Wednesday, 23 April 2014

'The Hammer and the Blade' by Paul S. Kemp

The Gist:
Kill the demon.
Steal the treasure.
Retire to a life of luxury.
Sounds easy when you put it like that.
Unfortunately for Egil and Nix, when the demon they kill has friends in high places, retirement is not an option.
My thoughts:

Kemp has sold over a million books. Ever heard of him? He's a shared world author(Forgotten Realms, Star Wars), so if you haven't, that'd probably explain why. 'The Hammer and the Blade' is his first book for Angry Robot Books and is set in a world of his own making.

The book revolves around Egil and Nix a pair of grave robbers. Their the typical bad boy duo with soft hearts. One has a tragic past the other a rags to riches story. There also be beautiful whores, damsels in distress, scary demons, an evil sorcerer, a few moral dilemmas and there's even a feminist message chucked in there for those who need it. The book starts out with the duo finishing up their latest tomb raiding job and deciding it might be a good time to retire and enjoy their money. Things go badly for them from that point on. Unbeknownst to them, they killed a demon with connections. In brief, said connections "persuade" the duo to come out of retirement, go on a journey through demon infested wastelands and rob another tomb to make up for killing aforementioned demon.

'The Hammer and the Blade' is pretty much a cookie cutter sword and sorcery fantasy book. Which means if done right, it's a fun read, if done wrong, it's a clichéd ridden piece of crap. Sword and Sorcery according to Wikipedia for those of you unsure exactly what the term means(that's me), is defined as "characterized by a strong bias toward fast-paced, action-rich tales set within a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework. Unlike high or epic fantasy, the stakes tend to be personal, the danger confined to the moment of telling." 'The Hammer and the Blade' fits the build and though clichés abound it's written well enough that you just don't care. You just sit back and enjoy the ride.

My ride went like this: mmmm this is good, ahhhh kinda lame, ummmm fak yeah!

My only complaints are that my lovable rougues kinda went all whimpy and kumbaya on me during the middle of the book and the use of fak and shite as expletives. C'mon if you going to have swearing you might as well and go the whole hog!(excluding this review as I wish to demonstrate how lame it is....the language not the review dipshite!)

If you're looking for a light, fun and not to serious read, then this might be a book for you. If not, faking look elsewhere!

This review is based on an eARC received for free through the Angry Robot Book Army program.

AUTHORS WEBSITE
http://paulskemp.com/

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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

'Traitor’s Blade' - Sebastien de Castell Thoughts/Review

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell, has as far as I can tell, had nothing but positive reviews. Will the trend continue.....

The Gist:

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike. 
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. 
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
My thoughts and others reviews:

Fantasy Book Critic:
After an ok'ish start on the light side that gave a taste of the picaresque aspect of the novel, Traitor's Blade started getting darker and more interesting so it quickly pulled me in.
and
Highly imaginative world building which has a little "iffiness" factor true as some things happen too quickly and of course our heroes escape quite a few deathly situations in sometimes unlikely ways
Pica a what? Thank god for wikipedia:
The picaresque novel (Spanish: "picaresca," from "pícaro," for "rogue" or "rascal") is a popular subgenre of prose fiction which might sometimes be satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.
Ah yes I agree, Pica whatever does describe the novel and yes I was also pulled in. I think "highly imaginative world building" is going a tad far given there wasn't much world building actually going on....plenty of "iffiness" stuff going on though.

Fantasy Review Barn:
The humor is what really makes the early portions of this book shine, but it is not a comedy. It is a swashbuckling adventure story with a pretty good setup. The pacing was damn near perfect, quick moving and tight enough that getting lost would be impossible, yet with a decent amount of depth. I love seeing some attention being paid to setting up the politics of the land, and this is a story where I am just as interested in those chapters set in the past as the current story line.
Can't say I was laughing out loud but the humour was ok. Gotta also agree about the pacing and setup. Those two things kept me reading despite the "iffiness".

My whimsical, if dark, adventure story changes at some point in the middle. Gone is a smart ass trying to do good in the big bad world. In is a protagonist with rage issues. And look, he is joined by a torture scene (always good for a laugh, right?), followed by a villain so sure of victory that the monologuing begins (thank you Pixar for that great term). All set in a slightly unbelievable hell week the local Duke is putting a city through. I am not really buying this right now.
Heh, Falcio's rage issues for me were his most redeeming quality. Without that he's a pretty dumb dude good at fencing. The monologuing  villian was some more "iffiness".

Fantasy Faction:
I was utterly fascinated by the female characters in the book. The mysterious Tailor was a very interesting – almost like an oracle of sorts. She knows a lot but instead of imposing her way, she lets others follow their own path. One of my other favourite characters was a remarkable little girl Aline, whose story in the book is very poignant but also uplifting.
The Tailor was interesting right up until the end,  then I was like WTF?!? I guess one way of surprising people is to write something so nonsensical people just wont be able to guess it..... Fascinated by Aline? Really? Poignant and uplifting? Not the adjectives I'd use. I'm thinking obvious and unrealistic myself.

Every Single Review:
>>INSERT GUSHING PRAISE AND BEST READ OF THE YEAR HYPERBOLE HERE<<
You'd think from what I've said so far, that I didn't enjoy or like the book. Not so, I did, but I'm also not blind to it's faults, of which there are many IMO. I think the best way for me to describe this book is that it reads like one of your mates is telling you about an adventure he had on a night out or weekend. It's entertaining, fun, full of unbelievable events and a bit sketchy in places or in other words, an entertaining story but one you can't take to seriously.

Website: http://decastell.com

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Featured Art - Fan Ming

 This guy/gal from China could do some epic fantasy covers if given the chance. Here's a little preview: (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)






You can see more at http://fanming.artp.cc/works_en. He/she also has a blog...though it's in Chinese...

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Monday, 31 March 2014

'The Boy with the Porcelain Blade' Pimpage/Rant

Before I rant here's the Gist:

An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters. 
Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. 
Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria. 
Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.
Now the Rant:

First off, this rant is directed solely at Gollancz and not the author. So yeah, I bought this debut novel called The Boy with the Porcelain Blade on my Kindle on the 27th of March. At the time I did notice one negative review complaining about parts of the book "missing". I thought to myself, mistakes happen, I'm sure they've fixed it by now, plus it was on special for the first week only and I didn't want to miss out on a good deal. Stupid me!

At first I thought the missing parts problem had been fixed, I was to my surprise actually enjoying the book, it wasn't perfect but it was pretty good. There was one occasion where I thought that something was a bit odd but it didn't really distract me until I got to chapter 14. Chapter 14 has at least a page missing if not more from it and that was hard not to notice and that was distracting and rather annoying. It was at this point I realised the "missing parts" were still MIA! I should have paid attention to the amazon comments dates(25/03):
Agreed, there are chunks of text missing, not simply words, but seemingly full passages making certain sections undecipherable.
and
 I've the same issue as well. It is disappointing, as what I have read so far I've really enjoyed, but what I'm missing due to poor quality checking is spoiling it and keeps taking me out of the story.
 Just two days before I purchased. Feeling frustrated I decided to tweet Gollancz:


If they responded I expected something along the lines of "We apologise for the inconvenience, we'll have it fixed ASAP!". What I got was this(IMO) rather testy response:


Already being frustrated about not being able to continue reading a good book, that just got my dander up and I replied with:


They came back with:


Now not only was my dander up, my knickers were getting in a knot:


At this point Gollancz decided to justify why the are continuing to sell the eBook(i'm assuming the Hardcover doesn't have the same problems):


Taking it off sale would help few.....I'm pretty sure it would have helped me and everyone else who has and will buy a book they can't truely enjoy. On the other hand, there are only two people who continuing to sell it helps. You the publisher and the author. Now I acknowledge that pulling the eBook from sale will hurt you, but quite frankly, YOU are the one that fucked up and that's your problem NOT MINE. By continuing to sell the book you are transferring the problem to me and everyone else! That's not good business or PR!


I don't want a refund.....I wanted you to not sell me a book you knew to be flawed!

Now having said all that, I do, even though I've only read 14 chapters, recommend that you buy this book when the problem has been fixed. Not sure how one will work that out as I doubt Gollancz will have a message on the amazon listing page saying "it's all gud now".

Maybe I'm just being precious......

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

'Grunt Life: A Task Force Ombra Novel' by Weston Ochse

The Gist:

This is a brand new Military SF series from Weston Ochse, an experienced military man and author. 
Benjamin Carter Mason died last night. Maybe he threw himself off a bridge into Los Angeles Harbor, or maybe he burned to death in a house fire in San Pedro; it doesn’t really matter. Today, Mason’s starting a new life. He’s back in boot camp, training for the only war left that matters a damn.  
For years, their spies have been coming to Earth, mapping our cities, learning our weaknesses, leaving tragedy in their wake. Our governments knew, but they did nothing—the prospect was too awful, the costs too high—and now, the horrifying and utterly alien Cray are invading, laying waste to our cities. The human race is a heartbeat away from extinction.  
That is, unless Mason, and the other men and women of Task Force OMBRA, can do anything about it. 
This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts.
My Thoughts:

From the first few pages this book is an intense look at  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome(PTSD) in today's current crop of War Veterans. It is at times uncomfortable as Mason struggles with his memories of war and those he has lost. Ochse doesn't hold back and it makes for a riveting read. At the same time it's very educational and you can tell Ochse knows his shit.

This is set against the backdrop an Alien invasion of Earth and Mason and other PTSD sufferers have been recruited by a private corporation to fight it off. The plot for me was the weakest part of the book. I just didn't buy it. The training that Task Force OMBRA is put through is interesting and Ochse does pose the reader some interesting questions but the motivations behind the corporations especially once the invasion is underway, fell outside my realm of believability. Luckily Ochse's characterisation and Mason's introspective look at PTSD overshadow the plot so much that this became only a minor quibble for me.

'Grunt Life' at its heart is an Intense, Thought Provoking and Eye Opening look at the issues soldiers have to face everyday during and after their service.

That alone is a good enough reason to read it. If you need more, well there is also some exoskeleton alien stomping action as well.....

Thoughts based on ARC received from Solaris via netgalley.

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year # 8

Press Release from Solaris Books:

The celebrated The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series comes to the UK – Solaris is proud to be the new home for the latest volume in Jonathan Strahan’s critically-acclaimed SFF anthology series!

The best, most original, and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by the multiple-award-winning editor.

This highly popular series is released in the UK for the first time and includes stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents, including Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Karin Tidbeck, An Owomoyela, Madeline Ashby, Lavie Tidhar, Charlie Jane Anders, Geoff Ryman, Caitlin R Kiernan and many more.

With a fantastic range of diverse authors and cutting-edge science fiction, this essential book is an established series in the US but has only been found on import in the UK. It now joins Solaris’ high-profile anthology list.

 About the editor

Jonathan Strahan is an editor and anthologist. He co-edited The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology series in 1997 and 1998. He is also the reviews editor of Locus. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his wife and their two daughters.

 www.jonathanstrahan.com.au

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

'The Fell Sword' - Miles Cameron Thoughts/Review

The Fell Sword was one of my most anticipated books for 2014. Did it deliver? Lets see...


The Gist:
There are some things you can pay a man to do. And there are some you can’t. Betrayal by one of your own is usually free.
Hiring experienced mercenaries to protect your throne is not.
When an Emperor is deposed, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand – and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But The Red Knight has a plan. The question, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time – especially when intends to be victorious on them all?
 My thoughts and others reviews:

JPS via Amazon:
Just like in the Red Knight, the first volume, reading this one gives the impression that the author essentially has fun writing a piece that takes place in a fantasy world that borrows from European 14th century. It also makes "the Albin" into some kind of cross between Britain and North America, with the North West part of the continent full of monsters (Trolls and Giants, in particular, but no dragons in this episode, except "in disguise") but also elf-like creatures and various types of Indians (with some suggestive tribe names and place names such as the Abenakis or Ticondanga for Fort Ticonderoga).
The eastern part of the continent is called "Morea" and is the seat of a fictional and much reduced Empire modelled on the Fourteenth Century Byzantine Empire, with the capital city called Livianopolis (instead of Contantinopolis) and the second largest city called "Lonica" (instead of Thessalonika). Also very much present are the "Etruscan" merchants, with their respective city-states and colonies inspired from Venice, Genoa and Pisa. The southern part are the lands of Jarsay (would this be inspired from Jersey by any chance?) and Occitan (Languedoc?) while south of the North Cross Ocean lie the lands of Galle, Iberia and, to the south west, Ifrikiya.
Just wanted to say thanks for the History lesson. Some may find Cameron's Alternate Historical "Fantasy" Fiction a bit lazy on the world building side of things and sometimes I agree but for the most part I've enjoyed his borrowing from the real world. Gives it a familiar feel.....if you paid attention during your History lessons....

Chris via Goodreads:
Yes! a smashing sequel to "The Red Knight" in The Traitor Son cycle by Miles Cameron. Again it has this multiple interweaving storyline narrative structure, which makes it hard to follow at first, but when you are familiar with the characters and their stories from the first novel `the Red Knight' it is like meeting old friends (and enemies) again and you instantly get hooked on how all of them will fare in this novel. And there's a couple of interesting new characters with their own storyline on top of the old cast that will play their part. 
The Eloquent Page:
I was pleased to discover that my two favourite characters from book one both return. Bad Tom remains as grimly cynical and uncouth as ever. Whenever he appears, a sardonic quip is just a breath away. You can tell that beneath all his mutterings and objections he has a soft spot for the Red Knight. I like their constant back and forth bickering. Their relationship feels natural and never forced. Meanwhile, Jean de Vrailly, the self-proclaimed “greatest knight in the world”, is still the same raging egotist he was before. He’s so damned self-righteous it’s genuinely intriguing to watch him going about his business. One monarch makes the ill-advised move of suggesting de Vrailly would make a good tax collector. Needless to say things get very bloody very quickly. Whenever Bad Tom or de Vrailly appears it always raises a smile. They’re both so much fun in a sociopathic nut-job type fashion.
The Point of View(PoV) changes aren't as hectic as in the first book which was both good and bad. Good if I enjoyed the PoV, bad if I didn't. Keeping track of some of the new characters was a bit of a chore and I only truly enjoyed the PoV's centered on The Red Knight and the Queen of Alba. Not to say the others were bad, they just weren't as compelling.

de Vrailly is definitely a nut job and always good for a chuckle. Will be interesting to see if his honour allows him to play the role he's been put in by his King and "Angel". Bad Tom is just a LOON!

Fantasy Book Critic:
The short description for The Fell Sword is "fantasy as bloat": messy, disjointed, with some great moments, sorely lacking focus but also the intensity and to some extent the mystery that made the first volume a much better book despite its "bloatiness" aspects
The Fell Sword definitely suffers from a bad dose of middle/second book syndrome. What's that you say? GillyB say's it better than I could so here ya go:
So what is Second Book Syndrome? This is an instance where the rhythm of the trilogy is off. Instead of upping the ante, the author ups the angst. Instead of quickening the plot, the plot drags. The shine wears off, the characters become more wearying, and that, ladies and gentleman, is Second Book Syndrome. It's when the second book falls short of the first, and it's sadly pretty common. Those second books are killer. They're the middle of the structure, and they've got a lot of heavy lifting to do. They bear so much  narrative weight.
Now 'The Traitor Son' Cycle may or may not be a trilogy but that description pretty much sums up my feelings about The Fell Sword. I agree with FBC when they say the book is less focused than the previous but I don't agree with the bloat comments. I didn't notice any bloat in the first book and until I read the third book I can't say whether what is contained in this book is bloat or just necessary set up. It didn't feel like bloat...one mans bloat is anothers world/story building....

Overall I enjoyed the The Fell Sword but was not blown away by it. It lacks the focus and intensity of the first book but maintains the great characterisation and authentic Medieval Warfare that made the first great. So did it deliver? Yes and no......

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