Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Morning's Journey by Kim Headlee

Gyanhumara and Artyr are now married but duty leads them to long periods of separation that neither are happy about and puts a strain on their relationship.  Gyanhumara also falls pregnant and has to deal with the realization that her life may change irrevocably and her warrior days may be behind her. She is also aware that any child they have will become a target for Urien, who is making plans to speed up his succession to the leadership position in his own clan. Meanwhile other outside forces have plans of their own.

Like the first novel Gyan remains the star of the show and the various tensions she has to deal with lead to some very strong character development. Both Artry and Angusel face their own obstacles and their development is equally well handled. While there are certainly moments when both Urien and Morghe hint at more depth for the most part they are remain driven by selfishness and remain one-dimensional. The minor villains in the piece were actually much better fleshed out than these two and made for more compelling characters. 

Pacing in the first quarter of the book is a tad slow but after this point it picks up and is well controlled for the remainder of the story. I love the way Headlee infuses historic languange to really flesh out the cultures and history of her world.

Overall strong characters, good pacing and a vibrant world make for a compelling read. I would still like to see the main villains fleshed out more. 8/10.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Joel attends one of the most elite schools in the country, Armedius Academy. Not only do the sons and daughters of influential politicians and the extremely wealthy attend but so do rithmatists, people with the gift to bring mathematically imbued chalk lines to life,  in training. However Joel is the son of a cleaning lady at the Academy and is only able to attend because the principal was friends with his deceased father, a chalk-maker. Joel wishes nothing more than to be a rithmatist and although he understands the theory better than most he lacks the gift. He tires to slip into their lectures at every opportunity and learn what he can. However he may learn more than he wanted to when young rithmatists start disappearing under mysterious circumstances and he is assigned as an aide to Professor Fitch a rithmatist investigating theses disappearances.

Sanderson is well known for his well developed magic systems and this novel is no exception. Rithmatics is a combination of a mathematical and chalk based magic that is brought to life by some clever diagrams that begin each chapter. This is well explained and interesting in its own right.

However the world-building itself was a highlight for me. Set in the the early 1900s in an alternative history earth where the United States in made up of a series of Isles separated by a shallow sea. Europe was slowly taken over by an Asian civilization about a hundred years before and the Aztecs remain a power in South America. Technology is based on a gear-punk setting as well. All very fascinating and makes for an original backdrop.

Pacing was well controlled and I enjoyed the 'mystery' format Sanderson incorporated. 

Characterization is generally good but is also the area I had a few issues. Some of the support characters are heavily overemphasized products of their environments, Harding being the biggest example of this. This seems more reminiscent of middle-grade work than young adult. Also Joel seems to act younger than his sixteen years in places in the narrative.

Overall a solid effort, with a very good magic system, world-building and pacing. Adapting characterization to YA could do with a bit of work though. 8/10.     

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

The year is 2196 and the continent spanning cities of 'ice' are fast approaching over population. A group of largely European descended  industrialists begin lobbying for freedom to pursue research and development areas previously considered off limits. However the T'ang, the seven rulers of the world, are strictly against this believing to do so would put their very society at risk.  When the minister of the edict is assassinated tensions are brought to a head and a different kind of war of propaganda and espionage begins.

Wingrove's world-building really takes off in this volume, with different levels in a very segmented society explored cleverly. The character's are three-dimensional, complex and engaging and the plot is well paced throughout.

I do have some small criticisms however. At this point in the series hundreds of years have passed where everything but distinctly Chinese culture and history have been suppressed and destroyed. However the world views between the European and Chinese characters still appear to be remarkably different and this is highly unrealistic. Also the industrialists never seem to realize that by taking on the T'ang  however covertly they would be prime suspects and subject to a backlash. Again this seems highly improbable.

Overall solid world-building and characters make for a compelling read though a few story-telling mistakes ensure this is a very good book instead of the great one it could have been. 7.5/10.      

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Unfettered edited by Shawn Speakman

Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks: A young boy learns he has a disease which will slowly kill him. He turns to a barely remembered imaginary friend for magic to cure him. Very convincing voice and enough here to make a reader think. 7/10.

How Old Holly Came to Be by Patrick Rothfuss: Told from the perspective of a tree about the sorceress who lives close by. Unique and clever perspective and very good character dvelopment in a short space. 7.5/10.

The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams: An aging dragon and knight team up to con the local populace. Playful piece that moves along quite nicely. 7/10.

Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn: A group of people outside of time attempt to influence events and shape a bright future.  One woman doesn't fit in with the rest and looks at the smaller picture. At best this reads like an outline; while there are good ideas here they aren't given time to develop. Uninspiring characters and a far too predictable ending. Overall feels a bit lazy. 5/10.

The Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey: Two friends from very different backgrounds witness a miraculous event. Exceptionally strong world-building in a very short space of time. Though not as self-contained as some of the others 7.5/10.

Mudboy by Peter V. Brett: A young boy and his family are forced to flee into the night when their house catches fire. A night inhabited by terrible demons. Another piece with a convincing voice. Solid story telling and good decision making. 8/10.

The Sound of Broken Absolutes by Peter Orullian: A young musician is called home after his father dies in a bloody war. Before he goes he destroys his teacher's prized instrument. The young man and teacher are both faced with difficult choices as they seek to rebuild what was taken from them. I must admit I cringed when I reached this story, I was to say the least utterly unimpressed by Orullian's debut novel. However this story really surprised me. It packed an emotive punch and a half, very real character development and a crisp narrative (well two in fact) voice. 8/10.

The Coach With Big Teeth by R.A. Salvatore: A young boy with little talent or self-belief gets an opportunity to have a big moment in the baseball championship game. However his overbearing coach will not tolerate failure. Convincing voice but perhaps a touch too predictable 7/10.

Keeper of Memory by Todd Lockwood. When a civilization is threatened by hostile forces it is left to the keepers of memory to try save something of their culture. Perhaps the best twist ending in the whole collection. 8/10.

Heaven in a Wild Flower by Blake Charlton. Science fiction set in a world where some souls come back through reincarnation and ascend to a technological heaven in between lives while others do not. A man who is one of the latter links himself to a baby girl child even though her death will kill him too. Very well written piece, strong emotion and excellent world-building. 8.75/10.

Dogs by Daniel Abraham. A man is viciously attacked by a pack of dogs and has to find a way to rebuild his life knowing that all the dogs around him could be ticking time bombs. Very interesting and genuinely scary concept. 8/10.

The Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne: A tongue in cheek retelling of the grail legend by a druid. Reasonably funny and well paced but lacks some of the substance of some of the other stories. 7/10.

Select Mode by Mark Lawrence: A couple of mercenaries are caught by a group of religious fanatics and forced to undertake a ritual to see if they should be inducted into the group. Doesn't stand on its own at all and doesn't go anywhere. Frankly I found it a lazy effort. 4/10.

All The Girls Love Michael Stein by David Anthony Durham: A ghost cat tries to find away to communicate with the little girl who owned him. Warm hearted tale that shows a different side to Durham's writing. 7.25/10.

Strange Rain by Jennifer Bosworth: Story about two conjoined twins who were separated at birth. When one of the twins starts trying to make a life for himself the other becomes jealous. With the help of a mysterious figure and a freak accident she will make sure they are never separated again. Interesting and well thought out character development. 8/10.

Nocturne by Robert V.S. Redick: A critically ill young man goes through some strange fever dreams. I have mixed feelings about this piece. It's different and has some amazingly strong visualizations in places but I don't think it really makes its point. 7/10.

Unbowed by Eldon Thompson: A young man is part of an elite fighting school operated by his father. However his father feels he lacks the determination to do what is needed. When his father is accused of an assassination attempt and arrested he is tested in more ways than one.  One of the strongest pieces in this collection. Stands perfectly on it's own with well realized character and clever shifts in direction. 8.75/10.

In Favour With Their Stars by Naomi Novik: a group of space pirates known as the Napoleonists attack a planet governed by dragons lead by Temeraire. Captain Lawrence is despatched to aid them. This concept promised so much, a look at Novik's universe of dragons in a sci-fi setting could have been really interesting. Instead the author produced a lazy effort of recycled characters and a story that goes nowhere. 3.5/10.

River of Souls by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Follows an important character in the Wheel of Time universe as he tries to unite the land of Shara under him by fulfilling a prophecy. Stands surprisingly well on its own considering it was a scene cut from a book. Strong character development and good world-building. 8/10. 

The Jester by Michael J. Sullivan: A couple of sell swords find they have bitten off more than they can chew when a client leads them on a treasure hunt that is an elaborate plot for revenge. Stands well on its own and has some really strong characters. 8/10.

The Duel by Lev Grossman: A magician king is forced to dual a barbarian to save his kingdom. Witty and works well. 8/10.

Walker and the Shade of Allanon by Terry Brooks: Details a meeting between Walker and Allanon's shade set before the Voyage of Jerle Shannara. Won't be of major interest to anyone who hasn't read the Shannara books, doesn't really go anywhere and I don't feel it accurately reflects Walker's character at the time. 5.75/10.

The Unfettered Knight by Shawn Speakman: A magician charged with protecting the world from magical forces is forced to confront a vampire that invades the Vatican. Excellent world-building and twists. 8.25/10.

Overall as the title suggests this collection is an eclectic mix. Some very strong stories  interspersed with the odd lazy effort but a good read nonetheless. 7.75/10.