Monday, October 15, 2012

Lance of Earth and Sky

I think I've mentioned before how I like to see authorial “progress” from one book to the next. Seeing them get better in at least one aspect of their craft with each progressive offering to the reading masses gives me hope that there will, someday, be more authors that I love to read. In general, I think that most authors fall into this category. It's hardly ever that I find one that seems to have regressed further from the goal that I think each of them should strive for: greatness in storytelling. As I'm sure you can guess by now, this book is one of those.

LANCE OF EARTH AND SKY is the second in the planned Chaos Knight trilogy and continues the story of Vidarian Rulorat and the empire of Alorea. Mostly, however, this is a story about the empire, as Vidarian factors so little in what actually happens.

After the end of SWORD OF FIRE AND SEA (spoiler for the first book!), a dimensional portal of sorts has been opened and all sorts of chaos has been spread across the land. The natural magic present in the world has quickly faded away and been replaced by an elementally-based magic system that feels very much like Wheel of Time run through the rule-based powers of Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) from the Incredibles. Use the element—water, air, fire, earth—that is available and channel it into streams that you can ultimately weave together and blast people with.

The replacement of this magic has upended the entire world, killing off a large number of leaders that have been magically lengthening their lives. In the wake of this chaos, the trading company that has been dictating what the government of Alorea was doing, begins to take a decidedly more direct route to governing. Additionally, the opening of the gate has brought in magical items and constructs that have been absent for centuries. The changes that have come in the wake of the open portal are constantly reiterated throughout the book. Almost like a mantra.


Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. Regression.

The crux of the problem with the book was that where SWORD was very linear but adventurous, LANCE is very linear and pointless. The main character, instead of doing anything of import, spends nearly every waking moment meeting someone new, introducing himself to them, drinking another cup of kava, or listening to other people talk. It was uber-frustrating. When he finally does do something vaguely interesting, the outcome feels more like he did it so that the author could showcase another part of the world-building.

If anything, further world-building seemed to be at the heart of the book, and yet none of it really did anything to develop the world. Thus, instead of the presentation of the world feeling like an oil slick riding across the surface of an abyss-deep ocean (good), it comes across more like a puddle of water spread across the concrete (severely lacking).

There were a couple aspects of the story that stayed consistent between the two books: there are still a ton of characters surrounding Vidarian, nearly every one of them able to communicate telepathically. About half of them this time can shape-change as well though. The ending was also incredibly lacking in impact again. Incredibly, the largest-seeming event in the entire book is given away on the back cover. There was very little in the book that held what I like to see, and that's a solid reason in my mind to stay away from the rest of this series.

On the up-tick, if you're looking for a book to just stroll through, with no real thinking necessary, and give you a great way to suck up a few hours, grab this one. It'll definitely be good for that.

Recommended Age: 15+
Sex: None
Violence: Very low key, no gore
Profanity: Very mild and infrequent

Want it? Get it here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Sea Watch

Over the last couple of years, Adrian Tchaikovsky has become one of my favorite authors. Very few authors actually take their setting and story and move it forward technologically. In Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series, we get exactly that, along with huge amounts of character progression, thrilling large-scale battles, and intense small-scale fights.

THE SEA WATCH is the sixth book in this projected 10-book story. I guess the best way to describe it is by saying THE SEA WATCH, in a way, is the Shadows of the Apt series 20,000 leagues under the sea. The results overall are great, but that doesn't mean the novel is absent some missteps.

THE SEA WATCH is Stenwold Maker's book. By this point in the series he feels he has lost nearly everyone. For all the good he has done, the people of the Collegium look at him like he is a warmonger and a lodestone for misery. Then, when ships start going missing, Stenwold is the only one who listens and sees the threat.

The first thing to point out about THE SEA WATCH is how slow it is. This is easily the slowest novel in the series due in large part to the politics of the first 1/3 of the novel. Since the novel is almost entirely from Sten's PoV this isn't surprising, but it still is noticeable. There are lots of meetings and behind-closed-doors discussions. As a fan of the series, if you know this going in, it likely won't bother you.

Another reason this book feels so slow is due to how much explanation is needed in the midpoint of the story. Without getting into too many specifics, this novel is about, unsurprisingly, sea-kinden. Throughout this series we've been introduced directly--or in passing--to so many kinds of kinden. But that was done over the course of five novels. Now, we are introduced to an equal number of sea kinden in ONE book. These new people, their cultures, the way they live, their own abilities, and the unique dangers in the water. It's SO MUCH to digest all at once that the story bogs down.

I feel I should clarify that last bit. Yes it bogs the story down. However, it is still completely fascinating. Up at the beginning of this review I talked about how the evolution of the technology--that progression of setting and world--was so awesome in this series. THE SEA WATCH does something similar, but in the sense of giving the readers the piece of the puzzle we have been missing. What happened when the societies when from inapt to apt? What was that change like? We get this picture from Sten's eyes as he sees the sea-kinden go through this evolution. Absolutely, positively fascinating.

There are some chunks in the middle of the novel that seem repetitive, and maybe could have been condensed to make the pacing a tad better, but overall I was pleased with this novel. The banter between Stenwold and the Spider Teornis was fantastic, and the subplots dealing with the Spider held so much weight. Just the story being told here, and the spy-novel undertones make THE SEA WATCH a great read.

And then that Stenwold showing just why he is soooooo awesome. That final bit alone made the entire novel a must-read.

THE SEA WATCH is one of the better novels in the series, and it shows how much Tchaikovsky has grown as an author. As a huge fan of Tchaikovsky's work, I was not let down in the least. In fact, I was blown away by how massive he has made this wonderful world. Not to mention, I love Tchaikovsky's characters and the way they have grown over time. I cannot wait to see were the series goes from here.

Simply put, The Shadows of the Apt is a series that every reader of Fantasy should be devouring.

Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Some, but not much.
Violence: Oh yeah. Tchaikovsky does it right.
Sex: Nope.

Look, you really should be reading this series. It's one of the most unique out there. Here are your links:


Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Anyone out there like movies that are based on actual historical events? I think there's something to be said for them, but in general I find that regardless of how much I love them, the endings always end up being particularly less that I had anticipated. This book was totally like that. Steve's going to love this, because this time around, I totally agree with his overall opinion of Ms. Parker's latest offering, SHARPS: full of unfulfilled promises. I do still disagree that this description applies to the Engineer Trilogy, but in this case, he's totally spot-on.

SHARPS is another stand-alone from the veritable K.J. Parker, an author whom the reading public still knows so little about. It's another book about war, and what people are willing to do to get what they want. It's another book full of sarcasm, and multi-hued characters. It's another book of swords and mayhem. And if she didn't write it so dang well, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did.

But I did. Cause, boy, was it fun.

Permia and Scheria have been at war with one another for the last forty years. Their history is chuck-full of battle and death and betrayal and hatred, but the two countries are on the mend now, and in an effort to try and bring closure to the differences between them, to help being them together instead of driving them further apart, a fencing tournament has been organized, and four of Scheria's finest have been dispatched on a tour of Permia in which their techniques and skill will be on display. Unfortunately, things don't exactly turn out for our heroes, our “bringers of peace” so to speak, because there are players in the background that aren't so keen on seeing peace between the two nations happen at all.

This was rather an intriguing novel, and one that I dove into with a good bit of fervor. I've always enjoyed Parker's novels – haven't read one that I didn't like yet – and this one didn't disappoint. It was full of sarcastic wit and dry, dark humor. I could hardly read for more than several minutes without finding myself laughing along with the story.

SHARPS is a bit of something new from Ms. Parker, as the story focuses upon several characters, instead of just a single one. Giraut is a playboy that has gotten himself into a bit of trouble; Suidas, is a war veteran with a very bloody past; Phrantzes, an aging fencing champion with more than just a little self-esteem problem; Addo, the son of a war hero, the Irrigator, who was responsible for drowning an entire Permian city; and Iseutz, the lonely girl on the team, of which we ultimately learn so very little.

In the beginning, this host of characters gives a very busy feel to the book, and at times it was difficult for me to distinguish between each of the male characters because of their out-of-the-ordinary names and the fact that all of them fought with swords. Parker has always been good for having unique names, but with the multiple POVs this time around, it became a bit distracting at times.

One of the aspects that I've always loved about Parker's writing is her level of detail and that feeling like I'm just keeping my head above water when it comes to understanding the larger world behind the story and characters of interest. There's more there behind the story than what I'm reading. This is helped in some small measure by the fact that this story, as well as her others, seem to fall into the same “world”, in fantasy-speak. Even though each of the stories told in her novels are probably spread from each other by large quantities of distance and time, there are bits and pieces that come through occasionally to remind you that they are all indeed connected to one another by something much larger.

The pacing and development of the story were great. As each of the individual characters learn more about one another and each of their histories, the plot thickens. Also, as the fencing team as a whole learns more about the situation that they're in, and the citizens of Permia respond to events occurring within their own country, we get a larger sense of what is going on, and it made me really excited to get to the end of the book and find out how it'd all play out.

Unfortunately, the ending wasn't anything like I'd expected. It wasn't a complete let down, but it was significantly more low-key. More of a this-is-how-everyone-turned-out kind of ending, which is what I've come to expect from movies that are based on historical events. Fiction is more exciting, in general, than history, and that's why I love Fiction! The author gets to decide the ending. And even though the ending of this one was a bit of a disappointment, I still have to recommend the book as a good read. I mean, I still tell everyone how much I loved the movie Valkyrie, and the ending of that movie was a complete bummer.

If you're a fan of Parker's stuff, pick this one up. It won't disappoint. If you're one that gets hung up on the "unfulfilled promises" thing or aren't a fan of hers in general, take a pass. SHARPS is very much a Parker novel.

Recommended Age: 17+.
Profanity: Infrequent, but strong.
Violence: Several injuries by sword and subsequent fixing by doctors, fairly grisly in a few parts.
Sex: Brief, but somewhat descriptive scene, at the beginning.

Want to give it a try? Here's your link:


Friday, October 5, 2012

London Eye

My first introduction to Tim Lebbon was in the SWORDS & DARK MAGIC anthology a while back. In a collection of stories full of absolute WIN, Tim Lebbon's "The Deification of Dal Bamore" was one of the best. After that I read ECHO CITY and was similarly impressed. Lebbon's ability to write Horror the way MiƩville writes Weird Fiction is astounding.

And then I heard Lebbon was going to write a YA novel, and it would be published through Pyr SF&F. Holy anticipation, Batman!

LONDON EYE, Lebbon's YA novel, is the first in a series that follows a group of teens as they enter London in search of their families, and the truth about what really is happening in the city. You see, London isn't what it used to be. A terrorist attack poisons the city, killing a majority of the people there (just imagine the numbers) as the city is quarantined.

The setting is the the first thing that jumps out. I love the idea. I love that London has been quarantined, and the mystery surrounding it. The characters in the novel all wonder what really goes on in that poisoned city, and it sets up the mystery and suspense well.

This being a YA novel, the characters are the most important part of the novel. It is my opinion that all great YA novels have one thing in common: strong, likable characters. In the few works of Lebbon's that I have read, it usually took me a bit to warm up to the characters. LONDON EYE is no exception. For whatever reason I just couldn't make myself care too much about the teenagers. Jack, the main character, just didn't draw me in. Neither did his kid sister, or his girlfriend, Lucy Anne (who becomes ridiculously annoying in the last part of the novel). Two other friends round out the group, but I never really felt they mattered much.

Can you see why this is an issue to me? All of the characters are just...there. They are stuck reacting to every situation, and really never make any actual decisions on their own until the end of the book--literally, the very end. They begin making active decisions, and the book just ends. In a book that is so short, hardly anything happens. The teens go into the city, get attacked, meet a few of London's survivors, then the book ends. I wasn't left thinking about this book once I had finished it. I turned the last page, closed the book, and moved on to the next one. For me, this all comes down to the characters not holding my interest.

All this said, there is a lot to like in LONDON EYE. I've already mentioned the setting. Did I mention the paranormal elements? Yeah. See, this poison (or whatever it actually is) that caused untold numbers of people to to die also evolves a small number of humans. They develop powers that allow them to heal, seek out bloodlines, employ telekinesis, use voices as weapons, control name it, someone can do it. To go along with this is a group of people--Choppers--that hunt out these evolved survivors to capture and experiment on them. It's all very grim and horrific.

This leads me to my next criticism. I can't help but feel like Lebbon was holding back. He does the weird and horrible better than most authors. It is one of his greatest strengths as an author. In LONDON EYE it feels like he is just about to do something awesome...then remembers he is writing YA. The perception while reading is that Lebbon is worried about his ideas being too much for the readers. The novel is already for the upper end of YA--what the cool kids call New Adult--but it ends up in a sort of limbo. I do think that as Lebbon writes some more YA, he'll find his stride. I mean, he's freaking Tim Lebbon.

LONDON EYE, when you really look at the full body of work, feels like the first half of a novel. Right when things started to get interesting, the book ended. I was left wondering if my ARC was missing 150 pages. The setup is good, but by the time a sequel comes out, I worry that any small measure of interest I had in the characters will be lost. The setting and paranormal elements were enough to carry the story for me, but I feel like we are missing out on a huge amount of potential so far.

Will I read the sequel? Probably. I do want to see what happens next. I want to see Lebbon really grab this new type of novel (for him) by the horns. I trust Lebbon, so I'll give this series another chance. I just wish the "sequel" had been the second half of this novel so there was the tiniest bit of resolution.

Recommended Age: 15+.
Language: Fairly strong for a YA novel, but not frequent.
Violence: In some scenes, Lebbon goes absolutely crazy. He lets loose. Then in others he totally holds back. Inconsistently, insanely violent.
Sex: These are older teens in a dystopian future. They talk about sex, and have sex. Nothing detailed, but it's there.

Want to give this a shot? Here's the link:


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blue Remembered Earth

I was a little late to get on board with Alastair Reynolds. I only picked up a book of his two or so years ago, but once I found him he quickly became one of my favorite authors. He writes the type of book I love: big, grand space operas with vast ideas that can take place over thousands of years and span across galaxies.

Recently I’ve tried to get my dad to try Reynold’s books out. He kept asking me which book of his to start with. I honestly didn’t have an answer. It seemed like everything he had written (that I had read) had some great stuff in it. I enjoyed all of his books.

Sadly after reading BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH, I can tell him which book not to start with.

While BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH had some great moments and certainly showed that this series can become something really cool and special, this book sadly wasn’t up to the usual standards that I hold Reynolds too. Which isn’t to say it’s not a good book. It really is. It’s a lot of fun and would be a great book by some authors. But it’s not Reynolds best in my opinion.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon: One hundred and fifty years from now, Africa has become the world’s dominant technological and economic power. Crime, war, disease and poverty have been eliminated. The Moon and Mars are settled, and colonies stretch all the way out to the edge of the solar system. And Ocular, the largest scientific instrument in history, is about to make an epochal discovery…

Like I said earlier, the book is fun, and I really did have a good time reading it. It just didn’t hold up after the fact. You know what I mean? There are those books that you read and read and enjoy, but then after you’ve put it down, it kind of wanders out of your head. You don’t think about it much, it doesn’t leave a big impression on you. This is one of those books. It just didn’t stay. And even now looking back on it, I can see some really fun scenes and some big ideas, but that’s all it is, fun scenes. Not great characters for me, not a compelling story, just moments.

The weird thing about BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH is the end of it really did leave me wanting to read the next one. The book, in and of itself, didn’t blow me away but DID manage to set me up to where I’m anxious about reading the next in the series. With most authors I would be wary. I naturally ask myself, "Sure he set me up for some cool things to happen, but is he going to come through on those ideas?" Or, "Is the next book going to wow me where this one only showed the potential of wowing me?" I’ve read enough of Reynolds' work to believe that this book was just the slow set up to something big and amazing to come. I could look back on this book as the beginning of a great epic story.

Like I said, with someone of Reynolds caliber, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH falls right on the line of "Mediocre" and "Like", but good follow ups could make this the start of a fantastic series.

Age Recommendation: I dunno, 14+? 16+? There’s nothing really bad here, it’s just a bit complex and full of science explanatory stuff.
Language: Not much that I remember
Violence: Nothing to be upset about
Sex: I don’t remember any. Maybe referenced, but that’s about it.

Want to read it? Here is your link: BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH

Monday, October 1, 2012


Did you read VARIANT by Robison Wells? If you answer, "Yes" then by all means read on. If you answer, "No" then STOP. Just stop. Go on Amazon and buy a copy, read it, and then you can come back to browse this review. VARIANT is one of the best YA books of 2011, far superior to the YA fiction behemoth that is THE HUNGER GAMES in my not-so-humble opinion. Now here is the highly anticipated sequel, FEEDBACK. I'm going to try and give away as few spoilers as possible but if you haven't read the first book please check out our review of VARIANT here instead of continuing on.

Here's the Amazon book description (if you find this spoilerish send them your hate mail): 

Benson Fisher escaped from Maxfield Academy's deadly rules and brutal gangs. The worst was over. Or so he thought. But now he's trapped on the other side of the wall, in a different kind of prison. A town filled with familiar faces. People from Maxfield who Benson had seen die. Friends he was afraid he had killed. They are all pawns in the school's twisted experiment, held captive and controlled by an unseen force. And while Benson struggles to figure out who, if anyone, can be trusted, he discovers that Maxfield Academy's plans are darker than anything he imagined—and they may be impossible to stop.

VARIANT was like a beautiful thriller conglomeration of THE HUNGER GAMES (the ideas not the execution), LORD OF THE FLIES, and the psychological horror/thriller film CUBE. It was streamlined and focused and creepy and brilliant. Reading it brought to mind the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and even bits of ENDER'S GAME. Too much name dropping? Probably, but you'll live. The point is that VARIANT kicked serious butt and because of this my expectations going into FEEDBACK were incredibly high. By now you've probably noticed I do this thing where I build up expectations that can't possibly be met.

FEEDBACK starts off right where VARIANT left off. Benson and Becky have escaped the Academy but are surrounded by miles of forest. They are actively being pursued and have no idea where to go or what to do when they get there. Becky is badly injured. And then Benson discovers that some friends he thought dead are actually very much alive.

The sense of mystery and paranoia that permeated life at Maxfield Academy in VARIANT was the most compelling aspect. Student life at Maxfield was this strange mixture of clashing gangs, constant surveillance, and paintball. Yeah, I said it. Paintball. Benson and Becky have escaped all this and made it to a town inhabited by friends they previously thought lost. So Benson and Becky trade one kind of prison for another. In FEEDBACK there are no bars, no rules, and no gangs. And that is largely where the problem is. This newly introduced town just comes across as a sort of limbo, much like that long and tedious camping section of that last Harry Potter book. There are no gangs but the town is divided into two factions: those dedicated to escaping and those who have resigned themselves to their fate. Unfortunately the faction dynamics aren't explored to a great degree. The psychological themes of VARIANT that I found so absorbing (the banality of evil) are mostly missing in FEEDBACK. There is however one scene that really struck a chord with me, a sort of trial by mob that carries the same dark weight as the first book.

The same could be said of the characters. I was already a fan of Benson. Yes, when this series gets made into a huge blockbuster movie you will likely catch me wearing a "Team Benson" t-shirt. Don't judge. Benson struck me as a great YA character. He's not overly angsty. He's not a vampire/werewolf. He takes charge of his own fate. He's a troublemaker and he wants to be free. He's still great in FEEDBACK but he gets another degree of depth as he tries to cope with the guilt and responsibility that comes with the consequences of the end of VARIANT. The rest of the cast falls a little flat though in the sequel. So many of the characters have returned from the first book that there just isn't enough time spent developing or examining relationships. Returning characters feel vaguely like strangers and new characters feel even more indistinct.

The good news is that readers will gets answers. The ending feels rushed (and a bit contrived) after so long spent hiding in the town but Wells does provide an answer to the big question. Some readers are bound to take the reveal better than others, and I'm sure some already suspect what it may be. Those who took the twist of VARIANT in stride will be fine. Those who didn't probably won't. I'm still considering the implications of the finale.

I'm disappointed and it's not even because FEEDBACK is a bad novel. It's not a bad novel. I recognize the things I love about the first book in it. Benson is a great character and I was very invested in how his story turned out. I love the thriller elements of this setting Wells has created. FEEDBACK needs more. More character development, more exploration of the themes, and more time spent on the conclusion. Additionally, the clarity of writing just wasn't as clear in the sequel as it was in the original. VARIANT proves that Wells has the talent for all of this, FEEDBACK is just lacking. Then again it could just be my expectations tainting things. Regardless, if you haven't read VARIANT and chose to disregard my initial warning GO BUY IT and then you can decide whether or not to read the sequel.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Very, very little. Almost none.
Violence: Yes, some...sci-fi violence and some more disturbing violence.
Sex: Nope.

Buy VARIANT here.
Buy FEEDBACK here.