Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Hammered by Kevin Hearne

The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne are just about the perfect mindless entertainment – the books are full of a fun humor, they are largely set in Arizona (where I live) and they are short, quick reads. Hammered (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is the third book in the series and it picks up after the first two and continues forward with Hearne’s fun and irreverent style.

Atticus, the world’s last Druid, has a promise to keep – he must help a vampire and a werewolf kill the Norse god Thor, who it seems is a grade-a asshole. He knows that there will be consequences to such an action, and several other gods have mentioned as much to him. It’s time to start digging up the roots he grew in Tempe, Arizona and move on. And it’s time to kill another god.

These books aren’t particularly deep, the characterization doesn’t really go beyond Atticus and his dog and if one thinks too hard on everything, the world that Hearne has created would come crumbling down. And that doesn’t matter one bit since the books succeed in what they want to do – provide a fun, exciting adventure in a creative setting with magic, gods and all sorts of mythological creatures. In Hammered Hearne keeps the fun rolling.

One aspect that I was happy about in Hammered is that there seems to be a lot less of the wish-fulfillment we got in the first two as Hearne settles in to tell the story and escalate the terms a bit. That and the fact that Hearne is happy to have Atticus and friends really shake things up.

So, if you’re looking for a fun, creative urban fantasy series that is quick to read and not particularly deep, The Iron Druid Chronicles may be just what you want. The humor is over-the-top and often caters to geek culture and the adventure is high in a world where all the myths and legends seem to be true and all the gods are real, yet the world is remarkably just like our own. A cool character kicks a lot of ass and he has a faithful dog for a sidekick and a sexy young apprentice along (who I really hope will become more involved in the stories to come). And the bonus is it’s all set in Arizona, a setting rather underutilized in the world of urban fantasy. I can’t wait to read more and Tricked (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) will be published in April, 2012, so I won’t have to wait long.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

When reading the follow-up book in new, rather pulp-ish urban fantasy series a reader really is looking for more of the same magical entertainment they found in the first. I’m happy to say that Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) does just that in its follow-up to the wildly popular debut in the series, Midnight Riot, aka Rivers of London in the UK (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound). Only, there is more – Aaronovitch lays the groundwork for some potentially interesting complexities moving forward.

Someone, or something, appears to be killing jazz musicians in London. Constable Peter Grant is on the case as he continues his apprenticeship to his senior officer, who is London’s last remaining wizard. Things get complicated, a new romantic interest enters the scene as Peter copes with horrific damage his close friend recovers from. Jazz vampires, vaginal teeth and chimeras all await Peter, who for all his potential as London’s next wizard, is still just a rookie copper.

It’s odd, looking back on Midnight Riot I see that my main complaints really don’t have that much do with Aaronovitch’s writing. There is the whole white-washing cover issue which is still present but has no impact on the story. And there is my complaint of ‘Americanization’ of some of the language. This second issue seems much less prevalent in Moon Over Soho than it did in Midnight Riot, though I did still catch a remark or two about ‘soccer’ (come-on, what self-respecting Londoner would call football, soccer?). Excepting that, Aaronovitch creates the perfect atmosphere of a London that most people never see.

The plot of Moon Over Soho owes a lot to traditional pulp mysteries. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that much is predictable, but it doesn’t really matter since it’s fun and engaging. I find I’m much less interested in the immediate plot on hand than the background. What is the history of Peter’s boss Nightingale? Peter’s own evolution as a wizard. Just how is magic operating in a modern London? And frankly, Peter is just a fun guy to follow and the ‘real’ London that Aaronovitch creates is addicting. Peter isn’t perfect – he’s a rookie that makes mistakes and doesn’t know all that much. And it’s always a relief to have a character who doesn’t miraculously become an expert in everything – even if Peter does have the occasional miraculous leap.

In many ways, the conclusion to Moon Over Soho was both hugely disappointing and quite satisfying. The original mystery on hand is resolved, however other introduced issues are not. More resolution would have been great – but I’m also very intrigued by the possibility of an ‘arch-nemesis’ being introduced. And the future of The Folly is going to get quite interesting.

This is another fun entry in what is fast becoming one of my favorite ongoing urban fantasy series. I may not be able to physically travel to London near as often as I’d like, but at least I get a tour that the tourists don’t when I read about Peter Grant’s London. Thankfully, the wait for the next entry won’t be long because Whispers Under Ground is coming in May, 2012 (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

I eavesdropped on a Twitter conversation a couple months ago between a couple of bloggers whose opinions I (generally) respect. The conversation was about the tired old issue of genre and sub-genre definitions and classifications. This is generally a topic I have little taste for as I tend to take a pretty broad definition and am not bothered when things become a bit nuanced for standard definitions. The book at the center of the discussion was The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and the meat of the discussion tended to revolve around whether or not it is epic fantasy. The Whitefire Crossing doesn’t quite fit into a traditional epic fantasy definition, though it shares many of the same tropes – it’s also not really urban fantasy or sword & sorcery. Apparently I wasn’t the only eavesdropper and the author herself eventually entered the discussion by saying that she preferred the term ‘adventure fantasy’. I now understand why the discussion occurred a bit more since reading the book, though I still tend to shy away from whatever classification ‘controversy’ may exist here. In the end, this is a fun book and impressive debut that is hard to pin down (finally, I did get to the point of the long intro).

The Whitefire Crossing tells the story of a young, desperate caravan guide and part-time smuggler (Dev) hired on for the biggest challenge he’s faced – how to smuggle a person (Kiran) past a tightly-guarded border on the other side of the Whitefire Mountains. What Dev doesn’t know is that Kiran is a mage and even more desperate than him. Kiran is wanted by many, including one of the most powerful mages in the world and Dev finds himself trapped in a deadly game, forcing him to choose between the morals he wants to cling to, his own well-being and promises made long ago.

One of the first things that stands out about The Whitefire Crossing is the way in which Schafer chooses to tell the story. The story is told through only two points of view – Dev with a first-person point of view and Kiran with a third-person limited point of view. This allows Schafer to create two very well-rounded characters, complete with flaws, limitations, stupidity, and moments of heroism (these are often moments of stupidity as well). It also allows the reader to share the ignorance of the two main characters, while at least getting a glimpse at the other. I rather liked the approach that at times borders on a ‘he-said, she said’ interplay. A potential negative to this is that the language used is decided ‘modern’ feeling, something that often turns off fantasy readers, though I’ve never been particularly bothered by it.

Another standout aspect of The Whitefire Crossing is that Dev is essentially a rock-climber. Sure, his job is that of guide, but climbing is his passion. It’s no coincidence that Schafer is climber herself, allowing for a fairly accurate view of climbing, though it’s a pretty minor aspect of the book. Since I’ve dabbled with climbing a bit over the years and I spend a lot of time in the mountains, I enjoyed this aspect of the book. And I think it’s worth noting that this places The Whitefire Crossing in the unique position of cornering the market for rock-climbing SFF fans.

The story itself is a pretty standard fair with desperate protagonists who don’t really trust each on the run from powerful enemies. It’s fun and engaging and throws in enough twists to keep things interesting. Schafer shows herself to be a new author with a few pacing issues from time to time, though they are minor and overall The Whitefire Crossing is well-done. The end resolves the issue the main issue, but of course sets the stage for coming books, as this the first book of The Shattered Sigil trilogy. In one respect, there is a bit of a cliff-hanger ending that would almost feel more appropriate in the middle book of the trilogy, which was a nice touch.

There’s a magical city in the desert, near impassible mountain range, backstabbing, mages battling for survival, desperate survivors on the run, rock climbing, and even a hint of romance. So whether you choose to call The Whitefire Crossing epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, adventure fantasy or speculative fiction, it is the debut of a new author talent and new fantasy trilogy that I look forward to seeing more of. Book 2, The Tainted City, is coming later this year and I look forward to reading it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Whisky Review: BruichLaddich 18

Single Malt

Style/Region: Islay
Age: 18
Cask Type: French Oak
Alcohol: 46%

Water added: Yes
Nose: Sweet, wonderfully sweet that caries across the room, overtones of honey and brandy. After water was added a distinct raisin nose combined with the slight honey sweetness.
Mouth Feel: Delightfully thick and oily.
Flavor: Complex, smooth and sweet. A raisin-oak flavor takes over., and hint of sweetness that is slowly overtaken by a light smooth peat smoke.
Finish: The smooth sweetness lingers a bit before slowly fading away. Very nice.

Overall Impressions: This is a very nice, sweet scotch that should be friendly to beginners, yet wonderfully complex for the snob. It was Mark C. Newton who got me to expand my blog into whisky and he blogs often of the wonderful scotch being put out by BruichLaddich. I now know why. While it is technically an Islay Scotch, this 18-year has more in common with the best of Highland. There is no peat to speak of. And that’s not a bad thing, not at all. The obvious influence of the French Oak cask and the sweet wine it aged makes this somewhat experimental (or progressive if you like), and a trip to the website shows that BruichLaddich has a lot of variety to offer. This is a bit pricey and many of the most interesting offers are tough to come by here in the States, but I’ll certainly be looking. It’s nice to have smooth, yet complex dram that is just as appropriate for the warm, sunny summer day as it is for the dreary, wet cold of winter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Books Received: Nov. 30 - January 17

It's been a while since I've posted one of these, so here the some books I've received lately. Hopefully I'll get another review written after this big deadline at work passes. No promises.


Books Received: November 30, 2011 - January 17, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

It’s not often that I choose to read a book based only on a comparison with another, but that was the case for Blackdog by K.V. Johansen (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound). I saw several reviews and they all mention Blackdog as a favorable comparison to The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. I can see where the comparison comes from – gods and demons that actively interact with humanity and have flaws all their own that mirror and even magnify those of humanity. However, excepting that rather trivial comparison, I did not find Blackdog to be really comparable with Malazan. It took me a bit to get over that – after all, I’m a big fan of Erikson and Malazan, however it is unfair to Blackdog, a work that has a much more mythic feel than the stark realism of Malazan, to judge only on the (failed) comparison. The feel of the world of Blackdog is more lyrical and poetic, lending it the feel of myth and legend, all the while maintaining something of a modern-seeming realism at its surface. And Blackdog is essentially a stand-alone (though a sequel is in the works, I don’t think it’s intended as a traditional series) while Malazan is epic that spans 10+ books and has enormous depth that Blackdog simply does not.

In the world of Blackdog humanity is as divided by which god they follow as they are by race, clan and nation. Essentially the entire land is filled with gods – gods of rivers, springs, lakes, hills, plains, that big rock over there, etc. Some of the gods are rather powerful with large followings, others are weak and out of touch with the world. Some are harsh, some are benevolent, some are peaceful, some are warlike, and some are completely insane. There are demons as well, though they play a lesser role than gods, and there are devils – god-like entities that are often more powerful than gods and were imprisoned away from the world after a big war in antiquity that nearly destroyed the world. Those devils are gaining their freedom and the gods are scared.

The Goddess Attalissa of the lake is continually reborn into a mortal form. She is surrounded by worshippers and protected by the Blackdog – a powerful creature that is both man and beast. A mysterious wizard appears that is more powerful than the goddess and the Blackdog who usurps her lands and temple and forces the goddess and Blackdog to flee. The goddess, only a girl, is raised on caravan route under the watchful eye of the Blackdog as she grows into her power and plots her return. Meanwhile, the mysterious duo of Moth and Mikki hunts the wizard for their own purposes.

Blackdog invokes a feeling of a time long past, a hard time, but also a simpler time. The mountain folk keep to themselves and deal sparing with traders who travel from spring to spring along the caravan route between the harsh worlds of the high mountains and the inhospitable deserts. There are great nomads of grasslands, people of the northern forests and those of distant lands not described. The world feels both small and large. Blackdog is really a near-perfect example of worldbuilding – the setting is familiar yet not the carbon-copy medieval England so common in fantasy. The history is deep, but not dwelled upon. The world is vast, yet we only see a relatively small portion of it. The people and cultures feel real, unique and cleverly worked from cultures long past. I suppose this is what you would expect considering Johansen with scholarly roots in medieval studies.

The story itself is pretty good, though I think it bogs down a bit in the middle. Blackdog isn’t a short book at 546 pages and it could have benefited from a smaller page count. However the end was both the best part and one of the more disappointing. Simply put, the payoff is great and the way the pieces were placed throughout the novel and came together for the finale was spectacular. Relatively few endings of books feel so satisfying. However, some of the events seemingly came out of nowhere. The proper set up, particularly with Moth is lacking and leads to confusion. The ending of Blackdog could have stood out among the best in fantasy today, instead it was just flawed enough to hold it back.

Another issue with Blackdog is the characterization. I found many of the main characters difficult to become invested in. They were likeable enough, just not engaging to the point that I was rooting for them to win. This made the book far too easy to set aside for other things. Hopefully Johansen can get a bit better at this since I think this world has a lot of potential.

Blackdog is a relatively strong debut into adult fantasy fiction by author Johansen. However, it is overly long and at times a bit confusing. I loved the atmosphere and mythic quality to the writing and the worldbuilding very well done. The end was strong, if flawed, and the characters just not as engaging as they should have (until the end, which one of reasons the end of the book was so relatively strong). Blackdog stands alone, though at least one sequel is planned, and I’m looking forward to see where Johansen takes us next.

Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves Release Update

I usually don't post updates or release info around here, but for books I'm anxiously awaiting, I'm happy to. And Scott Lynch is wildly popular with many who read this blog. And we have all been waiting patiently (or not) for the next book in his Gentlemen Bastards series, The Republic of Thieves (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound). And Gollancz (his primary publisher) has just given us an update. (more recent updates are included at the end of the blog)

Well, the months have rolled around faster than anyone could quite credit and we find ourselves in 2012 and still without that final confirmed delivery of the completed draft of Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves. Sadly those who expressed their doubts have been proved right and we’re now forced to move the likely date for Scott’s publication into the Autumn of this year.
Scott is still facing up to his issues and we’re still having to face up to the wait for his book. I know which I’d rather be dealing with.
So, we send our apologies to you and our very best wishes to Scott. Thank you, on his behalf, for bearing with us. And in the meantime, of course, (and to take some of the pressure of Scott) there are plenty of other wonderful books to be reading until The Republic of Thieves does make its appearance.

So, it's not good news, but I'm not going to be critical. Scott has been heroically public with his battle with crippling depression. The battle goes on and I wish him luck. Get healthy - then get us the book if you can.

In the mean time, I can recommend some books for those looking....


Update: April 14, 2012: The comments have some more talk of it, but it's pretty clear by Lynch's increased activity that progress has been made. My speculation is that the manuscript has been turned in and the publishers are seeing where they can fit the release in. It's still possible that there will be a 2012 release. Lynch has assured everyone that when he knows a solid release date, he will announce it...loudly.

Update: Aprill 19, 2012: Lynch's UK publisher (Gollancz) has listed October 2012 for the release. I consider this unconfirmed until I hear an official announcment from either Gollancz or Lynch himself. But it's a promising sign.

Update: August 3, 2012: Scott provides an update at his new blog:

Q: What the hell is going on with The Republic of Thieves?

A: My current necessary edit to TRoT has been shot all to hell by that lovely anxiety I’ve mentioned. I haven’t talked much about it because I hate talking about it. I can be usefully open about my depression in a way I can’t about my anxiety attacks. Sorry. Suffice to say: They are the reason we can’t have nice things. I have a very good feeling at the moment, however, because I know something you do not. When I can say more, I will not be shy.

Q: What’s with the official TRoT release date switching all the time?

A: Because my publishers can’t yet reliably (my fault, not theirs) give retailers a true date, and retailers nonetheless want to keep the book as a forthcoming item in their catalogs, many weird things happen. Nobody is deliberately fucking with you. Least of all me or my publishers. It’s not personal. I have said, several times, not to take any date as valid until you see me posting it online myself. I have just said it again.
Update: September 27, 2012: Nothing official lately, only hints of announcements to come and continuing struggles with depression. Not that it's believable, but Amazon currenlty lists the release date as July 23, 2013.



FINAL (?) UPDATE!: A firm publication date has been announced by the publisher and Scott himself, so I think it is quite reliable. TRoT will be published on October 8, 2013 in the US and October 10, 2013 in the UK (source - well 1 source anyway, lots of news on this one). This is great news and I'm glad that Scott was able to work through his depression to get this published - hopefully things will continue to work out for him.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2011 in Review

2011 was another busy year here at Neth Space. The real world has kept me from reading as much as I’d like – but that’s nothing new, just a bit extreme as I adjust to life with 2 kids (one of which has a bit of a medical condition that takes up quite a bit of time and stress). I only managed to read 23 books in 2011, a disappointment, but I still count it as a victory. A few interesting stats are summed up below.

Stats:

  • 23 books read
  • 21 Published in 2011
  • 2 Published in 2010
  • None were marketed as YA (down from 1 in 2010)
  • 18 are part of a series
  • 22 were provided by the publisher
  • I read more books published by Random House (6) and its various imprints than any other – 4 from Del Rey, 1 from Spectra, and 1 from Doubleday (I suppose you could bounce it up to a total with 7 if you count 1 book from Transworld on the other side of the pond). The next closest was Orbit with 5.
  • 4 books were published by ‘small press’ (up from 3 last year)
  • 1 was an anthology (down from 2 last year)
  • 4 are written at least in part by female authors (down from 8 last year) and 1 was written by a person of color or other distinct ethnicity from my own (down from 4 last year) (possibly more since this is a difficult thing to keep track of)
  • 3are what I consider science fiction (down from 6 in 2010)
  • 8 are what I consider epic fantasy (down from 10)
  • Only 1 is what I consider steampunk (same)
  • 6 are what I consider urban fantasy (down from 8)
  • 2 are what I consider sword and sorcery (down from 4)
  • Only  is what I consider alternative history/historical fantasy (same)
  • I conducted 2 interviews and helped out with a couple of others
  • There have been approximately 54,000 site visits this year (not counting RSS) from 131 countries. Roughly 45% from the USA, 14% from the UK, and 9% from Canada.
  • The Westeros Forums and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist are the top referring sites (other than Google).
  • My review for the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson the most popular post, followed by my review of The Crippled God by Steven Erikson. So, this year was clearly Steven Erikson’s year on Neth Space. Third place goes to my review of The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie – a series that has been out for a while now and a review that is several years old (this was 4th place last year). This tells me that Joe has a strong staying power (or that my Google-fu for that post is particularly good). I was pretty surprised that my interview with Brandon Sanderson comes in 5th (I expected it would the most popular post this year).
.

So, the best books I read this year are listed below. With only 23 total books read this year, I’ve limited it to the few that managed to stand out.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound)

Joe just keeps getting better and better. And this one really is his best one to date. (review)




  
The Crippled God by Steven Erikson (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound)

An outstanding conclusion to his epic 10-book series. I’m a huge fanboy for this series, which I consider the best completed fantasy series in long time, possibly ever. (review)

    
The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound)

Another great conclusion to a series. This one is often overlooked and it shouldn’t be. (review)


  

Honorable Mentions

Of course there are quite a few very good books that didn’t quite crack the uppermost tie – the 2 below just missed the cut. But really, I only read 2 or 3 books that I wouldn’t recommend for one reason or another.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (review)









The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham (review)








And for kicks – the worst book I read in 2011

The Dark Griffin by K.J. Taylor (review)

This one tries but couldn’t ever be more than terribly cliché.







And the most disappointing book I read in 2011


The White-Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker (review)

I wanted to like this one – this was one of the books I was looking forward to most in 2011. But it simply didn’t work for me. After the great start to this new series with The Judging Eye (review) I was very disappointed.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Whisky Review: The Peat Monster by Compass Box Whisky Company

Blend
Non-chill Filtered

Style/Region: Blend of Islay and Speyside
Age: Unspecified
Cask Type: American Oak
Alcohol: 46%

Water added: Yes
Nose: Heavy peat smoke with hints of brine. After water was added a briney oak with a hint of sweetness overtakes the peat smoke.
Mouth Feel: Delightfully thick and oily.
Flavor: Complex with a peppery oak, and hint of sweetness that is slowly overtaken by a light smooth peat smoke.
Finish: Smooth smoke and peat that lingers.

Overall Impressions: I don’t normally drink blends – I prefer the variety of a good single-malt. However, I have learned over the years that being snobby about blends is a huge mistake – If I were to attempt to make a list of the best Scotch Whisky I’ve ever had, a blend would either be at the top or near it. The Peat Monster is a product of the Compass Box Whisky Company and is part of their Signature Range series of whiskies that highlight the character of Scotch Whisky. The title says it all – this one is about peat. And it’s a good one. In fact, read my impressions of this and then read my impressions of Ardbeg Uigeadail. They are nearly identical. Now, I’m not saying that this is as good as Ardbeg, but it’s close – way closer than I would have imagined. It’s complex – the smoky peat flavor is the star, but subtle sweetness rounds this out. The blend features Islay single malts from the village of Port Askaig, an Islay south shore malt, a smoky malt from the Isle of Mull and a medium-peated Speyside malt.

So, learn the lesson – single malts are great, but don’t disdain the blends. I will happily be sampling the other Signature Ranges offered by Compass Box.

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