Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
I am not quite sure I have to emotional aptitude to fully appreciate this little piece of darkness. The beginning is heartbreaking, the pain is almost tangible as Sadie's psyche starts to disintegrate. Then even the fantasy world she finds herself in is hideous. A lot of harsh imagery, but there is a weird sort of beauty in it's ugliness I suppose. It's like a nightmare you never want to find yourself, or anybody in. It made me bone weary after only 50 something pages. But then, books about child sex abuse should make everybody feel so.
I don't know quite what to say, except that I hope Sadie finds her way to a better place. I won't forget this for a long time, I don't think, like a tiny burr under the skin. It might just haunt me until I know she is safe somewhere, wherever she ends up.
Hello Wallie my old friend, I've come to speak to you again! Not as great as the first one, the portal not so fresh in this installment, but still fun and quirky, occasionally very serious! I still love the books after all these years (about 15 of them!), and it fills me with happiness to explore them again!
Medieval Britain is one of my favourite times and places in history to read about. Not the nobles or the royalty, but the villages and their inhabitants. I have a deep fondness for the wortwyf, who used herblore as a basis for healing the sick and tending to the people when modern medicine was in it's infancy; still snake oils and guess work. And this book is like a gold mine! I almost went and frolicked in my medicinal garden from the sheer pleasure all of the references to herb lore this book has. There is actually a warning at the front of the book not to try these at home, which amused me!
Blood Oath was an extraordinarily quick read for me. Start to end in one sitting and it went by as quick as a flash. There is such a blinding sense of urgency, one cacophony after the other; sorrow, fear, death, rabble mob of townspeople. It was impossible to put down. I was constantly reminded of how cosy my life is, I felt a bit guilty for being warm, safe.. and bathed! You can almost smell this novel from afar due to descriptiveness of the malodorous town and it's inhabitants.
Janna is the quintessential headstrong heroine. Extremely strong willed and fiery, her obstinate ways get her into trouble as her quickness to judge alienates the people trying to help her. Yet, the passion she feels toward her mysterious past and the romantic notions of what her future might hold, gives her the extra dimension needed to make her relatable. The regret she feels for her misdirected accusations, and that real sense of weariness over the events also makes her feel wholly human.
This was also a good little murder mystery. As Janna searches for her mother's killer, she examines the evidence, questions of the witnesses and the systematically discounts (and recounts!) suspects. Almost a medieval police procedural (without police)! I enjoyed her skewed deductions and frustrated conclusions.
I think my main gripe, was that the secondary characters were pretty paper thin. There were glimpses here and there of insight, but due to the frantic rate of events, there wasn't enough time for them to be fleshed out enough for them to come to life. Slowing down slightly might have allowed for fuller development, and not really taken away anything from that feeling of urgency used to it drive the plot.
The small romantic sideline was hindered by that lack of characterisation. I kept asking why? He wasn't given enough real flesh to make the titbit feel realistic. I hope it is explored with more depth in future novels and he is given more groundwork if it is.
In all Blood Oath was an enjoyable, faced paced medieval mystery that hit a majority of the right spots for me. I am looking forward to the rest of the series (I have Stolen Child in my hot little fingers right here! )! Janna's future looks like it's going to be one hell of an adventure!
(was this released once before in Australia quite a few years ago under a different name? I wanted to read it, but couldn't afford it at the time, so I read the first chapters huddled in between bookshelves in bookstore.. something to do with rosemary? It certainly rings a bell at any rate..)
I believe Knight of the White Hart is based on a poem (or Breton Lai) in the Lais of Marie De France entitled Guigemar, written in the late 12th century. Due to the relationship between book and lai, I found myself at a bit of a crossroad, as there are two avenues open to where the book might sit in the grand scheme of things!
If it wasn't a re-accounting of the poem, I would have been severely disappointed, because in general, apart from some beautiful wordery, it was a fairly dull tale containing some medieval instalove, overly repetitive notions and overwrought yearnings. There are some faults in the narrative (for example you can't claim to not know of a place and then know it's tales a few pages later), the pacing either drags or rushes with no in between. As historical fiction it was all over the place. Who would've thought King Arthur was around for the invasion of the Saxons, the Danes and then had a 12th century author in court (Capellanus)! England didn't even exist until the 11th century and the Saxons invaded Britain in the 5th, the Danes in the 9th. I know Arthur is more myth than man, but you still can't drag him about to suit your intricacies! I digress!
However! Knowing the poems history and it's stylisation, I can see where Knight of The White Hart is coming from. If the poem was a novel, instead of Octosyllabic verse, it probably would have been written much like this. And the novel is true to the Lais in almost every way, though with a few additives to round out that storyline (the muddled history and I don't think the evil husband was a mage either, but it's been a while!).
And thus the dilemma, how to review it!? As a reworking of the poem, I'd say it did a pretty good job fleshing it out and sticking pretty true to Marie de France's overall flair for the dramatic medieval Arthurian romance. Ladies swoon for the amour and the men all want to be the brave knight triumphing over evil. A bit of medieval Mills and Boon for the Arthurian set of the 12th century. So in that regard, I'd give Marlowe credit where credit is due! It is definitely a pretty piece and she is obviously well studied in the works of medieval romances. I'd probably give it 4 stars.
As a work of standalone contemporary historical romance (sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but you get my drift!), I'd say it fails to give much of anything. It just doesn't take into account the discerning minds of modern readers, who like a bit of meat on the bones of their books. I'd give it 2.
I wonder if Marlowe plans to continue to create novels of Marie De France's poems in the series? I'd definitely check them out, I am a bit nostalgic!
I guess, you need to take it for what it is, rather than what you might expect it to be. Maybe it just needs a better description/synopsis so readers know what they are in for. So middle ground 3 stars, definitely read it if you like medieval romances of yore, stay away if you are looking for historical romance of now!
So, I have no love for the 'cabin in the woods' horror trope. I can't stand movies or books like it, so I felt a sense of dread fill my heart as I started to read Modern Rituals. It starts off as a mash up of the Japanese horror movie The Ring (freaky little wet girl) and a big peoples Hunger Games (a ritual to appease a higher power): running about frantically trying to survive, ghostly killings, generally stupid behaviour, stereotypical slasher characters. Bleh. I have heard it mimics an actual movie called 'Cabin In The Woods', but I haven't seen it, so I can't really comment!
In general terms, I really didn't like what I was reading. But, being the stubborn type and not one to leave the dead dog lie, I trudged on, hoping against hope that somehow the promise I saw written in the synopsis was actually fulfilled.
Then, to my surprise, about 70% in, the promise kicks in hard! And it's damned good too! Total switch flip and I wish I could tell you why I ended up giving it 4 stars when I initially wanted to DNF it, but it'd kind of spoil it. And I ain't that kinda gal! But a hint, all of a sudden you aren't in the cabin anymore and everything has a much much larger scope than the Woods. Plus the characters lose their slap-worthiness when you realise... Ha! No spoiler for you! ! It all made me Cheshire cat grin! (and there's an evil koala, so kudos for that!!)
The writing has this off beat, quirky feel to it, that's quite charming and engaging. I actually really enjoyed that aspect from the start, though occasionally it felt a little bit jaunty, like it's rushed a demi semi quaver ahead of itself. It's not too often though, so I really only noticed it during the 'bleh' period when I was not so engrossed in the storyline.
It perplexed me as to why we are only given major introduction scenes for some of the characters, where others were explained as a small reveal within the main storyline. It's not like it was a major vs minor character thing either. Maybe a lead down the garden path? Not quite sure. Whatever the reason, one in particular seemed to mar the flow of the storyline due to it being a flashback scene rather than the characters jump in point, so it seemed quite incongruous.
I do wish the initial line was cut down slightly, it would be a shame for readers to give up too early if they were looking for the scifi/dark fantasy mix rather than the horror tropes. 50/50 instead if 70/30 maybe! I doubt it would have compromised anything, and the switch wouldn't have seemed quite so hurried. Though I suppose, since this is the first book in the series, I can understand why it was dragged out as far as it was. Setting up something like this is probably not that easy to accomplish in a smallish volume.
Needless to say, if you are an impatient reader, and you aren't a horror fan, you might want to give up, but don't! Trust me, it's worth it. And I will, in all probability, be looking for the next instalment, whenever that comes out!
Hardcopy Worthy? Good question! Maybe! I think I'll wait till I read the second book to decide on that!
To put it succinctly, Valour is hands down, the best fantasy I have read in an age. I thought Providence of Fire might have claimed it, but Valour came swooping in and stole the title.
Getting to the grit, Gwynne really has settled into his own stride with Valour. I mentioned previously that Malice tended to slip into the tested and true fantasy genre stereotypes, but Valour actually revamps them. Grabs them, shakes them vigorously and then chucks them in all trembling and ruffled. So I was skipping in comfortable shoes again, but also running out cartwheels with unabashed glee! I can't begin to iterate how joyful a well plotted storyline like Valour makes me.
The actual crafting of the scenes was also much tighter, there was no flimsy wording or silent holes, just really well woven together phrasing and pacing. The flow was gorgeous, I have read some really rushed adventure series lately, but the timing in Valour was superb. It takes the time to let you get to know the characters, care, grieve, feel the doubt, pain and fear, see them blush! It didn't feel like the action was forced to 3 octaves of hysteria simply to create a plot line, it was just a natural consequence, it stemmed from the characters, not the other way around. It really did feel as though the plot was created around the characters for a change, they manipulated it, they were the central theme, they weren't just the side product of battle scenes. I think that's probably what has made my affection for the book so strong.
And, it is so incredibly refreshing to see such well built characters that aren't paper thin, hop off points to the next confrontation. Sometimes just sitting down and listening in to their thoughts and conversations held much more weight than the warring going on around them. There are some beautifully rendered female characters as well, which is a rarity. There seems to be a trend in relegating a strong female as 'the schemer' these days, intelligence equalling grand machinations, but Gwynne has actually been able to write a whole range of *gasp* different strong female characters, with different personality traits and motivations! Miracles upon miracles!
Marquis, a new secondary POV, thundered off the page. Talk bout dragging a character through the shit, but written with so much damn grace! He was definitely a stand out this time around. Could you give him a tiny bit of joy Mr Gwynne? I kind of feel sorry for the bloke!
Unfortunately, I think Veradis' POV has weakened, you can only push that 'loyal doubter' case so far before the book slapping becomes violent. I definitely think we need Nathair as a POV now, it's become time to find out where his head is at and in turn, Veradis may come back to life with some force. He needs a kick in the arse promptly, or he will become irrelevant with all of the other characters having such a force of will behind them.
Saying all that, I think the world building may have suffered slightly due to the book being so character-centric. It's still well done, but it seems to play second fiddle. I never really get a sense of the space for some reason. I keep slipping back into thinking that I'm in a tale of the Mabinogi (a Welsh oral folklore, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr in particular) rather than it's own unique world and I am not sure whether that's what Gwynne is trying to achieve? It'd be interesting to find out whether it's been used as an influence.. I digress!
Another thing I find intriguing is the magic! It's such a struggle for the main characters! It's weak and unwieldy, and nobody actually knows how to use it properly. I am so used to it being flung around like a sword alternative, that seeing it being cultivated piece by piece is amazing. Never had the need to comment on 'magic creation' before! I am really interested to see where it ends up and how it in turn affects the world if it gets fully unleashed. I guess Corban will probably become some sort of powerful mage, but how will it affect him? He has been given some pretty heavy tasks, but I think, for some reason, magic will be one of the heaviest burdens. Pure speculation, but I'd like to see some sort of consequence for bringing that sort of power into the world of men.
My biggest problem is that I already gave Malice a 5 star rating, and now with Valour stepping it up a notch, I can't give an accurate appraisal to what I think may be becoming one of my all time favourite fantasy series. I don't take those words lightly! I am too frivolous a reader to make lists, but if I were to make one...
Read it if all the above makes you a happy little Vegemite! I'd probably class it with early Eddings, Gemmell and Goodkind, but with more maturity, stronger characters.. And more Omph! (technical term).
Hardcopy Worthy? Already shipped my friend, already shipped!
Sometimes, I really want a book to be better than it is, because I know in my heart, that it could have been. Emissary is one such book. I say this because Locke is a beautiful illusionist with words, there were scenes and imagery that made this forest dweller's heart sing with the beauty of it. There is real power in the way Locke slots his words together, everything vibrates from the page with a really vivid picture of the world and the power of magic. However, as beautiful as it was, the backbone of it was missing.
For the first part of the novel the plot drifted about like it was caught in a breeze. Sometimes it just staggered forward without glancing about. So many people and places to visit, so little time, not a tap root laid down in any of them. I wanted some more background, I wanted to be submerged into the Elves, the Ashanta, the Wizards, but it was all just surface work. I wanted to experience the battles like I was on the field, but the protagonists have this annoying habit of blacking out or being pulled away after the initial lead in and waking up in a totally different locations!
Many fantasy writers might've created a whole chunk of a series using just the groundwork presented in the first half of this book. It was all there, but none of it was explored with enough depth to grab my attention. I really wanted it to! I could have meandered about in Locke's words for an age, but he kept stealing them away from me with pacing problems and a constant feeling of being pulled away from what might've been a truly beautiful experience.
The characters were really hard to fathom, because they all seemed to have the emotional depth of peripheral bit part players. Apart from the secondary protagonist, who seems to get a much better showing when it comes to her background story and motivations, I didn't have an empathetic connection to anybody. The main protagonist was so emotionally blank, I didn't understand why he did any of the things he set about doing. He has a purpose, just no personality. He'd have these isolated temper tantrums that had no lead up. Oh, so you were angry about that! Ok then, you bottled that up so well, I didn't even know you had realised the event occurred, there was certainly no indication of it! Show me what's rolling about in that mind! We are mere readers, not omnipotent gods.
And the romance (or lack there of) might be better left out if you aren't prepared to lay any real ground work. It would've worked just as well without it, and my poor fool heart wouldn't have felt so insulted by the result.
Everything was just way too easily completed and defeated. The magic was akin to a tap that's just turned on, one minute nothing, the next he's the most powerful magic wielder in the world! Ok, I can handle that on a cursory level. Need to advance the plot? Just use that unmatched, undefeatable magic! There's a foe that needs vanquishing? I have a plan, gather round troops!
But why do the troops even trust you after so much apparent oppression, when they don't even know you? Everybody is almost instantly loyal and dropping to one knee. Even the horse, dog and the most reclusive and secretive races in the world! It's all so black and white. The evil overlord, is just evil. No way or wherefore, he seems to exist solely to give the storyline something to strive for. By the end I was almost begging for a betrayal to give some depth perception, when usually I find the plot device overused and irritating.
I need some sense of struggle or my eyes wander. If there is no real sense of danger because there is no belief defeat might ever come, I need some other source of interest. And apart from the beautiful wording, there wasn't anything with enough gravity to truly be interesting. The only thing I really had stake in (the main characters lineage) was blocked and evaded because the world's fate is more important. Apparently!
I did like the ending few chapters. I felt some relief in the protagonists predicament. Finally, he has a real sense of humanity without a all powerful weapon to combat the actual emotion. It was still trite (lucky for the good people's love), but for a few minutes, I cared.
I just think the editor needed to prod Locke and say, yes you write with intelligence and beauty, but you need to use it on the whole book, characters, plot line, pacing, everywhere! Depth, it needs depth! Get dirty with it!
I just realised something as I wrote 'get dirty with it'.. Huh! I have actually seen this stylisation a few times before. It has some of the the hallmarks of Christian lite fantasy. *wanders off and checks out Revell Publishing*. There you go then! Now it makes more sense.. The romance definitely makes more sense.
Right, so if you are reading this because it is a Christian published lite fantasy, scrub the whole review. I didn't read or review it within that subgenres specific outlook! Even though it still doesn't change my point of view, it may absolutely change others that are regular readers of that fantasy category.
If you want a read with grit, grey areas and a real sense of struggle, this probably won't be for you, though if you like it smooth with the overall sense of inevitable victory check it out, Locke does have a way with words.
I'll give it 3 and a half stars: 2 for the beautiful writing and 1 because the elves are mint green.. Ok, ok, not really.. And 1 because it is a decent enough read and half for the ending.
Hardcopy worthy? Not for me, no. I wish it was though. I kind of think Locke's writing style would be better suited to a different style of Fantasy. Something more story driven, less sword and sorcery. A bit more Hobb, a bit less Eddings.. Hmm. It'd probably sit within the category better without stunting the story line as well. I'm just rambling. It's how I roll..
Holy horrors! Now I am going to have nightmares about miniature versions of the Bond villain Jaws. It really had a bigger horror element than I suspected, but it was still really enjoyable. I am not overly eager to pick up the next one, but one day, it shall be done!
See here how I totally missed the mark about where this book was heading @ Story Time with Kristobelle
I picked out Masters of Blood and Bone as my next review, because I honestly think it is a little piece of genius expounding the gluttony of power, disguised as a dark fantasy novel. Which was a bit of a blind sight, considering I picked it up thinking it was a Harry Dresden/John Taylor-esque paranormal noir.
It certainly contains all the norms, but there was a message in there slightly more socially conscious than simply angry gods, mentally instable wizards and a grumpy, fat, arse sore detective that's good with death.
When you consume power, become bloated and ungainly with it, your power is an overestimation of your worth and a front that hides your fallibilities. In turn, your underestimation of those you lord power over, is ultimately the biggest failing you'll never see coming. I am looking around me right now and I see Janus everywhere. And I see the arse sore detective pulling him down at every turn. Whether you're on the side of good or evil is simply a subjective opinion held in ones heart and mind, it ultimately comes down to what we want. How we go about getting it, whose the judge? A God? Now there's the sticking point.
There is a real world parallel here, that I wanted to plaster up on every damn wall. Which is strange for me, because I usually keep my social consciousness firmly under wraps in light of it being unwieldy when let out of it's cage. I jail it in books!
Is it the best fantasy out there? Well, it's certainly different. It's probably the most disturbing I've read in a long time, sex as power, mind control to achieve goals (simply if you eject enough of your own vitriolic ink into a blank space, you'll ultimately fill it up to the point of creating a slave to your will) , mass sacrifice as a means to an ends. However, it is tempered by a dark, sarcastic intelligent humour, and there is a depth of emotion I didn't expect. It's a fast paced novel, but it isn't rushed, the flow is mastered beautifully. Even if I hadn't been wearing my 'sick of the world' hat, I still would've enjoyed it on a Nightside level.
So, it's not for the faint hearted or the prudish, but then, if you don't push the boundaries you set your own trap. Check it out if your in the mood for something left of the normal.
Hardcopy Worthy? I would buy it in a heartbeat if one existed. Alas!