Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez is an outrageous series adventures and take on the life of a superhero. These adventures, with seemingly no real rhyme or reason or even a sense of logical design through in everything and the kitchen sink – if kitchen sink is an evil cyborg alien musical pirate magician and maybe Yakuza enforcer as well, or just Verity’s grade school teacher. Every ridiculous form of an ‘evil antagonist’ is possible, likely, and quite possibly combined in some improbable match with another to make things more interesting and humorous.

Constance Verity is said superhero – magically endowed at birth to have adventures, she’s good at them and repeatedly saves the world. But…she’s tired, and it becomes almost a buddy adventure when Connie teams up with her (mundane) best-friend for her ‘last adventure’.

But, through all of the wild, over-the-top fun of this book, I couldn’t help but begin viewing it a metaphor for women in modern American society. Perhaps I’m reading into this book too much, but stay with me for bit. The entire universe is literally throwing ‘adventure’ after ‘adventure’ at Constance Verity. She can’t get a cup of coffee without some Yakuza ninja enforcer getting in the way. Or maybe a lizard alien magician. Etc. She never gets a break. The universe is literally a machine designed to make sure she has no close attachments, distractions or anything else in her life that could keep her from doing what it want her to do. She’s exhausted, she’s tired. She just wants a ‘normal’ life and some rest. She was literally cursed to this life this by a sadistic fairy godmother working on behalf of the machine of the universe. Hell, the book opens with us learning that the earth is nothing more than a giant monster that a cult wants to feed Constance Verity to as a sacrifice of appeasement. Yes, the whole world is literally out to eat her.

Then I take a look at my wife, all the shit life has thrown at her lately. All the responsibilities that the machine of society throws on her. All of the asshole men of the world who make it that much harder. The impossible expectations that society forces up on her. To not be too assertive, but not be timid. Too appear how society views is appropriate, but not to be too much. Etc. Etc. How completely beat down she can get by it all. How she so often just wants to give up on all of it. And how she gets out of bed the next morning (after not getting enough sleep since sometime in the ‘90s), and saves the world…again.

Once I captured this vision of The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, I couldn’t see it any other way. It transformed the outrageous, fun adventure into something more – bitter, angry, and intensely sarcastic satire. Which is right where my warped sense of humor lives.

Further, take a moment to think about what the name Constance Verity means.

Constance: Firm of purpose, constant
Verity: Truth

Ouch! And fuck you!

And then my sense of humor kicks in and I laugh for 5 minutes.

Look, I don’t know Martinez and from what I gleaned from a quick bit of reading blog posts and the like, Constance Verity gets its origins more from superhero lore with a good bit of discussion of free will, determinism, and agency in life. Plus you know, fun, humorous, and completely over-the-top adventure. It doesn’t look like Martinez set out to write a dark, satirical feminist manifesto about women ‘having it all’. And I’m sure with a close look the metaphor would probably break down in some troubling ways. It for sure breaks down toward the end of the book – a happy ending plus some nice balance in life achieved? That only exists in Hollywood, self-help books, and mommy blogs. But I simply cannot un-see my view of the book, and I think it’s better for it.

So…most readers will joyously take The Last Adventure of Constance Verity at face value – and more power to them, because it is completely ridiculous in all the best ways. You can feel the fun that Martinez had in writing it, and that fun is contagious. Or maybe you’ll see it through a similar lens as I do and your own sense of humor will allow for a different level of amusement. Or maybe something entirely different. But do read this book, because however you choose to filter it, it’s outrageously fantastic. Oh...and my understanding is that this was not actually Verity's last adventure and more are to come with Constance Verity Saves the World expected in 2018.

Constance Verity Series

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity: Amazon
Constance Verity Saves the World: Amazon

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

John Scalzi begins a new space opera with The Collapsing Empire which is sure to please fans of science fiction. In short it is fun, fast-paced and very accessible. Or…just the book I was needing to read when I read it.

The set-up is a 1000+ year old empire spanning multiple space systems that utilize a sort of parallel energy called the flow to travel between systems where standard travel would never be possible because of the true distance between stars. The empire has been intentionally designed to be interdependent, where no single system will have the ability to survive independently of the others. A few individuals learn that the flow that ‘connects’ systems is about to shift over a period of only a few years, fragmenting humanity into isolated worlds that are doomed to tragic ends.

Along the way we learn that the entire socioeconomic structure of the empire with its monopolistic guilds, strict societal class delineations, and dynastic rule is all just a con job to further enrich the powerful and keep the masses just content enough to not cause too much trouble. In an entrenched, bureaucratic society the will to actually meet an existential threat simply doesn’t exist, and often the will to even acknowledge the possibility that such a threat could be real is lacking.

The Collapsing Empire largely serves as an introduction to the empire, to the physics of Scalzi’s created universe, and to the characters who personalize the story. In this, there is a lot of exposition, but not so much that I was ever bothered by it. Scalzi writes with a brisk pace and a slight irreverence that sets a nicely balanced tone for the book (and presumably the rest of the series). Humor is a big part of it, but it’s more a sense of levity in the face of what’s to come that drives the story. The end result is that things feel more hopeful than anything, making the story fun to read, even in the face disastrous consequence for humanity. And through all the levity, Scalzi still manages to set the stage well for an empire that has stagnated or even regressed, where innovation and flexibility is stifled by tradition and economic interest in the status quo.

It is often said that Scazli writes some of the most accessible science fiction, and I certainly agree. Concepts are not that difficult for someone on the outside of the science fiction world to enjoy, yet they are thought through enough to satisfy (most of) those who are long-time fans. It’s full of high adventure and fun with consequences that matter to story.

For all of this to be successful, it comes down to the people of the story, and Scalzi excels in this. Three main characters are built up as the protagonists of The Collapsing Empire – the newly ascended Emperor, the scientist son of the researcher who discovered the impending collapse of the flow, and familial representative of one of the largest trade guilds. Or the inexperienced political outsider who unexpected ascends to the most powerful role in the galaxy, the naïve young scientist from a remote backwater, and hard-edged and exquisitely foul-mouthed business person who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Even the antagonists of the story are somewhat likable as they are really more self-interested in the extreme than actually evil – cutthroat is perhaps the better term.  

The two most powerful characters in the story are women – and I could probably write an entire review just on Kiva, the foul-mouthed trade representative mentioned above. She steals every single scene she is in, and is only briefly upstaged when we meet her mother. It’s choices like this that help make Scalzi’s writing so accessible, or to put another way, consistent with modern sensibilities as it projects some progressive advances for a far-future civilization (contrasted with the stagnation discussed above). For example, sexual identity and gender are subtly shown to be accepted for what they are and normative for the society. And it really is important when a popular science fiction novel that will likely land itself on multiple best-seller list makes these choices.

Given what I’ve said above, as I close out this review, I really feel the need to emphasize something about this novel: FUN. It is fun to read. Scalzi’s humorous, fast-paced, and slightly irreverent writing takes over this book. I raced through this book, finishing in a just a few days, at a time when I typically take a few weeks to read a book. Call it escapism or just simply fun readying, The Collapsing Empire delivers. But damn it, a cliff-hanger* ending? That’s not cool, because I want the sequel now!

*Cleverly, the cliff-hanger moment is more intellectual and not action-based. Which is a nice bit, though not really solace when I want to read the sequel now.

The Collapsing Empire: Amazon

Friday, March 03, 2017

Mini-Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I love books, which really isn’t much of a surprise coming from someone who has a blog about books. So, it’s not much of a stretch for me to love libraries too – after all, they are huge collections of books, and I do have my daydreams of one day having a perfectly snobbish private library for all of my books, but I digress.

So…fantasy stories about libraries…I’m rather predisposed to liking them. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is just that, a fantasy adventure centered on a great library where librarians have magical powers that they use to cross between worlds to collect books. Yes, there’s a greater struggle across all the worlds between order and chaos, full of fantastical beings that fall on various ends of that spectrum – chaotic fae, orderly dragons, etc. But it all comes back to magical librarian doesn’t it?

The story is pretty basic…a mid-level librarian is assigned a new apprentice and a new task that should be pretty straight-forward. Collect a book in a mildly chaotic world and bring it back. Of course it turns out to be more complicated, of greater importance and way more dangerous than anticipated. There are mixed loyalties, betrayals, mysterious origins and all that jazz. Even a nice hum of romantic tension is thrown about as it mingles with Victorian-style propriety and modern ideas of sexual freedom.

This is Cogman’s debut book, and it sometimes reads as such with a bit too much exposition and pacing difficulties. But then I can forgive pacing issues when librarians are the stars – how many librarians have you known have a tendency to go off on a tangent right in the middle of the search for that precious book?

I quite enjoyed The Invisible Library and heartily recommend it for a bit of bookishly fun diversion. I haven’t yet made it to the sequels, though the beckon from the shelves of my want-to-be library.

The Invisible Library: Amazon
The Masked City: Amazon
The Burning Page: Amazon

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Tad Williams returns to the world of Osten Ard after 20+ years in The Heart of What Was Lost. In part, this short novel serves as a reintroduction of Osten Ard in advance of the forthcoming trilogy: The Last King of Osten Ard. But more than a simple reintroduction, I found The Heart of What Was Lost to be a very meta coda to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series – a response coming 20 years later, in part admitting the shortcomings of the previous series and state of epic fantasy fiction of the times, a message of leadership and the future for today, and what I suspect is a tease of changes to come in The Last King of Osten Ard.

The Heart of What Was Lost is set in the aftermath of the events that end the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, and feature dueling perspectives of a human army pursuing the remnant forces of the Norns with intent to eradicate them and that of the Norns themselves. One of the strongest aspects of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was its portrayal of the horrors of war, rather than the traditional glorification often seen in fantasy (or at least fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s). This is the core of The Heart of What Was Lost as the army of the Northmen seeks genocide in vengeance to the horrors the Norns brought upon people and the world. This is balanced by the perspective of the Norns fleeing, only thinking of the survival of their race and doing everything they can to achieve that survival.

The Heart of What Was Lost is the story of two leaders of their people, how they fight to survive, and ultimately, the sacrifices they will make. One leader serves as the heart of their people, the other people have lost their heart and are seemingly directionless in their efforts to survive. Both are forced to look at the traditions of the past and confront what the future can be. Are the traditions and actions of the past going to bring about a future they can be proud of?

While it’s not the focus, the weight and responsibility of leadership is on full display. True leadership is not an act of the selfishness, but one of sacrifice. Leadership is about the people and the future, it doesn’t relish in the past, and it makes the hard choice. In The Heart of What Was Lost, the balance of life, death and survival brings focus and immediacy to it all. Can the leaders do what is needed?

A third perspective is brought in, not only as a balance, but to give those of us who aren’t leaders something we can directly relate to. An everyman, a plain soldier far from home. This third point of view isn’t a portrayal of grand sacrifice or such, but this is basic survival. In the survival rivalries of the past and home are discarded as unimportant, basic friendship is the mean to survival, and continuing when death arrives. Of course there’s plenty of ‘war sucks’ to all this, but the way things end is tear-jerking tragedy. The journeys of The Heart of What Was Lost feel like interwoven Greek Tragedies, but none more than that of our every soldier. And the tragic end, is also the challenge that Williams sets for us all. For the sacrifice of leadership is not enough. The every person must step as well, and it isn’t easy. For the sake of the future, you may be asked to cut off the head of the reanimated corpse of your only friend. Over dramatic? When I look at the world around me today, I think not (but I sure wish it was).

For all of the powerful ideas on display in The Heart of What Was, I must admit that it took me time to really get into the book, even though it’s a relatively short novel. I think that this is in part due to it being over 10 years since I read the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, so while I don’t think it’s needed to be familiar with those books, a lack of familiarity may make it a bit more difficult to connect with the story initially. Though I also believe that bleak, dark, horrors of war basis was also a barrier for me as it’s just not the sort of story I gravitate toward right now. However, as indicated by my thoughts above, perseverance is rewarded.

At the top I mentioned some of the meta feeling I got from The Heart of What Was Lost. Yes, much of this is routed in a message of fighting for the future that resonates with me right now. But it’s more – let’s be honest, some of the world and society in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn feels dated in the context of the epic fantasy being written today. So, how does one deal with that dated feeling that is so obvious in a sequel? Most obvious is that The Heart of What Was Lost is man’s story – men are everywhere, with only a couple of token women. It’s striking and it was one of the barriers to me getting into the story. But in the end, Williams acknowledges this shortcoming, and further mocks the concept of ‘women and children’ not standing up for themselves. My hope is that this is his way of clearing the page for changes to come in the forthcoming trilogy.

In short, after a slow start, I very much enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost. In spite of a few shortcomings, it resonates deeply with what I see in the world around me. It encourages and shows of view of hope, hope that we’ll need to fight for.

Books/Series of Osten Ard:

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (my review of the trilogy*)

The Dragonbone Chair (my review*, Amazon)          
Stone of Farewell (my review*, Amazon)
To Green Angel Tower Part 1 (my review*, Amazon)
To Green Angel Tower Part 2 (my review*, Amazon)

The Heart of What Was Lost (Amazon)

The Last King of Osten Ard (Forthcoming Trilogy)

The Witchwood Crown (Amazon, coming June 2017)
Empire of Grass (forthcoming)
The Navigator’s Children (forthcoming)

*These reviews were written near the beginning of this blogging adventure, and I like to believe that I’ve gotten a lot better through the years. So, enjoy these ‘early years’ reviews.

An Aside for Some Personal Indulgence

Feel free to ignore the following as it’s more about me than The Heart of What Was Lost….

The Heart of What Was Lost brought about another reaction in me that I feel like writing about, even though I suspect it matters to very few. It brought back a passion for reviewing. It’s no secret that I review far less these days than I once did, and the vast majority of the few reviews I do put up are ‘Mini-Reviews’ that say little more than ‘I liked this book, you should read it’. It’s rare for me to really dive in, fully review a book, and explore my response to it.

Reality is that this is likely more of a one-off than a trend. Life keeps landing punch after punch these days, meaning I don’t have the time or emotional capacity for much deep reviewing. And the backlog of reviews I still plan to write shows that even the short, basic reviews will come at a rather slow pace. But, it was nice to be reminded that I do have ideas that I want to share, that I feel I can add to the conversation about a book beyond ‘read it, it was good’. And that is another reason why I really enjoyed The Heart of What Was Lost.

I could go on about ‘The Heart of What Was Lost in Reviewing’, but that level of wankery really isn’t necessary J

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Mini-Review: Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe is the third Tufa book which is a ‘series’ of interconnected novels that all really stand on their own with independent stories. Of course the reader familiar with the other books in the series will experience things at a deeper level.

Anyway, as evident from my reviews of other Tufa books, I really, really enjoy them, and Long Black Curl is no exception to this trend. It always surprises me that I don’t read more Mythic Fiction – books that loosely fall into category of Mythic Fiction seem to connect with me at a deeper level, bringing me a much more holistic and satisfied reading experience. Not merely entertaining or escapist and not really the sort of book that makes me feel like I’m a better person for having read it, but books that truly connect, books that awaken deeper awareness of myself.

Bledsoe’s Tufa books are about an exiled faerie clan who settled in the Appalachian Mountains long before humans came along. These stories tell how the Tufa people interact with the modern world around them and show how they are connected to their land and their music at deeper levels than the people around them. While set within the modern world, they bring the reader back in time, reminding us of the deeper connections to nature and the land around us. For the Tufa, music is the vehicle that this connection is founded within.

Long Black Curl is specifically about two exiled Tufa who have lost their ability to sing. These exiled exiles are cursed in a fundamentally horrific form of suffering for their people, further complicated by their means of surviving in the modern world – both work in the music industry. This forms the back bone for a story of revenge, loss, and redemption. A large part of the success of this story works because of duality of the modern world and the ‘other’, timeless world of the Tufa, and it’s an approach that I am especially fond of.

I love the Tufa books because they really embody Mythic Fiction in a way few books achieve. The emotions invoked are full of mystery, darkness, fear, love, and a whole host of other primal emotions for us all. While I believe that it’s the connection to nature that leads me to back to Mythic Fiction, the vehicle of music to form this connection is fully realized in these books. This is a very tough balance to achieve as it’s quite easy to nerd out on the music without ever creating the deep emotional connection that is really necessary1. Charles de Lint is another author I who can achieve this balance and I rank him and Bledsoe at the top of a short list of authors who do.

Long Black Curl is another wonderful addition to the collection of Tufa novels by Bledsoe and another reminder of how much I enjoy these books.

The Tufa Novels

The Hum and the Shiver: My Review, Amazon
Wisp of a Thing: My Review, Amazon
Long Black Curl: Amazon
Chapel of Ease: Amazon
Gather Her Round: Amazon (Forthcoming)

1For an example of a Mythic Fiction book where the bridge of music between the modern world and something other never quite works out an fails to achieve the emotional connection needed, see The Crow of Connemara by Stephen Leigh (I’ll eventually get to writing a full review for it).

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Mini-Review: The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

The Tao books by Wesley Chu are the perfect spy thrillers for a generation where science fiction is mainstream and dominates pop culture. They are action-packed, full of intrigue, both political and personal, witty, funny, and wrap it all up in alien possession. And of course who could be a more perfect choice for a heroic spy than an overweight, single, gamer in a dead end job?

The Deaths of Tao is the second book of the series, which is in part a trilogy, though it has expanded with a ‘coda’ novella and now a new series set in the world. The Lives of Tao began the series (my review) with a bang and The Deaths of Tao follows up a typical middle book does. Things go dark, it gets bad, really bad. Lack of hope bad. And in the end…well a tiny bit of hope gets thrown in just as a huge and unexpected curveball is thrown in to the mix. And Chu makes this all work without losing the witty, slightly irreverent voice that somehow makes a spy-thriller about alien-possessed people who secretly control the world something that isn’t just believable (in a fiction sense), but is a lot fun to read.

Go forth and read. And believe. And have fun.

Tao Series

The Lives of Tao: My Review, Amazon
The Deaths of Tao: Amazon
The Rebirths of Tao: Amazon
The Days of Tao: Amazon

Io Series

The Rise of Io: Amazon

Monday, November 28, 2016

Kids’ Reviews: Septimus Heap, Ivy and Bean and More!

It’s been a while since I’ve provided an update on my Kids’ Review series, so here we are. For an introduction to this series, information isavailable in this post which provides a good bit of context.

Hebop turned 9 last month and continues with an, at times, voracious love of reading. We are slowly letting him read through the Harry Potter books and he just finished up The Goblet of Fire in a fury last weekend that saw him reading for hours at time (this is a kid who never stops moving, so to see him so still is shocking). He has since started the Percy Jackson books next – he gave them a shot a year or more ago but wasn’t terribly interested and just not quite ready. I think he’s matured enough now that it may be different this time around. We still read aloud with Hebop at times, but he’s mostly solo now, which was quite impressive give the size of The Goblet of Fire. Hebop can have a short attention span at times as he jumps around from the likes of Goosebumps to Spirit Animals to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. For his birthday he got some fiction and nonfiction soccer books and it’ll be interesting to see when he gives those a try and what he thinks.

Arty turned 6 earlier this month and is thick in the transition from shorter books to chapter stories. She recently left behind Magic Treehouse books – she still can get scared/anxious with some books, and the later Magic Treehouse books can be surprising tense at times with a fair amount of implied death and destruction. So we’ve started in on Critter Club and Ivy & Bean books. She’s enjoying both – especially Ivy & Bean. The love of Ivy & Bean has introduced quite a few conversations about good choices and following rules. We’ve now read a couple of the Critter Club books and the first three of Ivy and Bean. Both series are working great for Arty. A month or two ago, we read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone with her – she loved it, but also has nightmares about Voldemort (tales of later books from Hebop are no help here). She watched the movie, but we’ve backtracked and will wait another year before doing more to give time for the nightmares to go away.

As a family we’ve been reading aloud the Septimus Heap books. So far we’ve read the first two (Magyk and Flyte) in the series (the kids’ will get the full series for Christmas). I think it’s probably safe to call them Harry Potter knock-offs, but they are a lot fun and both kids enjoy them. I find it surprising that Arty doesn’t seem to be bothered by the more tense and serious parts of these books when she was by Harry Potter, but that’s how it works sometimes. So, I can easily recommend these books – as always, check to see how they match up with your own positions on age-appropriateness. I often use Common Sense Media as an initial tool to help with that.

Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
Book 1: Magyk    Amazon

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Book 1: The Lightning Thief    Amazon

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
Book 1: Night of the Living Dummy    Amazon

Spirit Animals
Book 1: Wild Born by Brandon Mull    Amazon

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Book 1: Diary of a Wimpy Kid    Amazon

Critter Club by Callie Barkley
Book 1: Amy and the Missing Puppy    Amazon

Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows
Book 1: Ivy & Bean    Amazon

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne
Book 1: Dinosaurs Before Dark    Amazon

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mini-Review: Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

If anything, in the two years since I wrote that review, my thoughts on Willful Child have only grown stronger. I think it is a superb satire of far more than just Star Trek, but read the review for that. I’ve come to realize that while the humor of that book is certainly coarse and inappropriate, that plenty of people ‘get it’ and therefore see what Erikson is doing in the book. All this adds up to me being very happy to read the sequel.

Unfortunately, I was largely unimpressed. Of course, I enjoyed a lot of what Erikson was doing with the book and how he plays with both time travel and parallel-dimension issues. I particularly found the gender-swap / parallel world parts to be well done and timely given so much of what’s going on. And of course, it’s hard for someone like myself to not be immensely amused by the comic-con sequence. Really, Wrath of Betty is worth reading for those two parts regardless of my overall disappointment.

Where does my disappointment come from? It’s all in the timing. Wrath of Betty continues the satirical directions from Willful Child, with a strong focus on the consumerism and rampant capitalism of the Western world. And this is unfortunately where it misses. Often the most effective satire works because it feels particularly timely to what’s going on in the culture it targets. Generally consumerism and capitalism are perfect elements for satire to target, but at least for me, it misses the elephant in the room for a satirical book published in 2016. I am speaking of the big issues we all see too much of right now – from Brexit to the US election and the idiot who will remain nameless, and war and refugees, etc. etc. A satire focused so much on consumerism simply doesn’t stick with me right now – it feels off topic, especially since reality is so primed for good satire (though admittedly, Brexit and the US election are often plenty satirical without any help at all).  

I do think that the focus on consumerism and capitalism in Wrath of Betty is likely to be more timeless and therefore would have more staying power than the satire I wanted to read. But, it remains that I simply couldn’t enjoy things as much as I wanted to. Yes, I realize that due to just how it works writing a novel, that Wrath of Betty was largely written well before reality jumped the shark, but that intellectual knowledge doesn’t really help my reaction to the book.

So, while I think Wrath of Betty is a worthy follow-up to Willful Child, it didn’t work well for me. However, it may well work for you.

Willful Child: Amazon, My Review
Willful Child: Wrath of Betty: Amazon

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mini-Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

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

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

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 Emperor’s Blades: My Review, Amazon
The Providence of Fire: My Review, Amazon
The Last Mortal Bond: Amazon

Set in the Same World As Emperor’s Blades

Skullsworn (forthcoming): Amazon


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