Monday, 30 December 2013

Review: 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

According to ‘The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter’ – the world’s only totally reliable guide to the future – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea . . .


 Having read several Terry Pratchett novels before I had a fairly reasonable idea of what I was getting myself into with Good Omens. I expected quirky humour, strange events, and unique and peculiar characters, along with the usual assortment of magic and bathos and hilariously terrible puns. I’m happy to say that Good Omens has all of these, as well as something that many other earlier Pratchett novels lack: coherence. I’m assuming this is the influence of Neil Gaiman, as is the inclusion of many of the more dark and gruesome elements of the story. All in all, a nicely successful combination of authors, styles and ideas.
The plot is fairly straightforward. The prophecies of the witch Agnes Nutter state when and where the world is going to end. The Antichrist will summon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who will ride forth and wreak havoc on humankind; this will be followed by a celestial war between Heaven and Hell, of which there can only be one ultimate victor.
That’s what is supposed to happen; but the ineffable Plan suffers from a few alterations along the way. For a start, due to a mix-up in the local hospital eleven years previously, the Antichrist is not who people think he is; and due to the incompetence of the demon Crowley (who drives a Bentley, wears sunglasses even when it’s dark, and just happens to be the original Serpent, formerly known as Crawly) and the angel Aziraphale (who had a flaming sword but lost it, and now owns a used bookstore in London) this is not discovered by either side until Armageddon is almost upon them. What follows is the tale of various characters – Aziraphale, Crowley, the witch Anathema Device, the Witchfinders Shadwell and Newt, Adam the Antichrist, and Madame Tracy the Psychic/’shameless hoor’ – as they all try to prevent the end of the world.

It’s a good story, and one of the highlights is the casual bickering friendship between the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale. They both recognise that neither of them are entirely good or evil, and after thousands of years have struck up a truce. They like the way things are, and as such are keen to try and save the world and maintain the natural balance of things.
The authors, as well as writing a funny story, are also trying to get a message across about humanity, namely that they are capable of much worse things than any sort of evil demon, whether real or imagined, but also of moments of goodness that would make any angel jealous. For instance, Crowley receives a commendation for the creation of the Spanish Inquisition (he happened to be on the continent at the time, and so they just assumed it was his idea), when in fact he knew nothing about it: when he looked into it, it made him feel rather ill (he’s much more proud of creating the M25, door-to-door salesmen, and answering machines).

I personally love the sense of humour – it’s typical Pratchett, dry British humour, and there are so many jokes and references that only a Brit would really understand. It’s fun to feel like you’re sharing a private joke with the author, though I imagine this may alienate readers from other parts of the world. I did enjoy the few aspects of the book that I recognised from Pratchett’s Discworld novels. An example of this is the character of Death and the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse, although they’re a bit different here: they ride motorbikes instead of horses (well, they are the original Hell’s Angels after all), and they have a new member, Pollution (Pestilence retired shortly after the discovery of penicillin in 1936).
The book does have a few flaws. Like many other Pratchett novels I’ve read it can be a little self-indulgent in places, sacrificing plot and relevance for humorous anecdotes that occasionally take over the story. However, it made me laugh – sometimes out loud, to the astonishment of those around me (luckily just the cats) – and it also made me want to read more books by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, so I think it deserves a decent score.

My rating: 4/5
Click here to view Good Omens on Amazon UK

Friday, 27 December 2013

Review: 'Waylander' by David Gemmell

The Drenai King is dead - murdered by a ruthless assassin. Enemy troops swarm into Drenai lands. Their orders are simple - kill every man, woman and child.

But there is hope.
Stalked by men who act like beasts and beasts that walk like men, the warrior Waylander must journey into the shadow-haunted lands of the Nadir to find the legendary Armour of Bronze. With this he can turn the tide. But can he be trusted? For he is Waylander the Slayer.
The traitor who killed the King...
 

This is my first outing with David Gemmell, and I have to say I’m ashamed I waited this long to read his work. Gemmell is one of the legendary forerunners of modern fantasy, and has influenced many of my favourite authors, particularly those who write gritty ‘grimdark’ fantasy such as Joe Abercrombie. I expected big things from David Gemmell, and for the most part Waylander delivered them.
My first impression of Waylander was that there wasn’t much detail. Gemmell wasn’t telling me much about the characters – how they were feeling, what they’d been doing, why they were there – and I felt somewhat disconnected from them, particularly as we’re thrown into the action without being introduced to any of the characters involved. However, about 50 pages into the novel I realised how clever this was: we don’t necessarily need to know everything about the characters in order to empathise with them. It’s very much a case of judging characters by their actions during the current and ongoing events. Gemmell shows us how his characters act, providing limited or no information about their background; it’s up to the reader to witness their actions and decide for themselves how they feel about each character.
This makes it particularly interesting, since there are characters whose reputation or situation would make them appear to be villains, yet whose actions define them otherwise, and vice versa. The characters are not blank slates, created by the author to be gradually filled in for us through the course of the story; rather, we get the feeling that they exist independently of the reader, and we just happen to catch glimpses of them at certain points in their lives. We are unaware of each character’s ‘normal’ behaviour: we simply see them as they are, and this makes our connection with them feel natural and unforced, our own choice rather than the author’s manipulation.
Events in the novel are presented in a similar way. Gemmell shows rather than tells, and has a way of writing that is fairly minimal. His narrative is somewhat brisk in tone, and yet the action is vivid and the characters are well-drawn.  His understated yet captivating style is surprisingly hard-hitting, and his ability to create moments of emotion and tragedy in just a page or two is astounding. An example of this is the tale of the old general Gan Degas. We only meet this character once – his entire character arc spans about four or five pages at the most – yet his sad story completely choked me up (and stuck in my memory so much that I remembered his name without having to look it up).
The book isn’t perfect. I felt that Waylander’s shift from ‘Slayer’ to ‘hero’ would have been a lot more effective if it hadn’t happened right at the beginning (literally during the first couple of pages). We aren’t really shown much of him as the ruthless Slayer; as such I felt that his inner conflict – the pitiless man he was vs. the compassionate man he now is – isn’t quite as powerful as it could be. I also felt that some of the events – particularly the various battles – felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the story, and that the side-plot with the armour (and its importance in the grand scheme of things) was a little bit tenuous and contrived. However, there are many, many books in the overall series aside from this one, and it’s highly likely that I’m not seeing the full picture yet; and despite these minor complaints, I really was blown away by this writer.
Although I am ashamed not to have read his work sooner, I’m excited to know that it’s all laid out before me now, waiting to be read.

My rating: 4/5
Click here to buy Waylander on Amazon UK

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Review: 'Suldrun's Garden' by Jack Vance

Lyonesse is one of the ten kingdoms of the Elder Isles and Casmir, its ruthless and ambitious king, is at the centre of intrigue as their rulers contend for control. Casmir’s beautiful but otherworldly daughter, Suldrun, is a key element in his plans: he intends to cement alliances by arranging a marriage. But Suldrun defies him. She is confined to her beloved garden, where she meets her love, and her tragedy unfolds.

I’ve had a very mixed experience with this book, which wasn’t entirely unexpected given that I’d heard glowing reviews about it from some people and less-than-glowing ones from others. When I was around a hundred pages into the story I was very tempted to put the book down: I felt that the plot was all over the place, the characters were shallow and uninteresting, and the prose was very dry. But I stuck with it, and thankfully ended up enjoying the final third of the book almost enough to make up for the weak (or so I felt) beginning.
Suldrun’s Garden is an interesting historical fantasy mash-up, set in the fictional realm of the Elder Isles (now sunk beneath the sea, but once located near France and Britain). At the beginning the story is mainly concerned with establishing the conflict between the lands of Lyonesse and Troicinet, but this eventually becomes more of a backdrop to the main events of the story. As well as the overall war we have long-lost princes, rebellious princesses, talking mirrors, magicians, Arthurian references, curses, ogres, torture, rape, torture-rape, curse-rape-torture, ogre-rape, and fairies.  

I found the fairy-story aspects of the novel interesting, but over-used and occasionally irrelevant. Sometimes the descriptions felt very Tolkien-esque and twee, while at other times they were as gleefully violent as a Grimm fairy tale; the inclusion of the latter do help to give the novel its pervasive undertone of dark threat (which was sometimes a bit heavy-handed, particularly with regard to the continual misfortunes that befell many of the characters). I felt that the semi-historical element of the setting was also interesting, and nicely balanced out the inclusion of the fae world, but was used so minimally that it may as well have not been mentioned at all. I don’t know if it becomes more prominent in future novels, though.

I realise that my criticisms might be a bit controversial, as it seems Vance is revered as one of the forerunners of modern fantasy. Speaking personally, though, I didn’t enjoy his writing style very much, at least not at first. I found the way he related events to be very dry and dull, and felt that the characters were not developed as thoroughly as they might have been. Since this is very much a plot-driven story, I felt disconnected from events in a way that I don’t when I’m reading more modern, character-based fantasy. Modern fantasy authors I’ve enjoyed recently (particularly the likes of Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin, Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Steven Erikson, etc., etc.) engage the reader by persuading us to invest in their characters just as much as in their stories, which is something I felt was lacking in Suldrun’s Garden. For instance, we’re often told that a character is doing something, but we’re not always shown their thoughts and motivations for doing so; similarly, we may be told that a character is angry, or sad, but are shown very little of their behaviour or their reasoning. In this way it reminded me a little of Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, with a lot of unnecessary elements and prolific use of narration rather than storytelling. (Yes, there’s a difference. In my mind at least.) It’s this sense of distance from the characters that kept me distanced from the book, at least for the most part.
The other issue I had was with the writer’s use of language. Characters don’t seem to have distinguished voices – the adults speak in mostly the same way as the children, and vice-versa: for example, when insulting and threatening the press-ganged/enslaved Aillas, the overseer uses the word ‘fiddity-didjet’ to describe his behaviour. For me this jarred with both the situation and the other events in the book: a lot of it is quite dark and tragic, yet the language in no way reflects this.

One more minor criticism I have is plot-related. I found that characters were doing elaborate and irrelevant things simply for the sake of doing them. An example of this would be when the magician Shimrod is coerced into entering a dangerous magical realm and having to complete an arbitrary set of tasks, all as part of a ruse so that someone else could go to his house and steal his “magical stuff”. This style of writing put me in mind of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which also tends to slot in events simply because the author wants to. This works for a lot of people, but not for me.
Criticisms aside, I found myself enjoying the book quite a lot towards the end. Once the author focused on two or three main characters and gave each one a clear sense of purpose the story became very engaging. If the majority of the book had been like this I would have given it 4 out of 5; as it is, I’ll be giving it 3, but may look into the rest of the Lyonesse series in the future to see what it’s like.

My rating: 3/5
Click here to buy Suldrun's Garden on Amazon UK.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: 'Malice' by John Gwynne


The Banished Lands have a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle. An uneasy peace reigns, but now giants stir once more, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of gigantic wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a prophecy realized: sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield.
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors and yearns to join them, determined to make his family proud. It is only when everything he knows is threatened that he discovers the true cost of becoming a man.

As the kings look to their borders, and priests beg answers from the Gods, only a chosen few know that the fate of the world will be decided between two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. And with their coming will be a war to end all wars.

 Malice is the debut novel of fantasy writer John Gwynne, and is the first book in his new series The Faithful and the Fallen. Despite being fantasy, the book has a Celtic, almost historical feel, with character and place names such as Dun Carreg, Cywen, Gwenith, Mordwyr, Dath etc., and with its use of dialect, such as ‘aye’ and ‘bairn’. I actually really liked this: it creates atmosphere and helps when imagining both the setting and the character accents, and also makes the story feel more real. At the same time, however, the book also has a strangely dystopian feel, being set in desolate lands in an era following an apocalyptic event known as the Gods-War. It’s an interesting combination.
I found Malice to be a little slow to begin with: there are times when it felt like I was reading every little detail of everything that happens, particularly to the children, and I felt that this made it a little bit repetitive. However, it picks up after a while, and by the end I wanted to start straight away on the next book (which unfortunately isn’t available until next year). The characters are interesting as well as ambiguous, and the way the author switches between different points of viewcreates tension and pace very effectively, often reminding me of A Song of Ice and Fire in this respect.

Another aspect of the novel that I felt was reminiscent of GRRM was the characters themselves, several of whom are morally ambiguous. Yet most of them are likeable, or at the very least sympathetic, and it’s really interesting to see them change, particularly those who are being subtly manipulated. The characters are all very different – we have the blacksmith’s son Corban (my personal favourite PoV), his fiery knife-throwing sister Cywen, the skilled archer and former brigand Camlin, the gentle giant-hunter (and unwilling noble heir) Kastell, and finally Veradis, the first-sword and blood-brother to an unwitting servant of Asroth. All these characters are very different in their own ways, and it’s not immediately clear how they relate to one another, but as the plot unfolds we begin to see how they each might be involved in the grand scheme of things.
The Faithful and the Fallen is clearly intended to be a sweeping epic series, with conflict spreading across the entire world and involving gods and monsters. However, there are some nice personal moments that stand out in my memory, namely involving Corban, such as the naming of his horse (Shield) and his defence of the wolven cub Storm. It would be nice to see more of these, and perhaps more character-driven scenes within battles, which are often described in ways that give more of an overview than a one-to-one account.

Malice won the Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut novel earlier this year, and although I haven’t read any of the other books that were shortlisted for this one, I can understand why this one made the list. Slow to start with, but intriguing, and improving in pace and intensity with every chapter. As Conn Iggulden announces on the cover: it’s a ‘hell of a debut’. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
My rating: 4/5

Click here to buy Malice on Amazon UK

Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: 'The Blinding Knife' by Brent Weeks


Gavin Guile is dying.

He thought he had five years left – now he’s got less than one. With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son and an ex-fiancĂ©e who may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin’s got problems on every side.
As he loses control, the world’s magic runs wild, threatening to destroy the Seven Satrapies. The old gods are being reborn and their army of colour wights is unstoppable.

The only salvation may be the brother whose freedom and life Gavin stole sixteen years ago.
 

 Earlier this year The Blinding Knife beat King of Thorns and Red Country to win the Gemmell Legend award. Since Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite authors and Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns is one of the best books I’ve read in 2013, I expected big things from Brent Weeks’ fifth novel. And I’m pleased to say that he totally delivered them.
The Blinding Knife is the second book in the Lightbringer series. It picks up where the first book, The Black Prism, left off, and seamlessly continues the story of Kip and company. Unlike a lot of second books, this one doesn’t use info-dumps to convey information from the first book, and it doesn’t feel like it’s stalling or just filling in the gap before the big finale. Just like the first book, it’s full of action and great characters, and there is always something happening that is both exciting and relevant to the plot.

What I liked most about The Blinding Knife is that the characters continue to develop in interesting ways. My favourite character from the first books was Kip, and this book focuses a lot more on him, continuing what is essentially his coming-of-age story. Despite being the son of the most powerful man in the world, Kip has to constantly overcome obstacles: he’s fat, he’s illegitimate, he has little experience with using his magical talents, and he has enemies who are constantly working to use him to undermine his father. Weeks writes Kip’s character in a way that makes him likeable and strong and yet also very human, the end result being that we spend most of the book hissing at his enemies and cheering him on.
The other characters are just as interesting. The Blinding Knife introduces us properly to the Prism’s father, Andross Guile, who harbours a mysterious secret and whose schemes run much deeper than anyone suspected. His slave Grinwoody is almost as villainous as he is (despite only featuring as a very marginal character), and the main ‘antagonist’ – The Colour Prince – is actually quite sympathetic, his reasons for what he does being quite logical. Other characters from the first book feature again as PoV characters, and undergo very interesting character arcs: the main one here is Liv, who is struggling with the conflict between what she has learned and what she had previously spent her whole life believing. I was a bit disappointed that Karris was somewhat side-lined in this book, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

I’m not a huge fan of cliff-hanger endings, and The Blinding Knife leaves us on one hell of a cliff-hanger, but since the next book comes out next year I’m not too frustrated. I suppose. 
The writing is smooth and captivating, the action scenes are brilliant and well-written, the main characters are three-dimensional, and the unique magic system is becoming more and more interesting the more we learn about it. I was originally annoyed at this book for being voted as better than King of Thorns: I’ll now grudgingly admit that maybe, just maybe, it is.

My rating: 5/5

Click here to buy The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer #2) on Amazon UK
Click here to read my review of The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Review: 'The Black Prism' by Brent Weeks

Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. His strength, wit, and charm are all that preserve a tenuous peace. Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live.

When Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

I read the final book in Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy a few weeks ago, and was left a little bit underwhelmed with the way things were concluded, and with the trilogy in general. Some of the characters were great, while others were underdeveloped or just plain annoying. There were things in the final book that should have been epic, but hadn’t been set up properly, or even mentioned in the first two books at all. Aside from a few memorable moments/characters, the whole trilogy just seemed kind of average: nothing terrible, but nothing really special either.
The Black Prism is the first book in a different series – the Lightbringer series– and I only decided to give it a go because the second book (The Blinding Knife) recently beat Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns AND Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country to win the 2013 David Gemmell Legend Award. And so I thought I’d give Weeks another try.

To be honest, I wasn’t blown away at the beginning. I found it similar to the Night Angel books: fairly interesting, but not exactly gripping. I stuck with it, though, and after a brilliant twist about a third of the way in I was pretty much hooked. Stuff started happening, characters became much more interesting, and the somewhat complex histories of both the world and the characters started to unfold in unexpected ways.
The Black Prism is told from the alternating points of view of four main characters: Guile, the Prism and ‘Emperor’; Kip, his illegitimate son; Liv Danavis, the daughter of a disgraced general; and Karris, one of the Prism’s elite Blackguards. All four characters are very different, and it’s interesting to see how each of them regard different situations and people. I particularly like reading Kip’s PoV: he’s fat, he’s clumsy, and his life has just been turned upside down, but he’s determined, he’s talented, and he’s funny. It’s also great to read Guile’s PoV chapters, as we learn a lot of his secrets from him. This leaves us in conflict regarding how we feel about him: do we admire him, or do we hate him?

The one thing all the main characters have in common is that they are magic-users, and the magic is one of the things that almost made me put the book down with a snort and a shake of the head. It’s based on light and colour, hence the ‘Prism’ is the most powerful of all as he can control all the colours of the spectrum. Using colour magic is referred to as ‘drafting’, which creates a magical substance called luxin, which can be moulded to whatever purposes the drafter requires depending on their skill and will, and the properties of the luxin itself. This magic is called Chromaturgy. Each person (drafter) capable of using it has an affinity to one colour (monochromes), two colours (bichromes), or even more (polychromes).
 It sounds ridiculous, I know. It’s basically ‘Rainbow Magic’. But the thing is, what starts off as the most ridiculous-sounding thing ever actually becomes one of the more interesting parts of the book. The scenes involving the use of Chromaturgy (and there aren’t many that don’t) are really fun to imagine, especially after you have an idea of the different uses/properties of each colour. Some of the things it’s used for are spectacular; although importantly (for those who like their magic with rules and restrictions) it’s not without its drawbacks and limitations.

There’s lots of action in The Black Prism, and even when there’s no fighting or drafting there’s almost always something happening. Lots of different plot strands have been introduced in this book, and it left me wanting to know not only what will happen next, but also the full details of the events that happened before the main plot of the book. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by The Black Prism, and I’m glad I have the second book at hand to start straight away!
My rating: 4/5

Click here to buy The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1) on Amazon

Click here to read my review of The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer #2)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: 'The Light and the Glass' by Michael Diack

The elves and humans know that their fate is intertwined as they seek to survive the threat of enemies known and new. The seven stones of light, hidden by the wicked Mayer, hold the key to victory. The renegade dragon brothers, Gorlyx and Brelyx, offer their only hope of recovering the lost stones – but can they be trusted?

The Light and the Glass is the second instalment of the self-published fantasy volume Empyria, and provides a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Nimerians’ desperate plight.
Mary, Faria, Jax and the rest have suffered through the destruction of their home city, and The Light and the Glass tells of their struggle to cross the perilous desert with their people and relocate their city to a place called Dunein, not without perils of its own. But there’s more than one civilisation under threat, and the stakes are raised with the introduction of the elf kingdom, ancient and precious and sublimely beautiful. Athmane and Bayoud, two of our heroes from the first book, must assist the elf prince Viro in reclaiming the artefacts of his people in order to gain the elves as allies in the defence of their own society. As one threat is ended, another emerges. A demon from another world raises a monstrous army from the depths of a dread lake, and all the while the deadly Sanghouls work ceaselessly to bring death and destruction to mankind and bury civilisation beneath the endless sand.

The Light and the Glass has a much wider scope than Shadows in the Sand as the conflict escalates and the stakes increase. The addition of the dragon brothers Gorlyx and Brelyx allows the characters to travel far and wide in their quest, as well as creating an interesting new dynamic regarding the relationships between races. This book has more of an epic feel than the first, perhaps because of the scale of the conflict and the number and variation of the participants, but also because it pays homage to many of the great traditional elements of high fantasy: sorcery, magical weapons, evil beasts, war and battle, dragons, magic stones, elves, and more.
I think one of the author’s strongest areas is his ability to create vivid and varied settings. The Light and the Glass takes us to a whole range of different places during the course of the characters’ various quests: from the Rainbow Kingdom of the elves to the eerie danger-filled underwater lake at Dunein; from the sinister mountain lair of the dragon brothers to the dark abyssal depths of the mysterious Lake Wenlock. Not to mention the continual backdrop of the desert itself, the descriptions of which are so vivid and detailed as to be obviously drawn from real-life experience.

Another strong point of this series for me has been the structure. The story shifts smoothly between each of the various characters and scenarios in order to maintain tension and excitement; the alternating viewpoints work well to ensure that the reader never forgets what is happening to any one character, although I would have liked to see some of the viewpoints given a more distinctive voice.  The pacing of the story is great: lots of short but action-packed sequences with a minimum of fuss in getting from one exciting situation to another.
The Light in the Glass is full of magic, monsters and action: a pleasant and easy read for fans of the genre.

My rating: 4/5
Click here to buy The Light and the Glass (Empyria #2) on Amazon Kindle
Click here to read my review of Shadows in the Sand (Empyria #1)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: 'She Who Waits' by Daniel Polansky

Low Town: The worst ghetto in the worst city in the Thirteen Lands. Good only for depravity and death. And Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Low Town denizen of them all.

As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds, and never as many as when he worked for the Black House. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, faster than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A hospital full of lunatics, a conspiracy against the corrupt new king and a ghetto full of thieves and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all is the one person whose betrayal Warden never expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today.
The one woman he ever loved.
She who waits behind all things.

She Who Waits is the third instalment in Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series, and seemingly rounds off this particular trilogy about the life of Warden. It’s a thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable read that takes all the elements we’ve come to love about the series – grimy settings, disreputable characters, casual vice, fascinating flashbacks and wicked schemes – and multiplies them by ten to create a convoluted but fast-paced plot leading to an explosive and heart-stopping conclusion.
As with the author’s previous novels (The Straight Razor Cure and Tomorrow the Killing) the story follows the character of Warden, a disgraced former soldier and Black House operative who is now a drug dealer. Not only does he practically run Low Town, but he also secretly manoeuvres critical events within politics, not to his own advantage, but to the disadvantage of those who have previously caused him harm. Most of the characters he encounters are despicable in varying ways, their negative attributes brilliantly exaggerated to the point of grotesqueness. Low Town and its denizens are ugly, inside and out, and this makes those rare moments of goodness or peace experienced by Warden all the more striking.

One thing I will point out is that there’s not really that much emphasis on Albertine, the woman who betrayed him years ago and is therefore partly responsible for the way his life has turned out since. However, I don’t think the novel suffers from this, since the focus of the series has always been on Warden’s decisions in the present rather than his dwelling on the past; and, of course, the title is clever, referring not just to his lost love but to the goddess of death, commonly known as ‘She who Waits Behind All Things’. And that’s a pretty apt title, since the novel’s events are set against the usual Low Town backdrop of frequent violence and murder.

In a nutshell: the dialogue is gritty and facetious, the protagonists are tough and easy to root for, the plot is clever and brilliantly executed, and the final awesome culmination of events leaves us feeling wretched yet satisfied.

My rating: 5/5
Click here to buy She Who Waits (Low Town #3) on Amazon.co.uk
Click here to read my review of The Straight Razor Cure (Low Town #1)
Click here to read my review of Tomorrow the Killing (Low Town #2)

Friday, 1 November 2013

Review: 'Tomorrow the Killing' by Daniel Polansky

The Dren War ended fifteen years ago. Some soldiers came home heroes, while others came back bitter, broken and without a future. Many didn’t make it back at all.

Roland Montgomery, hero of the war, was brutally murdered and his body dumped behind a brothel. Years later, his death still haunts Warden, once Montgomery’s soldier and friend.
 
Now Montgomery’s sister Rhaine has disappeared, after asking one too many awkward questions about his death. But Warden knows whose hand is lifted against whom, where the blood flows and where the bodies fall. He’ll find Rhaine.
 
But he’ll also find the returning past to be a bloody, vengeful and unforgiving mistress.
 
The Straight Razor Cure was Polansky’s debut novel, and was a gritty and gripping introduction to the Low Town series. Tomorrow the Killing is even more impressive than its predecessor: it is dark and compelling and delves more deeply into Warden’s past, focusing particularly on his service during the Great War. This second instalment in the Low Town novels is set three years after the events of the first, and places a much greater emphasis on Warden’s attitude to the war: his voice comes across a lot more strongly and the overriding tone is one of grim cynicism, which is perfect for the purposes of the story.

The characters – new and recurring – feel a lot more developed here, and I found myself liking (and hating) them a lot more than the characters in Razor. I felt revulsion towards the drug-addled crime lord Adisu the Damned, a mixture of anger and sympathy for war ‘hero’ Adolphus, derision and amusement at every appearance of the goons Roussel and Rabbit. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and Warden’s dry one-liners are a frequent source of humour. Most importantly, I began to understand the protagonist a little better. Tomorrow the Killing gives us a lot more to chew over in our attempts to understand Warden’s motives and attitudes, and it’s at this point where we start to experience an interesting mixture of sympathy and antipathy towards our anti-hero: antipathy, because the way he mishandles his relationships and deals with his problems is so different from how we imagine we would behave in his situation; sympathy, because we can totally understand why someone would react in such a way and how easy it would be to set foot on Warden’s downward spiral.

One of the shining aspects of Tomorrow the Killing is the way in which it deals with the impact of history upon the present day. Polansky draws on an issue that will always be relevant in any world, real or fictional, and presents several layers of conflict very cleverly. He has the Warden’s regret-tinged struggle to come to terms with his own participation in the war; Adolphus’ desperate attempts to regain glory for the veterans in spite of Warden’s opposing attitude; both men fighting to instil their respective attitudes on young Wren; and of course the general impossibility of reconciling the glorified speeches and broadsheet stories with the horrific experiences actually lived through by the soldiers. This is all done so well that we’re never sure whether either side is entirely right or wrong.
The plot is fast-paced and clever; Warden has stepped up his game in the time since the events of The Straight Razor Cure - perhaps because the new events are so close to home - and he tirelessly orchestrates schemes within plots within ideas, running circles around his adversaries (and other people who just happen to get in the way). Warden is revealed to be ruthless and more cunning than suggested by the previous novel, and the way Polansky manipulates events to their inevitable fiery yet poignant conclusion is tense, exciting and masterfully done.

My rating: 4.5/5
Click here to buy Tomorrow the Killing on Amazon.
Click here to read my review of The Straight Razor Cure (Low Town #1)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Review: 'The Straight Razor Cure' by Daniel Polansky

Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure that they are never found.
 
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.
 
But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.
If the killer doesn’t find him first.

 Let me start by saying that The Straight Razor Cure is unlike most books I typically read. While it’s classed as fantasy, it actually comes across as more of a crime noir that just happens to be set in a secondary world – and this is by no means a bad thing. The novel combines different elements of various genres: we have a former detective investigating the crimes of a sinister serial killer, underlying messages about class division, a grimdark setting, and a few aspects of traditional high fantasy, such as magic. It’s fresh and interesting, and an additional dark undertone is provided by the numerous parallels between Polansky’s fictional universe and our own world.
The world itself is fairly vivid and well-realised: the majority of Low Town is dirty and ugly – as are many of its inhabitants – and it is rife with moral and physical corruption. It’s full of drugs, murder, organised crime and bigotry, and the author effectively uses the first person narration of the main character to implicate the reader in various kinds of casual and normalised delinquency.
The protagonist is very much an anti-hero, the sort of character that is common in this sort of ‘low’ or ‘grimdark’ (or maybe just ‘grim’) fantasy. Warden is an ex-soldier and former investigator who has fallen on hard times due to an unspecified incident, which makes him somewhat enigmatic. He is a drug dealer; he has a tough exterior, and his morals are questionable at best. But his conscience (and more often the conscience of his best friend Adolphus) generally prods him into doing the right thing, even if he can’t help but break a few heads (and arms, and legs, and ribs, and necks) along the way.

On our way through the story we learn a few things about our protagonist’s history. This is very well done, as it’s not over-emphasised; rather, the author feeds us bits of backstory that are relevant to the plot, while withholding key information about Warden’s personal history for future novels. I must admit I’m curious to learn more about his early life with the Crane and about his time as a member of the ‘frost’, particularly since he doesn’t dwell overmuch on himself and his memories.
The plot was fairly even-paced for the most part, perhaps representing the initial lethargy of Warden, though there are enough moments of surprise and gruesomeness to keep the reader sufficiently intrigued. It picks up the pace marvellously towards the end, however, and the twist ending – although not entirely unexpected – is an exciting resolution to the story. Overall this is an impressive debut novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Warden in future Low Town novels.
My rating: 4/5

Click here to buy The Straight Razor Cure on Amazon.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Review: 'The Wise Man's Fear' by Patrick Rothfuss

 
My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

The man was lost. The myth remained.
Kvothe – the dragon-slayer, the renowned swordsman, the most feared, famed and notorious wizard the world has ever seen – vanished without warning and without trace. And even now, when he has been found, when darkness is rising in the corner of the world, he will not return.

But his story lives on and, for the first time, Kvothe is going to tell it . . .
 
 
The Wise Man’s Fear is the second instalment of The Kingkiller Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy centred on the ‘autobiographical’ tale of the protagonist, Kvothe. It picks up where The Name of the Wind left off, continuing Kvothe’s tale without much  preamble, and cleverly reminds us of key events and important information as it goes along, rather than simply dumping it all at the start.

The format of the story follows the same pattern as the previous novel: Kvothe narrates the chronological events of his younger years, and the tale is occasionally interrupted by interludes focusing on the present day. Kvothe is one of the Edema Ruh, renowned travelling performers and famed for their storytelling skills; however, the narrative is somewhat stale and rambling when compared with the previous novel, perhaps because it covers a much shorter period of his life and strings it out over a thousand pages. Roughly half the novel is an account of Kvothe’s continued shenanigans at the university: most of these are highly amusing, though others seemed tediously similar to those in the previous book.

It’s clear that the author is playing with the concept of the unreliable narrator, and Kvothe is doubly unreliable: he’s narrating his story for an audience, and it is also being set down for posterity. As such it becomes something of a fun game for the reader to question some of his assertions: for example, he claims to have learned an entire language in a day in order to successfully be acquitted at a public trial; however, he deliberately skips over this part of his story, refusing to supply details of the trial because his readers will find it boring. He later proceeds to give a long and detailed account of his time in the Fae with Felurian, during which he spends several dull chapters doing a whole lot of nothing. Kvothe’s egotistic determination to focus on the parts that he finds most interesting is no doubt a deliberate part of the author’s message about the misleading nature of stories, and the dangers of becoming a legend in your own lifetime; unfortunately, this also makes the novel significantly less compelling than its predecessor.

The Wise Man’s Fear isn’t without its strong points, though. One of Rothfuss’ biggest strengths is the ease with which he creates characters that are not only likeable, but also complex and memorable.  The Name of the Wind was almost solely focused on Kvothe; it was introspective and very much self-indulgent. In The Wise Man’s Fear, there is still plenty of this trademark self-indulgence to be found (Kvothe’s ego is not something to be easily pushed aside) but there is also a much wider awareness of the world and its inhabitants. The reader is given a distinct impression of each character no matter how infrequently that character appears in the story. We have Kilvin, the gruff yet somehow fatherly Master Artificer; Tempi, the quiet but deadly Adem mercenary; Denna, the flirtatious yet insecure con-artist-turned-musician; Bast, Kvothe’s loveable apprentice with a dark secret; Auri, the frail and flighty girl who lives beneath the university; and lots more.  Kvothe’s mentor, the enigmatic Master Elodin, has a relatively small amount of page space devoted to him, yet he is undoubtedly many readers’ favourite character, myself included. He is one of the nine Masters of the university and is more powerful in the magic of naming than most men alive; he is mischievous, brilliant, and ever-so-slightly insane; he walks on roofs, engages in petty crimes against other Masters who have offended him, and encourages his students to stand naked in thunderstorms.

My point is, it’s characters such as Elodin that make this story dance off the page, and I think this, along with the beautifully poetic narrative voice, is definitely one of the stronger aspects of The Wise Man’s Fear. Though some of the setting and events feel a little stale, and despite the fact that the plot is occasionally lacking, well, plot, The Wise Man’s Fear is an entertaining and passionate novel, and I would recommend it to those who thoroughly enjoyed The Name of the Wind.

My rating: 4/5

Click here to buy The Wise Man’s Fear on Amazon.
Click here to read my review of The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle #1).

Monday, 21 October 2013

Review: 'Beyond the Shadows' by Brent Weeks


A new queen has usurped the throne and is leading Cenaria into disaster. The country has become a broken realm with a threadbare army, little food, and no hope. So Kylar Stern plans to reinstate his closest friend Logan as King, but can he really get away with murder?
In the north, the Godking’s death has thrown Khalidor into civil war. To gain the upper hand, one faction attempts to raise the goddess Khali herself. But they are playing with volatile powers, and trigger conflict on a vast scale. Seven armies will converge to save – or destroy – an entire continent.
Kylar has finally learnt the bitter cost of immortality, and is faced with a task only he can complete. To save his friends, and perhaps his enemies, he must assassinate a goddess. Failure will doom the south. Success will cost him everything he’s ever loved.
Beyond the Shadows is the third and final instalment in Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy. The trilogy so far has followed the life of Kylar Stern, a young man who has developed since childhood from an orphan thief to a trainee assassin (or ‘wetboy’), and who has now finally taken on the role of the immortal Night Angel, the embodiment of justice.
The most entertaining parts of Kylar’s tale are his interactions with both Durzo Blint (his mentor) and the black ka’kari (the magical item that is the source of his special powers), which are full of easy humour and sarcasm. However, these conversations don’t happen very often, and Kylar’s chapter are mainly focused on his complicated relationships with Elene and Vi. This book also has a wider scope than the others: we see more of the world and its inhabitants. While this gives the book something of a grander scale, I actually miss the focus of the first two books, which were mostly set within the streets of cities. The first book particularly focused more on character development within the confines of the city’s underworld, and I think that approach was actually stronger than that of this book, which mostly seems to be ‘send the characters to loads of different places on loads of flimsy pretexts’.

One of the things I do really like about the plot is that there is always something happening:  lots of little events occur within the tales of most characters, which helps to make the novel a fairly fast-paced read (although some of the events are a bit contrived). The way the various plotlines finally entwined was fairly well-conceived, and the final battle definitely had a feel of the epic about it. The sacrifice involved in the defeat of evil is somewhat glossed-over, but adds a nice sense of loss and emotion. However, I feel that the payoff was somewhat unsatisfactory, mainly because [spoiler] it revolved around the man characters gathering around an artefact, Power Rangers-style, and using previously unmentioned magic to end the epic battle and instantly transform the battlefield into a place of beauty.
For me, some of the strongest plotlines were those of the ‘supporting’ characters. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Dorian’s descent into darkness and subsequent redemption; and Vi Sovari’s search for friendship and acceptance was my favourite storyline in the whole trilogy. The characters of Sister Ariel, Solon Tofusin and Feir Cousat were also fun to read about, but unfortunately they are very minor and don’t feature as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, there were many characters I simply could not engage with, and whose chapters I found a little slow and dull, which meant that I didn’t sympathise with them enough to feel the appropriate emotional impact of their various fates. I think this is one aspect that detracted from my enjoyment of the book: the fact that Weeks has so many good characters yet does not seem to develop them as strongly as he perhaps could have, while placing too much focus on characters who are a little two-dimensional.

There are plenty of aspects within the book that make it gripping – such as the torture of Kylar, the fate of the usurper queen Terah Graesin, the mystery of the Dark Hunter and the continual revelations about Durzo Blint – but there is also plenty of stuff in between that makes it, well, less-than gripping. I did enjoy reading it, but as the conclusion of a trilogy? It goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.
My rating: 3/5

Click here to buy Beyond the Shadows on Amazon.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review: 'The Republic of Thieves' by Scott Lynch

Locke and Jean barely escaped with their lives from what should have been the greatest heist of their career, in the port city of Tal Verarr. Now they head north, looking for sanctuary and an alchemist who can cure the poison that is slowly killing Locke. They find neither, but with their luck, money and hope exhausted, they receive an offer from a power that has never had their best interests at heart: The Bondsmagi of Karthain.

In exchange for the chance that Locke might be saved, the Bondsmagi expect the two Gentlemen Bastards to rig an election in their home city of Karthain. They will be opposed. The other side has already hired the services of Sabetha Belacoros, the one person in the world who might match Locke’s criminal skill, and the one person in the world who absolutely rules his heart.
Now it will be con artist against con artist in an election that couldn’t be more crooked, all for the benefit of the mysterious Bondsmagi, who have plans within plans and secrets they’re not telling . . .

The Republic of Thieves is the long-awaited third instalment in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, and takes place several weeks after the ending of Red Seas under Red Skies. Locke Lamora is suffering from the effects of poison, and he and Jean Tannen must do the unthinkable – work with their worst enemies – in exchange for a cure.
I have to start by saying that it’s inevitable that The Republic of Thieves is going to be held up against the standards of the first two books in the series; and I’m very sad to say that it fell somewhat short of my expectations. The first two books – particularly Red Seas under Red Skies – were tense, fast-paced and exhilarating; The Republic of Thieves is fairly slow, plodding and uneventful. It doesn’t have the sense of urgency that characterised the other books, and the characters don’t really seem to have much to lose (or gain). Since the stakes aren’t as high, neither are Locke’s grand schemes as complex and exciting as those that filled his previous adventures in abundance.

The Republic of Thieves follows the same format as Lynch’s previous books, with interludes from the past (mainly focusing on the gang’s performance of the play ‘The Republic of Thieves’) dispersed throughout the main story (the election in Karthain). However, the other books had a few short interludes that added to the main story; fully half of The Republic of Thieves is comprised of ‘interludes’, so much so that it’s like reading two separate books alongside one another. While both the past and present tales are good, the parallel tale of the Gentlemen Bastards’ performance of the eponymous ‘Republic of Thieves’ is, for me, the strongest aspect of the story. I would have preferred to see it as a separate novella – it was basically the main focus of this story, but both plotlines suffered (or so I felt) from the constant (and sometimes frustrating) switching back and forth. Both tales are enjoyable, but to have them interwoven in such a way meant that the main plot lost momentum at every turn.
I didn’t really appreciate the revelation about Locke’s ‘true’ identity. I thought it came out of nowhere, and felt that it was unnecessary to reveal it in such a manner. I’m also not too keen on how the book ended – I would have liked some closure on the flashbacks (Was Chains pleased with their achievements? What did he do about Moncraine?), but I’m guessing this will be continued in the next books.

One other minor thing that really bothered me was the misspelling of ‘stories’ as ‘storeys’ – it really started to grate on me since it’s used quite frequently, although I guess that’s a fault with the editor and not the author.
Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy reading The Republic of Thieves. One aspect of the book that I felt did live up to my expectations was the character of Sabetha. She’s very well-written: as cunning and intelligent as Locke, yet much more ruthless, while at the same time possessing a certain charming femininity. She is very likeable, and the gradual unveiling of the history of the tentative relationship between her and Locke is very well done. The fact that she also has a special friendship with Jean is a nice touch, and her devious strategies to try and beat him and Locke are pitiless but amusing. It’s also brilliant to finally see the full complement of the Gentlemen Bastards – Sabetha has always been absent from the flashbacks in previous novels, and her presence changes the dynamics of the group in a fun and interesting way.

To sum up, then, I liked the book, but I think it suffered for having such a high standard to try and meet. I’d say the main plotline deserves 3/5, but I enjoyed the flashback tale so much that I’m bumping the overall rating up to 4.

My rating: 4/5 (for ‘The Republic of Thieves’ sections rather than the ‘5-year election’ chapters)

Click here to buy The Republic of Thieves on Amazon.
Click here to read my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastard #1)
Click here to read my review of Red Seas under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastard #2)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Review: 'Red Seas Under Red Skies' by Scott Lynch

Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.

The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist . . .
 . . . but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait. Someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentlemen Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.

 So you’ve just finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora. You loved the devilish characters, witty dialogue and clever plotting. You can’t wait to read the next instalment in the series, yet at the same time you’re thinking to yourself: it can’t be as good as Lies. Can it?
It can indeed. And it’s not only just as good: it’s better.

Red Seas under Red Skies, the second instalment in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, is everything that the first book is and more. The central characters are much more fleshed-out and complex, their interaction with each other is more diverse and entertaining, and the plot – involving the usual schemes within schemes within schemes – is unbelievably elaborate, and yet somehow never confusing. Lynch has an incredible knack for keeping details from the reader, feeding us just enough information to make us feel complicit with the grand plans of our favourite thieves, yet at the same time keeping us ignorant of their final twists of genius until the time comes for the great unveiling.
The book has a much closer focus than its predecessor on the relationship between Locke and Jean, which is being sorely tested by the fallout of the events from Lies. Their loyalty is heart-warming, their banter is (as always) natural and funny, and their disagreements, while hurtful, seem to make their friendship that much more realistic. Their schemes are also much more ambitious, this time involving card tricks, pirates, unbreakable vaults and the most powerful figures in the city of Tal Verarr, as well as a few hidden players to complicate matters. The plotting is nothing short of brilliant.

As with Lies, though, the payoff comes at an enormous cost. Lynch never lets our heroes simply walk off into the sunset unscathed, and there’s pain and heartbreak here that somehow feels more personal than the characters’ losses in Lies. The characters – all of them – are so well-written that it’s difficult not to empathise with them (or hate them).

Red Seas contains many of the same elements as Lies – daring cons, gallows humour, loveable rogues and complex opponents – and yet has a very different feel. This is largely to do with its setting. Choosing to set a large amount of the book at sea creates a completely new atmosphere and works as a brilliant mechanism to illustrate that our two thieves are perhaps, figuratively and literally, out of their depth. It allows for a novel source of humour, particularly Locke and Jean’s sea-training and the shambles of their fraudulent ‘captaincy’, and also endows the story with a fresh new feel rather than simply recycling the ideas of the first book and placing them in a different city.

I also take pleasure in noting that the author is very skilled at including certain ghoulish elements to his stories, elements that work to create an amazingly macabre backdrop for otherwise ordinary events. Some of these grim little touches are the Midden Deep (a bottomless hole into which prisoners are thrown, possibly to fall forever), the death-lanterns (boat-sized jellyfish that absorb your blood through your skin), and of course the eerie Ghostwind Isles (a pirates’ haven consisting of volcanoes, jungles, suicide-inducing fog and mysterious forces that can cause entire villages to disappear).
I first read this book around six years ago and remembered it as being very good; I’ve read it again now and realised that it’s actually brilliant. Now, onto the newly-released book #3 . . .

My rating: 5/5

Click here to buy Red Seas under Red Skies on Amazon.
Click here to read my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastard Sequence #1)

 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Review: 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' by Scott Lynch


The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.
Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.
The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive . . .
 The Lies of Locke Lamora – the first instalment in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence – belongs to that brilliant breed of fantasy that relies more on clever plotting, suspense and characterisation than on spectacular magic and obsessive world-building. It’s full to bursting with thieves and murderers, gangs and torturers, cons and disguises, swearing and revenge.
And sharks. Plenty of sharks.

The story follows a small band of thieves known as the Gentlemen Bastards as they initiate an elaborate confidence scheme on a wealthy couple. Despite months of planning, the scheme is soon jeopardised by a new crime boss known only as the Grey King. His arrival in the city – along with that of the powerful Bondsmage working for him – brings terror, blackmail and murder, and heralds the beginning of disaster for the Gentlemen Bastards.
One of my favourite aspects of The Lies of Locke Lamora is the characters, who are morally grey yet somehow sympathetic. Locke, our main protagonist, is a thief, and yet at no point do we think of him as a ‘bad’ person: it’s a lifestyle he’s forced into at a very young age. The fact that he turns thieving into a fine art as he gets older is the novel’s main source of entertainment, and the author completely draws us into Locke’s elaborately clever and outrageous schemes. The rest of the Gentlemen Bastards are very likeable too – Bug is endearingly young, brave and desperate to prove himself, while the mischievous twins Calo and Galdo provide some amusing banter and friendly insults – but Jean Tannen is the only member of the group aside from Locke who is really fleshed out as an individual, mainly through the use of flashbacks.

The author makes use of flashbacks and interludes very effectively, using them to reveal important parts of the mythology of Camorr, as well as to illustrate how the relationship between the central characters developed over the years. These interludes are interposed very frequently throughout the entire novel, and are used effectively to build tension and reveal certain things about the plot at strategic moments. They do occasionally meander in ways that diminish rather than heighten the suspense, but are mainly very relevant and interesting.
The characters are complex and fascinating (Jean is as well-read and good at maths as he is deadly with his hatchets, while Locke himself alternates between the roles of Thorn, common thief and saviour of the city), the action is bloody and gripping, and the plot has more twists and turns than the tunnels under Shades Hill. What more can you ask for in a debut novel?

My rating: 4.5/5
Click here to buy The Lies of Locke Lamora on Amazon.