, there is a malaise that underlies the characters, theme and totality of the tale. I wouldn't necessarily link it to the concept of 'depressing' proper, but would attempt to pin it down as "dysthymia, secondary to PTSD."

One item that was very noticeable to me was that the cultures within the tale had a near-total absence of any spirituality. There were no priesthoods, deities or religions, which seemed rather unusual since nearly every culture among our species has something to that effect. Within the trilogy, such things are briefly addressed by stating that certain cultures (i.e. Mezentine, Vadanai) used to have such things. I don't recall where they went, but it was treated as a vestigial element of the culture that had long since fallen away.

Without interviewing the author on the matter, it isn't likely to be discovered if the temperamental, and spiritual, apathy was a part of the plot design, or if it was the subtle influence of the author's own experiences/worldview. It does make me wonder, as though I were plagued with an inexorable itch, what the person behind the K.J. Parker pseudonym is really like.

Either way, the Engineer trilogy was a wonderfully composed and executed trilogy, which has convinced me to go forth and acquire every other work by K.J. Parker that I can find. Based upon the Engineer trilogy alone, Parker deserves a larger profile than he/she (frackin' pseudonyms!) currently has.

Highly Recommended

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blogroll addition

Interested in the 'New Weird,' or works there abouts? Check into the Little Red Reviewer, who has some solid reviews of the works and authors driving that niche.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In the mail

Hold up. You other books are riding shotgun now. Donaldson's Against All Things Ending arrived in today's mail. A review will be available upon release.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Brent Weeks goodness

John Ottinger III has, in collaboration with Orbit books, an exclusive video interview with Brent Weeks, just ahead of the release of The Black Prism.

Also, Orbit books has, in their August 2010 newsletter, made the first three chapters of The Black Prism available to read. Enjoy!!