Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: The Ruling Mask by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto


Duchess' reputation among the Gray is in jeopardy. Rumors abound that she is a bloody murderer for hire hurting her standing in the Gray and threatening to put her at odds with the Red, who have a monopoly on assassination. Duchess must find the source of these rumors and put a stop to them or risk losing everything. Meanwhile Castor turns to Duchess for help as his son is being hunted due to his connection to the aristocracy. The success of Jana and Duchess's weaving business has attracted attention and leaves them with a difficult choice. Rodass is also on the cusp of a religious war and Duchess is bound to be dragged into it as well.

The most notable element to this third installment in the series is the way the authors keep track of the web of plot lines and are able to successfully incorporate them into the larger story. The foreshadowing was very impressive. With so many plot threads (my brief synopsis doesn't do them justice) there is a risk of the narrative being bogged down. Thankfully the authors don't fall into this trap and use them to add a degree of tension throughout the story, reminiscent of the way Jim Butcher does it.

As always Duchess is the heart of this story and I really feel like she matures as a character (she even gains some insight into her father;s choices and why he made them.) and has come a long way since the first book.

Well managed story-telling and a character driven narrative  make this a must read. 9/10.    

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky


In the cold, crown of the world the wolf tribes are in ascendancy. They broke the Tiger's power over a decade ago and drove them to the peripheries. Maniye is the daughter of Akrit Stone River, chieftain of one of the wolf tribes. However her mother was a queen among the Tiger.a result she as always been an outsider in her own tribe. She holds a secret that could destroy her, she has two souls and can shift her form to both that of a wolf and a tiger.  Things begin to look up when she passes a coming of age trial and thinks she may at least win her father's approval even if she never wins his love. However she learns that Akrit his plans for her to subjugate the remaining Tiger tribes and to marry her to Broken Axe, the loner he tasked with killing her mother. Horried Maniye flees taking with her an aging snake priest who was going to be sacrificed to the Wolf. Akrit tasks Borken Axe with retrieving them. Meanwhile Asmander, a stranger from the South, journeys North seeking the famed iron wolves to prevent a civil war from spilling over.

I have been thoroughly impressed with Tchaikovsky's works since he concluded his Shadow of Apt series and he has ensured that, as good as it is, it will not define him as an author. The characterization is top notch with Maniye being a credible protagonist on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance. What's more impressive is the way Tchaikovsky gives every character introduced such depth of their own without being bogged down. It truly feels like an intersection of different stories.

The world-building is an exceptional with the stone-age tribal society of the wolf described in depth and pieces of other cultures wetting the appetite without slowing the story. Pacing was also even throughout.

Overall Tchaikovsky delivers a great story defined by it's vivid characters. 9/10.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams


Frith, the crippled, last surviving son of a noble house arrives in a foreign city intent on exploring the caverns beneath a vast and ancient Citadel. Rumours say it belonged to the lost mages and that great power is there for the taking, power Frith intends to use to take back his home and get revenge on those who killed his family. To aid him he hires two mercenaries, Sir Sebastain a knight who was forced to leave his order due to his sexual orientation and Wydrin, better known as the copper cat, a sassy thief and daughter of a pirate. The two adventurers have a reason of their own for entering the citadel, one of their companions ventured in weeks before and never returned. Together the three manage to find what Frith seeks but unwittingly unleash an angry god, bent on nothing but destruction on the world.

While the three protagonists have a certain charm to them, I found all three unoriginal and  based on tired sword and sorcery tropes. Pacing was  uneven being slow and steady throughout most of the novel before rushing through a finale. World-building was adhoc and unconvincing and I couldn't help but feel that names and places were thrown together without the author having any idea of their relation in her own mind. The villains were one-dimensional and lacked any depth. While the writing was tidy enough it often felt clumsy.

Overall this novel had multiple problems and was a chore to slog through. 4.5/10.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: The King's Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson


This was a collection of two novellas by Donaldson.

The Kings Justice: A stranger named Black arrives at the isolated village of Settler's Crossing tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a child. While Black is much more than he seems so is the murder. 8.25/10

The Augur's Gambit: Mayhew Gordian is a self-effacing Hieronomer who is attempting to aid the queen of an isolated island nation to avoid two fates of enslavement from an unknown power from across the ocean or a descent into barbarism after protracted civil war. What's more Mayhew is in love with the queen's daughter. 8.5/10.

My experience with previous shorter fiction by Donaldson is that he is able to effortlessly create intriguing world's in minimal words that leave the reader wanting to see more. These two pieces are no exception. Both stories were well-paced with well developed protagonists and support casts. I enjoyed the The Augur's Gambit slightly more as I found Mayhew quirky and more human that Black and for that reason I'm glad of the order the stories were printed in.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North


Hope Arden is afflicted with a rather peculiar condition. When she was a teenager those around her gradually came to forget she existed until even her own family forgot they had a daughter. Now everyone she comes into contact with will forget her within a few minutes of being out of her company. Hope uses her peculiar condition to become a master thief. After a woman Hope has grown found of kills herself due to a mobile phone application called perfection, Hope decides to publicly embarrass it's creators, not knowing that there may be far more sinister forces in play.

The concept is similar to North's two previous novels, a protagonist who is afflicted with an unexplained condition that the majority of the population are not effected by. Hope is an interesting character and North captures the emotion of her plight beautifully. The little nuances she adopts to help herself cope are cleverly incorporated into the prose and make this a very human story. I found the support characters slightly inconsistent especially towards the end of the novel where their actions did not gel with what had gone before. Once the plot moves away from Hope's personal struggle I found the perfection angle less engaging.

Overall North once again has built a very human and engaging protagonist, less care with the support characters and plot detract slightly from what could have been a masterpiece. 8/10.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent Ghosts 2016: Under the Mistletoe and Tree

Matt lurched, almost falling, as he mounted a table.
His boss frowned but screw it Matt was salesperson of the year. Noticing his empty glass Matt made a beeline for the bar.
Pamela from accounts glanced at mistletoe above them.
“Not on your life Pimply Pam.” Matt scoffed.
“Mistletoe wards away evil spirits.” The bartender huffed and poured a shot of whisky.
“This is the only spirit I’m interested in.” Matt countered snatching the bottle.
“A woman scorned is nothing to scoff at either.”
Just as he found a quiet corner to enjoy his whiskey icy fingers encircled his neck.  



Carya eyed the river of stone distrustfully. All was quiet but recent experience had made her wary. Without warning one of those mechanical monstrosities could appear in a blaze of flashing lights and howling noise.
Taking a deep breath she dashed across. After all she had nothing left to lose. Her daughter was dead and she would know why.                    
Then…….she didn’t know.
The increasingly faint pulse of her daughter’s heart tree had led her to this strange dwelling. Steeling herself she peered inside and keened in agony. 
Why had they desecrated her daughter’s body in garish colours and twinkling lights?   

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review:Treachery's Tools by L.E. Modesitt Jr.


Alastar has settled well into role as Maitre of Colleguim. However the promise of a poor grain harvest exacerbates already existing problems between the Upper Class High Holders and the increasingly powerful merchant class. Alastar attempts to assist Solidar's barley competent rex to navigate through these problems but when someone begins assassinating students of the Colleguim he realizes a bigger game is afoot.

I found Alastar to be an engaging protagonist and thought his own struggles with a mid-life crisis added a very human element to him. The supporting cast are well-developed and the plot interesting and well-paced. World-building was subtly and effectively incorporated and I felt up to speed throughout despite never having read a Modesitt Jr book before and coming in mid-series.

Overall engaging characters and unobtrusive yet effective world-building make for a solid read. 8.25/10.