Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On The Crimson Campaign (The Powder Mage Trilogy #2) by Brian McClellan - REVIEW

Synopsis for The Crimson Campaign can be found here

This is book two of the Powder Mage trilogy. Review for book one (Promise of Blood) can be found here.

When we were kids, our parents would have these ideas. They would have these ideas that they know what is good for us. They would talk to us, maybe we would listen contently, maybe we have a complete and utter melt down of catastrophic proportions. I was a member of the latter response group. I knew what I wanted. I knew what was good for me. I knew me. I wasn't about to listen to what anyone else had to said. Anything they wanted to give me would be unknown and the unknown is scary. And my response to scary was PANIC!

So, one day my parents took me out. We were walking down the lane, watching the passerby's, watching the lights and hearing the sounds. We treaded familiar ground, and I was the happy little kid smiling, running (not too far), jumping about. But, then it happened. Someone had gotten the idea that they knew what I would like. They knew me better than I knew me. And they pointed me in that direction, and the tantrum commenced - stomping, screaming, flailing. I knew what I liked, and if I didn't know it, well, I didn't like it. So, I screamed my tiny little head off. I was not about to go on the Runaway Mine Train at Six Flags Great Adventure.

Now, the runaway train is a roller coaster much like the water from my kitchen sink is a waterfall. I kicked and screamed and put up a fuss, and in the end, it was fun. I learned something about myself... I liked roller coasters (as long as they didn't go upside down). Several years later, and I became one of the older kids still too "scared" to get on a looping coaster (Psh, I'm not scared, I just know I don't like it). This time there wasn't so much kicking and screaming involved, however there were some false starts and delay of games (mixing metaphors a bit, oh well), but after some psyching myself up, I got myself on... I honestly don't remember which coaster it was. But forcing myself into something new caused me to learn a little something about myself. I love roller coasters. I was so set in my "change bad. unknown bad." ways that I might not have learned something new to like.

With Promise of Blood, I was getting myself on the runaway train; something new I hadn't tried - flintlock fantasy with a strong military setting. And I discovered that I like that. With The Crimson Campaign, I have ridden Batman or The Incredible Hulk (pictured - did they rebrand that now that Disney owns Marvel?), and I now love me some flintlock fantasy. McClellan weaves an intricate story of war, religion, and magic. The magic system - gunpowder magic - is interesting and fun as the powder mages deal with common soldiers and more traditional magic users. There is some ambiguity on who is right and wrong, good and bad. There are gods amongst men (I was afraid this wouldn't work - it works here). The pacing is incredibly fast and keeps you sucked in.

I am a little late to the game with McClellan's works. But on the bright side, book three comes out in February - so not too long a wait for me. I wasn't sure I'd be into flintlock / military fantasy. But now I know.

And knowing is half the battle.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie - REVIEW

Synopsis can be found here.

I had this friend going up. A best friend. And being another male, we tended to get competitive about things. Thankfully, I suppose, we were both pretty sporty. Though during one tense game of beach volleyball, the taunts going back and forth, I think the two of us had enough. We fought. I didn't mention that he might have been twice my weight. Well, he was. And needless to say I was left with a bloody nose and he was left laughing. Laughing! I was angry. I was frustrated. I needed to do something, but what could I do? Nothing. And so it stewed. And days, weeks, months, years passed. Hockey became the sport du jour. And during an early afternoon roller hockey pick up game, the score never teetering overly far in one direction or the other, sweat dripping, swears and insults flying, I brought the ball up the middle, faked a direction, he bit, I pulled the other way, but he was too far. He reached. And reached. And split his pants down the middle, rear end exposed to the world. Embarrassment. Ah, sweet revenge.

Who doesn't love a good revenge story?

That's not really a good sell of this novel.

Half a King is a revenge story. And I love a good revenge story (I must have said that four or five times already on this blog). But it's more than my petty little revenge of embarrassment for embarrassment (but come on, his pants split! That's comedy gold right there). It is a coming of age story. It is the story about the broken and damaged individuals no one gives a second glance to or expects anything from. It is a story of political intrigue and family drama. It is a story of survival against a known foe, an unknown foe, the elements. It has twists that are both expected and unexpected. It's a fun read and is rather short in terms of fantasy (it's technically YA... I think. Not that there's anything wrong with that). So really, why not give it a try?

The characters in the story are interesting.

You know...  I think I'm just going to stop.

There's little I can say to sell this more than the publisher already put out there. Abercrombie has been blurbed for this novel by George RR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, etc. etc. etc. (the fantasy elite). I mean, this is the Justice League of fantasy fiction, in which Abercrombie himself has a seat at the table (Martian Manhunter, maybe?). They say you should read this book. And I don't disagree.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy #1) by Brian McClellan - REVIEW

Synopsis can be found here.

I was hungry one afternoon, as I am almost always hungry, and decided to go out for lunch. After considering the many options, I went with my local Panera. It was crowded, which is not uncommon, and I stared blankly at the menu determining which of the two or three things I eat at Panera I should get that day. When it was my turn, I ordered the 1/2 a Smokehouse Turkey Panini with a 1/2 of a Baked Potato Soup (more or less my usual order). The woman behind the counter took my order and asked "would you like a free cookie with that?" I had to pause and think about this, not because I wasn't sure if I'd want the free cookie, but to consider why she would even need to ask? Am I really going to say "no, I don't want a free cookie. And I also don't like kittens, rainbows and Christopher Walken." I got my free cookie.

With Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan wrote a swords and sorcery Fantasy novel, but gave us a free cookie - gun magic. Yes, I want some free gun magic with my usual.

This is a really strong start to a trilogy that has nonstop action - none of this characters stopping to wax poetic for 50 pages - as the world deals with the overthrow of a king, creepy prophecy, and imminent war. It only took a few pages of Promise of Blood for me to add books two and three to my to read list.

I give it...  "not my gumdrop buttons!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

On The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) found here.

I was a big fan of Law & Order. This is the original version, mind you.  Not that Special Victims Unit stuff that still airs, which is something along the lines of 90% Olivia backstory, 9% other new detective backstory, 0.5% district attorney backstory and 0.5% actual detectives doing case solving / district attorneys doing prosecuting.  But gripes against SVU aside, I was fond of Law & Order.  All that law... and order. Something bad happened. The detectives figured that shtuff out and the district attorneys get those jerks jailed.  I loved the intricacies of case management, the complexity of the law. 

The Goblin Emperor is a murder mystery wrapped in politics with a dash of bildungsroman in the background.  Imagine, if you will, the small council in the Game of Thrones universe.  Now, imagine the entirety of the Game of Thrones story being told from within Point of View within that small council.  The Goblin Emperor is mostly the Order of the Law & Order.  The detective work is more ancillary to the workings of the court and the fallout of the murder and coronation of a goblin emperor (the empire he is emperoring is mostly elves). 

What really drew me to The Goblin Emperor were the blurbs - specifically:
"Challenging, intriguing, and unique. If court intrigue is your wine of choice, The Goblin Emperor is the headiest vintage I've come across in years." - Scott Lynch
"This is a beautifully told story, and has cost me much needed sleep these past few nights. (And I'm not just saying that because, as we all know, goblins are awesome!) The Goblin Emperor made me remember why I fell in love with the fantasy genre." - Jim C. Hines

And it wasn't so much what they said, as much as it was who said it. 

I've lost touch with my allegory.  Have a bit of a cold.  Thinking is hard.

I think Scott Lynch said it well. If court intrigue is your thing, then this would definitely be for you. The diction is beautiful, the characters relatable, and the story intriguing. Personally... I like Order...  I just like a little more Law with it.  I give it... Lincoln (without the vampire hunting).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) by James SA Corey - REVIEW

Synopisis (per Goodreads) found here.  

This is #4 of the Expanse novels by James SA Corey (my review for #3 here - blog didn't exist for me to review #'s 1 and 2).  You can read Cibola Burn without having read the predecessors, but I wouldn't recommend it (the series is good stuff - read it). 

Everyone has their own "the mall." Generally it's a localized event and when one person says to another "I'm going to the mall," the other person knows they mean Menlo Park, not Freehold or Woodbridge. We hung out there as kids, shop there as adults, use it as a distraction as parents.  It's comfortable.  Sure maybe the Disney store relocates, but all we need is a sign that says "moved to the upper level near Nordstroms" and we know what it means - no map necessary.  And maybe we stop for an Auntie Ann pretzel on the way.

Now, I am generally not a science fiction guy (for the most part - my Goodreads library shows generally 4:1 in favor of Fantasy). Sure, I'll read the odd Star Wars novel (more based on the author than anything else), and I'll watch the Star Wars and (new) Star Trek movies (was never a Trekkie - nor have I watched Firefly - I probably shouldn't admit to that). But, the Expanse novels have become "the mall" for me; my go-to sci-fi read.  Science Fiction I'm comfortable with. And though each of Corey's novels have some changes - some new characters and a new cross-genre - Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are comfortable now (must be how Trekkies started to get attached to Piccard or who have you - I'm not starting that better Captain debate).

I mentioned "new cross-genre" in terms of a relocation of store (or perhaps what would be more apropos would be connection to a new store. Something within a familiar landscape, but in itself is new and exciting). You see, within each of the Expanse novels, Corey sets the story against some non-traditional sci-fi genre archetypes. Leviathan Wakes touched on horror. Caliban's War was heavy into politics. Abaddon's Gate was more traditional science fiction. Cibola Burn - well, here's our science fiction Western.

Like the other Expanse novels, Cibola Burn is at a break-neck pace, and I maintain that this series is the most movie-ready series out there (though it has been picked up by SyFy to be a television series - perhaps we'll get a blockbuster movie or so out of it anyway).

I'm realizing there is very little "review" in this review. If you're a fan of big-budget action/adventure movies - read these books (even if sci-fi isn't necessarily your thing).

I give it...  Han shot first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (I know I said I wasn't posting these anymore, but I need to here):

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was.  Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren -- a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body.  And only one purpose -- to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, nearly immortal Lord of the Radch.  

Who really enjoyed getting their hair cut?  I don't mean back when you're small enough to ride the haircut Batmobile.  When you outgrow that, but your you're still young enough that parents decide you need a haircut.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  There's games that need playing and tv that needs watching and food that needs eating.  No, no one wants to get their hair cut.  However, my barber (and likely many barbers) did have something kids like.  CANDY.  Namely, DumDum Pops.  Everyone must have had these at some point in their lives.  Small, sweet, delicious lollipops.  And the bag comes with a variety of flavors.

One of these flavors...  The Mystery Flavor.

You must have seen this before, no?  They come with the purple question mark wrapper (pictured to the left).  The candy itself is white so as to not give away what the mystery flavor could possibly be (by the way, the "mystery flavor" is really just a combination of two flavors that is created when the manufacture cycle of one flavor being made ends and a new flavor cycle begins - per Mental Floss).  The Mystery Flavor was tasty, but did you take it?  Did it matter to you that you couldn't put your finger on what it could be? Did you just stick with what you knew?

The protagonist of Ancillary Justice (both the Justice of Toren and Breq) is/was a massive starship.  As Breq, the ship's AI is confined in one final body, however, "years ago" (and it means YEARS ago) when it was a starship it had thousands of bodies.  What does this have to do with DumDums?  Breq (let's just stick with Breq for now) has some SERIOUS gender identification issues.  To the point where more-or-less every character is referred to in the feminine.  Sometimes it is countered when another character corrects Breq, and sometimes Breq does and sometimes Breq doesn't continue referring to the character as "she." So, as you try to picture the characters, every character is a mystery flavor.  Is it a female?  Is it a male?  Does it matter?  If you enjoyed the Mystery Flavor, maybe it works for you.  I, personally, like having a solid mental image of the characters in the story, and the constant back and forth of gender is a little confusing/aggravating for me.  I tend to pick Butterscotch.

However, Ancillary Justice has won the following awards (per Wikipedia...  yes, that's a real source):
Kitschies Golden Tentacle (best debut novel of 2013)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (best science fiction novel of the year)
British Science Fiction Association Award (best novel of the year)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Award (best novel of the year)
It was also nominated for the following:
Write-In for Best Book of 2013 for the Goodreads Choice Awards
Shortlisted for the Phillip K. Dick Award (distinguished original science fiction)
Tiptree Award Honor List (science fiction / fantasy that expands / explores understanding of gender)
Finalist of Compton Crook Award (best science fiction/fantasy/horror)
Nominee for Hugo Award (best novel)
(Love this from Jim C. Hines' review of the book: "I'm pretty sure it was also a Nebula finalist, tied for an Oscar, and won this year's Super Bowl.")

How do you ignore that?  I put aside my gripe, pictured (mostly) everyone as female (probably not the right response), and decided to embrace the mystery.

And what did I discover?  I have the wrong lollipop.  This isn't a DumDum at all.  It's a Tootsie Pop.  A book that takes... the world may never know how many licks...  to get to the juicy, delicious tootsie roll center.  It's a slow burn from the beginning between the development of both Bresq and Justice of Toren, setting the stage for the inevitable betrayal, introduction of Seivarden, and getting the characters the equipment and to the location they need for the final showdown.  I was ready to rate this a Goodreads 3 stars - an I liked it, but it wasn't anything great - and then the last 50+ pages showed me the tootsie roll center (I gave it a Goodreads 4 stars).  I had licked my way to the payoff, and it was good.  The reveal/climax was clever and well-paced.  The perfect little treat hidden within the depths of the slower sugary coating.

Enough with the lollipop metaphors...

From what I've read, this is the first in a trilogy of books.  As such, it will likely have the most world-building of the series that needs to be done.  And this is a big, dense, well-developed world(s) (we are in space after all).  There is a conclusion here, but it leaves just enough outstanding that you have to wonder what will happen next.  And I'm ready to see what sweet candy Ann Leckie gives us next.

I give it...  Howard Beale.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

For the synopsis (per Goodreads) go here (decided I'm not typing those out anymore). 

Everything made perfect sense when we were children.  Your sister wanted to take your toy (or maybe she was just standing where you didn't want her to), so you gave her a little shove, and when she went crying to mom you did what any four year old knows is the only option.  You run.  You hide.  (I know my tenses are messed up, but that sounds better than "you ran, you hid" and I'm not making money off this stuff so grammar be damned). Mom would NEVER notice the bulging curtains with feet sticking out, or the fact that the throw blanket on the couch was now on the floor in a giant, giggling pile.  It just made sense.  As trouble was coming, you forgot about the honor that is admitting your faults and accepting your punishment, and you got out of its way.

Some of us never outgrow this.  Case in point, Jalan Kendeth, our next Point of View through the Broken Empire.  Those of you that have read Lawrence's other works - The Broken Empire trilogy following the murderous rampage of Jorg Ancrath (reviews here, here and here), will find something new here in a familiar setting (along with some cameos by some familiar characters).  Those of you who haven't read The Broken Empire trilogy...  what have you been doing with yourselves besides missing out on good reads?  Incase you are wondering, yes, you can read Prince of Fools without having read The Broken Empire, but having read those books adds to the experience.  And though this is written EVERYWHERE anyone talks of this book - Jalan is not Jorg.  Though this book has some dark undercurrents, it is much more lighthearted (not entirely sure that's the right word, but you get the idea) than the gut-wrenching journey Jorg led us through.

Prince of Fools follows Prince Jalan of the Red March as he and an unlikely companion, the viking Snorri ver Snagason (fantasy needed a good dose of viking...  thanks, Mark), deal with magics they don't fully understand in a quest for escape/revenge (depending on your point of view).  It is a tale of a budding friendship, a tale of a revenge, and a tale of growing up (or not).  It is both dark and humorous, both sentimental and hard-hearted, both new and familiar.

I'm not feeling incredibly verbose today, so I'll end with "read it" (4/5 on Goodreads) and give it: Kiss-My-Anthia