bookfrivolity

Book Frivolity.....

Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!

Currently reading

Stone of Farewell
Tad Williams
The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns)
Django Wexler
Tallwood
Jeremy Kool, Steve Gerlach & Amanda Kool

Through the Wildwood

Through the Wildwood - M.R. Mathias After reading the Wardstone trilogy and loving the grand sweeping adventure, I was hesitant to start the Vanx Malic series because I had seen the length of the novels and they seemed suspiciously lacking. I honestly believed there was no way Mathias could conjure up a story as good as Wardstone with such teeny tiny novels. 'They'll be underdeveloped, I'll be annoyed' was my general train of thought.

However, after I finally relented and read a few chapters, the look of glee could not be taken off my face.

Nope, it's not Wardstone, it's bloody Vanx Malic, and I couldn't be happier with that. Sure, it took me a while to actually like him, or any of the characters to be honest, but once the wildwoods come in to focus, the whole rag tag bunch became my new best friends for a few hours. And I am definitely getting myself a haulkatten to ride to the supermarket... Those cheap pot noodles will be all mine farg it, grubby hand off!

There are some oddities in the narrative (how does he know the beer in the inn has no smell iwhen he is riding in a cart?) and sometimes the phrasing is slightly off kilter with what I believe is just some under cooked editing. Overall though, that kind of thing can be pretty much ignored when the story is just so adventurous, the characters so engaging and the whole thing just so damned fun! I felt like an adult kid for the duration. Woods, check! Grubby city, Check! Sailing scene, check! Dungeon, check! Underground tunnels, check! Perfection.

And now I ashamed I was so negative about the length (I am a bit of a page count snob!), because it was perfect for this sort of romp. It just snapped of the screen in rapid fire, and the short format just adds to that feeling of 'holy crap, that just happened!'

This is definitely going to be a fun ride to be delved into when I need a bit of levity in life. I think I need some more levity right now actually.. Oh look, Dragon Isle just appeared on my reader! How fortuitous!

The Assassin and the Princess

The Assassin and the Princess - Sarah J. Maas Unfortunately, when I read the description of Throne of Glass, I got the wrong impression of the nature of the book. It turned out to be less hard arsed assassin and more precocious teenager in a love triangle. Instalove just isn't my cup of tea, so I got irritated pretty quickly.

Granted,there were glimmers of potential here and there, I enjoyed the magical component and the ending was nicely handled, but there was only a teeny spark in my imagination and it didn't flare very often. I really had no connection to the characters, and sometimes I just wanted to give them a hard kick so they would get over themselves. Sass only gets you so far before it becomes potentially annoying, and immature men making Goggly eyes for no apparent reason is just borderline pathetic.

The world building was slim for fantasy. Unless you really like descriptions of clock towers, you just had to take a guess.

The intrigue was about as mysterious as a shown hand of cards (I had many 'I thought she was supposed to be intelligent!' moments), so I just waited patiently for a fight or assassination scene to arrive. There was one fight scene. In a book about the best assassin in the land... It was a clanger of a scene though, so i'll give kudos to that.

So, my advice is to check out something else if you are looking for a good fantasy action novel. Because this really isn't it. I do admit though, that this is probably the best book I've read in this sort of genre. Which isn't saying a lot, because I tend to avoid them. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't what I readily enjoy.

I have been told that the second novel is quite a bit better, so there may be a slight possibility that I will look it up if I am looking for a fluffy read one weekend, simply because I need to understand why this series is so well loved. I hear she actually kills people, which gives it an extra star before I even read it..

Cannonbridge

Cannonbridge - Jonathan Barnes Please note that this was reviewed from a proof copy.

And there are some semi-spoilers in here. Plus one I'll hide. So be warned, read on at your own peril!

So, Mr Cannonbridge, a bridge between the canons? Initially, I actually thought that this would be a great read for a classic literature class. It would be an enjoyable introduction to some of the more notable writers of the 19th century, a sort of bridge between the then and now.
And then I changed my mind.

This is what I call a hijacked story. And I quite enjoy a hijacker when it's a short story, because it's fine after a 30 minute read to be jacked, and grin at the absurdity. But not after an approximate 5 hour read. I was actually annoyed and wanted to call the time police and sue for my hours back..

But I'll back up!

I enjoyed the first 90% of the book, I've always been intrigued by literary hoaxes. The premise of a supernatural being that is messing with literary history, captured my attention and the 'in the present' thriller aspect was fast paced and exciting. The mystery seemed well presented and the use of favourite historical authors interweaved into the narrative was inspired (especially Maria Monk, whose validity as an author has always been questioned in 'real life' !).

There was some clunky writing at the beginning that is a bit cringe worthy and the transition to the overseeing narrator confusing at times (though I think with some careful formatting, that could be rectified). Said narrator could've been used to better effect if it was used a bit less sporadically.

Character development was a little stunted, but then there were so many in this book that jumped in and out, it would've been rather hard to progress too far with any of them. Even the two main characters felt like bit part players due to the quick transitions. They really only seemed to be there to frame the overarching plot, which was interesting device in it's own way.

The setting really wasn't considered much at all. This was about when, rather than where, and each subsection was headed with time and place rather than it being explained within the main thread.

I was pretty enthralled.

And then I was jacked.

Spoilers ahead:
With a thinly veiled social commentry on how multinational super corporations are taking over the world at that. I was reading about a literary hoax and ended up with banks as sentient beings taking control of history and politics It wasn't well done, it was thin and seemed thrown in at the end to try and be clever. Look at how brilliant I was to make you think this was in some way about literature! You can almost see the author sniggering with unabashed glee.

The linkage of the big reveal to the initial story was underwhelming at best. There was paper in the hole in the wall? Mmm. The concept of the Island and supernatural character creation could've been explored in a much more satisfactory way! It wasn't mysterious, it was just underwritten. It be scary, there be dirt! Really underwritten. I was terribly dissapointed that it was flicked off so lightly and I think if there was more insight into those aspects, the jack would've been less irritating. If this had've been the main focus of how the hoax occurred, I would've been appeased.
Spoiler end.

And, if I hadn't been so disillusioned by the time I got there, the ending pages would've actually been genius. If they were in another book entirely...

Overall, I can see this being a novel
that really polarises readers. There will be some people like me, that thought they were reading one thing and got something way beyond the scope of the initial story line, and others that really think the turn it takes as being inspired. I guess it shall be one of those novels you'll either love or hate, but probably not a lot of inbetween.

I'd still suggest reading it if you have a spare few hours, because the first three quarters really is a enjoyable romp through 1800's canon. Just stop at about 90% and create your own ending.

The Magicians

The Magicians - Lev Grossman I am agog, but I am saving the review for when I finish The Magician's Land. To be continued..

The Emperor's Blades

The Emperor's Blades - Brian Staveley Well. It was great. Not excellent. I just don't have much to say about it! Which is rather strange for me! I would dispute it being the years stand out debut, there were so many other fantasy debut this year that actually had me brimming with words to spout about them, but I am not sure what to say for this! It was just a bit too formulaic, a bit too predictable, a bit too slow to start.. Always just not quite there, never pushing anything beyond what's been seen before. I liked it for sure, it kept me entertained and I'll read the next instalment, but I am not doing any fangirl dances for it. I think the next one will be a bit punchier, and I look forward to it.

The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch Rich enough to be delicious, but not so much it gives you a stomach ache. Probably my favourite Gentleman Bastards, until about 90% through.. Then, it just falls into a echoing pit. The dessert finishes without you realising and you end up gnashing on air. I have a sneaking suspicion Lynch has trouble with endings! Fear not, the meal returns soon, hopefully with an ending we can chew on..

Warbreaker

Warbreaker - Brandon Sanderson I have always loved reading Warbreaker, it has the real distinction of relying on characters to drive the plot in comparison to the many fantasy books out there relying on epic battles to yank along a story line. However, previously I've always come away from it disinhearted by the ending. So much potential just waiting in the wings! But this time, Nightblood and the peculiarity of where it/he pops up next, has rekindled my intrigue. I don't know if or when there will be a direct sequel to Warbreaker (supposedly it is written? Maybe?), but that damned Cosmere is a tricky place, and it wasn't until I reread Warbreaker this time, that it all just started to click into place due to another of Sanderson's recent novels and a plot device I didn't even realise was staring me in the face! Wiley man Sanderson! I really want to be a spoiler, but I will refrain, just incases.. Suffice to say, I probably enjoyed it more this time around because of the tie. Still had a tear when one of the characters dies, those scenes never get old...

Owlet

Owlet - Emma Michaels I really liked the concept of Owlet. It's possibly the first YA book I've read in recent memory, in which the main character was physically flawed, unable to kick arses at the drop of a hat or have the iron will of a hardened soldier. I enjoyed the idea that you can be weepy, physically weak, confused and yet still strong in heart. It was refreshing to say the least!

As was the concept of the Stryx. You learn about them throughout the book, and explaining it here would spoil the story line so I'll just say, the idea is rather magical and if I was going to be 'paranormal' being, I'd be happy to be a Stryx.

Unfortunately, however good the concept was, the writing let it down. It was rushed to the point of underdevelopment. I couldn't grasp the characters as they sped away from me, I felt like if it slowed down for five seconds to allow me to feel something for them, the reading experience would've been much more enjoyable. Apart from Iris, the characters felt paper thin, which annoyed me, because I thought the author had the ability to give them life if she had taken the time... And slowed down! The plot became a scramble in the last half, I think it played second fiddle to trying to introduce the major players and it felt a bit out of control.

The construction of conversation was weak enough that sometimes I had to read things several times to understand what was being said. Since a good proportion of the novel was based around characters in conversation, I felt stalled, jarred and slightly impatient with trying to understand what I was being told, rather than shown. It was like watching a movie without the aid of the image to give it concept and meaning.

I do think the series has the potential to be great, if it takes the time to let the reader in. So I'll read the next installment with hope!

The Dark Mirror

The Dark Mirror - Juliet Marillier Marillier is a master of basing her fictitious novels around history, and has a firm grasp on some of the basic aspects of life and religion before Christianity overtook Britain.

Firstly, I enjoyed it. However..

There is much in this book, but it's central focus is on a love that cannot be, but is. And it kind of irked me. There was so much depth to play with here, but in the end I felt like I was reading a romance set in fantasy, rather than a fantasy containing romance. The ending was predictable but the struggle to get there was set at such a glacial pace! I was almost shouting at it to hurry up by the last few chapters. It's so glaringly obvious what the outcome would be, I wanted to slap the characters with their own book. The journey was just too long for a book with such a narrow scope. Sure, it played at the sides with bits and pieces to placate a fantasy reader but with no real consequence.

The world building was mediocre. If I wasn't already aware when this piece was set, I would've had no inkling as to it's time frame. If not for talk of druids, gods and chieftens, it could've been anytime before electricity was invented. I felt adrift. I wanted to see it, not just have it assumed I knew. Telling me there is a roaring hearth doesn't a picture make. I just wanted to feel the place and I didn't.

I liked the characters. But, I didn't want to do jigs for them. By the end, I was in despair that a I didn't really care about their struggles when I felt I should.

I am in two minds about reading the next in the series. I might be in the mood one day, who knows, maybe the Shining One will guide me back...

The Free

The Free - Brian Ruckley The Free is probably one of the shortest fantasy novels I have read in the last year, however probably packed more punch than any four tome series I have ever read. Done through succinct, yet still lyrical writing and denying some of the more arduous rambles through magical systems and world building, it is a brief glimpse into the last days of a mercenary group off to fight their last battle.

That is not to say the magic and world building is forgotten or done poorly, but is given to the reader by way of seeing what is done, rather than how. There are little divergences here and there to explain the consequences of action, but only what was necessary to make sure the reader understands the sacrifices each character makes and allows the emotional impact of each sacrifice to wield a really powerful blow. Watching the magic unfold (as I felt I was watching it, rather than reading it) was a thing of beauty, even as it stole and ripped from the characters. Totally brutal, though more believable than anything else I could compare it to. Though at one point I had a "The birds! The birds!" moment, which was probably my head trying to deflect the sense of grief filling the scene.

The world is given to us through the characters experiences of it, rather than Ruckley simply telling us what it is and why it is. It was an exclusive experience, but made it clear this was not about the greater whole, but only why these characters are here and doing what they are doing. I certainly wasn't left with any lingering feeling that I had missed anything of greater importance.

The writing is simple and accessible, refreshingly so. There was no need to use arcane words so long forgotten you needed a dictionary in your free hand, to explain the workings of this novel. The importance of the task at hand and the bond between the characters was enough to carry it through without unnecessary affectations.

Nothing is missing from this vignette. Bravery, love, loss, massive battles, down right despicable enemies and intrigues galore, a massive book in content, even though it had a narrow view scope. And albeit I love a good rambling read, I actually think fleshing it out any more would've just made it flabby. It's fast motions kept me captivated enough to read it in one sitting. And quite sad to see it end!

If you are looking for all the heroes to walk off into the sunset unscathed and skipping toward bright futures as the next kings and queens of the realm however, well, this isn't one of those books. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, but not because it ended on the wrong note, it actually wrapped up with more skill than the greats of the genre seem to muster. However, I am a greedy reader and I was yearning to see where the future would lead for the characters, so with great frustration I had to concede to the fact it is a set piece, not a life story.

Though, the ending could be a nice intro to the world in the aftermath of a certain untamed and very angry flying Permanence.. Just a suggestion Mr. Ruckley ;)

A very accomplished fantasy and very satisfying first foray into the depths of Ruckley's little grab of genius. Looking forward to delving into the authors other books. *runs off to frantically search the kindle store*

Paths of Alir

Paths of Alir - Melissa McPhail Occasionally, I come across a book that has me so conflicted I have a really hard time trying to review it. It's usually because it's a beautiful book, but the contents are just so disturbing you feel a little singed at the soul by reading it.

This for me this was like Gone Girl, you get it, but do you have to agree to like it? Or do you just agree that even though you like it, you can't possibly enjoy it? Or you enjoyed it, but do you actually like it? It's all quite confusing, and that's why this is quite hard to write.

I openly admit to outright loving the first two novels of A Pattern of Shadow and Light. In fact I think I said something to the tune of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. But this was... Not. I don't think.

Here's the beef: McPhail writes Paths of Alir as fantastically as the first two books, but the content is just beyond my ability to deduce what things are needed to drive a story and what is so utterly perverse it just makes me want to put the book down and shudder.

Why? Well, you can't say to much without spoiling the plot, but the gist of it is, let's gather most of the main characters, put them through some type of rape, sexual torture or sexual degradation to see how they rise above it. And I am not talking one character, I am talking the majority. Or make them do these things and then show how they can rise above it. Turn torture into love, or love into torture, pain into love or love into pain. Let's just fuck everybody over, and then see how they deal with being turned into sexual playthings.

I am no prude. I love a bit of fantasy sex, however McPhail skips over the consensual bits in a few sentences, but drags on and on for chapters over chapters about various sexual torture techniques used to break and mould the characters or how "it's my path, I must endure". I understand it's purpose and I am not saying it's not valid, I am just intimating it need not be the sole driving force of what this book or the series is about. And if it is, why the hell am I reading it? There is nothing about it that makes me feel good about this whole adventure. And fantasy should be an adventure, not a drag through the muddiest fields of soul rendering depravities. At least not linger on them so long the majority of the book is focused on them. And I understand, it is called the Paths of Alir and those paths of the light or the dark. So ,yes, this is about exploring those paths and what they mean within the realm and to the characters. I just fail to understand how it got to this place. Yes there was some aspects of it in the first two books, but not to this level.

(I keep thinking of the Malazaan Empire books as I write this, not sure why, and especially a certain avenue of crucifixion. I was revolted by the result, nauseous even, but even that to me was less disturbing than some things presented in PoA. I think I am connecting the two because Malazaan was brutal, and gritty to the point of a migraine, and some of the images in my head I'll probably take to the grave, but I didn't object to it as I did to PoA and I am trying to figure out why. Surely I should be more outraged by the happenings in ME books, but I'm not.. Is it because of the different stylisations? Is it because PoA tries to wield some sort of compassion for the perpetrators? Maybe it's simply because I think sexual violence is the most heinous offence, and I think it was shrugged off too lightly here because it was deemed necessary to make the players? This is something I must explore further within myself methinks!)

The disparity of the chapters and pov was also jolting. One minute we are seeing a a teenage boy falling in love giggly girly style and the next is about having a characters body being torn apart through sexual intercourse (literally bone breaking sex!). "Of course, the paths!" I should be saying to myself, but what I am actually saying is "wtf?"

The paths of Ean and Tanis were still flawless however. I almost found myself looking for their chapters to skip to, though I stayed my kindle finger and let it flow as it should. Onwards and upwards for those two! I was a mite flustered at Ean's disappearance from the book however.. He sort of got lost in the clamour of the last quarter..

The cracker is, I still feel for the characters and that's why I still liked the book even though I was disappointed for it at the same time. It kind of makes me feel dirty. *A sort of spoiler here* And don't even get me started on the last chapters of the book where a character loves another so much he binds himself to said character, even after the things said character has done to HIS MOTHER! And the reader should feel said character should be vindicated by this binding?! Now there's something to explore. What will he do when he finds out? Will he just accept it, "naw it wasn't his fault, he was compelled", or does the relationship get explored in more depth than that? Please let there be some type of conflict within it, or I will just chuck a hissy and walk away. *end of ranting spoiler*

I can't rate it. I just can't. My inner conflict is denying me the ability to make the decision. And maybe, like Gone Girl, that's why it is relevant, because it stirs you up to a point of confliction that you start to doubt what should and should not be considered really good works of fiction. And maybe that is the real kicker. Does the content of the book discount it's ability to capture one's imagination? I am still undecided.

(OK Ok, I rated it, but I still don't know that it was the right one.)


Cephrael's Hand: A Pattern of Shadow & Light Book One

Cephrael's Hand: A Pattern of Shadow & Light Book One - Melissa McPhail So, I will admit that after reading the Authors Note (in which McPhail tries to explain to the reader how to read the book and made me wince) and the Forward (which talked a lot about eye colour, yes they are blue, I get it. And a slinky woman awaiting the Lord’s ‘needs’ made me cringe), I was slightly apprehensive on embarking on this journey. However as soon as the first chapter began, it was like McPhail had tapped a whole new keg of ale and this one, instead of being flat and slightly stale, was bursting with effervescence and heady flavour. It flowed like nothing I have read recently, and seriously made me think about lowering the ratings of other books, just so this one stood out as being an exception amongst the many.

There are a hoarde of characters, races, religions, magic and intrigues to wrap your head around, but it becomes quite easy to delineate once you are pulled along with the characters and their quests. What makes it so engaging is that the characters know about as much about the world as you do, and you learn as they do, which is somewhat inspired (plus if you get the kindle editions, some of the races etc. are linked to a glossary if you are too impatient to wait for the characters to gain the knowledge along the way). Although it is epic fantasy, and it doesn’t stray to far from the genre, you can never really rely on the old good/evil character tropes of old. Sometimes who you thought were the upstanding or the dirty dirty characters, are not all that meets the eye. Even by the finale, you are still not sure what side you should be barracking (rooting) for, which is an absolutely genius way to get you to slide right into the next book in the series (Dagger of Adendidaeth). And to be utterly honest, that’s exactly what I will be doing. Lucky I am reading them after all the books in the series have been published, or I’d be foaming at the mouth.

I was really fascinated by the two lead characters Ean and Trell. They are diametrically opposed in their ways of gaining knowledge and insight. Ean, the rash young prince wants to know now, now, NOW, bugger the consequences, whilst Tell who knows nothing of who he is (ah the old amnesia trick), is willing to forgo everything except his sense of honour so he can learn through his journey. Which frankly made me irritated with both of them, but not in the ‘ye gods, why the hell?’ type of way, but in the ‘I love you both, and this isn’t healthy’ type of way. I was so concerned for both of them, which demonstrates how McPhail can convey her characters with a sense of depth ad emotion that engages the reader to no end. Even when you don’t necessarily like the characters, you still get a sense of why the characters are the way they are, not just they are because they are, which is where the brilliance lies.

The only thing that grated on me slightly was the reliance on world building around real world countries and stereotypes. French, English, Scandinavian, The Middle East and suchlike (with funky new names of course!) are quite bluntly planted within the realm. It is really the flows of magic and the Wildlings (or ‘magical’ creatures) in the novel which break the mould and stop it from being a simple trounce around a historic feeling Earth.

Two actually things actually! The names. I understand you need to get a bit fancy to show just how foreign some of the Wildlings are compared to humans, but sometimes remembering who Dha’bu’balaji’sridanai is, as opposed to Srivas’rhaka’rakek can be a bit unwieldy when you are trying to connect names with characters, especially when there are so so many to try and keep track of. Sometimes they are known by two names, which can get a bit crazy if you don’t have the Dramatis Personae handy. I usually abhor books that make you rely on DP’s, but I was willing to overlook it in this novels case however, because it was simply worth it. That is a testament to how fantastic this book actually is in my opinion. Even The Song of Ice and Fire series makes me want to throw things, but this didn’t.

The Kindle editions x-ray feature was sometimes a bit off the mark. Looking up what a nymphae was explained that it is a term for the labia minora. Interesting if the characters were indeed walking vaginas I suppose!

I could give a synopsis, but in the end, you have to just go with it. Anything I say to try and explain it will simply not do it justice. Plus, that’s why we have Goodreads or wherever your allegiances lie.

All in all, it was the cheapest ($2.59), longest (659 pages) but most enthralling fantasy I have read for a while, and I read a lot of fantasy. If this wasn’t indie published, it’d be up there with the greats. Honestly.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch What could be more endearing than a group of thieves calling themselves the Gentleman Bastards? Probably not quite what I was expecting, and it's probably not quite as 'fantasy' as I was led to believe, but it was still bloody (tongue anyone?) good and I intend to keep on with the series. Nice job Mr Lynch!

The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson Truly the most splendid high fantasy since LoTR. I hope the depth of plot and character in this first installment can be maintained throughout the whole series.