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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: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho published on

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Firstly, if you haven’t had the opportunity to see the gold-foil cover of this book in person, you’re missing out on a beautiful piece of artwork. That’s a gorgeous cover!

Secondly, this is a book that lends itself readily to comparison, so I hope the author can forgive me for starting with this: Sorcerer to the Crown is Jane Austen with dragons, magic and modern identity politics. It is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell lite. It’s a fun jaunt through a world that never was. Oh, if only it was.

Thirdly, a review. This is a fantasy of Regency England manners as well as modern day perspectives on race and gender. Zen Cho is one of those authors who secludes herself from reading modern fiction until she has completed her period piece, and this really shows in the language she uses here. Words rarely used in modern English (or at least the American version of it) are common here: pelisse, reticule, inamoratas, distrait, piquant, philtres, mendaciously, enervation, mésalliance and soupçon. Cho has worked very hard to make this book feel like it could have truly been written by an alternate world Jane Austen.

The joys to be found in Sorcerer to the Crown fit largely into character interactions. There is a plot, of course, and I enjoyed it. But the truth of Cho’s world lies in the small moments, the spoken word, the gentle concerns. The characters are generally polite, or at least pretend to be.

“Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.

“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.

The general storyline goes as such: a serious child with African lineage, Zacharias Wythe, is taken in by Sir Stephen Wythe, the Sorcerer to the Crown, at a young age and taught how to do magic. Now, Zacharias, being African, was taken from his parents, and Sir Stephen does not seem to view this as a concern. This is not glossed over and we recognize that there is a large degree of cruelty in this. On the other hand, Zacharias recognizes that he was provided food and shelter and an education, that his parents had likely become slaves, and that they may even be dead. Upon the death of Sir Stephen, before the start of the novel, Zacharias is somehow granted the staff of office and is now Sorcerer to the Crown. As you can imagine, with a novel set in Regency England, there was a bit of a fuss over a black man becoming head of the society of magic users.

The other protagonist is Prunella Gentleman. She has been a student/servant at a school designed to teach young women of fine breeding how to avoid using their magic. Further than that, the girls are taught how to repress their magical ability. Women of society, obviously, are unable to handle magic due to their weak frames. Your average peasant witch is right and fine, but women of breeding certainly shouldn’t do it. Prunella is not necessarily a woman of breeding: her father appeared at Mrs. Daubeney’s school one day with the child, and through a series of events, she winds up living there as not-quite a student and not-quite a servant. She is half-Indian, you see, or half-Native as they say here. And because she was left with nothing, her position has been impossible to quantify. We soon discover, however, that she was left a few things after all. A few important, dangerous, wonderful things.

The story really begins when Zacharias goes to the school to speak to the young women about magic.

There is a romantic component to this novel, as one might suspect from a book with the trappings of an Austen novel. There are also many small, clever, enjoyable moments.

For a moment a fragile silence reigned over the Hall–a quiet composed of pure astonishment. It was broken by a deep, bubbling, delighted laugh, issuing from Damerell’s corner of the room.

“I have never been so happy to have risen before noon,” said Damerell.

My biggest gripe about the book is that it was about 100 pages too short. I wish there had been more to the plot: further twists and turns, a grand adventure. But that wasn’t the book. I would like to note that there is magic here. This isn’t a book in which magic is discussed but never used. Spells are cast, murders are attempted. There are ghosts and familiars and lamia and many other creatures. This is all used to good effect.

This was an enjoyable work, one with much beauty and thoughtful bons mots; a work with history and language and surprises and polite love. I’m excited to one day get my hands on the second book in the series.

If you’re interesting in purchasing this delightfully improper adventure, here is a link: Amazon Link

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic published on

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First thing: that’s a hell of a cover.

Second thing: stick around through the completion of the review because Angry Robot has supplied us with 5 COPIES of The Dragon Engine to give away. According to Angry Robot, the books can be shipped internationally. One winner per household. 5 total winners.

REVIEW

I don’t typically read Grimdark. I have seen George R. R. Martin listed as a Grimdark author, and I’ve read him. Some others, too. However, after reading Remic’s The Dragon Engine, I’m starting to wonder if Martin’s monochrome rainbow of humiliation and violence isn’t nearly grim or dark enough for the classification. Martin’s characters–well, some of them–have redeemable qualities. There isn’t much to redeem many of the characters of The Dragon Engine. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily.

The first chapter doesn’t really prepare the reader for what eventually comes in this novel. It started out feeling  a little bit like a Dragonlance book: adventurers meet together in a tavern to reminisce about the good old days in the military. They plan an epic adventure together, to journey to the supposedly abandoned Dwarven kingdom to retrieve some priceless artifacts that just might provide immortality.

We have the bombastic, axe-wielding warrior, Beetrax the Axeman. The best of all archers, Talon.  The swift ninja assassin, Sakora. The lordling swordsman and former Champion of the Guard, Dake, and his not-good-enough-for-daddy wife, Jonti Tal, a former soldier as well. And finally, the magical healer, Lillith, whose gentle femininity is a foil to Beetrax’s masculine bravado. This first chapter reminds me an awful lot of some well-written Pathfinder campaigns I have witnessed. It isn’t particularly dark or grim. The book can go anywhere from here. And it goes dark.

From this point forward, though, we’ve got some really heavy stuff happening. Rape, abuses of power, torture porn, psychopaths coming out the wazoo, and hyper-violence: brains and blood and guts galore. Warriors reciting cheesy poetry, a Church of Hate and a Church of Purity, assassins and slavery and plentiful use of the sort of language my mom used when I was growing up. The sort that got Zest bar soap, or maybe Irish Spring, rubbed into my teeth if I repeated it. You know the sort.

The abandoned places are not abandoned. The Dwarves have been driven by an intense form of isolationism, germinated by their former status as the slaves to men. The Dwarves, though, have in turn ensaved the Dragons. And the dragons are not pleased.

Everything here is amplified: the hate is the deepest hate, the pain is the most excruciating pain, the love is the loveist doveyiest love, the death is the bloodiest death.

Ultimately, I need to say that this wasn’t my sort of book. I read a lot of epic fantasy, military fantasy, modern and urban fantasy. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but this wasn’t it. I think there are some people who will love this book, and I hope they read it. There’s a lot here to like, and I know several people who would hack off their left arm for a copy of this book.

The Dragon Engine is written by Andy Remic. It is published by Angry Robots Books. Release date: September 1, 2015.

Purchase The Dragon Engine at AMAZON.

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Review: Hunter

Review: Hunter published on 4 Comments on Review: Hunter

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The unique thing about Lackey’s latest novel, Hunter, is that it checks a lot of the current cultural boxes in the science fiction, fantasy, and young adult “genres.” The novel is in the first-person POV, following a teen female protagonist monster-hunter in a post-apocalyptic world beset by The Folk (tall, lithe, highly intelligent monsters) and other frightening creatures from old fairy tales and religious texts.

Most of the Othersiders are monsters: Drakkens, Kraken, Leviathans, Gogs and Magogs, Furies, Harpies, things we don’t even have names for. Things that belong to myths and religions from all over the world, and things that don’t match anything at all.”

Joyeaux Charmand  is a teen Hunter who grew up in a Monastery in the Rocky Mountains, was trained to be a Hunter by a wandering Zapotec Hunter and a Tibetan Buddhist, and happens to be the niece of Apex City’s current Prefect. There are actually many Hunters living at the Monastery, though there should only be one per region, other than in the major cities. The rest of the Hunters are kept secret, as any excess Hunters found will be sent to Apex City to be on their own highly edited television channel while protecting the Cits, or regular folk in the cities. Nobody in power wants the Cits to know how bad things really are. And things are definitely bad.

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