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The Witchwood Crown: The Last King of Osten Ard Book 1

Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review

Tad Williams wrote one of the best fantasy series ever written with his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books. It captured the mooncalf Simon, a scullery boy who became high king through a riveting series of adventures. I feel like the grandfather in The Princess Bride when talking about it, there were princesses, sword fights, battles and Norns. It hit me at an impressionable age and I still remember the feelings it invoked as it sucked me into the world.

This is the follow up series, some forty years later, The Last King of Osten Ard, which begins with the Witchwood Crown. In this first installment, Simon has become an old man. He’s still the High King of the land but he’s a grandfather struck by the tragedy of the loss of a son and the raising of an errant grandson, Morgan. A lot of the old cast of characters is back, aged and greyed with experience and heartbreak. Being reintroduced to these characters felt like a homecoming that highlighted my own grey hairs and creaky knees. It was wonderful to reexperience the marshy constructed language of Tiamak and the yoda-like Binabik again, even as old men. Especially as old men. These two have always wielded outsider’s wisdom without sounding preachy or condescending, something rare in the fantasy genre of late. That wisdom has aged nicely into something timeless.

The kingdom is once again under threat, though that threat doesn’t have any sense of urgency behind it. In fact, that is the theme of the book. Coming in at roughly 750 pages, ninety percent of those pages is dedicated to world building, scene setting and foreshadowing. Which means very little of it is spent on anything actually happening. Picture the Fellowship of the Rings where ninety percent of the book is the long and expected party at the very beginning.

The threat appears to be from the Norn Queen, the immortal enemy that our cast of characters went head to head with in the first series. She’s waking up and gathering an army. I think. Not enough actually happens to truly know what the threat is.

Williams has a gift of bringing characters to life. He goes into extraordinary detail via the actions of the characters. His characters are amazing. That said, one of the big issues I have with the Witchwood Crown is that I don’t know who the protaganist is. Is it still Simon? Is it his grandson Morgan? Could it be the half Norn, half human, Nezeru? Is it Unver the clansman? I struggled with this. Williams introduced so many characters in this first offering that I don’t even know who I should be rooting for.  I don’t really even know who the bad guys are yet.

All of this set up, with so many characters, makes the pacing of the novel glacial. I don’t know if that is because of the author or because of how our tastes and consumption of media has shifted. I’m sure it’s a bit of both. When I was younger, in the days before the iPhone, I could sit down with a book and read for three or four hours straight, chewing through hundreds of pages. Nowadays, after five minutes my phone starts whispering to me with it’s buzzes and dings about things it pretends to be urgent which have no relevance to my life. These insidious devices have conditioned us to have the attention span of golden retrievers.

This is how we end up in the age of Marvel and bloated Star Wars offerings. The canon has already been established, so now they just throw CGI action scene after CGI action scene with very little story at us. And we eat it up. Creativity dies as profits rise. User created content is not much different. If it doesn’t shock you or crack you up in the allotted 30 second TikTok period, you’ve become an unfluencer.

I’ll hop off my high horse and say I’m glad Williams is going for this level of depth. It gives us a chance to get invested in these characters. To really care if something happens to one of them. That’s worthwhile. As a species, we need to rediscover our love of the written word. We express ourselves differently when we have time to think, time to make the words sing.

Williams knows how to do that.

That said, I’ll take another U-turn and say, I really wish he threw in a bit more action because this book flirts with Dickensian style prose which felt bloated even in the pre-television days.

I’m going to start the next book in the series soon. You get the sense the storm is building and I want to see what happens when it strikes.

The Wizard’s Crown: Art of the Adept Book 5

Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review

I am a big fan of Michael Manning’s writing. I have devoured the Mageborn series, the Embers of Illeniel series and several others along the way. He always manages to blend a well crafted plot with excellent world building and character development. He’s not quite at Sanderson’s level for inventiveness but the worlds he builds feel real. That is a gift.

I have been all in with the Art of the Adept series from the beginning. I love the way he introduced then explored the magic system. The main character Will has to rely on his own intellect, scrappiness and grit to get ahead in a world of sorcery and wizardry. Yes, there is a serious distinction between the two that defines the class system as well as what makes Will so special as a wizard.

The plot line and characters of the first three books are excellent. We have Will falling for a woman that is so out of reach it hits fantastic levels, which is why we’re reading it. Reaching for the unattainable is why you come to love the main character. If he has a superpower outside of wizardry it is self-confidence, he will figure out how to make the impossible work. He is surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters. There’s the enormous warrior, aptly named Tiny, a gentle giant with the heart of gold. The bookish Janice who’s the only one in the Academy with the drive and intelligence to go deeper than Will to find obscure references that gives him an edge and moves the plot forward.

Then, of course, you have the wise sage that starts him off on the path of wizardry in the first place. His grandfather plays his role in the hero’s journey perfectly, teaching him wizardry and disappearing when he has learned just enough, with a cool catch that allows Will to tap into remaining pieces of Grampa’s knowledge when he’s desperate. Then, there’s the goddamn cat, quite possibly one of the coolest characters in any series.

The plot moves you along brilliantly, as it should in the ’10s and ’20s of this century. He doesn’t make you suffer through Dickensian descriptions like much of the older gems of this genre. Instead, he competes directly with television for your attention. You move from interaction to interaction fast enough to make every page interesting without falling into a Michael Bay action orgy. The approach allows for character building and a crescendo at the end.

However. I started getting the sense that Manning himself is getting bored with the series starting with the fourth book. By the fifth book, the enemies are becoming too cliché for my tastes.

Spoilers ahead.

If you are thinking about reading this now, stop here. Was there a good reason to turn the bad guy into a dragon? That seemed lazy, especially when most of the previous villains were so well thought out. Maybe that’s the only way he could justify the cold-heartedness of the primary villain, Selene’s dad. Sure, make him a giant lizard.

I didn’t believe it. Manning’s reveals are usually more creative.  The other thing I couldn’t believe in this one was how dark Selene got. She’s always had the capacity to go Sith lord but her transformation in this novel didn’t seem in line with the character who vowed never to become her father. There may yet be a twist here but I had a hard time stomaching that transformation. The final thing I couldn’t believe was how rapidly and viscously Tiny turned on Will. Even for all the crappy things Will has done, this didn’t seem warranted.

The thing I loved the most about Manning’s books is there is always a cool training sequence, the montage scene made popular by damn near every ’80s movie. This was also missing in this novel. He hinted at it with Will’s younger cousin but it would have been rehashing old ground to go through the same paces, so he rightfully skipped it. As a reader, it leaves you wanting. The thing I loved most about this book was the introduction of Evie, the slightly different flavor of goddamn cat that we had in the first books.

Overall, I highly recommend the first three books in this series but found myself wanting on this latest. I’ll keep you posted if Manning is able to close this series out in six with something that can’t be missed.

Queen of Storms: Book Two of the Firemane Saga

Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review

Raymond Feist holds the status of mythical creature for me akin to Hercules, Thor or Pug. He was an author I read at an early age so I assigned him the same gravitas as Tolkien, Heinlein or LeGuinn. He was a forger of ways, an architect of worlds, a deity of character development.  The original Riftwar series is canon in my household.

It could be that I read him at such a young age that I place him on this pedestal next to Eddings and Lewis. The ten year old mind is easily and completely swept into new worlds. There are very few ten year old cynics pointing out the unbelievable and saying ‘nah uh’. Those ten year olds that do invariably end up joining young republican groups and should be avoided at all cost. I wanted to believe and he made it easy with a style and prose that made reading each page feel like a holiday. Even a stupid name like Pug didn’t deter because the character was so relatable.

That’s why I find myself dissapointed by this new series. The Midkemia world had a wonderful run and he did a brilliant job ending it in such a loving fashion.

This new world is boring. I can’t believe I’m saying that about a Feist novel. It’s like somebody took all the passion of Midkemia and Kelewan and threw it into a Vitamix with some Metamucil then strained it of anything resembling fun.

I believe he is trying to get a little darker and nuanced with his characters, a little more Joe Abercrombie perhaps, but he struggles with bereft and dirty. It comes across as stilted and unrelatable.  I just finished the second book and I find I could care less whether any of the three main characters live or die.  With Abercrombie’s work, you find yourself disgusted by the characters’ choices, hoping they’ll make better ones and rooting for them to do so.  When they don’t, you’re struck by the reality of dreams missed and lives changed.

Not here. Learning about Declan, Hatu and Hava is like learning about the trio of emo kids in high school that chose that path because they weren’t interesting enough to choose another. You talk to them for a while and realize that they’re not hung up on existentialism, they just can’t figure out another way to fit in. They gave up on being themselves to cosplay an outdated stereotype.

The plot isn’t bad. The general idea of the heir of a dying line being sent to a secret organization to protect his heritage and teach him some kick ass skills in order to protect himself is a good one. But the pace is glacial. Hatu doesn’t find out about an even cooler, second organization that can teach him about his Firemane powers until the end of the second book! Maybe I’ve grown used to faster pacing as that seems to be the trend in fantasy these days but if you go back to his old works, even when things are a bit slower paced, they were never boring.

It may be that Feist is getting old and he’s forgotten how to dream big. It may be I’m getting old and a lot more cynical. It’s most likely a combination of both.

Even with this bad review, I’m still going to pick up the third(final?) book of the series when it comes out in July. Maybe he’ll find that magic again as he closes this series out. I hope so. I need him to.

The Banneret: Blood of Kings Book 2

Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review

I love most of Duncan Hamilton’s books.  I’ve reviewed a number of them here before.  His new series, the Blood of Kings, takes place in the same world as all of the rest that Hamilton has created with his other series, the Wolf of the North, the Dragonslayer, and the Society of the Sword. The world is not too far off from our own which adds the believability of any good myth. He has a knack for creating cultures and putting the reader on the left shoulder of the characters as he tortures them in the various, delicious ways.

In the first installment of the series, The Squire, we are introduced to the main character Conrad.  As a child, Conrad is a victim of a demon attack that kills his parents.  He is rescued by a motley group of sell swords from a range of different cultures and fighting styles.  There’s not enough angst in the group to make a nineties grunge band jealous but there is enough conflict to make them interesting.  The band is loosely led by a banneret of the grey by the name of Nicolo.  He runs a democratic outfit which is already outside the norm for this type of company but it fits the personality and cultures of the group. Left with very little options, they take Conrad under their wing and make him a squire for their small company.  Along the way, they teach him the basics which runs the risk of formulaic fantasy.  Thankfully, it doesn’t turn into one.  Hamilton twists it into a mystery where he invites the reader to uncover who’s behind the demon threat for the crown.

The Banneret picks up eight years later.  Conrad is fresh out of the Academy and he now holds a Banneret title of his own.  In Hamilton’s world, this means you have earned the right to wear a sword in the bigger city and amongst gentlemen.  It’s like being certified a badass.  Hamilton doesn’t waste much time in the set up, doing us all a favor by throwing us back into the mystery.

Conrad’s nemesis from the first book (1st book spoiler incoming), a duplicitous little prat with the well fitting name of Manfred, is down on his luck after Conrad exposes his father at the end of the first book.  Manfred and his family lose everything except for a small chest of seemingly useless junk, some papers and an amulet.  Manfred is smart enough to establish himself as a get shit done in the shadiest way possible character with some elements of the criminal underworld.  It doesn’t take long for him to discover that the amulet is the key to the communication with these demons that gave his father a serious edge in all his negotiations.  Manfred quickly discovers this same power and starts carving out a small empire of his own.

In the eight years between books, the demon activity has sputtered out, leaving the crown to minimize its importance and quit dedicating resources to the problem.  In actuality, the demons have been upping their game behind the scenes.  When they do make their second book debut it’s with a lot more chutzpah.

They uncover a bit more about what the demons want and what they need to do to stop them from getting it.  At the end of the book, Conrad gets a bit of an upgrade which gives him a real chance of standing up to these powerful foes.  It’s a good story.

The thing that stood out is the undercurrent of loss throughout the books.  Conrad is heavily defined by the people he loses.  One of my complaints is that the losses appear to be painfully random, the result of crappy luck.  I think this is the author’s intent but when I’m reading epic fantasy I have this little kid side of me that wants there to be more meaning behind each loss.  But there isn’t.  Fantasy imitating life I suppose.  It leaves you feeling a little empty.

My other complaint is that there is a pretty small cast of characters and while they have been well developed, you don’t build a ton of sympathy towards any of them except the protaganist.  Again, I think this is the author’s intent.  Since his new life since losing his parents is defined by loss, his relationship with others is a bit standoffish.  This is a more mature theme than some of Hamilton’s other books.  Or, maybe I’m just reading too far into it.

Either way, I look forward to the conclusion of this trilogy.

The Unspoken Name

Fantasy / Sci-fi Book Review

The Unspoken Name is a beautifully written fantasy novel by A.K. Larkwood.  She builds a very unique world populated with very unique characters.  There are some excellent experiments with language in these imagined worlds.  The author introduces us to cleverly constructed names of people and places along with a pronunciation guide.  It feels a little like Tolkien’s studies in Elvish. 

Unfortunately, the novel didn’t draw me in.  I found myself struggling to care about the characters or their fates.  This was due, in part, to the slower pacing.  Our current world of fantasy feels like it is competing with streamed shows that are forced to deliver maximum impact in under an hour.  Characterization is ruthlessly replaced with action masquerading as relationship building.  Today’s stories have replaced the interesting elements of getting to know a character and how that character might react to others with a made for Netflix, Tinder-esque style of swiping right into relationships.  I don’t like it, but it certainly colors everything else I read.

Why not spend a goddam minute investing in the characters themselves so that we care?  Someone like Robert Jordan would never make it today.  His towering epic comes in at the monumental sum of 4.4 million words.  Reddit trolls love to bash his work as something that should have been cut down to a trilogy to satisfy today’s moth-like attention spans.  Those of us that did read this once upon a time felt like we really knew those characters (despite many of their puritanical roots), and became friends with them.  I don’t get that in a lot of fantasy I read today.  Characters are far more disposable, mass produced paper plate Redshirts meant to impart the seriousness of a situation.  They often succeed in that goal but their disposability also makes them entirely forgettable.  Perhaps character development is yet another casualty of social media.

To be fair to Larkwood, she spends time on her characters.  The problem I had was relatability.  These characters were so fantastic, so alien, that I couldn’t imagine myself in their place.  My only other character complaint was that two of the primary characters (Sethennai & Shuthmili) had similar enough names that I often confused them.  This led to several – why the hell would he or she do that moments.  This is a risk authors run when experimenting with language, the reader can get lost in those experiments.

The final critical thing I’ll share is that I spent a fair amount of time reading the book and I don’t really know what it was about.  I believe it’s about the journey that ensues when one chooses not to follow the paths that have been laid down for them by others.  This discovery of choice leads to a path to self actualization and awareness.  I may be reading too much into it but I also think there are subtle undertones of deeper meaning that I’m not picking up on.

The novel starts with an introduction to our protagonist Csorwe, best identified by the tusks that jut from her lower jaw.  She plays a critical role in the religious institution on her world.  Before she is set to meet her fate, a mysterious stranger, Sethennai, sweeps in and offers her a different choice that gives her an out from her religion without anyone, but her god, being the wiser.  She takes it and Sethennai becomes a mentor / father figure for her.

He has her trained in martial skills and she effectively becomes an agent for this erudite man of leisure.  Sethennai is the master of playing it cool but he has his own ulterior motives.  He is trying to claw his way back into power by getting his hands on the reliquary, an object of historical importance that will bring him some unknown, mysterious knowledge and capability.

Csorwe has a contemporary by the name of Talasseres Charossa (Tal), who was also taken in by Sethennai.  The two met on one of Csorwe’s first mission where Tal proved himself to be talented but an incredibly self-serving jackwad.  The two loathe each other.  Tal is an unlovable rogue but he is my favorite character of the book.  While he is narcissistic and filled with resentment and spite, he is also the most relatable and interesting character of the cast.  Later in the book you find out that a large part of his shitty personally originates from the hurt of unrequited love, not of Csorwe but another member of the cast.  This doesn’t excuse his behavior but certainly garners him some sympathy.

On another mission, Csorwe meets Shuthmili, another woman bound by her religion.  Csorwe offers her a similar choice to the one Sethannai offered her.  Shuthmili struggles with the choice which leads to some healthy introspection and a budding relationship with Csorwe.  The first book ends with both Csorwe and Shuthmili forced to confront the religions and choices of their past to in a showdown battle for the reliquary. 

It’s obvious that this book is the first in the series but the revelations at the end didn’t feel like enough of a conclusion for the story thus far, or a tease that had me wanting to come back for more.  Larkwood’s mastery of the language is obvious and evident and I often found myself envious at the beauty of her prose.  It was the narrative that I found lacking and because of that, I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next installation of the story.

The Land: Founding

Fantasy Book Review

Aleron Kong has pioneered a new genre of fantasy.  This is something called LitRPG.  This was my first foray into the genre and I  didn’t even know it existed until after I finished the book and found a whole host of others writing in the same style.

LitRPG is, what I presume, short for a literature role playing game.  The author takes you into an RPG world of their creation and lets you perch on their shoulder while they ‘play’ this game of literature.  This is a shockingly simple concept and I’m pissed that I didn’t think of it.  It should be boring but it isn’t.  You get sucked in quickly because the rules of the world are familiar to any gamer and therefore inviting.  From the first chapter on, it’s like sitting down to a hot meal of comfort food.  There’s not a whole lot of kale for your brain within these pages, but who cares if it tastes good.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this is successful.  I am constantly shocked that my kids spend 20X the time watching other people play video games then they spend watching scripted shows.  There’s a reason that Twitch was sold for roughly $1 billion.  One billion dollars!!!  Watching other people play video games is an absurdly profitable business.  LitRPG is a logical progression that, in hindsight, seemed inevitable.

The character development is…analytical.  You get to see the literal D&D style character sheet in many different flavors as the character progresses throughout the world.  As far as emotional development goes, it’s almost nonexistent.  I actually just finished the fifth book in the series, so I obviously can’t judge this too harshly, but there is no emotional growth at all in the main character.  He has the emotional intelligence of an unripened kiwi fruit but, for the genre, it works.

Our main character is known by his RPG handle, Richter, after the first couple of chapters.  I’ve forgotten what his real name is at this point and since we never revisit his past, it becomes irrelevant.  This is an area where color could have been added to the character and it feels like a bit of a miss.  Does he miss his mom?  How about friends or family at home?  Unlike Cline’s book, Ready Player One, you are in the game with Richter all the time.  Richter has all the complexity of a frat boy that gets to play with a bunch of medieval toys.

One of the elements that I loved about the book is Richter is not just leveling himself up.  He quickly gains the opportunity to start and level his own town.  So now we are combining the elements of RPG with turned based strategy.  That was always one of my favorite types of games so it resonated with me.  While the character himself is not that complex, the world that Kong builds is rich with detail.  The skill trees presented to Richter are satisfyingly deep as are the complexities of the town.

Knowing that you are in a game the entire time removes a layer of  the suspension of disbelief that I typically look for when I dive into high fantasy.  However, knowing the rules before you jump helps create the world for you as you read through it.  I didn’t want to like these books as skipping the whole world build part almost seems like cheating.  Like I said earlier I’m five books in, so they’re not all bad.  Feel free to add the series to your guilty pleasure list.

The Wolf of the North: Wolf of the North Book 1

Fantasy Book Review

I am familiar with Hamilton’s work from his Society of the Sword series.  That series was really good but I’m happy to say that he has gotten better.  These books feel darker, almost like he added a dash of Abercrombie to his previous mix.  The darkness together with the wonderful plot building makes the Wolf of the North well worth the read.

He’s not breaking any new ground within the Northman genre.  This has all of the usual Viking tropes but the tropes are what make the Vikings interesting in the first place so you find yourself forgiving them.  He does his best to show the limitations of the Warrior driven, patriarchal society but it comes across a little light, especially in how the women are treated.  I’m not for misogyny in any universe but the way in which the women are humored seems a tad bit out of place considering that there aren’t any women Warriors.  You know Loki wouldn’t have put up with that shit.  It’s his world though and since he is not pretending any level of historical fiction, it works.

The story starts with our hero Wolfric as a chubby little pud that is constantly getting the crap kicked out of him.  He is the son of the First Warrior though, so his extreme level of sissitude is unacceptable in the family dynamic.  With a little mystical help, he finally stands up for himself and in a berserker rage, goes apeshit on one of the bullies that has made his life hell.  Their fortunes immediately switch.  The bully becomes a despised cripple that is kicked out of the Warrior caste and Wolfric is elevated into it.  In standing up for himself he did make an enemy for life and that enemy comes back to haunt him later.

Wolfric then enters his training and spends several of his formative years working on the multiple badges of bad-assery inherent to the Warrior society.  Things are looking good until an old evil slithers into their lives and war breaks out between their village and their closest neighbors.  As chaos ensues and the ranks of the Warriors are thinned, the village is forced into making one devil’s bargain after another until their society is forever changed.  Wolfric and the Warrior caste quickly find themselves pariahs in a new age of softer values.  This book does a wonderful job of bringing these struggles to life and captures the emotions of each stage with a poignant grace.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a master storyteller, much in the same way as Rothfuss tells his stories in the King Killer Chronicles.  This lends a misty uncertainty to the tale and it gives the author a ton of artistic freedom because the story can fall prey to the memory of the storyteller.  This allows for artistic embellishment and a sense of literary tension around what is true and what isn’t.

The culture shift that the Warriors go through is a major component of the novel.  It drives the majority of the pain of the characters as change is wont to do and you find yourself super invested in how these clash of cultures is ultimately going to work out.  There is romance in the book as well but it is somewhat secondary to the more visceral elements of survival in the harsh climate.  At the end of the first novel, the change of cultures is nearly complete and Wolfric and his brethren are not handling it well.  When his romantic interest is dealt a rotten hand Wolfric takes off to do something about it and what that is will probably make up the second book.  I look forward to it!

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards, Book 1)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

I’m very surprised I haven’t found Lynch’s work until now.  It’s odd to have such a strong series be completed without any of the Amazonian algorithms pushing a book of this quality my way.

One of the first things you’ll discover with this book is that you have sailed right off the map of young adult fiction.  Maybe it’s the line, “I told you they were shit-flinging little monkeys when we made the deal…” which happens in paragraph four that instantly gave me the sense that this was going to be a book written for adults by and adult.  Refreshing.

That being said, I have to say that I struggled a little getting into the novel.  There was a little too much Dickensian aspiration for describing a scene.  In several sections you simply can’t wait for him to just get to the fucking point.  When I discovered this was Lynch’s first novel, it made a little more sense.  Describing the scene at this level of detail is akin to literary masturbation, it’s important and gratifying to the author but not something you need to share with your friends.  Lynch is more than talented enough with his prose that he will get past this.

Other than that, the writing and the character building is spot on.  He runs a tidy past and present three card monte on you that introduces you to each character through flashback side stories.  This is nice because there is always something new and surprising to learn about each of these new and surprising characters.

This is the story of Locke Lamora, an incredibly successful thief who seems to be lacking direction.  We are not talking about a moral compass here, he has no illusions that he is the good guy, but he and his band of Gentleman Bastards have amassed a fortune that they don’t really know what to do with.  They work within an organized crime syndicate, kind of like the Sopranos move to Westeros.  Locke is the lieutenant of the smallest crime family that reports to the Capa.  He and his team have done a masterful job of hiding their wealth, not only from other thieves but also from the Capa.  They always pay their weekly tithe on time and on budget but they never draw attention to themselves.

What nobody knows is that Locke is also the Thorn of Camorr.  The Thorn is talked about in hushed tones and only in myth and rumor. He has become this mystical figure that runs the biggest, most audacious scams in the city.  He preys only on the nobles of Camorr so fancies himself a bit of a Robin Hood character without the whole inconvenience of giving back to the poor.  His schemes are clever and seem to be a rich source of entertainment to the Gentleman Bastards.

His two concerns are: one, getting found out by the Capa, which would mean a quick and toothy death at the fins of some particularly graphic sharks which seem to be a large part of the culture of Camorr.  And two, at the hands of the Spider, the mysterious spy master that pulls all the strings in the duchy.  That is until a new player comes on the scene, the Gray King.

The Gray King is over the top nefarious.  He employs an even nastier free lance sorcerer with a hybrid scorpion hawk for a familiar.  The Gray King doesn’t fuck around.  Without giving away any important plot points, he puts Locke in a world of hurt while at the same time turning the crime syndicate and the entire city of Camorr upside down.  Locke has to figure out how to counter this shady figure and do his best to keep him and his gang breathing while doing so.

Once you get into this book, it is almost impossible to put down.  It has an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion that reminds me a bit of the Ocean’s Eleven style hi-jinks.  Don’t miss this one, it is well worth your time.  I have already started the second book.

Dragonvein

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.

Of Darkness and Dawn (The Elder Empire: Shadow Book 2)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

Of Darkness and Dawn is the second round of Will Wight’s experimental bifurcated story telling in the elder empire series.  This is Book Two of Shadow side where we continue to follow the mean underbelly of the impressive world that Wight has built.  The author reintroduces us to Shera, Lucan and Meia along with the rest of the Consultant guild.

I mentioned in my review of the initial round of books that I appreciated the experiment of telling the same story from two different viewpoints.  As the story goes on, I find myself liking the approach less and less.  In the first installment I read both books back to back over the course of several days.  While reading the first book it felt like I was always missing a piece of the story which the second book nicely wrapped up in a satisfying whole.

Now a year has passed.  In that time, I have read another hundred or so new books and I have forgotten a lot of the story.  Now, when I tried to pick up on the story that I knew had gaps that would be filled in by the opposing viewpoint I had a really tough time getting back into the flow of plot.  Anytime you pick up a subsequent story in a series you always spend a little time rebuilding the mental architecture that takes you back into that world and its characters.  The new book constantly gives you hints that brings you back into that flow.  However, when those hints are incomplete, as this experiment dictates, it becomes twice as hard to rebuild that mental framework.  Sadly, it made this book seem very disjointed and because of that, somewhat boring.

We can’t blame Wight’s writing style as there is nothing wrong there at all.  It boils down to the failure of the experiment during the writing timeline.  For a reader that picks these up five years from now, I doubt they will have the same problems if they can progress from one novel to the next without pause.  It just doesn’t seem to work if you are trying to stay current and picking up the books as they are released.

Anyway, back to the story.  This books picks up where the last one left off. Shera and her crew are now on the defensive after the passing of the emperor.  They, and the Consultant guild, find themselves in a battle with the factions of light.  Another annoyance with this book is that we spend very little time in the present.  Most of the novel takes us deep into the backstory.  This is something that is always appreciated as it really fleshes out and gives life and builds empathy to the characters but it feels like the plot that takes place in the present is just not moving forward at all.  If this were a marathon, the first book took us nicely past the nine mile mark.  This second installment takes us just one mile further while spending almost all of its time talking about why we decided to get into running in the first place.

I did appreciate that Wight was not afraid to move major characters to the headman’s block.  This keeps the sense of danger that anyone can die real and meaningful.  The characters become even more relatable and interesting over the course of the novel but again my primary complaint is that they just don’t accomplish enough in the present.

If you were a fan of the first round of this series, it’s worth continuing but I would recommend waiting until the second novel for the light side comes out so you can read the two book together.  My hope is that will bring a little more clarity to the plot.

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