January 27

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Review #13.

I can’t believe that it has been four years since I read a book by Brent Weeks. I remember his Night Angel trilogy with delight, and sharing this joy with several YAs also into adventure fantasy. But four years? Where has the time gone? Anyway in December I received The Blinding Knife for review and discovered it was book 2…so drag out the eReader and download book 1. And last week I enjoyed a delicious 10 hour train ride with nothing else to do but read!

So, book 1 of a fantasy trilogy, The plot is all about establishing the fantasy world and identifying the various characters who will play a part. Generally there is also time spent sorting out the good guys from the bad guys, and establishing the basis for the magical power available in this world. OK – World divided into 7 parts, each ruled by a magician able to transform one colour of light into physical matter. Each colour has special properties – red is explosive, green is wild, etc. Theoretically in charge of the whole world is the Prism, a magician able to separate white light into it’s various colours and then build using each colour. Actually though the White is in control. The Prism has a secret, in fact he has lots of secrets, and not all of them are secure. Enter the poor fat boy from the provinces. His village has just been destroyed and he is the only survivor because under stress he discovered that he could use light to cause damage. Poor Kip is taken to the capitol and soon identified as the Prism’s bastard son. But is he?

As I was reading this I remembered why I loved Weeks’ writing so much. He very cleverly twists the fantasy conventions just enough to be different. Certainly this book started out very clearly separating the good guys from the evildoers, but before the end you just couldn’t be sure. And actually, who is the Black Prism? Is it the prisoner or Kip? Even now I am not at all sure.

It is going to take some personal discipline to avoid moving straight on to book 2, but I am back to work this week and need to catch up on some YA reading.

January 27

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Review #12.

Most of you will realise by now that I adore reading Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy. He has a gritty writing style and has developed an extensive cast of characters to suit. Most of all he loves writing about his Northmen. But I never expected him to put one of his Northmen into the Wild Wild West!

The story opens with the young woman Shy visiting the local town trying to sell the annual grain harvest from her farm. With her is the big strong, and cowardly, man, Lamb, who had lived with the family during her mother’s final years. The town sets the background for the story so well, introducing the gold rush and the character of the people on the road. When Shy and Lamb get home they discover their hired man dead and the two children kidnapped. Suddenly the two are on the trail of the ‘bad guys’. And therein lies the story.

I won’t spoil the surprise about Lamb’s true identity. Some reviews I have read of this book indicated that the reader hadn’t guessed until very late in the tale. Obviously they hadn’t read the First Law trilogy closely enough. I’ll just say, welcome back to one of my favourite characters.

As with all of Abercrombie’s writing, the reader needs to be prepared for violence. But all except for the bloodless westerns of the 50s, this genre requires violence to move the story forward. In amongst the violence this time, there are some wonderful and generous humans, even if Temple doesn’t think he is.

This is a book to be savoured. A pre-industrial Western plot with the swords and just a touch of sorcery fantasy. Loved it.

January 8

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Last week I accepted a Challenge. Every year I encourage students to accept a Reading Challenge, and this year I figured it was my turn. So when the Mad Reviewer started organising a challenge to read and review 104 books (2 each week) for 2013, I knew I had to say yes.

So Review Number 1.

When this book arrived, I just knew that I wanted to read it then and there, but all of Abercrombie’s books demand attention and time. So if I was going to really appreciate the read, I would have to wait for a relaxed holiday period with plenty of time. Eventually the book got packed away and forgotten, until Red Country arrived – fortunately just before a long summer holiday.

Several years ago now I read The First Law Trilogy, and raved about it, if not here, then in print. Two years later he followed up his original story with Best Served Cold which introduced the readers to other parts of this fantasy world. In The Heroes, the author returns to the Northmen and follows various dozens through a three day battle against the Union. Yes, that’s right, one 600+ page novel all about one battle and the various men (and women) that fought it.

All the way through I kept comparing the battle to Gettysburg. From the opening skirmish when Craw and his dozen clear Dog and his band from the high ground to the Union charge across open ground to the base of the hill on the final day. I doubt very much that Abercrombie based his battleground on that historical event, but making the links helped me to understand the action and keep track of the various factions doing the fighting.

There are plenty of factions. The brilliance of Abercrombie’s fantasy writing is that he does not have a ‘hero’ as such. This is no ‘good vs evil’ tale where goodness prevails. No, the eventual ‘winner’, if that is really the right word, is a lying schemer who is far more a politician than a leader of men. And everyone knows you can never trust a pollie.

In many ways, though, this is about the future development of the society from the North. The first trilogy really presented as a tribal society run by warlords. However, with the victory over the Union, very clearly this simple lifestyle is going to gain some complexity.

Red Country has already arrived! Watch this space for the next installment.

 

December 30

Lord of Slaughter by MD Lachlan

A year and a half ago I read and reviewed book two in this series, and finally book three has arrived. Like any fantasy trilogy, this one has got to hold the final battle, or does it? This series is getting more and more complicated as it goes.

Fenrir (book 2) was set in Paris at the time of the Viking invasions of Europe. The final book moves the action to the Middle East, and the Fall of Constantinople. My history knowledge fails when it comes to who attacked where and defended what in 10th Century Turkey, but for the sake of the story I am more than happy to go along with Lachlan.

The story opens at the end of a big battle. Death and destruction all around, and a child walks into the tent of the winning general and draws a sword. Who is this kid? And can the prophecy he tells be real? The Vikings are too superstitious to take a chance and offer the orphan a home and protection. At the same time Constantinople is in the grip of a dreadful plague. A young French priest (and his wife) is given the responsibility of finding the cause and ridding the city of the evil curse. Eventually these two tales link together, and the mythical wolfman is unleashed.

Don’t bother picking this book up unless you have read the previous two in the series. They will take a while, but this is definitely a trilogy that would be much easier to read in sequence. And I still love the Viking twist on the Wolfman story!

December 29

The Black Mausoleum by Stephen Deas

In 2009 I began an adventure. I was asked to review a new fantasy series by Stephen Deas, and I have joyfully continued through that series and then another. I was very happy to unpack The Black Mausoleum and really didn’t care when or where it was set. Then I discovered that it was a return to the damaged world with dragons in control.

Imagine, a fantasy world where dragons rule, and they are out to punish humanity for the centuries of slavery. Angry dragons hunting humans, not a good place for our heroes. And such heroes, a soldier without his army, a treasure hunter trying to remember and an alchemist, those who developed the drug that failed. All of them are looking for a way back to the way life used to be, but that is impossible isn’t it?

Like so many fantasy series, it was wonderful to go back and see what happened. But this time, instead of the good guys winning and life going on, well, lets just say the world is very, very different. Chaos reigns, and the various kingdoms are gone. Wealth and power are different now. As the searchers moved through the landscape, some landmarks seemed familiar, but lost and forgotten.

But that just means that Deas has the opportunity to rebuild the world again!

December 29

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This book has been out since July, but it took me ages to rationalise purchasing book 1 in the series and spending the time reading it. Last week I was on a brief holiday in Tasmania and had the perfect excuse to load up the ereader with a bunch of book 1(s). Although Harkness tried valiantly to provide enough background to make sense of the story, I really think that you will want to read ‘A Discovery of Witches’ anyway, so why not in the correct order?

The book opens with Diana and Matthew arriving in Elizabethan England. Although Matthew fits in well, after all he is just reliving the years for a second time, Diana has a much more difficult time becoming an Elizabethan gentlewoman. And it is not only her American accent that causes problems. Just fitting in is a full time job, and yet the whole purpose of the trip into the past was to find her some effective magical training. Impossible in England at this time when everyone is watching out for witches and devils.

Harkness once again demonstrates her attention to detail and thorough research. Her picture of Elizabeth, Raleigh, Kit Marlowe and more is absolutely delightful and credible. As before, her main characters and wonderfully complex. I am in absolute admiration of the way in which she had Diana make the necessary adjustments to her life, avoiding trouble by using the ‘women’s’ network to accomplish what she needed to do.

According to the website, book 3 isn’t even finished yet! How on earth can all of us be expected to wait?

December 29

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I have had book two in this series for about 6 months, and all the time looking at it thinking ‘I must download book 1 and read it.’ Last week I was on a short trip to Tassie, and thought this would be an ideal opportunity to dust off the ereader and enjoy starting a fantasy series. The promotional reading sounded like another paranormal fantasy romance, but so what, thats what holidays are for.

Diana Bishop is a historian, her specialty – the history of science during the Age of Enlightenment. While researching ancient alchemy sources, a strange book appears in her request list from the library. Uncatalogued and unlabelled she isn’t really sure what it is, but it clearly responds to her touch. You see, Diana is a witch, descended from Bridget Bishop of Salem fame. Once the book is safely returned, all hell breaks loose. Every paranormal creature in Oxford suddenly appears in the Bodliean library and follows her around watching her every move. Most disturbing is the vampire Matthew Clairmont.

Clearly, Diana has to get her hands back on that book and work out what it says, but that is easier said than done. Then her rooms are searched, she is attacked by another witch, and her only support and help comes from Matthew. Their relationship grows and before long they are breaking all kinds of ‘creature’ conventions.

I like this book far more than this plot simplification can explain. The reader is treated with intelligence. The story is crafted carefully and the various creature characters behave consistently according to their own customs. Vampires, daemons and witches are all given their particular place in this urban fantasy, and they all work together to create the world that us humans know.

Let’s just say, I could hardly wait to get home and start book 2.

October 22

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Before I begin, I will confess to fandom. Right from the delightful Rivers of London I have adored the Peter Grant supernatural mystery series. And the third book has done absolutely nothing to change my mind.

Peter’s new case involves a body found in the London Underground. Nothing special it would seem, except that there is no way this body could get where it was found. No CCTV footage, no witnesses, and the victims boots are coated in sewage. Strangely, the murder weapon appears to be a piece of pottery! Reluctantly, the police contact the Folly. But Peter is given strict instructions to work ‘by the book’. When the victim turns out to be a US Senator’s son, now suddenly the FBI is involved and it is even more important that no magic or other weirdness is mentioned. However, Agent Reynolds is hard to shake, unnaturally hard.

This book doesn’t have the overwhelming sense of danger of the previous two. And that is not a bad thing. It is almost as if Peter is gaining confidence and understanding of this strange world he has entered, and managing his dealings with mythological creatures much more comfortably. Lesley also gives him a sense of balance that is lovely to see. If anything, at the end of this book I really like Peter even more than the first books.

Aaronovitch has maintained his whimsical sense of humour though. This book is not LOL funny, more a quiet smile as you turn the page. A real joy to read.

Don’t try this unless you have read the previous two. And I encourage you to find them and begin your delightful adventure.

October 21

The Warlock’s Shadow by Stephen Deas

Only a month before the next volume of this trilogy is released, it is time to refresh the memory of the second book. At the end of book 1 Berren finally accepted his future in the boring life of law enforcement, kind of. Dreaming of glory, he seems doomed to running errands and collecting water.

But then a prince hires Berren to just watch. It seems fabulous money to simply watch a door from hiding. Then the Dragon Monks arrive, the prince disappears and everything seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. At least Berren has finally found somebody to train him is swordplay, even if it is a girl. As typical for a middle book in a trilogy, the chess pieces are moved, evil is exposed and not all that appears evil truly is.

Deas has a lovely relaxed storytelling style that makes his books easy to read. With the finale of this trilogy due in November, you have time to revisit this little gem and be ready for the end.

And if you haven’t begun the Thief-taker trilogy, why not request the whole lot for Christmas. It will provide a relaxing holiday read.

 

September 26

The Lord of Lies by Sam Bowring

Was I every happy to open my September collection to find this book on the top! After the wonderful opening book, I could hardly wait to get started on the second volume. Thank goodness that the book was published only a month after the first, because Bowring does not waste space reminding you about book 1. You need to open this ready to go.

So some of the Wardens are dead and their magical skills have been absorbed into the others. But some of the good guys get the evil skills and horror of horrors, the bad guy who literally feeds on pain gets the power to detect injustice. Will that make him a better man, or will the new skill simply help him choose his victims more easily? Even more importantly, does any of it matter because the world is literally falling down around them? And then there is the minor problem of the madman leading the unbeatable army. How are Rostigan and Yalenna going to prevail against these powerful forces? Through trickery and diplomacy is the answer, along with a healthy risk-taking attitude.

There are some scenes that are going to stick with me for a long time. The image of a mountain pass disappearing, complete with the army in ambush. Or the ‘Charge!’ in progress when suddenly the ground before them vanishes. I can honestly say I have never read battle scenes like this.

Bowring is also very good at keeping his good magicians grounded with human emotions. All through book 1 and most of book 2 it felt that Tarzi was a temporary fling for Rostigan. But then you find out that they have been together for decades, not months or years. And Yalenna’s seduction of Jandryn was simply natural and human. A lovely touch.

Bowring is an Australian fantasy writer of great promise. I look forward to reading much more from him.