As I’ve been moving lately, I find my writing time has declined somewhat. I’m sure things will settle down soon. Until then, here’s three quick reviews of some recently read stuff.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, author of the more young adult oriented Eli Monpress Trilogy. She’s taken the name Bach to brand her science fiction as separate, at least in part because it’s quite a bit more mature. That is to say there’s sex and swearing.
Devi Morris is a power armor mercenary with plans to become one of the elite warriors in the galaxy, but it’s tough getting noticed. To speed up the process, she takes a job on the aptly named Glorious Fool. Known for attracting trouble like bees to honey, one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years anywhere else. And so begins Fortune’s Pawn.
For those expecting the power armor equivalent of a Larry Correia novel, look elsewhere. Fortune’s Pawn is much more urban fantasy in space with shotguns and plasma blades instead of hand wavy magic. You’ve got your snarky first person narrator, your MYSTERY to solve, your dreamy hunk of man with a troubled past, and some dick heads who don’t think your snarky narrator can’t handle it.
As someone who finds urban fantasy rarely enjoyable, I’m forced to wonder if it’s milieu more than narrative type that informs my reaction. Because Fortune’s Pawn was a blast to read from start to finish. It’s the kind of novel that focuses on fun above all other considerations. And even if the plot becomes overly predictable the characters overly archetypal, I can’t help but strongly recommend it.
Fortune’s Pawn is in stores on November 5, 2013.
Three by Jay Posey
If the Fallout video game franchise was novelized using electrified zombies instead of nuclear pollution, Jay Posey’s Three would be the result. A mother and her son are being hunted by one of the most vicious criminal gangs on the planet. Their only chance is a bounty hunter named Three, who takes them in against his better judgement. If they’re going to survive they need to reach Morningside, a near legendary settlement across an impassable wasteland.
A Senior Narrative Designer at Red Storm Entertainment, Posey has spent eight years writing for Tom Clancy’s (RIP) Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises. His experience manifests itself both as a force for good and evil, to severely overstate it. Three has great pace, awesome big ideas, and a host of excellent characters. Its milieu, however, lacks the kind of world building that novels require to really sing. It’s something video games can overlook because they’re so reliant on visuals and gameplay. For a novel to truly work, especially one set in our world, I have to understand how we got there. Three plays fast and loose with that concept and it makes the novel feel a little unmoored.
Despite that complaint, which is a minor one, Posey’s debut is a great ride from start to finish. And based on what I’ve heard about the second installment, Morningside Fall, I suspect Posey will resolve my complaints. I highly recommend the Three.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
There’s a lot of love for Kate Elliott in the genre community, and rightfully so. Some of that, at least, comes from the fact she has huge shelf presence in most stores courtesy of her very long Crown of Stars series (beginning in 1997) and her more recent Crossroads and Spiritwalker Trilogies. Combine that with excellent writing and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear she’s one of the more broadly read female epic fantasy authors outside Robin Hobb and C.S. Friedman (androgynous pen names I’d point out). Having not read Elliott since the early days of Crown of Stars, I felt the need to spend some time with her work.
Cold Magic, the first in the Spiritwalker Trilogy, begins a steampunk epic fantasy mash-up. Told from the perspective of Cat Barahal, the story begins when she’s married off against her will to a cold mage. Betrayed by the family who raised her and caught in a feud that began long before she was born, Cat is on her own.
From a plot and character perspective, Cold Magic is a tremendous success by any measure. Cat, her sister Bee, and the emotionally distant cold mage Vai, are all compelling despite the limitations of a first person narration (i.e. — the reader is only privy to Cat). But, that first person narrative comes back to bite Elliott as she builds her world. Because the reader should only know what Cat knows, and Cat’s knowledge is somewhat limited, there is a massive overload of information going to the reader that doesn’t feel organic to the narrative.
There’s a reason many epic fantasies are written in the third person. Being able to show different points of view and provide exposition without cramming it into a conversation or clever bit of character maneuvering is a huge advantage. Elliott seems rather enchanted by being inside Cat’s head, but also tries to tell a story that seems too big for her perspective alone. It’s a bit of a contradictory enterprise.
As a result, I’ll call Cold Magic a good novel, but not a great one. I was completely transported by the story and character, but frequently frustrated by the pace. I’m halfway through the second book, Cold Fire, and feeling a bit exhausted. I may pick up Spirit Gate, the first novel in the Crossroads Trilogy, to take a break.
Have you read any of these? I feel like I’m in the minority with my Cold Magic struggles.