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.

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.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Book Review
emperors-blades-large

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

17

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.

Brandon Sanderson – Author Interview

Hello! Most of you probably know the name Brandon Sanderson, a New York Times Bestselling Author, author of over a dozen stories, as well as the man chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga. I had a chance to interview Brandon right before the release of his latest novel, Steelheart. I hope you all enjoy what he has to say!

The following is a transcription from audio Mr. Sanderson recorded specifically for this post.

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  • Brandon-Sanderson-author-photo-776x1024Welcome Brandon Sanderson! I’m very excited for this chance to send along some interview questions and can’t wait to hear what you have to say. So, diving right into it, what is the biggest factor in your output of writing and how do you manage to keep track of so many works as well as the bits of inspiration that don’t have a home in a particular series yet?

I use a personal wiki and my own bizarre mental methodology. Here’s something else about the way I work: new projects excite me. In fact, I’m often dangling the new project in front of myself as incentive to finish my current project. It’s part of what I like about my job, always being able to do something new. It keeps me productive as a writer.

  • You’ve had a large amount of success for your novels, so much so that a lot of your work has had the option of being produced in other mediums. A potential Mistborn movie, an option for a television series based on Legion (both of which are up in the air still I believe?) and the Mistborn: Birthright video game developed by Little Orbit. How do you think these other mediums could help and/or hurt the overall narrative flow of these worlds you’ve crafted?

That’s a good question I’ve also wondered about. The larger your continuity gets, the more difficult these things are. At the same time, I think it’s worth it because there are certain types of stories you can explore in these other mediums that you can’t explore as well in a novel. It’s something I definitely want to dabble in, but I worry about the continuity becoming unwieldy.

  • Speaking of the Mistborn video game, you agreed to the deal on the condition that you would be able to write the script for the game. How has that process differed from your work on your novels and has it sparked any interest in writing for other mediums, such as video games, television, etc., more often?

We’ve been working with the developer, and they haven’t gotten to the point where it’s time for me to write the script yet. The process might be different. It might not be. I’ve noticed a lot of writers will script the video game and then immediately write the novel. I want to tell this story within the medium of video games, so my goal will not be to write the video game and then write the novelization of the video game. We’ll see if that happens or not, though.

  • Having a part in completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series must have propelled your craft considerably given the complexity of the series and the importance of getting it right. Not to mention the attention from fans everywhere that have been waiting for the conclusion of this series since it debuted in 1990. Now that The Wheel of Time is finished do you feel caught in Robert Jordan’s, and the entire series, shadow?

I mention this a little bit in a video I recorded for Google Play. But no, I haven’t felt caught in his shadow so far, though I don’t b9e6d7fb4bd5ab5cfab43160935e0ecbreally mind if I am. Even if I’d never been involved with finishing The Wheel of Time, I’d still be caught in Robert Jordan’s shadow because he was the dominant writer in the field during the era when I was learning and growing as a writer and becoming the novelist I am today. It’s less a matter of being caught and more a matter of standing on his shoulders, especially now that I was able to work on his project.

I wrote in my eulogy of Robert Jordan how in my writing I’ve sometimes chosen to react against The Wheel of Time just because I felt that The Wheel of Time had done what it did so well. I’ll probably continue to do that, but it’s not a matter of escaping his shadow. I just want to tell stories. It’s not an ego thing for me. I get to write the stories. People read them and seem to like them. That’s awesome! I don’t really worry about the rest.

  • Your writing includes the big cosmere-related novels as well as shorter pieces of work to break it up during the year. The Emperor’s Soul was one such project, which recently won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. These shorter pieces are a great way to break things up and as you’ve said recharge your creative batteries. Other than Steelheart which is releasing soon, what is the next shorter piece you’re working on?

The next shorter piece I’m working on is a short novelette or novella called Sixth of the Dusk, which is a writing exercise I’m doing with the Writing Excuses team for my podcast. We all brainstormed with one another on-air last year, and then I wrote a story based on that. Then we workshopped it on-air, and that episode should go up fairly soon. Then I’ll do a last revision of it and put it up for people to buy, though I’m not sure yet when that will happen. I screen-captured myself writing the story, so I’ll probably post that video for free. That’s a fun sort of experiment to let aspiring writers see the process of brainstorming, the first draft, and the last draft.

The next thing that’s being released is my novella in George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Dangerous Women anthology. I’m very proud of this story, called Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Getting invited to one of George and Gardner’s anthologies is a huge honor. They pick dream teams for every one of their anthologies, so getting asked was awesome. As for novels, the next major project of mine is Words of Radiance, coming out in March.

WordsOfRadiance_Cover

  • Your work in the cosmere as well as the introduction of a big multi-volume epic, the Stormlight Archive, is a tremendous undertaking of time and effort. Have you ever been worried that you may have bitten off more than you can chew, that is either in its structure and length or for health and personal reasons, such as Robert Jordan who unfortunately passed away before the conclusion of The Wheel of Time?

No, I don’t really. I say that with a smile because I’m an epic fantasy writer. I dream big! Sure, every runner before they start their first marathon probably wonders, “Am I actually going to be able to finish this thing?” But at the same time, this is what I’ve dreamed of doing for my entire career, so I don’t think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I hope the fans will stick around with me for it, but Steven Erikson proved that you could do a ten-book series in a reasonable amount of time. He’s kind of a model and example for the rest of us in getting his large Malazan series finished, and he did a great job of it. So, he proves it can be done. I just have to step up and get to work.

  • The majority of your body of work rests in the fantasy genre and has given you an appropriate amount of success based on the incredible work you’ve done so far. You have dabbled in the realm of science fiction, including your short story “Firstborn”, and you have plans to extend the Mistborn universe into science fiction with a third trilogy, after a trilogy set in modern times. Do you have any plans, even in the distant future, for a standalone or series set entirely in the realm of science fiction, a space opera or something similar?

Yes, I’m definitely going to do some science fiction and space opera. I’m holding off on doing any longer works right now because the longer books I want to write are actually in worlds connected to my fantasy series. There are several of those I want to do. I will eventually get to them, but it’s going to take a little bit of time before I’m in the right place to do these stories. There are some great space operas in the cosmere that I want to tell.

  • The “Sanderson Laws” have become rather popular amongst the fantasy community. Have you given any consideration into expanding and crafting more “laws” to help aspiring genre writers design their settings?

Yes. I’ve actually got three or four that I’m working on. Keep in mind, I call them “Sanderson’s Laws” because these are my laws to myself. They are the ways I approach writing magic systems. They are not rules you need to follow, but reading them might help you understand at least how one person approaches magic systems. Sanderson’s Third Law should go up sometime this week.

  • 91WYnaA6QNL._SL1500_Steelheart is your latest published work. It’s a young adult novel that features a hero that is normal, without any extraordinary powers. Joel, the protagonist of The Rithmatist was also unable to use the magic of that world. What are the benefits of writing a story from the viewpoint of someone removed from such an important part of the setting and why did you choose to do this?

Basically this is me reacting against myself. The biggest benefit for me is that I get to try something different. Whenever I notice a theme—something I feel like I’m doing a little too often—I will say, “How can I approach this from a different perspective and try a different type of story?” I did this for two very different reasons in those two books.

In The Rithmatist it helps cement Joel as an outsider. It helps that feeling of distance. He desperately wants to be in, but through a quirk of birth, he is not in, and that’s part of the story. For David in Steelheart, it’s less about being an outsider and more about the story being more interesting for me because it’s about a normal person fighting back against basically a supervillain, and what you do when you don’t have the power to bring someone like that down. That makes an interesting conflict for me. So I’m approaching it from two different directions, but it is me trying to explore something that I haven’t done as much.

  • Thank you for giving me this chance to interview you and before we go is there anything else you might like to say or add?

Thank you very much for the interview. I hope people look into Steelheart. I’ve been posting a lot of cool stuff about it, specifically about the tour. So if you don’t mind throwing in a link to the Steelhunt to let people know what I’m doing, I would appreciate it.

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We’d like to thank Mr. Sanderson again for taking the time to talk with us. His lastest novel, Steelheart, is out now. You can learn more about it on his website or you can follow him on Twitter.