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Hawkwood and the Kings
Hawkwood and the Kings
by Paul Kearney
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.72
32 used & new from CDN$ 3.55

4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, Aug. 11 2012
I've been meaning to read Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God for several years now, and when the two omnibus editions were released I knew I had no excuse not to. As always, it took a while, but I finally had the opportunity to sit down and read the first omnibus, Hawkwood and the Kings.

Given the excitement and rave reviews regarding this series, expectations were high. I'm glad these books are now back into print, for Kearney truly delivers!

Here's the blurb:

The world is in turmoil. In the east the savage Merduks, followers of the Prophet Ahrimuz, have captured the holy city of Aekir. The western kingdoms are too distracted by internecine bickering to intervene and the Church seems more obsessed with rooting out heresy. It is an age where men go to the stake for the taint of magic in their blood, where gunpowder and cannon co-exit with werewolves and sorcerers. It is the turning point when two get reilgions will fight to the death and the common folk will struggle to merely survive.

The worldbuilding is probably the most interesting aspect of these books. First of all, the story takes place in a world that is more technically advanced than the usual Western European medieval setting. There are canons and firearms, and science is more advanced than in the popular Dark Ages that are so commonplace in fantasy these days. Secondly, Paul Kearney makes religion once of the most important themes of this series, pitting the equivalent of Christinanity against Islam in a war of conquest. With POV characters from both faiths, you witness the tale unfolding through two different perspectives, giving The Monarchies of God a lot more depth. Finally, the exploration of the fabled western continent add a certain South American flavor to the setting.

Known for his brevity, this characteristic of the author sometimes plays against him. Although the story moves forward at a crisp pace and the plotlines are engrossing, I often found myself bemoaning the fact that more information would have given more depth and/or impact to certain scenes. While I certainly wasn't expecting Kearney to turn into Katherine Kurtz, I would have liked more background information to flesh out the Church a bit more, what with it playing such a key role in every major event of the book. The same can be said of Dweomer magic, which is barely explained at all. It's all nitpicking, I know, and yes at times too much is worst than too little. And yet, I feel that elaborating a bit more on various concepts would have been more than a little beneficial to the series.

Though the books themselves may be short, The Monarchies of God is nevertheless a sprawling series with quite a few layers. The characterization reflects that, with a number of POV characters through whose eyes we see the tale unfold. That variety of points of view really elevates Kearney's work to another level. Some of the supporting cast could use a bit more fleshing out, but the main protagonists are a three-dimensional bunch for the most part. To all ends and purposes, it might be Richard Hawkwood and King Abeleyn's story, but Corfe, Albrec, and Avila play pivotal roles in what is to come. I particularly enjoyed the Merduks' perspective. With several cliffhangers before the end, it will be interesting to see what is to become of most of the protagonists in the sequel, Century of the Soldier.

Since this omnibus edition is comprised of Paul Kearney's Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings, it doesn't read like one of those doorstopper fantasy novel, but like two short and relatively fast-paced books. The rhythm is fluid throughout, without a single dull moment from start to finish. The author may have gone a bit over-the-top with his naval expertise, but that's his prerogative. It certainly gives the novel a more genuine feel.

If you are looking for something different, Kearney's The Monarchies of God could be just what you need!

Recommended.

The Prince of Mist
The Prince of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice YA read, Aug. 11 2012
This review is from: The Prince of Mist (Paperback)
Having thoroughly loved both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, I can't wait for Carlos Ruiz Zafón to release the newest installment in that series. As a rule, you know I usually try to steer clear from YA material. But when I received a package containing the English translations of two of Zafón's early works aimed at the young adults' market, my curiosity was piqued.

As soon as I was done with George R. R. Martin's multilayered A Dance With Dragons, I knew I needed to read something light. Hence, Zafón's The Prince of Mist appeared to be just what the doctor ordered.

Here's the blurb:

It's wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village where they've recently bought a home. But from the minute they cross the threshold, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners' son, who died by drowning.

With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the strange circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called the Prince of Mist--a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden--an adventure that will change their lives forever.

Although the original story takes place in a town on the southern coast of England during WWII, the author opted for a more generic location for the translation. As is habitually his wont, Zafón's evocative prose paints a vivid picture that makes the town and its characters come to life.

I don't know how he always manages to do it, but Carlos Ruiz Zafón's characterization is the most incredible aspect of this novel. The main protagonists, Max, Roland, and Alicia, are all well-drawn characters. But the supporting cast features a number of intriguing and three-dimensional characters in their own right. By some unfathomable means, the author can, in a paragraph or three, introduce you to an endearing character that echoes with depth. This was the case with both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, but it's even more impressive in a work in which Zafón didn't have that much room to manoeuver.

Zafón's tale brought me back to my early teenage years. If you have ever been forced to move suddenly as a child and your life was turned upside down, The Prince of Mist will bring back lots of memories. Growing up, family, and time are themes which are explored in this book. Although it's a lighter read meant for a younger public, you can nevertheless see the genesis and echoes of a number of storylines that will make the author's future international bestsellers such unforgettable reading experiences.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's writing style and tone make for a pleasant read. One might think that some of the plotlines are a bit predictable, yet true to himself Zafón has a few unexpected surprises up his sleeve.

To a certain extent, The Prince of Mist is a coming-of-age story which demonstrates that your entire life can change during the course of a summer. The pace is fluid throughout, which means that you'll go through this novel in a sitting or two.

If you are looking for a light yet rewarding read for your summer vacation, you might want to consider Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Prince of Mist.

The Quantum Thief
The Quantum Thief
by Hannu Rajaniemi
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.82
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and fast-moving read, Aug. 11 2012
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Paperback)
Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief garnered rave reviews when it was released in the UK last year. Some went as far as to claim that it was the very best science fiction debuts in years.

Sadly, I never received a review copy of the UK edition, so I relished the opportunity to finally give it a shot when the American version ended up in my mailbox.

And although it is a fun and entertaining read, I felt that far too many of the concepts were underdeveloped in a way that prevented this work from being as memorable as it could have been.

Here's the blurb:

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist, and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy— from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he’s confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him.

Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turnedsingularity lights the night. What Mieli offers is the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.

As Jean undertakes a series of capers on behalf of Mieli and her mysterious masters, elsewhere in the Oubliette investigator Isidore Beautrelet is called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur. . .

The Quantum Thief is a crazy joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people communicating by sharing memories, and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as MMORPG guild members. But for all its wonders, it is also a story powered by very human motives of betrayal, revenge, and jealousy. It is a stunning debut.

Rajaniemi's debut is a hard scifi offering, yet it doesn't read like one. It's more of a character driven science fiction book, making it easier to read and more accessible than regualr hard scifi novels. Problem is, we are bombarded by concepts and ideas throughout the book, especially at the beginning. There is obviously much more depth than meets the eye, but the author offers basically no explanation regarding these. Hence, all the concepts that make The Quantum Thief such an interesting and thought-provoking read, turn out to be so underdeveloped as to rob this work of most of what could have made it a great read. It is a good read, mind you.

But I have a feeling that depth was sacrificed for the sake of a fast-moving rhythm. Hence, though The Quantum Thief is a complex and inventive work filled with wonders, the book doesn't hit you with the knockout punch that I expected. Rajaniemi left the door open for various sequels, so here's to hoping that the forthcoming installments will shine some lights of that panoply of concepts and imbue these works with more depth.

Hannu Rajaniemi's storytelling skills are right up there with the best writers of the genre. His witty narrative was reminiscent of Scott Lynch's, making this one a joyride to flip through. The characterization was well-done and focuses on the three main protagonists: Jean, Mieili, and Isidore. Mieil could have used a bit more depth, but the other two principal characters are surprisingly well-drawn.

The Quantum Thief moves at a breakneck pace. On the upside, this means that there is never a dull moment from start to finish. The downside would have to be that depth in regards to worldbuilding and characterization was sacrificed, lessening the impact many of those aspects could and should have had for the sake of a quick rhythm.

In the end, The Quantum Thief is a fun and fast-moving read. But the lack of depth and development prevent this one from living up to its full potential.

Embassytown
Embassytown
by China Mieville
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
31 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A chore to get through. . ., Aug. 11 2012
This review is from: Embassytown (Paperback)
Well, this one was a chore, no question about it. Had I not been reading this during my trip through the Southern Balkans and had access to my collection, I would never have finished reading this novel. It's been a while since I've been this underwhelmed by the work of a quality author.

Oddly enough, at first I was thoroughly captivated by the premise of the book. The first portion of Embassytown had me enthralled and I felt that this one could potentially make me miss out a couple of nights of drinking and mingling with fellow travelers. But the middle part slowed down to an atrocious crawl, boring me out of my mind. It got to be so bad at one point that I considered quitting. Only the fact that this was written by China Miéville kept me plodding on.

Here's the blurb:

Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.

Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie.

Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.

And that is impossible.

As I mentioned, I found the whole premise based on language to be fascinating at first. Miéville does an awesome job when it comes to setting the mood. As is usually his wont, Embassytown and its environs take on a life of their own, almost becoming characters in their own right.

The two main themes appear to be language and colonization. I feel that Miéville did a good job with the introduction of those concepts within the narrative and how closely the themes are linked in the overall plot. Trouble is, the execution throughout as the tale progresses was clumsy and uneven, killing what seemed to be a number of engrossing storylines as the plot goes nowhere for about 150 pages.

I don't believe that it was due to the fact that the project was too ambitious. Miéville starts the novel with panache and the story immediately captures your imagination. The author also brings this book to a satisfying end, so the novel is not all bad. But for some unfathomable reason, Miéville sort of gets lost in the middle portion of Embassytown and it takes forever for him to take control once more. I have a feeling that the entire premise would have worked better as a conceptual exploration of themes. The novelization of said themes, at least within the pages of Embassytown, didn't quite work the way Miéville probably envisioned them to. God knows it left this reader totally underwhelmed. . .

The characterization was also an issue. Avice as a first-person narrator could not convey the depth of the themes explored in this book. Surprisingly, though this is a first-person narrative, we learned very little about the main protagonist. I for one could not care less about her. Hence, witnessing events unfolding through her eyes likely didn't help at all. Still, it's weird how captivating her narrative could be at the beginning, as Miéville paved the way for what was to come, and then become so uninteresting as we reach the middle part of the novel.

The pace left a lot to be desired. As mentioned, everything flows well in the first hundred pages or so. But then for some unknown reason, the middle portion of Embassytown kills the momentum of the book. And the novel never gets its rhythm back. Miéville closes the show with style, but the damage was done.

In the end, it's not just a pacing issue. As a whole, I felt that the characters, the various plotlines, and the oh-so-important language aspects were decidedly underdeveloped. The premise and the early parts of Embassytown made it look like a brilliant work. Sadly, the lack of execution and the underdeveloped facets of this novel prevented Embassytown from being as good as it was meant to be.

Disappointing and at times frustrating. . .

Choices of One: Star Wars
Choices of One: Star Wars
by Timothy Zahn
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
38 used & new from CDN$ 1.96

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice to have Zahn back!, Aug. 11 2012
It's been quite a while since I read a Star Wars book. More than six years, actually. After reading Matthew Stover's lackluster adaptation of the lackluster Revenge of the Sith, I was in no hurry to give another Star Wars book a shot.

But when the ARC for Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: Choices of One showed up in my mailbox, something about it piqued my curiosity. Zahn brought me back to Star Wars during my senior year of high school when Heir to the Empire was first released. And though I haven't read Zahn's Star Wars novels since Vision of the Future came out, I've always had a sweet spot in my heart for the author's work set in the Star Wars universe.

And since the story occurs between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I knew I could read and enjoy this one without having read the countless Star Wars offering that have flooded the market over the years.

Here's the blurb:

The fate of the Rebellion rests on Luke Skywalker’s next move.

But have the rebels entered a safe harbor or a death trap?

Eight months after the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion is in desperate need of a new base. So when Governor Ferrouz of Candoras Sector proposes an alliance, offering the Rebels sanctuary in return for protection against the alien warlord Nuso Esva, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are sent to evaluate the deal.

Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand, is also heading for Candoras, along with the five renegade stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment. Their mission: to punish Ferrouz’s treason and smash the Rebels for good.

But in this treacherous game of betrayals within betrayals, a wild card is waiting to be played.

I've read a lot of Star Wars books over the years, yet I feel that no other author has ever been able to truly capture George Lucas' vision the way Timothy Zahn managed to do. A couple of pages into Choices of One, and I was immediately drawn back to my youth and enjoying every minute of it.

Though readers familiar with the Star Wars universe may get more out of this novel, fans of the movies will nonetheless be in for a pleasant reading experience. Sure, you might be unaware of the existence of Mara Jade and the renegade stormtroopers known as the Hand of Justice, but the story features enough familiarity to satisfy anyone. And it might even entice some to go back and read a few other Zahn Star Wars titles. I know that's the case with me. . .

Set a few months following the Battle of Yavin, although the action takes place in a number of unknown systems, readers both old and new to the Star Wars universe will feel comfortable with the various environments featured in Choices of One. The worldbuilding doesn't intrude on the tale and remains in the background. Zahn provides what information one needs to follow the story's progress, but little else is needed.

The characterization was my favorite aspect of the novel. Understandably, Zahn has it a bit easy, what with his working with beloved protagonists from both the films and the multitude of books set in Lucas' universe. An innocent and do-gooder Luke who remains a kind-hearted dumbass; Han and Leia, bent on antagonizing one another because they cannot come to terms with the fact that they are attracted to each other; Chewie, whose succint growls carry a lot of meaning; a younger Thrawn, rising star among Imperial officers; Mara Jade, the Emperor's Hand; LaRone and his stormtrooper crew. Put all these ingredients together and the recipe can't be anything but good. Yet add to that an array of secondary characters comprising a pleasantly surprising supporting cast, and you have yourself a nice Star Wars romp!

As fun and entertaining as Choices of One turned out to be at the beginning, it seemed to suffer from a decidedly linear plot which would be a bit predictable. But with a won-over crowd, who would care, right? Wrong. Timothy Zahn switches gears in the middle, unveiling a more convulated and hence more satisfying story arc which added another dimension to this book. Moreover, the ending sets the stage for The Empire Strikes Back.

Choices of One will not blow your mind. But if you are looking for a fun read featuring familiar faces you have grown to love; if you are looking to recapture the essence of what made you fall in love with the first movie trilogy in the first place; then Choice of One just might be the perfect summer read you've been craving!

Legacy Of Kings
Legacy Of Kings
by C S Friedman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.90
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling conclusion to a superior series!, Aug. 11 2012
This review is from: Legacy Of Kings (Hardcover)
Okay, label me baffled. Thoroughly so. . .

To my uttermost dismay, C. S. Friedman's The Magister trilogy remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. How the heck a quality series by the bestselling writer who brought us the fan-favorite The Coldfire trilogy could remain so underrated for the last couple of years, I think I'll never know.

And yet, for some reason, both Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath flew so low under the radar that it appears that no one but a selected few have read these novels. Problem is, this is Celia S. Friedman writing at the top of her game. Indeed, the first two installments of series raised the bar to such heights that I felt that, should the final volume live up to my lofty expectations, we might soon refer to The Coldfire trilogy as the author's other fantasy series.

Question was, could Legacy of Kings possibly live up to the promise shown by its two predecessors? Well, let me just tell you that Friedman not only delivered, she hit this one right out of the park. Hands down, Legacy of Kings is definitely one of the best speculative fiction titles of the year! The author brings this series to a close with panache, demonstrating yet again that she deserves her place among the most talented -- and underestimated -- fantasy authors writing today.

Here's the blurb:

What will future minstrels sing of the days leading up to the final battle?

They will sing of the Souleaters with their stained-glass wings, who feasted upon the life-essence of mankind and brought down the First Age of Kings. And of the army of martyrs that gathered to fight them, led by the world's last surviving witches. By fire and faith they herded the great beasts into an arctic prison, where the incessant cold and long winter's darkness would rob them of strength, and hopefully of life. And the gods themselves struck the earth with great Spears, it was said, erecting a barrier born of their Wrath which would hold any surviving Souleaters prisoner until the end of time. For forty generations the Wrath held strong, so that the Second Age of Kings could thrive. But it was not truly a divine creation, merely a construct of witches, and when it finally faltered the Souleaters began their invasion.

They will sing of the Magisters, undying sorcerers who wielded a power that seemed without limit, and of how they were bound by their Law to the fates of mortal men. But no minstrel will sing of the secret that lay at the heart of that dark brotherhood, for no mortal man who learned the truth would be allowed to live. The Magisters fueled their sorcery with the life-essence of human consorts, offering up the death of innocents to assure their own immortality. Perhaps that practice was what corrupted their spirits, so that they became innately hostile to their own kind. . .or perhaps there was another cause. Colivar alone seemed to know the truth, but even his most ancient and determined rival Ramirus had not yet been able to pry that information out of him.

They will sing of Kamala, a red-headed child destined for poverty and abuse in the slums of Gansang, who defied the fates and became the first female to learn the art of true sorcery. But her accidental murder of Magister Raven broke the brotherhood's most sacred Law, and even her reclusive mentor Ethanus dared not give her shelter any longer. Forced to masquerade as a witch, she traveled the world in search of some knowledge or artifact that she might barter for her safety, so that she could bear the title of Magister openly and claim her proper place in the brotherhood of sorcerers.

They will sing of Danton Aurelius, who ruled the High Kingdom with an iron fist until the traitor Kostas brought him down. They will craft lamentations for the two young princes who died alongside their father, even as they celebrate the courage of Queen Gwynofar in avenging her husband's death. Alas, it was not to be the end of her trials. For when prophecy summoned her to Alkali to search for the Throne of Tears, an ancient artifact that would awaken the lyr bloodline to its full mystical potential, the gods demanded her unborn child in sacrifice, and later her beloved half-brother, Rhys.

They will sing of the Witch-Queen Siderea Aminestas, mistress of Magisters and consort to kings, whom the sorcerers abandoned when her usefulness ended. And of the Souleater who saved her life, at the cost of her human soul. Vengeance burned bright in her heart the day she fled Sankara on the back of her jewel-winged consort, seeking a land where she could plant the seeds of a new and terrible empire.

They will sing of Salvator, third son of Danton Aurelius, who set aside the vows of a Penitent monk to inherit his father's throne, rejecting the power and the protection of the Magisters in the name of his faith. Songs will be crafted to tell how he was tested by demons, doubt, and the Witch-Queen herself, even while the leaders of his Church argued over how he might best be manipulated to serve their political interests.

And last of all they will sing of the confrontation that was still to come, in which fate of the Second Age of Kings -- and all of mankind -- would be decided. And those who hear their songs will wonder whether a prince-turned-monk-turned-king could really save the world, when the god that he worshiped might have been the one who called for its destruction in the first place.

As intriguing and rich in details as its predecessors, the worldbuilding aspect makes Legacy of Kings resound with depth. Hard to believe that Friedman could tie all the loose ends in a single book, but she does it with flair as she reveals how every single thread from the previous two volumes are all part of a grand tapestry of plotlines woven together. Secrets about the Souleaters, the Magisters and their origins, the lyr blood, the Wrath and those who live beyond, Colivar's past, Kamala's true nature, the Penitents, and many other unearthed truths are revealed as the story progresses, raising the bar higher and higher as the plot moves forward toward Friedman's most satisfying and rewarding finale to date.

The characterization is head and shoulders above what currently the norm in the genre these days. Legacy of Kings features a great balance between various POV characters, allowing the readers to follow unfolding events through the eyes and perceptions of a disparate groups of protagonists. I felt that the balance achieved in Wings of Wrath was close to perfection, yet that of Legacy of Kings is even better. Believe me when I say that it doesn't get much better than this! Hence, the narrative shifts through the POVs of Kamala, Colivar, Queen Gwynofar, Ramirus, Salvator, first Penitent king, and the Witch-Queen Siderea. Most of these characters were already well-defined, but Friedman outdid herself while fleshing them out even more in this final installment. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of secondary characters that nevertheless play an important role in the bigger scheme of things. I don't that there is a single scene I would have cut out from this novel.

C. S. Friedman has that damnable tendency to keep you begging for more, making many of her books true page-turners. With all the key elements established in Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath, Legacy of Kings is the culmination of all those various storylines coming together at last. Tightly focused in terms of plot, Friedman's endgame might be her best paced novel yet. Events and revelations keep the story moving at a brisk pace, forcing you to devour chapters after chapters. Still, even though the rhythm is fluid from start to finish, a number of poignant moments manage to get to you when you least expect it.

This is likely C. S. Friedman's best work to date. And considering that this woman wrote the celebrated Coldfire trilogy, that's really saying something. But as far as worldbuilding, plot, characterization, and pace are concerned, The Magister trilogy is superior to the Coldfire trilogy. Indeed, her latest series is more ambitious and features a more tightly plotted overall story arc and an almost flawless execution throughout. I believe that the only thing that will always set The Coldfire trilogy apart from most of its peers is the relationship between Gerald Tarrant and Damien Vryce, two characters that will probably live on in our collective memories for years and years. Most authors will never create protagonists which will somehow manage to capture the imagination the way these two have. So it would be unfair to expect Friedman to somehow find a way to do it again. Hence, though there are many memorable characters populating The Magister trilogy, none of them will live on the way Gerald Tarrant has in the two decades since Black Sun Rising was published. Having said that, in every other facet, even the characterization taken as a whole, The Magister trilogy is everything The Coldfire trilogy was, and then some!

While everyone is taking about Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and many others, C. S. Friedman wrote one of the very best -- and perhaps the best -- fantasy series of the new millennium. Maybe it's time more people give it a shot. . . Just saying. . .

Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear will by far be the most popular Daw title of 2011. But believe you me: it won't be the best. Legacy of Kings and its two predecessors deserve the highest possible recommendation.

Legacy of Kings delivers on basically all levels. It will definitely be one of the fantasy novels to read this year.

The White-Luck Warrior
The White-Luck Warrior
by R. Scott Bakker
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.30
12 used & new from CDN$ 2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Great sequel!, May 2 2011
This review is from: The White-Luck Warrior (Paperback)
As was the case with The Judging Eye two years ago, I would like to thank R. Scott Bakker for giving me the opportunity to be the first reviewer to get a crack at The White-Luck Warrior. Usually, I refuse to read books on my computer screen because it makes my eyes bleed. But for the second installment in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, I was happy to oblige!

Here's the blurb:

As Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his Great Ordeal march ever farther into the perilous wastes of the Ancient North, Esmenet finds herself at war with not only the Gods, but her own family as well. Achamian, meanwhile, leads his own ragtag expedition to the legendary ruins of Sauglish, and to a truth he can scarce survive, let alone comprehend. Into this tumult walks the White-Luck Warrior, assassin and messiah both, executing a mission as old as the World's making '

The White-Luck Warrior is a story filled with heart-stopping action, devious treachery, grand passion and meticulous detail. It is both a classic quest tale and a high fantasy war story.

Given that The Judging Eye had all the hallmarks which made the first trilogy such a great reading experience, minus what many considered its shortcomings, I felt that it featured a Bakker writing at the top of his game. Still, many opined that the philosophical aspects and the inner musings were what essentially made the Prince of Nothing stand out from the rest of the SFF pack, and were thus a bit disappointed by the first volume in The Aspect-Emperor. So where does The White-Luck Warrior fit in in terms of style and tone? I would say that it is somewhat in between the Prince of Nothing and The Judging Eye. The absence of interior action, as Bakker put it, made for a much better paced novel in The Judging Eye. Hence, the return of that particular facet does affect the rhythm of The White-Luck Warrior, especially in the portions of the book dealing with Achamian and Mimara's POVs. Overall, I would say that that, in format and pace, this novel reads much like The Warrior-Prophet did.

The worldbuilding is once again top notch. Bakker's narrative is richly detailed, creating an imagery that leaps off the page. The Middle Eastern setting of the western Three Seas remains a welcome change from the habitual medieval environments found in most fantasy sagas. But the author takes us to various unexplored locales in The White-Luck Warrior, which makes this one even more interesting. The evocative depiction of the wastes of the Istyuli Plains, the primeval forest known as the Mop, the ruined remains of Kûniüri, where the first Ordeal set out against Golgotterath, continue to make the universe of Eärwa resound with depth. Add to that the fact that the narrative and certain events shine some light on the kingdom of Zeüm and its traditions, as well as that of the Nonmen kingdom of Injor-Niyas and its mysterious capital of Ishterebinth, and you have proof that Bakker's creation is head and shoulder above most SFF settings on the market today.

As I mentioned above, the pace is an issue in certain portions of the tale. The White-Luck Warrior features three principal story arcs: the Great Ordeal, the expedition to Sauglish, and the New Empire. I found the New Empire story arc, which focuses on the events occurring in Momemn and the western Three Seas, to be much better paced than the other two. The rhythm is crip throughout the chapters dedicated to those storylines. The other two arcs are fundamentally travelogues meant to get the protagonists in position for what is shaping up to be one grand finale. Nowhere does The White-Luck Warrior suffers more from the middle book syndrome than in these two story arcs. Though I must admit that it doesn't take anything away from every plotline associated with the Great Ordeal. The narrative may drag a bit in certain parts of the story, but all in all, even if the pace is indeed slower, everything that has to do with the Great Ordeal was pretty much awesome. It is the Sauglish story lines which truly drags for the better part of the book. After taking center stage in The Judging Eye, the aftermath of Cil-Aujas doesn't quite capture the imagination the way Achamian, Mimara, and the Skin Eaters' arc did in the first volume. Regardless of that setback, true to form, Bakker closes the show of that particular arc with a bang. Still, taken as a whole, the Sauglish expedition suffers from a decidedly sluggish rhythm compared to the other two main story arcs.

The philosophical aspects and the inner musings may slow down the pace of the novel, yet it does improve the characterization by fleshing out the various protagonists more. The New Empire arc features the POVs of Esmenet, Kelmomas, the White-Luck Warrior, and a new character: Malowebi, Emissary of High Holy Zeüm. The departure of the Aspect-Emperor has left the empire vulnerable, and Zeüm is considering supporting Fanayal, the Bandit Padirajah, in his quest to destroy Kellhus.

One thing about House Anasûrimbor: it's one crazy family. If you thought the Osbournes were dysfunctional, wait till you get a load of the Anasûrimbors! One good thing about The White-Luck Warrior is the fact that all the living children are part of the narrative. Hence, although only Kelmomas is a POV character, you do get to know Moënghus, Kayûtas, mad Inrilatas, Serwa, Grandmistress of the Swayal Sisterhood, and Thelipoa. An unexpected turn of events means that we'll also get to see some of them even more in the final volume, which should be interesting.

The Great Ordeal features the POVs of Nersei Proyas and Varalt Sorweel. Some portions of the narrative, especially those dealing with the march and the battles are written through the eye of a neutral narrator. Sadly, Proyas' point of view appears to be present only to be a lens through which we try to figure out Kellhus. Once more, the Aspect-Emperor is not a POV character. Essentially, most of what has to do with the Great Ordeal is seen through the eyes of Sorweel. I have to admit that I wasn't too fond of the kid in The Judging Eye, but he did evolve into a major power player in this second volume. It was evident that Bakker had a lot in store for him (why else make Sorweel a POV character?), and we now see that he will have a major role to play in the outcome of the Great Ordeal. His many discussions with Zsoronga ut Nganka'kull also help him grow as a protagonist and it gives the Successor-Prince of Zeüm more depth.

The Sauglish expedition features the POVs of Achamian, Mimara, and another character which must remain anonymous for now. Mimara's point of view allows the reader to learn more about her past and how the Judging Eye works. Unfortunately, Achamian isn't as fascinating in the early stages of The White-Luck Warrior as he habitually is. After the incredible escape from Cil-Aujas, perhaps I was expecting too much out of his narrative. But their harrowing ordeal took a lot out of all of them, and the crossing of the Mop and the rest of the journey to Sauglish will take the entire party to the brink of death. Fear not, however, for in the end, Achamian's awesomeness returns to close the show with style. Seswatha's Dream also changes during the course of their journey, baffling Achamian with strange visions he cannot puzzle out.

Even if at times the rhythm can be a factor, I thoroughly enjoyed The White-Luck Warrior. My only complaint would have to be that I expected the Consult to play a much bigger role in this second installment. Their nefarious influence can be felt behind the scenes, true, but I was expecting them to play a more direct role in the events chronicled in this book. Another matter would have to be the White-Luck Warrior himself. The original title was supposed to be The Shortest Path. The title change made me believe that the White-Luck Warrior would be an important player in this one, while you only see him sporadically for brief periods of time. So I feel that changing the title created expectations that some readers might find off-putting.

Other than that, I think that The White-Luck Warrior is everything Bakker fans could hope for. Revelations about the Consult and the Dread Ark, the Nonmen, Kellhus' plans, Incariol's identity, the White-Luck Warrior, tantalizing hints about the Black Heavens, Fanayal's schemes, etc, will keep you begging for more! Regardless of the fact that the finale and its aftermath raise as many questions as it provides answers.

The coming year could well be one of the best in speculative fiction history. With authors such as George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and a bunch of others all releasing a new novel next year, trying to guess which title will top the list is impossible. But one thing's for sure: R. Scott Bakker's The White-Luck Warrior will be one of the fantasy books to read in 2011!

Bring on The Unholy Consult!

The Wise Man's Fear
The Wise Man's Fear
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.51
36 used & new from CDN$ 23.14

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice sequel!, May 2 2011
This review is from: The Wise Man's Fear (Hardcover)
Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind was released with much fanfare in 2007. Indeed, this debut enjoyed both commercial and critical success. The Name of the Wind became the bestselling fantasy debut in hardcover format of all time, beating both Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule and George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. The novel won the Quill Award and cracked the top 10 of the New York Times Bestsellers list in paperback. All in all, it was everything any author could ever hope for.

Based on the fact that the first draft of the entire trilogy had already been written, readers expected The Wise Man's Fear to be released the following year. Based on Rothfuss' answer in his first interview, his growing legions of fans were persuaded that the entire trilogy would be out by 2009:

Well.... I've already written them. So you won't have to wait forever for them to come out. They'll be released on a regular schedule. One per year.

You can also expect the second book to be written with the same degree of care and detail as this first one. You know the sophomore slump? When a writer's second novel is weaker because they're suddenly forced to write under deadline? I don't have to worry about that because my next two novels are already good to go.

Unfortunately, as many authors will tell you, life got in the way, forcing Patrick Rothfuss and his publishers to push back the release date of The Wise Man's Fear time and again. Following several postponements, Daw Books officially announced that the book would be released in early 2011. But as was the case with Martin's A Feast for Crows, the intervening years have raised readers' expectations to an incredibly high level. And the question was: Would The Wise Man's Fear be worth the wait?

So was it, in the end, worth the four years it took to be published? Let me set your mind at ease. For those who enjoyed The Name of the Wind, you can safely go ahead and pre-order The Wise Man's Fear. It's everything its predecessor was, and then some! However, if you weren't thrilled by Rothfuss' debut, then I believe you need not bother with the second volume. Style-wise and plot-wise, regardless of the fact that the storylines are a bit more ambitious, there is likely nothing that can win over readers who were not that impressed with The Name of the Wind. In terms of style and tone, both novels are pretty similar. So I doubt that The Wise Man's Fear can satisfy readers that weren't enchanted by the first one. But for fans of the author, buckle up! It should definitely scratch that itch!

Here's the blurb:

In The Wise Man's Fear, Day Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, forced to reclaim the honor of his family, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe.

In The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.

The structure of the book is the same as that of The Name of the Wind. The better part of the novel recounts Kvothe's past and is told in the first person. The interludes, on the other hand, occur in "real time" and employ a third person narrative. I recall finding that specific structure a bit odd in Rothfuss' debut, but it works well in The Wise Man's Fear. It feels as though there are more interludes in this one, but I could be mistaken. While it's evident that many of these interludes will pave the way for the second trilogy to come, at times they felt a bit redundant and unnecessary. Especially since many of them break the momentum of the narrative, just as things are getting really interesting. Like unwanted commercial when you're watching a particularly good movie on TV. . .

Before going further, I also wanted to address something that's been appearing on many message boards on the internet. Patrick Rothfuss has often claimed that The Wise Man's Fear would feature more sex and violence than what his fans have been accustomed to in the past, and many readers have been wondering if they would find that offputting. In retrospect, it all depends on what sort of speculative fiction works you usually enjoy. If, à la Brandon Sanderson, you can't abide swearing and the depiction (in any shape of form) of sexuality, then perhaps you might find certain scenes offputting. There is nothing graphic, degrading, or low-brow about those sequences, mind you. Sex is part of life, and thus it is also part of this tale. Regarding the violence, there's very little of it. Nothing to write home about, to tell the truth. All in all, if you are a fan of authors such as George R. R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, Joe Abercrombie, and Richard Morgan, what sex and violence you'll find within the pages of this book barely warrant a PG-13 label.

It's also been said that a more sexually active Kvothe was sort of a wish fulfillment thing on Rothfuss' part. It's been compared to that of Guy Gavriel Kay with bearded characters. Keeping that in mind as I read along, I would have to agree on this. For a redhead male, Kvothe sure gets an inordinate amount of action in The Wise Man's Fear. And if you had trouble believing that Archie could have both Betty and Veronica, you may raise an eyebrow on more than one occasion in this second volume. Having said that, it's simply something that will make you smirk from time to time, and it doesn't take anything away from the reading experience.

In terms of worldbuilding, the cover blurb hinted at a lot more in The Wise Man's Fear, so my curiosity was piqued. Rothfuss played his cards rather close to his chest in The Name of the Wind, and I was hoping to learn more about the world and its societies in this one. Sadly, yet again, the author offers us a few glimpses of the depth of his creation, yet he appears to be always holding back. Granted, Rothfuss elaborates on a lot more in this novel, which never fails to get the reader to hope for even more. That's good, no question, but Rothfuss rarely follows through with more revelations. To a certain extent, that was at times a disappointment, especially given the length of this book. I would have thought that the tale would have expanded a lot more in scope and vision, yet always you get the feeling that Patrick Rothfuss is holding himself back.

Oddly enough, what is perhaps the book's most impressive aspect could also be its biggest shortcoming. Rothfuss has an amazing eye for details. His fluid prose and evocative narrative make the story come alive, creating an imagery that never fails to dazzle. And yet, it could be that Rothfuss is too in love with his creation and spends an excessive amount of time describing the minutiae of Kvothe's mundane life instead of focusing on the greater scheme of things. As I mentioned, Rothfuss does it exceedingly well, and it makes the story leap off the page. But overdone, it's simply overkill.

Which then leads to pacing issues, precluding the story from progressing in a meaningful way in several portions of the novel. The Wise Man's Fear starts slow. How slow? Slow enough for Patrick Rothfuss to make Tad Williams look like Mike Tyson. And it's mainly due to the fact that the author spends about 400+ pages re-establishing facts from The Name of the Wind. Yes, Kvothe is poor. Yes, he has to play music to make ends meet. Yes, he has problems paying his tuition fees and must borrow money from dubious sources. Yes, he is a smartass. Yes, the Masters hate him. Yes, he's kind of a dumbass with women, especially Denna. Yes, there is trouble brewing between him and Ambrose. Nothing new under the sun. . . We're talking about a character who will kill a king and experience all sort of wonders. He'll go through harrowing ordeals and become one of the most notorious hero/villain the world has ever seen. So do I want to read another chapter featuring Kvothe crafting more sympathy lamps to help pay for tuition? Simply put: no.

Not that there is no meaningfull or important stuff within those chapters. Far from it. But I feel that a 3-page "What has gone before" section would have allowed Rothfuss to concentrate on those specific plotlines and probably save himself about 300+ pages of things we already knew. In addition, rehashing all that material means that there is very little sense of escalation, very little tension. In a sense, The Wise Man's Fear doesn't truly kick in until we are done with the University part. That's when the story kicks into high gear and where Patrick Rothfuss truly shines. Only then do we really realize that The Name of the Wind was no fluke. At that point, the tale that would make Kvothe the man he'll become begins in earnest.

I will not spoil the tale by unveiling anything that the blurb hasn't already revealed. But I really enjoyed how Kvothe's unending search for the Chandrian will bring him to attempt to uncover the secrets of the mysterious order of the Amyr. The time spent both with the Adem mercenaries and in the faerie world were also quite engrossing, if a bit overdone. Kvothe's time with Felurian is probably the most flagrant example. Yet that's just nitpicking, in the end. The last two thirds of The Wise Man's Fear are extremely good. They give us an idea of the breadth of the author's talent and imagination, hinting at a lot more to come.

My main complaint would have to be that for a work of its size, given its length The Wise Man's Fear doesn't move the story significantly forward the way George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords, Steven Erikson's Memories of Ice, and Robert Jordan's The Shadow Rising did with their own series. Could be that volume three will be for all the marbles. We'll have to wait and see. It might be that Rothfuss attention to details and certain would-be extraneous plotlines will pay unanticipated dividends in the final installment of the trilogy. Time will tell. . . But at face value, it looks as though, like its predecessor, The Wise Man's Fear is decidedly overlong.

Once more, this second volume is a character-driven book. As a first person narrative, it can't be anything but that. There is some character growth where Kvothe is concerned, yet less than I expected. Still, I figure that what he goes through in the last portion of the novel will help shape him into the figure he is destined to become. The supporting cast, though bigger than that in The Name of the Wind, is composed of a relatively small number of protagonists. Unfortunately, Denna remains as annoying as ever, and if they keep it up she and Kvothe will soon dethrone Perrin and Faile as the most exasperating couple (or pseudo couple) in fantasy.

In the end, if you liked The Name of the Wind, you will love The Wise Man's Fear. Indeed, although both books suffer from the same shortcomings, Patrick Rothfuss managed to take it up a few notches in this one. Hence, you are less likely to find the pacing issues and my nitpicking offputting in any significant manner. For those who had problems with Rothfuss' debut, however, this one might not be for you.

The Wise Man's Fear is a solid and accessible fantasy work. Whether or not it lives up to the high expectations the many delays engendered remains to be seen. But based on his loyal and enthusiastic fanbase, I'm pretty confident it will! Now let's just hope that it won't take four years for Patrick Rothfuss to complete the final chapter in this quality series.

Wild Cards I
Wild Cards I
by Wild Cards Trust
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.87
35 used & new from CDN$ 1.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How it all began. . ., May 2 2011
This review is from: Wild Cards I (Paperback)
Having loved the latest Wild Cards triad (Inside Straight, Busted Flush, and Suicide Kings, I was curious to read about how it all began. And with Tor Books reissuing the original Wild Cards installments, I wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity.

Here's the blurb:

Back in print after a decade, expanded with new original material, this is the first volume of George R. R. Martin's Wild cards shared-world series.

There is a secret history of the world'a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces'those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers'cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo'winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

I remember being concerned about the mosaic novel format when I first read Inside Straight, fearing possible glitches in terms of continuity, consistency, chronology, style and tone. I was worried about how the individual stories would fit and further the plot of the overall story arc. But as was the case with the last triad, the various plotlines are woven together almost seamlessly, and the entire cast of writers involved in the production of this book maintain an even style and tone throughout.

This expanded edition also features new material that could potentially clash with the stories which were more than two decades old. And yet, had I not known that this was the case, I would never have been able to tell you which is which. In retrospect, the addition of new voices and stories provide even more depth to this collective work.

My favorite aspect of Wild Cards I is that it is also somewhat of a social commentary of about four decades of American history. It begins with post-WWII America, and we then follow the evolution of the Wild Cards virus and its repercussions on Aces and Jokers and the American and international psyches through the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the hippie movement, the Kennedy assassination, etc, all the way to the 80s.

It starts off with a bang as Jetboy tries to prevent a tragedy in the skies above New York City. And then we are taken for a ride throughout about forty years' worth of Americana experienced through the eyes of a disparate group of individuals touched by the virus.

As fun as it is intelligent, Wild Cards I will satisfy readers in myriad ways. Beyond being a political and social commentary, the opening chapter of the Wild Cards sequence is a rousing tale of unlikely heroes.

Newbies wanting to sample George R. R. Martin's labor of love for more than twenty years should look no further. Though the latest trilogy could be read as a stand-alone meant to attract new fans into the fold, new readers like me couldn't possibly get all the nuances. But with Wild Cards I, you find out how it all began with no ambiguity.

Give it a shot if you are looking for something different. You won't be disappointed.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
by Mark Hodder
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
56 used & new from CDN$ 0.73

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read!, May 2 2011
This novel has intrigued me ever since I received the ARC from Pyr a few months back. I knew I was going to read it , but I had no idea when. Then, after reading Mark Hodder's guest blog post for the Hotlist, my curiosity was piqued even more. So when I had to select what novels to bring with me to South America, Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as far as vacation reading is concerned.

Here's the blurb:

London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton'explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne'unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.

Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!

One thing about this book is that it's incredibly hard to label it. Yes, it is steampunk. But it is much more than that. There are alternate history/alternate reality elements throughout. The time-traveling aspect brings a definite science fiction aspect to the story. Add to that a number of fantastical elements and you've got yourself an inventive melting pot of speculative fiction staples that should intrigue and satisfy even the most jaded genre readers!

Mark Hodder did a very good job in capturing the essence of this pseudo-Victorian Age with its myriad mannerisms and nuances. Moreover, Hodder's colorful narrative creates an imagery that brings this tale to life. The dialogues are witty and engaging, and there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

The characterization was probably the facet I enjoyed the most. Both Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne are well-drawn characters, though the former more than the latter. The supporting cast has a few endearing protagonists, chief among them Constable William Trounce. And last but not least, the presence of many historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and more add a little something to an already compelling novel.

The pace is fluid enough, though there are a few rough spots here and there. The only problem I had was with various POV shifts with no clear breaking point within the narrative. It doesn't take anything away from the overall reading experience, but it does take you by surprise from time to time.

Although to some it may sound as "same old, same old," Mark Hodder's take on steampunk is fresh and entertaining, and I'll be reading the upcoming sequel in the near future. If it's as fun a read as The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, then it will undoubtedly be a very good read!

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