GAME OF SHADOWS

GAME OF SHADOWSGame of Shadows by Erika Lewis

Genre: Fantasy — Young Adult

Series: Ongoing Series Planned

Publisher: Tor (February 28, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 400 pages

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis is a Celtic inspired fantasy with non-stop action and loads of humor. Definitely, it is more tailored to the young adult reader due its cast of teenage characters and less graphic nature, but I can see many age groups finding this tale an enjoyable escape from reality.

The star of the show is Ethan, a high school freshman, who lives with his single mother and has a fairly normal life except for two things. One, his mother is horribly overprotective, not allowing him to go anywhere – even school – by himself. And, two, Ethan has the ability to see and speak with ghosts! A talent which doesn’t bother him, but which he knows his peers might not completely understand or accept if they ever found out.

But everything changes for Ethan on his birthday. Wishing to exert his growing independence, he sneaks out of the house to walk to school with the girl he has a horrible crush on. Out of the blue, a stranger shows up, announcing that he is Ethan’s bodyguard and that his mom has been kidnapped. The appearance of this person beginning Ethan’s descent down the rabbit hole!

Soon, secrets are revealed at a dizzying pace. Ethan learning things about his mother, his deceased father, where his family is from, and, most importantly, who he really is!

For those seeking a comfortable coming-of-age tale, Game of Shadows is a perfect fit. The narrative filled with familiar fantasy tropes, loads of constant excitement, and enough teenage daring-do to satisfy anyone’s craves.

What was particularly interesting to me was Erika Lewis’ interesting take on Celtic mythology and the world she builds around it. This magical place very unique, with distinct areas and inhabitants, filled with every fantastical creature and ability a reader could dream for. All of it screaming out to be explored in further adventures of Ethan and his friends.

There were several negatives I had with the novel however.

First, I struggled to connect with the main character. Ethan is presented as a very nice teenager, one who is fairly intelligent, quite loyal to those he loves, has his heart in the right place and tries to do the right thing, even when it puts him in harms way. All of which sounds great. What became increasingly annoying about him was his instantaneous acceptance of every shocking revelation presented to him, his lack of suspicion about anyone or anything, and his refusal to listen to anything except what he wanted to hear. Obviously, this description perfectly fits many teenage boys (I should know. I live with three of my own.), but it seemed a bit hard to believe that Ethan would remain this way throughout his adventures.

Second, the forced love interests. I know, I know, love interests and love triangles are absolute requirements of every Young Adult story these days. Fine, I can accept that. Here, however, the love interests did not seem realistic, felt forced, and really didn’t add very much to the narrative. Perhaps I missed something, but I really felt this element was in the story just because it had to be.

Entertaining, fast-paced, and fun, Game of Shadows is a Young Adult adventure full of interesting teen characters and takes place in a magical world waiting to be explored. Certainly, I had a problems with a few story elements, but, overall, I enjoyed my time spent with Erika Lewis’ creation and find it to be a promising start to a YA series well worth paying attention to.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon

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Posted in 3 Stars, Fantasy, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE MIRROR’S TRUTH

the-mirrors-truthThe Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark

Series: Manifest Delusions #2

Publisher: Self Published (December 15, 2016)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 455 pages

My Rating:   1000 Proof Distilled Madness

 

It is damn difficult to top perfection. And in my opinion, Beyond Redemption was just about as near perfect a grimdark as anyone can write, one of the most demented, darkest, and diabolical grims ever penned. But, somehow, Michael Fletcher did just that with The Mirror’s Truth. The mad man in the glasses and black cowl delivering a stunning sequel, one that sets a new standard for what a grimdark has to deliver in order to be considered great.

fletcher-madness

It all starts where Beyond Redemption ended: with Bedeckt and his two friends, Wichtig and Stehlen, dead in the Afterlife. Of course, our tragic trio has grown bored of the hereafter. Hell: there is only so many things one can do while there. So, these guys escape back into the land of the living.

While the Sanest Man Alive, the Greatest Swordsman in the World, and the Keptic Killer have been “living” it up in death, back in the real world things have changed. Their former captive, Morgen, has taken up the reins of godhood, busily remaking the Geborene people into a near perfect race. Every thought of the young god focused on perfecting the dirty, brutish habits of his worshipers, refining them and make them into immaculate, clean pinnacles of his vision of mankind. Only problem is that Morgen is a damn lunatic like everyone else in the world.

Well, Bedeckt is going to put a stop to Morgen’s madness. The crazed god is his fault (in his mind, at least), so he is going to fix the mess he created. Doesn’t matter that those two friends he tried to abandoned back in the Afterlife have found a way into the real world and are bent on hunting him down and killing him. He won’t be stopped by the other, even more psychotic, assassins Morgen has sent after him. Nor will his own slow descent into the madness and sanity he has always risen above deter him. Bedeckt will not fail, because he is the Sanest Man Alive – which might mean he is also the most damn crazed shite in a world full of lunatics and sociopaths.

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From start to finish, this is one of the smoothest, most disturbing, and most compelling grimdark I have ever read. From the near perfect pacing of the narrative to the engrossing storytelling, Michael Fletcher crafts a masterpiece and makes it look easy. Whether it is internal contemplation, savage torture, or scheming machinations, Michael Fletcher nails it, sells it, and makes a reader buy it whole-heartedly. Demented and crazed characters actually develop before your eyes, becoming understandable, even in their deep, dark madness. The fresh, inventive and intricately detailed world building brings to life a reality where madness and delusion creates the world around the characters, helping to mold them into different beings. The violence is visceral, always present, and horribly described when it finally finds it victims. And the ending . . . it is just pure Michael Fletcher madness, people. Great stuff. Can’t put it any more simply than that.

The only negative I will mention (So I can appear to be fair and hide my absolute fanboy feelings for this book/series.) is that the plot in The Mirror’s Truth is more narrow, less epic in feel than Beyond Redemption. Everything in this tale revolving around our protagonist Bedeckt, even though the other characters have their own stories going on simultaneously. While this didn’t bother me in the least, I could see many readers feeling bothered by the more focused plot line.

If you love grimdark and have not tried Michael Fletcher’s series, I have to go ahead and ask you to please turn over your grimdark fan club membership card, because you do not deserve to keep it. I mean, this series is a hidden gem of creativity, dementia, and pure violence, which grabs you by the throat and will not let go. It is 100% proof distilled madness delivered up by the Master of Grimdark Madness, Michael Fletcher. And you, my patient reader, need to go buy Beyond Redemption and read it already, because the bandwagon is leaving the station and everyone on board gets first choice at the bar.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank him for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 5 Stars, Fantasy, Grimdark | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

THE CITY OF ICE

the-city-of-iceThe City of Ice by K.M. McKinley

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Gates of the World #2

Publisher: Solaris (December 27, 2016)

Length: 400 pages

My Rating:  4 stars

 

Epic fantasy has become a hit-or-miss situation for me. The stories and themes which mesmerized me a decade ago, not really working anymore. Sure, there have been a few novels which lived up to their hype, but many more quickly lost my interest and faded into my growing D-N-F pile, patiently waiting to start a new life upon the shelves of the local used bookstore. So when I read The Iron Ship back in 2015, I had high hopes, as well as a lot of real trepidation, as to whether this ambitious epic fantasy would capture my imagination, but it did – missteps and all. The City of Ice immediately becoming one of my most anticipated novels of 2016, because I had a feeling K. M. McKinley was going to pull everything together in this second installment, and I was right: this book is a great one.

Following in the age old tradition of sprawling epics with multiple point of view characters, The City of Ice mainly focuses on the Kressinds (though there are other characters I’ll mention later).  These very different siblings scattered across the world, dealing with unique problems all their own, but also unwittingly embroiled in a global threat to their entire way of life!

Our lead Kressind this time around is Trassan, who invented and now stands upon the prow of the mighty Iron Ship, which uses magic to break through the icy southern seas in route to a forgotten city of ice, where the vast knowledge of ancient times lies undiscovered.  Left back at home, Trassan’s sister, Katriona, is waging a fighting for fair labor rights for the mistreated workers of her country, while a continent away Rel Kressind flees from certain death near the mysterious Glass Fort. Meanwhile, Aarin Kressind has braved his fears to travel to the Final Isle, waiting to visit an ominous oracle regarding the souls of the dead.  And, lastly, Garten Kressind finds himself neck deep in political machinations, as he attends the election of a High Legate in ancient Maceriya.

If this is not enough story for everyone, K.M. McKinley also has several minor plot lines going on at the same time. From the Fifty Shades of Grey-like tale of Madelyne and The Infernal Duke of Maceriya to the brief appearances of Adamanka Sharane, last of the Iron Mages, sole devotee of the Iron Church, messiah to a forgotten people, and the herald to the ancient gods, to Vols Iapetus, ancestor of the Driver of the Gods, to Josan and Josanad of the Morfaan, the author keeps the names, places, and excitement coming in an endless wave of epic fantasy fun.

Certainly, all that sounds ominous and overwhelming when I describe it that way.  However, I want to assure everyone that each one of these plots is very organically woven into the ongoing narrative. Every character given the utmost opportunity to strut their stuff, develop their part in the tale before passing the torch to the next in line, who then rinse and repeat the process. All of this keeping the narrative fresh, both entertaining and informative, as key information regarding the ongoing mystery is revealed, driving The City of Ice to its explosive conclusion rather than weighing it down.

So it goes without saying that I really enjoyed the novel. Loved the multiple point of view characters. Thought the pacing was excellent for a book with so many divergent story lines going on. And found the world building even more amazing than book one (which is a great compliment, since I thought that was the greatest element in The Iron Ship).

But was there anything I didn’t like about it, you ask? Of course.

First off, I thought a few of the characters did not get as much page time as they deserved, specifically Katriona, Rel, and Aaarin Kressind. These guys were some of the most important players in book one, yet here they took a backseat to their siblings. While I understood why and thought the author still found a way to incorporate them into the story, I just wished they had played a larger role in this part of the tale.

Second, the Madelyne-Infernal Duke story line seemed a bit out of place. Nothing wrong with the Fifty Shades of Grey relationship these two had with one another, but it just did not seem to add very much to the ongoing story line. Perhaps I will be proven wrong by the author on that point, but right now, these two felt like filler material.

Overall, The City of Ice exceeded its predecessor in almost every way. It was near perfection to me. The diverse cast, unique settings, and mysterious, overarching plot persuading me every night to put off sleep just a couple more hours to remain in pursuit of the answers I desperately craved from the narrative. K.M. McKinley skillfully keeping all the revelations just out of my reach, frustrating me yet enthralling me with this masterful epic fantasy, which has renewed my love of the sprawling epic with a huge cast of characters.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 4 Stars, Epic, Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

FORSAKEN

forsakenForsaken by Eric S. Fomley

Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark

Series: The Exiled Crown #1

Publisher:  Self-published  (2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length:  12 pages

My Rating:  3 stars

 

With Forsaken, Eric S. Fomley pens an ultra fast-paced story introducing his Princess of Grimdark: Ayla.  This badass heroine leaping off the pages at you, ready to rip out your throat with her bare hands.  Her brutal presence and shadowy past instantly inspiring a deep desire to know more, More, MORE!

Be warned though, this first installment is very, very brief; a quick glimpse into Ayla’s brutal world, where intense combat and bloody death can happen any second.  All of it written in a smooth, clean style which is easy to devour and can be enjoyed in a single sitting.  But it isn’t meant to completely satisfy your grimdark yearns, rather it is very much like a tv episode where you are encouraged to immediately go on to the next to learn more, More, MORE!

The only complaint I can level at Forsaken is that it is too short.  Once Ayla had me in her grip, I wanted to witness more of her visceral confrontations, learn more about her hidden history, and see where her path leads from this beginning.  Alas, the vagrant princess released me too soon, disappearing back into the mist from whence she came.

As a sucker for quick, episodic fantasy, I’m optimistic about the future of Eric S. Fomley’s The Exiled Crown series.  The fact that it is an unabashedly grimdark only makes me hunger more for the next installment.  Really can’t wait to see where this new Princess of Grimdark goes from here.

Purchase the story at Amazon   

Posted in 3 Stars, Fantasy, Grimdark, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY — SKULLSWORN

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Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to let readers share their excitement for books coming out soon, and the novel I’m eagerly awaiting is . . .

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SKULLSWORNSkullsworn by Brian Staveley.

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: Standalone

Publisher: Tor Books (April 25, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 304 pages

Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.

Purchase the book at Amazon

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TOP TEN TUESDAY

TOP TEN TUESDAYS

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where a new top ten list hits the web every week!

This week our topic is …

TEN STORIES TO READ WHEN YOU ARE SHORT ON TIME

This post is all about concise works of fiction.  Short stories.  Novelettes.  Novellas. Short books.  You get the point, I’m sure.

Well, I’ve tried to pick my favorite short pieces of fiction.  Stories which made me read away the time, no matter if they were 1500 words, 8000 words, 20000 words, or far beyond that.  Narratives which drew me into their fantastical worlds, swept me away, and kept me entrapped in their mesmerizing depths until the tale was finally told.

Hopefully, you’ve already discovered the works highlighted below.  If not, hopefully, I’ve introduced you to a few that you will enjoy.

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sunginblood10. SUNG IN BLOOD 

Protector Jerhke has kept Shasessrre peaceful for hundreds of years. After his brutal murder, his son Rider tries to discover his father’s murderer. Rider is helped in his search by his companions, as they battle against the agents of the mysterious Kralj Odehnal. But the murderous dwarf turns out to be an introduction to greater terror, as they match wits with Shai Khe, the powerful sorcerer who wants to rule Shasessrre.

 

9. ELRIC OF MELNIBONE ELRIC OF MELNIBONE

For ten thousand years Melniboné ruled the world. Elric, the 428th Emperor, seemed destined to see that era come to an end. An albino, sustained by rare drugs, it fell to him to confront the rise of the Young Kingdoms, of the monsters and sorceries which were threatening to overwhelm him and his ancient crown.

 

 

impersonations8. IMPERSONATIONS

Having offended her superiors by winning a battle without permission, Caroline Sula has been posted to the planet Earth, a dismal backwater where careers go to die. But Sula has always been fascinated by Earth history, and she plans to reward herself with a long, happy vacation amid the ancient monuments of humanity’s home world.

Sula may be an Earth history buff, but there are aspects of her own history she doesn’t want known. Exposure is threatened when an old acquaintance turns up unexpectedly. Someone seems to be forging evidence that would send her to prison. And all that is before someone tries to kill her.

If she’s going to survive, Sula has no choice but to make some history of her own.

ghosts of the tristan basin7. GHOSTS OF THE TRISTAN BASIN

Taniel Two-Shot is a powder mage with the Tristan Ghost Irregulars, a band of volunteers who have made a name for themselves fighting in the Fatrastan Revolution. They range through the swamps of the frontier, cutting off enemy supplies and raiding towns while Taniel hunts the Privileged sorcerers that make the Kez armies so powerful.

When a desperate call for help comes from the nearby city of Planth, the Irregulars aren’t the only ones to answer and Taniel must deal with another hero of the revolution: Mad Colonel Styke. But not all is well within the young Fatrastan government, and more hangs on the defense of Planth than Taniel and his companions could possibly know.

the ghoul king6. THE GHOUL KING

The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot.

But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…

wool5. WOOL

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.

 

THE BUILDERS4. THE BUILDERS

A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn’t end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.

NINE PRINCES IN AMBER3. NINE PRINCES IN AMBER

Amber, the one real world, wherein all others, including our own Earth, are but Shadows. Amber burns in Corwin’s blood. Exiled on Shadow Earth for centuries, the prince is about to return to Amber to make a mad and desperate rush upon the throne. From Arden to the blood-slippery Stairway into the Sea, the air is electrified with the powers of Eric, Random, Bleys, Caine, and all the princes of Amber whom Corwin must overcome. Yet, his savage path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining; impossible realities forged by demonic assassins and staggering horrors to challenge the might of Corwin’s superhuman fury.’ to ‘Awakening in an Earth hospital unable to remember who he is or where he came from, Corwin is amazed to learn that he is one of the sons of Oberon, King of Amber, and is the rightful successor to the crown in a parallel world.

TIME OF THE TWINS2. TIME OF THE TWINS

The War of the Lance has ended. The darkness has passed. Or has it?

One man the powerful archmage Raistlin, intends that the darkness return.

Two people alone can stop him. One is Crysania, a beautiful cleric of good, who is drawn to Raistlin as a moth is drawn to flame. The other is his twin, Caramon, who must come to an understanding of himself before he can redeem his brother. Together with the irrepressible kinder, Tasslehoff, these three take a perilous journey back in time to the days just before the Cataclysm.

In the doomed city of Istar, poised on the brink of disaster, dark magic and darker ambition battle love and self-sacrifice in a quest to save not only the world but more importantly-a soul.

DURING THE DANCE1.   DURING THE DANCE

A short story about a child with a gift for seeing past the world.

This concise, beautiful, and poignant short story is an undiscovered gem by Mark Lawrence, one that all fans of the medium should immediately read.

 

Posted in Top Ten Tuesday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

BANE OF MALEKITH

BANE OF MALEKITHBane of Malekith by William King

Genre: Fantasy — Warhammer

Series: Tyrion & Teclis #3

Publisher: Games Workshop (December 17, 2013)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length:  320 pages

My Rating:  4 stars

Gritty, bloody, exciting, and insightful, Bane of Malekith wraps up the ongoing saga of Tyrion and Teclis, bringing not only our heroes personal struggles to a conclusion but also the raging war between the High Elves and the Druuchi. William King ending the trilogy on a high note of sword and sorcery adventure at its best.

War rages across the continent of Ulthuan. High Elves and Druchii locked in a struggle to the death. Tyrion finds himself fleeing blindly through the wilderness of Avelorn at the side of the young, inexperienced Everqueen, while enemy forces close in around them. Meanwhile, within the magical halls of the Tower of Hoeth, Teclis discovers an unexpected ally, as well as uncovering unlooked for powers, as he sets out to rescue his twin, no matter the cost. Each of these scions of Aenarion playing an unknowing role in a grand game of strategy between a god and the undying spirit of a legendary High Elf.

Continuing with the now familiar pattern of its predecessors, Bane is driven forward at dizzying speeds by its frantic action and selective introspection of the point-of-view characters. What sets it apart from most action adventure tales, however, is the latter element. Whether it is Tyrion discovering what matters most to him, Teclis recognizing and acknowledging the darkness within, or Malekith balancing both madness and long lost nobility, everyone in this tale deals with issues of personal consequences. These episodes of deep contemplation actually mattering to who and what these legendary people are and will be going forward. And this deft writing by William King truly transforms Bane from merely an exciting Warhammer story into something much more meaningful.

But nothing is perfect, and Bane has its problems. The most significant of which is a seemingly endless pursuit of Tyrion and the Everqueen through the woods of Avelorn, where the struggles of these two quickly turns from gripping to fairly repetitive. This plot line just too long. Much of it able to be jettisoned without the absence harming the overall plot in any way.

The other issue for me was the lackluster battle at the end.  This climactic clash between our title characters and their legendary kin Malekith, the immortal Witch King of Naggaroth, did not getting the attention it deserved in my humble opinion.  Certainly, there was a battle and some dramatic scenes, yet it did not live up to what I was expecting.

Having gone into my read of the Tyrion & Teclis trilogy with little Warhammer knowledge (except for Time of Legends: The Sundering), this was my introduction to the legendary twins of Ulthuan, and I finished the trilogy with a craving for more. William King having succeeded in fanning the flames of my Warhammer fandom to greater heights, as well as turning me into an admirer of his writing. Looks like a rousing success any way you look at it.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 4 Stars, Fantasy, Warhammer | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE

THE COLLAPSING EMPIREThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: The Collapsing Empire #1

Publisher: Tor (March 21, 2016)

Author Information: Website | Twitter 

Length:  336 pages

My Rating: 4 stars

The Collapsing Empire is the opening salvo in a new science fiction series by John Scalzi. And if you enjoy space, cool ideas, political machinations, jaded characters, and the ever present Scalzi’s dry wit and sarcasm, then this novel will deliver exactly the reading experience you have been waiting for.

The setting for this space epic is an interstellar empire called the Interdependecy. Humanity having spread among the stars, not due to faster-than-light interstellar starships however but by the Flow: a mysterious force which creates inter-dimensional corridors that humanity uses to travel toward other worlds.

Until now, humanity had considered the Flow to be eternal and immutable. (Yes, there has been an isolated incident of the Flow becoming destabilized, but that was a rare fluctuation, one never theorized to ever occur again.) At least, that is what everyone believed until it isn’t true anymore.  The science now nearly irrefutable that the Flow is steadily destabilizing, changing its currents away from the human colonies, threatening to permanently cut off and destroy the entire Interdependency!

This news causes massive upheaval in the Empire’s society. Everyone falling into separate groups aligned along their response to the Flow’s disappearance. Naturally, many ignore it. Others embrace the fact, seeing great opportunities for power and wealth in the upheaval. While a few wish to discover a solution to the problem, hoping to convince their fellows to do what is necessary to save humanity from a bleak future. The conflict from these competing groups driving the narrative forward.

It probably goes without saying that Scalzi is a writer whom you either like or don’t like. His writing style one you either warm up to or don’t. Personally, I find his concise, unadorned style to my liking. No matter its faults, Scalzi’s bare-bones storytelling approach effortlessly conveys the story without resorting to excessive words or endless description. Instead of ominous walls of words, he masterfully uses realistic dialogue to organically reveal background information, create action, and subtly build characters. All this while interjecting his trademark humor and wit into series situations, reveling in pointing out his views on the human condition.

With this novel, however, Scalzi has attempted to broaden his writing horizons, so to speak, respond to his critics, if you will. First, he has placed a greater emphasize on lead female characters. Second, he has attempted to break with heteronormativity. And, overall, he has been successful in accomplishing both these goals. The Collapsing Empire’s most important characters are indeed women, starting with Cardenia Wu-Patrick, the newly elected emperox of the Interdependency, and not ending with her counterpart Lady Nadashe of House Nohamapetan (not a “royal” house like Herbert’s Dune, but rather a house of commerce and trade.) Each of these powerful individuals a full realized character, who resonant as completely realistic. And the break away from heteronormativity is, at least, paid lip service to, if not explored in great detail.

Writing style aside though, it all comes down to the story itself. Whether the concept is cool. Whether the characters work. Whether the plot takes on a life of its own and sweeps a reader up in that growth. Those are the elements which separate the books I can’t put down from the ones I can’t force myself to keep reading. And The Collapsing Empire is definitely the former, because – even though it does a lot of setting up for the series – it drew me in, made me think, caused me to wonder how I would react in situations, and forced me to pick sides in the societal debate.

Even with that being said, this isn’t a perfect book in my eyes. There were elements I did not enjoy, would have preferred be tweaked, changed, or omitted altogether. The main ones being the lack of introspection among the lead characters and the minimal scientific explanation of things. Neither of which ruined my enjoyment of the book, yet both of which I would have liked to have seen been a greater part of the narrative. And the minor quibble being the excessive profanity of one of the characters, whose foul mouthed language became tedious after a short time.

Honestly, there are not a lot of science fiction writers whom I follow. (Those who know me realize I’m more of a fantasy fan.) Among the handful of scifi authors whom I do consistently read, Scalzi is near the top though; his books generally entertaining and thought provoking. And The Collapsing Empire is another success for him. This new series one which I will be eagerly following, because it has already captured my imagination.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 4 Stars, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: BOOKS I FELT BETRAYED BY

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Today, the guys in the Goodreads Top 5 Wednesday group have an interesting topic: BOOKS I FELT BETRAYED BY!  Beware the Ides of March! The books you feel betrayed by, for whatever reason…big or small.

Interested topic.  One which makes me a little bit nervous though.  Mainly, because I don’t like overly criticizing books.  I mean, “betrayed by” sounds terrible like a secret society is running around in the shadows trying to ruin my reading experience.

Can’t say any book has ever left me feeling that jaded.  Sure, I’ve been bored, annoyed, or even angry.  But betrayed?  Not so much.  There have been a few which l came fairly close though.  And those are the ones I will be focusing on.

TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER5. TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was a trilogy I really, really struggled to like (and finish) back in the day.  Not suggesting there is anything wrong with Tad Williams’ epic fantasy trilogy, but it just wasn’t for me.  Even after struggling to get through the first two books though, I convinced myself that things would turn around in the last novel.  When  events transpired as I had guessed, I felt horribly letdown.

 

throne-of-the-crescent-moon-14. THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON

After reading all the praise heaped on this novel, I had to read it.  When it seemed to offer a zombie apocalypse set in an Arabian-like setting, I was totally psyched.  Then I read the novel.  What I recall is the main character really liking tea, being in love with a lady but not being able to be with her because of his “zombie” hunting, and every other scene being an intervention.  All that exciting zombie apocalypse stuff?  Didn’t happen.  Yeah, I felt terribly mislead.

 

THE PHOENIX GUARDS3. THE PHOENIX GUARD     

Swashbuckling adventure!  Three Musketeer-like characters!  Magic!  This one seemed like an absolute perfect story for someone with my tastes.  Only one problem?  The story was long, tedious, filled with nonsensical conversations, and with an ending that centered on the absurd.  Not only did I feel completely disgusted with myself for being seduced into reading this, but it left a lasting impression of disillusionment with the author, who had been a personal favorite of mine until this novel.

 

the mirror empire2. THE MIRROR EMPIRE 

I do not know what exactly I was expecting when I picked up this book.  Perhaps I saw that damn cool cover and thought action adventure.  Maybe, I bought in to the Hurley hype and believed I’d be experiencing a modern, gender neutral narrative.  Whatever it was I was hoping for I did not find it within this novel however.  Rather I felt completely jilted by a series I wanted to fall in love with but instead immensely disliked.

 

THE DARK TOWER1.   THE DARK TOWER

This book is the only one where “betrayed” is close to the truth.  I’ve never, ever been as angry as when I finished this novel.  Let’s take a look at a few excerpt from my review.

“Why did I read this series again?”

The awful truth about The Dark Tower Book VII is that it is a dud.

A clever buildup to a nothing happens.

A Dallas “Get out of the shower it’s all been a dream.”

Another Matrix sequel were our number today boys and girls is 101, and you are the sixth Chosen One, which means your dramatic victories are not anything new.

Not a “flawed masterpiece” at all but a cleverly disguised fake.

A huge belly flop into the abyss of bad endings.

A book that just stinks.

In fact, this “supposed” finale of the Dark Tower series makes such a mess of the story that Roland’s whole quest is rendered meaningless. A useless exercise in futility that is very similar to a hamster running as fast as he can on his exercise wheel.

Probably now you can see why this book has to be number one of this list.

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TOP TEN TUESDAY

TOP TEN TUESDAYS

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where a new top ten list hits the web every week!

This week our topic is …

TOP TEN BOOKS ON MY SPRING TBR

This year I’ve made a commitment to read all the books I’ve had sitting on my shelves but never gotten around to opening.  Naturally, most of these are books are familiar to everyone, penned by authors named Sanderson or Abercrombie and others.  There are a few, however, which might not be as well known, and those are the ones I decided to focus on.

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FITZPATRICK'S WAR10. FITZPATRICK’S WAR by THEODORE JUDSON

In the twenty-sixth century the world is a very different place. The United States and Canada are gone, replaced by the socially rigid, authoritarian Confederacy of the Yukon. Also gone is the electronic age-destroyed in the apocalyptic Storm Times that devastated the globe and decimated the world’s population in the late twenty-first century. It is now, once again, an age of steam, an age of lighter-than-air craft, an age of feudalism and knighthood, and for some, an age of conquest.

Fitzpatrick’s War is the intimate memoir of Sir Robert Bruce, a close companion of Fitzpatrick the Younger, the greatest hero of the Yukons. Yukon History paints Fitzpatrick as a latter-day Alexander the Great, and calls Bruce a lying traitor. Was Robert Bruce a degenerate scoundrel…or the only man to tell his world the truth?

runelords9. THE RUNELORDS by DAVID FARLAND

Young Prince Gaborn Val Orden of Mystarria is traveling in disguise on a journey to ask for the hand of the lovely Princess Iome of Sylvarresta when he and his warrior bodyguard spot a pair of assassins who have set their sights on the princess’s father. The pair races to warn the king of the impending danger and realizes that more than the royal family is at risk–the very fate of the Earth is in jeopardy.

8. THE EYE OF GOD by JOHN MARCOthe eyes of god

Akeela, King of Liiria, was a young and idealistic scholar who was determined to bring peace to his kingdom—a land that had been plagued by war with the neighboring kingdom of Reec for decades. Lukien, the Bronze Knight of Liiria, had been taken in by the royal family when, at fourteen, he saved Akeela’s life, but he’d never forgotten the brutal lessons of the streets he’d grown up on. A bond of loyalty stronger than blood linked these two men—but no two souls could be more different. And as Akeela and Lukien entered their enemy’s stronghold on a mission of peace, neither man could forsee the turmoil this historic mission would wreak on their lives. For, to seal the peace, King Karis of Reec would bestow upon Akeela the hand of his charming, beautiful, and accomplished daughter Cassandra.

But Cassandra hid a terrible secret. She was experiencing the first symptoms of a disease which would threaten her life and cause unimaginable strife for all who loved her. For Akeela and Lukien, the quest for Cassandra’s salvation would overwhelm every bond of loyalty, every point of honor, every dream of peace. For only the magical amulets known as the Eyes of God could halt the progress of Cassandra’s illness. But the Eyes of God would also open the way to a magical stronghold which could tear their world apart and redefine the very nature of their reality.

the sundering7. THE SUNDERING by JACQUELINE CAREY 

Once the Seven Shapers dwelled in accord. First-born among them was Haomane, Lord-of-Thought, and with his six sibling gods, they Shaped the world and it’s children to their will. But Haomane was displeased with Satoris’ Shaping, for he thought his younger brother too generous in his gifts to Men, who made war upon Hoamane’s Children, the Ellylon. Though the First-Born asked his brother to withdraw his Gift, Satoris refused. So began the Shapers’ War, which sundered the world and cast Satoris and his kindred to opposite ends of a vast ocean.

a cavern of black ice6. A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE by J.V. JONES

As a newborn Ash March was abandoned–left for dead at the foot of a frozen mountain. Found and raised by the Penthero Iss, the mighty Surlord of Spire Vanis, she has always known she is different. Terrible dreams plague her and sometimes in the darkness she hears dread voices from another world. Iss watches her as she grows to womanhood, eager to discover what powers his ward might possess. As his interest quickens, he sends his living blade, Marafice Eye, to guard her night and day.

Raif Sevrance, a young man of Clan Blackhail, also knows he is different, with uncanny abilities that distance him from the clan. But when he and his brother survive an ambush that plunges the entire Northern Territories into war, he yet seeks justice for his own . . . even if means he must forsake clan and kin.

Ash and Raif must learn to master their powers and accept their joint fate if they are to defeat an ancient prophecy and prevent the release of the pure evil known as the End Lords.

SHADOWLINE5. SHADOWLINE by GLEN COOK

The vendetta in space had started centuries before “Mouse” Storm was born with his grandfather’s raid on the planet Prefactlas, the blood bath that freed the human slaves from their Sangaree masters. But one Sangaree survived – the young Norborn heir, the man who swore vengeance on the Storm family and their soldiers, in a carefully mapped plot that would take generations to fulfill. Now Mouse’s father Gneaus must fight for an El Dorado of wealth on the burning half of the planet Blackworld. As the great private armies of all space clash on the narrow Shadowline that divides inferno from life-sheltering shade, Gneaus’ half- brother Michael plays his traitorous games, and a man called Death pulls the deadly strings that threaten to entrap them all – as the Starfishers Trilogy begins.

A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE4. A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE by CHRIS EVANS

Konowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire’s elite Iron Elves, is looked upon as anything but ordinary. He’s murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and finally been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most — the forest.

Now, all he wants is to be left alone with his misery…but for Konowa, nothing is ever that simple. The mysterious and alluring Visyna Tekoy, the highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor, seeks him out in the dangerous wild with a royal decree that he resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty’s Imperial Army, effective immediately.

For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a magic long vanished from the earth. Rebellion grows within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself — even if the entire affair appears doomed to be a suicide mission…

and that the soldiers recruited for the task are not at all what he expects. And worse, his key adversary in the perilous race for the Star is the dreaded Shadow Monarch — a legendary elf-witch whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine….

RULES OF ASCENSION3. RULES OF ASCENSION by DAVID B. COE

For 900 years, since the Qirsi War, the Forelands have enjoyed relative peace. The Qirsi leaders, Weavers whose powerful magic could bend to their will not only the elements but also the thoughts of others, were all killed. The rest of the pale-skinned Qirsi were scattered throughout the realm. They were no longer a threat without their multi-talented leaders.

But though most Qirsi live normal lives, and some even serve lords as advisors, all is not well in the realm. There is a Weaver in the Forelands again, secretly sowing seeds of rebellion against the physically hardier but unmagical Eandi.

Lord Tavis of Curgh, raised to succeed his father as duke, and engaged to the beautiful Lady Brienne of Kentigern, seems bound for greatness. But just as his life seems complete, he is accused of a horrific act. Little can Tavis know that the Weaver is using him as a pawn in a vast plot.

Now, only a Qirsi gleaner can help Tavis survive his doom, reclaim his good name, and prevent a devastating civil war in the Forelands.

the-stormcaller2. THE STORMCALLER by TOM LLOYD

Isak is a white-eye, feared and despised in equal measure. Trapped in a life of poverty, hated and abused by his father, Isak dreams of escape, but when his chance comes, it isn’t to a place in the army as he’d expected. Instead, the Gods have marked him out as heir-elect to the brooding Lord Bahl, the Lord of the Fahlan.

Lord Bahl is also a white-eye, a genetic rarity that produces men stronger, more savage and more charismatic than their normal counterparts. Their magnetic charm and brute strength both inspires and oppresses others.
Now is the time for revenge, and the forging of empires.

With mounting envy and malice the men who would themselves be kings watch Isak, chosen by Gods as flawed as the humans who serve them, as he is shaped and moulded to fulfil the prophecies that are encircling him like scavenger birds. The various factions jostle for the upper hand, and that means violence, but the Gods have been silent too long and that violence is about to spill over and paint the world the colour of spilled blood and guts and pain and anguish . . .

THE TEN THOUSAND1.   THE TEN THOUSAND by PAUL KEARNEY

On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries they have remained within the remote fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. In the world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, which rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield.

His word is law.

But now the Great King’s brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of the Macht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.

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