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.

Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks – Book Review

Perfect Shadow By Brent Weeks

PerfectShadow_cvr300dpiPerfect Shadow is a look into the 700-year-old immortal wetboy we grew to love and admire from Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, Acaelus Thorne, a man soon to be remade into Durzo Blint. This novella gives us a glimpse at the man before he became bitter and disillusioned by the mission given to him by his friend, his king, Jorsin Alkestes all those centuries ago.

This book was released long after Night Angel Trilogy first appeared and features spoilers for those books. It’s debatable whether those spoilers are enough to deter you from reading this before Way of Shadows, but it’s enough to merit a mention and as such proceed with caution: Here, there be spoilers.

– – –

Durzo Blint is a man that has lived many lives over many centuries. Often he would be a hero, other times, a simple man trying to live a normal, quiet life. He fellin love and had many wives, sometimes even children. It’s not the callus love of loneliness but rather a true kind of love that is probably the reason he’s still alive nearly seven centuries later.

Its the brutal death of the pregnant wife and young daughter that drives Gaelan Starfire away from his farm and eventually to Cenaria to meet Gwinvere Kirena, the Mistress of Pleasure.

In Cenaria he trains with Scarred Wrable in the ways of the wetboy, eventually killing the other wetboys employees by the Sa’Kage and installing “Momma K” as the new head of the criminal empire. Sharp-eyed readers will see subtle allusions to characters and places from the Night Angel Trilogy – including the butcher Hu Gibbett.

It’s a solid novella that isn’t constrained by telling its multiple narratives in chronological order, instead trusting the reader to be able to follow along.

“I’ve turned my back on my king. Fire pursues me, but emptiness can’t be threatened. Emptiness holds nothing dear. Emptiness knows no fear.”

Concurrently with the thread line involving Durzo Blint’s introduction to the world of the Sa’Kage of Cenaria and the wetboys that inhabit it we get a chance to see Durzo swindle a man from the Society of the Second Sun in order to steal his ka’kari, the red, and its subsequent banishment into the heart of Mt. Tenji, a soon-to-be re-active volcano. It’s at this moment that we also get a glimpse into the far past, the moment Jorsin Alkestes used Curoch to seal the krul around Black Burrow and burn every living thing for miles around.

It’s a poignant look filled with deep, philosophical thoughts concerning the origins and the man we’ve grown to know intimately in the time of the original trilogy and a stark reminder that immortality can weigh heavily on the soul.

“One shadow was different. One shadow stood, defiant, one fist raised, edges perfect, outline crisp – Acaelus’s shadow. The others were dim, washed out. Bleached by a flood of light that had continued even after the men who had cast them were burned away. But through all the fire, one man had stood.”

– – –

Book Synopsis:

shortfiction2“I got a bit of prophecy,” the old assassin said. “Not enough to be useful, you know. Just glimpses. My wife dead, things like that to keep me up late at night. I had this vision that I was going to be killed by forty men, all at once. But now that you’re here, I see they’re all you. Durzo Blint.”

Durzo Blint? Gaelan had never even heard the name.

***

Gaelan Starfire is a farmer, happy to be a husband and a father; a careful, quiet, simple man. He’s also an immortal, peerless in the arts of war. Over the centuries, he’s worn many faces to hide his gift, but he is a man ill-fit for obscurity, and all too often he’s become a hero, his very names passing into legend: Acaelus Thorne, Yric the Black, Hrothan Steelbender, Tal Drakkan, Rebus Nimble. But when Gaelan must take a job hunting down the world’s finest assassins for the beautiful courtesan-and-crimelord Gwinvere Kirena, what he finds may destroy everything he’s ever believed in.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
An ‘Epic’ Review

In a world filled only with supervillains and no superheroes it’s up to the average citizen to rise up and administer justice. That’s the basic premise of Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel, Steelheart. His penchant for interesting worldbuilding and cinematic writing has paid off yet again.

Steelheart is a story about an average teenager named David. David has to live in a new world, a world that has been burdened with the rise of superpowered individuals. But there are no superheroes in this world, only villains. It’s David’s goal to join the Reckoners, a group of average citizens that banded together to assassinate “Epics,” the term for those with powers. David has seen Steelheart bleed, an experience that was supposed to be impossible. He wants to use that knowledge to join the Reckoners and get revenge for the death of his father.

“The only thing you can see up there is Calamity, which looks kind of like a bright red star or comet. Calamity began to shine one year before men started turning into Epics… Of course, nobody knows why the Epics started appearing, or what their connection is to Calamity either.”

91WYnaA6QNL._SL1500_There have been attempts over the years to write a prose story based on superhumans, normally the domain of comic books. It’s a subject that misses more often than it hits with authors spending too much time trying to replicate the comic into prose, ignoring the fact that for those stories the art is an essential piece to the narrative.

Sanderson, perhaps due to his experience writing prose, has not fallen into the same trap. Steelheart is a novel that recognizes its content and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. This may have something to do with Sanderson’s proclivity to create balanced and well-thought magic systems. Or perhaps it’s due to the non-superpowered David and the Reckoners. Without powers it frees the main POV to not be bogged down in the typical pitfalls authors encounter when trying to replicate the artistic descriptions in prose.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a phrase you may be familiar with and it is at the heart of Calamity and the superpowered individuals that now roam the world. David’s father was a man that believed with the arrival of supervillains the heroes couldn’t be far behind. He was a man that hoped for a brighter tomorrow. But the idea that the only evil individuals are granted powers, or perhaps that powers make those individuals evil, is at the heart of the book. It is a secret that is never fully answered and one we’ll have to wait till the sequels to discover.

The book takes place in Newcago, or more specifically Chicago that has been transformed. The ruler of Chicago,

Steelheart, possesses a power that allows him to send out a wave of transformation energy that turned everything in the city to solid steel, including a portion of the lake.

“When the Great Transfersion caused the better part of the Old City to be turned into solid steel, that included the soil and rock, dozens – maybe hundreds – of feet down into the ground. During the early years of his reign, Steelheart pretended to be benevolent – if ruthless – dictator. His Diggers had cut out several levels of under-streets, complete with buildings, and people flowed to Newcago for work.”

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As in other books set in an alternate-world Earth, Sanderson has managed to take a standard setting and give it a fantastical element. He keeps the familiarity of the setting but changes enough to make it a new and interesting place for the readers to discover. Tunnels had to be built under the city to provide housing in steel encrusted buildings and electricity is still somewhat an issue as everything shorted out when the transformation struck.

Sanderson’s return to the YA market is filled with his signature worldbuilding and a fast-paced, high action cinematic style that is easy to lose yourself in. Already Sanderson can’t get enough of his reimagined America and a sequel is well on its way for a 2014 release. Pick up Steelheart now and get caught up before the sequel, Firefight, releases.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed – Book Review

1Saladin Ahmed’s first foray into novel territory is the sharply written sword & sorcery fantasy with a distinct Arabian/Middle Eastern flair. While Arabian fantasy is certainly no stranger to the mainstream Saladin manages to write a rousing epic in such a distinct setting and style that marks him out amidst the European castles and medieval armor of knights that permeate the genre.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the one of the last of an ancient order of ghul-hunters. Mages tasked with powerful holy invocations and spells meant to do battle against the forces of the Traitorous Angel and the numerous ghul-raisers and dark creatures that afflict the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Far from the usual fair of fantasy, Adoulla is old, fat, and ornery, who reads as such an honest and real character that you can’t help but be charmed by his rude gestures and grouchy wit.

Assistant/Partner to Adoulla is Raseed bas Raseed, a member of the Order of Dervishes who was sent to the Doctor to gain real-world application and experience as he trains to be a more devout holy warrior. The by-the-book dervish is often uptight and naïve in the actual workings of the city-streets, much to the amusement and chagrin of Adoulla. Yet conflict stirs deep within Raseed as romance blooms and he discovers his devotion to the Khalif and to the Holy Scripture may be too rigid for reality and the difficult decisions that need to be made.

Rounding out our trio is Zamia Banu Laith Badawi, the last survivor of the Badawi band of tribesmen that roam the deserts. One of the “instruments of God’s Ministering Angels’,” Zamia is able to shift into a golden lioness with silvery claws and teeth and incredible power against the ghuls and foul magics of the Traitorous Angel. She is sworn to avenge her band and destroy the evil force that brutally murdered her family, and joins the Doctor to complete this task.

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The plot of the servants of the Traitorous Angel as they seek to gain control of ancient death-magics is only one facet to this story. Meanwhile, in their city of Dhamaswaat the Falcon Prince, Pharaad Az Hammaz, is a Robin Hood-type benefactor of the poor and thief to the rich and eternal enemy to the corrupt and evil Khalif of all the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, Jabbari akh-Khaddari.

The story is interspersed with encounters and news of the Falcon Prince as he sows discord and seeks to upset the established order and bring wealth and medicine to the poorest of families in the city. His final plan, to invade the palace and depose the Khalif runs parallel to the plans of Adoulla and co. as they seek to stop the evil magus Orshado from unleashing the death and war magic.

It’s clear in his writing that Saladin takes enormous pride in his heritage and the cultures of the Middle East. So much so that his writing is overflowing with the feel of that wonderful culture. Through his writing Saladin was able to take me to the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and instead of it being a strange culture that I had to learn – much as with other fantasy novels set in exotic locales – Saladin managed to make me feel as though I belonged/had lived in this city and that Dhamaswaat was real.

throneFor anyone that is looking for a brief respite…no, for anyone that is a fan of fantasy you should read this novel and continue Saladin’s career as he delves deeper into the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Fantasy should not be limited to the vague European-stereotypes that are so often cast upon the genre. Our world is rich and vast in culture and possibilities, if only more authors would tap those resources instead of the same old, worn point in history we’re so used to.

 

 

From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince.  In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea.  Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot.  In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

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Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

And so ends one of the great modern fantasy trilogies.

81ga4vDHBgL._SL1500_Mark Lawrence exploded onto the fantasy scene in the summer of 2011 with the introduction of Jorg in Prince of Thorns, the first in his Broken Empire Trilogy. Few would argue that Jorg is anything but a cruel individual, fueled only by anger and the burning desire for revenge – and willing to go to any extreme, no matter how horrific, to further his ambition. Yet we can’t get enough of him.

Emperor of Thorns is a story told in two parts. One follows Jorg in the present as he makes his way with a small retinue to Vyene, the heart of the empire. It is there, with the other gathered Kings and Czars and other rulers of the Broken Empire, that Congression will be held and a vote will be passed in order to attempt to establish a new Emperor and reforge the Broken Empire.

Running parallel to this are glimpses 5 years into the past. A time following the events of the second book, King of ThornsA time where Jorg sets off across the Empire, from Afrique to Vyene, in order to learn more about the Builders and what they did so long ago that changed the world and ignited a thousand suns.

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The reader is also given brief chapters from Chella the necromancer, set in the present. The first point-of-view away from the first person Jorg we’ve lived inside for so long. These chapters offer a glimpse into the machinations of the Dead King as he bids Chella to follow Jorg to Vyene and influence the outcome of Congression to his favor.

Lawrence has crafted a world filled with magic, whether it’s the Necromancers under the leadership of the Dead King, the wind-sworn or  dream-sworn, able to command the aspects to which they’ve been gifted. And yet this magic is the result of the manipulations of reality by those long gone, the Builders. Only ruins and hints of their technology still exists yet the Builders themselves remain in the ghosts of their machines, subtly guiding and manipulating events to suit their own needs. A captivating blend of magic and modern technology set in a world of swords and Kings.

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Map for “Emperor of Thorns” depicting the Broken Empire

Say one thing for Jorg say that he has grown in his time as King. Perhaps the sharp edges that depicted Jorg and defined him through his connection to the thorns in the briar patch have been dulled. Make no mistake, he is still as likely to break your nose as shake your hand and would not hesitate to kill a defenseless woman or an entire village if it suited his needs. But there seems to always be an underlying motive behind each of his actions, a for the greater good mentality.

His Builder-ghost guide Fexler has given him secret knowledge unknown to anyone else in the story. Truths and secrets that would affect the way of thinking of the populace at a fundamental level. Perhaps it’s this knowledge, or the birth of his son, that has turned Jorg from villain to anti-hero.

As with any great fantasy series Lawrence has crafted a depth into his world that hides mysteries atop one another like some kind of neapolitan ice cream cake – including the identity of the Dead King. A revelation that made sense once revealed yet completely catches the reader off guard.

The last 20 pages or so are filled with a meta quality that has deeper philosophical underpinnings than the rest of this “grimdark” novel. It’s an odd tonal shift, especially considering the events of the previous 400 pages yet it didn’t feel out of place. Instead it was more reminiscent of a sigh of content relief, a breath of fresh air after the harsh realities of the Broken Empire trilogy.

It should go without saying but I loved this novel and this series as a whole. Mark Lawrence deserves his place as one of the titans of modern fantasy. While the darker nature of the Broken Empire may not appeal to all readers of fantasy it should at least be tried. Soon you’ll find yourself enamored by Jorg’s charm and the insight into his head due to the 1st person narration.

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Keep an eye out for Prince of Fools (2014) the first in the The Red Queen’s War series, set in the same world as the Broken Empire yet without our [hero] Jorg.

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. 

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power. 

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…

Spellwright by Blake Charlton – Book Review

Spellwright by Blake Charlton – Book Review

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 6.07.57 PMForming magical sentences in your muscles and casting them out to a variety of effects. Animated gargoyles and golems and strange textual dragons that plague a city while Gods and Demons fight over the prophesized hero of the land. Spellwright at first glance is a story with some of the hallmarks of fantasy, what others may call stereotypical cliché’s. However it doesn’t take long for those “stereotypes” to be turned on their head and delivered in a thoughtful and original manner that is captivating while still retaining the touch of familiarity.

Spellwright is a story about Nicodemus Weal, a spellwright of immense talent studying at one of the premier schools for linguistic spells and text. In fact his talent is so great he was thought to be the Halcyon, the prophesized hero that will lead the spellwrights in the War of Disjunction, a massive battle foretold to be fought against ancient demons as they fight to destroy civilization. Unfortunately for Nicodemus he was determined to not be the savior due to a distinct disability known as cacography. In short, cacographic children misspell magical text to the point of illegibility, at which point the spell loses cohesion and could crumble, detonate, or any number of possible consequences. Since then Nicodemus has come to terms with his disability and works diligently with his mentor Professor Shannon to show a culture that looks down on him because of his disability that he’s still useful.

But all of that changes as a mysterious figure cloaked in white arrives at Starhaven, the spellwright school, intent on finding a certain cacographic boy to pursue his own malicious plans.

Meanwhile, just because Nicodemus thought he was done with prophecy does not mean its shadow doesn’t still loom over his head. Druids have come looking specifically for Nicodemus, believing he is the one of their prophecy, the Peregrine. They are some of the few that believe the War of Disjunction is not only coming, it’s very nearly upon them.

Blake Charlton has managed to craft a unique world that breathes a fresh and rejuvenating breath into the staples of the fantasy genre. Whether it’s talk of tertiary or quarternary cognition being imbued into constructs such as gargoyles or recognizing a spellwright based on the prose style of the texts and spells they’re casting, Charlton uses original language himself to describe the effects of spells most fans of fantasy are used to.

Nicodemus is one of my favorite characters in current series as his is a story of one who rises above their limitations instead of letting them define who he is as a person without ignoring the very real presence of those limitations. By no means is Nicodemus the cookie-cutter prophesized hero; instead he is a flawed, imperfect real person that is easy to connect with on a multitude of levels.

In particular I found his relationship with his mentor, and father figure, Magister Shannon to be not only compelling but also inspiring. In early chapters he is often following the Magister’s orders and every word, while by the end he has grown into a strong and capable individual of his own right that is able to make difficult decisions for himself, despite protests from others close to him.

By book’s end the reader is treated to the knowledge that what is considered irrefutable prophecy is in fact only the tip of a conspiracy that has roots stretching deep across both time and nations.

The war against demons is fast approaching. With the imminent arrival of the Halcyon the Storm Petrel is set to emerge as well, a counterpoint to the Halcyon that acts as an agent of change and discord.

The only way to find out what will happen is to pick up Spellbound and continue the story of Nicodemus Weal as he trains to be a force to oppose demonkind, regardless of the consequences.

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text . . . but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus… and the world.

Spellwright by Blake Charlton on Amazon

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:

 

Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

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Alloy of Law brings everything readers loved about Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, high-octane magic systems – Allomancy, fun, quirky characters, and a thrilling complex plot and dumps it all into a thoroughly Western setting. Join Wax and Wayne – yes the naming was intentional – two officers from the Roughs, an analogue to the American Old West, as they move back to the big city and attempt to solve a series of mysterious robberies and kidnappings carried out by a gang known as the Vanishers.

Waxillium Ladrian, Wax for short, is a young lord who left Elendel to bring law to the dangerous Roughs. His uncle’s death and an unfortunate accident during the first chapter convince Wax to abandon the life and reputation he’s made for himself bringing criminals to justice and head back to Elendel to manage the estate and all of the workers that he indirectly employs. Just when he believes he’s left his life behind and he’s ready to pursue a marriage to help stabilize his family’s ailing finances he’s brought back in as his fiancé’ to be is kidnapped.

Joining Wax is his old sidekick, Wayne – an intentional play on words that sums up both characters personalities – as well as young Marasi, a close relative of his fiancé and aspiring legal justice from the University. Together the three band together to tease out the puzzle of the Vanishers and just what it is that they are really after during their mysterious robberies.

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Sanderson has made it known in subsequent interviews that Alloy of Law was merelyan experiment, a short side-project meant mostly to keep his inspiration and creative channels free and flowing between larger more in-depth projects. The novel grew in the telling and soon passed the novella length and rested firmly in novel territory. Perhaps because of these more humble origins Alloy of Law is infused with a certain level of humor and wit that, while present in previous Sanderson works, has never been displayed to quite this level before. Wayne in particular is a source of constant amusement as his witticisms always hit the perfect comedic timing to pace apart the action and intrigue of the plot.

Sanderson gained his reputation in the fantasy community through his creation of complex and interesting magic systems and this book marks the return of the one that put him on the map. Allomancy is the ability to glean a power by ingesting a source of metal – such as tin, iron, or steel – and “burning” that metal. Soon we’re treated to highflying leaps as Coinshots shoot themselves into the air by pushing on spent bullet casings and Tineyes enhance their senses by ingesting, you guessed it, tin.

Along with the return of the Allomantic powers we learned about in Mistborn we get to witness whole new metals and the powers they bestow. Most notably is Wayne’s allomantic power derived from bendalloy, which grants him the ability to create a speed bubble, a tiny sphere of enclosed space that moves at normal speed while everything outside the bubble remains frozen.

But that’s not all. Brandon also takes this chance to introduce the concept of Twinborns. That is a individual who not only possess 1 of the 16 Allomantic powers but 1 of the 16 Feruchemical powers as well. In the aforementioned Waynes case, not only is he able to effectively freeze time in an area around him using Allomancy but also by wearing bracers of gold he is able to store health by being sick for an amount of time in order to tap and heal himself at a later date.

With the fabled Mistborn, those able to ingest and use all of the 16 allomantic powers, a thing of legend, the role of the Twinborn steps into play and we’re given an interesting glimpse into the potential coupling of complimentary powers.

When we left Scadriel it was in a weird place technologically speaking. The Lord Ruler had closed an iron fist over advancements such as gunpowder and locomotion, while cultivating a manner of dress similar to Victorian London and technologies such as canned foods. Well 300 years later and those restrictions are no more. Now trains follow the canals that marked the setting prior and revolvers, rifles, and shotguns are aplenty. Even newspapers have made it to Scadriel, with a broadsheet being featured interspersed among the chapters, and other interior illustrations that were expertly drawn by Ben McSweeney and Isaac Stewart.

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While it isn’t necessary to have read the original Mistborn trilogy to enjoy Alloy of Law it certainly lends plenty of moments of fond memories for those that did. Whether it’s the talk of the Ascendant Warrior (Vin), Old Ironeyes (a surviving Steel Inquisitor), or even the still functioning Church of the Survivor, allusions run rampant. A keen eye could spend an entire article listing the references found in the map alone!

The one area that Alloy of Law fell short for me is in the one-dimensionality of its characters. While each character is distinct and its easier to connect Wayne as the comedian, Wax as the action-hero, and so on, I feel it left something to be wanted as it was often easy to predict not only how a character would act but what they would precisely do once new information or situation was given to them. It hampered any significant character growth in a disappointing way.

As a caveat I feel compelled to mention that this did not, in any way, hamper my ability to enjoy the book as I still found it next to impossible to set down once I had picked it up for my evening read. Brandon has also gone on to state that he plans more books set in this time period with Wax and Wayne returning in style in a future installment tentatively titled Shadows of Self.

Alloy of Law was a brilliant return to the world of Scadriel where the mists reign supreme and Allomantically charged individuals take to the sky in tassled, Mistcloak glory. If you enjoyed Brandon’s breakout trilogy Mistborn you cannot miss Alloy of Law as it brings the logical technological advancement to a world of magic.

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice. 

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will.  After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel on Amazon

Before the Fall by Francis Knight – Book Review

Before the Fall by Francis Knight Book Review

Before-The-Fall-J3-2-662x1024Towering skyscrapers of a city built upward instead of outward, intense segregation and prejudice, a starving city, two nations camped outside ready for war, and magic fueled by pain. Welcome back to the city of Mahala and it’s savior, or destroyer depending how you look at it, Rojan Dizon. Before the Fall is the sequel to the hit Fade to Black a book I reviewed a short while back and lauded for it’s ability to depict what I love about the Film Noir genre and distill it into written form. Make no mistake, Francis Knight has done it again and knocked this one right out of the park.

We pick up not long after we left Rojan, Jake, and Pasha. The Glow, the lifeblood of the city of Mahala has been destroyed at Rojan’s hands and they are busily working on a suitable replacement for the pain factories the former Archdeacon ran through kidnapping and coercion. Dwarf and his new assistant Lise are building a generator that mixes pain magic and electricity in order to generate enough Glow using a fraction of the pain previously required. It’s an ambitious task that has its difficulties, namely the shortage of Pain Mages, as well as detractors, those high up in the Ministry that would rather not use the heretic Mages except as target practice.

Following the opening of the Pit, the wild and passionate population of Downsiders have ventured higher into the city, namely into such aptly named areas as “No-Hope-Shitty” and other areas of Under, bringing with them their own versions of the Goddess and the tiger Namrat and unique modes of devotion. Unfortunately Upsiders don’t do well to what they deem as heretic practices and as such the Downsiders are more discriminated and rejected by those who believe themselves superior. It is a stark line that Knight does a wonderful job of illustrating with separate Church’s and other distinguishing marks that are reminiscent of time periods of segregation in the real world without crossing the line into being offensive or distasteful.

It isn’t long before Rojan and group are thrust into another scheme, this time involving the murders of burgeoning Pain Mages, just discovering their talents. It’s a race against the clock, as with each death tempers flair and outright rioting and civil war become an ever-increasing reality. As with any good novel however, the action doesn’t end when the murderer is discovered. Instead it merely uncovers another layer in a growing web of conspiracy and plotting.

Rojan himself is back in true fashion, flirting with women, causing mayhem, and being an all around smartass. He is a character that is written in the true mold of a modern hero. He’s not a glorified, long blond hair blowing in the breeze Prince Charming, but rather a tired, hurt, and relatable man doing only what he thinks is best.

In Fade to Black we spent a significant amount of time with Jake, the duel-sword wielding hero of the Downside Death Matches. And Rojan’s most fervent crush, despite her heart belonging to Pasha, fellow Pain Mage. In Before the Fall Pasha is treated with that boost in page-time and it makes his character who, if I were to be honest, was not very high on my list after book one, a much more likeable character. You get a deeper look into his character and the methods by which he operates and believes, and I for one am glad to have gotten to know the inner lion on that monkey-faced man.

Besides Rojan and Pasha, what I love most about Knight’s writing is her magic system, or more accurately the fuel for it, pain. With a dislocated finger or a slice from a blade providing enough power for a decent spell, it falls on Knight to put the reader in the mind of Rojan or any of the other Pain Mages when they use their power, and she does so brilliantly. I often found myself cringing in sympathetic pain whenever Rojan tightened his severely damaged hand into a painful fist. For me it’s a thrill to no end to not only feel what the character does but linked directly into the magic as it is makes it all the more appealing, as though I’m merely a step away from using that pain to power a spell myself.

With the enemy nations of the Storad and Mishans are literally pounding at the gates at the finish of the book it leaves me counting the days until the conclusion of the trilogy releases on November 26. Last to Rise is shaping up to be a wonderful flourish of a finish as Rojan, Pasha, and Jake all deal with more and more pain, whether that pain takes them to death or to the Black, or on the rare chance they survive the coming war, I simply cannot wait to read what’s coming next.

Before the Fall will be released on June 18, 2013.

Check over here at Fantasy-Faction to read my interview with Francis Knight!

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With the destruction of their main power source, the towering vertical city of Mahala is in crisis.

Downsiders are verging on a riot, and the mage Rojan Dizon is just trying to keep his head down and some power back to the city — whilst staying hopeful that he won’t get executed for using his magic. Then things go from bad to worse when a Downsider and emerging mage is found murdered. It’s a crime that divides all sides, and the result is mayhem.

But Rojan’s worst nightmare is just around the corner. When he discovers the killer’s identity, he’s either going to be responsible for all-out anarchy, or for a war with Mahala’s neighboring countries that no one is prepared for.

And there’s nothing Rojan hates more than being responsible.