Monday, September 15, 2014

Review of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing 4.5/5
Imagination 5/5
Plot 5/5
Setting 5/5
Characters 4.5/5
My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 5/5

Goodreads description-


Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city's proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country's most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

Only a few times a year does a book come along that just blows me away on every level. This is one of them. The other one this year was Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson, the only other book I have read this year that is comparable in terms of imagination and its urban setting. Yet, they are in other ways very different.

This is a lore and relic lovers dream. I'm a huge fan of both, Nearly all of my favorite series include deep lore and history as well as some sort of relic, a quest or some interesting uses of them. City of Stairs has some of the most unusual and interesting relics I have ever come across and there are pages and pages of them being talked about or more importantly used. I am dying to mention a few of my favorites but don't want to ruin the surprises. As for the lore, this book is basically one huge search for the truth about the world we find ourselves in. Through the eyes of our main character, a young genius, we learn how the things in the world came to be and it's extremely fascinating and as with the relics, wonderfully imagined and unique.  I tire of the whole Game of Thrones numerous alternating point of view characters so to read a story in a more traditional limited third person point of view is very refreshing and fun.

Something else I really enjoyed were the vignettes that began each chapter, each one from a history or diary which brought more depth to the world. Each one of them held my attention and increased my desire to further explore the world. They all seemed to connect with events going on in the subsequent chapter so I thought it was a very fun way for a reader to be part of the mystery.

A final aspect I enjoyed was the urban setting which was drawn vividly and realistically. It also had extremely fantastical elements, all which fit in beautifully to make this darkly atmospherical story one you could see in your mind and feel in your bones. It's not a pleasant world. It's a dark and dreary world where the humans live a meager existence, cut off from their history and past with little hope for the future. The ending was great, wrapping everything up and leaving room for a second book.

This took me a bit to get into to be honest. Probably a hundred pages. It was by no means bad or boring, I think it just took time to get sucked into a new, intricate world. The rest of the book was a slow read for me. I can read a 450 page book in a day, easy. This took me over a week. But I savored each day with this book. I read a few chapters a day and felt that was sufficient. I let it digest, thought about it, and anxiously waited to pick it back up. That's rare for me. Books I am not in to, I don't feel like picking back up. Books I love, I usually can't put down. With this book, I think I liked it so much that I knew if I didn't put it down, it would be over too soon. If Robert Jackson Bennett can deliver a second book as wonderful and fantastic as this, I'll be a lifelong fan. Highly recommended for everyone!


View all my reviews

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Under A Colder Sun (Khale the Wanderer #1)-by Greg James

Under A Colder Sun (Khale the Wanderer #1)-by Greg James

5 of 5 Stars

Writing 4.5/5
Imagination 5/5
Plot 4.5/5
Setting 4.5/5
Characters 4.5/5
My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 5/5

Blurb from Manderghast Press

Khale the Wanderer: dark warrior of legend, a reaver with a demon’s soul. King Alosse: ruler of Colm, willing to risk everything to save his city and its people. Princess Milanda: an innocent, kept pure since birth, unknowing of her fate. Neprokhodymh: the cursed city of sorcerers where Khale must make a sacrifice that will scar him for life, or fall into darkness forever.  

Right out of the gate, I have to say I loved this book. I thought it was tremendous. It had everything I love in a fantasy story. It's self published, which has the potential to cause some hesitance but I assure you this is a wonderfully written dark fantasy novel. This is not the author's first book, he has over a dozen others and I am anxious to start them.

The inspiration for this book comes from Robert E. Howard's Conan and Karl Edward Wagner's Kane. Not only did Greg James nail the tone and atmosphere of their style, I also saw some of Moorcock's Corum and Elric characters as well as Gemmell's Druss. I rank this with any of those stories as a favorite. 

Briefly mentioned already, the first thing that impressed me was how atmospheric this book was. I walked where Khale walked, felt what he felt, saw what he saw. This is a short book but it is packed with vivid descriptions and encompasses a huge world and although we get a nice glimpse of it here, you can see that there is much more going on here. We are fed deep and dark mysteries about the past as well as Khale's history, which is still a mystery to me, especially after reading the two very short stories included at the end. Khale is similar to Conan and Kane in that he is a badass but make no mistake, he is his own character, possibly more brutal than either. The world is harsh and cruel as are the characters and magics. There are horrific elements in the story which fit in so well in the setting he has created.

The plot never stopped advancing, there were no lulls in the action or unnecessary conversations for "character development." I never wanted the book to pick up the pace, or get to another scene or character. I was genuinely shocked multiple times by plot events and character deaths as well as their decisions. Being thrown way off from what I suspect is a highly pleasurable reading experience for me because it is so rare.

If Greg James continues to write such well-written and engaging stories, he should gain a large following. Based on this book, I can confidently say I will be picking up his next Khale the Wanderer book and hope he writes many. I think that will be easy to do as his style of writing leads to short but fulfilling and action packed sword and sorcery tales. It was a huge hit for this long time fan of the genre. Great introduction to a great series.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Review of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin


A Dance with Dragons
by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing 5/5
Imagination 5/5
Plot 5/5
Setting 5/5
Characters 5/5

My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 5/5

I came late to the ASoIaF party, having read A Game of Thrones for the first time in 2013, but better late than never so they say. I have not previously reviewed any of these books and being the quintessential grimdark blog, it is time to remedy that. In my notes about A Game of Thrones I said it was "epic, multilayered, with great dialog, characters, plot, action scenes, suspense, and the writing is beautiful with moments of brilliance." About the second book, A Clash of Kings, I said "it's very dark, gritty, violent, unpredictable, bloody." Next up was A Storm of Swords, about which I noted  "almost everything about this book is amazing! Its really the largest scope and scale of fantasy I ever remember reading." I was hesitant to start A Feast for Crows because I heard a lot of negative things about it. But I was still excited and based on the first read first 3 books, George R.R. Martin could do no wrong in my eyes. At 350 pages I gave up. I read chapter summaries to prepare for book 5. About A Feast for Crows I said "compared the the first 3 books this was a huge disappointment. While it may be necessary for the overall story I just felt this was too long and there were way to many non-essential characters and places to keep track of and remember. Some of the main story pov's were just not interesting. There was too much dialog and beating around the bush. Not terrible but just not what I expected after the first 3 amazing books." I really felt the magic was lost. I was very nervous to start A Dance with Dragons. I am happy to say, I was not disappointed this time!

Everything to me about this book was solid. The pacing, history, magic, plot, writing, dialogue, and especially the increased character development. What stands out to me is that I was intrigued and captivated by almost every POV character in this story. Whenever I read multiple POV books, there are usually more characters I don't care about than that I do. So reading this, I was so blown away by the depth which I cared about the fates of so many characters.

There was also a humorous element I began noticing in this book. I don't recall much in the other books but perhaps I just didn't notice. It was really surprising and refreshing here mixed in with the horror and bleak atmosphere so pervasive throughout this book.

As mentioned above, I believe this is the most epic, ambitious fantasy story ever written, certainly that I have ever read. There are so many layers and so much depth to each layer that it is nearly overwhelming, but in a satisfying way. This is not a book you can read once and put it on the shelf. To grasp it as intended,  it needs multiple reads. At a bit over 1000 pages, it read more like 2000 to me. I had to read slowly and cautiously, paging back at times and consulting Wikis. But it never seemed like a chore and I never wanted it to be over.

There is nothing about this book I didn't like. I am dying for The Winds of Winter, book 6. There is so much going on plot-wise that I don't see any possible way book 6 won't be amazing, maybe the best of the series. If you haven't read this series, you need to begin it next.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review of Half a King (Shattered Sea #1)-by Joe Abercrombie

4.5 of 5 stars

Writing 5/5
Imagination 4/5
Plot 4.5/5
Setting 5/5
Characters 4/5

My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 4.5/5

About the book from Goodreads

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.
This is an excellent book! I compulsively read it and finished in two days. Not uncommon for me when I enjoy a book. Joe Abercrombie successfully enters the YA market but in no way does that diminish this as a book for all ages. It has a somewhat lighter feel than his other books and the main character is a young prince which is part of the appeal to a younger audience but it's still violent and and edgy, with a dark foreboding feeling throughout. The normal foul language is scaled way back as well.

One of the reasons I love reading an Abercrombie book is because of the witty and clever writing and Half a King does not disappoint. Beginning to end the writing is wonderful. The dialogue, descriptions, and narration are all laced through with his trademark dark humor and clever turns of phrase.

This is a fantasy world and it's done amazingly. I was especially interested in some of the world back-story, always something that fascinates me because I love new creation myths that authors build and this has a great one. There are some other very cool references to certain races and places in this book that left me wondering more about this world's origins but I won't spoil it for the reader. Magic was also completely or nearly non-existent and I do enjoy magic so that was a bit of a disappointment.  I do believe there will be some great mysteries unveiled in future books and hopefully magic is introduced.

As for plot, it was action packed and fast moving, and I expected nothing less. A few of the sequences were a bit boring and kind of standard to me, meaning I have read similar scenes many times, although not usually so well written. The ending was great and it sparked my interest for the next in the series. I thought it was wrapped up nicely, without any annoying cliffhangers.

I originally wanted to give this 4/5 stars but bumped it up to 4.5/5 while writing this because I really did like it. I just didn't love it. When I read The Blade Itself, I immediate put it on my "favorite of all time" bookshelf. But this one won't go there. Perhaps it is because the last two years I have developed a very specific taste in reading and I have read so many fantasy books that it really takes a certain style of book to get me to love it. Part of the reason is that it just wasn't brutal and dark enough for my taste although it has those elements. Also, I didn't really love any of the characters, even Nothing, who was the mysterious one here and probably my favorite. I still think about some of Abercrombie's First Law series characters, like my favorite Logen Ninefingers, also Rudd Threetrees, Glokta, Bayaz First of the Magi, and Shivers. For the person who reads 10-20 books in a year, I would recommend they make this one of them. It's a beautiful book. For the YA, who enjoys fantasy or even is hesitant to pick up a book, I heartily recommend this book to them as a must. For the fantasy lover who has been reading for many years, I also highly recommend this book. There's something for everyone in this book and objectively, it is one of the best books out this year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A few words about Enemy of God (The Warlord Chronicles #2) by Bernard Cornwell


5 of 5 Stars

I love this book!  Therefore, I must say a few words about it. Growing up, I heard about the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot, The Sword in the Stone, Merlin, Guinevere, Arthur, Lancelot, and Tristan and Iseult but was not really too familiar with them or anything else about that time. Possibly because I am American, I have never really been into the whole Arthur mythos. It sounded like something I would like but just couldn't get into it. As a young adult, I made an attempt to read The Once and Future King but after a few chapters lost interest. I tried again a few years ago, same thing. I tried numerous other modern retellings but did not complete any of them. I continued to not really care about any of it. Then someone responded to one of my blog posts and mentioned that Bernard Cornwell wrote "a magnificent trilogy" about Arthur and it was recommended to him as a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire. Well, I was familiar with Cornwell and so I thought if his Arthur books was favorably compared to ASoIaF I should give it another try. I began researching, as I always do when I am interested in a book, and decided it might work for me.

I am a quick and impatient reader. I tell publishers and authors that I often choose to not finish a book because I no longer force myself to read books which don't interest me or connect for me whatever the reason. There is too much to read and I have to much to do to read something I don't enjoy. So that is why I thoroughly research a book before I purchase it, request it, or check it out from the library. One thing which I will put a book down for is lack of care about the characters. If I am reading a story, no matter how much action it has or how well written, if I don't care about the characters, for good or bad, I stop reading it. I normally know by 100 pages or so but I don't have a "rule". Once I realize I could care less what happens to a character or characters, I give the book a last chance, maybe 15-20 pages, to connect or I am done. And I probably stop a third of the books I meticulously pick out. I mention all this because this is one of the best character driven books I have ever come across. Someone said that this is the book they had been searching for their whole life, it was that good. I couldn't agree more!

In all my years of reading, I can't recall a book with so many great and memorable characters, except perhaps in classic literature. The characters were all very flawed, just as humans are. The apparent contradictions in their behaviors and what they said and then did reminded me of myself and every other person I have met. As did how they gave lip service to oaths and justice but then acted on their emotions. This is a dark, brutal, and tragic tale full of heroism, love, and romance with many more themes of revenge, justice, war, human nature, peace, and many more. There are many other layers in this story such as the battle between Druidism and Christianity and between the Britons and Saxons as well as all the political intrigue and treachery among the Britons. The history and lore is deep and dark, going back to the time of the Romans conquering the land. The magic was of a sort I can't really do justice to. It seemed so real yet foreign to what we generally think of as magic. There was a large cast of characters and an epic plot but because of the writing and wonderful development, I was never lost, never confused, and never bored all three of which generally happen to me from time to time in books with many characters and epic plots. I like books that are clever and the plot here was one clever idea after another, twisting and turning and doing what I never expected. Bernard Cornwells writing is top of the line. I generally don't care for descriptive writing but he brought this time period to life for me and I soaked in each city, town, castle, and temple he described as well as the character descriptions. The story was an emotional roller coaster as well, bringing you high with victories and justice and low with sorrow for the terrible tragedies that befall these characters.

The author mentions how he made this story his own, taking bits and pieces of the amazingly complex and convoluted Arthur legends. I have no idea how it holds up to the history of either the real or mythological Arthur. I don't care either. This is an amazing book, one of the best I have ever read. The Winter King, book 1, was an awesome book but this one was even better. This is historical fiction at its best. Even if you don't care for the Arthur legends, you should still read this as an awesome story.

I do love my country but what beautiful history does Britain have! I have to admit I am jealous. The United States has a history of a couple hundred years compared to Britain which has a couple thousand years of history. And this book brings to life that time about 1600 years ago.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review of The White Towers (Rage of Kings #2) by Andy Remic

The White Towers (The Rage of Kings #2)The White Towers by Andy Remic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars






Writing 4/5
Imagination 5/5
Plot 4/5
Setting 4/5
Characters 4/5
My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 4/5

About the book from Goodreads

Vagandrak is broken, and a new threat has arisen that threatens to defeat even the mighty Iron Wolves. 
The twisted, deviant Elf Rats have gathered in the toxic realm beyond the White Lion Mountains… swiftly they invade the troubled land of Vagandrak, killing for profit and pleasure. 
The now-disgraced Iron Wolves are the realm’s only hope, but there’s a problem: they’ve been sentenced to death by the insane King Yoon for the dark sorcery in their blood. 
In the mountains of Zalazar lie the White Towers, pillars of legend said to contain the Heart of the Elves. The Iron Wolves must journey north to steal the Heart, and purify the evil in the land, but the land belongs to the Elves – and they won’t give it up without a fight!

Andy Remic wows again with his second book in the Rage of kings series. This story takes place on a different front than the first book so here we see the Iron Wolves fighting the powers and forces of the Elf Rats. Action packed and as always with Remic the same brutal, violent, and dark style remains. Let it be known right away; if you are squeamish, don't like violence, cussing, or sex scenes don't pick this up. It is not for you. You will just write a negative review because you will not be able to see past that and experience what Remic has done with this book. If you can handle those things, and like brutal, dark fantasy, this is really an essential entry in the grimdark catalogue.

It is my estimation Andy Remic is writing some of the most imaginative fantasy today. Every other page I felt shocked, disgusted, or delighted with what he came up with next. I never tired of the story or characters. This was a fun book to read. It's not a huge investment in time or intellectual power either. And that's not to say it's not a well written or clever book. It is also a bit over 450 pages so it's not short by any means. It's to the point, in the style of old pulp fiction like Robert E. Howard's Conan books or Fritz Liebers Farhad and the Grey Mouser. Those authors have legions of fans and Andy Remic is just as good. I have not read a bad book by him. I am an impatient reader. If a book has needless dialogue that doesn't move the story along or cause me to care about a character, I quickly give up. I never experienced that in this book. Everything that happens or is talked about moves the story along or is important to know about the character.

The Iron Wolves are not nice. They typify the anti-hero. They have very troubled pasts. We learn about this little by little and it's really fun for me to see how they have become what they are. They have petty quarrels, jealousy's, and hatreds against each other and the world. They come across as very real. I have met people like each of these men and women who can't get past the events that shaped them. I really believe Andy Remic has an excellent understanding of psychology, and he uses it for character development.

If you enjoyed book 1, The iron Wolves, I think you will love this book. It can also be read as a standalone but since it picks up directly after the events of book 1, I advise you start with book 1. As mentioned, this is dark, brutal, violent fantasy with a pulp fantasy/sword and sorcery feel and it immediately reminded me of those wonderful books mentioned above and also Moorcock's Elric and Wagners's Kane. I highly recommend this book. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review of Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence


5/5 Stars

Writing 5/5
Imagination 4/5
Plot 4/5
Setting 4/5
Characters 5/5
Grimdark 3.5/5

My Overall Enjoyment 5/5

Bonus
Humor 5/5



Goodreads book summary

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all. 
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong. 
After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

After two months of looking at Prince of Fools (Mark Lawrence’s follow up to Emperor of Thorns and the final book in my favorite series of all time) in my ereader queue, it is finally gone. PoF was my number one anticipated novel of the year so I did not want to read it to soon and I like to savor my favorite authors books. Expectations are high; Mark Lawrence has many fanatical fans, myself included. Before PoF came out, I already thought him to be the best current writer in fantasy, or in any genre, and an amazing and provocative storyteller. Does PoF live up to his reputation and fans expectations? An emphatic and resounding YES! By all accounts PoF is an amazing, wonderful book. And there is a dog in the beginning named Pluto, my dogs name, and a great name for a dog!

First, who does not love vikings? I have been on a major viking reading theme and have probably read 30 or more books about them this year as well as following the excellent show, Vikings. In PoF, Jalen, also known as the Red Prince, ends up with a traveling companion who is a monster of a Viking named Snorri. Snorri is a total badass out for revenge for reasons revealed in the story. Jalan is of royalty and far down in the line of succession, and is very different than any main character I have come across, mainly he is a coward and a liar. The main characters, as well as the other minor characters, are brought brilliantly to life. Jalan could not be more different than Jorg (the "hero" of The Broken Empire series). As in the best books, the characters are believable and you want to see what happens to them. Often, I get halfway through a book and realize I just don’t care what happens to the characters or how the story ends up. This is definitely not a problem here. After each event or conversation, I anxiously want to see what happens next, not only in the story but to the characters. Neither Snorri or Jalan are particularly pleasant persons, yet there is a strong affinity with them. Having been so emotionally invested in the Broken Empire series, when Jalan and Snorri cross paths with some of the Brothers, as well as a certain young prince, I was astounded at what occurred.  I set the book down for several hours after that because it was so epic!

The Broken Empire was dark; very dark (some disagree). This is dark as well, but it is insanely humorous and definitely has a lighter feel. Jalan and Snorri’s witticisms and banter are hysterical. It had me laughing out loud multiple times and smiling untold times. Instead of the brutality featured in the Broken Empire, this book has humor. There is action, killing, and violence, done expertly and cleverly, but the humor is what jumps out for me.

The writing is expert. No other writer is as clever as Mark Lawrence. The dialogue and narration are both concise and succinct. There are aphorisms galore. I bookmarked more pages than I can count to go back and read (my free ereader doesn't allow highlighting so this is one book I need to get up a physical copy). I had the idea to insert them in this review but much of the pleasure of reading Mark Lawrence is coming across them in context so I will leave them for the reader to discover.

The plot is thoughtful and suspenseful and at times full of horror. There is magic of a mysterious type and it is very important to this story but not overpowering. We learn a lot about numerous new cities and towns as well as some lore and history of this post-apocalyptic world as Jalan and Snorri travel.  We also meet very interesting people throughout the journey and it is always fun to see what Mark dreams up next and what obstacles the characters will face.

With this book, Mark Lawrence shows he is one of the premier fantasy writers of this generation and of all time. I love the Broken Empire world and do not believe I would ever tire of it. No matter what Mark writes, I will be the first in line. But I do hope he continues in the Broken Empire with another series after this one. For now, I can not wait for book two. I recommend this without hesitation or qualification to everyone.