jpskewedthrone: (Default)


This is the first book of a series of humorous SF novels. Sort of a spoof of serious military SF.

Premise: Roger Wilson Rogers has managed to get out of the military and start up a smuggling career, but unfortunately one of his runs goes horribly wrong and rather than get sent to a labor camp for prisoners, he agrees to rejoin the fleet ... as an officer! But once on the ship, he realizes that things have changed since he was last here. Droids appear everywhere, along with inspirational posters, not to mention that everyone has been transferred to jobs they aren't qualified to do. Where's the beer hour? Where's the shuffleboard? And what's all this talk about preparing for war? Rogers is afraid he's bitten off more than he can handle, like, actual work. But can he figure out what's going on before the enemy fleet attacks?

This was a fun read, although it does take a while to get things set up for the humorous ending. I'd say about half to two thirds of the book is Rogers exploring the ship, meeting people, and setting up the plot elements that make the last half to a third so much fun. But once the action starts, the book speeds along at a fast clip. The main character is fun to follow and the side characters are a blast as well. A few of the plot elements are too over the top, but it's really just a rollercoaster ride throughout.

If you're into humorous SF with a military slant, definitely check this out.
jpskewedthrone: (Default)


I'd heard many people talking about this book when it first came out and finally broke down at a book signing and bought it. Mostly, I'd heard that if you grew up in the 80s, you'd love it. And I have to say, that's the case.

Premise: In the near future, a gigajillionaire who built his fortune by creating a virtual reality system that's used by the entire world--a world slowly decaying because more people prefer to live online than unplugged--dies and bequeaths his entire fortune to whoever can find and defeat the three gates he's hidden inside the virtual world. Wade, a teenager, is one of those desperately searching for the gates. But it's been years and no one has even found the first one, let alone come close to finding all three. And then Wade figures out the first clue and finds the first gate ... setting of a worldwide hunt for control of everything, a hunt that turns deadly almost immediately, both for Wade and for those he finds as allies on the way.

This is a great concept for an SF novel, and tapping into the 80s nostalgia is spectacular. I have to admit that I didn't get all of the 80s references, even though I grew up during that time, but I certainly got enough of them to get thoroughly involved in the story. Wade is a character that you can sympathize with immediately and root for throughout the entire book. And the puzzles and clues are sufficiently twisted that I couldn't figure them out on my own; I had to live through the story along with Wade as he figured them out.

If the novel had been only about the puzzles and their solutions, it wouldn't have been that great, but it transcends that initial plot structure and makes the story more about the characters and, to a lesser extent, the world as it has become. You get involved in Wade's relationships with some of the others searching for the gates, and you hate the corporations attempting to find the gates for their own gain just as much as Wade does, setting up the perfect antagonist. And throughout, you get a strong glimpse of what the world is like outside the virtual reality setting. My only complaint about the novel is that, at some point, I expected the novel to somehow address the world and its problems more directly. Instead, the real world ends up being shifted off stage and is only marginally addressed as a "commentary" on our society. More could have been done here, without it shifting into railing against evils in society.

In the end, though, this was a spectacular book. A definite read for those who grew up in the 80s and enjoyed SF&F when they were younger. And if you look deep enough, there's even some commentary and warnings about society and where we might be headed.
jpskewedthrone: (Default)


The Operative is the second book in Gerald Brandt's San Angeles sci-fi thriller series and it continues the story of Kris Merrill.

Premise: In The Courier, Kris finds herself caught up in the politics of the corporations that rule a near future Earth, as well as the heavens above, when she accidentally witnesses a murder while delivering a package. She survives--because she's a survivor--but she can't return to life as a courier now. Instead, she's become involved in the resistance, training to be one of their operatives. But the Meridian corporation still wants her dead, as well as certain elements within the resistance itself. And they're willing to do anything--even use her mentor and lover Ian Miller--to get to her. As the city descends into civil unrest, she must find a way to rescue Ian ... but she doesn't know who she can trust.

I enjoyed this continuing story and thought it moved in a believable direction for Kris herself. She isn't really the kind of personality you'd think of as being an "operative," and that's clearly a drawback for her in the novel, giving it an immediate sense of tension. So while she has the training to be an operative, her heart isn't really in it, causing all kinds of problems throughout the novel as she searches for Ian and discovers who she can and cannot trust. This being a second novel in a series, there is a transitional nature to the novel, with not only Kris shifting from her courier days to something else, but the entire city and political shape of the world shifting as well. I'm looking forward to the third installment in this series.

If you like SF thrillers, I'd definitely recommend this series.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
This is the third book in this series, and while it does tie up the main plot threads, I'm hoping it's not the last. I'd like to see more. I guess we'll have to wait and see. And yes, that is a blurb on the front cover of the book from me, part of the review I wrote for the second book in this series. *grin*





Premise: Princess Frank and Dragon Prince Lucille are celebrating their one year anniversary, with representatives from all of the known world in attendance. But during the ceremonies, a magical attack against the Dragon Prince kills the prince of Elfland, along with several other dignitaries, while forcing Lucille back into her own body. Unfortunately, Frank is still trapped in the princess' body as well, except he can't control it and he can't communicate with anyone. As far as everyone is concerned, he's switched places with Lucille and taken over the dragon's body ... except the dragon is rampaging across the lands, attacking towns and generally taking the already escalating tensions between the nations toward outright war. Not to mention the Elf-King isn't particularly happy that his son is dead. He gives Lucille 24 hours to bring him the person responsible for his son's death, or he'll unleash both the Winter Court and the Summer Court of the Elves on human lands.

I'll be the first to admit that the first few chapters of this book are a little rocky, but once we get to the body switching--the hallmark of this series--then things settle in and the writing smooths out tremendously. The initial problem of how Frank is going to be able to do anything when he's trapped in Lucille's skull with no ability to communicate or control anything is interesting and presents a whole new slew of problems, yet still remains true to the body-switching theme. And S. Andrew Swann takes that initial set-up of two souls in one body and plays with it tremendously well. I really liked how the story gets more and more complicated with the two trapped int he same body. (I'm trying not to spoil any of the surprises here, because they were all good and all made sense.) Of course, this leaves the question of who exactly is in the dragon's body. But I'll leave that to everyone to find out by reading the book.

The usual good romp through fantasyland here, with some new twists and turns that include both the dragon and the wizard featured in the first book. Nearly all of the plot threads of the first two books are wrapped up here, and everyone ends up exactly where they should be by the end. If this is the last book (and again, I hope it isn't), then it was an extremely satisfying ride. For some light, humorous, entertaining reading--with some darker points along the way--I'd definitely recommend this series.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
Twelve Kinds in Sharakhai is Bradley P. Beaulieu's first novel with DAW Books and the start of a new and interesting series. I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes this.





Premise: Ceda lives in Sharakhai, a city in the middle of the desert that's ruled by twelve Kings who made a pact with the gods centuries earlier in order to survive. But their rule is tyrannical, the populace kept in line by the Blade Maidens and the Silver Spears. The Kings killed Ceda's mother when she was a child and she's vowed revenge. Using the clues left to her by her mother, she hopes to complete what her mother started and bring the Kings down, one by one. But the clues are frustrating and difficult to unravel, and the Kings near impossible to get close to, protected by the Maidens. The only way to reach them may be for Ceda to become a Blade Maiden herself.

This is a great start to a fantasy epic, with all of the details that will make for a compelling story. Probably the books' strongest suit is the worldbuilding and the world itself, which is full of life, provides a unique setting, and has a compelling history. Ships that sail on the sands and the creatures that haunt the thorny forest that surrounds the city are but a few of the interesting elements that bring Sharakhai to life. The reader will want to unravel the mysteries Ceda is presented with along with her. The two main characters--Ceda and Emre--are likeable and draw you into their own personal stories, with flashbacks that show you their backstories and how their lives became so intertwined.

My only complaint is that there are obviously many more books to come in the series (at no point does the author try to hide this fact, so it's not a surprise) so only one main plot thread has been finished by the end of the book, leaving many other threads hanging. It's obvious that Emre's story has just begun, for example. But the ending is still satisfying, while still leaving the reader wanting more.

Overall, a great start to what I hope is a spectacular series. I'm interested in exploring this world further, and following Ceda and Emre on whatever paths destiny sends them.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
The Sagittarius Command is the third book in the Tour of the Merrimack sci-fi series from R.M. Meluch. This series is much more Star Trek-ish than hardcover sci-fi, but I've enjoyed the books in the series so far.





Premise: In this book, the Roman leader Caesar Magnus is assassinated during an ceremony in honor of the Merrimack's captain Farragut. In order to keep the tenuous peace between the Roman Empire, Farragut must travel deep into Hive territory to not only find out who ordered and orchestrated Magnus' death, but also to find out how the Hive has managed to locate and attack numerous Roman worlds, even though there are ships on watch, waiting for the Hive to approach. And throughout it all, the tensions between Farragut's crew and the Roman allies-once-enemies they are forced to work with continue to rise.

Again, this series is very Star Trek in nature, which is fine by me, since I love Star Trek. It's the reason I keep reading. And this book is much more focused in terms of plot than the last one, with the usual mystery inherent in most Star Trek plots. How is the Hive getting past the ships posted as guards and attacking the Roman planets, leaving some of them destroyed? And then there's the question of who assassinated the Roman Caesar, of course. The characters are their usual colorful selves in this one, with some advancement of some of the interpersonal plots set up in previous books, which is always nice.

Overall, this is a great addition to the series, with a much clearer, sharper plot than the past two books, although that could just be that I've settled into the characters now. (Much like a Star Trek series doesn't get good until the characters settle into their roles.) Definitely a series I'd suggest everyone check out.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
The Runelords is the first book in this epic fantasy series from David Farland. I bought this when it first came out in hardcover ages ago--as well as all of the subsequent books--but only just now managed to find time to read it. No real reason for this, just . . . I own a lot of books that I haven't had a chance to read yet. A lot.





Anyway, the premise: Gaborn is a Runelord, traveling the land toward the allied nation of Sylvarresta with the intent to ask the Princess Iome for her hand. But on the way, he discovers assassins, and an army marching toward Sylvarresta led by Raj Ahten, who seeks to destroy all of the northern lands. Gaborn races to warn the king of Sylvarresta and Iome of the threat, but discovers that more is wrong with the world than a simple army marching on a castle. For in this world, traits can be passed from one to another through endowments. Brawn, stamina, beauty, wit--all passed from one to another to make a man or woman more than he or she could ever be alone. And Raj Ahten has been forcing people to give him endowments to the point where he may have become more than merely human. He may have become the Sum of All Men, in effect, a god. How can Gaborn and Iome and their fathers hope to defeat him, especially once they learn that the Earth King is dead? Their only chance is for the Earth King to be reborn. . . .

The most interesting aspect of this world, to me, is the concept of the endowments being passed from one person to another, with men literally having the strength of ten men and women the grace of twenty. That idea all by itself is what prompted me to buy the book in the first place. The possibilities there are intriguing, and David Farland uses many of those possibilities in this book. Some are simply strategic--such as linking person to person to create a chain, or to link many people to a single individual, then link that person to another. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of magic system? How can it be used? How can it be abused? All of these are great questions that Farland explores to a great extent in this book. Obviously, Raj Ahten epitomizes the abuse of the magic. The entire book could have dealt with this one magical component and been satisfactory, I believe. I was grateful that the cost of such endowments--how it affected those that gave endowments and those that received them--was made clear, and that these costs had affected the society, creating Dedicate towers and also affecting how wars were fought and battles won. This is what fantasy should be all about--a magical system that changes the world and the people that live in it.

But there were many other magical and epic fantasy components to the book as well. There's the Earth and Fire magic, the two rival factions at odds with each other, woven throughout the story. There were fantastical creatures such as giants and reavers and ferrins, along with hellish elementals and golems. And more mundane magic as well, such as herblore, mixed in with some chemical science. The world itself had multiple layers--varied cultures, richly imagined settings, interesting characters . . . everything that you'd want and expect in an epic fantasy novel.

My only complaint was with the plot. Overall, it was fine. But it felt a little ragged and loose, not as tight as I expect from an epic fantasy. I don't mean that the plot was sprawling--in fact, it was kept down to a manageable number of main characters to follow (there were only two major POV characters to follow, with a couple of jaunts into other POV characters once in while). What I mean is that it felt like some plot threads were started and then left hanging or went nowhere. For example, Gaborn is in the castle, escapes outside it's walls, then returns, then escapes again . . . couldn't this have been cut to just one escape? Especially when I didn't see the point of the first escape? In any event, a few plot threads do similar things, going nowhere and then returning. And in the end, when the book was finished, I didn't feel a sense of completion. It didn't feel like a significant objective had been achieved. It felt more like the story had just started and we had simply finished part one.

So I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the extremely intriguing premise of endowments being passed from person to person and the potential (and cost) of such a magic. I was less impressed with the overall plot of the book, which left me a little unsatisfied at the end. I'll be reading the second book, because the world is so interesting, but I'm hoping that we get a slightly more coherent and satisfactory story in the next one.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
I love Stephen King, but this one . . . not one of his best.





Premise: College student Devin Jones takes a job working at an amusement park after his girlfriend breaks up with him. While there, he discovers that the amusement park is haunted because of an unsolved murder that happened on one of the rides.

This has some of the classic Stephen King elements in it--the real world touched by the paranormal, multiple character plot lines that meld and merge to create an interesting plot, great characterization. However, while I enjoyed the read, it didn't feel quite balanced right. The paranormal elements take a back stage for a significant portion of the book while it focuses on Devin and his breakup and his job at the amusement park. The murder doesn't become a significant element until well into the book, and only get addressed directly toward the very end, almost as an afterthought. I felt that King was perhaps too enamored of the carnie elements and so spent a little too much time on living in that world and not enough time developing and integrating the murder/paranormal elements into the plot.

But it was still a good story.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
A Murder of Mages is the first book in the Maradaine Constabulary series, although there was a previous book called The Thorn of Dentonhill that's set in the same city (with different characters and not dealing with the constabulary). I enjoyed that first book, so of course picked this up and read it right away.





The premise: Satrine's husband, who worked for the constabulary, is waylaid and beaten near to death. Unable to support herself and her children on the pittance the constabulary offers her now that her husband can no longer work, she fakes some papers and takes up a position as a constable in a different section of the city in hopes that no one will recognize her. She's partnered with Minox, an oddball but brilliant investigator who happens to be an untrained mage. The two are presented immediately with the ritual murder of a Circled mage. If they can't find out who's killing mages in the city, it may spark an all-out mage war between the Circles . . . which could spell the destruction of the entire city!

Obviously there's a "Sherlock Holmes and Watson" vibe to the setup, with Minox playing the role of Holmes, but the set-up is where the comparison ends. At first, the story is focused mostly on Satrine, but after a while we get Minox's perspective as well. The two work well together, because both of them are smart and effective at what they do. But the odds are stacked against them. They both have secrets that they don't want revealed, and one of the nice things about the book is that none of the secrets are "played up" in a stupid way. Minox knows immediately that Satrine is hiding something (even the inspector who hires her knows something isn't right immediately) but everyone chooses to ignore it for their own reasons. Similarly, while some of the other characters are initially introduced as being less than intelligent, as the novel progresses their characters are deepened, so they become more than just clueless secondary inspectors and take on a life of their own. This doesn't meant that they suddenly become smarter than initially introduced, they simply take on other dimensions and you see them as people living their lives. You also see how they became inspectors. They may not be as intelligent, but they have a purpose and they get the job done in their own way.

As for the plot ... aside from the character developments of the two main characters, the murders of the mages are initially difficult to follow. There's a ... looseness in the first half of the book regarding this main plot that doesn't settle down until about a third of the way into the book and doesn't get really interesting until about halfway through. But that's fine, because the characters themselves hold you until that plot kicks in. The world is fully realized and while not everything is explained in this book, the main plot and character threads all come to a satisfactory conclusion.

So an interesting introduction to some great characters that I hope we get to see in many future books. I like the combination of the mystery with the SF elements, satisfying both of my ready genres. I think readers of both genres will enjoy this series.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
I loved the first book in this new series and immediately moved on to the second. I'm happy to say, it's just as much fun as the first. In fact, I'm a little miffed that I'll have to wait almost a year before the third book comes out. (Although I'm not miffed because there's a giant cliffhanger or anything, nothing of the sort.)





Premise: Frank Blackthorne is a thief who somehow finds himself trapped in a princess' body, basically taking on the princess' role . . . which leaves something to be desired. He'd desperately like to be back in his own body, but that's just not possible. So for second-best, he'd like to at least be back in a MAN'S body. So, one night, drunk and not thinking, he uses the cursed artifact given to him as a wedding gift . . . and finds himself not only in a man's body, but a thief's as well. One of the most dangerous thieves in the world, wanted by nearly every country. A man who is now inhabiting the princess' body, with all the power it entales, in the defenseless Lendowyn court.

Again, a great rollicking story that starts off with a terrible and stupid mistake that escalates into a disaster of monstrous proportions, with that little twist of switching bodies. Frank's escapades as he tries to get back to the Lendowyn court and change everything back to the way it was are hilarious and fun, especially with all of the characters he meets along the way. If you like humorous fantasy that plays with the tropes we're all used to, then you should definitely be reading this series.

But the best part of this series--and what makes a truly good humorous story rise above all others--is that there IS some seriousness behind all of the tongue-in-cheek fun. In this case, most of the seriousness comes into play with the outcast group of teenage girls, all with their own little stories. These little serious elements are what takes the book out of simple fun and give it that extra kick, making the story work on multiple levels.

As usual, lots of little twists as Frank works his way back to the castle, with a ton of twists at the end, especially with exactly who this master thief really is and how he's used his newfound powers to mess with the Lendowyn court. But that would be spoilery, so . . .

A great, fun, enjoyable read that works on many levels--some more serious than others. Definitely go find Dragon * Princess, the first book in the series, or this one and read them. Both of them. (You don't NEED to have read the first one to read this one, but you'd be missing out on another fun read if you didn't.)
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
I discovered Katherine Kurtz when my dad bought me her original Deryni series for Christmas ages ago and I realized I could OWN the books I was reading from the library . . . a grave mistake on my dad's part. *grin* In any case, I loved the series and devoured all of the books then currently out by Katherine Kurtz and anything that was coming out shortly after that. Then Kurtz turned to other non-Deryni novels and I wasn't as interested in those, so I ended up not reading anything of hers for a while. Happily, she's returned to the Deryni world. I bought the books (I think there's four of them now) as they came out in hardcover, but only just got to reading this first one.





Premise: King Kelson needs to choose a bride. His first choice--made for political reasons--died in his arms at the altar after a betrayal by the bride's brother. His second choice--made for love--refuses to accept, after her own "betrayal" of marrying Kelson's traitorous cousin when she thought Kelson himself had died. Now he needs to choose again. But how can he reconcile marriage with the love he still feels for Rothana, even though he knows a king cannot ever be expected to marry for the heart? Kelson struggles with this as he and his court accompany their ward of four years Liam-Lajos of Torenth back to his homeland to claim his crown and throne. But Liam's uncles and mother are loath to give up their regency, and have their own plans for betrayal . . . that may take the life of both Liam and Kelson!

I have to admit that I was worried when I sat down to read this book. I have such fond memories of reading the Deryni novels a good *coughcough* twenty years ago. I thought that perhaps I'd have "outgrown" the world or the characters or the writing style and that picking up another Kurtz book after so long would somehow ruin those memories. But I was wrong. I immediately sank back into the world of King Kelson, even recalling the majority of the events and dangling plot threads that this book picks up and ties off. I immediately rediscovered why I'd enjoyed Kurtz' books so much and thankfully dove into the world anew.

And that's one of the best parts of Kurtz' books: this is a true medieval fantasy. It isn't the trappings of the medieval world, you really feel as if you are living in medieval times, although of course you're getting the aristocracy's view of it, since the books deal with the king and his court. But it isn't just the world that's so realistic that keeps you reading, it's the characters as well. Kelson is like a dear friend and with this book you pick back up with his life and get to revisit him and all of his cohorts as they travel from the familiar Gwynnedd to Torenth. So here we get to see a new part of the world, a new land, and get to (attempt) to crown its kind, even though Torenth is considered a vassal state of Gwynnedd.

The only drawback to the novel, and the reason that it wasn't given 5 stars, is that the plot itself was slightly weak. Overall, it moved along well, and the confrontation between Liam, Kelson, and the traitorous uncles was everything that you'd expect. If hat had been the culmination of the book, with the wedding of Kelson afterwards, than it would have been a deeply fulfilling novel. However, that wasn't the culmination. One of the traitors escapes and threatens to ruin the upcoming wedding. This by itself wasn't a bad plot move, in particular, but Kurtz drives the tension up so high, and gives the villain enough character, that when the attack finally comes . . . it's kind of anticlimactic. This doesn't ruin the whole book--there is plenty here that I thoroughly enjoyed--but as an ending it was kind of a letdown.

Not that that will stop me from reading the next few books or any of the others that might come out in the meantime. I'm happy to report, for those of you like me who read the Deryni novels years ago, that fears of ruining those hopefully fond memories are all for naught. This is a grand revisit to the realm that you loved . . . and if you haven't read any of Kurtz's novels, you should start now, with Deryni Rising. You won't regret it.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
Let's end the month with a book review!

This is the first book by S. Andrew Swann that I've read, continuing my attempt to read new-to-me authors this year. And it was a blast! Definitely a fun romp through fantasy tropes with a twist.





Premise: Frank Blackthorne is a not-so-great thief on the run after accidentally disrupting a virgin sacrifice to a Dark Lord. After rescuing the virgin, he finds himself in need of an escape from an entire kingdom. When a wizard approaches him with an offer to help save a princess from a dragon in exchange for the princess' hand in marriage, he's rightfully suspicious, but also out of options. Of course, the rescue goes horribly wrong and suddenly he finds himself trapped in the princess' body and deposited in the middle of nowhere. Now he has to find his way back, find the wizard, and hopefully get his own body back!

Again, this is intended to be a fun, glorious romp through all of the fantasy tropes you've grown to love and it's exactly that. The twist, of course, is the body swapping, which S. Andrew Swann handles wonderfully. The moment I started reading, I was caught up in the story and the adventure dragged me along and kept me interested, with likeable characters (a must for these types of books) and a plot that unravels and gets more complicated the more Frank finds out in his search for the wizard. The best part of the novel is that the plot hinges completely on the four major characters involved (princess, dragon, wizard, thief) and that each of those characters has their own story, their own motivations, and all of them are completely believable.

If you like fun, humorous fantasy, I'd definitely recommend this book (and its sequel, which I've already read). I'm now waiting impatiently for the third book in the series.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
In my continued quest to read books from authors I've never read before, I decided I should start on some of Brandon Sanderson's works. This is the first of his books and the first that I've read. And I can see why he's become popular.





Premise: The city of Elantris was the city of the gods--when random people were transformed into shining white near-immortals with the power to wield the magic called Dor, they were sent to the city to live out the life of gods. But something has gone wrong. Now, instead of becoming gods, those chosen are sent to the decaying city of Elantris and shunned and ridiculed, believed to be cursed. Raoden, prince of Arelon, is struck from the curse and thrown into Elantris, where he discovers that the Elantrians are indeed cursed, their bodies dead, their pains never-ending. Sarene, princess of Teod, arrives in Kae outside the city of Elantris to marry Raoden, only to discover he has supposedly died. But she suspects something else has happened and she intends to find out what. Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, arrives in Kae with one purpose: convert the entire country to his own religion . . . or see them destroyed. All three of them collide both inside and outside the walls of Elantris, each seeking to find what they have lost.

This was an interesting fantasy novel, with all of the best trappings of fantasy brought together in a unique and interesting way. The idea behind the city of Elantris is intriguing and that alone keeps you reading. What exactly happened to cause it to be "cursed" and will Raoden be able to figure out how to fix it? Add in the political intrigue that's swirling around Sarene and Hrathen and I was hooked. All three of the characters were interesting and real and the situations into which they were thrust drove the plot forward. And the plot . . . well, it takes enough twists and turns toward the end to keep even rollercoaster enthusiasts satisfied.

I'd have to say this is the best fantasy novel I've read in a long time. It had cool concepts, interesting magic (even if that magic didn't work for most of the novel), and characters that I liked and wanted to follow. The world had some of the standard trappings of a fantasy novel--a ruthless king, the medieval time period for a setting, etc.--but it didn't feel like your standard fantasy. The city of Elantris and what it represented gave it a more modern feel. This is what I've been searching for in my fantasy reading--something different but still obviously fantasy.

My only criticism of the book has to do with pacing. The beginning of the book and the end of the book have two different paces to them. At the beginning, we're introduced to the world and the three main characters in a leisurely pace that may have been a touch slow and drawn out, but not overly so. But then, forward the end, as the twists in plot start occurring, the pace becomes too rushed. In essence, the turning plot happens too fast. I think there could have been more of a balance achieved here--where words were cut from the beginning to speed up the pace, but then added back in toward the end to slow the action there down slightly.

Other than that, I had no complaints about this book and highly recommend it to fantasy readers everywhere. Good plot, non-standard setting, interesting concepts, and above all characters that you want to read about. I'll definitely be reading more Brandon Sanderson. I've been told that Mistborn will blow me away. I guess we'll see!
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
Covenant's End is the fourth and final book in the Widdershins Adventures by Ari Marmell. These are young adult books, although I didn't know this when I bought the first book. I can see why they're classified as YA, although I don't think that's a label they should necessarily be stuck with. I enjoyed them all (even if I felt that one of them wasn't quite in line with the other three).





The premise of this final book is that Widdershins is returning to Davillon, after fleeing (and yes, she finally admits that she fled) and spending some time away from "home." She thinks it's going to be grand coming home, meeting up with old friends, and picking up her life where she left off. But while she's been gone, some of her old enemies have banded together and made a few unnatural allies, and they've been waiting for her return. Even before she reaches the city, Widdernshins realizes that she isn't going to receive the homecoming she thought . . . and that her friends are in as much danger as she is.

This was a great final chapter in Widdershins' adventures. She needed to return home again, not just because of the threads hinting of it in earlier books, but because she needed to face herself and what had happened to her in the city. As Ari Marmell states himself, she needed to grow up. She thought she'd left the city after a previous adventure because it would be safer for her friends, but she really simply fled. Because of fear, because of the deaths of some of her friends, brought about by her own actions, and because she wasn't ready to face those emotions and that responsibility. But after her time away (which is the book that I don't feel fits the general thread of the series; sort of an odd man out), she's had enough time to realize that she's been lying to herself about why she left and she's now ready to face the truth.

And this is why I feel these books are so good. The main character is what carries you through them. You genuinely like Widdershins and are more than willing to go along with her adventures because of who she is, who she wants to be, and her overall spunk and fighting spirit. The books would not have worked so well without her. I don't think they would have worked at all. It's her--and her relationship with her omnipresent god as a sidekick--that keeps the books moving and keeps you reading. The world itself is more or less a basic fantasy world--medieval in nature. The supernatural elements that make it fantasy are classic as well; fae creatures with vicious natures and hideous powers. It's Widdershins that firmly roots the reader into the books. It's her uniqueness that keeps you reading.

This book brings the series to an obvious conclusion and rounds out the series well. All of the elements of the first two books return, along with all of the Widdershins friends, the elements set up in the previous books coming together in a nice plot. Would I have liked to have seen more Widdershins' books in the future? Yes. Would it have been wise to continues the series beyond these books? No. This is where the series should end. Taking it any further would have been dragging a dead body behind the horse.

So, a nice, pleasant little series that I encourage everyone to read. You'll enjoy the world, you'll enjoy the plots, you'll enjoy the rather dark supernatural creatures Widdershins is forced to face (for most of the books), and more importantly you'll enjoy Widdershins herself.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
This is the debut novel from Marshall Ryan Maresca. I try to read new authors--and in particular, debut novels--as much as possible and am trying to do so even more this year as a New Year's resolution. This novel was a fun take on fantasy, mixing in some elements comic book flavor in terms of the storyline.





The premise: Veranix is a student at the local university studying magic--the use of numina. But secretly he's using his powers to hunt down and hound those in the surrounding area called Dentonhill who are dealing a drug called effitte. The ringleader of the drug dealers in a man who killed Veranix's father and forced his mother to take so much of the drug that her mind is lost, her body lying with dozens of others who were overcome by the drug. Veranix initially only intends to hurt the drug trade, but when he accidentally intercepts a deal involving a magic cloak and rope, everything changes . . .

As you can imagine, with a magic cloak and rope, the story takes on some comic book attributes--Batman, anyone? Veranix sneaks out at night and fights against the drug dealers, trying to destroy as much effitte as he can. Of course, initially his activities are minor nuisances, but with the cloak and rope to aid him, his attacks become much more troublesome to the ringleader and things escalate. Not to mention that the items he's accidentally come by were intended for a group of mages that desperately want them back and will do anything to get them. So the plot itself is very comic book-esque in nature . . . and the book itself takes on that tone. If you start reading with that in mind--that this is simply going to be a fun ride--then you'll enjoy the book.

The main character is certainly likeable--a little flippant, perhaps too daring, and somewhat oblivious about the realities of what it is he's attempting to do and what it is that he's stumbled into. I enjoyed following along his story, and I enjoyed his interactions with the his friends and mentors at the university. It's obvious his friends more or less "put up" with him, one out of true friendship, the other out of a similar sense of revenge that grows into something else, and a cousin out of family obligations.

The setting itself is a stereotypical medieval-ish fantasy world. It's obvious that the world has been well-developed, with tons of references to history and other lands, but the book itself sticks primarily to the city of Maradaine. And yet this was the most disappointing aspect of the book for me. The street gangs with their own lingo were interesting, but I didn't get any sense of originality in the world itself. There was no sense of uniqueness to the world, and I was searching for that.

Also, me being me, I kept expecting the storyline to take a much darker turn. This is a personal issue though, since the book never "promised" a darker turn in any way. I still kept expecting some more serious consequences for Veranix's actions. The plot down turn downward against him, of course (all plots do eventually), but the consequences weren't as significant as I'd hoped for.

Which is why I say that if you go into this novel with the idea that it's simply a fun little jaunt through Maradaine, like a superhero comic set in a fantasy world, then you'll thoroughly enjoy the book. It delivers on all of those aspects completely. But because the world itself was a little too stereotypical and the consequences weren't as dark as I personally like, I dropped what would have been a 4 star out of 5 review to a 3. I will be reading the next novel set in Maradaine, but I'll do so with a different set of expectations before I begin.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
I don't usually review Stephen King books, because he doesn't really need the extra exposure, but what the hell.





The premise: This novel is a sequel to The Shining in a sense, because it follows up with what happened to little Danny Torrance. What happened to him after the events at the Overlook Hotel? We get to see that in an attempt to drown out the shining and its unwanted visions, Dan turned to drink and drugs, eventually hitting bottom. He an attempt to sober up, he starts Alcoholic Anonymous and settles down in the Northeast, where a little girl named Abra is growing up. Abra is extremely powerful with the shining, so powerful that she attracts the attention of the True Knot--a group that feeds off of those with the shining. And their leader, Rose, wants Abra's essence. And only Dan has a chance to stop her.

I thought this was an excellent follow-up to The Shining, because even though there are ties to that first book, Doctor Sleep is really it's own story. Yes, it's Dan, and it's cool to see what's become of him, but in the end you focus on Abra and the True Knot and the novel becomes its own entity, separate from The Shining. I guess that's why I wanted to review the book. Because taking note of that is important.

Dan's attempt to blunt the shining with alcohol is completely understandable, especially since he's still being haunted by the events that happened at the Overlook. I also liked the fact that we catch up with Dan at the END of this self-destructive phase. We get enough of it to realize how bad it became, and then we get to see Dan redeem himself with AA, so there wasn't any wallowing in how low Dan went before he started to recover. I was afraid at first that the book would focus completely on that aspect of Dan's life. Instead, it became much more with the shift to Abra and with Dan coming to terms with what he'd done during his dark times with drugs and alcohol, and with him finally dealing with what happened at the Overlook.

So, definitely a good book and a nice way to return to a loved character without simply rehashing a loved book. Doctor Sleep is it's own story, and one well worth reading.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
I'm probably going to get roasted by the SF&F community for this, but . . . After hearing about this series for ages, I finally decided to check it out as part of my "reading new authors" quest this year. This series has been around for a while (since the 60s and 70s) so it's a little retro and I tried to take that into account as I read it. That didn't seem to help too much.





The premise: This first book is really simply three stories woven together to produce a book. The Snow Women is the back story of Fafhrd, relating his early life and how and why he flees and ends up in Lankhmar. Similarly, The Unholy Grail is the back story of the Gray Mouser and how he ends up in Lankhmar. And finally, Ill Met in Lankhmar is the story of how the two meet and become the famed Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

The third story is where the heart of this book lies, and also where I assume Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser caught readers' imaginations and really took hold. It is where I finally became interested in the two characters and where the story drew me in, with the two heading off to figure out how to hurt the thieves' guild and get revenge. Of course, things don't work out as planned and what started off as a mostly drunken excursion to scout things out becomes something much more meaningful to both of them. This is the real story, and this one story is the main reason that I'll go on and read the next book in the series.

Unfortunately, the two back stories for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser didn't really catch my interest or hold my attention as well, especially Fafhrd's story (which was the introduction story in this book). I kept reading mostly because of what I'd heard from others about this series and this pair. The Gray Mouser's back story was more interesting and better written. Maybe the reason the second and especially the third story caught my attention and held it better is because they were more of what I was expecting in terms of "sword and sorcery," which is what these stories really are.

As I said, I tried to give the style of the writing some leeway, since they were written before I was born and the style then was slightly different. For example, the omniscient POV was much more prevalent, so what we now call "head-hopping" was more common. Now, we try mostly for third-person limited POV and "head-hopping" is frowned on (although still done occasionally). I must admit the head-hopping threw me and it took me a while to get used to it. The language itself and the structures of the sentences were also slightly "off" from current fiction, and that took some getting used to.

But in the end, I really think that my issues were with the story, not the style. The first one just didn't catch me. The second piqued my interested more, but it was the third where I finally felt that I was "getting" what everyone was raving out. The third story drew me in and, again, is why I'll go ahead and continue with the second volume.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
I know I'm late on this one. Part of my goals this year are to read new authors (even though I have PLENTY from the old authors to read), so I picked this one up since I know a ton of people who love it. I can see why. This is the first book in the Broken Empire.





The premise: Jorg Ancrath is a prince, suddenly become the heir when his mother and brother are killed by a rival nation. He survives, thought barely, when he is tossed into a briar patch and the killers assume he's dead. He's found by his father's men and taken back to the castle, but his entire world has been changed by the attack and he soon runs away, unwilling to be tormented by his father, the king, who despises him. He becomes the leader of a band of bloodthirsty bandits, raiding and killing his way across the lands, until something draws him back toward his homeland, the castle, and his father . . . and that's where this novel starts.

The book is dark and gritty and bloody and cruel. The world is dark and gritty and bloody and cruel. And Jorg is dark and gritty and bloody and cruel. The things he does--his total disregard for tradition and morality and society--is what drives this book, at least at the beginning. He isn't a character that you like, that you want to like, and yet you get caught up in the story and dragged along in its wake. The post-apocalyptic world is intriguing as well and is used effectively as the plot--the real plot, not what Jorg thought--begins to unravel.

This novel is what I believe is termed grimdark, so it won't be for everyone. My own novels have their own darkness to them, so I enjoyed this one, although Mark Lawrence did push it far enough I wasn't exactly comfortable with everything. Farther than I would go in my own books, anyway. If it weren't for the post-apocalyptic aspects, I might have set it aside. But I'm a fan of apocalypse, especially when it's used well. So I'll definitely be reading the next two in this series to see what happens, but if you don't like extremely dark, grim, gritty books, then you should probably pass this one up.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
Part of my New Year's resolutions this year include reading authors I've never read before. I've never read Joe Abercrombie before, so I picked up Half a King to check it out.





The premise: Yarvi is the son of the king, born with one good hand, and thus considered less than nothing by his father and brother. But no worries, he's not the heir, so he's training to be a minister. Except suddenly both his father and brother are killed and he's next in line. All of his hopes as a minister are dashed and he ascends to the throne and immediately vows revenge. But as he leads his forces on the warpath--under the banner of his uncle, because of his age and his crippled hand--he's betrayed and finds himself sold into slavery. Now Yarvi has to survive slavery, the harsh northern winter wastelands, and somehow fight his way back to his own lands, his own castle, and retake his throne . . . even though he never wanted to rule.

I enjoyed the book. It's, at heart, a simple tale and Yarvi is a very relatable, pragmatic main character. You root for him immediately because of the horrible cards he's been dealt. But he's not stupid and he uses the knowledge he's obtained by training to be a minister effectively. He's a likable character, and the men he befriends as he's taken from king to slave to escapee are also extremely likeable and realistic.

The world and setting are probably the best aspects of the book. It's pseudo-Viking, which isn't used often enough in fantasy novels. The tone is warlike and vicious and the weak are ridiculed--a perfect place for "half a man" to become king, right? A perfect place for Yarvi to be underestimated anyway. There are hints that this is a post-apocalyptic world, with mysterious "elves" referred to, with what appear to be radioactive areas scattered here and there, strange metals, etc. So intriguing possibilities that aren't used in this novel (except possibly the Screaming Gate), but may be used in sequels.

The plot itself is . . . basic. Very straightforward, with few twists except one or two toward the end. For those that like the epic fantasy novels, with multiple POV characters and many plot threads and twists and turns (like me), the book may be too simple. I did, and it was only the smooth writing, interesting world, and the characters that drew me in and kept me reading. But even with the simple plot, I'll likely check out the next book in the series when it comes out.

Overall, a good, fun, quick read.
jpskewedthrone: (Vacant)
Not that Stephen King needs the reviews, but . . .

The premise: Jake Epping finds a time bubble that takes him back to 1958. While there, he discovers that he can change his own past by altering the course of the history while he's in the past, even if the timeline doesn't want to be changed. With the best of intentions in mind, Jake travels back to 1958 with the intention of living there and stopping the JFK assassination . . . but he'll discover that time is obdurate and is willing to throw every obstacle it can in front of him.

I enjoyed this book. I thought the time bubble that takes Jake back to the past was an interesting set-up in terms of how it worked (that every time it's used, whatever you changed the last time you used it is reset, etc.) and what its limits were. I liked Jake and the conflict that gets established--between finishing what he went into the past to do (stop the JFK assassination) and his own personal interests after he's lived in the past long enough to have set himself up with his own life there. That conflict creates some great personal tension for him. As usual, King is great at bringing out the lives of the people in that era, both the good and the bad, so that you feel as if you've lived in that town with these people your entire life. That personal touch with the characters is definitely King's strength, in any of his novels.

I also thought the twist in the resolution of the book was great, the inner turmoil and the difficult to accept realization that Jake must come to. You can feel his anguish at the end, even though you know what he has to do. A great ending.

My only issue with the book was that, after Jake jumps to the past with the goal of stopping the assassination, there's a lull in the pace and action of the book. It takes quite a while for Jake to establish himself in the past and get to the point where his life there, and the conflicts it brings about, become interesting again. That lull is a little rough to get through. It's worth it--as all Stephen King fans know from some of his past books--but it's still tough. If that section had moved along faster, it would have been a better book.

But it's still one of King's better books and definitely worth a read.

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Joshua Palmatier

August 2017

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