Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Dawnflight by Kim Headlee

Arthur the Pendragon, representative of Rome in Britain, was able to lead his forces to victory against a loosely united group of Pictish clans in the battle of Aber-Glei. To their surprise Arthur imposes a rather light treaty on the defeated, hoping to win the clans to his cause. As part of this treaty Chieftainess Gyanhumara ("Gyan") nic Hymar is obligated to marry a Brytoni nobleman.She chooses Urien map Dumarec, son of her clan's worst enemy, in hopes of bringing in lasting peace to her people. However when a prophecy suggests that a Brytoni chief will cause her great joy and great sorrow and lead to her death, she begins to question. A matter not helped when she finally meets Arthur and falls in love with him.

The crux of the story, at least for me, is a coming of age tale. Gyan has been groomed to lead her people and takes this responsibility very seriously. However in a sense her upbringing has been very sheltered and events conspire to confront her with a larger world. Naturally she begins to question her place within it and to discover who she truly is and what she truly believes. I thought Headlee did an excellent job in slotting in other characters points of view to balance things out but Gyan is undoubtedly the star of the show. My only issue is that is that Urien and Arthur's sister Morghe are not given any redeeming qualities and seem a little too like cartoon villains though the main villain of the piece Cuchullain is portrayed much better. 

This Arthurian tale is set across the backdrop of Britain in the fifth century and everything from the languages, cultures and religions is vividly portrayed. The various forms of foreshadowing were used to good effect and infusedthe tale with a real tension.

Overall Dawnflight does a fantastic job of combining a coming of age tale with a vivid backdrop. 8/10.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Review:Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove

In the year 2067 the Middle East has been pacified by a nuclear strike, all that remains between Tsao Ch'un’s vision of one worldwide city is the divided remnants of the United States of America. Ch'un chooses Jiang Lei, a rarity in being a genuinely honest man, to lead this campaign. Meanwhile Jake Reed has been having trouble adjusting to life inside Chun Kuo and is sure he is about to be made to 'disappear' like the other troublemakers. Unexpectedly an offer comes from GenSyn to work on creating a datascape for research purposes. However other forces have an interest in this as well. Twenty years later Tsao Ch'un decides to make war on the seven, his lead administrators, having driven them to think of deposing him through his tyrannical ways.

The novel is divided into two temporal periods set twenty years apart. There is no real flow between these periods, unlike the first novel, which gives the impression this second prequel is something of an info dump. Surprisingly the author does not go into details on any battles despite two wars taking place during these periods. Key scenes are left unwritten and the resolution to both wars remains murky. All of this makes the novel feel rushed.

On the plus side Wingrove characterisation is top notch. Even characters who only a single point of view scene are well fleshed out. The political machinations and the world-building are interesting but could have been expanded upon further.

Wingrove has created a top-notch world and interesting cast of characters but this second prequel suffers from rushed pacing and at times feels like filler. 7/10.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review:The Necromancer's Grimoire by Annemarie Banks

Following the recovery of the Hermetica Nadira and her companions journey with a group of Templar knights to Istanbul. The knights seek to recover a lost treasure and plan on going to Istanbul and stealing a grimoire from a necromancer who works for the sultan. The knights want to Nadira to use the book to contact a dead member of their order, in return she can use it to contact Lord Montrose’s dead brother and hopefully give him the peace that he seeks, though the necromancer may not take kindly to their plans.

Nadira remains the stand out character and I enjoyed watching her grow. As her powers develop so does her self-confidence and she begins to take on more of a leadership role rather letting other people shape her life. Both Lord Motrose and William are also well fleshed out as support characters. However I did not feel that the rest of the support characters were fleshed out enough, especially the Templar knights. When things happen to them later in the book it is hard to care as we don't really know much about them.

Pacing is a very real issue in this one with everything feeling far too rushed and as a result the really big moments felt hollow. I don't know if this in reaction to a perceived slow pace in the first novel and if so I would be flabbergasted as Banks debut was well-controlled in this area. Some areas of the plot also did not make a great deal of sense, for example it is decided that Nadira will attempt to steal the grimoire when the necromancer is at the height of his sexual pleasure as for some reason he won't be able to sense Nadira taking control of it. This knowledge comes from one of the Templars but how he came by it is never revealed.

The passage of time is not something kept clear in the narrative and would like to see Banks address this in future instalments.

One improvement from her debut was the insertion of a very clear ending in this instalment.

Overall I think this book suffers from 'second book syndrome'. The lead character is well portrayed but many of the support characters can be likened to stick figures. Pacing is an area that needs some work. 6.5/10.