Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review of The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit For Heroes #3)-Richard Morgan

The Dark Defiles
by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Writing 4/5
Imagination 5/5
Plot 3.5/5
Setting 4.5/5
Characters 3/5

My Overall Enjoyment (Not an average) 3/5

Summary from Goodreads

The final part of Richard Morgan's fast-moving and brutal fantasy brings Ringil to his final reckoning and sees the world tipping into another war with the dragon folk. And, most terrifying of all, the prophecy of a dark lord come to rule may be coming true very close to home ...
After completing The Steel Remains, book 1 in in Richard Morgan's fantasy series A Land Fit for Heroes, I knew I found something that would forever live in the canon of grimdark. I did not review the second book, The Cold Commands, but I rated it 4/5 stars and thought it was good but lacking the intensity of the first. So The Dark Defiles had a lot to live up to. Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations but it was not a bad book either.

Some of the magic of books 1 and 2 was just gone for me. This book was a lot longer and I felt needlessly so. It did not seem as tight, clear, and concise as previous installments. I felt at least 150 pages could easily have been cut. I felt it was a bit meandering, without direction. At times I was completely lost. Partly because of the style of jumping back and forth between characters and past and present.

The writing was still very good but looking at my bookmarks in his other books, I did not see much in this one that could rival his most wonderful passages in those. As in the last 2 books, there is an excellent blend of science fiction and fantasy and some very complex ideas are articulated and done well. There is a good deal about this world I did not understand, but it was due to the complexity of the subject, not the writing.

This book is full of lore and history, my favorite part of reading fantasy. I love backstory. This is one of the most unique and fascinating worlds I have ever come across and all the questions I had about previous books were answered in this book. A large portion of this book concerns itself with explaining the history of the races and gods and their interactions with one another. Loose ends were tied up and I enjoyed the ending. The book really moved quickly the last 200 pages plotwise.

Overall, a satisfying ending but somewhat underwhelming overall book in one of my favorite series. I don't see any reason one would read this book without having read the first 2. If you have read and enjoyed those, I believe you will enjoy this final book, especially if you are a patient, thoughtful reader, which I am not. If you have not read The Steel Remains (Book 1 in the series), I consider it essential and you should give it a try. Richard Morgan is no doubt one of the best current authors in science fiction and fantasy and I anxiously await his next project

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's Happening Here at Grimdark Fantasy Reader

I would like to briefly update my readers as to the goings on at Grimdark Fantasy Reader. First, I do have a review of Richard Morgan's concluding A Land Fit For Heroes book called The Dark Defiles scheduled to drop in a few days. I have read but not reviewed several recent fantasy releases, among them M.C. Plank's Sword of the Bright Lady and Angus Watson's Age of Iron. I thought they were both well written and for a novice fantasy reader they should work wonderfully. Even for someone who has been in the genre, they both have a lot to offer, including good characterization, plot, magic, imagination. With that said, and for me personally, I was a bit bored. I think I have reached something of a crossroad in my reading. There are several authors, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, David Gemmell, Jeff Salyards, Scott Lynch, George Martin, Michael Moorcock, and a few others, who I am willing to read anything by. There are many others, who just don't work for me. Then there are the unknowns. It's true, I have been extremely impressed with numerous self published or new authors on major publishers. But, for all the ones that I have enjoyed, there have been at least 10 that I set aside. Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with them, and many deserve more acclaim than they have, but the last year and a half of immersion in fantasy has refined my tastes to a very specific type of book. Not only that, it is essential books I read are not just well written but that they must be writen at the highest literary level. Not every author can pull that off. In fact, very few can. Also, I don't like any type of political agenda in fantasy literature. Harold Bloom says "we must not pass a law that imposes upon fiction the burden of improving society." Furthermore, he says "it cannot be overstated that Hamlet has no creed, social or religious." If the author's selling point is overtly political, such as in this recent marketing statement I received in an email just today saying "both women use their stories to probe the politics of gender and inequality" I couldn't be less interested. And this is a real problem today, I innocently select a book that looks like a good read and out of nowhere the authors agenda bites me in the ass, usually either feminist or relativist (as in the Glen Cook novel (Black Company) I just finished and nearly gave up on him for good over) or sometimes with blatant radical egalitarian or "rights themes." I read fantasy for primarily aesthetic purposes and secondarily for purposes of learning about human nature and the grey shades that make us human and unless the author is a philosopher or classical scholar I don't care what they have to say about equality or gender. I'm not intrigued or interested in politics of gender or equality. If I have questions about these things, there are others I will consult, those giants who have stood the test of time. I've learned nothing about politics through modern fantasy and anyone who wants to learn about politics will be dangerously misled by searching modern fantasy or science fiction for it. If anything other than pleasure comes from reading in the genre, it's the awakening of the moral imagination.

That leads me to whats next for me and Grimdark Fantasy Reader. I anticipate at this point to continue the site, with perhaps 1-2 reviews a month, relying heavily on others reviews such as Bloody Cake NewsDrunken Dragon ReviewsBlackgateFantasy Faction, and a few others as a way of selecting what to read. Already, Bloody Cake News led me to what looks to be an excellent, book called Whispers of War by Sean Rodden. As for what I will be doing, during the next 5-10 years I plan to study what has been referred to as "The Western Canon" or "The Great Tradition." My formal education as well as my own studies in the last 10 years has familiarized me with the works of Plato, Homer, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Nietzsche, and many more but I intend a systematic study of what they said, not what others said they said. To do that I will have to do my best to clear my mind of all the literary criticism I have read, both that which fit what I believe and that which doesn't. I deplore historicism, relativism, positivism, and all the other modern ism's used for interpreting literature and because of that I also must unlearn some of what I learned in college, mainly that "a forest is never just a forest" and "Little Red Riding Hood's cape was red to symbolize her first menstrual period." It's immensely sad to me how many people out there in these times of the "mass man" have never read these works and if they did they interpreted them by way of the above mentioned methods which is to lose the truth contained in the author's own words. Many people are trained nowadays, but few are truly educated. I want to be educated. And although I have a cursory understanding and familiarity with these works, I have a long way to go as a truth seeker. I'm currently in the research phase and have assembled all the texts I own and am writing lists and reading up on what I should study. The Canon is too large at this point to even consider a thorough study of every work so I have to be somewhat selective. I am in the process of narrowing my focus as well. Should it just be secular philosophy, or that alongside Christian philosophy? "How far back should I go" "Do I include novels" "Should I focus strictly on political philosophy or include moral philosophy?" These and a hundred other questions are what I am working on at this time.

A small part of my library

Lastly, I have read at least 10 five star books this year. It will be hard determining book of the year. There are still about 8-10 highly anticipated books coming out this year including The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock, The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, and The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch. Next year, there are sequels by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Brian Stavely, Jon Sprunk, and Jeff Salyards. I still have to finish Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy and James Barclay's Raven books. So there is still much to see at the site. As for my other studies, I may make a second blog since I won't put much on this site as it relates to Grimdark and fantasy. 

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.