Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

The world is about to change. For centuries mankind has huddled in their homes under the scant protection of magical wards as demons roamed the night. Now two men have both been proclaimed deliver, mankind’s savior destined to lead them against the demons. Ahmann Jadir has united the desert-dwelling tribes of Krasia under his control and is now marching his forces North intent on bringing the scattered Greenland city states into his war by any means necessary. The northerners however have their own deliverer, the painted man. The painted man spurns the title however, content with spreading the previously lost battle wards amongst his people and then fighting his own war against the demons. The painted man fears that he has absorbed too much power from the demons and is slowly losing his humanity and becoming a demon himself. Meanwhile Leesha must decide if she should sacrifice her independence and become one of Jadi's wives in order to ensure Deliver's Hollows safety and facedown her own issues with letting another person love her.

Ahmann Jadir played an important, if contracted role, in the previous book. He was once Arlen's, AKA the painted mans, friend but chose to betray him when Arlen discovered a battle warded spear in a set of ancient ruins and took the prize for himself. His motives seemed pretty black and white back then, simple greed and jealously but as this book reveals those motives were in fact far from simple. The first portion of the book focuses on Jadir’s life before the first book in much the same way as Arlen, Rojer and Leesha’s stories were told. Through Jadir’s eyes we come to understand the desert dwellers culture, their sense of honour and what makes them tick. This provides an interesting contrast with the glimpse we had of them from Arlen’s perspective in the first book. This contrast between Jadir and the painted man is an overriding theme throughout the novel and sets things up nicely for their evitable confrontation in the next book.

Arlen’s discomfort at the messiah-like status he has achieved and the clash between who he was and what he has become as he encounters people from his earlier life was extremely interesting and enjoyed seeing Brett further flesh out his character. Unlike the previous novel we have a few chapters told from the demon’s perspective and I really enjoyed the way the author created a unique perspective for them and provided a greater insight into them.

Overall the desert spear is an excellent middle book, revealing more of the world the Brett introduced in his debut and hinting at even more to come. 8.5/10.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: Alcatraz Versus The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Following on from their adventure at the library of Alexandria Alcatraz and co arrive in the free kingdom city of Crystallia to a major shock; The high king is in the middle of peace negotiations with the librarians and it looks increasingly likely that the kingdom of Mokia, home to a good friend of Alcatraz, will be abandoned to face the Librarians on their own. Meanwhile Bastille has been stripped of her armour and her knighthood might soon follow. Suspecting a librarian trick Alcatraz sets about investigating.

The first two Alcatraz books were largely set in our world so it is certainly interesting to get a firsthand look into the free kingdoms, which is filled with such wonders as dragon-taxis and where every building is a castle. Although all of that is weird and wonderful I was kind of hoping Sanderson might have fleshed out the world a touch more. The style of writing remains the same with Alcatraz addressing the reader firsthand but I felt the jokes weren't quite as good this time around and seemed slightly rushed. Also the character development of Alcatraz and Bastille which I was so impressed with in the previous book seemed to stall and didn't advance much. There were some enticing hints about where Alcatraz's relationship with his estranged parents might be going but these seem to have been left to a future book to explore further.

All in all Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia was another fun read though not quite as good as the previous two volumes. Funs of the series will no doubt enjoy it but I don't think it will win any new readers. I couldn't help feeling it was slightly rushed and at times felt like it was simply killing time to the next volumes. 7/10.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

Following on from the events of the previous book Laurence and Temeraire arrive back in Britain in tow with the Prussian survivors with Napoleon now firmly in control of the continent. While they were away a flu-like virus has devastated Britain’s dragon population, the only reason the nation hasn't fallen yet is that Napoleon is ignorant of this news. Tememaire and his band of untrained feral dragons are tasked with patrolling the entirety of Britain. Following an accident Temeraire is exposed to the quarantined dragons but surprisingly does not fall sick. Laurence surmises that his dragon must have developed an immunity, recalling that Temeraire had fallen sick while on route to China but had recovered after a stopover in The Cape Colony. Laurence, Temeraire and the remainder of his sick squadron are despatched to Cape Town in the hope that the cure might be found there, if not then Britain is as good as doomed as the dragons begin to die.

One thing Novik has done extremely well throughout this series is to show that both sides are not faultless in the Napoleonic war. It would have been easy to portray the French as evil conquerors and the British as faultless and noble but thankfully Novik has avoided this trap. This book marks the best example of this and the conflict that Laurence, who is both fiercely loyal to his country and has a strong sense of right and wrong, experiences when his superiors discuss the possibility of using biological warfare was masterful. Without giving too much away the finale of this book was excellent. My only criticism is about one of the aspects of these books that seems to be becoming formulaic. In the two previous novels the protagonists find themselves captives of a foreign culture and have to escape around the middle of the book. This again happens here and I hope Novik does not overuse this plot devise.

Overall this is another strong offering in an excellent series, highly recommended. 8.25/10