Book Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Wow. This book is everything I wish Game of Thrones had been. Seriously.

Joe Abercrombie has created a world as real as our own, filled with subtle shades of grey between Good and Evil. He has created a protagonist you can really empathize with who has to navigate a world full of treachery and initial impressions can be reversed by deeds and companionship.

I think it’s rare to find an epic fantasy novel that is so full of nuance and where things are not black and white. Sure, Martin does this very well in the Game of Thrones series, but I felt like those novels were just a slog to get through. Abercrombie has a tightly written, fast-paced action adventure novel filled to the brim with political intrigue and echoes of war all the while building characters that really resonate.

Yarvi is the hero of this story, and he’s also disabled. Imagine a coming-of-age story about a boy that would probably have been best friends with Tyrion Lannister, and see how he does when the worst is thrown upon him. I love that this story champions intellectual prowess over physical strength. And the plot twists! Nothing was predictable, and the story just grabbed a hold and wouldn’t let go. This is definitely going on my list of favorites. I highly recommend it.

I’ve been blurbed!

Remember when I reviewed DARKWALKER by E.L. Tettensor a little over a year ago? Well, the sequel (Master of Plagues: A Nicolas Lenoir Novel) is out, and on the very first page is a list of blurbs from reviewers, and I’m one of them! That was a fun thing to discover yesterday.

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Book Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiBefore I begin the actual review of this book, I think I should begin with a short, unofficial history lesson on the origins of the term “steampunk.” I am brand spanking new as a reader of this genre, so this is what I’ve recently learned from conversations with others more well-versed in it than I am.From what I gather, the definition of “steampunk” within the publishing genre is still somewhat in flux, but here’s what Wikipedia (don’t flog me, my academic friends!) has to say about it:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistictechnologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt and China Miéville.

Wikipedia also goes on to mention that Tor author K.W. Jeter coined the term in the late 1980s as a variant on the term “cyberpunk,” which is defined by Wikipedia thusly:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on “high tech and low life,” it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

I think the most quintessential example of cyberpunk is the movie Blade Runner. So, my interest in the definition of “steampunk” came about as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Michael Underwood, author of the recently published novel, Shield and Crocus, wherein he suggests that “steampunk” must stay true to its roots and incorporate the “punk” aspect of cyberpunk. Mike says,

“To be ‘punk,’ there has to be an awareness of class, some degree of anti-authoritarianism, or anti-establishment sentiment, either in the heroes, or a critique of the system in the work itself. Most Steampunk is Victorian, and ‘punk,’ can delve into the industrial revolution, wage slavery, child labor, colonialism, etc. That’s where the punk comes from – the rejection of the tidy narrative about Victoriana that erases people at the margins and the thousands+ that slaved and died to create the majesty of the age.”

So, long story short, if we are including Mike’s definition of “punk” here (and we are because it just makes sense!), then I believe that Rod Duncan’s novel, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (Angry Robot Books, August 2014), is a very good example of that definition. While the focus on steam technology is pretty light, the punk is definitely well-represented in the protagonist’s struggles with sexism and as well as in the extreme differences in freedom and expected adherence to the law that each social class experiences. These are just a few of the issues that plagued the protagonist as she tried to make a living and solve a mystery.

In this novel, Elizabeth Barnabus is a woman on her own in a world that resembles Victorian England, which is a part of The Gas-Lit Empire. As you can imagine, it’s practically impossible for Elizabeth to conduct any business, own any property, or hold a well-paying job as a single woman, so she solves this problem by masquerading as her own twin brother, a trick she learned from her father as a part of her act in a traveling circus. As a man, Elizabeth works at night as a private investigator of sorts. She’s hired to find the missing brother of an aristocratic woman, along the way, Elizabeth encounters some interesting steampunk technology as well as a legendary traveling circus run by a mysterious and possibly nefarious old man. The story moves along at a quick pace, and I found that I couldn’t put the book down for very long. This is my official introduction to the steampunk genre, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to get my hands on more fiction like this, and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel!

Short Fiction Review – Martin Cahill and Nancy Hightower

Short fiction is a new realm for me. I’m completely fascinated with structure and how people write, so I’m taking a critical look at short fiction magazines lately as a sort of hobby of mine. I am lucky enough to count several writers among my friends, including Martin Cahill and Nancy Hightower, and it’s been a privilege to read their recently published short stories. I am blown away by their talent, and I wanted to share my thoughts on each of their stories here.

coverI discovered Nancy’s story, “Bound,” when she read it at the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series earlier in the year. I have a problem with fidgeting at readings, but this time I was completely engrossed in the story, and I knew I had to read it again when it came out in Bourbon Penn in February. This story is very surreal, and what I love about it is that you don’t really know what’s real and what’s imaginary, but it has enough emotional depth and engagement with the characters that you know what you WANT to be real. You can read the full story for free here. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Nightmare_19_April_2014-200x300The second story, “It Was Never the Fire,” by my friend Martin Cahill, is the second of his that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but the first published story that the rest of you absolutely should read yourselves. This story was published today in the April issue of Nightmare Magazine, so a hearty congratulations goes out to Marty! Marty is a very talented new writer who is about to start a new adventure this summer at Clarion Writer’s Workshop in San Diego (I’m completely jealous), and after having read his work, I can see him becoming a very strong voice in the genre in the future. “It Was Never the Fire” is a beautifully poetic, dark, and surreal story that just grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. I devoured this one. Marty has a gift with the way he uses language to instantly captivate the reader and bring them right into the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with in the future. GO READ THIS STORY NOW. It’s free, and I want to know if you love it as much as I do.

Book Review: Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

8113940This is one of those books that I just really really wanted to like, but sort of feel meh about. I first became interested in this series because I’ve been watching the tv show. This is how I discovered the Dresden Files, and I wish I could feel the same way about these books as I do about Dresden. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t live up to my expectations.

Watch out for spoilers below!

The plot(s) revolve around the Beauchamp family of witches: Joanna, Ingrid, and Freya. There are quite a few plot threads happening, and not all of them are really necessary to what turns out to be the main plot of the book. First, Freya is torn between two brothers, Bran and Killian, who have mysteriously arrived back at the old abandoned mansion of Fair Haven. Freya is set to marry Bran, but she can’t keep away from Killian. Second, her sister Ingrid struggles with her jealousy when Matt, a police man, starts dating one of her coworkers. Thirdly, Joanna, the girls’ mother, hires a family to help keep up her house and ends up taking care of their little boy, Tyler. Freya, a bartender begins making love potions for her patrons, practicing magic even though it’s against the rules of a mysterious Council (that we never learn about). Then Ingrid starts making knotted talismans for her library patrons. Then Joanna decides to use magic to entertain the little boy and also to resurrect a man who died after being in a coma. Then, a mysterious silver poison starts bubbling up from the ocean near the town. A teenager who drank one of Freya’s potions is found dead, the mayor who’s wife used a fidelity knot from Ingrid hangs himself, Tyler becomes sick to the point of death, and Joanna is accused of murdering a man named Bill. And then there are a random group of Vampires (a completely unnecessary cameo appearance of characters from de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods novels) that come through town looking for Ingrid’s help. Ingrid tells them to go look up some magical law, and that’s the end of that.

Whew. And that’s not even the good part. So all of this stuff is happening to the three women, and in the meantime, Ingrid has been consulting with her missing father via text message about some blue prints of Fair Haven. The mystery of some weird symbols on the blue prints is unravelled by Ingrid and her father separately, and we don’t get to find out what this has to do with anything until almost the very end of the book. This is when the most interesting parts of the book happen, and it’s also part of a major reveal about the witches’ past. An entire (more interesting) novel could have been written just on their background alone, along with the fight between Bran and Killian, which is integral to the big reveal and turns out to be the main plot of the book. The other, smaller plots that take up the bulk of the word count of the book are wrapped up very hastily, and they don’t provide much insight on the characters, and they don’t offer any real support to the main plot.

The ideas presented in the book had a lot of potential. I just wish the writing had lived up to it. 2/5

Book Review: Darkwalker by E. L. Tettensor

Darkwalker by E. L. TettensorDarkwalker: A Nicolas Lenoir Novel by E. L. Tettensor is a novel set in a secondary world resembling the Victorian era with Sherlockian detective novel elements combined with bits of magic. Police inspector Nicholas Lenoir was once a legendary detective known for solving even the most difficult cases when some mysterious act of his brings him to the attention of a spirit known as the Darkwalker. Ten years later, Lenoir is living in a backwater town, bored out of his mind, and plagued with nightmares of his impending death at the hands of the Darkwalker when his young orphan informant, Zach, is kidnapped. Lenoir has discovered that bodies of 9 year old boys had been dug up for use in dark magic, and now live boys are being taken potentially for this same purpose.

Though it’s interesting to see a Sherlock Holmes style detective in a magical world, what makes this novel even more interesting is the Darkwalker character. As the novel progresses, we only get to see bits and pieces of this character and his mysterious background. He is a spirit whose purpose is to avenge wrongs done against the dead. We are left to interpret what that might entail. Additionally, we learn some things about the Darkwalker that leads us to believe that he’s not acting on his own free will. There’s obviously more to his story, but the focus of the novel is on solving the case and recovering Zach. I would love it if in future novels, Tettensor could give us more of a glimpse into the Darkwalker’s world. I want to know how he came to be the Darkwalker, and his struggle against whatever is driving him to carry out his purpose would make for an interesting story on its own.

I also found the culture of the Adali interesting. These are a gypsy-like group of people who are known for practicing magic and for their nomadic ways. Because their culture is so different from the culture of the city-dwellers, the Adali are often discriminated against and treated poorly. Again, we only get a small glimpse into their world, and only to serve the purposes of driving the plot forward. I hope future books delve a bit further into their world as well.

All in all, I would say this is a fantastic debut novel set in a wonderfully realized world that I really want to know more about. I’ll be picking up the next book in this series for sure.

Make sure you visit the author’s website at www.eltettensor.com. It’s one of the most beautiful author websites I think I’ve ever come across.

4/5.

Review Roundup: Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone‘s second book in The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise, recently pubbed on October 29th, 2013. This is not a comprehensive list of his review coverage, but I thought I’d take a minute to list some of the most recent coverage he’s gotten. If you’ve got a review of your own you’d like me to list, please contact me.

Happy reading!

Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Gladstone outdoes himself in this exciting and imaginative return to the brilliantly realized world of Three Parts Dead. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the civic water supply is managed by the magical Concern of Red King Consolidated (RKC). When one of their reservoirs is contaminated with demonic Tzimet, RKC risk assessor Caleb Altemoc is assigned to determine the cause and manage relations with Heartstone, an RKC acquisition with intimate links to the old Quechal gods. With the help of an enigmatic woman named Mal, who’s considered crazy even by other death-defying cliff runners, Caleb discovers that the wars in which the old gods fell still cast a long shadow over the present day, posing a threat to the city and beyond. The alternate Los Angeles that is Dresediel Lex is charged with its own versions of ethnic tensions and environmental strain, and Caleb is an engaging protagonist for this taut and unique blend of legal drama, fantasy, and noir. Agent: Weronika Janczuk, Lynn Franklin Associates, in association with D4EO Literary. (Nov.)Reviewed on 06/14/2013 | Release date: 10/29/2013 | Details & Permalink

Library Journal Review

VERDICT Gladstone follows his acclaimed debut, Three Parts Dead, with another fast-paced fantasy thriller set in the same world. This time, he focuses on the sprawling city of Dresediel Lex, rich in a history and culture reminiscent of the Aztecs, which serves as a dramatic backdrop for the novel’s action. This worthy sequel should receive attention from fans of China Miéville and Steven Erikson.

Booklist Review

 Two Serpents Rise is an epic, solidly city-based fantasy with strong characters and a wonderfully built world. It’s also a fast-paced thriller, thoroughly entertaining.

Reviews and Guest Posts

Tor.com – excerpt            09/30/2013
Badass Book Reviews – October releases spotlight            10/01/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – mentions            10/01/2013
Tor/Forge blog – mention 10/01/2013
Don Dammassa – review 10/02/2013
SF Revu – review             10/02/2013
Tor.com – guest article/short fiction/mention         10/09/2013
The Book Plank – interview          10/23/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 1)        10/27/2013
Books, Bones, & Buffy – review   10/28/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/28/2013
Unequally Yoked – interview (part 2)        10/28/2013
SF Signal guest post        10/29/2013
Think Progress – interview           10/29/2013
Fantasy Book Critic          10/30/2013
Mind of the Geek – guest post      10/30/2013
My Favorite Bit blog post for Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog   10/31/2013
Whatever/The Big Idea guest post           10/31/2013
Elitist Book Reviews – review       11/05/2013
Reddit AMA      11/05/2013
My Book, the Movie guest post    11/06/2013
Thing Progress – guest post         11/06/2013
Whatchamacallit Reviews            11/08/2013
Between Dreams and Reality – guest post and giveaway    11/13/2013
Interview on terribleminds.com (Chuck Wendig’s blog)      11/13/2013
Best Fantasy Books – review (Three Parts Dead)   11/15/2013