Wednesday, August 31, 2016
I live in the West and I have a soft-spot for the ‘weird west’, at least when it’s done well. So, I was intrigued by Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen – it sounded like something different … something weird and west in all of the best ways. Not only was I not disappointed, but it far exceeded my expectations.
In my mind I have so many good things to say about this book, but I love this elevator pitch from the author herself:
It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine.
Honestly, I’d throw in a comparison to Preacher as well, not for anything specific, but these two just feel like they get each other. Note: that Bowen quote is from The Big Idea:Lila Bowen, which absolutely worth a full read if you’re wondering about this book.
It’s the voice of Nettie Lonesome that stands out perhaps most of all. She’s caustically witty, sarcastically ignorant, and delightfully direct. Reminiscent of the strong voice of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, to throw yet another comparison into this review.
Nettie’s journey of self-discovery and struggle with her identity brings the depth to Wake of Vultures, but what I want to emphasize is the wonderful, weird fun of the book. It’s a menagerie of fantastical beasts in the scrub-lands of the West, mixing mythologies with a dark, cynical tinge wrapped in just enough humor. It’s a perfect setting for some monster hunting fun: vampire bordellos, sirens at the bar, chupacabra roaming the range, harpies circling above, werewolves on a warpath, and a band of monster hunting rangers on the prowl.
Wake of Vultures is a fun read full of weird, even horrific, adventures in a re-imagined West. I thoroughly enjoyed it and enthusiastically recommend it. Also…it’s only the beginning of The Shadow series, with a sequel, Conspiracy of Ravens, coming in October, 2016, and more books planned for the future.
The Shadow Series:
Wake of Vultures: Amazon
Conspiracy of Ravens: Amazon
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley is the final volume in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. In my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, I dig into how I felt uninspired because it was about a fight for the status quo, there was no progress, nothing new had been added. Yes, I enjoyed the book because Staveley is an excellent story teller, the book was exciting, and so well paced that I always needed to know what would happen next. Ultimately, that was enough to encourage me to read the sequel.
In my review of The Providence of Fire, I got excited. The Emperor’s Blades was a set-up, and big things happened in book 2. Huge I tell you. There are progressive ideas – thoughts of moving things forward. And it was so well wrapped together, that it was simply impossible to tell who was bad and who was good. Where was it all going to go? There were so many possibilities.
Of course, I had my hopes and ideas of where it was going. They were some really good ideas. They built on the ambiguity of book 2, explored some the more interesting (to me) concepts developed in The Providence of Fire. I was certain Staveley was with me in this, that he was going to pluck these ideas right out of my head, run with them, and then turn them around a few times to put some real sting into it.
But….Staveley wasn’t with me, he had ideas all his own. Yes, they are good ideas – there’s excitement, the stakes are upped even further, more complications added, and some really great fighting and sacrifice, and an unexpected character (Gwenna) leaps up and steals the whole show.
But…I wanted to see my ideas. And so I was disappointed. Much of what excited me about The Providence of Fire was abandoned in The Last Mortal Bond – the empire was not on a progressive path of improvement. In the end…we just got the status quo again. And that pissed me off – I’m just tired of epic fantasy that leaves us with the status quo. Where the people aren’t better off and there isn’t really hope that things have changed a bit. Just a bunch of big battles, lots of death, young leaders learn valuable lessons, the meaning of life is love, blah, blah, blah, and…the same old shit goes on into the future.
I had other ideas too – damn good ones. Of how the gods interacted with humanity and the immortal ‘elves’. I was looking forward to the ambiguity of good and evil, only to have a standard Big Bad fixated on as the story moves forward in more or less predictable ways.
So, overall, I am fairly disappointed with how The Last Mortal Bond wraps things up. Yes, it was fun, and Staveley is just so excellent with the pacing, action, and tension that it really is almost impossible to stop reading his books. I know that it’s my own expectations that lead to my disappointment, and not (necessarily) what Staveley actually did with the book – because it’s not bad, not bad at all. It’s just that I saw so much potential in The Providence of Fire and where things could be taken, and it was crushing to see The Last Mortal Bond take the path that pretty much everyone else before has taken.
Final verdict: Good series, fun writing, exactly what fans of traditional epic fantasy crave…safe. But damn, it could have been great.
Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne
The Last Mortal Bond: Amazon
Set in the Same World As Emperor’s Blades
Skullsworn (forthcoming): Amazon
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
In Los Nefilim, T. Frohock imagines a world where angels, demons, and their human hybrids (nefilim) live and act mostly unnoticed in the world. The focus is on Barcelona in the 1930s and Diago, a unique nefilim with both angel and demon blood. Diago’s family is threatened as angels and demons battle for the future of the world in the face of oncoming war.
Magical battle, torture, betrayal. Yes these things occur and are important. But the soul of the book is in love and relationships. A son and his estranged father, the son a father of a son he does not know, lovers, friends. Add time and betrayal. The sum is greater than the parts where the past must be addressed to accept the present, to know oneself and finally submit to the love all around. To fight without quarter for the ones that are loved. This is Los Nefilim, historic context with consequences for all of humanity, but played out at a personal level.
The foundation of this powerful story is a poetic prose, dark and moody, yet infused with color and music as it embodies hope, love and loyalty. Yes, there is a lot of conflict in that last statement, as is appropriate in a story full of internal and external conflict. It’s the grounded, devoted love that keeps it all together.
As you have probably guessed by now, I really enjoyed Los Nefilim. It’s beautiful, moving, filled with suspense. It kept me up at night because I could not put it down. I want to read more of Diago, Miquel, Rafael, Guillermo, and others. It’s historic urban fantasy, not quite alternative history, and it’s a powerful portrayal of love and family.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the main family unit at the heart of Los Nefilim is two male partners. The relationship is genuine, heartfelt and simply lovely. I await the day when focus on a same-sex couple is not noteworthy and commonplace, but we aren’t there yet, and it’s books like Los Nefilim that will get us there.
A few logistical notes: Los Nefilim is in reality a print collection of 3 novellas that were initially published electronically: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death. The reality is that the three independent novellas seamlessly work as a traditionally structured novel. Read it as a serial, collection, or single work – it doesn’t matter. But I certainly recommend that you read it.
Los Nefilim: Amazon
In Midnight’s Silence: Amazon
Without Light or Guide: AmazonThe Second Death: Amazon