The Winds of Khalakovo, the first installment in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Lay of Anuskaya series, was raved about on this blog in 2011. I acquired the follow-up, The Straits of Galahesh, several months before it was released in 2012. Unfortunately, the first fifty pages felt impenetrable even after reading them a dozen different times. When Beaulieu announced the upcoming release of the final volume, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, I committed myself to finishing the second novel in order to read the conclusion. Despite a long, arduous struggle through Straits of Galahesh that never really abated, I’m so pleased to call Flames of Shadam Khoreh a rousing success that exceeds all of the expectations placed on it by Beaulieu’s exceptional debut.
Beaulieu’s third book begins nearly two years after the events of Straits of Galahesh. War has moved from the islands to the mainland, and the Grand Duchy knows its time may be limited.… Read the rest
Since the moment I finished Wesley Chu’s debut novel, The Lives of Tao, I called reading it ‘the most fun I’ve had this year.’ I wouldn’t call it the best novel, and maybe not even the best debut, but it’s one of those reads that puts a smile on my face that won’t go away. In reading Mur Lafferty’s ‘debut’ (I put that in quotes since it’s only a debut in that it’s her first novel published by a SFWA approved house) A Shambling Guide to New York City, I found myself less joyful despite nearly identical character arcs and plot structures. My responses to myself ranged from ‘well everyone’s mileage varies’ to ‘oh my God these two books are incredibly similar why do I love one and not the other?’ Considering that question is what this review is about.
Lives of Tao tells the story of out-of-shape IT technician Roen who hears a voice in his head that turns out to be an ancient alien life-form named Tao who’s hitching a ride.… Read the rest
It wasn’t that Nola’s vision had changed: it was that her vision had changed without her even knowing it. There were all kinds of things happening around her that she’d never known about, that she was blind to. Though her experience of the world had seemed whole and certain to her, in truth it had been marred, filled with blind spots, and she’d had no idea.
I rarely begin my reviews with quotes, but this one, pulled from a relatively early section of Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere, so perfectly represents the author’s style. His work captures the shadowed substance that always lurks in the corner of our eye, that we feel over our shoulder, and makes our skin crawl without cause. He did it in the novel I called the best of 2012 — The Troupe — and he’s done it again with American Elsewhere.
Mona Bright is just short of middle aged, a former cop without a lot going for her.… Read the rest
What separated The Warded Man from the detritus of epic fantasy was that it was written with intent. Not only intending to tell a wide ranging and intricate fantasy story, Peter Brett wrote a novel about fear, and terror, and how people respond under those circumstances. At least partially inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, it’s my contention that the positive response to his first novel had more to do with that resonance, and his execution of it, than any particular fantasy epicness. It would also be my contention that the progression of the narrative, beyond that theme, has fundamentally diluted that theme, leaving subsequent volumes to rely far more on how effectively they engaged as epic fantasy.
By that statement I’m not implying that there’s something wrong with Desert Spear, Brett’s follow up to the Warded Man. It is in many ways a better book, but Arlen can’t always be the brave boy daring to go into the night, and his father can’t always be too afraid to save his wife.… Read the rest
Rumor has it Miles Cameron, author of The Red Knight, is a pseudonym for historical fiction author Christian Cameron. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Orbit’s new novel has a ring of authenticity that fantasy often eschews, particularly with regards to combat and tactics. It’s also woefully unoriginal, layered with ideas and elements that I’ve seen dozens of times before. In the end, Cameron has written a novel that promises different, but fails to live up to it, instead delivering the same expected narrative that fantasy fans have ‘enjoyed’ for a generation.
Billed as the story of a dragon hunting mercenary, the cover of my advanced copy reads,
“Forget George and the Dragon. Forget fancy knights and daring deeds. Slaying dragons is a bloody business.”
I’m sure it is, except no one slays any dragons in Red Knight. There is a dragon, and it plays a significant role eventually, but there’s decidedly no slaying.… Read the rest
The Desert of Souls, Howard Andrew Jones’ debut novel, and The Bones of the Old Ones, his second novel out this week, should be considered the gold standard on two counts. One, I haven’t read anyone who feels as in control of his first person narrator. Two, no one writing today has a better understanding of what sword and sorcery is and how it should work. While Bones of the Old Ones isn’t quite as inspired as Desert of Souls, something I’ll discuss more in a moment, it remains at the peak of the mountain, something both young and old should read. The former to discover how much grace there is in simplicity. The latter to rediscover the kind of fiction that inspired a generation of fantasists.
In Bones of the Old Ones, Dabir and Asim have a new mystical challenge before them. A young woman shows up in Mosul, running from ancient wizards who would use her to unlock an ancient power.… Read the rest
Raymond Chandler, considered one of the greatest crime writers ever, was not always considered as such. He was once quoted as saying about his critics,
The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time.
I think that quote may bear some relevance to Daniel Polansky when I finish this review.
Ask me what the I think the most impressive work of fantasy is, and I will answer — The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Steven Erikson’s ten novel series is astounding, challenging, interesting, riveting, and it’s often an awful mess. I say that last with a smile on my face. Erikson meanders through points of view, intersects plots, forgets plots, leaves others intentionally dangling, and rarely provides satisfying conclusions. His answer to this charge would be: history’s a mess too. That’s a perspective he embraces like never before in his newest novel, The Forge of Darkness.
I’ve heard Forge of Darkness referenced as a new entry point into Erikson’s work, and a prequel to Malazan. Such classifications are problematic. To begin, it’s quintessential Erikson — not easier to read, or more direct in its approach. There are also seemingly infinite numbers of points of view characters, so many in fact that keeping track of them often requires note taking.… Read the rest
David Hair’s first adult novel, Mage’s Blood, does a bit of hand waving. I’ll go into detail about it later, but suffice to say that he doesn’t think very far beyond the snapshot in time that contains his narrative. I’m also a little tired of the female character who sleeps around to gain an illusion of power. Those flaws aside, recognizing them for what they are, Mage’s Blood is one of the better epic fantasy series first installments I’ve read in recent years.
It should be noted that when I refer to the term epic fantasy, I really mean it. Sweeping conflicts, clashes of cultures, political and personal entanglements, rich and in-depth magic, and mighty warriors dot the landscape. There’s even descriptions of food,
. . .they ate a cold meal of dried meat and breads, washed down with a small flask of arak and some water, all from the wagon’s spoils.
… Read the rest
How much of a novel’s success or failure is predicated on its voice? I would argue there’s a compelling case to be made that it’s a primary one. The problem is that voice is an extremely subjective measurement defined in semantics. I ask the question because Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse is written in a voice that I couldn’t stand. Unfortunately, it’s not the only thing about the novel I didn’t like.
Assassin’s Curse is the story of Ananna, a teenager daughter of a pirate captain who runs from marriage with an allied clan. She wants what every pirate wants — her own ship. Her escape, while easy, has an unfortunate side effect when her scorned fiance’s father sends an assassin after her. In the process of being assassinated, Ananna triggers a curse that binds her to Naji, her former assassin and now begrudging protector.
Thus, the story is centered around breaking that curse, freeing Ananna to resume her pursuit of her own ship and Naji to continue being an assassin for hire.… Read the rest