20 February 2015

The Emperor's Blades - Brian Staveley

The BlurbThe circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move.

This book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a few months, I picked it up after seeing quite a few people recommending it on online forums where I hang out. 

First off, I'm not really impressed with the cover. I understand it's a blade and ties up with the title, but I do feel they could have done a lot more with that.

The story follows the Emperor's three children: Kaden, who is studying with a bunch of weird monks in the middle of nowhere, Valyn who is training with the Empire's deadliest fighting force and his daughter Adare, who had to stay home. The Emperor is murdered and off the story goes!

I must say that Staveley can write. His characters are engaging, well thought out and with sparks of humour intermingled with the dialogue makes it a fun story to read with great rhythm. 

Kaden, first in line to the throne, is training with monks to unlock mystical powers, as one does. He gets treated like crap, but it's for the greater good so that's fine. He gets passed on to one of the most mystical masters at the monastery, who basically beats the ever living hell out of him to get him to the state of mind needed for mysticism. 

Valyn is basically training to be special ops. His parts are fun to read, seeing as it's jam packed full of action and training montages. The action is pretty well paced, and he quotes enough of the best dead general to show he's kept up with his theory as well as the physical training. 

Adare is severely underrepresented in this book. She is the Empire's new Finance Minister, surrounded by old dudes who looks down on her. She gets three chapters to strut her stuff, which is pretty sad, seeing as the political intrigue angle is always interesting and pretty important in this book. 

The action scenes are a fun read, the dialogue is slick and the chapters doesn't end on cliffhangers the whole time, which is greatly appreciated. I do have quite a few problems with this story. 

First off, the Empire spans two continents. It's massive. The royal line is decreed by a goddess, with the family having pretty cool flaming eyes. Yet the heir and second in line gets sent to a monastery outside of the empire's borders and to do the most dangerous military training available. No bodyguards, no instruction to not kill the royal line, nothing. They do explain why Kaden needs to train with the monks in the books, but you'd expect a few royal guards or rangers to hang about and ensure his safety. That's just common sense. 

I can almost believe that Valyn is sent to the military, seeing as he's second in line to the throne. But to the Kettral? Dudes flying special ops missions on giant birds? Where the training kills a crapload of the recruits? It was fun to read about the training, but I do feel it's a little strange that the Emperor's son would almost be fed to the wolves. And of course there is a bad student training with him. And of course he doesn't like or respect him. I understand that he needs an enemy, but his was clumsily done.

And Adare, who gets almost no page time. And the little she gets is pretty conflicting. She murders a priest in retribution of her fathers murder in a pretty awesome way, but then of course she has to jump into bed with the current Regent, because why not?

That's not all. My biggest issue is that the Emperor has been murdered. That means that Kaden is emperor. The Empire has giant ass birds working for them, yet a bird is only sent after a few months, just in time for Valyn to finish his training. I do get that there is a conspiracy to overthrow the royal family, but each and every decision maker in charge of the military can't be in on it. Otherwise it's not much of a conspiracy, but more of a coup. If all the bigwigs were in on this, they suck bad at overthrowing the royal line. 

So there are quite a lot of things happening at precisely the correct time to ensure the story moves forward. The issue is that it doesn't happen because of logic or common sense, but because the story demands it, and this is irritating. Kaden getting his mystical teacher at just the right time to ensure he can do what he needs to just in time? Come on, why wasn't the old bugger teaching him from the start? And the monk has a mysterious past, which he refuses to discuss. And he's a fighting badass, because of course he is. This isn't fighting kung fu monks, they are meditating and painting monks. Even if he had some amazing skills with his weapons, he should have been rusty as hell, seeing as there wasn't anyone to fight or spar with in years. 50 bucks the monk turns out to be a magic user or immortal in the next book.

So in conclusion, a fun read, with a great world, good action and good characters. Just too many inconsistencies, story help-alongs and people being thick as walls to make it plausible. It makes it not my cup of tea in the end, which is sad.


04 February 2015

The Martian - Andy Weir

The Blurb: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This book appeared on my radar when I saw on twitter that it's been optioned for a movie. This got me interested. seeing as it's a pretty new book to me at least and I've never heard of it before. So off to Amazon I went and after a few dollars it arrived at my kindle, ready for my enjoyment.

Digging a bit further, I realised Weir self-published the book firstly in serial format on his website, then as an amazon ebook and after it sold spectacularly well a publisher picked it up for lots and lots of money. Good on Weir!

The book is mostly written in journal format by Mark Watney, detailing his trials and tribulations of trying not to die on Mars after a freak accident left him stranded there. Weir has a very fun writing style, interspersing the science with loads of jokes and cursewords to make the prose easy and fun to read. I read the whole book in two days, showing it's a gripping tale.

Weir did a lot of research, and apparently smarter people than me say that most of the science behind it is pretty damn accurate. His fixes to the problems he faces certainly are funny and it just makes it so much better to know that they could actually happen. 

The pacing is very well done, and managed with the journal entries in a good way. Some stretches where everything is going well Watney rambles a bit, reminisces about his situation and the people on earth and basically relaxes, writing like someone who doesn't have anything better to do at that precise moment. It's not boring, I promise you. When the shit hits the fan however, the astronaut Watney steps out, and the entries are a lot more professional and goal-oriented, as it should be.

The book made me laugh out loud, root for the poor Watney and it kept my attention throughout. It's certainly the most fun I've had reading in quite a long while. A brilliant book.


18 September 2014

Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes


Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused together. And it’s only the first.

As winter closes in on Detroit, strange and disturbing corpses start turning up in unusual places, pulling several lives into the killer’s orbit.

Gabi has to juggle the most harrowing case of her career with being a single mom to her troubled teen daughter Layla.

Layla, egged on by her best friend Cas, is playing a dangerous game with an online predator.

Broken Monsters is a dark and gripping thriller about the death of the American Dream, online fame, creativity, compromise and the undercurrents of the world we live in right now.

First off, hot damn what an awesome cover. It really jumps out at you and stands out pretty nicely on a bookshelf. Really stunning work by the stupendously talented Joey Hi-Fi.

Bliksem, this really is a damn good book. Really really good. If something interrupted my reading time, I got pretty cross because I wanted to find out what happened next. This rarely happens, but this book really grabbed my attention and had my imagination going into overdrive. Some real brilliant storytelling.

The book is set in Detroit in all it's decaying glory. I think the setting really mattered to the story, seeing as the crumbling city trying to get back on it's feet, trying to get a new identity, really set the tone for the characters. 

This is a multiple POV story, and each has it's own distinct voice and character. TK, the ex con just trying to help people. Jonno, the asshat wannabe journalist looking for some direction in his life, Clayton the misunderstood artist who devolves beautifully during the story and Detective Versado and her daughter, Layla.

This book has quite a bit about the plodding side of policework present, which is pretty refreshing to read. How they plan, assign tasks and start chipping away at the problem in front of them.  How normal police work and procedure helps to insulate the poor bastards that needs to deal with the horrific on a daily basis. 

Gabi is a single parent to a teenager, Layla. Layla is a theatre nerd, in love with the stage and thus awkward as hell. Her relationship with her best friend Cas is one of the few light and uplifting pieces of the book, and really well placed between all the darkness and problems. Gabi just want to keep her daughter and her city safe. She's hard, uncompromising and brilliant.

Jonno really is a whiney bastard. It's easy not to like the little turd. He feels the world owes him for some hardships he's suffered in his life, and he latches onto anybody that can help him. Easily my least liked character in to book, but I think that's what was needed from the clown.

TK and Clayton are broken men. TK trying to do the best he can with the shitty hand he's been dealt by life, and Clay getting crazier and crazier as the book progresses. They are both awesome. 

Some freaky shit happens in this book.  Supernatural magic freaky. And it's the sudden shock of it introduced into the real world that makes it great and makes it stand out. It's violent and shocking and it gave me chills in a good way.

I think it's the ability of Beukes to give each character such a distinct personality on the page that really makes her a brilliant writer. It doesn't matter if it's a  teenage girl or the killer himself, they stand apart and distinct. It makes the reading part much easier and a boatload of fun.

This book is brilliant. I rate this as her best work yet. Stunning.


18 August 2014

Prince of Fools - Mark Lawrence

The Blurb: The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

As my one reader knows, I'm a huge fan of Mark Lawrence. His Broken Empire trilogy was one of the best I've read yet, and the finale, Emperor of Thorns, put me in a book depression for at least a month. It was that good.

The Prince of Fools is the first book in the Red Queen's war trilogy, also based in the Broken Empire landscape and at the same time as the first trilogy. I highly appreciated this, seeing as I love the world and the characters he's created. You can read Price of Fools without reading the first trilogy, but a lot of the nuance will be lost if you do that.

Onto Prince Jalan. He's tenth in line to the throne, a minor Princeling of the Red March and pretty much a bastard in all the other ways that Prince Jorg isn't. A self confessed coward, putting his wants and needs before everybody else. He's certainly not ambitious, whoring and gambling his life away in all the luxury being a Prince provides. As he says in the book, his priorities is Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan with looking good coming a distant fourth. That being said I found him an entertaining protagonist, bringing humour to quite a dark world. With us riding in his head as a first person viewpoint certainly helped in this regard. He reminded me a little of Rincewind I must say.

The fun thing about Prince of Fools, with it being set almost concurrently with the first trilogy, is the different viewpoints to the same events. Jalan doesn't really give a crap, but there are enough hints around him to make stuff interesting to the sharp eyed reader. A few old favourites makes short appearances in the story which was pretty awesome. And we get a little bit of a clearer view of the moves made by the powers behind the throne, The Silent Lady, Sageous and their power plays.

Jalan gets caught up in this secret war through no fault of his own, and forced to go on a quest to the frozen north with Snorri Ver Snagason, a huge insane Viking. Honestly the poor bastard had no choice, and he complains pretty much all the way there. OK, it was 30% his own fault, but you'd never hear him confirm that. Snorri is pretty much awesome muscle, power and cheer. He's the perfect counterfoil for Jalan and their interactions throughout the book is a fun read. Jalan actually shows some real character growth without losing his cowardly charm, and he certainly contributes to their quest, even if it's pretty accidental for the most part. I do not know if Snorri's surname is a nod to Gemmel's early works, but I certainly hope so. Those that do not know of what I speak, go read Legend you lazy cretins.

Our two heroes, one roaring north and the other screaming in terror, run into quite a few fun and dangerous adventures on their way. They even visit the Tall Castle, and Jal almost has the misfortune of meeting Jorg in his early wild days. I'm sure that if this happened, poor Jal's tale would have ended right there, seeing as Jorg would have used his blood to decorate the walls on principle. I have no doubt that Jorg would have taken Jalan out just because he irritated him.

The quest they are on certainly isn't standalone in the Broken Empire universe, and I'm sure the follow up books will clarify and intertwine the two stories more and more. This is easily one of my favourite books of the year, blending a quest adventure story with a deeper, darker one seamlessly. It certainly stuck with me, making me wonder about the implications.


17 April 2014

Kraken stirring

So yes, I've been AWOL for the last six months, which is my fault. I promise to have some reviews up next week, seeing as the real job has settled down pretty well after six months. See you all later.

10 January 2014

Moon's Artifice - Tom Lloyd

The Blurb: In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.
After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers – guardians of the Emperor’s laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.
On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste’s rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all – Moon’s Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.

This is the first book in the second series by Tom Lloyd, author of the stunning Twilight Reign series. Moon’s Artifice is certainly different than Lloyd’s previous work. While Twilight Reign was firmly based in the epic fantasy category, Moon’s Artifice is a bit harder to define. Sword and sorcery? Almost. Epic fantasy? Has that feel to it. Detective crime novel? Yes, kind of. It’s a good mixture of quite a few genres, and as someone who doesn’t honestly care about strict subgenre definitions it suits me fine.

Central to the world is the caste and House system the Empire lives by. The Imperial City is ruled by the house of the Emperor, House Sun. Each of the big houses in the Empire has their own district, in which their lesser houses are welcome. The population is also divided into the nobles and the peasants, and with civilization living tightly within this system and people being tattooed by law with their caste and house marks, escaping to a higher station seems impossible.

Narin is an Investigator, born to the lower caste and working to become a Lawbringer, the enforcers the Empire’s law on the populace. He does have a few secrets, the biggest one being an affair with a noblewoman, which is potentially life threatening to Narin, seeing as sleeping with someone elses wife is really not that a good idea, especially if said someone is noble born. You’d think Narin has enough to worry about, then the gods drop a huge problem at his feet, and it has Empire shattering consequences.

The Gods. The biggest secret that the Emperor’s family has is ascension. Mortals can become gods, if they are perfect in one part of their life. Lord Shield, Lawbringer, Pity, Duellist etc has proven their worth and been ascended to godhood. The fun thing about this pantheon is that they like to get their noses stuck into mortal affairs every now and then. And when a god notices you, it’s too late to run away. Along with the gods there are also demons who has influence on the world. I get the feeling that the gods and demons story has quite a lot more depth to it, and that should be fun exploring in later novels.

At least Narin isn’t alone in his struggles. His best friend, Enchei, supports him throughout the book. Enchei is not just there as support of filler, he has his own secret history and dark past. His immediate superior is Lawbringer Rhe, the most respected of his order with a strict sense of the law and right or wrong. I loved Rhe for his unblinking and uncompromising service to the law and empire he’s sworn to. It almost cost him his life, but he was willing to take that sacrifice to preserve the integrity of the Lawbringers, and that is heroic. Irato is a dark horse character, seeing as his actions influences the majority of the early parts in this book. He is a product of the poison, and shows clearly the dangers it poses to humanity and to the empire. Kesh is my favourite though. A girl who started out terrified, then mad, bent on revenge and at last she develops into a major player in the book. She is a damn great character, doing what she feels she must do to reach their goals. She is tenacious, bold and always ready for a brawl, even if the odds are stacked against her.

The world Lloyd built is intricate and brilliant. He has the ability to drag the gods and demons into the story, not as omnipotent beings, but more as troublemakers trying to get a head start on their fellows. Since the gods are ascended humans, seeing this human trait of selfishness in them makes them quite a lot more interesting than if they were a beard in the sky or hurling lightning at humanity.

Narin is always one step behind the conspiracy. He’s trying to catch up to a group of people who’ve had decades to plot and set things into motion. There is a sense of desperation throughout the novel as they try to unravel the mystery, and it’s mainly through hard work that they manage to get the breaks they need to bother the conspirators. No real lucky breaks are to be had to help them along, which I liked as realistic.

I loved this book. It’s fast paced, mysterious, interesting and the characters are brilliant. It’s an amazing start to a brilliant new series.


08 November 2013

Quick update

It's been a bit quiet around here recently. I've started a new job two weeks ago and I'm loving the challenge. Thirteen hour workdays does really screw up one's reading time and energy. There are some light at the end of the tunnel fortunately, I just needed to change my reading habits quite a bit.

I'm still working on a way to keep my precious blog going, but things are slowly falling into place. So what can you expect coming up?

I've read the Lives of Tao and the Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu last week, and bloody hell I really enjoyed the crap out of them. Interesting premise, witty banter and just all round goodness. Expect a combined review pretty soon.

I just finished The Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and honestly this series deserves a lot more love and attention that it's receiving. It's simply brilliant. A massive world, political intrigue by the bucketful and amazing characters. The review is in the pipeline.

I now find myself in the weird position of not having anything new to read close to hand. I'll spend the weekend sleeping, watching rugby and sipping whiskey. More reviews on the horizon!