Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review: 'Emperor of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence (Broken Empire #3)

The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

Readers should consider these words as a warning. Jorg will indeed break your heart, and not in a way you can anticipate. We’ve followed him through over ten years of his life. We’ve lived his journey from the storm-struck thorns to the throne of Renar. And still he continues to surprise us, in good ways as well as bad.
Jorg is now aged twenty, and the Hundred have been summoned to a Congress wherein the empire’s kings and their advisers will meet to decide the matter of the next emperor. The throne has sat empty for over a hundred years, but of course Jorg plans to remedy that with his secret knowledge, stalwart companions and unique brand of tact and diplomacy.

“I’ve been to Congression before, Makin. I know what games they play there. This year we’re going to play a new game. Mine.”
In addition to the upcoming Congress, however, an even bigger challenge awaits, and the broken empire must prepare itself for the biggest threat to humanity since the Day of a Thousand Suns: the invasion of the Dead King’s armies.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review: 'Shadows in the Sand' by Michael Diack

Athmane is a hunter; Faria, a craftsman. Bayoud is a soldier, and Mary a medic. Together they represent each of the four quarters of Nimar. When an ancient evil rears its ugly head the four friends are called upon to use their unique skills to defend the citizens of the isolated desert city. Potential salvation appears in the form of unexpected allies and the promise of a new home, but will it be too late for Nimar? And can the army of fearsome Sanghouls be stopped before they destroy Empyria itself?

Shadows in the Sand is the first tale in Michael Diack’s Empyria sequence. It’s full of good old classic fantasy tropes including (but not limited to) elves, dragons, mages, monsters and magic potions. There are plenty of action scenes which I thought could have been fleshed out a little more than they were, but overall I found it a fairly entertaining read. It sort of reminded me of Peter V Brett’s world in The Painted Man, what with the sand demons and all; and I do like a book with good monsters.
That said, there were a few things that niggled at me, namely some awkward grammar that occasionally tarnished my overall reading experience. I also felt that much of the dialogue was somewhat stilted and wooden, which meant that the characters didn’t come alive as well as they could have done. I would like to have seen some flashbacks incorporated into the story: we are often told that the four main characters grew up together yet never really see them interact in a way that would suggest this.

This leads me on to one more issue: I felt that the author spent too much time telling us things rather than showing us. As a result some of the dialogue seems slightly contrived; there are lots of descriptions that focus on using measurements rather than imagination to create a visual, and there are several paragraphs containing what might be referred to as ‘infodumps’. The prologue is an example of this, taking several pages to explain the history of Empyria to the reader in a very ‘history book’ fashion. This was probably the intended effect, but I felt that everything within the prologue could have been (and often was, in fact) worked into the narrative instead. On the other hand, the story has a very fast pace that mostly makes up for the occasional stilted conversation between characters.
The book is certainly not without its merits. Despite my seemingly long list of complaints I did enjoy reading the book and will no doubt check out the second and final instalment of the series when it’s released in December. I found the storyline interesting and the concept of the world and its history was nice, especially as the book gives you the sense that this history is about to repeat itself. I liked that the story was set in a desert and that it constantly reminds you of the hardships and dangers of everyday life in such a place.

I also really liked how the journeys/quests are set up for the sequel, with some of the characters going their separate ways. It’s good to know such classic plotlines never go out of fashion, though it’ll be interesting to see whether the author decides to challenge our expectations in Empyria #2. I’ll be interested to see how the story develops . . . I would also very much like to see the inclusion of more casual friendly banter between the main characters, more focus on the emotional impact of events on these characters, and also a bit more building of suspense during the moments leading up to the action. Also, more Jax. I like Jax.
One final comment: I loved the abundance of monsters. It really gives the book a good vintage fantasy feel when every few pages you’re running into fearsome sand-golems, giant scorpions, flesh-eating mermen and even the occasional colossal man-eating poison-spitting cobra. Pretty cool, eh?

My rating: 3/5
Click here to buy Shadows in the Sand on Amazon (Kindle only)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Review: 'Hope's End' by Brian McClellan

A cruel ultimatum. An impending battle. A situation without hope. Or is it?

Captain Verundish is trapped in a terrible position. Unable to see a way out, she is willing to face the ultimate sacrifice to protect those she holds dear. The first wave of the assault on Darjah provides the perfect opportunity . . . but the intervention of General Tamas drastically changes the well-laid plans of the Captain.

 ‘Hope’s End’ is an engaging short story from the creator of the Powder Mage trilogy. The events take place several years prior to the events of the main trilogy, meaning no previous knowledge of the series is necessary. However, those who have read Promise of Blood will be especially delighted: ‘Hope’s End’ adds a new dimension to the world of the powder mages, as well as giving us an intriguing glimpse of Tamas in his younger days.
This is the story of Tamas, however, but that of Captain Verundish. The restrictions of the short story format can make it difficult to create characters we care about, but I was rooting for Verundish after reading the first couple of paragraphs, which are poignant yet pleasantly morbid. I was filled with sympathy at her situation, as well as admiration for her resolve: her entire situation really increased the resonance of the title ‘Hope’s End’.

As a huge fan of Promise of Blood I was looking forward to some characteristically enthralling action, and there’s about as much of it here as you can expect from a story this length. The atmosphere shifts from tense to explosive in a matter of moments, and there are some really nice moments of Privileged magic and powder mage awesomeness. I would like to have seen more of Tamas in action, but I suppose this wasn’t really his story.
The balance of various elements – personal crises, army politics, and chaotic warfare – as well as their satisfying resolution makes this a perfectly self-contained story for those new to the author. For others more familiar with his work, it’s a wonderful companion tale to the series and a great way to break down the time spent waiting for the release of The Crimson Campaign. Only five months to go . . .

My rating: 4.5/5

Click here to buy ‘Hope’s End’ on Amazon
Click here to buy ‘Hope’s End’ on the author’s website

Click here to read my review of Promise of Blood (Powder Mage trilogy #1)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Review: 'King of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence

“I made mock of the dying at Mabberton and now their ghosts watched me burn. Take the pain, I said, and I will be a good man. Or if not that, a better man. We all become weasels with enough hurt on us. But I think a small part of it was more than that. A small part was that terrible two-edged sword called experience, cutting away at the cruel child I was, carving out whatever man might be yet to come. I promised a better one. Though I have been known to lie.”

King of Thorns is the second instalment in Mark Lawrence’s post-apocalyptic dark fantasy trilogy The Broken Empire. It’s commonly held that the middle part in any trilogy is usually the weakest, functioning mostly as mere filler between books one and three, a tiresome interlude between the start and the big finish. Not so with King of Thorns: it’s fast-paced, tense, action-packed, and has several thrilling plotlines that make for a more exhilarating read than the trilogy’s first instalment. No wonder it’s been nominated for the 2013 David Gemmell Legend Award.
King of Thorns once again follows the story of Jorg Ancrath, taking place four years after the main events of Prince. Jorg is now King of Renar, but must defend his position against popular leader Prince Orrin of Arrow. However, due to earlier events Jorg has had certain memories removed from his mind. These memories are revealed gradually - to both Jorg and the reader - through a series of flashbacks in a style similar to that of the novel’s predecessor, but much more cleverly and intricately crafted. The ‘present day’ plot of the novel is centred on Jorg’s plan for defeating the Prince of Arrow, a plan which is progressively revealed throughout the story and leads us with ever-increasing momentum towards the adrenaline-filled finish.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Through the letterbox

The postman brought me a present today, which I thought was very nice of him.

  • Emperor of Thorns (Broken Empire #3) - Mark Lawrence
I'm in the process of re-reading the second book in this trilogy (King of Thorns) and Emperor will definitely be the next book I read. This whole series is far better than simply being "on a par with George R R Martin."

  • Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel #3) - Brent Weeks
I read and enjoyed the first two in the Night Angel trilogy a few weeks ago, but got distracted by Rothfuss and Lawrence. I was reminded of these books again earlier this week after noticing The Blinding Knife in Waterstones, and thought I'd better order Beyond the Shadows before starting the Lightbringer series. 

  • The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay
I've never read anything by this author before, and have bought this purely on the strength of a friend's recent recommendation. Looking forward to reading it once I'm done with Emperor and Rothfuss #2 (and, of course, after getting re-acquainted with Scott Lynch in preparation for the upcoming and long-awaited Republic of Thieves).

Thursday, 19 September 2013

New on the bookshelf

The Dragon’s Path - Daniel Abraham
Malice - John Gwynne
Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness
Bones of the Hills - Conn Iggulden
The Wise Man’s Fear - Patrick Rothfuss
Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder
Magic Study - Maria V. Snyder
Fire Study - Maria V. Snyder

 So I took a trip to Manchester this week, and this is what I came home with. I’m particularly excited about my acquisition of The Wise Man’s Fear, as I recently read The Name of the Wind [you can read the review here] and have been looking forward to the sequel ever since.

The Maria V Snyder trilogy isn’t something I’d usually pick out for myself. I recently read several glowing reviews of her work, however, and so when I saw the first three of the Chronicles of Ixia in The Works, I couldn’t resist. Especially since they were on a ‘3 for £5’ offer!

I picked The Grim Company simply because it reminded me of Glen Cook’s The Black Company series, which I love. I picked the others because . . . well, because I’m a sucker for an attractive book cover, and the Gwynne and Abraham novels are very attractive indeed!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: 'Prince of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence

 “The thorns taught me the game . . . You can only win the game when you understand that it is a game. Let a man play chess, and tell him that every pawn is his friend. Let him think both bishops holy. Let him remember happy days in the shadows of his castles. Let him love his queen. Watch him lose them all.”

Jorg Ancrath has been transformed from privileged prince to dangerous rogue. He has been witness to terrible atrocities and become the perpetrator of worse. Now he has to overcome childhood horrors in order to begin his fight for dominance over the broken empire.
Prince of Thorns is the first instalment in dark fantasy trilogy The Broken Empire, and it’s not for the faint hearted: be prepared for dark humour and macabre violence from the start. In the first few pages we are introduced to our not-so-heroic protagonist and treated to a brief account of a typical day in his life and that of his band of unscrupulous ‘Brothers’. Since this involves the looting and burning of a village – as well as the rape/murder of its simple inhabitants – there are many readers who have not found this merry tale to their liking.

Personally, I loved it.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Review: 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss

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

The Name of the Wind is the debut novel of American fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. It’s the first in a projected trilogy of fantasy novels known as The Kingkiller Chronicle, wherein each book represents one day of autobiographical first-person storytelling by the main character, Kvothe.

This first instalment of the trilogy follows Kvothe’s early life, beginning with his childhood amongst the Edema Ruh travelling performers, including his mother, father and mentor, Abenthy, who first introduces him to the world of the arcane. This idyllic life cannot last, however, and a devastating event plunges the young Kvothe into a life of hardship in which he is forced to use the only tools he has at hand – mainly his wits and the skills he learned as a child – to survive. During the course of the tale we find out the truth behind some of the legends that have come to surround him – for example, how he earned the nickname ‘Kvothe the Bloodless’ – and witness the first stage of his development: from gifted child to self-reliant university student.