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! 

23 October 2013

Emperor of Thorns - Mark Lawrence

The BlurbThe path to the throne is broken - only the broken may walk it.

To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.

This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

This is the third and final installment in the Broken Empire trilogy with Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns the previous brilliant two books. Could Lawrence bring this epic  series to a satisfactory close, or would the ending leave me scratching my head and feeling mildly irritated. 

This book left me depressed. But in a good way.

The structure of the book follows the recipe of the previous two, with two timelines being interwoven throughout the book. The present and five year back flashbacks. We also have a few chapters from Chella's viewpoint, the necromancer who tried to kill Jorg in PoT, and who Jorg resurrected in KoT.

Chella is in service of the dread Dead King, and the rare glimpse into another character helps to show the motivations and machinations of the other side quite well. Chella is one bitter lady, hating Jorg for some good reasons. It was interesting to read quite a bit about the Dead King, and having another viewpoint of the Broken Kingdoms was pretty refreshing.

Jorg is on the road and close to his goal. Attending the Congression with his plans moving along to help him become Emperor, the first in hundreds of years. His motivations isn't completely selfish which shows that our favorite psychopath has a little bit of a soft side. Maybe it's because he became a father, maybe it's because Jorg isn't as evil as everyone thought after Prince of Thorns.

Being the King of seven kingdoms and married, Jorg has certainly grown up. He's not a kid any more. He is certainly more calculating in this book, thinking, scheming and planning ahead. Less compulsive neck stabbing. He has grown by leaps and bounds over the three books, and you cannot help but love him. He's easily one of my favorite characters in literature. 

The whole flashback thing was perfectly done. During the previous two novels it felt at some times that the flashback wasn't really there for any other reason than to show why Jorg is well, Jorg. Thinking back now, each and every one was critical to the story. It should actually be viewed as one book with three parts, with the flashbacks interweaving the story and binding it all together. As soon as I have time I'm going to read all three back to back, which should make this close to perfect series even better.

The ending is intense, and comes as quite a shock. Lawrence always said that this is a trilogy, and he ended it strongly and perfectly. 

I really do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so if you've read the other two and liked them, read it. If you haven't, go buy them. This is easily my favorite trilogy ever.

I was depressed after reading this book because, after I've finished it, I couldn't read anything else for about two weeks. Hell, it's taken me a month to get my thoughts together to write this quick review. And that is what a book should do to a reader. It should make them emphasize with the characters, think about the story and influence them in real life. 

This one certainly did that, in spades. I'll never forget Jorg and his Brothers.


01 October 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer

Three posts in two days? Miracles do happen!

Now I'm a massive fan of The Hobbit. The book of course. The first Hobbit movie irritated me quite a bit, but it was pretty at least. The full trailer of the second movie has been released today. This will also be an irritating movie for me to watch, but watch it I shall. Enjoy.

Drakenfeld - Mark Charan Newton

The Blurb“I am Lucan Drakenfeld, second son of Calludian, Officer of the Sun Chamber and peace keeper. Although sometimes it seems I am the only person who wishes to keep it …”

The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years by laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, nations have flourished but corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive.

Receiving news of his father’s death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King’s sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power.

Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent. The fate of the nations is in his hands.

I was honored to receive an ARC of Drakenfield from Mr. Newton, and with the publication date around the corner here are my thoughts on it.

First off I really like the cover. It's bold, colourful and will surely stand out on the shelves between all the hooded men and daggers populating the shelves. According to Mr. Newton himself, the cover is the banner of Detrata, the nation in which the story plays out. The plan is that the following books covers' will also depict the nation's flag in which the story takes place. That's a pretty smart idea and should make for a real striking collection of books.

The main character, Lucan Drakenfeld -who has possibly the coolest name ever in fantasy- , is a detective. As an Officer of the Sun Chamber it's his job to keep the peace and find those that disturb it. The first time that we are introduced to Drakenfeld he is busy overseeing the sentencing of someone who broke the law. It's not pretty, but shows that Drakenfeld is damn good at his job, fair and that the Sun Chamber is not to be messed with.

Lucan is summoned home on the death of his father, who was a highly placed member of the Sun Chamber. The travel home reveals quite a bit of the world we find ourselves in, and sets the first blocks for the rest of the woldbuilding that is necessary to the story. His struggle fitting back into society in the capital also helps the reader get the lay of the land and to figure out who some of the power players are early on,  which makes for fascinating reading.

The interaction between Lucan and his assistant, Leana, is well done throughout the book. Leana comes from a neighboring kingdom and the outside view she brings to proceedings is quite a nifty way to slip a few facts about the world into the story, fleshing out the world at large as well.

This book is light on the magic, seeing as it's honestly a detective novel. There aren't priests running around with godly powers, no wizard tower that rule the skyline and no flashing lights. Well, at least not yet. Some hints are made, but mostly as rumour and quickly dismissed by the involved parties. It makes for a refreshing change, seeing as we are spared the explanation of how the magical system works which can bog down a book for chapters at a time. This is a character driven story and I love it for that.

The main plotline of solving the impossible murder of the King's sister is well thought out and a real whodunnit headscratcher. False trails are laid bare and obstacles galore are placed in Drakenfeld's path. Drakenfeld also comes to realise that his father's death wasn't as clean cut as he was lead to believe and this personal case works well to add a lot of depth to the character.

There are more than enough twists throughout the novel to keep the pages turning at a brisk pace, and the conclusion of the case of the murdered princess is quite a doozy. Looking back on the book there were enough hints to figure out who was ultimately responsible, but how they accomplished the murder was brilliant.

I really like Mr. Newton's writing style, and it makes his prose a joy to read. I've not read that many murder mystery novels, but I'm surely going to be following this series very closely. This is a very fun book that made me think back on it, well after I've read it. Now that is what I look for in a story.


30 September 2013

The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch

The BlurbHaving pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke's body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him - or finish him off once and for all. 

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body - though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean's imploring - and the Bondsmagi's mention of a woman from Locke's past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival. 

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha - or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

Some slight spoilers will be present in this review, but mostly of book two of the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies. I tried to avoid it as much as possible.

This is the long awaited third installment in the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch. The cover is stunning, really a stand out and a nice spin on the hooded men that does not seem to want to go away. It looks like a painting and I'd gladly hang a print in my house, and you can't say that about too many covers.

I love Lynch. His prose, style, pacing and worldbuilding. The first book in the series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, sits in my top three favourite book I've read in my life. I'll try to keep my inner fanboy out of the way as much as possible.

When we left Locke and Jean at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies, Locke just drank some nasty poison to save his friend from doing the exact same thing. We meet up with them where Locke is suffering the effects of his selfless act and Jean is busy buying, pleading, threatening and kidnapping anybody who has the slightest chance of helping Locke. The feeling is pretty grim, with Locke dying by inches. Then Patience - a bondmagi - show up and makes them an offer that's impossible to refuse.

As all Gentleman Bastard fans know, the magic users in Mr. Lynch's world formed their own city, Karthain, and they are quite apart from the world in general. If someone has enough money they can hire a bondsmagi for certain tasks and they are mistrusted and feared by most of the common people. And hated by Locke and Jean. Hey, they have some solid reasons.

Patience convinces them that she can help Locke, but for a price of course. The elections of Karthain are imminent and the factions inside the magi choose outsiders to run the election campaigns, for fun of course. If you were close to all powerful you'd also do weird crap to keep yourself amused wouldn't you? The big drawcard for Locke is that Sabetha, his Gentleman Bastard accomplice and the love of his life, has been contracted by the other magi-faction.

Throughout the previous two books we've read of the impact that Sabetha had on Locke in his youth, and I've been interested in her since the first few hints was dropped. Of course Locke accepts the offer for help and the price he has to pay.

What follows is a romp throughout Karthain. There are some rules that the elections has to follow, but not as many as you would think. Sabotage, bribery and all round hilarity ensues and makes the story a hoot to read.

Mr. Lynch uses flashbacks quite well and a lot in this book, fleshing out the back story between Locke and Sabetha in the process. We also get to read quite a bit about the Sansa twins which is bittersweet, seeing as they were murdered in Lies, and their interactions with each other is damn well done. We discover quite a lot about Locke and his origins which I really appreciated and did not really expect.

The pacing in the flashbacks is quite different and slower than the main storyline, so it almost feels like it's there to take a breath between all the action. I did not mind this, as it helped separate the two timelines well.

The interaction between Locke and Sabetha is brilliant. When they are matching wits it's magical, seeing as she is just as smart as Locke and makes him stumble quite a few times. When they are alone and Locke's insecurity and love for her comes to the fore it made for some touching reading.

We also discover why the Bondsmagi exist as they do, and the explanation is damn brilliant and I never saw it coming. In a few lines Mr Lynch manages to give reasons that makes sense and it fleshes the world out nicely for the following books. 

There were quite a few twists in this book that was done well enough to catch me off guard, and that made this book damn good. Whatever you think will happen, doesn't. I got the feeling during the book that this is Mr. Lynch enjoying himself, a master storyteller delivering his tale with flourish and style. It was a real fun book.

Will it stick in my head as the first one in the series managed to? I don't think so. There are passages that stand out and really touched me, especially between Locke and Jean, but as a whole it was good, not memorable. If you like Locke and the Gentleman Bastards, read this book. You'll love it.


25 September 2013

Some changes on the horizon

I've been in a bit of a reviewing slump these last few weeks and did not really know why, until I saw this on Twitter:

This could just have been a throwaway comment from Mr Kay, but it's stuck with me for the last few days and it got me thinking about why I like the books I like. There are books that stick in my head, where I can recall the storyline and the characters without issue. American Gods by Gaiman, Lions of Al-Rassan by Kay, Stormcaller by Lloyd and Night Watch by Pratchett to name a few of the more memorable ones. They make me think of the structure of the worlds, the interactions between the characters and never really leave me.

Other books are a hoot to read, and then they fade into the background. They do not really make me think too much about anything further than what's on the page and re reading the books wouldn't really cross my mind. Sanderson, Brett and Weeks fall into this category for me. I still enjoy reading them,  but they do not get me thinking much after I put the book down. It was a fun read and that's that.

So, in saying this, I'm revamping my reviewing style and scoring of said books in the coming weeks. Some good books will get a lower rating purely based on if I feel it would stick with me on the long run. This will be mentioned in the review of course. This process is going to take a while to perfect, so bear with me. Books that has already been reviewed and scored will keep their score, since that was what I felt they deserved at that time. I see this as an evolution of my personal tastes and feel it needs to be included in my future reviews.

How would I know if a book has really moved me? We'll have to see what I come up with!

16 September 2013

Authors welcome. I have coffee. And beer.

Something interesting happened yesterday on Twitter. My Sunday feed is usually filled with semi drunken ramblings from sports fans and happy-place statements from people chilling on the couch. Then someone shared this, an article at Strange Horizons where the author says that he is uncomfortable with authors commenting on reviews of their work and with interactions with said authors. My timeline erupted into a flurry of posts about this. Go read it and be sure to check out the comments.

It seems that Ben Aaronovitch commented on a review over at The Book Smugglers, and some people took major offence. He then commented on the SH article as well and got slapped around a little bit in the comments. Now I do not know Ben and I haven't read any of his books, but he's an adult and can surely take some internet criticism. 

My gripe is with the feeling that authors should not comment on reviews posted by bloggers. 

I started this blog as a place to post what I thought about the books I've read, to post some thoughts on the genre I love and to interact with the fans and the creators of said genre. My twitter timeline is 80% book related and I waste a lot of time on there. If an author comments on a review I did or tweet their thanks for said review, I appreciate it immensely. An author whose work I liked took a little time to read my thoughts and replied on said thoughts? Absolutely brilliant in my book. 

If an author disagrees with a review and decide to flame me on my blog or on social media, I'll be sure to tell the people who follow me that someone just had a brain fart and committed social media suicide. There are limits to interaction of course and it goes both ways. A civil discussion with valid points is helpful. If an author points out a factual mistake in my review or clarifies a part I might have interpreted differently, that generates debate about the intentions and meanings behind his story and helps to understand the book better. I won't change my interpretation, since I am entitled to my opinion, but it must be helpful to the author to see how different people interprets their work and a lively debate is constructive to all parties.

My favorite forum is Fantasy Faction. I like it there because there are loads of authors online talking about their work when asked and they punt books they like. They discuss their writing processes and they are integral members of the site. The inclusive feeling there is great. You can pick their brains whenever you want and all of them are open and friendly. 

Owners of blogs are 100% entitled to decide how they want their blogs used. They can disable comments, post a list of rules on posting on their reviews, interact with fans in their comments section and delete whatever they want. That's fine. Free speech and all that. It's your space, you can do whatever you want.

I do disagree that the industry standard should be that no author must comment. Ever. That the writers must write their books and then go start the next one and leave the blogs and forums alone to dissect their work in private. That it's bad form for the creator to interact with fans outside of conventions and signing events. That authors should please post guest blogs, interviews etc when asked, and then shut up and go away. That if any author dares post a comment on their own work anywhere online, the blogger and others should explode into righteous indignation. That this is normal.

I'm not going to post rules. Be civil and I'm happy. I'm not going to post a badge to say everybody can comment. That's implied. If I'm ever lucky enough to meet some of my favorite authors, I'd like to buy them a drink or twelve and chat a bit about their work. Since the chances aren't that big seeing as most are in Europe and USA, I can at least interact with them on here and on social media. The more the merrier. 

22 August 2013

A-Z Book Survey

I stumbled on this questionnaire on Twitter from The Perpetual Pageturner and thought it looked like a fun way to kill a lunch hour, so here it goes!

Author youve read the most books from:
Terry Pratchett, since I've read all he has written.

Best Sequel ever:
Difficult one, but I'll give it to King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. It blew my socks off.

Currently Reading:
The Long War by Pratchett and Baxter.

Drink of choice while reading:
A good glass of South African red wine goes down well.

E-reader of physical book?
E-reader for published books that hasn't arrived in RSA yet or books I'm not sure I'm going to like, physical books for collections.

Fictional character you'd have dated in high school:
Sabetha from The Republic of Thieves. Brilliant, witty and all round awesome.

Glad you gave this book a chance.
Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I picked it up on a whim and it's astoundingly good.

Hidden gem book:
Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd, it deserves a lot more attention.

Important moment in your reading life:
When I read Dune by Frank Herbert while in high school. Opened my mind in loads of different ways.

Just Finished:
Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Review on it's way!

Kinds of books you won't read:
Paranormal romance. Or most romance actually.

Longest book you've read:
Lord of the Rings? Malazan book of the Fallen? Wheel of Time? If they count as single books that is.

Major book hangover:
Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I was a bit depressed when the trilogy ended.

Number of bookcases you own:
One damn big one. Covers a whole wall.

One book you've read multiple times:
Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. And Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And Night Watch by Pratchett.

Preferred place to read:
My old Lazy-boy I got from my father-in-law.

Quote that inspires you:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
― Frank HerbertDune

Reading regret:
Time wasted on books I didn't like but where I've still pushed through to finish them.

Series you've started and need to finish where all the books are published.
None, since the current series' i'm reading is still being written. The Dresden files for example.

Three of your all-time favourite books:
The Blade Itself by Abercrombie, Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd and Lies of Locke Lamora by Lynch.

Unapolagetic fanboy for:
John Scalzi. Love his work.

Very exited for this release:
Moon's Artifice by Tom Lloyd.

Worst bookish habit. 
Reading until the early hours in bed and being a zombie the next day.

X marks the spot: 27th book from top left on shelf:
Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Your latest book purchase
The Long War by Pratchett and Baxter

ZZZ-Snatcher - Book that kept you up way too late.
Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch.

19 August 2013

Apocalypse Now Now - Charlie Human


Baxter Zevcenko's life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he's making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he's going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.

But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson 'Jackie' Ronin.

Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town's supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.

The covers are stupendously pretty. I've included both the RSA -right- and UK -left- covers for the first time, since this is one of the few books where I like both. On most books the UK cover is miles better than the US cover, but Joey Hi-Fi did his usual thing and knocked it out of the park. I love the RSA one on the right a little bit more, but that's just me. I was under the impression that the left one was for the USA, sorry about that.

This is Mr. Human's début novel and it was well worth the wait. It's one the few books based mostly in South Africa I've read, which is a damn shame since I enjoyed knowing the lay of the land so to speak. Baxter's South Africa definitely isn't the normal South Africa. Cape Town, the mountain and some of the history is present and seems quite similar. Then Mr. Human's insane brain rips the carpet that you think you know from underneath you, rolls you up in it and transports you into a strange, twisted world.

Baxter is a 16 year old high school student. No, this novel isn't YA, promise. His school has competing gangs who peddle drugs and guns, which is a bit weird. Baxter has assembled his own crew, The Spider, who carved out a niche for themselves supplying the youth of suburban Cape Town with porn in all it's forms. Baxter plays the bigger gangs off each other to keep the peace, or at least he tries to. A little slice of a big cake is a lot better for everybody than no cake at all. Baxter has his booming business, his girl and things are looking rosy for the little crime lord. At least for a little while.

Baxter is one screwed up kid. This is apparent quite quickly in the novel, since he is the main POV throughout. A scheming little bastard that uses everybody around him to further his own goals. When his girlfriend, Esme, is kidnapped, he's faced with something strange. It seemed there is a possibility he really loves her and he wants to rescue her. 

So is this book a straight up urban fantasy where the hero is faced with the dilemma of having to rescue someone he loves? No, not even close. Baxter is too strange for that to be the main issue.

The world Mr. Human has created is insane. In every way. He's taken San Bushman and African gods, parallel dimensions , pop culture, some standard fantasy creatures and Afrikaner mythology, blended them together in who knows what and used the resulting mixture as paint to construct a scary, dark absolutely addicting world for his characters to play in. 

The story goes along at a breakneck pace, especially when the wheels start to come off for Baxter and he's exposed to the real world he never even imagined existed. It's stupendous. One of my favourite parts in the middle of the novel is a stutter step in the pacing, done so damn well I still smile thinking of it. 
The supporting cast is written well, with the important players given enough back story and hints of motives to flesh them out.

Honestly, read this book. As Mr. Human's first, it's written beautifully. I can't wait to read his next.


24 July 2013

Range of Ghosts - Elizabeth Bear

The Blurb: Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

This book has been on my wish list for quite a while, and thanks to the good people of the David Gemmel Legend Award I got a chance to read it.

I love the cover. No hooded man here, just Temur on his horse with a striking background. It's quite striking and well done.

The book kicks of with Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, crawling out of a battlefield with a wound that should have killed him. The war to rule has taken a bad turn for his brother, and Temur knows he is alone. Exile is his only option. The setting is the steppe, quite like Mongolia with nomads and horses, with one big difference. The sky is filled with moons which represent the surviving members of the Great Khan's family, each one disappearing as the person it represents dies. 

The second main character is Samarkar, princess of Rassan who gave up her claim to become a wizard. What's good about the magic system used thus far in the story is that there is a definite price paid for the power, and I appreciated it. No Will and Word or one in a thousand type of choosing done here. It's a concious decision that one takes and there isn't a guarantee that the sacrifice will lead to power, just the chance.

Both main characters are done astoundingly well, with depth, growth, insecurities and their own quirks. It was really refreshing to read some well rounded characters. The supporting cast gets more than enough fleshing out to make them interesting and is done with such skill that I even love Temur's horse. Now if you can give a damn horse enough personality to make him interesting without it becoming silly you know you are damn good at it.

The world Ms Bear created is awesome. Mongolia and surrounds with extra magic, different gods for different people, different skies and all in all damn interesting to read. Each land is quite different and the peoples described well. The evil guy is smart and ruthless with a definite long term plan he's working towards. He doesn't make many mistakes which in it self is refreshing. He won't be beaten by anything else than someone honestly better than him.

Magic is definitely important in this world, but not absolute. Power is gained slowly and costs a lot in effort and pain. You get the feeling that a well trained warrior stands a real chance against a wizard and that it would be a real good fight.

I do not have any real gripes with this book. It took a few chapters to get into it, but since this is the first time I've read any of Ms. Bear's work that's more than understandable. As soon as I got used to her rhythm and style I was sucked in. A few more light-hearted and funny moments wouldn't have hurt, but this isn't a light-hearted story so no real issue there. I'm nitpicking here. 

For an opening novel in a trilogy this was amazing. I can't wait for the next instalment in The Eternal Sky trilogy.


23 July 2013

Skoobs bloggers' get together

One of the few disadvantages of living in sunny South Africa is the absence of huge conventions or real international author's book launches. This is understandable, seeing as we are many miles removed from, well, mostly all the First World. I've spent a depressingly long time reading online as authors pimp their convention panels and fans post about how awesome it was to attend.

Enter Skoobs Theatre of Books. This is easily my favourite bookshop, with a pretty decent selection of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and of course all other book genres known to man. Throw in a champagne bar and a gaming area to keep the non readers happy and you have a cracking good store all round. They hosted a book bloggers get together on Saturday, with goody bags and yummy snacks of course included.

With a free drink in hand and some delicious bite sized treats consumed, it was quite surreal to listen as those around me discussed their favourite books, blogs and life in general. This doesn't happen often to me, seeing as I'm mostly an army of one when it comes to books an reading in my usual circles. It was like dipping my brain into some delicious candyfloss, quite refreshing and a bit weird, but in a good way.

The goody bag was way over the top and greatly appreciated. A free book, bookmarks, book light thingy, mini champagne that makes you feel like a giant when you hold it, chocolates and a weird book prop that keeps pages open that I have yet to figure out. It's awesome thanks. 

Now, by being quite shy and according to my wife, a little surly and grumpy looking, I did not interact with my fellow bloggers as much as I really wanted to and should have, but I did eavesdrop better than any assassin on many of the conversations. Honestly I was just glad to be there surrounded by like minded people having fun. I did have an extremely informative chat with one of the managers or owner of the shop - sorry I'm horrible with names - about the intricacies involved in running a bookshop as well as the situation with the Publishers struggles in the tough economic times we are experiencing and how the e-books are changing the publishing industry.

So thanks Skoobs, can't wait for the next one! It was an absolute blast.

05 July 2013

No Return - Zachary Jernigan

The Blurb: On Jeroun, there is no question as to whether God exists--only what his intentions are.

Under the looming judgment of Adrash and his ultimate weapon--a string of spinning spheres beside the moon known as The Needle--warring factions of white and black suits prove their opposition to the orbiting god with the great fighting tournament of Danoor, on the far side of Jeroun's only inhabitable continent.

From the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits comes Vedas, a young master of martial arts, laden with guilt over the death of one of his students. Traveling with him are Churls, a warrior woman and mercenary haunted by the ghost of her daughter, and Berun, a constructed man made of modular spheres possessed by the foul spirit of his creator. Together they must brave their own demons, as well as thieves, mages, beasts, dearth, and hardship on the perilous road to Danoor, and the bloody sectarian battle that is sure to follow.

On the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the travelers, Ebn and Pol of the Royal Outbound Mages (astronauts using Alchemical magic to achieve space flight) have formed a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet. But Ebn and Pol each have their own clandestine agendas--which may call down the wrath of the very god they hope to woo.  

Who may know the mind of God? And who in their right mind would seek to defy him?

First off, not a fan of the cover. I do not know if I have been spoiled by some beautiful book covers recently, but this snarling dude put me off a little bit. Onto the book itself.

The world that Mr. Jernigan created here is simply brilliant. It's interesting with hints of history that should come into play in later books. With uncrossable oceans, all of humanity is landlocked on one continent. There are other continents of course, inhabited by Elders, a slumbering race that ruled in earlier times. The Elders do not decompose on death, and the people of Jeroun harvest their bones and use the dust as currency, their skins as armour and most of the rest as magical ingredients. 

The god of this world, Adrash, abandoned the people years ago. and now float in space looking down on his world. He created the Needle, spheres spinning in space, as the ultimate doomsday weapon should he feel he needs to use it should the world go beyond saving.

The eldermen, children with some Elder DNA in their systems are born with some weird physical mutations and they can do magic. The Royal Mages are the astronauts of the world, using Alchemy to travel to space to observe Adrash and the needle. The politics going on behind the scene with the mages is done with a deft touch, as it is how it would be. Despite having a stated unity of purpose, the two most powerful mages Ebn and Pol each work privately to their own goals. Ebn's growth throughout the book is probably the best during the book, and his personal journey was the most satisfying for me. 

Vedas is a badass. One of the best fighters in existence. Having grown up with the Black Suits, he knows violence and little else about the world or his place in it. He gets chosen to represent his Order in the tournament of Danoor. On his travels he meets the construct Berun, built by a mighty mage. Berun is also damn cool, an artificial man who shows good growth throughout the book for someone who isn't technically human. Churls is an ordinary mercenary  tasked with leading them to Danoor.

The naivety of Vedas was a little irritating at first, but as he got comfortable with his companions and his place in the world, he got a lot better to read. Doing so much in one book was difficult, but it's mostly done well.  Some of the fighting scenes could have been better, since some of them felt a little sterile. I understand that Vedas is a highly trained fighter, but having him feel some rage or desperation would have made him feel more human.

The real star of this book is the setting that was created. It's unique and interesting as hell. I can't wait to read more of the wonderful word of Jeroun.

A solid début and a wonderful world.


11 June 2013

The Lions of Al-Rassan

The BlurbThe ruling Asharites of Al-Rassan have come from the desert sands, but over centuries, seduced by the sensuous pleasures of their new land, their stern piety has eroded. The Asharite empire has splintered into decadent city-states led by warring petty kings. King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, aided always by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan — poet, diplomat, soldier — until a summer afternoon of savage brutality changes their relationship forever.

Meanwhile, in the north, the conquered Jaddites' most celebrated — and feared — military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, driven into exile, leads his mercenary company south.

In the dangerous lands of Al-Rassan, these two men from different worlds meet and serve — for a time — the same master. Sharing their interwoven fate — and increasingly torn by her feelings — is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond.

This review has taken forever to write, I don't know why.

I picked this book up on a whim in a second hand book store a while back, based mainly on that I've read Under Heaven a while back and loved it.

This book, according to the back cover, is based on the history of medieval Spain. This is quite a deviation from my normal reading, being heavy on the historical fantasy side and very light on the magic and mysticism. 

There are three main POV characters in this novel. The Asharite Ammar ibn Khairan, poet and allround badass, The Jaddite Rodrigo Belmonte, allround badass, and the Kindath Jehane, the badass doctor.

It becomes clear that the Asharite people are based on the Muslims, the Jaddite on the Christians and the Kindath on the Jews. The religion of each as practiced in the book are completely different from their real world counterparts, but it does make understanding the politics in the background a bit easier. The Asharites has conquered the Jaddite lands of Al-Rassan, and everybody hates the Kindath.

Ammar of Cartada is a brilliant character. A world renowned poet and advisor to kings, he's also the killer of the last khalif of Al-Rassan. He's a terror with a blade, and his ultimate loyalty lies with his country if not with his king. He is world renowned, quite introspective and justifiably self assured.

Rodrigo Belmonte, the previous constable of Valledo is now the most respected Jaddite military captain. Also a masterful swordsman, probably one of the best military commanders alive and just a solid dude. He'll do what he knows is right and take the consequences of his actions on himself.

Jehane is a gifted doctor that has been caught up in world shaking events. She's a strong female character, and she provides a good counterpoint to the two men whose actions shape the world. She grounds the story well, and the medical descriptions as she works was a real pleasure to read. No info dumping, just masterful layering and adding to the history and current technology available to the characters.

Ammar and Rodrigo are both exiled from their homelands for doing what they felt was right. Both accept their fate, and make their way to the court of King Badir in Ragosa. Jehane has fled her home town of Fezane and found employment as a court physician for Badir at the same time. 

The first time Ammar and Rodrigo meet each other in Ragosa is electric. It's one of my favourite parts of the book to be honest. They are both comfortable and self assured with the power they possess. The writing and pacing here is a sheer joy to read. 

This whole book just works. The pacing is pure joy and the characters are compelling. Not just the main guys, the fringe characters are given enough page time to develop fully without becoming the focus of the story. The cities are all unique with deft touches to differentiate between them.

Seriously, everybody should read this book. It's the best damn thing I've read this year, and possibly the most beautifully crafted work I've read in the last two years.


09 May 2013

This is Water.

This is a damn good point to keep in mind.

Gods and Monsters: Unclean Spirits - Chuck Wendig

The BlurbFive years ago, it all went wrong for Cason Cole. He lost his wife and son, lost everything, and was bound into service to a man who chews up human lives and spits them out, a predator who holds nothing dear and respects no law. Now, as the man he both loves and hates lies dying at his feet, the sounds of the explosion still ringing in his ears, Cason is finally free. The gods and goddesses are real. A polytheistic pantheon—a tangle of divine hierarchies—once kept the world at an arm’s length, warring with one another for mankind’s belief and devotion. It was a grim and bloody balance, but a balance just the same. When one god triumphed, driving all other gods out of Heaven, it was back to the bad old days: cults and sycophants, and the terrible retribution the gods visit on those who spite them. None of which is going to stop Cason from getting back what’s his...

I am a huge fan of Chuck Wendig's, having devoured his Miriam Black books with relish. I'm also a faithful follower of his blog and the writing advice he dishes out on there are entertaining and quite brilliant in it's own right. I must admit my Urban Fantasy reading shelf leaves a lot to be desired, consisting mostly of Dresden running around doing what he does best. This book proves that there are some damn good ones out there that I miss and I'll work to rectify this.

Onto Unclean Spirits. The main character here is Cason Cole, a retired MMA fighter who faced an easy choice. Serve a monster in order to save his family. It was a no brainer and of course he accepted. You save those you love and screw the strings attached. There were some bastard strings attached to this deal, but at least his family was safe.

Cason gets a lucky break when someone blows up his boss, which he thinks allows him to go back to his family. He thought that the deal was done, the strings cut. Far from it for the poor man, his torture was only starting.

The gods has been evicted from their respective pantheons and are living with us normal people on earth. Some of them just get on with life as it were, while others manipulate humans to their own ends. I'd like to think that humanity has rubbed off on them after their time here, since the petty squabbles and mistakes they make are quite human at the end of the day. They aren't omni-cognisant or omnipresent, but they are still the scariest thing you'll ever meet by a country mile. A pissed off god is not to be trifled with.

Unclean Spirits is definitely not for the YA crowd, seeing as language use is quite, shall we say spicy? The violence present in the novel is also pretty graphic, but done in typical Wendig style. It's dirty, desperate and hilarious in equal measure. It fits in with the story damn well, seeing if this ever happened to me I would be running around cursing, screaming and peeing myself for the majority of the story. And whimpering. Lots of curling into a ball and whimpering.

Most of the gods are bastards, manipulating events and Cason to their own ends. Many a time he thinks he's doing the right thing, only to realise later on that he was being lead around by the nose. Cason isn't a quitter and he bulldozes his way through most of the problems he faces. He takes some hits along the way and as the plot around him becomes clearer, he's still his own man. For someone who has been put through the meat grinder by damn gods, this is admirable and you cannot help but cheer the man on.

Is this book the same as Gaiman's American Gods? No. The premise is the same with gods running around all over the place, but that's about it. Wendig's gods are foul mouthed, meaner and petty for the most part. Infected with humanity if it makes sense. It makes them more fun to read seeing as they scheme to cheat each other more than they try cheating humanity. 

Unclean Spirits was a fun novel to read. The pacing is fast and never lets up. The action is wall to wall awesome and there were enough humorous parts to lighten it up and lift the story. As a quick jaunt into urban fantasy filled with gods and drama, this was awesome.