Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise Book CoverIn a genre that is dominated by the gritty and dark following the recent popularity of Game of Thrones, Max Gladstone delivers an impressive tale with an ultimate message of hope. Yes, there are problems in the world and they may seem unbeatable, but there is always a chance for a happy ending if someone is willing to stand up and go to work.

The second installment in the Craft Sequence continues the trend established by Three Parts Dead and introduces the reader to a richly detailed world that layers magic and history with our modern era. Except this time, Gladstone brings us to Dresediel Lex, a desert city with trappings that evoke the Aztec Empire’s culture (including flying feathered serpents).

Though, as I said, not all is well in the world. It hasn’t been that long since the Gods War, a time where magical Craftspeople and Gods did battle for control over the fate of the world. It seems that Dresediel Lex was hit especially hard because without the Gods to interfere and provide divinely filtered water, just how do you slake the thirst of a rapidly expanding population?

Oh, and you have to manage all of this while battling a priest (turned terrorist) of the old order who wants nothing more than to bring back the Gods and continue sacrificing blood and hearts to the twin serpents that slumber deep beneath the earth. Sounds easy, right?

There’s a lot of Two Serpents Rise that is reminiscent of the noir genre. There is a threaded mystery that begins with a dead body, a gambling hero who recently quit smoking and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – a trope that is often found in the various “-punk” subgenres.

While the framework of these characters draw heavily from established archetypes, that isn’t to say there’s no depth or originality to be found. The hero, Caleb, loves his city and would do anything to keep it running, a task that he’s quickly realizing is untenable unless some serious changes are made at Red King Consolidated, his place of employment and the only thing keeping the city from drying up. All of this is wrapped up in the issues with his father, the aforementioned priest/terrorist, and their conflicting ideologies.

Kopil, the Red King, starts as an imposing skeleton clad in a red robe, more mythic figure than individual. The triple click of his skeletal bones inspires fear in all under his employ as he walks. He has fought and killed deities in the Gods War and saved the city. But Kopil isn’t only an imposing force of might and magic. His motivations are rooted in a much more human emotion than you might expect from a skeleton.

Even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than the trope label I assigned to her. Mal begins as a thrill-seeking opportunist that quickly catches Caleb’s attention and doesn’t let go. Yet, there’s more to this girl than it first seems and she’s ready to do anything for what she believes in. As Caleb tracks her through the city and they begin a relationship her true personality is carefully revealed was worldly issues are revealed.

Dresediel Lex is running out of time. Whether it be from the attacks from those faithful to the Gods, inevitable drought due to overpopulation or some other threat from outside, it doesn’t seem like the city will last long. Gladstone doesn’t solve every single problem. This isn’t any fairy-tale, Disney ending. But neither will it be a hopeless battle of despair. Give Two Serpents Rise a shot and see just how Caleb goes to work to to save his city and restore hope to a world still suffering from a past war.

Book Synopsis:

In Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc—casual gambler and professional risk manager—to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father—the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists—has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire…and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Book CoverMax Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead is fantasy of a different flavor. Instead of taking our world and adding magic (such as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops), this is a world born of magic that has progressed to a point that mirrors our modern age. It’s a story of magical corporations and necromancer lawyers.

I bet I’ve got your attention now.

As a first-year associate of the necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, it’s up to Tara Abernathy to solve the murder of a dead God and bring him back to life. If she doesn’t, the city of Alt Coulomb will crumble into chaos. Her only chance is to win in court against opposing counsel.

It may seem like a stretch, a fantasy book based on lawyers rather than warriors, but that’s its true beauty. Gladstone managed to write a beautifully clever story. And he did it in a way that made the idea of fantasy lawyers interesting. It’s a novel that tackles important ideas of faith, politics and the privileged while keeping the excitement of magical duels with shadow and nightmare.

It’s unfortunate how uncommon strong female leads are. Fortunately, Gladstone decided to give us two strong female leads in his debut novel. Tara is a prodigal daughter who was graduated from the Hidden Schools just so they could cast her out, from a thousand feet in the air. She’s talented in the use of the Craft and has a sharp, ready whit that’s fun and likable. Her mentor, Elayne Kevarian on the other hand is the cool, detached master of her trade that is always five steps ahead and radiates power and elegance.

Our trio of protagonists is rounded out with the chain-smoking priest Abelard. The last person to be with the God, Kos Everburning, before his death, he’s understandably going through a crisis of faith. It’s through Abelard and his questions that we come to understand the ramifications of the death of his God. To Tara, it’s a client, to Abelard; it’s his purpose in life. Some of the most interesting pieces of prose are in watching this man deal with that loss.

There are a couple of antagonists throughout the book but it was the primary enemy that really caught my eye. It’s a villain you’re trained to hate from the moment you understand his history with the heroines. He’s the crazy yet charming villain we all find ourselves eerily drawn to.

The narrative requires a small buy-in of your time. That is, you’ll have to work a little bit to follow the influx of characters. Gladstone never goes so low as to info dump but he does dive straight into the world and expect you to figure it out and follow along. You shouldn’t worry it will ever be too much though, as the prose includes a healthy dose of fun and freedom that makes it much easier to swallow.

And it’s those moments of fun that strongly resonate. One such moment was the casual mention of Tara cackling loudly as she raised the dead early in the book. It’s a little diamond of self-aware prose that made me fall in love with Tara as a character and Gladstone as an author. That’s without getting into the vampire pirates or the gargoyles that have been exiled from the city yet still leave claw marks in the buildings that are poems to their Goddess.

Gladstone struck gold when he wrote this secondary-world fantasy that explores modern society. It features all of the things we love about fantasy in a world that is familiar yet strange. In this book you’ll find echoes of your own life, just with more starlight-fueled magic.

Book Synopsis:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –

Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Book Review

Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan

Servant_of_the_Crown_01Brian McClellan does something a little different with his Powder Mage universe. Instead of relying solely on his publishing deal for full-length works, he also produces short fiction that  adds meaning to the novels. As of this post, he’s released five such stories, the latest being Servant of the Crown, a story in which we finally discover how he met his fated other half, Erika.

Captain Tamas is a member of the Adran military, a commoner who worked his way through the ranks to get as far as he has, with ambitions to go higher. McClellan wastes no time in painting us a very vivid picture of Tamas’ hatred for the nobility. The clashing ideals and personalities between Tamas and the entitled nobles forms the crux of the novella.

Soon the King himself becomes involved along with one of the privileged sorceresses of the royal cabal, which leaves Tamas to be nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard he barely understands.

The only help Tamas receives is from a young Kez noblewoman, a girl named Erika who is a powder mage herself, albeit one who has been forced to hide her powers from a country that despises her kind. Last seen in the short story Forsworn, Erika has become enamored with the idea of Tamas’ rise to power in the military and his advocacy for powder mages.

McClellan’s writing is as tight as ever and still manages to contain the intensity of a summer blockbuster into writing. While the explosions and impossible shots are still a treat to read the true delight came in the banter between Tamas and Erika. Their chemistry is strong and their dialogue is some of the most genuine representations of early couples I’ve had the pleasure to read.

There are numerous ways to experience Servant of the Crown, but I’d recommend the direct method and getting it from the source? Check out Brian’s books and collection of short stories here.

 

Synopsis:

Captain Tamas is an ambitious young officer in the Adran army. As a commoner, he is one of very few without noble blood to hold a rank. When he challenges the son of a duke over an insult, the subsequent duel lands him in hot water with the nobility and the royal cabal of Privileged sorcerers. Tamas is soon drawn into a conflict that goes to the very highest office in the land, and his only ally is the most unlikely of people; a young noblewoman named Erika, who needs Tamas to teach her how to wield her powers as a powder mage.

Occurs about thirty-five years before the events in Promise of Blood.

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan – Book Review

Book Review

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

91WXPFBCv+L._SL1500_Brian McClellan authored one of my favorite debuts of 2013. His first novel Promise of Blood was filled with everything I want in an original work of fiction. Now, the second book, The Crimson Campaign has hit shelves.

Each successive book by a new author is a risk. “Will the audience like it?” “Can it live up to the first?” “What if the author hits a sophomore slump?” Luckily for us, McClellan not only matched the spark of his first book, but he surpassed it as well.

The dialogue is tighter, the action scenes more intense and the drama has never been more real.

The Crimson Campaign is an addictive blend of a summer blockbuster and a military history. Only this time there’s an angry god, powder mages and gifted detective with nothing to lose.

All of the characters we came to enjoy from The Promise of Blood are back, some with an expanded role. Bo, a relatively minor character from the first book, is full of the confidence and snark you’d expect from a member of the Royal Cabal. His self-assured attitude and gifted ability to manipulate the Else (sorcery) made Bo a breakout character in this new volume and one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, Tamas and Taniel are facing their own problems as the Kez continue their war against Adro. Tamas is trapped behind enemy lines with only a small unit of soldiers. Cut off from anyone who could help, he is forced to manipulate the situation to his own advantage while he is pursued relentlessly. In the first book we only got a glimpse at why this man rose to the rank of field marshal. Finally, the famed tactician is shown to us. He rises to MacGyver levels of ingenuity to slow those dogging his heels.

Taniel, however, is facing his own problems. Tamas’ disappearance has left him in a precarious position as the new leaders of the military begin to question whether or not Taniel deserves to be a captain when he can’t follow orders. Oh, and he’s got a crazed, one-eyed god hunting him for revenge.

The plot is filled with constant action and excitement as McClellan deftly wields the mythology and characters of the world he’s created into something truly great. There will always be stories that are transparently flat, no more depth than what’s necessary to finish the plot. McClellan, like many great authors, has instead added layer upon layer to his books (and short stories) to create a world that thrums with the beat of its own heart.

McClellan has burst onto the fantasy scene with the explosive power of a powder keg. His books are among those that will be remembered for the genuine characters, tense conflict and inspired world where gunpowder fuels magic and white-gloved sorcerers vie for power. Simply put, it’s brilliant.

Book Synopsis:

When invasion looms…

Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…

In Adro, Inspector Adamat wants only to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN is the epic sequel to Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review

Book Review

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

originalThe work of Joe Abercrombie holds a special place in my reading heart. The Blade Itself was the first book I ever picked up “blind” from the bookstore. I was new-ish to the fantasy book landscape, I had recently devoured a trilogy recommended by a friend and I was eager for new blood. I’ve been a huge Abercrombie fan ever since and have devoured each of his new adventures in the First Law setting. But you won’t find any bald magi or meddling banks here, no Eaters, no drunk, swash-buckling mercenaries. After a trilogy and three stand-alone titles Abercrombie is taking us to a new world in in a new market.

Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of the King of Gettland. Born with a disfigured hand he is seen as worthless by his father and instead has chosen to lead the life of a minister, a warrior of the mind rather than muscle. But the murder of his older brother and father puts Yarvi in the last place he thinks he should be (the throne). He eventually comes into his own group of strangers and with their help discovers his true place in life on the Shattered Sea.

Admittedly, the plots of Abercrombie’s books are typical fantasy blended with other genres (quest, western, revenge, soldier at war, for example). Half a King isn’t anything drastically new. It’s a bildungsroman/coming-of-age tale where a young protagonist rises into a role that was far beyond his reach when the book starts.

Even the setting is pretty standard Viking-fare and is exactly what you might picture. Although special mention goes to the history and religion, which are more interesting than any storm-tossed sea or Viking longboat. There is a welcome break as our prince reaches the desolate, arctic north and was forced to trudge in hip-deep snow. It’s just unfortunate that it came so late in the book.

But there is something more important than plot or setting.

Abercrombie shines in his portrayal of real, honest characters. Prince Yarvi will rightfully be taking his place amongst the expertly crafted characters of his First Law books. From the onset you feel for this young boy with a crippled hand, as he is unable to live up to the warrior-dominant culture. Each step is filled with mounting hardships as he goes on a personal journey and I couldn’t help but root for him at each turn and feel the pain of his burden along the way.

But that isn’t what Joe Abercrombie is known for, although it should be. Instead, he’s widely regarded as being a writer of “grimdark.” That is, he’s unafraid to showcase a world of “grittiness” and “realism.” Violence and sex are as common as normal dialogue in these novels (George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is another example) and Abercrombie never shied away from showcasing the seedier side of his world.

Thankfully he tones it down for Half a King, a novel geared toward the Young Adult market. It’s still a brutal world and there is plenty of action to go around, it’s just not as blatant or gruesome. This played closer to my own tastes as I can only take so much doom and gloom in my entertainment before it gets ridiculous.

Half a King captures our attention with Prince Yarvi from the onset. But it is a good quarter of the book before the plot kicks into gear enough to really grab interest. Once it does, it sinks those teeth in and refuses to let go until you finish the book. It’s a breath of fresh air from an author who made his mark in a single world and I’m looking forward to venturing back onto the Shattered Sea with the next installment.

Book Synopsis:

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.” 
 
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
 
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
 
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
 
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Fell Sword by Miles Cameron – Book Review

The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
Book Review

Fell Sword US CoverWhat does a true medieval fantasy look like? It is the most accepted and stereotypical settings for fantasy novels and yet few authors consider the subtle intricacies of the time period in regards to building their new fantasy world.

The world of The Traitor Son Cycle is constructed as a full-fleshed fantasy world in the realm of the medieval, without being limited to Europe and instead taking into account North America, Egypt and more. He explores the medieval life instead of taking the obvious trappings and inserting them into his narrative. The armor and weapons are much as they were in the medieval age and the magic system is based around the idea of memory palaces, a real historical concept device that was even explored in the latest season of the BBC’s Sherlock.

In The Fell Sword the Red Knight and his company go across the mountains to the Morea and Thrake – those are the kingdoms to the east of Alba – to put down what appears to be a local rebellion and proves to be larger. In the process, the readers will get to see a little more of the meta-plot.

The Red Knight will meet a beautiful princess. Jean de Vrailly will grow in power and worldly glory. Amicia will develop her own power while getting into a quarrel with the church that will have long term effects for everyone. Readers will meet the Faery Knight and the irks are developed as people and not ‘enemies’. The sides shift, and the stakes grow.

The biggest complaint about the first book, The Red Knight, was the high number of point-of-view characters. There were at least 30 by the end and 90% of those could have been cut and the story may well have been better for it. While I didn’t get a chance to count this time around, The Fell Sword definitely felt a bit more focused in this regard. There were still plenty, maybe even too many, but they were largely interesting and important to this and future stories.

Perhaps the best addition was Morgan Mortirmir, a 16-year-old “barbarian” mage attending the Academy at Livianopolis. Nicknamed the Plague, Morgan is a brilliant student who only just comes into his magical ability. He has the potential that could one-day rival or top Harmodius or other major players on the field. So much that Morgan is poised to take a central role in the coming installments of The Traitor Son Cycle. In a book where the main character is developed and worldly, Mortimir is a fresh look with an ample mind that explains the mysteries.

Liviapolis Map

The introduction of the Faery Knight and the irks as a civilization, among other denizens of the Wild, is a masterful stroke that expands the unrealistic black & white view of the fist book into one with many shades of grey. As the great wyrms maneuver and old powers awaken it will be interesting to see if humans and the Wild will be forced to set aside differences and work together to defeat a common foe.

It takes three chapters of multiple viewpoints and subplots before we truly get back into the helmet of the Red Knight. Much as the first book, the Captain, or Gabriel as we come to know him, steals the page every time. A fascinating history that is uncovered piece by piece by the Queen’s subplot coupled with his complex personality and motivations make for a compelling character that drips with humor.

The historical accuracy may put people off when it comes to Cameron’s female characters as there is a fear women were just around to play to their husbands whims. Well Cameron makes those fears unfounded as he gives us strong female characters that are more than a knee-jerk reaction and instead are complex, smart and really just fun to read. Whether it’s Sauce, the female knight in the Red Knight’s group, Mag the seamstress and magical heavyweight, or Queen Desiderata, a beacon of light and talented individual who uncovers more of the hidden plot.

As he did in The Red Knight, Cameron shines in the realism of battle and medieval life. A medieval historian by degree, a military man by career and a reenactor by hobby, Cameron brings an intensity and “in-the-helmet” experience that puts you deep in the Wild and heart of the action. Each battle is easy to imagine visually, even as invisible blasts of phantasm (magic) strike the battlefield.

The Fell Sword expands on the magic that was introduced in the first book. Hermeticism is defined and more readily displayed, both in battle through the Captain and in the classroom through Morgan. The use of a memory palace and the complexities of the system itself are exceptional. Cameron gives enough information to excite the imagination while holding more back in the shadows to keep you gazing in wonder at the things he accomplishes.

As more of the hidden plot is revealed, The Traitor Son Cycle is shaping into a classic epic fantasy as immense powers of good and evil do battle with what amounts to champions of their cause. Hopefully in the next book Miles Cameron will strike the perfect balance of point-of-view characters and delve fully into the Captain and the great powers of this medieval world.

Last to Rise by Francis Knight – Book Review

Last to Rise by Francis Knight Book Review

Last to Rise CoverFantasy-Noir. That was all I needed to hear before I hit the “buy” button on amazon for this series. Delving into the subgenres of fantasy has been a fun and rewarding experience as I come across books that aren’t the traditional “knight saving a princess.” These books are even, in many cases, leagues better than those types of books. Last to Rise is the end to what has grown to be one of my favorites in recent times. While I’m sad to see it go, Francis Knight ends the book in a picture-perfect way that left me smiling in approval.

The towering vertical city of Mahala is on the brink of war with its neighboring countries. It might be his worst nightmare, but Rojan and the few remaining pain mages have been drafted in to help. The city needs power in whatever form they can get it — and fast. With alchemists readying a prototype electricity generator, and factories producing guns faster than ever, the city’s best advantage is still the mages. Tapping their power is a risky plan, but with food in the city running out, and a battle brimming that no one is ready for, risky is the best they’ve got…

The run down city that built up instead of out, Mahala is one of the hallmarks of the series. Our final installment has us running up and down the many levels, and subsequent social standing, of the city giving us a true look at the current state of the inhabitants as the siege rages on outside. While I know what the author was going for when she introduced the “phantom bacon” smell I was a little put off by the fact that seemingly no one else noticed but Rojan. In a city full of starving people the greasy deliciousness that is bacon should have been more of a thing amongst the populace. I did however enjoy the reveal of what the “phantom bacon” smell actually was though and it was a weird piece that had me grinning with the thought process that must have gone behind it. Little touches like this are where the majority of faults can be found in the book. Each of these are small enough details that they can be overlooked without too much hassle on the part of the reader so they can enjoy the overall story. Most of the characters return in standard form over the course of the story. Pasha remains fiercely devoted to Jake, Lise remains spunky and immersed in developing new tech, and Perak juggles the cardinals and a corrupt government while enemies try to break down the gates. Jake takes a side role and Erlat, the prostitute with a heart for Rojan, takes her place in a spot closer to center stage and keeps the looming threat of the Black from consuming Rojan’s sanity. Rojan returns in fine form for the conclusion. This pessimistic hero constantly faced the impending battle outside the city and never gave up. While this is standard amongst fantasy heroes it shines all the brighter in Last to Rise as the theme of sacrifice plays a heavy role in the book, from the magic system, to the character motivations, to the city itself. Knight is smart to keep her world from falling prey to the idea of redeeming a dystopia. Instead she grounds her finale in a realistic, for the world, ending that left me a little speechless at the end. Pain and sacrifice are very real and very important to a book with pain mages and darkness that looms around Mahala. I’m glad to see Knight stay true to that idea and away from any rainbows and butterflies on the final pages.

Forsworn by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Forsworn by Brian McClellan
Book Review

Forsworn-1.5-mbFor $0.99 Brian McClellan has been practically giving away short stories set in the same world as his Powder Mage Trilogy. Now, he has a new story up on his website, a novella this time for $2.99. Forsworn has the quality of story, depth of characters, and an increased page count that makes it all well worth it. Do yourself a favor and dive back into the world of powder mages, sorcerers, and gunpowder firearms. I promise, you won’t regret it.

This novella focuses on Erika ja Leora and a young girl named Norinne, both Powder Mages living in Kez, where such sorcery is punishable by death. While I keep yearning for a Tamas, Taniel, or Ka-poel story, McClellan is smart to keep such characters as cameos only. These short bits of writing are a wonderful exploration of new characters and the occasional reaction to the main characters is more powerful than any one story focused on Tamas or the others.

Once again, McClellan manages to write a wonderfully described world in the time of gunpowder and muskets. While the bulk of this book is set in a noble’s estate and in a carriage, it’s written in a way that feels more cinematic than many writers out there today. I could clearly picture the small practice yard used for fencing or the carriage making it’s way along a mountainside pass covered in snow. It was all realized with masterful writing that reaffirmed my initial opinion after reading Promise of Blood nearly a year ago – Brian McClellan is a writer of great visual skill.

The worldbuilding and history is setup in bits and pieces, as the novella length allows. The idea of powder mages being branded and the first look at the air rifles used in the books is a wonderful addition that makes the world feel real. This is tied directly into McClellan’s ability to stage and foreshadow his writing with a grace that isn’t seen as often as it should be amongst new writers. One particular bit of worldbuilidng concerning families who discover their children have the skill to be powder mages sent shivers down my spine later in the book, as I feared the worst. The fact that as I was reading the epilogue I was so emotionally invested as to shout at my ereader should be a marker for the author’s accomplished skills.

With the news that The Crimson Campaign, book two in the Powder Mage Trilogy, was pushed back to a new May release date, it’s comforting to see McClellan publish these short stories and novellas to keep us held over. It’s a brilliant marketing technique. The cheap price will give new initiates a chance to explore the world and Brian’s writing without feeling too guilty if they don’t like it. Fans of the first book are able to explore the world and the characters in more depth while they wait for the new book.

It’s a technique I hope more authors will take note of and adopt. Especially those authors, who shall not be named, who take 1+ years between books.

I haven’t had a chance to reread Promise of Blood since it came out last January. But these short stories have kept the world of Powder Mages and Privileged in my imagination. Be sure to pick up Forsworn and get immersed once more into the world of muskets and magic that Brian has so painstakingly created.

You can pick up Forsworn for your E-Reader of choice at his shop here.

– – –

Summary:

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy.

When she decides to help a young commoner—a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law—she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king’s own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.

Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Book Review

Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Book Review

BreachZone_Final-1I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my fantasy. I love the idea of knights and castles, djenn and ifrit, even the muskets and magic emerging recently. I never thought I could get into the idea of a military fantasy. Luckily for me Myke Cole came along and changed my mind. Except to call his Shadow Ops series, and the third book Breach Zone, only a military fantasy would be a huge disservice. It’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about love, hard decisions, identity, and so much more. Myke Cole has switched the main protagonist in each book. The perspective shifts to what was once a secondary, or unknown, character, giving a broader scope of the world as it’s seen through fresh eyes. Instead of growing bored with a character the bond can begin anew. I’ve grown connected not to a handful of characters shallowly but a range of characters in depth.

Scylla, the villain of Breach Zone is a tragic character, twisted by circumstance to be the enemy. Control Point and Fortress Frontier made Scylla out to be the worst of the worst. She is a crazed psychopath who uses her power of decay to kill and destroy. Breach Zone gives us another look at this woman, a woman named Grace.

Harlequin, the SOC aeromancer, is our guide through the third book in the Shadow Ops world. Cole has done something special in the structure of this book in giving us two stories, one set in the present the other the past, and interweaving them until they climax at the finale. It’s a tricky move and could’ve easily backfired if the stories weren’t properly balanced. Instead, I thought they were paced exceptionally. Teasing the origins of Grace/Scylla and matching those thoughts to the woman we thought we knew all along while she invades Manhattan.

Breach Zone MapBreach Zone is set almost entirely on the island of Manhattan in New York City and it’s apparent that this is Myke’s home. The Breach to the Source is on Wall St, gangs are hiding out in China Town and Tribeca, and the HQ for the defense is at Battery Park. Each was imagined so faithfully that on a recent visit to NYC, I couldn’t help but picture Gahe, Roc’s and Goblins swarming over the skyscrapers only to do battle with aeromancers and other SOC sorcerers.

Myke Cole was the author that got me to step away from “traditional” fantasy and really explore the subgenres. It’s military fantasy imagined with all the intricacies that come with magic reappearing in a modern world filled with tanks, drones, and soldiers. He’s pushing the boundaries of fantasy both in his writing structure and the level of depth and emotional connection to his characters. This is a series filled with trials and personal journeys. It’s a series that must be read. Myke Cole knows how to tell a complex story in a richly imagined world and for that I thank him and politely shout for more.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Book Review
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Brian Staveley’s debut novel The Emperor’s Blades is being promoted as 2014’s biggest debut fantasy novel. It’s a book that will stir the imaginations of all readers and make them stand up and notice this new author. These are big words to be swinging around in January, but after spending enough time with the book I’m calling it. Move over Sanderson, Rothfuss, Brett, and Weeks. We’ve got a new name in epic fantasy, and he’s leaving a big mark with The Emperor’s Blades.

The story follows three siblings that deal with the ramifications of the murder of their father, the emperor. Kaden, the heir, has been at a remote monastery in the mountains for eight years. His sister, Adare, has been promoted to Minister of Finance upon her father’s death and now must navigate the political currents of Annur if she hopes to bring justice to the man that murdered her father. And then there’s Valyn. He is a cadet of the Kettral, masterful killers who fly massive birds into battle. With news of their father’s death he has to finish his training and rush to help his brother Kaden, lest he be murdered as well.

The brothers get the most page time while Adare is sprinkled through every now and again. Ultimately, this was the best move Staveley could have made. While Adare’s storyline is important, crucial even, it lacks enough driving force to warrant any more time than she was given. (A point that is going to be remedied in the sequel according to Staveley)

The real titan of the book is Valyn. His struggles on the islands the Kettral use for a base are the most engaging and thrilling to read. Immediately, danger surrounds Valyn, both from his teammates and from a rumored plot to kill the entire royal line. The entire Kettral storyline is told with such a clear and concise eye to the hard life of a cadet that you can’t stop. It’s exciting, it’s bloody, it’s deadly, and overall Valyn is the most human – a character I can picture myself getting a drink with at the bar (my hallmark for a well-written character).

Meanwhile, Kaden is in the mountains, oblivious to the happenings of the civilized world. His new teacher prefers to put Kaden through inventive and painful exercises to hone his mind and enter into a trance-like state of no emotion “the vaniate”. The monks and Kaden give us the worldbuilding in big meaty bites. The storyline of the heir is built for those that like to read about the gods and how they’re worshipped or an ancient evil that may be resurfacing.

The magic of the world is limited. It’s regarded with not only hate but also a primal disgust that leaves those caught to be able to use magic, “leeches,” executed immediately. That is unless the Kettral recruits them. Valyn’s interactions with fellow leech cadets paints a picture for the reader on how the magic works in this world. Namely, each leech draws from a specific well – iron, solar power, emotions, water, animals, the possibilities are endless – and manipulates the world with that power, relative to how much of their well is nearby they can draw from. It’s an interesting system with, more importantly, an interesting limitation.

The writing isn’t perfect. There were a few odd word choices here and there and Adare’s storyline, while the right length for this particular instance, was a bit muddled. As if Staveley knew exactly where/what Kaden and Valyn would do and was 70% sure about Adare. It just wasn’t as immersive as the other two (which is okay considering how much page-time she ultimately received.) But I would challenge anyone to pick up the debut book of their favorite author, whoever he/she may be, and not find the same type of issues. Staveley has found something incredible with The Emperor’s Blades and when the sequel hits the shelves I have absolute faith it will be that much better. This is epic fantasy for the new age and frankly, I’m loving what I’m seeing.

The first 7 chapters are up on tor.com for FREE – or you can find a download for you ereader of choice, so I’d highly recommend checking those out. Unless of course you just want to go ahead and put your pre-order in for the January 14 release. Either way, this isn’t one you’re going to want to miss.