Fell Sword by Miles Cameron – Book Review

The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liviapolis Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last to Rise by Francis Knight – Book Review

Last to Rise by Francis Knight Book Review

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

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

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

Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Book Review

Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thousand Names – Book Review

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – Book Review

*Be sure to scroll down to see a mini-review of the short story, Penitent Damned,
Django released on io9 here.*

9780451465108_large_The_Thousand_NamesThe Thousand Names by newcomer Django Wexler is a gritty, soldiers’ novel that focuses more with life on campaign than traditional quest elements most often seen in fantasy. While a welcome departure from some of the tropes of fantasy it can at times feel more like a historical novel.

The story starts a little slow and doesn’t really start to pick up until around page 100. Despite this, Wexler has crafted a compelling narrative with characters that are quick to fall in love with. Those 100 pages, as well as the following 400, go by at a smooth pace and never really fails at keeping the reader’s attention because you can’t help but want more from both Winter and Marcus as their stories unfold.

The worldbuilding is interesting as Wexler chose to base his world on a time period that features the invention of guns and black powder. Combined with the varied faiths, racial distinctions as the soldiers lead a campaign on foreign soil, the glimpsed at magic system, and more, created a realistic and believable world that seems closer to a living breathing entity. There seems to be such depth to the world that if given this book as a child and told it was a historical account from our own world, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t believe it – despite the unfamiliar names and magic system that makes an appearance toward the end.

The story is told through the eyes of two characters, the first of which is Winter Ihernglass. Winter is a soldier in the Colonials, a force on the Khandar continent, who fled to the military to escape her past. Oh, and did I mention Winter is also a woman? In a tale similar to Mulan, Winter has found the best place to hide is in the military, where a woman is the last thing anyone would expect to see.

Things get interesting quick for Winter as she is quickly promoted to command and must use the skills she’s learned the few years in the military to lead and inspire her troops to continue marching and end a rebellion that’s brewed in the desert. I was always more excited to read her sections over Marcus as her character was relatable and easy to enjoy. Coupled with Wexler’s ability to blend enough mysteries concerning her backstory, it was easy to get drawn into the down-on-her-luck soldier as she’s forced to embrace command.

Opposite to Winter is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, a commander of one of the Colonial garrisons. Despite wishes to the contrary he is soon put in a place of second-in-command to the new Colonel as he aims to end the rebellion and help restore the deposed Prince to his throne.

A soldier-type through and through, Marcus proved to be an interesting flip to Winter’s passages and while interesting always felt a little more stilted by comparison. The true shining moment in his chapters were the interactions with the new Colonel, Janus bet Vhalnich. A Napoleon Bonaparte inspired character whose tactical ingenuity, genius and oftentimes eccentric personality made him easily lovable and one of my favorite characters to read.

It takes a little while for any type of magic to make an appearance, yet Wexler manages to capture the audience’s attention in other manners, whether it be the powder smoke of battle or compelling characters that are forced to deal with surprising wrenches in the plan. When magic does finally get introduced it is very mysterious and mostly hidden, letting the readers imagination run a little wild with the tantalizing taste we’re given.

The narrative arc runs the risk of at times being slightly predictable but not in any way that was detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the events as they transpired. The end sets the stage wonderfully for The Shadow Throne with a return to the Vordanai continent as mysteries and secrets are revealed.

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

* * *

Penitent Damned by Django Wexler – Short Story Review

For anyone that missed the link at the top of the page, be sure to go here and read this amazing short-story set in the world of The Shadow Campaign Trilogy.

The Penitent Damned is a wonderful short story that sets the stage for the events to come in The Thousand Names. I originally read this before reading the novel but have to admit I think it’s more enjoyable if read after Thousand Names.

This story follows Alex, an apprentice under the master thief Metzing, as they return to a city they swore off forever for one incredible job. Only Vordan City is also the home of Duke Orlanko and his secret police the Concordat.

Unlike The Thousand Names, this short story doesn’t waste any time in showcasing the magic of the world and some of the mysteries that are only glimpsed at in the novel.

It’s a wonderful story that brings depth to the worldbuilding and a taste of what’s to come as the series progresses. Alex is a fun character with an interesting set of skills and I hope that she will be making a future appearance in the series.

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

Francis Knight – Author Interview

Fade-to-Black

I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with the talented Francis Knight, author of the Rojan Dizon Trillogy – Fade to Black, Before the Fall set to be released on June 18, and Last to Rise scheduled to be released November 26, 2013.

If you remember my review of Fade to Black I applauded her ability to translate what I loved about film noir into a written form. That combined with characters you can’t help butfall in love with for their wit and charm, an original setting, with an engaging plot left me eager for more.

So naturally I sent a request and before I knew it I had received a copy of Before the Fall for a review. Once I finished I had to have some burning questions answered. So without further ado, I give you Francis Knight!

  • Anyone can search Google to get your author bio. What’s something new and interesting that you can tell us about yourself?

I’ve got three tattoos – two dragons and a Rohirrim flag. I’m kind of hankering for another one, but I can’t decide what I want.

  • Would you mind giving us some information on the development of theRojan Dizon books – inspiration, writing process, or any quirky pre-writing rituals?

My usual process is ‘start with a character in a situation’, a vague idea of the tone/atmosphere I’m going for and then I develop by writing to see what happens. For the Rojan books, I originally envisaged a sort of future dystopia, but after feed back from my writers group it became apparent I’m pretty shoddy at future tech, so I decided to go for dark, Bladerunner style fantasy. The rest turned up as I was writing. And my only ritual is ‘Tea!’

  • Rojan is one of the most interesting characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Where did he come from? 

Rojan turned up pretty much fully formed – a part of the setting in essence. He wouldn’t be who he is without the city and what’s happened to it, and what it’s done to the people he knows and loves. He’s the cynical, sarcastic part of me unleashed and stripped of hope. Which did make him fun to write!

  • Besides the trilogy of books focusing on Rojan do you have any other stories to be told in this world?

Certainly! Frankly, I have more ideas for stories than I could reasonably write in the next ten years, though not all on the same world. I’ve got plans for a few other cities on Rojan’s world though…

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  • Faith and religion feature heavily in your books, especially the role of the deacons and archdeacon in the government. Why did you choose to place such a strong focus on the beliefs of the city and what does that do for the plot? 

Religion and faith are large parts of the fantasy genre (in much the same way that tech is part of Sci Fi – a story can live without it, but it’s a common theme). But I wondered about the more personal aspects of living in a theocracy – especially if you don’t believe in the same things everyone else does. Rojan’s lack of faith is a huge part of him, and a reaction to the same things that made him such a cynic elsewhere. For the plot – well it can go many ways! It always can. But it informed the setting, the backstory of the city, which then informs what people are doing now, what they want and how they go about it, which becomes the plot. As with any setting, all the aspects have to work together to make a convincing whole, and that’s, and people’s reaction to their setting, is what affects the plot.

  • Your world has an interesting blend of technology and magic. What made you decide to include some modern amenities like cars and guns while still having a strong and present magic system?

I was interested in how magic and technology could co-exist. If not everyone can do magic, but tech can do some of the things that magic can. Or if one can do things the other can’t. How does it affect the balance of power? Mages might feel tech is a threat and suppress it, or vice versa. They could of course live happily together, but that’s for another story!

  • That being said, why do you think so many fantasy authors are hesitant to create worlds that feature technological advancement as well as magic 

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but what daunted me about it was because of the difference it makes to the balance of power. Swords and wizards, there’s been many books about that, and the balance of power that brings, and its variations. We know it, it’s comfortable (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But once you change one thing, it has a ripple effect – it can affect everything! That said, there are many authors who play around with magic and tech.

  • What drew you to the dark, gritty aura around your Rojan Dizon books? I’ve read it elsewhere that films such as Blade Runner and Sin City appealed to and inspired you, why is that?

I’ve always had a soft spot for dark atmospheres when I read or watch a film, I don’t know why. I thought it was about time I tried to see if I could make one for myself. A challenge.

  • Before-The-Fall-J3-2-662x1024Fade to Black ends with great change for the city of Mahala. How are the things Rojan experienced in Under going to change him for Book 2, Before the Fall?

Well, the change really started in Fade to Black, but we’ll see more of that as the books go on. Rojan was pretty self absorbed to begin with, but he’s forced to confront parts of his own and other people’s natures. What he experienced Under, and what he woke up to about himself, has a profound affect on that confrontation, and how he deals with what it shows him.

  • Mahala is a beautifully crafted city that reaches up instead of out. The Ministry expends a lot of effort to ensure that the outside world essentially doesn’t exist. Yet we see a Storad fighting in the Death Matches during Fade to Black. Any chance we’ll see more of the neighboring nations in Books 2 or 3?

I think it’s safe to say that Mahala is going to have to acknowledge that there is, in fact, an outside. The neighbours will be sticking their oar in plenty, so it’ll be hard to hide! Rojan may even get to leave the city….

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.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan – Review

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

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The Powder Mage trilogy begins with Promise of Blood, a fantastic and engaging book from debut author Brian McClellan. Powerful sorcerers, trained Marksmen with magical abilities, and long forgotten gods bring color and intrigue to the world of Adro following a bloody revolution that has left the King and his royal cabal dead and a new government run by the people on it’s way to power. Promise of Blood is filled with engaging characters, original worldbuilding, and a plot that left me unable to put the book down until I finished two days later.

The blurb on the back of my ARC says “A fantasy debut perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks.” And I can honestly say that this is absolutely true. I found Promise of Blood to be an amazing amalgamation of these author’s writing styles. It has the cinematic quality of Brandon Sanderson, along with his talent for magic systems and worldbuilding, while touching on a bit of the dark and grittiness found in Weeks’ books, and a dash of Rothfuss’ way with words. Put simply, this is an engaging and wonderfully written work that is going to do great things in the Fantasy-genre this year.

As I mentioned previously, a large theme in this book deals with revolution. We start the book immediately following a bloody coup of the King and his sorcerers and it’s non stop action from there. Field-Marshall Tamas, his Powder Cabal – deadly marksmen who use gunpowder to fuel their magic -, along with his Council of supporters are left to manage a city that was deep in debt and ill-prepared for a shift in political structure.

Meanwhile Taniel, a gifted marksman who is also Tamas’ son, is sent to hunt a Privileged sorcerer who escaped the night of the coup. Alongside his partner, a savage girl named Ka-poel, they travel to a mountain fort that borders their nation of Adro with their enemy Kez. Taniel’s sections were always some of the more interesting. Addiction and the overcoming of personal and emotional obstacles being a prominent trait of these sections.

Meanwhile, Adamat, a retired investigator is hired by Tamas to put his detective skills to work uncovering mystery after mystery that started the night he killed the King’s sorcerer’s in their sleep. These chapters provided the most depth to the story and cast as he goes to any length to get the answers necessary to be payed.

Being a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson I have a weakness for well-thought out and original magic systems and Brian McClellan doesn’t disappoint. There are, depending on how you count them, either three or four magic systems shown in Promise of Blood. Of course the one that takes center stage is that of the Powder Mages. Gunpowder magic. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Magic that is fueled by gunpowder. It’s one of those concepts that once you hear it, you have to smack yourself in the head for not thinking of it first. McClellan handles this expertly, doling out information as needed to set the stage for a dramatic use of the magic system. The use of guns and gunpowder is a welcome breath in the fantasy genre. Instead of simply ignoring their presence in history, McClellan seized the opportunity and crafted the ability to kill an enemy from a distance into his narrative.

In true Fantasy style Brian leaves us wanting nothing but more, more, more at the end of Promise of Blood. There are more questions than answers and a level of excitement as you finish book one. The last one hundred pages goes by in a flash as you devour a finely crafted ending that leaves you desperate for more information. Luckily, The Crimson Campaign, book two, is already scheduled to be released in February 2014 and Orbit has released the gorgeous cover art to keep attention on this talented debut author.

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Part of me is hesitant to offer so much praise to a book, especially a debut novel. But as I write this review and I flip through some of my favorite passages I know it’s well justified. If you are a fan of epic-fantasy with a twist of the strange in execution and content, you’ll be mightily pleased by Brian McClellan’s debut novel, Promise of Blood.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron – Review

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

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Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.

Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war. . .

I had the fortunate pleasure to receive an early copy of Miles Cameron’s debut novel, The Red Knight. Never have I been more pleasantly surprised and impressed with a writer’s skills, which far exceeded my humble expectations. While Miles Cameron has written before, this is his first attempt at a fantasy novel, and it certainly will not be his last. The Red Knight is medieval-fantasy at its finest and well worth anyone’s time and effort.

The central conflict, at its essence, revolves around the denizens of the Wild against civilization and humanity. While the forces of the Wild include fantastical creatures such as irks, boglins, and trolls; the conflict is far more basic in nature, and one that our own world struggles with. The conflict is a critical view of the expansion of humans and encroaching civilization against the untamed, lush forests of the Wild. Despite the fantastical creatures that appear savage and cruel, the reader is cleverly manipulated to empathize with the creatures as we are treated to scenes of humanity’s own savage tendencies to those they deem “uncivilized.”

Thoughts of the colonization of the America’s by the Europeans come to mind, both for their views and treatment of the Native Americans and the inclusion by Miles Cameron of the Sossag, an equivalent to the Native American people. The Sossag were one of the more fascinating sections to read as they offered a unique view of the borderline between civilization and the denizens of the “Wild.”

The protagonist, known only as the Captain for the majority of the novel, is a realistically written man who does his best with what he is given. An anti-hero with a conscious, the Captain is a devout atheist living in a time when one’s devotion to God surpasses any other bond. Such as any other great novel the Captain undergoes a transformative inner journey as he defends a nunnery from siege. It is this journey that makes the Captain so fascinating to read.RedKnightUK

The cast is extended further with numerous other viewpoints, which range from the Queen, to a crazed holy knight, all the way to an escaped slave turned native, the aforementioned Sossag people. Each time I felt I would grow weary of a character a new one would step in to take his place and offer a new view on the events of the world.

Perhaps what I am most impressed with, other than the characterization, is Cameron’s fantastic depiction of combat. It is rare for an author to be able to capture the chaos and fear that accompanies a fight, let alone a fight involving ghoulish irks and other frightening creatures as they scrape and claw at a man in restricting steel armor. Coupled with the realism that in war the body will feel every ache and pain, which is conveyed wonderfully, the reader will find the line separating the real world and the world of the book slowly disappearing. The author is a known re-enactor and medieval historian and he uses this knowledge to great effect in order to craft a story and a world that feels as authentic as The Red Knight.

Concepts such as Hermeticism or the Memory Palace have their place in our own history and it is refreshing to see Cameron adjust these concepts to suit his original magic system. Combined with an eye for detail regarding arms and armor, as well as siege tactics, make parts of this novel read as an alternate history rather than fiction.

One of the only drawbacks is also Cameron’s greatest strength, his familiarity with the medieval era and method of life. The terms and vocabulary he uses are very specific and I found myself referencing my dictionary more than once. That being said, once you grow more comfortable with the vocabulary you really appreciate and notice the passion Cameron has for this time frame in our history.

Despite Red Knight being Miles Cameron’s debut fantasy novel it is superbly written with particular care given to the characters and the action. If you’re a fan of characters that are incredibly realistic and battles that put you right in the sweaty, gritty action, this is a book for you. I have high hopes for the Traitor Son Cycle and will be eagerly looking forward to the sequel.

 

*Check out the review as it was originally published over at Fantasy-Faction*

Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Review

Shadow Ops:Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Review

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The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers–summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.
 Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier–cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place–Oscar Britton, public enemy number one.
….

Myke Cole gives us the sequel to one of the biggest debut successes of 2012 with Control Point. Now he’s back with Fortress Frontier, which brings new characters, schools of magic, and all around depth to the alternate world Cole imagined for his Shadow Ops series. I managed to get my hands on an advance copy and take my word for it, this is not a series you want to miss.

Cole set a breakneck pace with his first book and there were a few worried he wouldn’t be able to match the success his first book gained, but fortunately for us he excelled past expectations and delivered a book that is better in every aspect of the word.

Instead of continuing the story of the renegade Oscar Britton, Cole decides to switch gears and give us a new protagonist to follow. Alan Bookbinder. Contrary to Britton’s experiences as a soldier Bookbinder is a Grade A paper-pusher. More often dealing with paper cuts than bullet wounds. That is, until he manifests as a Latent, the term used to describe magic users in Cole’s parallel world.

Unlike Britton, Bookbinder follows the law and turns himself in to the authorities after confirming he is indeed Latent. This gives us the chance to see how the United States officially deals with Latency and casts a dividing line between Control Point and Fortress Frontier as we see both sides of the military coin. Suffice it to say, I empathize with Britton more after learning what really happens when you willingly hand yourself over to the Supernatural Operations Corps.

Cole wisely gives us a little breathing room to learn about Bookbinder before catching up and continuing with the events of Control Point. Britton’s heroic battle at the F.O.B (Forward Operating Base) and subsequent strikes against the U.S military forces is given new light as we see the true ramifications of his choice to cut the F.O.B and it’s inhabitants off from the human world.

Bookbinder is forced to leave his desk and march across the Source with a small force at his backside, intent on finding salvation for his men who are under attack from hordes of goblins. It’s here Cole’s worldbuilding shines like a beacon as we explore the Source, see new creatures, and most interestingly how a foreign country has handled the discovery of magic and the Source plane. Along the way we discover more of Bookbinder’s new magical abilities, which make him worth more than his weight in gold to certain factions.

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Myke Cole’s skills in writing have matured in leaps and bounds compared to Book 1 and I am looking forward to seeing him round out the Shadow Ops trilogy with the  final novel Breach Zone. I never thought military-fantasy would be something that would interest me but I sit here now eating a big ol’ plate of humble pie. Cole has crafted an imaginative, detailed world that any fan of fantasy would love to escape into. Read Control Point, read Fortress Frontier, and sit on the sidelines as Myke finishes Breach Zone and devour that book as well when it arrives. You will not regret it.