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