4 Followers
25 Following
Patremagne

A Bitter Draft

Speculative Fiction

Currently reading

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)
Scott Lynch
No Dawn for Men: A Novel of Ian Fleming, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Nazi Germany - James LePore, Carlos Davis How absurd is this premise. I might have to read it...
Mage's Blood - David Hair Loved it. Fastest I've read a 700 pager in a long time.http://abitterdraft.com/2013/09/mages-blood-by-david-hair.htmlThe folks at Jo Fletcher don’t seem to be capable of disappointing. I’ve yet to read a book I wasn’t pleased with from them.What first drew me to Mage’s Blood was the clash of civilizations. East versus West. Religion versus religion. Crusades. These are all fairly standard ideas/tropes in fantasy. They’re done often. No matter how often I read about them, I still find the aspect of different peoples clashing, especially different religions, incredibly compelling – exploring why they’re fighting and so on. For more on religion in fantasy, check out Teresa Frohock’s post from not too long ago. Opinions vary, some love it and some don’t – it depends on how well the author portrays the various religions. David Hair does very well.The beginning to Mage’s Blood has been described as slow by several people. I love some good action, and in fact I probably prefer books with action in them. Hair starts us off with vivid detail in every sense of the word – very little action occurs. The people, cultures, and landscape, and world are the focal points of the first hundred or so pages. What I’m also a big fan of is detail when it comes to the world. The map printed on the inside cover was a fantastic tool to have throughout the story. At the beginning of every chapter is a short paragraph on some part of the history of the world – what happened at this place, how this form of magic works, and so on – add this to the strongly balanced worldbuilding that expands as the story unfolds and you have the means to an excellent work of literature. The novel really hits its stride, though, at around the 200 page mark (it’s not a struggle to read the first 200 though).Every dozen years, the Leviathan Bridge rises above sea level and becomes traversable – known as the Moontide. For the past two Moontides, the people on both sides of the Bridge have clashed in crusades and shihads – holy wars. The people of the Rondian Empire to the west, on the continent of Yuros, are given magic – gnosis – in their theology, and Hair describes it in detail throughout the story and their religion strongly resembles European Christianity. The people of the eastern continent, Antiopia, are comprised of followers of Ahm, similar to Arabic culture and Islam, and people of Lakh, seen as Indian in culture and theology. The holy city where all the religious strife is centered is even named Hebusalim – sound familiar? So while the cultures and places themselves are not completely unique and original, they are presented in a very engaging way, making this 700 page epic breeze right along.Mage’s Blood is told from the perspective of three primary characters as well as many other minor characters. I was genuinely surprised that Hair was able to juggle so many characters with a deft hand. Alaran Mercer is a quarter-blood mage, meaning that he can wield the magic, the gnosis, but is not all-powerful like a pureblood or Ascendant might be. Alaron’s initial arc is fairly standard and tropey – a young man going to a school to learn magic – but it turns into a much more compelling story and his is probably the one I am most looking forward to in the sequel. Elena Anborn, Alaron’s aunt, is a half-blood warrior-mage in service of Gurvon Gyle, a sort of spymaster for the Rondian throne. She is tasked to guard the Nesti royal family, who rule Javon, a region in northern Antiopia. She grows fond of the family she is tasked to protect and when her orders come, she has a difficult decision to make. Elena is a great character who has had so much happen to her, and the story as we know it is just beginning – she becomes very easy to empathize with. Ramita Ankesharan is the final ‘main’ character. She’s a young Lakh girl who gets thrown into a world that’s way over her head due to her father’s greed. Alongside these three there are several others, including Gyle himself, a princess, a particularly foul-mouthed saint, and more. Sometimes you’ll have a story from one character that ends up connecting with the past of another, and that is pretty awesome.Possibly the strongest aspect of Mage’s Blood is its cultural diversity. While the continent of Yuros is fairly standard and European, Antiopia is brimming with diversity. Throughout the story the people of Yuros and Antopia are seen wearing cultural garb, be they turbans, burkas, or many other forms of clothing and jewelry. Not only is the clothing diverse, there are terms and phrases of various origins, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Arabic and more – most of which I had to look up. This isn’t a bad thing – I like to learn while I read. It seemed to me upon reading the definitions that they were used correctly, but then again I’m no expert in any of said cultures. From the cities to the people inhabiting them, the world of Urte felt very real.Magic. With a title like Mage’s Blood, you know there will be magic of some sort – but how in-dept will it be? Will it be a simple fireball-style system that can be cast at will or will it be a detailed Sanderson-esque system where everything comes at a cost? Hair gives us the latter. There are different schools of the gnosis that is explained very well in both the story and the chapter headers. The best part? Hair writes magic duels to rival Sanderson. Mages can do more or less anything – shapeshift, create magical shields that redirect or block magic, bring the dead back to life, heal, and more. The system is well thought out and detailed – you’ll feel the fire scorch the earth around you.Mage’s Blood is true epic fantasy. It has everything a fan could want – detailed magic, good characters and evil characters (of both genders) and some in between, a compelling plot, and twists aplenty. At first glance, it seems like, at nearly 700 pages, that some things could be cut out to trim it to a more feasible size. I don’t think that’s the case for Mage’s Blood. It felt like every word was more or less in its place and necessary, and the plot moved quickly to boot. I cannot wait to read the sequel, The Scarlet Tides, and will likely read it as soon as it arrives. It’s nice to see newer fantasy stories set in places that aren’t strictly medieval Europe. With Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky set in the steppes of Mongolia, The Chronicles of Sword and Sand from Howard Andrew Jones set in Baghdad, and several others, this is a trend I would gladly see continue in the future.
Salute the Dark - Adrian Tchaikovsky Perhaps the single most devastating book I have ever read...http://abitterdraft.com/2013/09/salute-the-dark-by-adrian-tchaikovsky.htmlAfter I finished Blood of the Mantis, I immediately sent an email to Pyr asking after the rest of the series and they obliged. I soon found out that Pyr didn’t have plans for anything after book 5, The Scarab Path, which is a shame because they format the books to be a bit taller, shortening the page count in exchange and making the books more feasible and less daunting. Not to mention having the beautiful covers designed by the very skilled Jon Sullivan. In the review, I also wrote about how quickly Shadows of the Apt was becoming my favorite series to date. After Salute, there can no longer be any doubt - Apt has taken the throne by force.The world of the Apt and Inapt is in total war. The expansionist Wasp Empire is sweeping across the Lowlands and any outlying city that sparks a glint in Emperor Alvdan II’s eye. War Master Stenwold Maker’s agents are scattered everywhere in attempt to give the Lowlands any sort of advantage against the encroaching horde. Cities like Sarn and Myna are in open rebellion. Plots and twists are commonplace. Everything that has been building up over the first three books in the series culminate in Salute the Dark.One of the highlights of the series is how Tchaikovsky manages to weave cultures of our world into the story and make them feel so real. The Solarnese feel genuinely like Renaissance Italians, the Wasps like the Romans or various other empires, as well as many others. Some of my favorite scenes from Blood of the Mantis took place in the sky – in orthopters, heliopters, fixed-wings, and even huge insects. The aerial aspect returns in Salute the Dark in much greater scale. To put the culture in perspective – just prior to World War I, some of the first stable propeller-driven aircraft began to be manufactured with the purpose of war in mind. People were drawn to these fascinating machines, and throughout the war the pilots styled themselves knights of the air. There was a distinct system of honor in the aerial part of the war, drawn from some branch of chivalry that medieval knights adhered to. Pilots would rarely aim to kill in their dogfights, their dances in the sky – they’d aim for wings, the rudder, anywhere but the cockpit. It was an almost unspoken rule – if you hit someone’s engine and they could no longer fight, they’d glide to the ground in an attempt to land and, for the most part, would not be pursued – this counted as an aerial victory. Tchaikovsky implemented these same chivalrous ideals – the early tech of the vehicles, the aerial chivalry – into Blood and Salute, making the story feel that much more vivid.Whereas Dragonfly Falling had some large battles and sieges in it, Salute truly felt like a total and utter world war. Sieges, rebellions, field battles, ambushes in the black of night, cavalry charges, aerial battles, flamethrowers, and even some horrific chemical warfare that felt all too real. Not only did the story include these traditional aspects of war, there was also an entire thread of gladiatorial combat with a huge culmination, again reminiscent of the Romans. People are reduced to savages in the audience, where skill is a non-factor for entertainment on the sands. The only thing that matters is that blood is spilled and in great quantity.Salute the Dark is an incredibly apt name for the story. It is absolutely brutal. My heart was racing whenever I picked it up to read. Nobody is safe – you can feel the danger seeping from the pages. Aside from a few average characters of no outstanding martial quality, there is an abundance of characters in Shadows of the Apt who are peerless in combat, able to cut down enemy after enemy without breaking a sweat. After finishing Salute, it almost seems like Tchaikovsky purposely used that trope of fantasy – the nigh-invincible swordsman or mage or rogue – just so he could turn it on its head and smack you in the face with it. This is real, visceral, brutal war.Thus ends the first arc of Shadows of the Apt. Ties are wrapped up, but there is a definite sense of foreboding that has me compelled to continue the series. Unique in culture and character, massive in scale in every sense of the word, Shadows of the Apt has become my favorite fantasy series of all time and Salute the Dark is one of the best books I have read this year. If you haven’t even started the series, you are really, really missing out.
The Last Banquet - Jonathan Grimwood Magnifique. Brilliant. One of the most unique books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.http://abitterdraft.com/2013/09/the-last-banquet-by-jonathan-grimwood.htmlThe first time I noticed Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet was when I saw it up on NetGalley several weeks ago and I thought about how cool the cover was. For some reason I cast it aside, telling myself I already have plenty of books to read. Weeks pass, and reviews from a few bloggers I trust for recommendations pop up, drowning the book in praise. I checked back on NetGalley to find that it was archived and no longer available and that it wasn’t published in the US. My path led me to The Book Depository, where I found a signed first edition hardcover of the book for $15. I’m pretty frugal when it comes to buying hardcovers, so it was definitely an impulse buy. Once in a while impulse buys pay off, and The Last Banquet paid off in full and more.Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont is first and foremost a chef. Even the title chef is a gross understatement. Jean-Marie is a connoisseur on an adventure to taste as many different things as he can in his lifetime. The story opens up and we find Jean-Marie as an orphan sitting by a dung heap munching on beetles. With each beetle consumed, he notes that they often taste like what they’d consumed prior to being eaten. There’s a very wry, subtle humor throughout the story, and it shines in the beginning where Jean-Marie eats a beetle before a nearby man can ask him to share, as if everyone eats beetles.Jean-Marie will eat anything he can get his hands on – frog, loris, snake, dog, cat, lion, you name it, he’s eaten it, raw or cooked. Intermittently throughout the book, Grimwood has placed entries of Jean-Marie’s cookbook, including ingredients, steps to cook said meal, and what the meal tastes like. Funnily enough, more often than not the meal tastes like chicken, and he reasons that if he’d been weaned on mutton, most meals would taste like mutton, and if he’d been weaned on venison, most would taste so, and so on. d’Aumont is a particular proponent of cheese, moldy and not, and he beautifully describes his favorite, Roquefort, in saying“It tasted as I remembered, of mould and horses’ hooves clipping on brick and dung beetles and sun.”Not only does Jean-Marie crave the taste of any animal organ, hearts, tongues, and all – he seeks the taste from every other locale possible – from dung to urine to milk from a woman’s breast, from blood to the taste of sex – he wants it all.The Last Banquet was full of emotion – not necessarily from the narrator (who is narrating from old age) – but in the prose. Grimwood writes beautifully, as befitting the time prior to the French Revolution. There were some surprisingly dark passages that made my eyes widen in disbelief, some depressing parts, parts that made me angry, that made me happy, and there were parts that were filled with raw sensuality and love. Grimwood encompassed more emotion in The Last Banquet than I’ve encountered in any story I’ve read this year.Through Jean-Marie’s attendance in a school for boys and later a military academy, he meets lifelong friends, and through friends he meets lovers and many other kinds of people. There are interesting characters you will hate and love throughout the story, including appearances by greats such as Voltaire and Ben Franklin. We follow Jean-Marie through love and loss, thick and thin, as he rises through the ranks of the French society in the 18th century that Grimwood depicted so very well.Having a solid amount of knowledge of the Revolutionary era of France, I found myself smiling at how much of the detail written was picture-perfect – The Last Banquet is an ideal representation of the rising class tension, the food shortages, and the decay of French society at the time. From peasants covered in filth giving Jean-Marie and his compatriots angry looks to men and women alike squatting to relieve themselves out in the open without a care in the world. This accuracy made the story feel incredibly real to me.The sheer scale of The Last Banquet is one of its defining features. Grimwood doesn’t give us a glimpse into Jean-Marie’s life, or even a decade. He gives us the entire thing – decades and decades of d’Aumont’s life. He also includes very thought-provoking material, one such example is when Jean-Marie says“‘I’m not sure the people can cope without the idea of God’ I told him. ‘Without spiritual heights to which they can aspire…’”The conversation continues with talk of what the causes of religion are, what the world would be like without it, and other things.There is so much wonderful content in The Last Banquet and Mr. Grimwood shattered my expectations when I bought the book on a whim. The Last Banquet is the story of Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont – a man on the quest of taste, going wherever it takes him, from an orphan to a diplomat of the king, country to country, flavor to flavor. I cannot recommend it enough and, having not read Jonathan’s previous work, I’ve got some catching up to do before he puts out another marvelous piece of work like The Last Banquet. Now go buy it.
Swords of Good Men - Snorri Kristjansson http://abitterdraft.com/2013/08/swords-of-good-men-by-snorri-kristjansson.htmlJo Fletcher is a fairly new imprint for Quercus specializing in most of the speculative fiction genre. They started with a bang, and their list of authors includes some who’ve proven their mettle like Sarah Pinborough and Ian McDonald. They also have a slew of authors who have debuted within the last few years with success, like Aidan Harte, Mazarkis Williams, Tom Pollock, and David Hair. This year includes promising debut Snorri Kristjansson with Swords of Good Men, the first in the Valhalla Saga. After I’d found myself the victor of a giveaway for Aidan Harte’s Irenicon back in July, I decided to browse their catalog for authors of interest. After reading through all of the names, it was difficult to find one that didn’t catch my eye. I ended up requesting the one that stood out the most, and since I can’t resist a good Norse tale, they obliged and sent me Swords of Good Men.After reading the first few chapters, I began to see that Kristjansson’s writing was very similar to Nathan Hawke’s and David Gemmell’s – there is no fluff. He tells the story how it is, without flattery and overbearing detail. But, more like Hawke than Gemmell, Kristjansson writes the violence with gory detail, making the action very fun to read – the kind of stuff you’d see on History’s new show, Vikings. Taking place in Norway, Swords of Good Men is much more historical fiction than it is fantasy, with the aspect of magic not appearing until the very end for the most part and in a supernatural way.Swords begins with Ulfar Thormodsson and his cousin Geiri on their way to Stenvik, the last stop on a journey throughout the world before they can return home. Despite Kristjansson’s focus on the action rather than the world, he paints a very vivid picture of a Norse town in Stenvik. It feels real, down to the longhouse with barrel-chested men drinking mead and singing. A woman captures Ulfar’s heart with just a glance, and makes quite the enemy in the process. Ulfar and Geiri aren’t the only ones coming to Stenvik, though. The young King Olav Tryggvason, a Norse leader turned Christian, is moving west with his growing army in an attempt to bring the White Christ to the populace of Scandinavia. Skargrim has gathered a huge force of raiders and are advancing on Stenvik from the north with some kind of witch at the helm, and outlaws come out of the woodwork to harass the town as well.Therein lies the biggest flaw of Swords of Good Men. Too many forces seem to be converging on this one small town. The book is split into many points of view, possibly too many, in order to help us keep track of all of these forces. Throughout the story we jump around from character to character, force to force, leading up to the penultimate siege – and the transition isn’t particularly smooth. If two of the main characters are in the same place, occasionally one paragraph would be spoken from one of them and the following one from the other, which made the story somewhat hard to follow.Another problem with Swords was its length. It seems like a fairly standard story length for a debut at 352 pages, and it went smoothly until the last quarter. Shit hit the fan and had me turning page after page, the book glued to my hands. I buzzed through the last few pages and found the next page to be blank. The book was over. Too much had happened in the last 5 pages for me to wrap my head around immediately, and I think that the book, with the multiple point of view writing style, would have benefited from an extra 50 or so pages to smooth things out.Despite what it may seem like by reading this review, I actually did enjoy Swords of Good Men because it had some very real characters and great action, though there were some flaws and those should be expected from a debut author. The choppiness did smooth out as the story moved along, and it’s clear that Snorri is steadily improving and the sequel looks to answer a lot of questions and I look forward to more action.
Blood of the Mantis (Shadows of the Apt, #3) - Adrian Tchaikovsky This is easily becoming one of the best series I have ever read.In my reviews of Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling, I wrote of how hesitant I was beginning the Shadows of the Apt series. Insects are something that had never really made a presence in fantasy. They’re (mostly) disgusting creatures and the thought of reading a series where the oprhan boy has been replaced by all of these bug-like people was a complete turn-off for me. Like I said, I gave it a shot. I couldn’t be happier that I did, especially after Blood of the Mantis. The series is quickly becoming one of the best I have ever read, sitting right next to the Malazan series. What makes me have even more drive to read Apt rather than Malazan is the fact that the latter books are tomes. They’re huge. Tchaikovsky keeps his books at a more feasible length for the most part.By now, if you’ve read the series at all or my reviews, you know the deal with the different kinden and how they’re all humans with insectoid traits – as well as their Apt and Inapt abilities. The plot from Dragonfly Falling continues, with Achaeos, Tisamon, Tynisa, Thalric, and Gaved tracking the deadly Shadow Box to a remote town in the Wasp Empire called Jerez. Jerez is home to another fantastically unique race, the Skater-kinden. The kinden, like the bugs themselves, have very long limbs and can literally skate across the water. The town is full of these kinden as well as other shady thugs and mercenaries looking to do business in the black market. Nero and Che have traveled all the way to Solarno, a city on the Exalsee that remains free from the grip of the Empire. Solarno distinctly reminded me of Renaissance Italy, with many different factions vying for control over the council that rules the city as well as the way they address eachother, Bella for a woman and Sieur for a man. Stenwold travels to Sarn for the conference he hopes will cement the alliance of the various peoples opposed to the Wasps and Uctebri has his own sinister plans involving the royal family in the capital of the Empire.Read the rest here: http://abitterdraft.com/2013/08/blood-of-the-mantis-by-adrian-tchaikovsky.html
The Crimson Shield - Nathan Hawke 4.5. Wow. Hell of an ending. Definitely one of the better books I've read this year.Several months back I was looking through the catalogue for Gollancz and one book in particular caught my eye, and it was Nathan Hawke’s The Crimson Shield. Notice anything different about the cover when compared to others? The title and author aren’t there – they’re on the binding. And with a cover that beautiful, it’s both a bold strategy and a no-brainer. Hawke, the pseudonym of Stephen Deas, author of The Memory of Flames, Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, and Silver Kings series, claims inspiration from the legendary David Gemmell in writing the Gallow trilogy. The inspiration is clearly visible, as it feels much look a story Gemmell would write – but it’s got its own identity and something that I can’t quite point out that, while it does feel like a Gemmell story, gives it its own distinct feel as well.The book’s inside cover is a beautifully detailed map (it’s red in the book), allowing the tracking of Gallow’s progress with ease as well as look for historical events such as Selleuk’s Bridge that are mentioned often enough to attract curiosity. As I read the story, I got a strong feeling that Hawke created this world with a great deal of backstory in mind.Read the rest on my blog: http://abitterdraft.com/2013/08/the-crimson-shield-by-nathan-hawke.html#more-158
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman Having never read any of Neil Gaiman’s work before, I jumped on the opportunity to grab The Ocean at the End of the Lane for a decent price at B&N last week. As I said in my review of Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, it takes serious skill to be able to write a full-fledged story and pack it down into under 200 pages and have it turn out great.Ocean is the tale of an unnamed seven-year-old boy, whom in his childlike ignorance of the world gets caught up in a mysteriously dark and haunting sequence of events that he can’t even begin to comprehend. He meets a girl, Lettie Hempstock, who lives down the lane, and she becomes more or less his only friend. One of their first conversations together involve the boy asking Lettie her age:Read the rest on the blog:http://abitterdraft.com/2013/08/the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane-by-neil-gaiman-2.html
Range of Ghosts - Elizabeth Bear I’ve been meaning to read Elizabeth Bear for some time now, and after taking up Worlds Without End‘s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, Range of Ghosts came out on top of that list. I was almost put off immediately after reading the first few pages – the premise is great, but the prose seemed uncomfortably stuffy. Luckily, around the second chapter or so, it either toned down a bit or I got used to it – either way, I’m happy that it did.Temur is the grandson of the Great Khan, a noble of the steppes in every sense of the word. Range of Ghosts opens up with Temur near-death on a battlefield, surrounded by the bodies of the dead and dying, his dreams of glory shattered. After the Khagan Mongke died, the Khaganate was plunged into civil war, with Temur’s relatives waging it. Normally, following a battle, the souls of the dead are put to rest in the Eternal Sky. Unfortunately for Temur, nobody put the souls to rest, and those ghosts are used to track and haunt him throughout the story. Once-Princess Samarkar forgoes her right to the Rasan Empire as well as her ability to bear children in order to become a wizard. Somewhere along the way, the paths of Samarkar and Temur meet. But the characters and the plot, while decent, were nothing truly outstanding or complex. What really made this story for me was the world.Read the rest on my blog!http://abitterdraft.com/2013/08/review-range-of-ghosts-by-elizabeth-bear.html
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card Definitely see why this is a pillar of science fiction.
Ex-Heroes  - Peter Clines http://abitterdraft.blogspot.com/2013/08/review-ex-heroes-by-peter-clines.htmlWhile I was rummaging through Goodreads for more books to read, I stumbled across a review of Ex-Heroes written by Mihir over at Fantasy Book Critic that convinced me to look into a book I would have otherwise set aside. I don't really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman who's nigh-invulnerable removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read the book, but Mihir convinced me otherwise, so I contacted Crown Publishing who obliged my request for a review copy and sent me the lot.Zombies and superheroes - two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, World War Z. When done right, you know you're in for a boatload of fun. Unfortunately, with the sheer amount of zombie books, movies, and shows, many of them are bound to be bad. Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, blurbs about Ex-Heroes on the front cover, calling it "The Avengers meets The Walking Dead", and I can't think of a more apt description.The Mighty Dragon aka St. George, Gorgon, Zzzap, Cerberus, Stealth, Regenerator, Lady Bee. Some have acrobatic skills like Stealth or Bee, the Dragon is a fire-breathing Superman, Zzzap essentially turns into a star that can think, all heat included, Regenerator is exactly what he sounds like. Cerberus is a woman inside of a giant battle robot, and Gorgon saps the life from humans who look into his goggles and uses it to boost his martial ability. These heroes, along with a few thousand survivors from the virus outbreak, are holed up in The Mount to defend against the exes. They're called exes, as Clines says, because the world refused to accept that zombies were real. St. George is the protagonist of the heroes, and he tries to fight the good fight. Killing, unless the person is undoubtedly an ex, is wrong and shouldn't be done, always do the right thing, that kind of deal. The other heroes have an "if you're not with me, you're against me" mentality, and this makes for a group of people that is not cohesive. Tension rises and and tempers flare as the people have been trapped in the Mount for quite some time. The heroes all have their own problems, their own scars from the past.Another trend I've noticed in modern sci-fi and fantasy is increased use of splitting the narrative into a past and present section. When done right, it fills in critical backstory and makes the story much better as a whole, but often it can go wrong, leaving the reader confused. Clines splits Ex-Heroes into two parts, then and now. Past and present. Then fills in that critical backstory, telling us about how the specific hero came to be. Now is the narrative of the real fight against the exes and the growing threat of the Seventeens, an LA gang that styles themselves the SS, no doubt after Hitler's Schutzstaffel. Clines hits the bullseye in this narrative style in his debut. Yes, I said debut. Even after reading Ex-Heroes I'm finding it hard to believe it's a debut, as many of the mistakes that often mark a new author are nearly nonexistent.Ex-Heroes will appeal to almost anyone who reads the genre, especially with its constant pop culture references. The inclusion of so many references has been hit-or-miss with most reviewers, and while I enjoyed many of them, ones along the lines of "is that the chick from Heroes?", sometimes Clines went overboard with them. When St. George is flying through the sky and lands on a rooftop or Stealth is leaping from rooftop to rooftop, you can count on Clines naming the building. Anything from Target to LA-native names that I didn't recognize, he'll throw the name in. Sometimes it felt forced, like he was trying to fulfill a bet to see how many references he could throw in.Outside of the slight over-inclusion of pop-culture references, Ex-Heroes is a fast, gritty and action-packed tale that should be read by any fan of the genre. Don't go in expecting super-deep characters, or a complicated plot, because let's face it - it's a zombie story with superheroes, though throughout the story the heroes are made to seem more and more human. Go in with an action movie mentality and you will love this story. Did I say movie? Ex-Heroes is the perfect premise for a blockbuster film, and Christopher Nolan needs to make it happen.
Beyond the Deepwoods - Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell I found them! I have several of these books and they were highlights of my childhood!Twig!!
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin http://abitterdraft.blogspot.com/2013/07/review-wizard-of-earthsea-by-ursula-k.htmlForty-five years ago, Ursula K. Le Guin laid the foundation for what is now the modern wizard in fantasy in A Wizard of Earthsea. It is a coming-of-age tale of Ged, a 'chosen' young man from the island of Gont, with wizards, dragons, and demons plentiful. What's that you say? A young man with dreams of becoming a wizard? Dragons? Demons? It sounds generic? That's the thing, it is generic by today's standards, but it was one of the first to do what it did, and reading it for the first time almost half a century after publication, I found it to be a somewhat refreshing read and it allowed me insight into the foundations of today's wizard.Unlike in much of modern fantasy where there's a special order of mages or wizards that only number a fraction of the overall population, Earthsea, and the area around Gont in particular, has a great population of magic-users. Wizards are commonplace, and it seemed that even the small villages had their local spell-slinger. Ged is hungry for power and knowledge from a young age, and most of the story is him being a fairly greedy kid in his hunt for power. Ged is sent to the school of wizardry at the island of Roke, where he meets some new friends as well as enemies.As soon as you enter the gate of Roke, you are an apprentice and begin your studying to become a sorcerer and eventually, when you earn your staff, a wizard. As is seen in Harry Potter and the Kingkiller Chronicles, Roke's school features master wizards as teachers in a variety of classes. The magic in Earthsea comes from the use of names. Names hold complete and utter power over everything, and even the lowest farmhand keeps his true name hidden to the world, and instead goes by his use-name, and Ged's use-name is Sparrowhawk. Magic in the story is near-limitless - from transformation to illusions to controlling the weather, so it is very apparent why Ged wants it all. All the teachers prattle about balance and equilibrium, to be wary of the consequences of the magic you use, but Ged will have none of it.In Ged's arrogance, he does a terrible thing and is haunted by it. Therein lies the tale - one of the hunter and the hunted. Modern fantasy's main facets lie in world-building and characterization. It is commonplace to read about how juicy the grapes at dinner are or what fabric was used to thread the drapes on the wall in anything published in the last decade or so. A Wizard of Earthsea brought me back to the roots of fantasy. There is no world-building, and the characters are all fairly cookie-cutter, including Ged for the most part. Le Guin is similar to the late, great David Gemmell in her writing. They both tell it how it is, without the all the fluff in between.Earthsea isn't a long, drawn out tale of every little happening in the world, it's one of adventure. Many ask why, in Lord of the Rings, Frodo didn't just ride the Eagles to Mount Doom and end the story there and then. The response to that question is this: it's not about just getting from point A to point B, it's about how you get there as well as the people that help you along the way. It's about the journey. It's about the adventure. The tale of Ged is similar - months pass by in the blink of an eye, but so many things still happen. We see Ged face his fears as we follow him from adventure to adventure, foe to foe.The fact that Le Guin was able to encompass such a tale in under 200 pages is nothing short of amazing. It should come as no surprise that so many fantasy authors list her as an inspiration. She wrote one of the original hero's tales, and reading it forty-five years after publication, it has stood the test of time.
Mayhem - Sarah Pinborough http://abitterdraft.blogspot.com/2013/07/review-mayhem-by-sarah-pinborough.htmlJo Fletcher Books is publisher to many good authors, including Tom Pollock, Snorri Kristjansson, and one Sarah Pinborough. Sarah is author to many dark stories, including her Dog Faced Gods horror series, as well as rewritten fairy tales, one being Poison (Snow White) and another being Beauty (Sleeping Beauty). I've yet to read any of her other work, so Mayhem was a first for me in a few ways. Prior to reading it, I hadn't really read any novels that could be categorized under mystery or crime; I'd read some with elements of each, but never something strictly one or the other.Two things drew me to Mayhem. First, there was the cover - exceptionally elegant and very fitting of the 19th century tale that is told. Second, Jack the Ripper. If for some reason you are unaware of who he was, Jack was a serial killer in late 19th century London who targeted female prostitutes and murdered them in brutal ways. He killed at least five women, likely more, but get this - he was never caught. This anonymity led to widespread terror throughout the area for years to come. Mayhem is not a story of Jack, though, but one of a new killer, dubbed by some as The Thames Killer and as The Torso Killer by others. Though there are similarities between Jack's killings and those of the newcomer, primarily that they both target women, the protagonist, Dr. Thomas Bond, knows that there is indeed a second killer in the London slums who keeps his victims' heads as trophies.Dr. Bond is a middle-aged man hired as a police surgeon to aid the police in investigating the killings of Jack, and after the limbs of a woman are recovered from the Thames river, he's forced to help track down two killers. Bond's life has become increasingly stressful and sleepless since he began the investigation, leading him to bouts of anxiety and an addiction to opium. Opium is his escape - when he can't sleep he heads to the dens to smoke some poppy and close his eyes, though he usually ends up having terrifying dreams brought on by the drug and his contact with the victims. Throughout Mayhem we see Bond fall into deeper and darker places, and his characterization and development are fantastic.Alongside Dr. Bond, there are two characters who get a smaller amount of face-time - Inspector Henry Moore and a Polish refugee and hairdresser known as Aaron Kosminski. This is where Mayhem partially fell short for me. Dr. Bond's chapters are told in the first person, which is perfect for the premise of the story, and what I expected the entire story to be, whereas Inspector Moore and Aaron Kosminski's chapters are told in the third person. Although the insight from different characters was interesting - especially seeing their thoughts on Bond's drastic changes throughout the story - I felt that it disrupted the flow of the story and a little distracting. Maybe it was because I hadn't read a story that switched from first to third person throughout the tale before, but I think it could have been beneficial to commit to one or the other. Due to the nature of the story, though, it would not have been complete and the reader would be left wondering what was happening if Kosminski wasn't a point-of-view character.Much of what you'll get out of Mayhem is dependent upon your expectations going in. Due to this being my first real crime novel, I had expected a fast-paced story where the investigation was always one step behind the killer until some sort of culmination at the end, and the initial chapter convinced me that's what I was getting. The first chapter was a dark and gripping recount of the Torso Killer's first murder. But after that, the pacing proceeded at an average pace, picking up at points where a new lead or a new victim is found. Despite this, Pinborough's elegant prose, as with the cover, perfectly fit the time of the story and created a sort of fog and feeling of claustrophobia around the darker areas of London. Now and then the story jumped ahead days, weeks, and even months and thus the reader can be left either okay with nothing happening in those intervals or wondering if the time frame could have been condensed to improve the pacing, though that may have thrown off the backdrop of Jack's murders, so take from that what you will.Another strong aspect of Mayhem is Pinborough's use of news articles and police reports between occasional chapters. When there's a new victim, we're given a chance to read what the citizens of 1887-1889 London read and feel what they felt. Pinborough also shows her skill in writing in revealing the killer around halfway through the story and avoiding the cliché of his immediate capture, but without harming the pacing in any way.Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem is a dark, elegantly written tale with some particularly gripping scenes and a well executed supernatural aspect that led to a solid, if not slightly rushed ending. There is a definite air of mystery throughout the story and even though it was not the story I expected, it was still an entertaining read and I am looking forward to the 'further adventures of Dr. Bond' in May 2015, when Sarah will be releasing Murder.
Mayhem - Sarah Pinborough http://abitterdraft.blogspot.com/2013/07/review-mayhem-by-sarah-pinborough.htmlJo Fletcher Books is publisher to many good authors, including Tom Pollock, Snorri Kristjansson, and one Sarah Pinborough. Sarah is author to many dark stories, including her Dog Faced Gods horror series, as well as rewritten fairy tales, one being Poison (Snow White) and another being Beauty (Sleeping Beauty). I've yet to read any of her other work, so Mayhem was a first for me in a few ways. Prior to reading it, I hadn't really read any novels that could be categorized under mystery or crime; I'd read some with elements of each, but never something strictly one or the other.Two things drew me to Mayhem. First, there was the cover - exceptionally elegant and very fitting of the 19th century tale that is told. Second, Jack the Ripper. If for some reason you are unaware of who he was, Jack was a serial killer in late 19th century London who targeted female prostitutes and murdered them in brutal ways. He killed at least five women, likely more, but get this - he was never caught. This anonymity led to widespread terror throughout the area for years to come. Mayhem is not a story of Jack, though, but one of a new killer, dubbed by some as The Thames Killer and as The Torso Killer by others. Though there are similarities between Jack's killings and those of the newcomer, primarily that they both target women, the protagonist, Dr. Thomas Bond, knows that there is indeed a second killer in the London slums who keeps his victims' heads as trophies.Dr. Bond is a middle-aged man hired as a police surgeon to aid the police in investigating the killings of Jack, and after the limbs of a woman are recovered from the Thames river, he's forced to help track down two killers. Bond's life has become increasingly stressful and sleepless since he began the investigation, leading him to bouts of anxiety and an addiction to opium. Opium is his escape - when he can't sleep he heads to the dens to smoke some poppy and close his eyes, though he usually ends up having terrifying dreams brought on by the drug and his contact with the victims. Throughout Mayhem we see Bond fall into deeper and darker places, and his characterization and development are fantastic.Alongside Dr. Bond, there are two characters who get a smaller amount of face-time - Inspector Henry Moore and a Polish refugee and hairdresser known as Aaron Kosminski. This is where Mayhem partially fell short for me. Dr. Bond's chapters are told in the first person, which is perfect for the premise of the story, and what I expected the entire story to be, whereas Inspector Moore and Aaron Kosminski's chapters are told in the third person. Although the insight from different characters was interesting - especially seeing their thoughts on Bond's drastic changes throughout the story - I felt that it disrupted the flow of the story and a little distracting. Maybe it was because I hadn't read a story that switched from first to third person throughout the tale before, but I think it could have been beneficial to commit to one or the other. Due to the nature of the story, though, it would not have been complete and the reader would be left wondering what was happening if Kosminski wasn't a point-of-view character.Much of what you'll get out of Mayhem is dependent upon your expectations going in. Due to this being my first real crime novel, I had expected a fast-paced story where the investigation was always one step behind the killer until some sort of culmination at the end, and the initial chapter convinced me that's what I was getting. The first chapter was a dark and gripping recount of the Torso Killer's first murder. But after that, the pacing proceeded at an average pace, picking up at points where a new lead or a new victim is found. Despite this, Pinborough's elegant prose, as with the cover, perfectly fit the time of the story and created a sort of fog and feeling of claustrophobia around the darker areas of London. Now and then the story jumped ahead days, weeks, and even months and thus the reader can be left either okay with nothing happening in those intervals or wondering if the time frame could have been condensed to improve the pacing, though that may have thrown off the backdrop of Jack's murders, so take from that what you will.Another strong aspect of Mayhem is Pinborough's use of news articles and police reports between occasional chapters. When there's a new victim, we're given a chance to read what the citizens of 1887-1889 London read and feel what they felt. Pinborough also shows her skill in writing in revealing the killer around halfway through the story and avoiding the cliché of his immediate capture, but without harming the pacing in any way.Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem is a dark, elegantly written tale with some particularly gripping scenes and a well executed supernatural aspect that led to a solid, if not slightly rushed ending. There is a definite air of mystery throughout the story and even though it was not the story I expected, it was still an entertaining read and I am looking forward to the 'further adventures of Dr. Bond' in May 2015, when Sarah will be releasing Murder.
The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, #1) - Jason M. Hough Excellent. Could not put it down, read most of it in one neck-straining sitting.http://abitterdraft.blogspot.com/2013/07/review-darwin-elevator-by-jason-m-hough.htmlJason M. Hough's The Darwin Elevator marks my foray back into sci-fi after six or so consecutive fantasy and historical fiction books. It's books like this that make me want to read more of the genre - pure, pulse-pounding action. I really love the recent trend in which a series is finished and is being released in consecutive months - minimal waiting and no chance of an unfinished series.An alien force humanity dubbed as Builders sent an elevator down to Darwin to help speed up travel into orbit. Cool, right? Problem is, they forgot to mention that with the Elevator comes a plague, later called SUBS, that corrupts the human mind and essentially turns the carriers into mindless, subhuman creatures that are then called subs. The Builders weren't complete bastards though, as the Elevator also came with a sort of aura that protects the city from SUBS.We've got Skyler Luiken (I could not stop thinking of Skyler from Breaking Bad whenever I heard his name), the new captain of the scavenging crew aboard the Melville, based in the last bastion of humanity, Australia's city of Darwin. Scavengers are the lifeline of Darwin, collecting things everyone needs to survive. Skyler's an immune - one of the incredibly rare humans that are immune to SUBS - and he has a crew composed entirely of immunes. The crew - ops specialist Samantha, pilot Angus, engineer Takai, and sniper Jake - are unique enough in personality and make for a good, crew-based adventure. Being immune makes scavenging significantly easier, as an environment suit isn't needed. Skyler spends much of the story adjusting to being a leader when he really isn't cut out for it. When the Darwin Elevator malfunctions, people - like Neil Platz - in higher places take interest in using this unique crew of immunes for their own ambitions. Neil is the most famous man on what remains of Earth, pretty much the Donald Trump of The Dire Earth Cycle, and is a man of many secrets. The Platz family essentially owns everything worth anything in the area around the Elevator.Neil is probably the only character that isn't what he seems. There are characters like Russell Blackfield that do everything in pure self-interest, ones like Skyler and his crew who are in over their head, ones like Dr Tania Sharma who you're bound to like, and then there's Neil. Sometimes you want to smack him around and ask him what the hell he's doing and others you want to give him a fist bump. Outside of Blackfield's cookie-cutter and easy to hate characterization, the other characters were fairly well done. A word of warning though, Hough is absolutely ruthless, on par with GRRM, with the lives of his characters.The plot was packed with suspense. There's something special about being able to create such a large amount of tension in situations where nothing actually happens. While this is frustrating to some, it didn't happen often enough to warrant frustration from me, and it was complemented by electrifying action sequences. Despite some minor choppiness transitioning from the high-octane scenes to the slower aftermath, the pacing was strong.The cover of the US version makes The Darwin Elevator look very generic - military guy with a mean look and some sort of weapon - so if you like to ignore your mother's advice and judge books by their covers, use the UK one at the head of this review. Jason M. Hough is definitely an author to look out for if you're even mildly interested in sci-fi and look for The Darwin Elevator when it hits shelves on July 30th, 2013.I'd like to thank Del Rey and NetGalley for the eARC given to me in exchange for an honest review.