Friday, November 9, 2012

Review: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Shai is a forger, blessed with the ability to recreate items by changing their history. When a heist to steal the emperor's sceptre goes wrong she finds herself in prison awaiting execution. However the arbiters, a group of five powerful individuals who form an advisory council to the emperor, need her help. An assassination attempt has left the empress dead and broken the emperor’s mind. The arbiters want Shai to reforge the emperor’s soul, even though they consider what she does an abomination, and she has only three months to do it. Shai however is no fool and realizes that even if she succeeds the arbiters do not want a witness to the events.

Despite working in a much shorter medium than is considered his forte Sanderson uses a few innovative ideas to really make this piece work. The Characterization is very focussed. The crux of the story is the interaction between Shai and the most noble of the arbiters Gaotona. Both are strong characters but do have some flaws that dog their interaction, for example Gaotona can be quite narrow minded when it comes to things outside his own experiences. Both characters benefit from their exposure to the others point of view. This interaction, specifically Gaotona’s attempt to understand what Shai is doing, between the two main characters allows Brandon to go into detail about the magic system without the feeling of 'info-dumping'. Add to this a third character; the emperor, who we learn about from Shai's research to rebuild his soul, quite a novel way of seeing a character brought to life.

Chapters are divided into different days in a kind of countdown of Shai's allotted three months. This really worked well for me infusing a sense of tension in the piece that is otherwise lacking action for the majority of the story. Despite having most of the story taking place in a single location, Shai's room, Sanderson does an excellent job of world-building by looking at the interactions of characters who hail from different locations within the empire.

Overall Sanderson again demonstrates a great deal of versatility. 8.5/10.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: Antiphon by Ken Scholes

Rudolfo, lord of the ninefold forest, receives a warning from Winteria the elder usurper queen of the marshfolk that his wife Jin Li Tam and his son are in danger. When an attack almost takes his family from him Rudolfo is left with little choice but to send them to Winteria for protection but their resurgent religion may have deeper roots in his own land than he first suspected. Neb is still running the vast deserts of the world tracking a band of metal men who seem to have their own agenda. However Neb is soon targeted by strange women warriors and begins receiving warnings in his dreams from his dead father. With Neb in danger the exiled pope Petronus is tasked with coming to his aid but will he be in time? Vlad Li Tam has led the remnants of his family in a search for the forces that decimated them but when he begins to receive visits from a strange water spirit he starts to question his own sanity.

Pacing his always been very good throughout this series, with chapters divided into short sharp point of views keeping thing moving along nicely. Scholes sticks to the same effective formula here and infuses a real sense of tension when pushing towards the finale. Character development is a bit stronger than in previous volumes and I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Rudolfo who has always been so confident before suddenly being thrust into a position where he has to question everything he has previously relied on and Petronus and Charles who have based their lives on the dictates of logic having to rely on faith.

Overall Scholes continues to deliver a strong and interesting blend of sci-fi and fantasy. 8.25/10.