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Fantasy Book Review

After an absurd amount of travel, I’m finally getting the chance to get back to some of the fun things in life namely, writing about books.  Over the holidays I did get the chance to read Brian Anderson’s Dragonvein.  Unfortunately, it was just meh.  This is pretty vanilla epic fantasy that can make your list if you’re planning an 18 hour plane flight to Dubai where you pre-downloaded it and ended up on an aircraft without wireless but otherwise, I’d skip it.

When I say vanilla, I’m talking Lora Doone fantasy wafers.  They don’t taste bad but after you consume, you kind of wish you skipped the empty calories and decided on something a bit meatier.

The book begins with promise, with our hero Ethan, entrenched over enemy lines in the midst of World War II.  He and his BFF find themselves in a shit storm of Aryan proportions when they discover an old stranger who doesn’t speak the language, English or German, in the middle of what is about to become a major skirmish.  Ethan, a best friend proclaimed boy scout, decides that now would be a good time to take on nursemaid duties and helps the old man.  Turns out he’s from another world and the trio narrowly escapes the Krauts by opening up a portal to that world.

This is where the formula kicks in.  Ethan slowly discovers that this world is under the iron fist of a Hitler-esque, Sauron-esque, Darth Vader-esque, Emperor.  Furthermore, there happens to be a prophecy of some Dragonvein character that is supposed to have the utility belt with the full on kung fu grip that can take down our bad guy.  Any guesses who that is?  Ethan finds himself on the run with the old man, Jonas, our wise adviser, picks up a roguish warrior and a healer and creates a merry band.  Oh yeah, and the world has elves and dwarves in it.

The character building is not bad.  He creates some believable tension between the leads but the plot is just too played.  You also get the sense that Anderson is far too in love with the main characters that there is no chance that any of them will expire of anything other than old age.  This eliminates the chance for any believable fear that these guys might not succeed.

All in all, not worth the price of admission.

Trysmoon Book 4: Sacrifice (The Trysmoon Saga)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

I did a previous review on the first book of this series and have waited until completing the last to do a final review.  I was incredibly impressed with the first book.  One of my big concerns in the first review was how powerful the primary protagonist, Gen, became and the heights he achieved early in the series.  This often becomes a big barrier to keeping the story interesting as the plot progress.  Fuller answered that challenge nicely by continuously throwing our hero under the bus both in matters of destiny and matters of the heart.

Any good series like this is always built first on the solid foundation of character development by using the relationships these characters have with each other.  This saga was rich with these.  One of the more interesting relationships was the love triangle between Gen, the Chalaine and the Chalaine’s mother, Mirelle.  This was something right out of any college kid’s fantasy.  Mirelle makes no excuses for trying to Mrs. Robinson her way into Gen’s pants.  She is obviously one of the hottest milfs out there so, really, she provides an ethical dilemma that only one of Gen’s character and dedication can manage to navigate through without giving up his own ethical compass.  This achievement is made even more extraordinary when you consider that the Chalaine is not giving up the goods in the first place.  This borders a little on the unbelievable until you make the conscious decision to just roll with it and accept it as part of the fantasy.

The relationship with the Chertanne is also an enjoyable one.  The Chertanne is the character that is supposed to be the savior and focus of the prophesy that bails mankind out of the upcoming apocalyptically bad time floating just over the horizon.  You learn, even in the first book, that he is nothing but an entitled little prick.  The slightly unbelievable thing about this character is his inability to evolve into someone with even one iota of likability. This is true even after he gets sent, quite literally, to hell.  The interesting thing about the relationship between Gen and the Chertanne is that Gen does a wonderful job of turning almost everyone with a shred of common sense against the personality failures of the Chertanne simply by being the polar opposite in both deed and word.  This is incredibly satisfying but a little naively idealistic when one considers the current breed of politician we are forced to stomach in our real world that thrive in a system that doesn’t seem to be able to hold any of these entitled pricks accountable.  I guess that’s why we read this type of fiction in the first place.

There are misses on the relationship side as well though.  I think the biggest miss is the relationship between Gen and his former mentor/tormentor the Shadan, Torbrand.  The Shadan is the ruthless lunatic that gave Gen his training and resistance to pain by keeping the threat of his friends lives over his head as he treated him like a practice dummy.  However, when the odds are against both of these gentlemen in a desperate last stand, they act like BFFs once removed without any of the former antagonism that should rightly exist.  I know Gen is the forgiving type, but come on.  There are other misses along the way too like the Dason relationship and the non factor that Gen’s former flame becomes as the book progresses but none of these are significant enough to make the story un-enjoyable.

The plot charges forward nicely throughout the entire series with only a couple of lulls where it looks like Fuller is looking for something for the characters to do.  But again, these aren’t enough of a slowdown to keep you moving with the characters.  The twists that Fuller continues to add to the prophetic paradigm as he twists the prophecy into something much more dynamic are well worth the read.  This makes the too simple good vs. evil dynamic much more interesting.  The closing chapters are also satisfying as the Fuller wraps up the closing lines of the prophecy as well as turning the love triangle into more of a straight line.

All in all, a good series well worth the time investment.

Of Sea & Shadow (The Elder Empire: Sea Book 1)


I first encountered Will Wight’s work in his City of Light series.  In that series I was blown away by how he completely changed the dynamic of yet another young hero that needs to fulfill a prophecy.  He decided to instead focus not on the hero of the prophecy but one of his lesser known friends who turned out to be a hell of a lot more interesting than the two dimensional ‘hero’.  In Of Sea & Shadow, Wight continues to experiment.  He released two books at the same time Of Sea & Shadow and its companion Of Shadow & Sea.  He warns that these two books tell essentially the same story but from a different character’s point of view.  This reminds me of Card’s novel Shadow of the Hegemon which retold the Ender’s Game story from Bean’s point of view.  Sounded boring at first blush but turned out to be brilliant.

I’ve only just begun the companion novel, Of Shadow & Sea,  so this review will focus solely on the lighter side.  Wight respects the intelligence of the reader by asking a lot from them.  His world building tosses the reader right into the mix without introducing any of the terms or concepts that are meant to be commonplace in the prose and then slowly filling these terms in as the plot progresses.  This has always been an enjoyable way to ease into a new world, almost like learning a new science or programming language.  Some elements you have to take on faith early on that you will understand later as you gain more experience in the world.

This one has a little extra challenge associated with it due to the grand experiment Will Wight has taken on.    The extra challenge is that you know that you are not going to get any of the extra tidbits until you start reading the companion novel.  Just reading one of the books is almost like doing a Sudoku puzzle without using any 4s or 7s.  You know that there are going to be gaps but is it still enjoyable?

Luckily, it is.  Wight always does a great job of characterization, you end up really caring about what happens to his characters, and when you’re done you feel like these folks could have been a part of your past.  I did struggle a little bit more with these characters than with previous novels due to some of the gaps but I found myself looking forward to seeing how they would be filled in deeper in the next novel.  I also had a good time guessing who would be the main character in the next novel.

On to the plot.  The novel introduces you quickly to the swashbuckling protagonist, Calder Marten.  Calder is the captain of a large ship with a very small crew.  The reason for the small crew is that Calder is a Reader that is intimately linked to his ship.  The ship is an extension of his mind and he can control sails and rigging like just another appendage. Wasn’t super clear on how the crew sailed the ship when he was sleeping but little details like that don’t take away from the enjoyment of the book.

The world is run by Guilds that each have some level of mystical prowess.  Calder is part of the Navigator’s guild but he was raised as part of the Blackwatch.  The Blackwatch monitor Elder activity.  The Elders are the supernatural beings that populate the depths of the world.  You don’t want to run into these guys on a vacation because you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bad time.  The world itself is an Empire run by an Emperor who has recently passed on.  The ambient power struggles that Calder finds himself in are around the Guilds trying to decide who should take on the burden of leadership left by the void of the recently deceased Emperor.

Calder takes on a couple of passengers that belong to the Watchers guild against the warnings of his first mate.  These passengers end up being somewhat dickish both in personality and in the fact that they are assassination targets of the Consultants.  The Consultants are a deadly Guild with a shit list.  Calder’s passengers are on it.

Most of the novel is around understanding the motivation behind these passengers as they move from one threat to the next.  Throughout each of these threats we get regular flashbacks to Calder growing up.  This is where most of the world building happens.

Overall, it was thoroughly entertaining and as I’m now about a third of the way through it’s companion novel, I’m really enjoying watching yin slowly fit into yang.  Should be a good series.

Trysmoon Book 1: Ascension (The Trysmoon Saga)

Wow.  I have never read anything from Fuller before but he knows how to spin a story.  The first novel is somewhat formulaic but he fills in all the variables of the formula brilliantly.  You know the one: boy from small woodcutting village has something traumatic happen to him that puts him in the cross-hairs of glory.  He goes through a training montage that is followed by his first opportunity to prove his training in a very public way.  This leads to a career that narrows the glory target to the center of the forehead.  Oh yeah, and there’s a prophecy out there that involves him indirectly at first but more directly as we progress.

The formula is not very new but there is a reason why this formula is used in the first place.  It let’s the reader grow with the protagonist in the way that makes you think ‘yeah, I would have done it that way’ and let’s you live in another’s boots for a while.

The nice thing about Fuller’s adaptation of the formula is that he turns it gritty and painful right out of the gate.  This seems to be the trend of good fantasy these days.  This was made popular by George R.R. Martin way back in the Game of Thrones days well before HBO took it to non fantasy nerds.  It’s a good trend.  No major character is invincible from the the author’s ability to make a point.  Fuller wields the butcher’s pen well in the first book of Ascension.

The only way characters grow in any novel is when they are faced with real pain.  The main character Gen gets massive doses of it as soon as the starting whistle is blown.  This pain molds him into a weapon.  Thanks to his pre-weapon days as a bard, our young hero values intelligence over brawn.  This background, coupled with some mystical training turns Gen into a force to reckon with.

You get to experience that reckoning in a public contest of arms when Gen gets to compete for the right to join the Dark Guard.  The Dark Guard protect the major players of the prophecy, who are meant to save mankind from the apocalypse on the horizon. In the contest Gen kicks the crap out of the competition even though the odds seemed stacked against him.  This lands him a spot close to the prophecy and all the intrigue that comes with it.

I’m looking forward to continuing the series.  My only concern at this point is that the main character gets too one-dimensional.  Gen grows so quickly in the first book that there is a risk that he will have nothing else to grow into.  That always leads to disaster – can’t wait to see how Fuller handles it.

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