Book Review: Talus and The Frozen King

Review first appeared on SFFWorld.com.

Talus and the Frozen King is a story about the wandering bard Talus and his (semi) reluctant partner Bran. They are traveling across their world north to the lights that crash in the night sky, heralding a place where lost spirits might be found.

But before they get there, there are mysteries to be solved.

The book opens with Bran and Talus overlooking an island which happens to be home of the Creyak people. Shouts and wails can be heard and the two respond by going down to see what’s going on. To Talus’ piqued interest and Bran’s consternation, they find a dead king, frozen on his throne in a sheltered, outdoor courtyard. In the time it takes Bran to think they ought to move on, Talus claims that the death of the king is no accident, but murder.

Along with Bran, Talus then guides us through an examination of the body, the likely and unlikely suspects, the murder weapon, and possible motives. The plot thickens when a neighboring king shows up with his, let’s just say, popular daughter, who managed to string along just about all the dead king’s heirs.

As Talus gets closer and closer to the answer, the stakes are raised and Talus’ past catches up to him and even he is at risk in the final, frozen hilltop showdown.

All in all, I liked this book. The writing is clear, concise, and the plot moves forward at a satisfactory pace. I like Bran. He’s the down-to-earth counterpoint to Talus’ brilliant mind. The story is (mostly) told from Bran’s point of view and I really sympathized with his plight. The loss of a loved one, no matter what ice-age you may be in, is a terrible thing. Reading about him coming to terms with that loss added a texture to this story that I wasn’t expecting. I especially liked how the author worked in a few female characters that were not just bed warmers (which he could easily have done given the time period). Lethriel, a widow like Bran, proves to be a valuable resource to our budding detectives, and Alayin, the desirous daughter of the attacking king, is a formidable character trying to carve out a life of her own away from her father.

I also liked the stories that Talus tells the people of Creyak. Don’t quote me on this, but after one particularly confounding tale, Talus tells us that stories don’t necessarily have to make sense, they just have to touch us the right way. I completely agree with this sentiment. There are countless stories I’ve read that should have been put through the editorial process a few more times, but somehow connect in such a way that I overlook all its flaws.

The APOV

Bran plays the disenchanted skeptic. So distraught after the death of his wife, he can’t even bother to pray to his god anymore. While Talus is the brilliant thinker who keeps his thoughts on the gods and the real nature of the lights they seek in the north a mystery. Are the northern lights a veil between this world and the next, or is it something entirely else? It was all left very vague in this book, making me wonder how the author will play out the notion of god or beings we can’t quite explain given our level of technology and understanding in future books set in this story world.

However, the style in which Talus and the Frozen King is written, left a sour taste. I guess, more accurately, I just didn’t like the premise of the book. A Sherlock Holmes/Watson set up (along with a counter “evil genius”) placed in the ice age just seemed…silly. I don’t see why a traveling bard would be interested in solving a mystery that had nothing to do with him and that could put his life at risk. Even if he didn’t care about his own life, why would he risk Bran’s life that way? I mean, they’re in an icy world, with few resources, and they have some place to be. Would they really stop and muck up a frozen king’s funeral when no one is asking them to do so? It just didn’t make sense. Maybe I missed the bit where Talus knew his arch-enemy would be in that village before they went down to it, but I’m pretty sure he was just as surprised as everyone else when they find out the shaman was not who he said he was.

Most mysteries I’ve read include a crucial, triggering event that makes it absolutely impossible for the main character to move forward without solving the mystery. In Talus and the Frozen King, I was not convinced that that was the case.

So, if you’re a die-hard mystery fan, that lack of plausible motivation for Talus may put you off. But if you can jump over that tall bar of disbelief, give Talus and the Frozen King a try. You just might like it.

Book Review: The Adjacent

Review first appeared on SFFWorld.com.

The Adjacent is a love story about two people torn apart by place and time. It has elements of H.G. Wells, World War I, an island nation, an Islamic version of England, and magic, but at its core, it is a love story.

In matter-of-fact prose, a complicated story of death unfolds as we are introduced to Tibor Tarent, a photographer reeling from the recent death of his wife, a nurse. He is returning from an aid mission to a southern country. Where exactly, we are not told. But he’s returning to England, London specifically, but it’s an English countryside and culture we would find hard to recognize.

Massive storms have scarred the countryside and a new weapon is burning out what remains. The residents live in a somewhat militarized society that has long ago embraced Islam. As he is moved from place to place, escorted by mysterious government officials, he grieves for his wife, who had been obliterated out in the desert by the same weapon plaguing London.

The book soon leaves Tarent’s story to plunge us into the life of two individuals shipped off to the World War 1 front lines for suspect reasons. In this section, we are given another, older, version of Tarent who happens to be a magician, one who uses a technique often termed an ‘adjacent distraction’. This is our first, most obvious connection between this story and the previous one with the photographer.

Don’t quote me on the sequence, but the story then weaves between Tarent’s story coming to terms with his wife’s death and the inexplicable events happening around him, and the stories of two women, one a pilot and the other mysteriously connected to him, but in a brief, adulterous way. Like the many Tarent’s in the story, inconsequential details blur the stories of his wife: the woman named Krystyna (or Kirstenya or any other variant), and ‘the other woman’. Each show up in Tarent’s (or Tommaz’s or Tomak’s) life at crucial stages. In one version of their story, we meet his wife in the guise of a Polish pilot helping out in the war effort as best as she can. She tells him her story and it seems that the version of Tarent she is telling her story to is a copy of the Tarent she left behind at home. While potentially confusing, what is clear in each section is the undeniable bond between the two; an everlasting love that transcends the cold vagaries of life.

Each section of the novel blurs the facts, doling out tantalizing details that you think will help you solve the mystery of the individual stories. But in the end, we simply discover what happens. Really, there is no mystery to solve (it is unsolvable). There is only a story to be enjoyed for its rich texture and a wonderful sense of warped place and time.

With that said, this is a book for Christopher Priest fans.

This is my first foray into Mr. Priest’s fiction. I’ve watched the movie adaptation of The Prestige, but I’ve never read anything by him. While I believe a new reader to Priest’s works do not need to read all his previous books to enjoy The Adjacent, I did get the sense that I was missing out on something. There were many references and/or details that I thought would have some significance to the story (or stories) I was reading (the wires, the cultural norms or ab-norms of the island population, that whole weapon thing, the city that was and then was not there, etc), but they never panned out. Or rather, the details didn’t seem to matter to the final result. All of which I think was the point.

Even so, I did enjoy this book. Mr. Priest has a wonderful way of creating a surreal experience out of the ordinary. And he does it in such a way that you’re not aware of it until after the fact. He gives so much detail and information in flawless, emotional prose that both enriches the reading experience and immerses you in the character’s world. Even so, this reader was left with a sense of mystery that pulled me along at every (potentially frustrating) turn in the story. I wanted to know what the dang weapon was and who was using it, but then we are left with what is really important – the bonds that hold us together through place and time.

It was wonderful to read Mr. Priest’s take on this novel (see this SFFWorld.com interview). I especially liked that he didn’t think he was painting England in a grim light because it becomes, in The Adjacent, an Islamic state and environmentally damaged or changed. While reading his book, I didn’t get the sense that it was overwhelmingly grim, but only that it was simply different. I think that is The Adjacent’s triumph. It offers several alternative realities that feel as real as the world today, and as easily visited as flying a plane over a wide, blue ocean (or reading The Adjacent).

THE APOV – I found Mr. Priest’s treatment of an alternative, Islamic England fascinating. He didn’t skirt around the issues of soldiers praying to Allah, or women hemmed in by religious tradition. Instead, he shows us how life might really be like in such a place and, you know, it wasn’t that bad. Yes, the world is falling apart and terrorist are killing people willy-nilly, but how is that different from now? How is that different from a Christian world? How would it be different from a world without religion? Life still goes on. Loved ones die unexpectedly. Casual sex happens. The kindness of strangers can turn your life around. It was almost as if the author wanted to say that with love, even religion didn’t matter. I may be reading too much into the text, but that’s the sense that I got. I felt it most strongly in the sections of the book set on the island nation where the cultural norms were so like, but unlike, our own. This book will definitely lead you to question your assumptions. And I think that’s a good thing.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christopher Priest as well as someone looking for a book that offers the sense of shifting realities as real as our own while offering you a different view of what we could have been and may become.

Book Review: Chasing the Star Garden

Review first published on SFFWorld.com.

Chasing the Star Garden, book one of The Airship Racing Chronicles, by Melanie Karsak is a steampunk fantasy about Lily Stargazer, a drug addict and airship pilot extraordinaire.

The book begins in the middle of a race. Lily and her crew are sailing through the sky above London, hot on the heels of her racing nemesis, an obviously better pilot than she because he wins and she doesn’t. Lily does come in second place, which isn’t half bad, but before she can claim her trophy, a man dressed in harlequin assaults her by shoving a long, clothed cylinder down the front of her pants – then promptly plunges to his death.

Thus begins the strange and adventurous tale that will lead Lily across Europe to Venice, where she finds out that she has a connection with a god and that god needs her – now. She must find the statue of Venus before art hunters take the last earthly avatar of Venus and move her away from those who would worship her properly. Along with her casual lover, a Venus devotee, and an obedient crew, Lily heads for Greece to find Venus before anyone else does. Along the way, she must cross war-filled seas, challenge her physical fear of water, and finally allow a happiness to enter her life that she has pushed away since the day Lily’s mother left her.

An adult tale with steamy sexual scenes, I really wanted to like Chasing the Star Garden. Ms. Karsak writes well and has given us a courageous, but flawed, heroine who is capable and comfortable with her skills as an airship pilot. The author also builds a steam-punk world filled with alluring devices with several chase scenes that should have pumped my heart. Regardless, the story fell flat for me.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I think there were several points that tripped my disbelief sensors. The first was the harlequin shoving something long and hard down Lily’s pants. Lily takes the assault all in stride, and even hides the fact from the officials around her that the man gave her something. The author failed to convince me that someone, even someone as sexually focused as Lily, would do that. Why would she trust a complete stranger that then kills himself? On the same token, I couldn’t buy Lily’s motivation for taking her airship on a journey across Europe based solely on that stranger’s suggestion.

In addition, though Chasing the Star Garden was an interesting read and had some wonderful airship maneuvers, I never felt a connection to the main character. Lily’s life begins with the strict attentions of a couple of horrendous male guardians. She’s psychologically scarred and becomes an opium addict because of them, but somehow Lily ends up with well-intentioned men around her during this story. Though her love affair with Lord Byron, also a benefactor, might be construed as damaging, he does not demand much from Lily. He seems more of an easy crutch for the author to give Lily what she needs when she needs it.

And then we have the older, endlessly accommodating Sal, willing to do anything for his younger lover. He seems more of a father figure than a lover, and when they finally hook up, I couldn’t help but think that Lily was using him to fill her needs of a loving patriarch. Another point that grated my nerves was that everyone was beautiful and sexually hip. That’s fine and all, but that is not something I look for in my fiction.

Despite all this, Chasing the Star Garden was a quick and entertaining read. If you like your lofty steampunk sexy and adventurous, you may want to give this story a try.

Book Review: Warrior’s Path

Review initially published on SFFWorld.com.

A Warrior’s Path by Davis Ashura

E-book Edition

Published December 29th 2013 by DuSum Publishing

Review copy provided by author.

Review by N. E. White.

18720218Mr. Davis Ashura’s debut novel, A Warrior’s Path – Book One: The Castes and the Out Castes, is told from the point of view of several characters. The first we are introduced to is Rukh Shekton and his cousins out on their first, their virgin, mission across the monster-ridden spaces between protected cities. Their caravan is about to be attacked by those monsters, the Chimera, creatures cobbled together from different parts of other animals by an insane god, Suwraith. The troop, hundreds strong, prepare to outrun the Chimeras. They discard their wagons and any gear not necessary for survival. Scouts are dispatched and a small contingent sent back to Asoka (their destination) to relay events.

As they gear burns, we learn (through a flashback) that Rukh is not any ordinary soldier, but a champion among the battle bred and trained, the Kummas. Despite this, or maybe because of it, his troop is hunted

down by the Chimera and slaughtered. Rukh along with his two cousins, of the same warrior caste Kummas, and another from a caste that can blend, the Rahail, are among the few survivors.

But they are now tainted. While fighting for their lives, they did the impossible and joined forces with each other when they should have not been able to. Each caste has a special skill that belongs to those of their caste only. The Kummas shoot fire from their hands, can shield themselves from blasts, and move speeds so fast most non-Kummas can not track their movement. Of course, Kummas make up the vast portion of the fighting ranks. But the Rahail also have a skill. They can blend with their surroundings, making it easy to elude the notice of the Chimeras. Together, by passing their skills from one caste to the other, the four were able to survive. However, the sharing of those special skills means the young men are tainted and would most likely exiled for tainting their caste.

Not only is the sharing of skills forbidden, but also sexual mingling between the castes. In the next section of the book, we shift from Rukh’s story to his sister’s, Bree’s, story and his adopted-brother’s, Jaresh’s, story – who happens to be a Sentya. His story begins with a fight between himself and a Kumma who insulted his step-sister, Bree. Jaresh should have lost. His caste is bred for focus and intelligence, not fighting. But somehow he becomes the unlikely hero. But there is no celebration, for he not only beat the Kumma, but killed him. He is put on trial, not just for killing a man, but for the taint that is on him and his house’s name for mixing the castes.

Confused yet? Hold on, there’s more.

We also get introduced to the Outcastes, those unlucky to fall in love with someone from another caste and their unfortunate offspring. These are impure folk that have been turned out of the cities to suffer the fate of the Chimeras, a bloody death. But unknown to the castes living in the protected cities, they have scratched out a living among the wastelands.

In addition, there are those within the city walls that follow the insane god, Suwraith. They are called the Sil Lor Kum and rather than follow the gods who protect the human castes and marked out which talent belongs to whom, they listen to the orders of Suwraith and betray their own castes to gain power and luxuries.

Their individual stories are woven together to form a narrative that is both entertaining and a bit cumbersome. I picked up and put down this book several times, intending not to continue reading

it. Once I got past the first few sections, I’d been inundated with so much backstory and world-building, I simply kept reading because I invested so much energy trying to keep all the names straight, I thought I owed it to myself to just keep trying.

I’m glad I did.

The story’s pacing does pick up in chapter three. Maybe this is where the book should have started. Regardless, the story of the Shektan family is intriguing. There’s romance, drama, and mystery in equal measure throughout the book as well as some interesting magic. In addition, the Chimeras are a frightening and worthy adversary; grotesque creatures that only a mad god can love. And that god is exponentially terrifying. How can you reason with a god, let alone a crazy one?

From the A.P.O.V. – I’m a bit on the fence on how the notion of gods were used in this book. I was tempted in thinking that the gods in this world are not really gods, but advanced humans who have created species and set them loose into a world of their making, or maybe even a part of Earth. But I might be reading too much into it. As it is, the mention of the first Father and Mother is referenced through the book, and the caste system is based on a deeply held religion st up by those two deities. Some castes do not fully believe in those gods though they do firmly believe in the caste system – and that each should be kept apart. I liked this contradiction. It felt real, reflecting a lot how people use religion today. They may not really believe in a supernatural deity, but they hold their religious traditions with a death grip.

The crazy god that everyone does believe in is actually more of a force of chaos rather than a god anyone would willingly follow. I’m sure if I knew more about the Hindu gods hierarchy, I could find a parallel, but as it is and because this god’s agenda is so clear, she’s just another character in the book, albeit a very powerful one. Her antics reminded of the worst of humanity. I suppose this is fitting as gods are really just reflections of ourselves.

I was also interested in the author’s use on the societal caste idea. Similar to India’s historic caste system, the people in this world are divided. Not only is one’s magical talent or skill defined by your caste, by birth, but so is one’s physical appearance. Breeding between castes is not allowed, so those among a certain caste have very similar physical traits. While the use of this rigid caste system might be off-putting (it was for me, at first) and heavy-handed (it is), I think the author uses it well to tell his story of finding one’s own path regardless of what the world tells you to do.

However, there are more significant problems with this book. The beginning is festooned with massive info-dumps and lengthy descriptions of each person and their caste abilities and traits. It got a bit hard to follow. I often had to backtrack a few paragraphs to remind myself what it was that was going on before the author made a tangent into the world’s history. Another thing I found really annoying was the swearing.

Wait, back up.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t mind swearing in my fiction. As long as it serves the story and is true to the characters, a bit of swearing is fine. I guess, it wasn’t the fact that there was swearing in this book that was annoying to me, but how the swearing was done. The author used “fragging” instead of the word we all know the character would say.

Which leads to a wider problem in the book.

While describing locations, the author often resorted to using our world-specific descriptors (i.e., knotty-pine paneling, firefly lamp, hurricane vases, etc). As far as I can tell, this book’s story-world is not a far flung futuristic setting on earth (our primary world), but rather a fictional, secondary world. So, why use ‘bastard’ freely, but not the f-word? Put another way, if the author was willing to use details like knotty-pine, then why not the f-word? Why change it to “fragging”?

Every time I saw “fragging” (which gets used a lot), I mentally rolled my eyes and thought, just use the word you want to use. For my part, use world specific-terminology or not. Waffling between the two just annoyed me. I know, this complaint seems petty, but the specific use of language did pull me out of the story several times.

If these two problems (the info-dumps and the swearing) were the only problems, I wouldn’t even mention them, but then there’s the fact that the book ends with a cliffhanger, there are a couple of deus ex machina moments, and a host of typos that regularly tripped me up.

It may seem that I do not like this book. But despite all my complaints, A Warrior’s Path, at its core, has some interesting and worthy characters. And the themes the book explores, racial unity, reaching beyond societal norms, and even a bit of faith, are relevant to a reader like me. I found myself drawn to each character’s plight, even the crazy god and the leader of the evil Sil Lor Kum.

Should you read it? I’ll let you decide. I know I am interested to see this story to its end.

Book Review: Golak

This review originally posted on SFFWorld.com.

Golak is Part 1 of The Deadlands Trilogy, a story set in a post-apocalyptic near-future society reeling from a collapse due to ecological, scientific, and political catastrophes. Our main character is Jonah, a young man on the cusp of becoming an adult who fights every rule set before him by his elders. Living in a small, enclosed, god-fearing and sheltered community, this breeds trouble for Jonah and his family.

The story begins with an attack on their village. The golaks, the result of terrible genetic experiments, approach the village walls pleading for food and help. The villagers, along with Jonah and his brother, attack the golaks, driving them off.

In the process, Jonah kills two of the golaks who look a lot like a woman and child instead of the monsters he expected. After the ordeal, once everyone is safe behind the village walls, they realize Jonah’s younger sister, outside the walls grazing her cow, has been taken by the fleeing golaks.

A search party is organized, including Jonah, his estranged brother, and another village boy who is slated to marry Jonah’s sister. They scour the nearby woods, but do not find her. Jonah is convinced if they just keep at the golak’s trail, they’ll find her. Jonah loves his sister and will do anything to save her, but the elders in the search party determine it is too late. The girl is lost. They order that everyone turn back before it gets too dark.

Against their wishes, Jonah and the other village boy run off in the night to hunt the golaks and find where they are. Early the next morning, they find them in a cave, but there is no way he and his friend can hope to enter their lair and/or fight off the golaks, who are described as, basically, ugly neanderthals.

After a long day waiting for the golaks to go back into their cave, Jonah and his friend rush back to the village for reinforcements. Again, a group is organized but Jonah is not allowed to go. For his initial disobedience, he is told he can not go and so he waits.

The party returns, but everyone who had gone are terribly affected by what they have seen and though they have Jonah’s sister’s body, she has been beaten and tortured. She is not the same person and she clings to her betrothed, barely able to function.

The story continues with a devastating turn of events that will scar Jonah for the rest of his life. And throughout his sister’s recovery, Jonah’s mind is reaching for answers about himself and the world around him. Answers that no one will give him.

The society he lives in is based on fear, secrets, and the suppression of knowledge. All things Jonah continually butts his head against while he searches to help his sister and the village. This long, searching story ends with a series of disturbing and horrific revelations about who Jonah is and what he will become.

The author is a seasoned writer in Denmark. Though I read a translation, it is clear that Ms. Josefine Ottesen knows how to draw out the most emotion out of a scene. Many times I found myself on the verge of tears and a few times I shut down my Nook, angry with a decision Jonah’s father made or furious over the self-imposed impotence of his mother. Ms. Ottesen knows about secrets and the harm they can do and she yielded that idea to its fullest in her book. And for a young adult book, I was so happy to see the adults in the book portrayed as flawed (oh, deeply flawed in this case) characters and not used as stupid props to push our hero’s story along.

Despite all this book has going for it and even though I managed to finish this lengthy novel, in the end, I found this book most off-putting.

Incest and inappropriate sexual relations run amok in the town, as does the male-dominated culture that determines not only behavior but marriages, often favoring the men. Women have self-regulated themselves to willing sub-participants in a patriarchal society. In addition, they use religion in its most controlling form to proliferate fear and ignorance. If that’s not enough to leave a very bad smear on your brain, there’s poor Jonah’s fate that will leave you truly horrified.

In my opinion, the story’s greatest failing is all the waffling. Boy, does this boy waffle.

Does he follow his heart and mind, learn new things and improve the village as best as he can, or does he follow the orders from his elders, do as he is told and show no individuality or special knowledge?

Jonah struggles with these questions for the entire book. One day he exalts in learning new things and the next he is self-admonishing himself to be more like those around him. He is a perpetual pendulum and at times during the story’s narrative, I got confused as to whether he was in his manic I-can-do-anything-phase or his depressed I-must-do-what-I-am-told-phase. In fact, I think even the author got confused somewhere in the middle of the novel.

Regardless, the author does do a good job of making us feel how hard and terrible the young man feels about himself and his place in the world. I felt his anguish and was truly sorry for him (and especially his sister). I wanted the boy to rail against his elders and his family for demanding that he be anything but himself.

In the end, however, someone else makes that decision for him.

In a fit an anger over the loss of something special to him, he strikes out, sealing his fate as an outsider. I was very disappointed that Jonah didn’t come to the conclusion to leave on his own, but rather it was thrust upon him by the actions of others, and his uncontrolled reaction to that action. I guess, that’s true to life, but I had wanted it to be his decision to leave that repressive society and not a default condition based on an irreversible action.

APOV (atheist point of view):

This was a very hard read for me. The story characters surrounding Jonah made me sick to my stomach. From the women kowtowing to a new form of religion to the men taking advantage of their god-given right to guide their folk as they saw fit. The harsh community they set up seemed designed to deliberately punish themselves for what they saw as their failings in society. It is hinted that many of the elders in this group had direct knowledge or were somehow responsible or a part of what caused the collapse or shift in society. They all agreed that going back to a repressive, patriarchal society would be the right thing to do, would set things proper, and ensure that their offspring did not make the same mistakes as they did.

Really? That’s your premise? The best these highly intelligent and educated elders could come up with was re-inventing Christian doctrine at its worst?

Ug. Again, the thought just made me sick to my stomach and Ms. Ottesen does not shy away from playing out that premise to its fullest. From physical to mental control, the elders were the real monsters in this book and not the genetically altered. It really drove home to me why religious dogma is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Given the distasteful setting, Jonah not making his own decisions, and the fact that it took an incredible amount of words to get to the end, this is a book that did not leave me wanting more of Jonah’s story, even though I think it is a story worth telling.

Book Review: The Cutting Room The Complete Season

Review first appeared on SFFworld.com.

This is one of those amazing finds on Amazon that make it worth slogging through all the ‘less than perfect’ self-published novels. Once you start reading, this book is hard to put down. But before I start gushing too much about this time-travel tale of mystery and deception, allow me give you a rundown of the story.

Initially released as a serial, The Cutting Room’s first section introduces the reader to Blake Din’s world, a world where a boy is on the cusp of being brutally murdered – again. But Blake has traveled back in time to stop it.

Okay, wait, back up.

Not our timeline. That’s Primetime, and strictly off-limits. No one goes back to mess with Primetime, but havoc can and does ensue in earth’s multiple, parallel timelines.

So why is Blake visiting a parallel universe to save one boy? Is one boy’s life worth the potential ripples of change that could drastically change that timeline?

Well, yes, it is, because the killer is from Primetime and preying upon the multiverse. It’s Blake’s, along with a cadre of time-travel agent’s, job to stop them.

When Blake arrives a week before the death of that six-year-old boy, his task is to find the killer before the killer can carve up the boy. Blake stakes out potential suspects using 1970’s technology and his instincts. He gets close, but he’s running out of time. He does the one thing that he shouldn’t – contact the victim. Together, the boy and Blake manage to allude the murderer. But when Blake returns to Primetime, his superior informs him that the boy ends up dying anyway. More than ten years later in his timeline, he has a fatal car accident.

Did Blake fail or was his death just fate?

Blake intends to find out. In the process, he tells us his own fate and it includes dinosaurs.

We travel with our hero to a futuristic world where Blake and his new partner, Vette, have seven days to thwart another murder. They soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that spans multiple timelines. They fail at saving their target, but they don’t give up. In the third part of the series, they travel as far back as the western frontier town of Brownville in hopes of finding the criminal time-travelers that are unraveling that timeline at the source of their meddling. The two find they are always one step behind the criminals. Blake and his partner try to outsmart the rogue elements, but only after spending a lifetime together do they get close to the answer.

A first person narrative that is steeped in hard-boiled detective language, I fell hard for our hero. For me, he’s a great character. Blake Din is nothing like most modern detectives we see on TV or in our fiction. He doesn’t have a drinking problem (thank goodness!), nor is he constantly chasing skirts. He’s smart, dedicated and does right by whomever he encounters. He’s just a good guy up against impossible circumstances. He wants to set the world(s) right. Frankly, he’s the sort I like to read about.

The pacing in The Cutting Room is quick, but the writing is vivid and poignant. I can’t begin to list all the profound and funny one-liners Blake doled out on a regular basis. I laughed out loud many times and was brought to tears a few times, too. Though his writing is spare, the author packs emotion into every scene. When I got to the end of the story, I just didn’t want it to end. Though there is inconsistency in the plot, don’t let it fret you too much. This is a time-travel story, and what time-travel story makes perfect sense? They just don’t. Read The Cutting Room and enjoy the journey through Blake’s many lives. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Book Review: The Eighth Court

This review originally published on SFFWorld.com

11747700This is the fourth book of The Courts of the Feyreurban fantasy series by Mike Shevdon. With a series this long, it is very hard for me to exclude any spoilers. So, you’ve been warned!

For a quick recap, please read my review of the first (Sixty One Nails)second (The Road to Bedlam), andthird (Strangeness and Charm) books to get a sense of how this series has shifted over time. I’ll do a quick summary below (hint: spoilers abound), but there’s so much going on you might get a little lost. My apologies in advance.

The Feyre have long lived among humans. With a strained treaty between them and humans, with one of the Feyre Courts wanting to eliminate humans altogether, and with the fact that Feyre and humans have started interbreeding, there are plenty of problems for our hero, Niall Peterson, to attend to after he realizes he’s one of the dreaded waithkin, the type of aforementioned Feyre that want to end humanity.

Niall Peterson came late to his Feyre powers after suffering a heart attack on the London underground. He’s recently divorced, feeling estranged from his only daughter, and a bit out of shape. He’s saved by Blackbird, a several hundred year old half-fey, but only temporarily. For the entire first book in this series, Niall is running for his life and he’s lucky enough to have Blackbird along to help him (and fall in love with).

In the second book, The Road to Bedlam, the overall conflict between the untainted waithkin and the fey-mongrels (half Feyre, half human) is brought to the fore, introducing a new twist. Feyre lines have gone stagnant and since the High Court (made up of seven lords from the Seven Courts) cannot figure out what to do about it, it seems that the fey have been quietly have a sort of sexual revolution. There are half-breeds everywhere. And a secret government branch has started to use and abuse them – including Niall’s daughter.

In Strangeness and Charm, the story shifts to tell Alex’s (Niall’s daughter) story. She has been traumatized by the events that occurred to her during her government incarceration, and being a teenager, she’s having a lot to cope with. She just wants to fit in somewhere and she finds a group of half-fey peers that are willing to take her in (because they couldn’t manage to kill her). But, unfortunately, that proves disastrous because their leader is trying to destroy the world. However, Niall managers to save us all (again), while he learns more about who he really is and the stage is set for the waithkin to make their move.

Which they do in The Eighth Court. The untainted, pure Feyre, are divided into Seven Courts, but with the emergence of the new half-breeds, another one is proposed so as to deal with the special problems that the half-fey/half-humans pose to the Feyre and to humanity. Blackbird, its de facto leader, is negotiating hard with the other court lords to sort out their differences and actually physically create an Eighth Court to handle all the half-breed’s business.

As a court Warder, sworn to protect all the court lords, with no bias and regardless of court affiliation, Niall is, of course, in the midst of all this sea-change in the Feyre culture. Not to mention Blackbird is his wife and mother to his newborn son. If that wasn’t enough, his daughter falls in love with a colleague. Among all this, the waithkin maneuver events so they can move in and finally do want they have been gunning to do since, well, since forever – take over.

The Eighth Court starts out with a mysterious interchange of information. Someone is betraying the High Court (where all the courts gather to settle differences and plot against each other) and offering Niall’s hide. And from there on out, nothing is as it seems. Niall is pulled between his family and his duty throughout the story, making it hard for the story to gain any momentum. We then get yanked from Niall’s trials to Alex’s growing affections for a man she barely knows, and who may be a 1000 years older than her. But, hey, she’s an adult…more or less. And the prophecy first hinted at in Sixty One Nails comes into play, sealing all their fates, while Blackbird makes one of the biggest mistakes in her life as a lady.

Now, I was really looking forward to this last (I thought it was the last) installment to the series. I had put off reading it so that I could savor the story and the ultimate sword fight that I just knew – just knew! – must happen between Niall and Raffmir (Niall’s waithkin cousin). I even forgave the waffling, disjointed story that is the bulk ofThe Eighth Court, anticipating that the final fight would be worthy of all the unnecessary setup.

Meh.

It wasn’t.

I was pretty disappointed in the end, more of a fizzle than a bang.

After reading, I thought my feelings about this book were too harsh and unwarranted. I thought, maybe it was just me. The story just didn’t resonate with me. But then, while writing this review and re-reading my notes on the previous books, I realized how much fun the other books are. Niall is a great character and his magical ability set him apart from most of the other Feyre and half-fey. Not only that, he really struggled to reconcile his humanity with his fey nature. His story up till this book had been vibrant and interesting. But in The Eighth Court?

Meh.

The first three-quarters of the book seemed very disjointed. We jumped from several POVs in rapid succession, making it hard to figure out what’s going on, Niall managed to get a human killed (right under his nose!), and the dreaded waithkin weren’t all that dreadful.

And to top it off, there were an inordinate amount of typographic errors.

Yup. I said it.

I don’t normally mention typos. They’re like errant nose hairs. Best not to mention them in polite company. And I normally do not need to mention them. Any book worthy of my time to write a review for generally do not contain a noticeable amount of typos. Oh, all books have ‘em. Like zits, it is impossible for a few typos not to squeeze through. But when I find myself highlighting line after line because they contain a typo and not because they are worthy of remembrance, well, let’s just say, I noticed. So, shame on Angry Robot for not putting this through the proofreader one last time.

(NOTE: I did not receive a review copy. I bought my copy at its full price on Barnes and Noble – before Angry Robot’s big sale!)

So, should you read The Eighth Court?

If you are new to Mike Shevdon’s work, I would say no. Mr. Shevdon is an excellent writer. I’m a fan and I will continue to read whatever he puts out, but this book doesn’t reflect his talent. Start with Sixty One Nails.

If you’ve read all the others in this series, The Eighth Court does (for the most part) wrap up all the story threads, and, for some, that may satisfy.

Book Review: Who’s Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Review first appeared on SFFWorld.com.

Who’s Killing The Great Capes of Heropa by Andrez Bergen

Published by Perfect Edge (September 27, 2013)

Jack, an unassuming kid from the street’s of a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, finds himself dropped in a 1940’s era city steeped in glass, panache, and superheroes. And he’s one of ‘em – Southern Cross.

A bit confused and not quite ready, he’s led up into one of the tallest buildings of the city and shown to the lair of the latest heroes trying to keep things in order on Heropa. But Jack soon finds out that nothing is what it seems and the world he had tried to escape from might be better than this superhero filled one, because someone is killing off the capes (both good and bad).

While the resident capes busy themselves with, well, their vanity, Southern Cross takes it upon himself to figure out who it is. Throughout his investigations, we learn more about how Heropa functions and the capes that cause havoc on the city every day. Southern Cross eventually pursues a potential suspect, a blando (a non-superhero in Heropa, and therefore not a real person but a piece of software code). Along the way, he’s joined by a superhero reporter and falls in love with a bank teller.

A homage to the superhero comic book genre, Who’s Killing The Great Capes of Heropa does its best to engage the reader with a fast-paced plot and interesting superhero antics, but fails on several fronts for me. Primarily because I just didn’t see the point of the story. Because it is all set in a virtual world and doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the real world of devastated Melbourne, the story just didn’t feel important to me, even when we find out what really happened to the people who couldn’t make it in Heropa. The second reason is all the tangents on comic book lore. While interesting, there were definitely times I started skimming to get back to the story.

Regardless, Mr. Bergen has a penchant for snappy dialogue and the author does have a vivid imagination that he imparts well to the reader. I can easily recall specific images of some of the scenes of the book as well as some of characters. The Brick is a collection of animated bricks and Bergen’s description of him really brought him to life. And Pretty Amazonia was deliciously creepy. Though the superhero characters might be a bit two-dimensional, they are as unique as the real people behind the masks and are completely relatable. The story line is unpredictable, and I rather enjoyed all the comic book references, though I admit much was lost to me since I’m not a comic book aficionado.

If you can’t get enough of superheroes, then Who’s Killing The Great Capes of Heropa may be one to put on your reading list. It has an unlikely hero in a world awash with superheroes.

Book Review: A God-Blasted Land

Originally posted on Goodreads.

My feelings for this book are conflicted. Every time I see the cover (I have the seemingly generic one featured to the right), there are good things associated with this story. It’s got an interesting premise (gods have not only forsaken this world, but purposely destroyed it), a great mixture of fantasy and science fiction, and it reads well. But then I remember the young-adult story progression, and I shudder. Though I want to continue this author’s The Bastard Cadre series, I just can’t make myself do it. But I will keep this author on my watch list and I look forward to reading any of his more adult-oriented novels.

With that said, let’s get to the story!

The God-Blasted Land is about a young man named Avril. His mentor and guardian drags him around an apocalyptic world that has been Cleansed by the gods. Their world is a mix of fantasy (shape-shifting dragons!) and science fiction (modern cities with motorcycles, cleaning robots, and laser-like guns – oh, and swords, of course).

There’s not much sense to the mix of gods, magic, and tech, but that’s okay because the story is pretty darn good. If you want to enjoy the ride, just ignore the genre-mashup and run with it.

For soon, so too are our heroes running from the gods. Ethan, Avril’s mentor, tries his best to keep Avril from the manipulations of the Lord they are bonded to, but he fails.

This leaves Avril alone and on the run. He encounters a girl, Ranora, who has a special power allowing her to convince people of whatever she wants by just talking to them. They, of course, hook up and now they are both running from the assassins who want to capture Avril and the Lord who wants his bonded man back.

The reasons for both are not entirely explained, but it is hinted that the Lords and gods are manipulating what is left of humanity and Avril is key to those machinations.

This short, entertaining read ends with Avril’s future on the cusp of change. He has returned to his lord, who allows him to decide his own fate. We find out this kid may very well end up fighting the gods.

The author’s writing is professional, clear and easy to follow. This is a quick read and you will most likely enjoy it. Avril, though a bit dense at times, is relatable and Ranora, his new sidekick, is admirable in her determination to avoid the violence around her (though that proves impossible).

APOV: I really loved how the author used the concept of gods in this book. The gods are very real in this universe and they deal directly with their on-the-world avatars (the Lords) and shape humanity in ways that are truly frightening. The gods do not directly control people, but they manipulate them and vie for favor as fervently as you’d expect jealous, attention-seeking gods would do. If gods were real, this is how I’d imagine the world would end up, blasted apart for their amusement. I’d like to think our young hero will save what’s left of humanity by getting rid of the very notion of a god. Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to finish the series to find out…

Overall, for me, it has too many of what I see as YA ‘trappings': Adults are easily foiled (though they are supposed to be great warriors/assassins) by a young adult who can barely keep his thoughts straight. If you don’t mind YA, please do read this book. It’s fun. (And the dragons are super cool.)

The State of The Atheist

Howdy Readers!

2013-Alby

I thought I’d let you all know what to expect on this here blog for the rest of the year. Sort of a state-of-the-blog sort of post.

My aim is to read and review a variety of fiction and non-fiction. Primarily, I focus on books with the following characteristics:

  1. Written by atheists (though I’m not exclusive)
  2. Requests submitted via SFFWorld.com that pique my interest
  3. Things I just want to read (this trumps all, regardless of book review requests and/or whether the author is an atheist)

I post my reviews to the following sites:

  • SFFWorld.com (but only if I think the readership of that site would enjoy the book I read, so that might exclude books that deal specifically with atheist issues or atheism)
  • Goodreads
  • This Blog! The Atheist’s Quill

Occasionally, I’ll also post a review blurb on Amazon.com under my real name. However, it will just be a one-sentence first-impression sort of review.

What’s the likelihood that I’ll read and review your book?

Pretty slim.

Unfortunately, I only read 24 to 32 books a year. That’s two and a half books a month – at best! There are thousands of books I wish I had time to read, but, sadly, there are not enough hours in a day.

Regardless of those scary numbers, take heart. My book reading list for the year is not written in stone. I change my mind quite often and I just might pick up your book to read when I go to bed tonight.

NOTE: if you’ve requested a book review from me, and I’ve accepted a review copy, but you still haven’t seen the review, here are the possible reasons why:

  1. I did not like your book. Sorry. I will not review a book I do not like nor a book for which I cannot get past the first page.
  2. I’m not in the mood for your book. Your book may be great, but it is not grabbing me at the moment. I may read/review it in the future. Maybe.
  3. Your genre just isn’t for me, and would be extremely unfair for me to attempt to review. (No young adult fiction, please.)

With that said, please expect to see two to three book reviews posted here per month.

Thanks for reading.