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 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.

 

A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish – Book Review

A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish

Book Review

Dalglish_ADanceOfBlades_TPWhen I reviewed book one, Dance of Cloaks, I compared it to Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, which seemed to be an obvious source of inspiration for Dalglish. As Night Angel developed it shifted from a story of smaller forces to one of an epic scale.

Dance of Blades instead functions much the same as the first of the series– assassins, plotting-through-marriage, and revelations of identity, without enough to be different beside the setup for book three.

Don’t get me wrong; the story is still fun and filled with action and intrigue to keep you hooked. The relationship between reader and characters is so strong that they practically beg you to keep turning the page and say “Just one more.”

It’s been five years since Thren’s failed attack on the Trifect. Haern has fully assumed the mantle of the Watcher, a killer of thieves that prowls the streets of Veldaren signing his name in the blood of his victims. Alyssa and Zusa have continued working together, Alyssa raising her child Nathaniel and Zusa her most loyal guard. Veliana has installed a puppet leader of the Ash Guild, but she finds her control of him is slipping just as a mysterious masked man named Deathmask comes looking to join.

Perhaps the greatest addition to the cast was Ghost, a mercenary from a land away. An ebony-skinned man who paints his face white (the source of his moniker), Ghost is a complex character that serves as the avatar of the theme of identity. While he is introduced as nothing more than a skilled killer, his is the character that gets the most development and reader attachment as his motives and origins become clear. Ghost’s reasoning behind adopting a new name and hiding his true visage with paint is strong for it’s complexity and made me stop to ponder the question of identity, a theme that initially began with Aaron/Haern in book one.

The biggest detracting point lay with Alyssa Gemcroft. It’s been five years since the plotting of book one where she was engaged to a man who didn’t love her and only wanted her title. Book two, unfortunately, is much of the same, only using her son has a chess piece instead of Alyssa’s affections. With a character that has inherited such tremendous wealth and is an acting leader of one of the Trifect families, Alyssa has amazing potential to be a powerful female lead in a male-dominated society. Put her past these surface-value conflicts that has more to do with winning her hand or controlling her through her feelings as a mother and give us a character to be proud of.

Dance of Blade neither dramatically succeeds nor fails. The plot, characterization, and events of this book echo too strongly with the first book to be considered anything more than a continuation of the first book’s plot. The first two books give the impression of a larger book that was divided, something that could have worked if not for the time gap and other hallmarks that divided the two.

I’m excited to continue with this multi-book epic and see what happens next. As much as I pushed against it, the “more of the same” structure hasn’t sullied the characters or series, if taken at face value. As a standalone title Dance of Blades would work fantastically, I’m just more hesitant at how well it manages as a second book.

Book three, Dance of Mirrors, is next and I’m eager and hopeful to see where Dalglish takes us this time. With any luck there will be a new threat to challenge our hero and favored characters that takes us away from the now well-worn path.

 

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

Elantris
by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review

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Elantris is a story told in thirds. Three characters, three goals, three stories.

Raoden was the prince, until he was struck by the reod (a magical transformation that makes your hair fall out, grays the skin and makes every injury stick, the pain never fading). He’s immediately befriended by another Elantrian,Galladon. Together, under Raoden’s insistence, they work to restore some of Elantris’ former glory by giving its zombie-like inhabitants a purpose.

Sarene is the princess of a neighboring nation Teod and Raoden’s bride-to-be. With Raoden’s “death” the marriage contract stipulates the marriage holds. Her storyline revolves around stabilizing the government and disrupting the plans of our last point-of-view.

Hrathen is a Derethi high priest and arrives in Arelon at the same time as Sarene. He has a mission to convert the country to the Derethi religion, Shu Dereth. If he doesn’t succeed in three months, the armies of his home will invade and eradicate the “heathens.” The most interesting of the bunch, Hrathen could’ve easily been nothing more than a fanatic; instead he is a layered character that is ruled by logic. Hrathen questions his own religion throughout and still genuinely wants to convert the people, believing it is the right thing to do.

While Raoden is busy restoring hope in the citizens of Elantris, Sarene and Hrathen are dancing a political battle. The chess match between the two of them is fun to watch and comprises the bulk of the novel as they each strive to outmaneuver the other. Personally, the scenes inside Elantris with Raoden were more enjoyable and I was usually in a rush to get to the next chapter in Elantris.

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Elantris is Sanderson’s first published novels and it’s apparent in his writing. It lacks the subtlety of later books and instead relies on ham-handedly pointing out information that will become crucial to the plot in a couple short chapters.

For example, Sarene’s uncle Kiin had a falling out with her father, the King of Teod and the two refuse to speak about the other. Kiin is introduced as a renown sailer and traveler, and with mentions of a fierce pirate named Dreok Crushthroat that tried to usurp the Teoish throne as well as an intimidating battle-axe above Kiin’s mantle, it doesn’t take a genius to piece together an end-of-the-book reveal.

Elantris is wonderfully crafted, with unique worldbuilding, resonant characters and a climactic finish that has you pumping your fist in excitement. The failings it does have are nothing more than hallmarks of a debut novel that should not be held against such a great book.

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish – Book Review

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

Book Review

(*Small Spoilers – Reader BEWARE*)

9780356502786More than anything else A Dance of Cloaks is novel that takes clear inspiration from authors such as Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks and crafts a story that, like The Warded Man or The Way of Shadows, focuses on deep, personal character development.

While there is an array of characters that are the focus, it’s Aaron Felhorn who stands at the center. The youngest son to the master assassin and head of the Spider Guild, Thren Felhorn, Aaron has been trained since the age of 8 to be the perfect heir. He’s been forbidden two things: love and religion. Instead he’s been taught absolute obedience to his father, including murdering his older brother in cold blood early on in the book.
The plot focuses on Thren’s plans to unify the assassin guilds through force and end a war between the guilds and the Trifect, three families of great wealth and power (the Gemcrofts, Conningtons, and Keenans).

Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, heir to the Gemcroft’s, has to outmaneuver her betrothed, who cares only for her name and wealth. Joining her are the Faceless, three women that have been punished for their sins and wield shadow magic from their god Karak in order to help absolve them and perform the commands of their priests.

Dalglish handles the themes of religion with a deft hand, using an old fallback of a “dark” god against a “light” god. Karak, the “dark” god, is more prevalent in the series, we do get a glimpse at the workings of the priests of the god Ashhur towards the end. It’s an interesting plot point that will hopefully feature more prominently in forthcoming volumes, even if it’s just to see more dark paladins doing battle – which included some of the most interesting uses of the magic system and direct fight scenes in the book.

Through Kayla, Aaron discovers infatuation and love, and through an elderly tutor, Robert Haern, he eventually finds religion. These ideologies infect Thren’s perfect heir and soon Aaron begins questioning everything his life has meant until this point. These feelings boil over after he chooses to protect a priest’s daughter and betray his father by not assassinating her.

It’s at this point that the book really shines as Aaron’s internal struggle between remaining loyal and obedient to his father and what he believes to be right and fair fight for dominance in his psyche.

Following a life-altering moment Aaron dons a mask, a move that’s used to hide his identity from other’s in the guild as well as to help him mentally differentiate between another identity. Aaron’s use of a mask and alternate identity is evocative of an almost superhero alter-ego and it’ll be curious to see how this will play out in following books as Aaron forges a place for himself rather than the one his father had planned.

Following in the steps of other authors, notably G.R.R. Martin, from whom Dalglish has said he was inspired, A Dance of Cloaks does feature a number of characters and POVs that keep you bouncing from character to character when all you want to read is more on Aaron and Thren. While this switching does need a touch more work to be as seamless and engaging as possible, Dalglish does an admirable job and the pacing remains excellent throughout.

David Dalglish is one of those few authors who chose to self-publish his novels and has since gotten a book deal due to the success of his series. The first four books in the series have already been digitally published and now Orbit will release each book in consecutive months, the sequels to A Dance of Cloakscoming in November and December. A move that’s reminiscent of another series from Orbit, Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy, which were released in October, November, and December of 2008.

Dalglish is well on his way to join the ranks of Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks as influential authors in a new generation of fantasy. Who knows, maybe in another few years The Shadowdance Trilogy will be the inspiration of a new author looking to breakout.

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue – Short Story Review

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue: A Powder Mage Short Story – Review

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue is a $.99 eBook short story that gives readers a glimpse into the past of the Powder Mage world. Our titular character is Vlora, who readers of Promise of Blood will remember as a pivotal, yet minor, character that had a deep relationship with both Taniel Two-Shot and Field Marshal Tamas. Vlora was a character that received little page time in Promise yet had enough promise and mystery to spark readers’ imagination and wonder just who this person was.

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This short story tells of a time long before all of that. A time when Vlora was a young orphan living in an abusive home for girls, spending the majority of her time hiding from Amory, the mistress of the home. Instead she spent her time on the rooftops of Hrusch Avenue, relishing the smell of burning gunpowder from the gunsmith below and longing to feel the recoil of a stock against her shoulder as she fired a gun.

But it’s not all wistful longing and dreams for young Vlora. Thugs lurk the streets ofAdopest as in any other major city and Vlora has to spend time hiding lest she run afoul of them. On one side there is the Bulldog Twins, street children that have claimed Hrusch Avenue as their territory and attack any child younger or weaker than they. On the other is Baron Fendamere, a man renown for his cruelty even amongst the nobility, with stories told of his abuse and murder of women and children whilst on campaign.

But this is also the story of how Vlora met Taniel and his best friend Bo, and by extension Taniel’s father, Field Marshal Tamas. The beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime and change the life of a young orphaned girl forever.

McClellan works hard to give us a small glimpse into a character’s life that was only hinted at in Promise of Blood. The writing is crisp and descriptive enough to evoke the necessary imagery of this Napoleonic era while still being streamlined enough to justify the short-story format.

Girl of Hrusch Avenue is a perfect, and honestly cheap, way to get a taste for the Powder Mage world. If Promise of Blood was on your maybe list, spend the $.99 and get immersed in a world that is both captivating and intriguing and a marked departure from the swords and prophecy tropes much of fantasy is rife with.

Brian has already said this is merely the beginning in a series of shorts meant to explore the world and his character’s backstories. My only complaint is that I wish these were not only longer but I had more to read right now.

The world of the Powder Mages has me absolutely enamored and I can’t wait to see what Brian has in store for us next.


Synopsis

“Vlora is an orphan living at a boarding school as a ward of the state. Even at her young age, she already has enemies: the Bulldog Twins, Baron Fendamere, and her own headmistress. When a strange man offers to buy her, Vlora runs away and takes to the roofs above the gunsmithies of Hrusch Avenue. Here she meets a boy named Taniel and begins a friendship that will change her life forever.”

Amazon Kindle Link
Barnes & Noble Nook Link
Kobo E-Reader Link

Read my Review of Promise of Blood Here:
My Interview with Brian McClellan here: