26 June, 2013

Review - The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

After reading a bit of the initial commentary on this book, some people mentioned that maybe there was a little too much focus on the magic system. Being a huge Sanderson fan, my thoughts were along the line of: there's no way, his magic is THE reason I love his novels, there's literally NO way.

As it turns out, there does seem to be a way, although only just a bit.

The magic of The Rithmatist [US] [UK] is as creative as ever. I've mentioned this before and I'll say it again, Sanderson's magic really takes on a life of its own in any of his books. I love the characters in any given book, but it's the magic that makes me want to live in the world forever. I want to see the magic used in every possible way and situation. And yet he tends to hold it back a bit. The "lashings" in The Way of Kings is only mentioned on a couple pages and I wanted to see the armor more and more. The whispers and colors in It's always so interesting and creative, I never thought I could ever tire of a Sanderson magic system.

Until The Rithmatist. Although I don't proclaim to have read all his works (still have Mistborn to read). It's not that it isn't as good as any other magic system Sanderson has created, it's more that it's actually overused for once. As I said above, I normally can't get enough, but here the main protagonist, Joel, is obsessed with Rithmatists. So it's all he can talk about. And it's third person limited on Joel, so it's all we hear about. And he lives at a school, half of which is devoted to Rithmatists. So it's all we hear about.

So besides the fact that I started to cringe every time the word "Rithmatist" was used, the plot is pretty standard and it has the standard YA characters. The mean professor (Snape), the students breaking the rules to save the day (Harry/Hermione/Ron), the uppity magicals versus the non-magicals (muggles), etc. 

That is, until all these great mysteries are revealed and hinted at at the very end of the book. I have a feeling the next book will really get things going, but this installment was really just a prelude to set up the magic and the lay of the land with the United Isles archipelago. 

Just to reiterate, the magic is excellent. The Rithmatists defend against wild chalklings who are two-dimentional creatures that attack and kill and must be contained at The Tower in Nebrask. Rithmatists use shapes drawn in chalk to both defend and attack by using geometric points of circles that must be drawn with exactitude or they will become weak. It's so well-thought out, it boggles the mind to see all that has gone into this and no wonder it gets mentioned over and over, it takes that long just to understand the different defenses that are used.

Sanderson has a reputation for great magic for a reason and demonstrates yet again why he has earned it. He's also created a vivid world full of technology powered by gears ("gearpunk" as Sanderson mentions in the afterword) and mysteries that abound. The magic is a bit over-explained and the plot is a bit stock in this first installment, but I'm really looking forward for what's to come because what's been hinted at here demands more reading.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)

15 June, 2013

Winner - King of Thorns Giveaway

We have a winner for our King of Thorns [US] [UK] giveaway, sponsored by the author himself, Mark Lawrence. And the the winner is:

Emile Planting from the Netherlands

Congrats Emile and thanks a ton to all who entered.

13 June, 2013

Review - Rough Magic (GnomeSaga #1) by Kenny Soward

Of all the fantastical peoples and races, creatures and magics, I've read I've never read a book that even contained a gnome let alone displayed one as its main character(s). I haven't even seen the movie Gnomeo and Juliet about garden gnomes.

So you can imagine my intrigue when I was offered a copy of Rough Magic [US] [UK], book one of the GnomeSaga, by one of my friends here on Goodreads. I was both intrigued and highly interested to see how a world of Gnomes works together. It turns out, it works pretty well.

Almost immediately we're introduced to some creatures that can only be compared to something out of China Mieville's imagination. They're strange, weird, gross (like really icky gross), and completely captivating. I had to read more. 

After a compelling prologue, we jump into the bulk of the story of Niksabella, the tinkerer, and her brother Nikselpik, the magician/addict (to bugging, another highly imaginative, yet repulsive creation). This is where the story slows down quite a bit. It's interesting, but it felt like a lot of that could have been cut out to make it more streamlined. I was also confused about the ages Nikselpik and Niksabella. He was really old but she seemed young even though they grew up together. I mean it's believable, but it also felt like she was treated young. I know it was going for poor, but I couldn't shake the young feeling too. This was however, nowhere near a game-changer, just a passing thought here and there.

Even through the slow opening, the characters are interesting and it's never to the point of being too slow that you wouldn't want to continue. Niksabella is a tinkerer who invents useful items, but who is stopped at every turn by the powerful guilds who control patents. Her POV introduces some of the magic, but more importantly the level of technology. The world is actually technically advanced in certain ways although for the most part it is more medieval and you can see why when powerful people are threatened by the likes of Niksabella and her obviously important work.

As a small note (the smallest of side-notes), the technological progress and magics are probably intended to be unique to gnomes, but nothing really stood out or was explained as being particularly gnomish or being due to gnomes as opposed to what any other race could be doing. 

Nikselpik is another great character who is hard to pin down at first. He seems irresponsible and untrustworthy, but sometimes he surprises. He was probably my favorite character because he was so diverse and his characterization is well done. I wanted to keep reading him every time. 

As far as gnomes go, I'm definitely looking forward to reading more. Kenny Soward has created a unique and fascinating world that will both surprise and astound you. If you're looking for something new and completely different, look no further.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended!)

Note: I have to add that for an independently published book, this was extremely well edited, especially when it comes to line edits. Kudos to Nine Worlds Media. I counted maybe two or three typos/spelling errors throughout the entire book and any large house has a couple errors every other page.

10 June, 2013

(audiobook) Review - The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand

The word "review" might be stretching what this actually is. It's more of a rambling story of my history with Stephen King and The Stand. Here's my review.
I know that was the longest way in the history of anything to say, wow, what a good book. From the rise of the super-flu to the dawning of a new civilization and the ever-overshadowing and always looming confrontation, this was one epic read. Not for the faint of heart (or even close – The Kid, just think of The Kid!), but definitely an experience not to be rivaled.

08 June, 2013

Giveaway: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Actually you'll get the new black cover.
Mark Lawrence has offered to send a copy of the new King of Thorns, book two in the Broken Empire trilogy, paperback to one lucky winner. I highly enjoyed both Prince (review) and King of Thorns (review) even though I found them challenging at times and would recommend them to you as well if only to take on the challenge.

Emperor of Thorns, the conclusion to this trilogy, is easily one of my top five most anticipated new releases of this year, so what a better time to get ready for the August release than now?

This giveaway will be open worldwide, well at least mostly since Mark has limited it to "everywhere except Mangazeya!" A lost city just can't catch a break. :)

Giveaway Rules

If you are interested in getting your hands on the King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, then follow the exceedingly simple instructions below.

E-mail me your name and address at onlythebestsff@[removethis]gmail.com, with "King Kong of Grimdark" as the subject of the email (or at least something that lets me know what the email is about). This goes without saying, but double emails get you disqualified.

Snarky comments increase your chances of winning and win bonus entries for future giveaways. I'm happy to say this is open WORLDWIDE as long as delivery doesn't require the mounting of an expedition into remote wilderness.


05 June, 2013

Review - Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1) by Brian McClellan

Guns, Germs, and Steel... well, minus germs...and probably not so much economics... oh and plus magic. 

Okay that was not even remotely applicable. Why would anyone think that even made any sense? That doesn't make sense, they're not really even close, what is wrong with me?

Pretty early in my reading of Promise of Blood [US] [UK], I said, "An investigator looking into a mystery, an assassin-type chasing a mage, and then Tamas, just Tamas. I look forward to every POV, how is that even possible?"

I can't say this really changed throughout the entire book. There's one small POV that's in addition to the above that adds a little bit of suspense, but mostly seems like a set up for the next installments in the series, but it doesn't deviate from the above sentiment.

The cover of the book says, "The age of Kings is dead ... and I have killed it." Promise of Blood begins when the coup has already occurred. Field Marshall Tamas has displaced the king just in time to save the country from a ruinous contract with a neighboring state. The next step is the hard part, gathering up the nobles and establishing the new government. The cover quote comes quickly and doesn't even sound lame, which I was very impressed with. That was a very cool introduction to Tamas.

So already, we know there's political intrigue, but you can't get too far without noticing the magic systems involved in this series. There's a magic centered around gun powder, which is definitely one of the unique draws, but there are also other types of magics that are more traditional and I liked that it's not all explained right away. It's all very natural as it fits into the world.

There's an interesting relationship between the different magical cabals involved and of course they don't all get along very well. The powder mages really take center stage as they are some of the main point of views and they're just really cool. They can not only manipulate bullets so they can round corners (Wanted), but the powder itself has a magical effect on the user that is also much like a drug, enhancing senses and increasing abilities.

The magic fits seamlessly in a napoleonic fantasy world with the same types of technologies of the time such as the printing press and well...guns. In addition, through the limited point of view characters, we begin to see that there's much more than a coup and it's inherent difficulties (riots, hangings, etc.), the king's cabal of mages has hinted at a much greater problem and hence the investigator mentioned above.

McClellan can't seem to be mentioned without his former teacher, Brandon Sanderson, but it's hard not to. Brian McClellan is like a grittier Brandon Sanderson, great story with interesting characters and a unique magic system. It's not nearly to the level of Joe Abercrombie, but on its way there, hence why I think it's closer to Sanderson on the spectrum.

The writing is also on par with his mentor, it's perfect for the story told. I think there's something to be said about writing that's not flashy, almost as if it emphasizes the story much like why you should only use "said" for dialogue. (This gets my meaning too.)

It's amazing that Promise of Blood is a debut because McClellan already seems like a seasoned author. There's no doubt in my mind he has a long career ahead of him with or without mention of his writing teacher.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.