Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: On Dark Shores 1: The Lady by JA Clement

Life for Nereia, an orphaned thief living in the port town of Scarlock, has never been easy. Her parents died when she was in her early teens leaving her to raise her toddler of a sister, Mary, on her own. Nonetheless her inner strength as always gotten her through, allowing her to escape selling herself into prostitution and keeping her sister safely under the radar of Copeland, an uncle of sorts who controls all underground activities in Scarlock. When Copeland rediscovers Mary years later he tries to use her as leverage to force Nereia to participate in his latest scheme. Nereia decides to take Mary and run but Copeland won't let them go that easy, and has more depraved parts to his soul than even he himself suspected.

Clement's greatest strength as a writer is her characterization. It is amazing how well she can breath life into a character, revealing their every nuance in a minimal amount of words. The frequent point of view changes were cleverly used as well to create an even pacing throughout. The world building in this novel was also done well and believable through an almost minimalist approach. Initially the POV characters kept a very insular view, well suited to people who have never left a small town. While some of the other, more traveled characters, later on in the novel left some very tantalizing hints about the larger world that I would very much like to see followed up in future work. My only issue with this novel was the lack of a solid ending. While there is a conclusion of sorts to this chapter in Nereria's and Mary's lives there was a touch too much focus on setting the stage for the next book. This is however a minor blemish and could probably have been eased by shifting the order of a few view points.

Overall Clement has produced a tight, well written debut that whets the appetite for future installments. 8/10.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker

Following the events of the last book; the holy war now stands united and begins it's march against the heathen Fanim intent on liberating the holy city of Shimesh. Anasûrimbor Kellhus a Dunyain monk posing as a prince begins to make his move to take control of the holy war and bend it towards his own goal of finding his father. A goal made much easier by his training which enables him to read people and use their own passions to influence them. Kellhus asks Drusas Achamian, a mandate schoolman, to act as his teacher. Achamian is convinced that Kellhus is the harbinger of the second apocalypse and possibly mankind's last hope. The situation severally strains Achamian as he is caught between alerting his fellow schoolman or aiding Kellhus, either course could cause the doom of humanity. Kellhus' actions attract the attention of the consult who have their own plans for the holy war and exert influence through their skin spies who have replaced real soldiers and nobles and they decide that Kellhus needs to be removed.

As the title suggests Kelhus and his development into a messiah like figure is the crux of this novel and the plot line that the others all dance about. The preceding novel setup the characters and history of the world enough that the narrative moves very smoothly throughout this novel. All of the viewpoint characters, including dozens not named above, all have their own agendas and the intersection of these and the political maneuvering that ensues is fascinating. A number of large scale battles are fought as the holy war marches on and it is here where Bakker shines. These battles are told from a god-like perspective which almost makes the holy war seem like a character unto itself.

In sum all of the things Bakker did right in his debut he does again here and the quickened flow of the narrative makes this a touch better than it's predecessor. 8.75/10.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Lenk is a man with his fair share of problems. He is short, his hair has already turned white despite his youth and he is an adventurer; a profession despised everywhere. Not just an adventurer but the leader of a band of adventurer’s who all seem intent on killing each other. The band in question's latest job is escorting an esteemed clergyman, easy enough until a band of eloquent pirates attacks the ship they're on. Even the pirates are confused when a band of fishmen led by a strange demon steal a tome from the priest. Not just any tome but one with the power of releasing demons back onto the earth. After some negotiation Lenk and his band are charged with retrieving the tome from the seemingly invulnerable demon. To top it all off Lenk is beginning to hear a voice in his head telling him to kill...

After the first chapter I began to wonder if this would work; the byplay with the rather eloquent pirates and the infighting between Lenk's companions was interesting but seemed a bit over the top. Could Sykes flesh out his characters and make them more believable? The answer is a resounding yes and the development of the characters is definitely Sykes strong suite and the real focus of the book, which helps when the plot does get a bit over the top. All of Lenk's band has some really strong personal issues that Sykes works through and all are well done. Well all of them except for the possible exception of the priestess Asper. Given the revelations that are presented later in the book I would have liked to have seen this shadowed earlier on as it didn't quite gel for me.

The World building aspect was a bit erratic. While I am intrigued by the non-human races introduced I found it odd that the some of the more educated members of the band didn't know the Rega are virtually extinct.

Pacing is an issue Sykes has come in for criticism for, though I feel this is largely unfounded. While the initial confrontation on the ship did take up a around 160 pages what many reviewers have failed to note is that the font size is large, making it closer to about 70-80 odd pages in an average book. More importantly not once did I feel this section dragged. The last part of the book on the other hand could have been culled a bit.

Overall Sykes has produced a strong debut, with some interesting characters that develop interestingly across the book. I hope he fleshes out the world a bit more in subsequent books. 7.25/10.