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 d├ębut and a wonderful world.