GHOSTS OF TOMORROW

ghosts of tomorrowGhosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Genre: Cyberpunk — Scifi

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Self Published (March 1, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 394 pages

My Rating: 4 stars

I’ve come to the realization that Michael Fletcher is among my favorite writers. Whether it is the fantasy insanity of Beyond Redemption or this cyberpunk vision of the future, he finds the perfect balance between madness and sentiment, poignance and action to keep me turning the pages. The guy never writes a bad story. At least, in my opinion, and Ghosts of Tomorrow is yet another amazing novel.

Step into the future. The world is carved up into huge multi-national Trade Unions. There is peace, of a sort. But the world itself has drastically changed due to environmental issues; people forced to wear breathing masks due to the air pollution, deal with power shortages, and brave unbearable heat nearly all year round. Thank God, they have a supercharged internet, superpowered computers, and near superhuman robots to deal with all the annoying shit in life.

There is one problem though. All that amazing technology requires huge amounts of processing power. So much that the artificial intelligence of the time can’t provide enough. In fact, the only processor able to supply the required power is the human brain itself.

A whole new technology springs into existence. Special computers and software created to transfer a digital copy of the human consciousness (dubbed Brain Scans) into a computer. These digitized versions of people used to control every sort of airplane, vehicle, computer and robotic device in the world!

Only one problem: the transfer process kills the person. Not many healthy humans lining up to trade a real life for immortality as a brain scan. And so the demand for human brains exceeds the people willing to undergo the “life-changing” procedure.

But human ingenuity always rises to the occasion. Black market “creches” popping up across the globe. Young children abducted or purchased like livestock, raised in inhuman conditions until their brain scans are harvested for the highest bidder. Genetic manipulation of fetuses even used to create autistic children whose brain power is directed toward specific areas of learning. All of this very illegal and very profitable for the bastards doing it.

Enter our cast of characters. From North American Trade Union (NATU) official Griffin Dickinson to tech mogul Mark Lokner, from Gunnery Sergeant (and Brain Scan) Abdul to Miles the computer genius, from autistic child 88 to deadly assassin Archaeidae, Ghosts takes you into each of their lives. Their individual parts in the overall narrative action-packed, gritty, sad, funny, and terribly, terribly believable. The final resolution not so much a conclusion as an ending where the reader finally is able to take a well deserved rest.

There are so many things which worked in Ghosts. But since I always criticize authors when they forget to create engaging characters, I think it only fair I start with that aspect of this book. And, without a doubt, Michael Fletcher does an amazing job introducing readers to this diverse cast and making you feel like you know everyone of them. He doesn’t waste time giving tons of back story on them either, merely reveals everything you need to know as the story rockets forward from exciting event to exciting event. Every person from brain scan to injured, exhausted NATU investigator coming alive; their individual quirks, annoying habits, and dreadful inspirations so easy to learn, empathize with, and hate. Reading the final sentence of the book difficult, because you have grown to like these people and still want to know so much more about where they go from here.

As for this cyberpunk world, it is another homerun for Fletcher. His world building spectacularly done. Many times cyberpunk worlds are too damn strange, too farfetched, or too unrealistic compared to the 21st Century we all live in to be easily accepted. But every single technological, environmental, societal, or political element of this future earth was very realistic and grown so organically from the current status quo that I never once found it hard to grasp, understand, or believe could very easily take place in the future. Quite frankly, it was terribly real – like in the Matrix way, where you wake up like Neo and discover you’re a damn battery. Scary stuff.

There is even time in all the frenetic action for more than a few moments of dark humor and philosophy. No, they do not happen all the time, but they are there, at well timed intervals. The chuckles and laughs breaking up the horrors of what is going on around these people. The morality of transhumanism causing the gory violence to mean more, as it demands that a reader decide for themself what they believe is right or wrong in the eternal effort to uplift humankind.

As for criticisms of the book, I don’t have any. Well, I take that back; I do have one. Where is the next book, dammit! I mean, you can’t leave someone with a final line like that and an epilogue like that and not tell us what happens next, Michael Fletcher!

Ghosts of Tomorrow is a high octane book which wows with its amazing characters, extreme violence, poignant moments, dark humor, and horrific world of tomorrow. Plus the cover is damn amazing. I mean, a four-armed robotic assassin, wielding samurai swords and six guns while wearing a duster and a cowboy hat? What the hell else do you need to know before buying this one already?

Purchase the book at Amazon

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Posted in 4 Stars, cyberpunk, Near-Future, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THE DROWNING CITY

the drowning cityThe Drowning City by Amanda Downum

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Necromancer Chronicles #1

Publisher:  Orbit (September 1, 2009)

Author Information: Website

Length: 351 pages

My Rating: 3 stars

 

The Drowning City by Amanda Downing is an ambitious book with a penchant for compelling prose and a gray characters, centered in a beautifully rendered city with a Southeast Asian flavor. While it did not fully realize its potential, I must give credit to the author for aiming high and nearly reaching her lofty goals.

Symir. The Drowning City. A trading metropolis filled with pirates, revolutionaries, and spies, constantly in fear of being washed away by the mighty Mir River or destroyed by the lurking volcano nearby. Only magically wards holding back certain annihilation. The dearly bought peace allowing revolutionary fever to seethe to the surface, threatening to blow the city apart!

When Isyllt Iskaldur and her two bodyguards, Adam and Xinai, sail into the grand harbor they know that the city is a ticking time bomb. In fact, that is why they have come, for the Assari Empire’s covetous eyes have been wandering toward her northern neighbors, and only internal problems will stop the Empire’s inevitable invasion. And Isyllt, master necromancer and spy, intends to fan the flames of unrest until just such an event rips Symir apart.

Once settled, Isyllt’s local contact with the rebels quickly becomes an idealistic youth named Zhirin. This young woman having been caught up in the revolutionary spirits of the city by her relationship with a young man. And though Zhirin’s family has grown prosperous by cooperating with the Empire, she is willing to risk it all to aid Isyllt in providing aid to the rebels, unaware that her benefactor’s motives might not be completely altruistic.

Meanwhile, Isyllt’s guard Xinai finds that returning home to Symir has affected her more than she ever imagined. Her path taking her away from her companions and back to the people who aided her escape to the north after her village was massacred by the Imperials and their local collaborators so long ago. The unexpected ghosts of the past quickly catching Xinai up in the spirit of revolution and leading ehr down a road she never expected to take.

From this combustible mixture, circumstances quickly spiral out of control. More than one revolutionary group fighting against imperial occupation. Their methods very different: one willing to kill enemy and innocent alike, while the other seeks a less destructive path to freedom. Isyllt forced to fight against her own conscious, as her actions escalate events, pushing the unaware citizens toward a struggle that will cause untold destruction and death. Her use of the unsuspecting Zhirin causing more than a little guilt. Events leading to a near inevitable end.

Without a doubt, Amanda Downum does an excellent job in The Drowning City of creating the living, breathing city of Symir. It is vividly described, amazingly realistic, and hopelessly wracked with division and revolutionary violence. The clashing views of the citizens – whether Imperial, rebel, collaborator, or neutral individual – wonderfully explored, especially the emotional struggles of characters after suicide bombings kill innocents. The senseless deaths the catalyst for much soul searching and more than a little self-justification, as characters reconcile their own guilt with their desires to free their city or protect their country from invasion. I can’t say I always agreed with their decisions, but they were powerful and gripping.

Another triumph here is Isyllt and her necrotic talents. This smooth-as-silk spy one cool customer, calculated yet emotional, deadly yet compassionate. Her talent for necromancy deftly done by Downum with enough explanation to give her ghostly magic a feel of reality yet not so much as to strip it of its tantalizing mystery. With so much still unrevealed about her, I can’t wait to read more about her.

But this was not a perfect book. Far from it. From tedious beginning to uninspiring romantic plots to unrealistic outcomes, there were more than a few elements which caused this narrative to underperform. And toward the end, even the mesmerizing local itself served more as a distraction than a compliment to the narrative, draining whatever momentum the story had achieved. As I said earlier, Amanda Downum aimed high with this novel, but she just wasn’t quite able to pull everything together to reach the full potential of this story.

Filled with mystery and magic, set in a wonderfully envisioned world, The Drowning City was an entertaining look at terrorism in a fantasy setting, and its lead character, Isyllt, has all the traits of developing into a memorable character. No, the novel did not completely satisfy me, but I will still be searching for the next book in the series, interested to see how Amanda Downum continues to develop this intriguing world.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 3 Stars, Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

INDIE WEDNESDAY: TY ARTHUR

Indie-WednesdayAlong my reading journey, I’ve made a conscious decision to include self-published, indie, and small press works in my reading schedule.  But it is difficult to know where to start: So many new authors and books to examine to find the perfect fit for my tastes.  And to help others with this same problem, I’ve decided to turn my Indie Wednesday feature into a day where writers can introduce themselves and their work to everyone.

With this in mind, I’m turning over the blog to Ty Arthur, author of Light Dawning.

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WHY GRIMDARK?

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After hearing the genre of my upcoming novel, someone recently asked me to define what exactly was meant by the term “grimdark.” Ten different authors could approach the sub-genre and come up with ten radically different interpretations, and each might be in a completely different style or universe: fantasy, sci-fi, modern day noir, or something else entirely.

For me, grimdark is taking the uncaring nature of reality and injecting it into fantasy. Frodo doesn’t always make it to Mount Doom with the ring. Sometimes he gets cancer instead. Giant eagles aren’t always there to save the day – sometimes people die trying to do what’s right, and there’s no resurrection afterward. Suffering is sure to abound, and there aren’t any easy answers in grimdark. Sometimes those who seem the most vicious or immoral might be working in the world’s best interest. Grimdark subverts the escapism of fantasy, and makes it less clear from the beginning that the heroes will inevitably overcome the villain.

In Light Dawning, I wanted to focus on both aspects: the grim and the dark. Revolving around four people trying to survive an incredibly brutal occupation by an invading army, the outlook for all involved is bleak, and I worked hard to create a sense of claustrophobia. The walls are closing in, and hope of escape or victory is long gone. All that’s left is to decide how you are going to conduct yourself with those few days you have remaining.

On the other half of the equation, I went with multiple interpretations of “dark,” some literal and some less so. Not only is one of the characters quite literally possessed by an incomprehensible entity of pure darkness – hailing from some void where light never existed at all and sane human thought has no place – but the entire cast is often “in the dark” so to speak about why the world is in the state its in, cut off from all outside news during three years of occupation.

Like most of my stories, Light Dawning starts with a kernel of truth, taking a real world experience and then translating that into a fictional setting with a horror twist. In this case, my wife and I went through two devastating losses in a row that left me in a despair so deep that I frequently thought of death as a preferable alternative. As a kind of catharsis, I needed to write a story bleak enough to match reality, and so “grimdark” was the only route to go. Much like with real life, the characters in this book are often cut off at the knees without warning by events they had no way of knowing were coming.

In many ways, Light Dawning is less about a cosmic struggle between light and dark, or even the corresponding ground war between two clashing nations, but more about how the different characters respond to an uncaring world that makes no sense. Do you embrace the state of things and descend into barbarism? Do you keep up the struggle for freedom or maybe just give into despair? If you choose to go on, why bother to do so in a world gone mad?

As my first novel set in a specifically fantasy setting, I knew I had to put my own stamp on things to distinguish this universe from any of the others that have been tread before. Elves and dwarves were out straight away, as were chosen one farm boys on a quest to save the world (or even having a world worth saving for that matter).

One of my favorite parts of constructing this setting and building these characters was taking everything about classic high fantasy and turning it upside down: there’s upstanding holy men who actively work towards watching a city burn, reluctant murderers who only kill because its necessary for the greater good, zealots devoted to a savior who isn’t even there, and a common criminal who could save the city but isn’t willing to pay the price required. The light of a new day may be about to dawn… but its my goal to ensure the readers don’t forget that the night is never far away.

From the dark twist on fantasy to the cosmic horror elements and the brief, futile rays of hope as characters lean on one another while dealing with awful experiences outside their control, its my hope Light Dawning will resonate with readers on multiple levels and I’ll get the opportunity to explore more corners of this new universe in the future.

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LIGHT DAWNINGOnce known as the City on the Hill and revered far and wide for its independence and boundless opportunity, Cestia has become home only to the damned. Surviving under the brutal occupation of a southern empire for three long years, the oppressed populace has lost hope of liberation, turning instead towards an increasingly desperate rebellion willing to commit any atrocity for a chance at freedom.

As total war approaches, four lost souls trapped behind Cestia’s walls are on a collision course with fate, destined to either save the city or see it utterly destroyed while calling on forces beyond mankind’s comprehension. For good or ill, the light of a new day is about to dawn.

Buy Links:

Amazon Digital Copy

Amazon Paperback

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Ty Arthur

Website
Goodreads

Ty ArthurAuthor Info:  Ty Arthur gets to meld his passions with his work while freelancing for the likes of Metal Underground and GameSkinny. His debut sci-fi / horror novella “Empty” was released in early 2016, with many more dark tales still to come. Arthur writes to exorcise his demons and lives in the cold, dark north with his amazing wife Megan and infant son Gannicus Picard.

Posted in Author Spotlights, Fantasy, Grimdark, Guest Post, Indie Wednesday | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CITY OF MIRACLES

city of miraclesCity of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Divine Cities #3

Publisher: Broadway Books (May 2, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 451 pages

My Rating: 3 stars

With City of Miracles, Robert Bennett Jackson completes one of the most unique fantasy trilogies I years. This final installment continuing the genre blender in style, mixing elements of fantasy, mystery, action adventure with more than a little thriller mixed in for good measure. Sigrud je Harkvaldsson taking his turn at the helm; this fan favorite guiding the saga to its very fitting conclusion.

It all begins when the unthinkable occurs: Shara Komand, former prime minister of Saypur, assassinated! The news leaving the world in shock, none more so Sigrud, Shara’s former ministry partner and friend. For years, he has been living in exile after the events in the city of Voortyashtan, waiting patiently for the day Shara would contact him, tell him he was no longer a wanted man, and allow him to return home (though Sigrud didn’t believe he had a home or family anymore). But, now, with his only friend killed in a premeditated manner, Sigrud goes into cold blooded vengeance mode, returning to civilization to hunt down and slowly kill Shara’s murderers.

Quickly, things become more complicated than Sigrud had expected. His old friend involved in a secret project, which even her closest friends and family were unaware of. The frantic investigation uncovering a list of more potential targets and a murderous mastermind behind it all. Each piece of the puzzle taking Sigrud deeper and deeper into a deadly plot involving disappearing children where Shara’s own adopted child might be the next one to vanish. And behind it all lurks the specter of the Divine returned again to haunt the world!

As always, Robert Bennett Jackson concocts an engrossing narrative filled with pulse-pounding plots, seat-of-your-pants action, emotional moments, divine magic, and thrilling revelations. Sigrud able to effortlessly take the lead; his penchant for brute violence supplemented by surprising cunning and unexpected emotional turmoil. This mysterious associate of Shara Komand finally coming into his own, developing into much more than a quiet berserker; his shadowy past and mysterious secrets unveiled, leaving him with important decisions to be made about his future. The conclusion of his journey a real tearjerker.

Despite all of this, I have to admit that City of Miracles is my least favorite book in the series. This is because (unlike City of Stairs, which is my favorite of the trio) Miracles is more an action adventure thriller with a contemporary setting including such things as phones and skyscrapers; its plot driven forward by the mystery and littered with suspenseful fight scene after fight scene. And, yes, I readily concede that is the exact same formula Robert Bennett Jackson has used in all these books, but here the ingredients are in a different mixture. And the slight increase in some elements (action thriller) at the expense of others (epic fantasy) changed the flavor of this one, made it less savory for a fantasy fan like myself, who was drawn into this series by its mesmerizing magic and divine beings.

City of Miracles is a good book, exciting and entertaining from beginning to end. I’m sure most fans of the series will find it a fitting send off for the series, but, unfortunately, I was wishing for something a bit more fantastical and moody like City of Stairs. Alas, I did not get what I wanted, but I definitely do not regret seeing how the Divine Cities series ended, because it was a fun ride from beginning to end.

I received 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 3 Stars, Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

FUNDAY MONDAY, OR THE BOOKS THAT WILL HELP ME SURVIVE THE WEEK AHEAD (MAY 8, 2017)

funday-monday

Another week begins.  I quickly slip into my business suit and head back into the office to save a few innocent people. But while I try to fool myself into being excited about the promise of a new year and the continuation of the regular grind, deep down, I’m not, so I’m going to escape dreary reality by reading some great books.

This week I’ll be reading the concluding installment in Alan Smale’s Hesperian Trilogy and getting in some science fiction fun!

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eagle and empireEagle and Empire by Alan Smale

Genre: Alternate History

Series: Hesperian Trilogy #3

Publisher: Del Rey (May 16, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 656 pages

Roman Praetor Gaius Marcellinus came to North America as a conqueror, but after meeting with defeat at the hands of the city-state of Cahokia, he has had to forge a new destiny in this strange land. In the decade since his arrival, he has managed to broker an unstable peace between the invading Romans and a loose affiliation of Native American tribes known as the League.

But invaders from the west will shatter that peace and plunge the continent into war: The Mongol Horde has arrived and they are taking no prisoners.

As the Mongol cavalry advances across the Great Plains leaving destruction in its path, Marcellinus and his Cahokian friends must summon allies both great and small in preparation for a final showdown. Alliances will shift, foes will rise, and friends will fall as Alan Smale brings us ever closer to the dramatic final battle for the future of the North American continent.

Purchase the book at Amazon


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lucifer's starLucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Lucifer’s Star #1

Publisher: Mystique Press (April 27, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 300 pages

Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Interstellar Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he’d been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland.

LUCIFER’S STAR is the first novel of the Lucifer’s Star series, a dark science fiction space opera set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in Funday Monday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY, VOL.1: WHO IS ORACLE?

guest-post2Today, I’m happy to have my son, Connor, return to the blog for yet another of his graphic novel reviews.  Thankfully, this is becoming something of a regular occasion, and I personally will be enjoying it for as long as it lasts.

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batgirl and the birds of preyBatgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle? by 
Shawna Benson & Julie Benson

Genre: Superhero Comics

Series: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1

Publisher: DC Comics (April 11, 2017)

Length: 168 pages

Connor’s Rating:   connor-capconnor-cap

I’m really starting to think this whole Rebirth thing isn’t for me.  Actually, I really liked the New 52 A LOT, so I wasn’t all that excited about Rebirth anyway.  But I thought I’d like it better than I have so far.   And Batgirl and the Birds of Prey is the latest book to leave me wondering why DC did this.

Here the Birds of Prey (Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress) get back together to discover what criminal is using Babs old Oracle alias to spread crime across Gotham City.  Not only are the criminals causing terror around town, they are also smearing Oracle’s good name, which really upsets Batgirl.

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On the good side, this book actually introduces each of these characters.  The origins of Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress are explained so that new readers (like me) understand who these guys are and why they are together.  And, I guess, the story itself was pretty easy to follow, did get better as it went forward, and had an okay twist at the end.  So this graphic novel isn’t horrible, and I’m sure lots of people will find it a good read.  But I didn’t like it.

To start with, I never liked the artwork.  All the characters looked strange, seemed out of proportion at times, and had some serious Anime facial expressions going on.  I know other people loved it, saying it was gritty, or something.  Maybe, it was.  I don’t know.  All I know is I hated it.  Guess we all like different things.

As for the characters, I guess they just were not for me.  Batgirl and Black Canary had no real personality; Huntress wanted to kill everyone all the time; and the trio spent the whole time arguing about different things.  I mean, okay, I can see Batgirl and Huntress not liking one another cause they both have “dated” Nightwing, but all the bickering and stuff got old.  After a while, I really wanted them to stop trying to be a team and kick Huntress out already, since they couldn’t get along.

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Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Who Is Oracle? is a graphic novel many fans of the team might like.  It has a decent story, keeps the action (and arguing) going from the first page to the last, and ends at a high point.  While the art wasn’t for me, others seem to like it.  So if you are a fan of this team, this book might be exactly what you are looking for.  As for me, I tried it, but I just didn’t like it.

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.

Well, I hope you liked this review, and if you are on Goodreads, friend me any time to talk about my reviews or comic books.

batman-V-superman-logoAbout Connor (In his dad’s words):

Connor is a teenager who enjoys graphic novels (DC Comics are preferred.), superhero movies (X-Men:Days of Future Past is his current favorite.), watching episodes of The Flash, Arrow, and The Walking Dead, as well as the NFL, NCAA football, and the NBA on t.v., will happily accept any and all caps (because you just can’t have too many caps), and whose favorite music right now revolves around anything by Bruno Mars.  And, no, Connor did not have any input into my paragraph about him.  Being a dad does have it’s privileges.

Purchase the book at Amazon.

Posted in 2 Stars, DC, Graphic Novels, Rebirth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SKULLSWORN

SKULLSWORNSkullsworn by Brian Staveley.

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone (Unhewn Throne Series)

Publisher: Tor Books (April 25, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 304 pages

My Rating: 2.5 stars

With his new standalone novel Skullsworn, Brian Staveley returns to the world of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, focusing on one of the characters from that trilogy: Pyrre.  This priestess a dedicated follower of the God of Death, wrapped in mysterious and deadly by any measure.  But even after three epic fantasy books, little is know about her: who she really is, what she truly believes, and why she loves death so much.  And if you are a reader who wants to discover more about Pyrre or someone who just wishes to sample Brian Staveley’s writing without committing to an intimidating epic fantasy trilogy, then Skullsworn is a novel you might want to try.

Taking place years before The Emperor’s Blades, Pyrre is twenty-five years old and a mere acolyte of the god Ananshael, trained in the sacred arts of dealing death in all its myriad ways.  But, now, she is faced with a final trial before she is anointed a true priestess of death, one she fears she cannot pass.

It isn’t the seven murders she must commit in 14 days, or the fact that she must kill particular types of people — including a pregnant woman — that worries Pyrre.  Rather, it is the final offering she must give to Ananshael: the one she loves.  Problem being that Pyrre has never loved anyone.  Not anyone she recalls anyway.  And if she can’t fall in love and kill her beloved within the prescribed time, then she not only fails the test but must sacrifice herself to Ananshael!

Never one to be intimidated by insurmountable circumstances, our strong-willed, determined, and resourceful acolyte sets out with her two “Witnesses” to journey to her home city of Dombâng with a desperate plan.  Many years ago, there was a young man whom Pyrre was involved with there.  She can’t say she loved Ru Lan Lac (Well, she isn’t sure, because she really doesn’t know what love feels like.), but he was close to her at one time, someone she felt affection for.  And, now, she returns to that past determined to unleash a rebellion in the always volatile city in order to get close to Ru Lan Lac (He is the local constable), certain that once they are together the old flames of their passion with rekindle, to be followed by love; at which point, Pyrre will kill him.

Fantasy romance, I’m sure some of you are assuming right about now.  And Skullsworn is about someone trying to understand love and fall into it . . . sort of.  But it isn’t the kind of love most of us think about when we say “romance,” because Pyrre is an assassin whose perspective on life (including love) is abnormal: absent any normal connotations.  Something which isn’t really surprising when dealing with a woman who has been trained to unflinchingly kill anyone, anytime, anyway.  Her whole life one without common boundaries, lacking traditional moral limits, surrounded by people who believe as she does.  Love merely a word without any real meaning to her.  This trial really a journey — both literally and figuratively — of self-justification for her warped view of life.   So, while the word “love” is thrown about, there really isn’t any real romance to be found here.

What can be found in Skullsworn is violence, action, and lots of killing — by assassins, crocs, spiders, and even less savory things.  All of it conveyed beautifully by Brian Staveley’s wonderful, flowing prose.  Many of the passages in this narrative memorable and immediately quotable.  Where Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne showed the author’s ability to tame a sprawling epic, this more narrow, more personal, first person story shows Staveley at his best, creating a vivid setting in the hot, swampy Dombâng, while taking readers on a guided tour of the bizarre psyche of Pyrre, an acolyte of Death.  The novel a textbook illustration of a fantasy author at the top of his game.

But somehow, someway, this amazingly written novel only received 2.5 stars rating.  And I’m certain that puzzles many of you. The reason is fairly simple, however: Pyrre.

As I always say, stories are all about characters for me.  Mesmerizing magic, awe-inspiring worlds, and pulse-pounding plots only take a book so far.  Eventually, it all comes down to whether I connect with the characters.  If I love them or love-to-hate them, then what happens matters to me, causes me to keep turning the pages, desperate to find out what transpires next.  However, when I don’t care about the characters or outright loath them, then it doesn’t matter to me if they succeed or fail, live or die.  And, unfortunately, Pyrre was someone I didn’t care about, at all.

Now, to be completely transparent, I have to admit I was concerned about this reaction when I picked up Skullsworn.  Unlike so many other readers of Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, I never cared much for Pyrre.  Sure, she was deadly, mysterious, edgy.  I still felt fairly “meh” about her.  But in the trilogy it didn’t impact my enjoyment, because she was a minor character, surrounded by others whom I did come to deeply care about.  Here, though, she is the narrator, the guide, the whole show.  Every word, every thought, every philosophical musing on life, love, and whatnot filtered straight through her twisted mentality.  And, frankly, her ideas and beliefs didn’t interest me very much, especially her final epiphany about the true nature of love, which made me dislike her even more than I had previously — even if it was very fitting for Pyrre’s personality.

For the simple reason that I disliked Pyrre, Skullsworn just wasn’t for me.  It isn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I would say Brian Staveley’s writing is superior here to that in Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne; his amazing weaving of action, mythology, and philosophical commentary spectacularly done, showing definite growth in his writing skill.  Hopefully, others will be able to appreciate its fine qualities without being turned off by the main character.  As for me I’ll pass on Pyrre but will definitely be reading Brian Staveley’s future offering.

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 2 Stars, Assassin, Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

WITHIN THE SANCTUARY OF WINGS

within the sanctuary of wingsWithin the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan 

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #5

Publisher: Tor (April 25, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 352 pages

My Rating: 3 stars

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final book in Marie Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent, which chronicles the explorations of this dragon naturalist. Probably it wasn’t the best place to begin my journey with Isabella, but, all in all, I found the narrative easy to grasp, the dragons interesting, and the allure of the Lady’s voice hard to resist.

The story begins with Isabella’s quest to explore her world and learn about all the bewildering varieties of dragons unfulfilled, as well as her ambition to enter the prestigious all-male Philosophers’ Colloquium unrealized. But this momentary lull in the advancement of Lady Trent’s goals is short-lived as a Yelangese man interrupts her husband Suhail’s lecture on Draconean language, announcing that the remains of an unknown dragon species has been discovered in the inhospitable Mrtyahaima Mountains.

Naturally, Isabella must go and verify this for herself. The fact that her homeland of Scirland and Yelang are currently at war, that she herself is not beloved in Yelang due to events in the past, and that she will be climbing unto the highest peaks of the most rugged mountains on her world does nothing to deter her determination. And, soon, the Lady, her husband Suhail, her companion Tom the Dragon Scholar, and a Yelangese guide set out on a daring expedition, which is part adventure, part exploration, and part scientific discovery.

Without a doubt, Isabella is the focal point of this story (as would be expected of a memoir). She is a very engaging narrator, shifting effortlessly from self-depreciating humor to clever remarks to scathing political commentary to profound scientific exposition, and carries the tale from beginning to end with her compelling voice. Something which is absolutely necessary since the narrative would have certainly floundered quickly without her, because, unfortunately, the story itself is a bit on the dull side.

I realize it is hard to believe that an expedition into hostile territory through rugged terrain and sub-zero conditions to uncover what could be a world-changing scientific discovery could ever be dull, but it really is. Mainly, this is due to the fact this is a “memoir”; a title which proudly announces that no matter the risks before her Lady Trent will come through unscathed. And it is hard to fear for her safety as she braves dangers great and small, because she is obviously writing this after her survival. She herself acknowledges the tediousness of much of her great expedition, saying, on more than one occasion, that she isn’t relating what occurred because it is too banal to be interesting to her readers.

This brings up another criticism: WtSoW is a one person story. For whatever reason, Marie Brennan relegates the few people around Isabella into minor role players; each given only token tasks in the events transpiring around them.  From reviews of the other volumes in the series, this appears not to have been the case in the past, as Suhail and Tom, in particular, played pivotal roles.  Why, in this final installment, the author chose to jettison that writing style and leave it all up to Lady Trent to carry the load of the tale I don’t understand.  Certainly, Isabella is up to the task (barely), but I can’t help but believe the narrative would have been better served if her co-stars had been given more importance in the goings-on, interacted more with our star, and, perhaps, shown some growth from beginning to end.

Even with those criticisms, Marie Brennan’s novel mesmerizes in its clever handling of dragons and their scientific role in a fictional world. These great beasts revealed as far more than mere mythical creatures or magical beings. Lady Trent’s desire to scientifically explain them quite entertaining and immensely interesting.  Those section where the science shifts to the forefront probably my favorite sections of the whole narrative.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is a fitting closure to Lady Trent’s tale; her adventures of scientific discovery ending on a compelling note. While it is a story which can be enjoyed on its own, I believe prospective readers would be better served if they come to this conclusion after having been immersed in all Isabella’s previous tales.

I received 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 3 Stars, Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

INDIE WEDNESDAY: CHRIS TURNER

Indie-WednesdayAlong my reading journey, I’ve made a conscious decision to include self-published, indie, and small press works in my reading schedule.  But it is difficult to know where to start: So many new authors and books to examine to find the perfect fit for my tastes.  And to help others with this same problem, I’ve decided to turn my Indie Wednesday feature into a day where writers can introduce themselves and their work to everyone.

With this in mind, I’m turn over the blog to Chris Turner, author of the Beastslayer: Rise of the Rgnadon.

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SWORD AND SORCERY MEETS SYNCED AUDIO

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Three years ago, I was invited by Chazz Hill-Hayr from Booktrack to sequence original sff to audio. I did so, used the booktrack free studio tool, and it offered up a new experience.
I was amazed at how the placement of some well-crafted audio could make a story come alive—syncing text with ambient tracks, special effects or theme-tracked music—in the same way a soundtrack makes a movie come alive.

Beastslayer : Rise of the Rgnadon is my most recent project—a story of chieftain heroes struggling to survive in a primal world—where Jurassic park-like creatures roam the landscapes amidst a backdrop of bronze-age tribal warfare.

The underground world-building was challenging, and chilling at times, an odyssey through bestial civilizations in a legendary mountain, insular and eerie. It took on a life of its own, while the rivalry between the two protagonists brewed and became something more real and sinister than expected. I wanted to explore the question: could sworn enemies become allies under the hardest conditions? That, and explore the primordial struggle between man and beast for supremacy, and the inevitable mixing of races and species over time through degenerate sorcery, as hideous as that might play itself out. So, this story evolved into more of a fantasy horror than strait-laced adventure, more in the tradition of RE Howard.

The audio component was especially challenging to sequence. After a period of compiling audio snippets and classifying each piece according to how each piece might affect a reader, I ended up choosing specific dark orchestral passages, drum beats and rhythms, mixed with sword blades clashing, warriors stampeding, creatures lowing, horses galloping and other effects to create the ambience of a lost and haunted world. From a layering point of view, Beastslayer is one of the more ambitious projects I have attempted. I hope you take the time to check it out.

The novel and booktrack are free on the sites listed below. I recommend reading the first two chapters on booktrack with headphones, then fill in the gaps on amazon and other booksellers.

As for the cover art, that’s an interesting story. Last summer I was in the process of fleshing out the rough draft and by a strange fluke, witnessed a water snake stalk and devour a frog on a lakeshore. Horrific yes, and I still shiver at the memory. Perhaps one of nature’s more horrifying displays. Yet the uncanny thing was that it mirrored a scene in the novel that I had already written—replace frog with man or lizardman, and water snake with more Jurassic-like hunter, and you get the cover art. Well, on that happy note, enjoy the story…

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BEASTSLAYERSaeth. A word barely kept lingering on the tongue of even the bravest warrior. The name of an age darkest to humankind. An age of sorcerers and far-flung magic.

But a time no better for the making of heroes…

Two chieftain brothers lock swords in battle. Attacked by winged foes from the sky, the two sworn enemies are forced with a few surviving warriors, to take refuge in a beast-haunted mountain.

Yet in the shadowy land of Darfala, refuge is scarce, terrors many. Can the warriors work together to survive the chilling secrets of the mountain…and the ultimate menace, far darker…an old terror brewed by the lizard-men of lost Xatu?

Buy Links:
Goodreads
Booktrack
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
ITunes
Smashwords
Kobo

 

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CHRIS TURNERChris Turner
Website
Twitter

Author Info: Chris is the author of several books: The Relic Retriever, The Rogues of Bindar series, Future Destinies, Fantastic Realms and Denibus Ar.

When he is not being a complete jokester, he masquerades as a reclusive monk, engaging in long periods of creative projects. He is a prolific visual artist and has been an avid backpacker on treks all over the world. He has been involved in extensive studio recording, game design and software development over the years.

He currently resides in the Ottawa-Gatineau region of Ontario and Quebec.

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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 FAVORITE BOOK COVERS FROM 2017

This post is all about fantasy covers.  2017 covers, specifically.  At least, the ones I’ve seen.  And, more importantly, the ones which immediately captured my attention and made me want to read the book.

Please understand I am not an art critic, nor do I pretend to be one.  This list is all about the covers which I saw and though “Damn, I have got to read that book!”  So I’m not going to explain why I liked certain covers more than others.  Honestly, I don’t know why I preferred one over another, but I did, so I’m going to list them from 10 to 1, not through any scientific method but purely upon my current mood.  So if you disagree, please feel free to sue me.  (Joking, of course.)

10. AGE OF SWORDS

age of swords

9. WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND

WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND

8. RIVER OF TEETH

RIVER OF TEETH

7. THE DINOSAUR PRINCESS

THE DINOSAUR PRINCESS

6. KINGS OF THE WYLD

kings-of-the-wyld

5. EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

4. THE CORE

THE CORE

3. SKULLSWORN

SKULLSWORN

2. THE STONE IN THE SKULL

THE STONE IN THE SKULL

1. OATHBRINGER

oathbringer

Agree?  Disagree?  Come on let me know.  And please list a few others that I’ve missed, so I can discover them as well.

 

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