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Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb published on 3 Comments on Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

Fool's Quest Cover

Robin Hobb has been one of my favorite authors from the time she was publishing the Liveship Trader books. Fitz and the Fool are as much friends of mine as it is possible for fictional characters can be (it is a one-sided relationship, alas). I have run an entire gamut of emotions while reading their adventures (especially during Fool’s Fate, I sobbed during the final third of the novel), and while I thought Fool’s Fate had a perfect ending — I realized, during Fool’s Quest, that while Robin Hobb may have given a trilogy a perfect ending, she had set the stage for the third trilogy back during the first, and I’d been too stupid to realize it. I am amazed by her ability to drop hints — she knew where she was going, there is no doubt.

Fool’s Quest is the best book she has written. When it comes to her, there is no such thing as “middle book syndrome”; no one gets fatigued of the characters; the stakes are high for all the characters (even Fitz, since there is another POV character who could take the series to its end); some things end; others begin. There is a give and take to the story that is evident in all of her books: grim, terrible things happen in this book that goes beyond what she has written before, and yet, there is light, too. She has achieved a balance. She knows her characters so well.

I can’t wait for spring 2017 and the closing chapter of what is one of the most ambitious and meticulously crafted series I have ever read.

Assassin’s Fate will surely be the best book she has ever written.

Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin published on 1 Comment on Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

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This is a rare YA book from Ragnarok Publishing.

I am not entirely sure why they don’t publish more novels suitable for Young Adult, but I do know exactly why I don’t often read in the genre: there is a fundamental dishonesty in some of those books, they’ve been sanitized, and they try to fit the mold of what they think teenagers want to read. Often this succeeds, but it doesn’t make for entertaining reading. When I was a teenager, some of us were swearing, some of us were getting high behind the gas station at lunch, and some of us were exploring our sexualities with actual real live people. Not much of that happens in YA, and not only is that dishonest, but it’s boring.

Samuel Sattin has written The Silent End for teenagers who are actually teenagers, and not blocky goody two-shoes. From the back copy, I could tell that this was going to be a little deeper, and a little more wistful than the average book aimed for teenagers.

In a mist-covered town in the Pacific Northwest, three teenagers find themselves pitted against an unearthly menace that dwells beneath the foundations of their high school…

Eberstark is an outcast and he’s tired of pretending everything is fine. His mother disappeared almost a year ago after a long battle with depression. His father is conducting experiments and running around town in the middle of night with a mysterious man known only as The Hat, ranting to Eberstark about beasts no one else can see.

Then, on Halloween night, Eberstark, alongside his only friends Lexi and Gus, discovers something in the woods to challenge the notion of his father’s apparent insanity: a wounded monster. Rather than stir the town into a frenzy, the three friends hide the creature and are pulled into a web of conspiracy, dream-logic, and death. Faced down by living trucks, mirror-dwelling psychopaths, and hellish entities who lurk behind friendly faces, Eberstark, Lexi, and Gus find themselves battling to save not just themselves, but the soul of their quiet little town.

Sattin’s particular talent (at least in this book) is tone, followed swiftly by character development. The novel is set in the Pacific Northwest, and somehow his word choice conveys that his characters live in a rain-drenched world, and they see the sun but rarely. There are no turns of phrase that would belong in a book set in Fresno, California, or Mexico City. Here, the setting fits the story, for the story is deeply melancholy, a little frightening, and a lot of the plot remains obscured for a good chunk of the novel.

The characters are extremely well thought out. It’s a book set in a small town, so it can’t really get away with having anonymous store owners, teachers, or kids the main character knows personally. Everyone mentioned has just enough detail that I wonder if Sattin created a comprehensive map and filled it in with details of every single citizen before he even started writing. It has that kind of realism.

The rest of it is not so realistic. The back cover copy advertises dream logic, and that is an understatement. As we get deeper and deeper into the book, we begin to see that there is this miasma of unreality that settled over the town long ago, and it’s just now being noticed. The main character, Eberstark, has had these perceptions of people (his friend’s father, his mother, etc.) that first read as — here’s another slightly depressed grown-up. It’s sad, but normal. And then… the mist starts drifting away, and things like depression or inertia become a hell of a lot more sinister.

This book is worth reading, if only for the shivers.

Purchase on Amazon via THIS LINK

Review: A Red-Rose Chain, by Seanan McGuire

Review: A Red-Rose Chain, by Seanan McGuire published on

I didn’t start reading the October Daye books until last December. I like to think I was fashionably late to the party, sidling in the back door after all the boring small talk had been said, grabbing a drink, and, in general, pretending that I was there the entire time. I may have been late, but I am still a fan.

As with all my favorite kinds of series, I can’t even begin to discuss Red-Rose Chain without also briefly mentioning some of the other books. It’s impossible for me to separate the book from the series – if done well, they fit together like puzzle pieces, and how does one review a single puzzle piece without thinking of the big picture? I give the series as a whole an 8.5 out of 10 (with 1 being a simply terrible series that I really shouldn’t name because I’m a professional now; and 10 being Dresden Files). When held up against the rest of the books, I give Red-Rose Chain a 7.

It was simply not my favorite, which is fine; I am still a fan. I still love October Daye, I love the undertone of mystery, I love Tybalt, I love Spike, and I love how San Francisco is a character – a creature somewhere in the margins between crass and lovely, human and fae. I missed that in this book. Most of it is set in Portland, and Portland as a character was simply too new, and too… not San Francisco.

There was a lot of awesome in this book, don’t get me wrong. The mysteries (oh yes, plural) were deftly laid out. Seanan McGuire used our own prejudices to confuse us, and then dropped several bombs. Toby and the friends she brought along with her on her diplomatic mission were placed in the most sinister kind of danger they had ever been in, and we got a satisfying (if probably temporary) conclusion to a plot that took first seat in Chimes at Midnight. There are also some very fascinating scenes that deal with mind-control techniques, suppression of memories, and what can happen when a people group is traumatized. McGuire has always been good at digging into the psychology of everything, and it truly shines in this book.

It was always going to be hard for Red-Rose Chain to follow The Winter Long. That book blew up the series, and perhaps I will look back on this one as a pleasant interlude filled with sadistic monsters, traitors, and secrets, and a necessary respite from the sinister happenings in San Francisco. Everyone needs a vacation, but don’t get too cozy in Portland, Toby. San Francisco needs you.

It was time to head into the future. It had been waiting long enough.

And quite a future that is! Red-Rose Chain will be followed by Once Broken Faith (expected 2016), The Brightest Fell (expected 2017), Night and Shadow (expected 2018), and When Sorrows Come (expected 2019). All published by DAW.

Purchase on Amazon via THIS LINK

Between the Covers, or, How I Spent the Last Days of My Summer Vacation: volume 1.1

Between the Covers, or, How I Spent the Last Days of My Summer Vacation: volume 1.1 published on

This is the first post, in what will likely be a weekly post for Galleywampus on Fridays, and I want to take a minute to thank Chris and Janelle for inviting me on board. Thanks for having me guys!

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Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Out new this week)

So I have a confession.

There are some books I love and I just want to burble about as I spill all the spoilers. It’s a terrible secret I know. But there are also the other books I love. The ones where I want to sit back and watch someone read them. To watch THAT SCENE happen and have them look up in horror-love that the author just did that to them. It’s the sort of sadistic joy that makes me both a little ashamed and yet, curiously happy.

I never said I was a nice man, did I?

Fortunately, “Twelve Kings” falls more into the first category. I want to tell you everything about Ceda, and her world. I want to whisper ‘I love when **SPOILER REDACTED** happens!’ to you and I want to see you go ‘OH! That sounds amazing!’ And I want my enthusiasm to make you love this book too. This book doesn’t rely on doing something shocking, it relies on excellent storytelling and believable characters in a world that is both like, and very unlike our own. This is the book where Beaulieu has finally passed out of his journeyman status and shows his control over the story (and those mouth-filling and tongue-twisting nominatives he loves).

I think this is a great book for fans of high fantasy that steps outside the traditional milieu. If you’re looking for the next Terry Brooks or Raymond Feist, this isn’t it. But if you liked the rich complex worlds of ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ or Joe Abercrombie, then there’s a lot here for you.

And when-

Oh but that would be telling. Go read it for yourself, fall in love, and come back and talk to me about it. I’ll be here, reading the new Salman Rushdie for next week’s column.

Also read:

I also read the charming ‘Sorcerer of the Crown’ by Zen Cho this week, and it was delightful. I didn’t really feel connected to the characters all that much, but they were charming and, when appropriate, very witty. It kept me up long past my bedtime so I could finish it. An excellent choice for fans of Gail Carriger and Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecelia.

Books of Tuesday Next

These are the books I’m excited about coming out this next Tuesday:

Forgotten Gem

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This week’s forgotten gem is Patricia McKillip’s delightful ‘The Changeling Sea’. YA, before YA was really even a thing. It’s got all the things that make me love McKillip so very much:

•Unforgettable characters
•A well-contained plot
•And the prose! Oh the prose!

Somehow she strings words together so beautifully. My pal Moses commented on Facebook yesterday that he was reading it, and just the memory was enough to make me grab my copy and reread it myself.

Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai published on

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I probably won’t give a deep summary of many of the books I review. Ultimately, if you want to know the general concepts, you can read the back of the book at your favorite book-seller, the summary on Goodreads, or the blurb on your favorite book retailer’s website.

I will note here that the book is about a young woman, Çeda, who lives a complex life: orphan, former gutter-wren, apothecary’s assistant, gladiator, cold-blooded killer, lifelong friend, vengeful would-be assassin. She’s a fighter: always was, always will be, never really had a choice, after her mother is murdered and strung up for all to see. Çeda spends about 0% of the book moaning about her difficulties, though, and spends much of the book plotting (and working toward) the murder of the 12 near-immortal, god-blessing-infused Kings of/in Sharakhai.The Kings were directly responsible for her mother’s death, you see.

These Kings each have a different power given to them by a god. But there is also, intended or unintended,  a curse attached to each. One King, for example, who can see the future, can only see the other Kings’ futures as a crown that could signify any of the other Kings, and he cannot see his own future at all. He is haunted by this blindspot, and it has caused him terrible grief. The Kings are god-like, cruel, and over 400-years old. Despite this cruelty, we do see their motivations and follow one of these kings via POV.

The book is languid in spilling it’s secrets, told in third-person prose that shifts to several different characters. The sequential flashbacks give us glimpses at how Çeda became the young woman we meet in chapter one, and also gives a more complete understanding of her relationships, like the one with her caretaker and with her best friend..

One aspect that I loved about this book–one of many–is that romantic love is not a plot point here. Love is important, present, celebrated. But this is by no means a romance novel. It is a fantasy novel with realistic, never-forced emotional truths.

This novel fits some common fantasy thematic elements, a few common fantasy tropes, uses some signals that an avid fantasy reader will pick up. Some of the secrets that Çeda unearths are guessed early on, but the book doesn’t rely on the big reveal as an emotional punch to us–the emotional punch is for Çeda. The language is thoughtful and measured. The plot speed is slow, but I count this a strength. Beaulieu does not rush anything here. We learn about the desert’s mythology, Sharakhai’s history, the political machinations and subplots, in such a way that we don’t realize that we are lacking information until we receive it. In some books, the background is never fleshed out–we are given the inked sketch and assume that is all we’ll get. In Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the color is added over time, creating a complete piece of art.

The desert is a character all its own, here. Beautiful shifting sands, boats and ships and, essentially, surfboards using special wood glide over the sands, making Sharakhai both a city separated from the world by a sea and a city with little access to water and the easy food of a sea-faring city. It’s a brilliant concept, perfectly executed.

If you take the kink and sex out of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, add some gladiator sport, provide an authentic desertscape, and tamp down the poetic language just tad, you’ve got Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. This was, by far, the best “epic fantasy” work I’ve read in years.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu was published by DAW on September 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Paragon Dracus by M.R. Mathias

Review: Paragon Dracus by M.R. Mathias published on

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M.R. Mathias’ series The Legend of Vanx Malic continues with a sixth book, Paragon Dracus.

About this book:

Vanx, his full blooded Zythian friend Zeezle Croyle, Gallarael, and Chelda Flar, set out for Dragon Isle, to hunt down the terrible force who calls himself Paragon Dracus, but they soon find they’ve underestimated its power.

Meanwhile, King Russet Oakarm, his small group of Zythian wizards, and his hand-picked soldiers, begin rounding up stray Parydonians and spreading the word across the kingdom lands that his father has been dazed by the evil, shape-shifting creature’s entrancing trident, and is no longer the true king. In fact Russet’s father wants nothing more than to kill him, just as the Paragon ordered.

When the unthinkable happens, and Vanx Malic is taken by the Trigon Daze, his crew, and all those who love him, will be forced to attempt the impossible to save him.

Odds are, they don’t stand a chance against something as ancient and powerful as this foe, but sometimes a common threat can cause a lifelong enemy to become an ally. Sometimes to win the day you have to make a deal with a devil. Don’t miss this one. Vanx Malic Book Six will blow you away.

Review

The fantasy genre has had many authors come and go, some good and some not so good. Over the years, I have had the pleasure to read some of the good ones. I have also had the misfortune to read some of the bad ones, and believe me, there have been some bad ones. But I digress. I am not here to pitch out venom or bile toward the ones that I didn’t like, the ones that pushed my eyes and brain to the brink of painful bleeding with their badly written stories and badly thought out plot lines.

What I’m here to do is give you a small account of what I believe is a very well written and plotted out fantasy story. And, for some, that is a marvel among itself.

I started reading fantasy many years ago after my mother purchased for me a copy of–yes, before you think the idea is a cliche, let me tell you, back then it was NOT a cliche, and in this case, it was the love of a parent instilling the love of reading to her child…now where was I?

Oh yes, she bought me a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. When I started to read the story of Bilbo on his adventure, I was completely hooked. I’ve read many books since, and not many have gripped me as that one did.

Until this series fell into my lap. The Vanx Malic series by M.R. Mathias.

The Vanx Malic series, though not already well known, has done the things that other good fantasy series have done. And that is, it has given us a complex character with an intriguing story line that keeps you asking for more. Mathias’s rich depictions of landscapes and battles will keep you turning the page until the end, until there are no more pages to turn. For some writers, the art of story telling is a chore, and for some it’s something that flows with ease. Mathias is one of the few that, when you read his work, you’ll see that it just flows for him.

This is the sixth book in The Vance Malic. The journey that you embark upon when you open the latest chapter of the series is one filled with a grand adventure, a journey that will make you want to go back to the beginning where it all started. It is for this reason that I chose to review this story. To invite you to begin a quest: a grand quest of adventure, loyalty, friendship, and above all, the art of battle. It is difficult to explain the story to you without giving anything away. I highly recommend this novel, as well as the previous installments of The Vance Malic. They will take you down the path of imagination and adventure.
So go and pick up a copy, I’m sure you’ll not be disappointed, I know I wasn’t.

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