31 May, 2011

Review - The River Kings' Road: A Novel of Ithelas by Liane Merciel

While visiting the rival's city of Willowfield, the Lord of Bull's March, Sir Galefrid, has been ambushed by a dark magic only a Thorn could wield. The entire town is decimated, except for Brys Tarnell, who is able to escape just before the bloodmist fully takes its toll.

The coincidences and timing make it hard to believe it's only the workings of a Thorn and its bloodmagic. Sir Kelland, a knight of the Sun, blessed to work magic in the goddess Celestia's name, and Bitharn, hopelessly in love with Kelland, are asked to investigate by the Lord of Langmyr and governing province of Willowfield who had hoped to enter peace talks with the rival lord, Sir Galefrid.

Set in my favorite subgenre, that of secondary world epic fantasy, The River Kings' Road [US] [UK] is the first in the series of Ithelas (the second, Heaven's Needle [US] [UK], having been recently released).

As Peter William mentions in his review, there's a lot of competition (or maybe just a lot of books) in this subgenre with the very easy possibility of good works being lost in the sea of junk. Luckily for me, I have friends that know a good thing when they see it.

I still can't believe this was a first novel for Liane Merciel. Her prose is crisp and the pacing is perfect. I was deeply involved with the characters, and even her antagonists are hard not to like, or at least respect, they reside in a nice gray area.

The magic is centered around certain rituals that invoke a goddess' power. The Thorns' magic is based around their worship of the goddess of pain, so their rituals are pretty sick and twisted indeed. Kelland, as a knight of the Sun, has certain magical abilities which, like the Thorns, aren't completely explained, but also based in ritual (although more inward than the Thorns' outward pain infliction).

This brings up a great point that sets Merciel apart. Not only is her magic something different than the usual, but her entire story isn't run-of-the-mill either. There is no quest, but the world she's created is mysterious and vast nonetheless.

Once you get past the confusion at the beginning, mostly in trying to figure out which town belongs in which kingdom and who's on whose side, The River Kings' Road is a very satisfying read.

Why Read River Kings' Road?

Liane Merciel deserves much more credit than she has received until now and I hope her audience continues to grow and grow. I really enjoyed her debut, The River Kings' Road, and I'm extremely excited for the next installment, Heaven's Needle. Highly Recommended!

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it!)

Check out an interview with Liane Merciel at Speculative Book Review.

Copy provided by Simon and Shuster Pocket

27 May, 2011

Vacation - Happy Summer!

I guess I should apologize for the lack of posting lately. I recently finished another semester (only one more year to go!) and I've since moved to start an internship...which ended up falling through. Since school let out, I've been searching for something else I can do until my second (and much more solid) internship starts in July.

...and now I'm going on vacation, because why not, I have some time on my hands and Lake Powell is calling my name. We have a house boat we're headed to, endless amounts of water skiing, wakeboarding, sky skying (see below), and hopefully even a decent amount of reading time.

I have a couple reviews scheduled while I'm gone (and it's only for a week anyway), but now you'll know why things aren't getting fixed if there's any problems with them. :)

25 May, 2011

Review - Thrall by Steven Shrewsbury

I had such high hopes for this one. Thrall [US] [UK] has a great cover and a great premise, what's not to love? I highly enjoyed David Gemmell's Legend - also dealing with an aged hero - and I really didn't think I could go wrong.

Sadly, something went wrong.

Here's a quote I made on Goodreads when I was almost done:
"Can't say I'm enjoying this too much. Even though I realize it's character-driven, there's still not enough worldbuilding. Awkward wording left and right, like, "Kayla returned to her work, but this time, her pale fingers shook. For some reason, she couldn't stop this action." I wanted to like this so much, great ideas, but poor execution."

I commented that there's not enough world-building and that may not even be saying enough. I knew going into this somewhat short book (under 300 pages in trade paperback) that it was heroic fiction, so I already wasn't expecting a lot in terms of the world and instead a focus on the characters.

The focus was almost completely on the characters, but even going so far as to not even set up a scene. Sometimes the characters would be discussing their next move or explaining some type of history and without any set up of the world around them, it seemed to me they were taking a break in the middle of nowhere to just "talk this out".

This resulted in a somewhat awkward pace, if only the author had set the scene a bit more, it wouldn't sound like info-dumping.

Then there was the awkward phrasing as mentioned in my Goodreads quote. The oddest phrases and descriptions were given left and right. From above: "...for some reason she couldn't stop this action". There were many instances of this type of word usage. It wasn't that it didn't make sense, it was just not a great description.

I didn't hate Thrall, I enjoyed the aged warrior, Gorias La Gaul, but then again he wasn't easy to like immediately. He goes about killing almost haphazardly, especially at first and there's no real motive behind it except that he's this big tough hero that can't be stopped even in his old age.

I can't say I'd recommend Thrall by Steven Shrewsbury, but I'm also the type that likes a lot of detail - i.e. John Marco, Susanna Clarke, etc. If it sounds good to you and you don't mind this lack of detail, you'll probably enjoy this...at least more than I did.

2 out of 5 Stars (Just OK)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

21 May, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises - First Image

From thedarkknightrises.com. Tom Hardy (from Inception) as Bane.

Here's a sweet fake trailer as well:

17 May, 2011

Review - Machine of Death - Part 1 (of 3)

I have always had a hard time with anthologies. I enjoy them, but I have a short attention span and therefore get through only a few before I move on to something else. This in no way means I don't like what I'm reading. Therefore, this is part 1 (of 3) of my review of Machine of Death [US] [UK]. I hope to get to the rest soon...ish. :)

I couldn't pass up reading this collection of stories based on the idea that there is a Machine that has been created that can predict how you will die based on a blood sample you give it.

Many are extremely thoughtful and some have a type of ironic twist because you can't always take your card at face value. Although don't always look for an ironic twist, only a few go that route and it's easy to start thinking all of them approach the topic similarly.

As with most anthologies I read, I'll take them a few stories at a time, as the mood strikes. Below is what I've read so far:

• “FLAMING MARSHMALLOW,” by Camille Alexa. This takes the Machine of Death idea to High School. Not bad, but nothing great either. 3/5

• "FUDGE," by Kit Yona. Didn't seem to go anywhere. I wasn't a huge fan. 2/5

• “TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS,” by J. Channing Wells. I really liked this story, it took a pretty funny look at the situation where the main character becomes obsessive about his death card. It talks about the insurance industry declining because of this, but I didn't buy it. A) The "when" is still unpredictable, and B) Avoiding your death can lead to it just as easily as not - this is sort of a refining of (A). 4/5

• “DESPAIR,” by K. M. Lawrence. I was captivated with the ideas in this one. It involves doctors making choices with the death cards in mind. 4/5

• “SUICIDE,” by David Michael Wharton. Can the future predicted on the cards be changed? That's what this story asks...and answers. 4/5

• “ALMOND,” by John Chernega. Almost a history of the "machine" told in a series of journal entries. Interesting and nice twist at the end, but almost too long for what it was trying to accomplish. 3/5

• “STARVATION,” by M. Bennardo. Two soldiers are stranded in the jungle. What would you do if you knew how your were going to die and you were stranded? Would make anyone crazy I think. Great story and idea. 5/5

• “CANCER,” by Camron Miller. This story adds to the world, but only slightly. Otherwise pretty worthless. 2/5

• “FIRING SQUAD,” by J. Jack Unrau. I loved this story...at first. The suspense is addicting, and then the ending wraps up terribly. 4/5 stars changed to 2/5 stars in an instant.

• “VEGETABLES,” by Chris Cox. Really funny tale, great addition. 4/5

• “PIANO,” by Rafa Franco. Very interesting tale with an ironic twist. Knowing how he's going to die, the main protagonist becomes fearless toward anything else. 4/5

• “HIV INFECTION FROM MACHINE OF DEATH NEEDLE,” by Brian Quinlan. I've already written more words than this story contains. Classic. 4/5

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

13 May, 2011

Star Wars Accessory For My Stage in Life

For the savvy Star Wars fan who wants to get his/her kid started out right in life:

Here's a picture of my little guy...hopefully he'll be cruisin' in one of the above soon:

12 May, 2011

David Gemmell Legend Awards

Sorry if you've received this/seen this post before, blogger has been down and doing some funky things the last couple days.

This is probably my favorite award, yes it's a popularity contest, but it's all the books I actually love.

And the voting is up and going!

Here are the shortlists:
Legend Award - Best Fantasy Novel

Ravenheart Award - Best Fantasy Art Cover

Does anyone know anything about Tymon's Flight? I've had my eye on it for a while now and especially since it's up for two awards, I think I might try it out.

11 May, 2011

Winner Winner: Shadow Chaser

Another winner in the long line of... winners. Congratulations to Shawn C. from whichever state IA might be. I kid, I kid.

Far from being randomly selected, Shawn went to great lengths to win this contest. Sending me naked pictures and a plane ticket... thanks Shawn, but I will have to pass. In addition to going above and beyond with the aforementioned items, Shawn also entered a succinctly humorous little diddle, answering the contest entry question: WHERE DID THE DRAGONS GO?!

They locked themselves in their trailers until they get their rewrites. "No longer will I play the villan" said Xaran the eviscerator. He continued "I graduated at the top of my class from Juillard and to be typecast again and again is just insulting."

Xaran, acting as spokesperson for the Dragons, tried to keep the press conference on topic but was derailed when the questions turned to virgin sacrifice after the creature attempted a smile exposing a bloodstained white gauzy dress wedged between his front teeth.

The dammage was done. The dragons disappeared, not to be seen again. We were left only with the unfortunate last words, "you call us the monsters when it is YOU that made virgins so delicious!" 

So there you have it! Congratulations to our latest winner on winning such a gre... mmmm. Well, on winning a book.

10 May, 2011

Review - Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk

This book is one of those that's been floating around for the last couple months and it finally arrived on my doorstep the other day. It is also one of the reasons I'm so glad I'm a Goodreads member, I never would have known about it otherwise.

I can't do a better synopsis than this:
"After a reality bomb goes off at the first ever ShatnerCon, all of the characters ever played by William Shatner are suddenly sucked into our world. Their mission: hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner. Featuring: Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, Priceline Shatner, Cartoon Kirk, Rescue 9-1-1 Shatner, singer Shatner, and many more. No costumed con-goer will be spared in their wave of destruction, no red shirt will make it out alive, and not even the Klingons will be able to stand up to a deranged Captain Kirk with a light saber. But these Shatner- clones are about to learn a hard lesson . . . that the real William Shatner doesn't take crap from anybody. Not even himself."

Shatnerquake [US] [UK] is everything the description gives and more. It's complete ridiculousness and I loved it. The body count is high and the characterizations of each of Shatner's characters is great for the most part. I wish they were a bit longer and more developed, but it worked enough to recognize the characters and that's what the author seems to be going for.

A Shatner character will just show up, perform a couple mannerisms and leave without a description of who it actually is. If I were a more well-versed Shatner fan I would have recognized more, but this helped:

At only 83 pages (which starts on page 11), Shatnerquake is well worth the experience. Definitely recommended!

4 out of 5 Stars

09 May, 2011

Review: Consider Phlebas, by Iain [M] Banks

Consider Phlebas [US][UK] is the first installment in Iain M. Banks’ Culture series. The book is set in a far distant future amid a conflict between two advanced races, namely the Culture and the Idrians. The former is a post-scarcity galaxy spanning civilization in which humans and sentient AIs, or Minds, coexist. This is Space Opera at its finest ladies and gentlemen, so buckle down and enjoy.

The Culture is a meddling civilization. It interferes in the development of others to steer them on the ‘right’ path. Far from being a moral imperative, the Culture’s interference is based principally on statistical analyses of other civilizations development. If you do X, there is a 97% probability that your society will destroy yourself within the next thousand years. That kind of thing.

The humanoids and Minds that belong to that branch of the Culture responsible for contact with developmentally challenged civilizations are creatively named Contact. Within Contact there is a highly secretive group called Special Circumstances. Feared and revered, they are the sharp edge of the sword when it comes to civilization ‘meddling’.

With all that background now behind us, let us delve into Consider Phlebas in all of its glorious detail. Our protagonist is a Changer, a species able to completely change itself to mimic others. Hired by the Idrians to impersonate a high ranking government official on a target world, the novel opens with Bora Horza Gobuchol, our protagonist, dying a slow and humiliating death.

The manner of his death requires a little explanation as it most assuredly ranks in the top 10 sci-fi deaths in terms of creativity. Horza is tied, standing up, in a small room in the basement of the royal palace. A room slowly filling with water that, wait for it, comes from flushed toilets throughout the building. Yep, death by royal sewage. Good times.

Horza is rescued at the last minute by his Idrian handler for a very special mission. A Culture Mind has crashed on a planet guarded by a post-physical being that allows none but a select few onto the planet. Since the Changers, of which Horza is one, are allowed an outpost on the planet, it is thought the he might be able to capture the mind and bring it back to the Idrians.

Much adventure ensues, which I will not spoil for you. But, before I leave you to run to the bookstore, a few more general thoughts on the novel and the Culture series as a whole.

First, Mr. Banks goes to great lengths to get the details right. From descriptions of new cultures to hyper advanced technology, the reader is allowed to suspend disbelief with such mastery that even Space Opera virgins will be sucked into the narrative, never to return. But there is bleakness and sadness in the Culture universe, which serves to temper the limitlessness of possibility in a hyper-advanced post-scarcity universe.

To delve a little deeper, what I mean, and what I think Mr. Banks was trying to convey, is that our flawed humanity will forever be a part of us. And while technology can serve to temper and moderate, it simultaneously accentuates and encourages our darker temperaments.

All in all a stunning debut to a truly memorable series.

This review is brought to you by me, as part of my ongoing (re)read of the Culture novels

04 May, 2011

(Audiobook) Review - The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (Reread)

Seanchan, argh!!! I forgot how much I hate them.

Just as good if not better than the first time through as I can see all the "threads" (get it) that have been established for lots of great things to come. Also, Audiobook is definitely the way to do a reread as I don't have that terrible feeling that I'm neglecting everything else, plus I don't think I'll get worn out when it comes to the middle/slower volumes.

As I mentioned in my Eye of the World review, this is just where I write down a few things so I can later keep track of in what book which events take place. This one's not quite as intensive, but if you want a great run-down on what happens in The Great Hunt, go here.

***Spoilers (as to The Great Hunt, not the rest of the series)***

Lots of time spent in Fal Dara with training followed by Trolloc/Fade/Dark Friend attack on Fal Dara which leads to the Great Horn being stolen. The 3 boys set out with Ingtar to retrieve it, the womenfolk proceed to Tar Valon to begin their training, Egwene and Nynaeve meet Elayne for the first time. While following the Shadowspawn with the Horn, Rand, Loial, and Hurin are transported through a portal stone where they meet Selene/Lanfear and Rand kills Grolm.

They end up in Cairhien finally (days ahead of Ingtar, Mat, Perrin, Verin Sedai and g
roup) where The Great Game is played and where everyone thinks Rand is really good at it. He's eventually invited by every noble in town until finally the King and the Damodreds, the most powerful families around. It is found that the Damodreds are harboring the Dark Friends and have a Way Gate under the premises, which is blocked by Machinshin (Black Wind).

They find another way by using the portal stone in the Ogier Steading. It actually takes them 3 months to get to Falme after a long (and somewhat boring) dream sequence where the dark one always wins.

During this time, the women are training, until they are tricked by
Liandrin who takes them to Falme and where they immediately meet the Seanchan who chain Egwene. Nynaeve and Elayne are able to escape whereas Min is not, but they don't care much about her since she can't channel.

They are able to arrange passage away from the Seanchan and about the same time they are about to leave, Rand and party show up, fight off the Seanchan (Rand beats a Herin blade holder), and Rand fights the Dark One in the Skies (again), many see it and are converted to the Dragon Reborn's camp.


***End Spoilers***

Why Read The Great Hunt?

This is probably my favorite book in the series. So much happens and we really start to get to know some more characters outside of Rand. This is important because if you don't start to appreciate the characters and their relationships now, this series may not be for you.

5 out of 5 Stars

02 May, 2011

Guess the Pattern...

I have this bad habit and I think it will become very apparent as you take a look at some of my collection below.

Can you guess when I started reading these series'?

The Long Price (This one doesn't really apply since I was planning on buying all in mass market paperback and then Tor decided not to release The Price of Spring in mmpb):

I plan to catch up on the hardbacks once I have money incoming instead of outgoing, but you can also tell I definitely can't wait for the next volume in my series to come out. Must Have Now!

Although for some of these series', like Malazan Book of the Fallen and Wheel of Time, I had started the series and then a mmpb came out and I bought that instead of the hardcover.