A Worthy Suggestion

by Kary English: http://karyenglish.com/2015/06/dear-puppies-please-talk-about-what-you-love/

What books do I love? Well let’s set aside Lord of the Rings, which I read annually for two decades, and talk more recently.

Skin Game, and the whole of the Dresden Files. Exceptional action scenes, great characters, and crowning moments of awesome that are cinematic in quality. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/572379433863858784/ http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lpdio7jqWQ1qfn5t3o1_500.jpg

The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I’m sorry fans of Martin and Wheel of Time, but Steven Erikson’s Malazan series is THE modern fantasy masterpiece. Epic deep history, characters by the score, and a unique magic system. Oh, and it was 10 books written in about 15 years. Martin’s going to take that long to write THREE Song of Ice & Fire books, and none of them have been *good* since Storm of Swords. Admit it. You know it’s true.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. This was what I read when I didn’t read LoTR as a kid. Hilarious buddy comedy as fantasy. The original for playing with tropes and laughing at the conventions. But never so much as to make you think it was laughing at you for liking them. Fritz Lieber was a master.

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I could be cheesy and call this the true distaff to Harry Dresden. But that’s not fair. Post-apocalyptic Urban Fantasy in a near-desolated Atlanta (and come on, you know that’s a city you want to see a wasteland). Swords and magic one minute, then the tech comes back, and its guns to the fore. The only were society that I’ve actually wanted to read about in fantasy. And then there’s Kate herself, pure buttkicking that makes Buffy look like a wimp.

For a one-off, I’ll go with The Peshawar Lancers, by S.M. Stirling. The best steampunk I’ve read. Cannibals in the northern hemisphere, the British Empire rules from the Raj. And the game of nations continues apace. Action, intrigue, a dash of is-it-magic? And if the characters are not, on the whole, as deep as I’d prefer, they’re not cardboard cutouts either. And what they are is enough to carry the scenes with style. If you’ve never read Steampunk, that’s the book to start with. Until my own is published, that is. 😉

There you go. I might do another of these in a month or so. Because there’s a lot more I could share. But that’s a solid start.

Book Review: Taken (Alex Verus, Book 3)

This is a solid, but not spectacular third entry in the Alex Verus Urban Fantasy series. Alex is a diviner who lives in London, though more of this story takes place outside his home city.

The strong point of the book–and the series in general–is the characterization of Alex and Luna. Alex is a very good voice and interesting narrator. Luna is a believable non-romantic apprentice with a fascinating hook. The secondary characters in this book are also quite good. The villains, don’t receive a lot of development. And I think the plot suffers for that. Hence my rating this a 4 star. The story isn’t bad, it’s just a tad thin.

If you’ve liked the series, you’ll like this one. If you haven’t read the series, start with Fated, which is, IMHO, a stronger book anyway. A lot of people say this series is for people who like Dresden. Yes and no. Yes, in that Alex’s character has a lot of Dresden-like quirks (though nowhere near the snark), and he’s a magical-investigator. No in that Alex is more studious, more serious, and as a diviner, doesn’t do a lot of flash-bang. Harry outclasses most single mages he fights. Alex is outclassed in power by just about everything. But because he can see futures, he can chessmaster his way out of stuff.

Still, it’s a good read in its own right. Especially for fans of Urban Fantasy.

Well, I’m Less Than Impressed

It seems Goodreads decided this year to dump Urban/Paranormal Fantasy from its own category into the general Fantasy camp. Because you know, like there aren’t enough nominees or something. So I had to choose between Skin Game and Words of Radiance.

This should not be. The only thing the two have in common is magic. And yes, they are both amazingly well written. So Horror and Thriller are in 2 separate categories. But these aren’t.

Oh well. Butcher FTW. https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2014

Book Review: Islands of Rage And Hope

The third book of John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising Series marks the time the series should drop the “Rising.” The Zombie infection is now officially being pushed back, and the push to make large scale vaccine for the sub crews and others is on.

Though the blurb focuses on Guantanamo Bay, the clearance of the Cuban military base is only one–and indeed a lesser–highlight of the book. The characters gained from that clearance recur throughout, and there is friction between them and the “Iwo” Marines of book 2, let alone the Wolf Squadron proper. For those who have not followed this series (and you should), it’s worth noting here that Ringo’s zombie apocalypse is considerably less anti-military than either Romero or The Walking Dead is. That’s not to say he doesn’t critique elements of the military, as in most of his works, he does with vigor. But unlike those others, Ringo’s take on the people who serve recognizes that most are more flexible and capable than the Hollywood and New York elite give them credit for. So why did the Apocalypse happen? Because someone created the perfect storm disease.

New characters like Walker get considerable time in this book, and his arc is a fascinating journey which makes what could have been an overly convenient climax in other hands believable in Ringo’s.

If I had any reservations about this volume of the series, it’s that the pacing at times felt a little off. That perhaps we spent too much time pointing out Faith’s shortcomings (Why doesn’t her sister’s get lampooned nearly as often, for example?). And that at this point, even those appear ‘cute’ rather than ‘dangerous.’ That said, the finale is a flat-out brilliant action scene, matching some of Ringo’s finest. And it both gives a glorious end to this book and points to a potential powder keg in the future.

I believe I rounded up on an earlier volume of the series, so this is probably a slight round down. It’s not perfect. But a solid, and enjoyable, entry in a unique take on zombie lore.

Book Review: Cursed (Alex Verus #2)

Alex Verus is a diviner. It’s a fascinating, and different way to do magic. He’s hard to surprise, but he lacks any kind of flash-bang other than what he carries around. And facing people who CAN do flash-bang magic, his advantage can often seem dubious.

The balance with a mage like this is to make it plausible to surprise the reader despite a character who is functionally all-but-omniscient. Anything he wants to know about anything in his vicinity, he can know. Past, present, or future. He’s also been a person who preferred to stay low-profile, but now, thanks to his success in the 1st book, he has to face increasing notoriety. And that represents his current internal conflict. Along with his mixed desires on what to do with Luna, his apprentice? Or does he hope for more? The curse on her is another fascinating twist of magic in the series.

The other interesting facet of the book is the fact that knowing ‘about’ the facts is not the same as understanding motive. Verus is constantly finding himself in deep games. And knowing what someone intends doesn’t put him any closer to the why of it. He still has to be a detective to solve mysteries. And because that means investigating people who can crispy-critter him at any time, it’s deep games with more dangerous opponents.

To go with the magic system, Jacka has also created an interesting political universe for mages, and put our hero in the middle of them. Neither ‘light’ or ‘dark’ mages are trustworthy. And if dark mages are even less so, not *all* of them are black as night and incapable of honoring deals. They’re just ruthlessly Darwinian. The ‘light’ mages aren’t always telling the truth, or keeping to their laws, either. Alex is a former Dark apprentice who apparently grew a conscience. As a result, he’s useful to both sides, but trusted by neither.

It all makes an intriguing series, with interesting characters and well-thought out mysteries. A series that fits close behind Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels series among the best Urban Fantasy series today.

Book Review: Hounded

A fun read, with a fascinating set of characters and an ‘all myths are true’ premise. Atticus o”Sullivan is the last of the Druids, and the narrator of this urban fantasy set in Tempe, Az. It’s not as gripping as Dresden or Kate Daniels, but it certainly got me turning pages.

Pros: The narrator is witty and enjoyable to listen to, a must in any 1st person story. The setting is lived in without being loaded with extraneous details. The secondary cast is filled with characters who are enjoyable even when they’re only scenery for Atticus to bounce his thoughts and stories off of. And when they have their own motives, they’re believable and twisted, without constituting unbelievable obstacles. Nobody trusts anyone. But everyone knows what they need, and are willing to help whichever horse advances their cause. Also, the Druid Magic is described believably and very sensible.

Cons: That same magic seems a bit too overpowered. As a result, there’s never any serious threat level to Atticus. Not only didn’t I doubt he was going to get out of the jam, I never really wondered *how* he would do so. Second, Atticus seems a bit too modern nerdish for a guy whose 2100 years old. Really, he acts like he could be the stoner in the comic book store (a combination of HIS characterizations, btw). It seems rather incongruous for a guy who’s been creeping around longer than the Highlander.

That said, it’s still a fun read. And a very good start to a series I was honestly had some trepidation toward.

Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods

The Frustrating, flattering to deceive 1st novel in the “Age of X” series from Richelle Mead of Bloodlines and Vampire Academy fame.

Poor pacing undermines what would otherwise be a strong novel (Though more a 2.5 than a true 2). The worldbuilding and main characters in the story are fascinating. I would not call it a Science Fiction, as some have. And I think that’s part of where some go off the rails with this book. There’s no attempt to justify the science or society in the book from rational grounds. That in itself is a deal breaker when it comes to sci-fi.

It’s presented with a sense of internal coherence that is consistent with post-apocalyptic fantasy, similar to Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series. Think of it as cyberpunk (which may or may not be true sci-fi, depending on the author) meets American Gods. This doesn’t bother me, as I enjoy both genres. And Tessa’s insights indicate that perhaps we’re not to see RUNA as utopian as the 2 native main characters, Mae & Justin, do. Of course, the fact that she’s a foreign teenager–and acts like one–somewhat undermines her critique.

Mae and Justin are both infuriatingly real characters. And I mean that in a good sense. They both have legitimate, well-developed flaws. Mae is too guarded to tell the full truth to anyone. Justin is too much a schmoozing womanizer to allow Mae to trust him, and he has his own head-case issue…literally.

This in itself provides real impediments to the plot that are well utilized. Combined with the setting, and the ‘return of the gods’ plotline, it ought to have been enough to complicate the murder mystery. This would have been a good story, and while there still would’ve been head-shaking moments to me, they would have been BELIEVABLE head-shaking moments.

But…now we get to the negative, and why I rate the story as low as I do: There are too many *artificial* impediments to the mystery. Too many things that get answers from above when it’s convenient to the plot, and don’t seem to come from their investigation. And then there’s the fact Justin is SUPPOSED to be an expert on religions, and we are SUPPOSED to believe he has an incredible deductive mind. He does make some fine conclusions here and there…always where they are only peripheral to the case. But in the things that TRULY matter, he’s an idiot. No. Really. A 5 minute search he should’ve done anytime in the last 5 years, he waits until he’s already hosed himself over to check. Not to mention the clues are slapping his ‘genius’ in the face, and he can’t see it. Same with Mae and the symbol. “Death+crow+dark presence” hmm, what religion could this be? Sure, there COULD be others, but who would anyone guess first, and CHECK first? Yeah. He missed BOTH of these the entire book, and is supposed to be a genius. And then there’s the red herring video, which we KNOW isn’t fake from the beginning, but we’re supposed to think holds up the plot for 150 pages.

Sorry, but those are 3 artificial blocks too many. And it makes the book almost 200 pages longer than it should be. The story doesn’t hold up under the weight of the non-reveal reveals. And in the end it comes off all too disappointing. So while this is a book with a lot to like about it, it’s not a book I like.

Book Review: The Widow’s House, Daniel Abraham

The latest entry in The Dagger and Coin series by author: Daniel Abraham finds the strong point of the series where it has been: Exceptional Characters. No one makes living, breathing, flawed, believable, and yet sympathetic figures like Daniel Abraham.

Geder is by turns bloodthirsty and compassionate, and believable in each role. When he makes his confession at the end of the book, my heart felt for him, despite everything. Cithrin goes through despair to find a weapon to use against the enemy. But one entirely different from that Marcus Westin and Kit sought. Even the Dragon, Inys, proves to be both more and less than expected.

Despite this, I found it slightly slower going at first for this book than the previous installments. It felt like a lull until the first battle. And then the plot begins to move, but never at a pace that even matches the 2nd and 3rd books of the series. This isn’t a bad thing, as this leaves room for the internal machinations on each side. It also allows a fascinating and intelligent discussion of markets and currency that most fantasy writing, even literary fantasy, would not be learned enough to indulge in. And it’s done entirely in character, and with legitimate character conflict, so it never feels like a ‘lecture.’

What knocks this book from 5 stars for me has nothing to do with the author as such. But the editing. It is, frankly: Slipshod. Duplicated words, misspellings that *spellcheck* would have caught, but the editors were too lazy to fix. After all the time Orbit (through their Overlords at Hachette) has spent telling us how important authors find their editors, and professional editing is, to turn out a work as POORLY edited by this in a major release is frankly pathetic.

I can always tell when a series has changed from ‘Investment’ to ‘cash cow’ in the eyes of the publishers. Because they stop caring about editing, since they know it’ll sell no matter what. Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones both contracted this illness, and both bloated, with WoT in particular becoming error-filled in the middle volumes. The errors Orbit let through are as bad as anything I found there. And it was only the skill of the author, over their incompetence, that makes this a Four Star book instead of one I angrily tossed across the room.

Like a Second Helping of Dresdencrack This Year

That’s what Magic Breaks was like. I did not *read* Magic Breaks as much as *Devoured* it. It was every bit as addictive as Dresdencrack, and I have no hope of an ‘objective’ review of this.

Simply put, this is the 7th book of the Kate Daniels series. And everything that’s happened, everything that was promised, pays off in large here. If you’ve followed to this point, you are rewarded in spades. And yet, it’s not the end. Three more books are promised, and one can easily see the series continuing to grow Kate’s character.

Things I loved: Well, as I said. It’s a fantastic payoff. Without spoilering the whole thing, the promise of Roland becomes reality in this book. The way Ghastek gets served a massive dose of crow, and yet doesn’t get depowered in the process. And the way the choices Kate and Curran have made pay off here.

Things I liked less: There’s one bit before the Great Escape, where Kate doesn’t act terribly Kate-like. She’s been forced to wait for rescue before. But she was nearly dead that time. This seemed too easy a surrender to being caged. Also, Hugh’s choice is even lampshaded as out of character for his strategic mind. Unfortunately, he was rather out-foxed by Curran in the last book, and so it makes him look something like the Worf Effect (TV Tropes will ruin your life: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php…).

Neither of these niggles are capable of dampening my enjoyment for this one whit. But fairness demands they be noted. Still, this is absurdly good. Easily the best in the series, IMHO.