Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Antrax by Terry Brooks

The company that the druid Walker gathered to search for the lost books of magic is destroyed, while some dead and others scattered. Walker was able to enter the tunnels below Castledown but finds himself trapt and ceaselessly hunted by creepers he can't seem to escape. Bek tries to confront the Isle Witch about the truth of her origins and their connection but it backfires and he and the shifter Truls Ruk are pursued by her through the countryside, Ahren Elessedil and the seerer Ryer Ord Star seek to save Walker and gain redemption for themselves, Ahren for his perceived cowardice and Ryer for betraying Walker earlier. Antrax, the intelligence behind Castledown, meanwhile makes a cyborg out of the fallen Ard Patrinell, hoping to use him to trap the various magic-users. When Quentin Leah and Tamis realize what has been done to their friend they are horrified and wish to set him free from his torment.

I found the various sub-plots interesting and reasonably well-paced. However the exception to this was the Quetin/Tamis arc which felt like filler and didn't get enough 'screen' time. This was compounded  by a major issue of telling rather than showing, especially when they are being chased by Patrinell. I would have much rather been shown how clever he was in tracking them then to be told about it in a rather long-winded fashion. This problem also manifested in some rather long and unnecessary paragraphs of introspection at the beginning of several sections.

Antrax, a self-aware, artificial intelligence was an interesting villan and was quite well realized. There was also a well-worked plot twist in regards to this and the 'books' of magic.

Overall while the plot is interesting a few issues distract from it. 6.75/10.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: The Weaver's Lament by Elizabeth Haydon

For a thousand years the allied states of the Cymrian alliance have been at peace. However, tensions are on the rise. The Bolg are being short-changed in trade and Grunthor, the sergeant major who has arguably the best trained army in history at his disposal, is not afraid to cross the border and collect the short fall. Having such a well-trained and restless army on their doorstep leaves Ashes and the military leadership of his alliance very uneasy and a misspoken word leads to tragic consequences.Ashes and Achmed are pitted against each other and Rhapsody is caught in the middle.

 Ashe is beginning to show the signs of age while his wife Rhapsody seems as young as ever. Ashe fears dying and losing Rhapsody and of losing control of the dragon that dwells with him. As a result he begs Rhapsody to help him transform into a dragon like  his father did before him, something Rhapsody  fears will cost Ashe his soul. their relationship is tested more than it has ever been in a thousand years.

I found the previous volume in this series to suffer from severe pacing issues and most notably some big moments, that had been built up for several books, were highly rushed. Thankfully the series finale does not suffer from this issue and some really big moments get the time they deserve to really shine.

Time has been a central theme across the series and the decision to set a book a thousand years after the previous events was an inspired one. Having some long-lived characters and some seemingly eternal creates an interesting conflict when faced with other characters who are not blessed to the same degree. Ashe in particular is handled well and having him develop an almost 'grumpy old man' side was well worked. His legitimate fear of losing Rhapsody combined with his somewhat irrational and selfish reaction to it makes for an emotional conflict. I would have liked to see more of Grunthor's perspective as he alone of the three has had to deal with the loss of children that have aged faster than him.

The choices that face Rhapsody, Ashe and Achmed and the brilliant foreshadowing of their consequences reminded me of some of the all time classic tragedies. Both beautiful and so very sad. My only minor gripe is I would have liked to have seen Ashe's reaction when faced with the full consequences of his actions.

The plot itself brings the books into line with the original trilogy (and to an extent the short story as well) more than we have seen in a long time. The mix of well realized and beloved characters, their relationships  and subtle humor at the right moments that have made this one of my all time favorite series are all present.

The Symphony of Ages could have ended with the previous book but I'm glad it it didn't. This is the finale it truly deserved. 8.75/10.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

With the surface of the world teeming with deadly monsters humanity has sheltered high above in massive spires. Trade and communication are effected through airships, powered by energized crystals, though so is espionage and warfare. Captain Grimm commands airship Predator. Years before he was drummed out of the Albion navy as a scapegoat for political reasons and now acts as a private merchant in a cold war of sorts with a rival spire. After the predator sustains massive damage in an action against a much more powerful airship, Predator is forced to return for repairs that Grimm simply can't afford.

Bridget, daughter of a noble house that has fallen on hard times, is sent to the Albion guard to complete her mandatory service, accompanied by her cat and friend Rowl himself a prince of a feline house. There her inexperience in dealing with other nobility quickly leads her into a dual but receives the aid of Gwen and Benedict members of a very important house. During the duel Spire Albion is attacked by warships of Aurora. Bridget and her friends and Captain Grimm and his crew both distinguish themselves in the attack and bring them to the attention of the monarch who sends them on a mission to aid the Etherealist (read magician with a price) Ferus and his apprentice Folly. The attack was a distraction for something more sinister.

Unlike Butcher's most famous work the Dresden Files this novel is told from a third person perspective and Butcher does an excellent job in creating a number of distinct and interesting points of view (though I found Bridget's first chapter made her feel much younger than she actually was but that is a minor gripe). This includes a cat, with a very different view on the world, and a character whose magic has made her suffer a social disorder (more on that later). Butcher includes point of view chapters from Auroran characters which explains their (reasonable) motivations and fleshes them out nicely. I'm glad he did this as it prevented them from being one dimensional or portrayed simply as 'bad guys',

The world-building is excellent, with lots of showing how things work from the way characters perceive the world around them rather than long paragraphs of unnecessary intrusive information.
Magic comes with a price with each character who utilizes it effected by a social disorder. Technology is steampunk-like but powered by vat-grown crystals and society is Victorian era-like.

Overall Butcher delivers a refreshingly character-driven novel. 8.5/10.