Category Archives: Fantasy

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Sometimes, you stumbled upon a book that resonates with you on a deeper than usual level. Maybe you had a similar idea banging around your head for a while, or maybe some of your inner voices speak in voiced strangely reminiscent of the characters in that book. Or just maybe you really get the world the author is describing. In any case, it makes reading that particular book an absolute joy.

It happened to me before with Leviathan Wakes where I just fell head first in to the world and in love with the characters. You can find my review of it here. And it happened again with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.

I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the blurb in the back. A world where craftsmen and women have almost godlike powers? Where gods walk the earth and can be killed and brought back to life? A weird steampunk-ish technology mixed with magic? Heck yeah!

So I downloaded a free sample from amazon and was immediately hooked. Sure, the world is wonderfully weird and complex, but the characters are what really appealed to me. They are different and wonderfully complex.

I loved Tara, the young craftswoman. She has a very strong personality and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is also new to the Craft and not as ruthless and her older peers. She still has some humanity left in her. This makes her even more endearing, because she has to make some hard choices in this book between her obligations to her employers and her obligations to her new-found friends. Those choices don’t come easy, and I could really feel how much they cost her.

And let’s talk about Abelard! Great job creating this one, Mr. Gladstone, I am really envious. This seemingly lost and naïve acolyte who is chain smoking and dealing with a crisis of faith turns out to have immeasurable hidden reserves and a will of steel. He ends up saving the day and doesn’t ask for anything in return, apart from to be left alone to worship his god in peace.

I was found of the other characters as well, even if those two definitely stole the limelight. The story itself is also deliciously complex and engaging. I loved the fact that underneath it all, it was ultimately a story about love and sacrifice and about the lengths even a god would go to save the one he loves.

So my advice to you is to go pick up Three Parts Dead. You will not regret it. You will spend a day or two in a wonderfully bizarre world with engaging characters. And if you want to return to that world, Mr. Gladsone has two more books out. I’m about to start the next one, Two Serpents Rise.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this second book of the series, Ben Aaronovitch brings us back to London where Constable Peter Grant has to investigate suspicious deaths among jazz players. And for Peter, those deaths strike a little close to home, because his dad, the famous (or infamous) “Lord Grant” used to be a jazz legend, until he lost his air due to drug use.

During the course of the investigation, Peter comes to suspect that Nightingale’s belief that magic is leaving the world and that there aren’t any practitioners left is rather erroneous. There is an unknown magician in London and his intentions are less than honorable.

I loved the first book in the series, Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the USA for some reason). You can read my review of it here. I absolutely loved the book, so I picked up Moon over Soho was with an equal amount of anticipation and apprehension. It happened to me way too many times when I love the first book of a series only to be disappointed with the next one. I was very glad to discover that it wasn’t the case with Moon over Soho.

All the characters I grew to love in the first book are back. Nightingale survived his gunshot wound and continues to teach Peter, even if he is still a bit under the weather (but still manages to show just how much of a badass he is in a certain scene with a night club and a demon trap). Leslie also survived her encounter with the vengeful ghost of last book, but is irrevocably scarred by it.

And we finally get to meet the arch-nemesis of the series, an infamous (and powerful) magician who calls himself the Faceless Man. We learn very little about him in this book, but even that shows that he will be a formidable foe for the Folly.

Peter Grant continues to learn magic and explore his limits. I love the fact that he doesn’t just blindly follow Nightingale’s command. He asks questions, he tries to understand why magic works, and he experiments (sometimes with disastrous results).

We also get another glimpse at Peter’s family, meet new magical denizens of London and go to a couple jazz concerts. Oh, and we also get to see the school where Nightingale learned magic, and it’s nothing like Hogwards.

All in all, a wonderful second book in the series! So if you are looking for a good read, pick up both the first and the second book in the series. I am looking forward to starting Whispers Under Ground, the third book.

Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 5 out of 5

There are some books which release you highly anticipate and can’t wait to read, and then there are books that you just kind of stumble upon almost by accident. For me, it was the case for The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (for some reason, the book is called Midnight Riot in the US). I was browsing the book section of Amazon, hunting for something new that sounded even marginally interesting to read, and I came upon this book. The blurb at the back sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a try. And boy am I glad I did! I absolutely, totally love this book (and the next three in the series as well, but I will review them at a later date)!

But first things first, here is a synopsis of the book. Peter Grant is just a probationary constable in the London police, and as such, he is saddled with the thankless task of guarding a crime scene overnight. The night is cold and Peter’s future is grim, because he seems to be destined for the Case Progression Unit – the unit of glorified paper pushers. But everything changes that night when Peter takes a statement from a ghost and makes the acquaintance of Inspector Nightingale, England’s last real wizard. So now Peter Grant is assigned to the Folly, the Unit that doesn’t officially exit but that most of the Force knows to call when any “weird” stuff starts happening.

One of the reviewers said that this book was what would have happened if Harry Potter grew up and lost his Chosen One complex (I’m paraphrasing here), but I think this book is better than that.

First of all, I loved Ben Aaronovitch subtle sense of humor which managed to lighten up even the really grim passages of the book. You can also feel that the author loves London and knows her very well. The city is not just a stage for the events in the book, but a participant. Its locations are intertwined with the plot.

And I absolutely fell in love with Peter Grant! He is such a vivid character. He is down to earth but willing to accept the existence of strange things when he sees them. He also doesn’t just take the existence of magic for granted, but wants to know how it works. He is not content to just repeat and replicate the formulae that Nightingale teaches him; he wants to know the rules; he wants to know the dangers and the possibilities. And that “scientific” approach to magic really appeals to me, maybe because I’m like Peter – I am not content to see that something works, I want to know how it works as well.

The supporting characters in this book are also very engaging, from Nightingale the mysterious, but slightly clueless in the modern world, wizard, to the smart and sometimes snarky Leslie, or Molly the creepy housekeeper / guard of the Folly. And don’t get me started on Toby, the dog who can sense magical residue! He is hilarious.

Rivers of London is a wonderful book that can be read as a standalone, but is also a very strong beginning of a series. I am very glad I picked it up and got hooked on Peter Grant’s world.

Hounded and Hexed by Kevin Hearne

houndedHexed

 

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I love browsing the recommendation section on Amazon. I have discovered a few wonderful books by doing so, books that I would otherwise probably not heard of. It was definitely the case with Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. I had finished the latest of the Harry Dresden books and was looking for something similar. Hounded was amongst the recommendations and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Atticus O’Sullivan is now amongst my absolutely favorite characters, and Oberon is the best dog ever written.

Atticus O’Sullivan is the last druid and he is close to two thousand years old. He has been all over the world, and seen and done almost everything under the sun. That doesn’t mean that he is life-weary and brooding though, quite the contrary. He still enjoys life and everything it brings. He loves interacting with people and soaking in everything each new century has to offer. I think that’s why I like him so much. I am tired of brooding century-old vampires or ancient wizards with issues and “baggage”, who are just so tired of the world. After several books with similar characters it gets a bit old, so to me Atticus was like a breath of fresh air.

I also loved the fact that there was no love interest (and thus no love-related angst) in the two books. Maybe that will come in later installments, but right now it would definitely have been out of place.

I will not talk about plot here and let you discover it by yourselves. I will just say that it involved a lot of fighting, some demons, Celtic gods and goddesses, and witches, both evil and not so much. Both Hounded and Hexed were a joyful romp through the peaceful Arizona town Atticus chose as his home for now, full of explosions, mayhem and madness.

I like Kevin Hearne style. It’s fun to read, it flows easily, and he has the knack to sprinkle it with humor that just puts a smile on your face no matter what mood you were when you started reading. And I absolutely love the mental conversations between Atticus and Oberon. They make me wonder what my dogs would tell me if they were able to talk.

There have been a lot of criticism of this series where it comes to depiction of female characters, and I must admit that it is rather sexist. But I would disagree that all of the women in the series are there purely as objects of sexual desire. Some of them are well-rounded characters who would not hesitated to kick some ass if needed… and eat your heart out after (Morrigan, I am talking to you).

So all in all, I like this light-hearted series and will definitely read the other books in the series.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (October Daye series 3)

An artificial night

Stars: 4 out of 5

In December 2013, I had reviewed the first two books in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation. You can find my review of both of them here. At that time, I had been disappointed with the second installment of the series and had decided not to bother reading the rest of the books. However, one of my blog readers commented that the series really starts to pick up around book 3 and that I should at least give it a try. In April, after I struggled through several rather disappointing books, I decided to follow that advice and picked up An Artificial Night from the library. I have not been disappointed.

This book has everything that the second one lacked – there is a good story with a solid conflict and really high stakes for all characters; Toby is actively doing something to resolve the situation instead of just mopping around; and the new take at the Wild Hunt and other children fairy tales is deliciously terrifying.

On a seemingly ordinary night, children disappear from their rooms and the only thing left behind is the smell of candle wax. There is no discrimination between who is taken either – changelings, pureblood and human children are missing. And Toby has a very personal reason to investigate those disappearances, because the two youngest children of her best friends are taken, while another one of them won’t wake up. Add to that he fact that Tybald, the kind of Cats, asks her to help find Raj, the young Heir to the throne, who had also been taken, and Toby won’t leave any stones unturned. Even if the next day a Fetch looking like her mirror image shows up at her doorstep, which means that death awaits her in the very near future.

I loved October Daye in this book. Mrs. McGuire finally let her character show some backbone and prove that she had been made a Knight of the Shadowhills for a reason. Toby is fierce and single-minded in her quest to bring the lost children back, and also truly heroic. She doesn’t hesitate even for a moment to put herself in harm’s way to save those kinds. You can’t help but admire her for that.

I also loved the development other characters had in this book. The story behind Luna’s past, and who her parents are. The whole sad story about the Luidaeg, Blind Michael and April. I absolutely loved May Daye, Toby’s unwilling and cheeky Fetch. And, most importantly, the new take on the Wild Hunt myth. I loved the fact that Seanan McGuire made it into a children’s night terror in this book, because those of us, who can still remember our childhood fears, know how terrifying things that go bump in the night can be to a 5-6 years old. And the fact that Toby had to be put back in a child’s body in order to travel the candle road into Blind Michael’s country makes the task before her seem even more daunting. I rooted for her. I was scared for her and all the other characters throughout this book. I also loved the fact that the author didn’t give this book a happy ending in the usual sense of the world. Yes, Toby managed to save the children, but some of them were forever altered, and so was she. And none of the people involved will ever be the same.

Personally, I think that Mrs. McGuire should have skipped the second book altogether, because it only brought one important point (that Toby’s blood magic is somewhat different from what normal Daone Sidhe can do). This point could easily have been integrated into either book one or three.

I would definitely recommend An Artificial Night. I am also looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City of dolls

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This book is the absolute proof that we do judge a book by its cover. At least, it entices us to pick it up and start reading. I think I would have breezed right past the City of a Thousand Dolls on Amazon if not for the absolutely gorgeous cover art. It made me stop, open the link and read the brief synopsis. And after that, I immediately bought it, not even bothering to look through the reviews. Later, I was surprised at the amount of negative reviews this book received, especially on Goodreads, because I loved it.

I the whole concept of a city created for the sole purpose of caring for abandoned girls that their families don’t want anymore. This sort of orphanage, soft of boarding school, sort of specialized school where the girls learn how to become courtesans, artisans, artists, guards or even assassins. I also loved the world Miriam Forster has created. It’s interesting to see how a society that is completely cut off from the outside world would function.

I read a lot of complaints about Nisha, but I think that she is a fleshed out character, as far as young female protagonists go. Yes, at the beginning all her worries might sound shallow and rather petty, but this is exactly how it should be. She is fifteen; she has lived a very sheltered life behind the walls of the City. Of course, she would be worried only about her dress during the Ceremony, or flirting about the young courier. I actually enjoyed watching Nisha’s character evolve and grow up as the story progressed, and seeing how her priorities shifted the more she got involved in the whole investigation into the murders. It took courage and backbone to do what she did in the end, and for that she has my respect.

I am not a fan of love triangles in general, but the implied triangle in this book didn’t bother me that much. Maybe because Mrs. Forster didn’t take the usual route and made one of the men in Nisha’s life “bad”. Everyone has their reasons for acting like they do, and those reasons make sense.

If I have one gripe with this book, it’s that Miriam Forster never explains what happened to Nisha’s parents. We know that they were afraid of something, because they decided to leave Nisha in the City instead of entrusting their nomad family with her care. We know that they were both killed. It would have been nice to know why. Why was it so important to keep Nisha safe behind the city’s walls? Who sent the dead bird to her parents? Was it a warning? Is that why they ran? Nisha had been wondering about her parents and their reasons for years, it would have been cathartic for both her and the reader to get answers to those questions. Hopefully, the author will come back to this subject in later books.

As it stands now, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series – Empire of Shadows. And just look at that new gorgeous cover!

Empire of shadows

Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Everlost

Stars: 4 out of 5

With Everlost, the first book in the Skinjacker series, Neal Shusterman created a fascinating world that I enjoyed exploring.

Nick and Allie die in a car crash, but instead of going all the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, they collide with each other and go of course. So they end up stuck in a world called Everlost – a place that permeates our real world, but in which things that had meaning in our world, but were for some reason destroyed, still remain. It’s a world where the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, the Titanic still sails the seas, the Hindenburg soars through the skies, and all the fortunes in the fortune cookies are always true.

Nick and Allie soon find out that only places that don’t exist in the real world anymore, that are solid in Everlost only, are safe for them. Everywhere else they start sinking into the ground if they stand still for too long. They also discover that this world is only populated by children, the oldest of which was barely 17 when she died, and that monsters do exist, even if they are man-made.

I absolutely loved the world of Everlost. The idea that the ghosts exit in this world that is near ours, but not entirely like ours, is fascinating. Also loved the fact that landmarks, buildings and objects that had some significance or importance to somebody pass into the Everlost as well when they are destroyed. Or that the Afterlights (because they don’t want to call themselves ghosts) are only safe in those places that passed into the Everlost too.

I loved following the main characters, but most of the supporting characters were just as fun to read about. Mary, and the McGill, and Leaf were all very real and well-portrayed characters with their own personalities and goals. They all are basically in the same boat – trying to make sense of what happened to them and figure out how to spend eternity in this strange place.

I was also happy with the fact that the author didn’t chose to go the easy way and populate this world with monsters or other creepy things. The only monsters our heroes encounter are man-made. In fact, this is one of the messages of the book – that you can chose what to be in Everlost, whether you will have the strength to stay human, or lock yourself in a mindless routine that you would be repeating forever, or even become a monster. Every soul copes with the circumstances differently. There is no right or wrong way. But this world is not sad and gloomy at all, because in the end, there is a coin for every lost soul to get to their final destination. They just have to be ready to take that last step.

I really enjoyed this first book and I can’t wait to dive into Everwild, the next book in the series. So if you enjoy a well-thought world and engaging characters, pick up Everlost and read it. Go do it now!

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny

The Great Book of Amber

Stars 5 out of 5 (especially for the first 5 books in the series).

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny will always have a very special place both on my bookshelf and in my heart. I was fifteen years old when I came upon the very first book in the series – Nine Princes in Amber. I had never heard of Zelazny before, I was more of a Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez type. But I was home with a particularly nasty case of flu and nothing to do, so I cracked the book open, not expecting anything exceptional… and I got lost in the complex and wonderful world that Roger Zelazny had created. So much so that I read the first book deep into the night, until I reached the very last page. And when I did, I could barely wait until morning to rush to the library and get all the rest.

The world of the Amber Chronicles is absolutely fascinating. There are two original words – the House of Amber and the Court of Chaos, and a myriad of other worlds that are Shadows (reflections) of those two. Earth is one of those reflections. Amber has a royal family and a very large one at that, because the king, being immortal, had the chance to have many wives and lovers and father many children. So there are, like the first book says, nine Princes in Amber and about just as many Princesses. They have never been a very close-knit family during the best of times, but now the king is missing, and the rivalry for the succession has started. And everything goes in the battle for the throne of Amber…

I also fell in love with the protagonist of the first five books. Prince Corwin wakes up in a hospital on Earth after a terrible accident, with no memories of who he is and a nagging suspicion that the woman who claims to be his sister and who brought him to the hospital is not to be trusted. We discover this wonderful world through Corwin’s eyes, who is rediscovering it and his place in the grand scheme of things.

I love Corwin’s progression throughout the books. He starts off as an arrogant prince of Amber, who doesn’t give a damn about people born in Shadows and is only interested in getting back to Amber and taking the throne from his brother Eric. His reason behind this? Eric is technically a bastard, so he had no right to the throne. Plus Corwin thinks he is more suited to be King of Amber.

And then we follow this character through his journey and watch him transform into someone better, wiser and ultimately more “wholesome”. He makes some mistakes that have far reaching consequences and suffers the backlash for them. Some of his actions put people he cares about in danger. He also discovers that there is more behind his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. But more importantly, at the end of his personal journey, he decides that he doesn’t want the throne of Amber, because one of his brothers is much better suited to be a better king than he ever would be.

I also loved the whole Tarot system, where each Prince and Princess of Amber had a personal card, as well as some key locations in Amber, and Amberites could talk to each other and even travel through them. The episode where Corwin escapes from his prison cell by painting an image of a lighthouse and stepping into it absolutely blew my mind.

Finally, Roger Zelazny was a master of written word and a true poet. Some of his descriptions are so absolutely beautiful. I think I will always remember his description of Corwin riding his horse from Shadow to Shadow and the scenery changing and morphing around him.

Anyway, if you haven’t read anything by Roger Zelazny yet, I would suggest that you start with these books. The first one might have been written in 1970, but it is still just as beautiful and entertaining to read now than it was then.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Last Stormlord

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I loved the world Glenda Larke created, but on the other hand, the characters left me absolutely indifferent.

So let’s talk about the world first. This is a continent on which water is a precious commodity that is cherished and strictly regulated. In fact, the whole continent depends on the Stormlord to take water out of the distant sea, put it into clouds and guide those clouds towards the mountain range in the middle if the continent. There the clouds break and release the water as rain into the Mother Cistern from which it is distributed to all the cities and villages on the continent through an intricate system of tunnels and holding cisterns. Each city has its own water quota, and each citizen is given a daily ration. To be born waterless is the worst fate possible.

The system worked for centuries. So much so that everybody forgot what the time of Random Rain even was like. But now the old Stormlord is dying, and there is nobody powerful enough in water magic to take his place. Oh, there are plenty of rainlords in the cities, but none of them has the power to extract water vapor from the sea. So the whole continent is on the brink of a disaster and searching parties are sent to every single little village to test people and hopefully find a new stormlord. But the nomads of the Red Quarter are brewing a rebellion and dreaming of the return of Random Rain, and the Rainlord of one of the Scrapen cities has plans of his own. The whole continent is about to explode into violence… if it doesn’t die of dehydration first.

I loved the premise. I loved an entire society structured around the conservation of water, where every single drop is accounted for, and where water tokens are the main currency instead of gold. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I looked forward to exploring this world.

This is where the book hit a wall, at least for me – I couldn’t empathize with the characters, and I was supposed to discover the world through their eyes.

Of the two main protagonists, Terelle rubbed me the wrong way the most. I mean she was so determined to run away and not become a snuggery girl that she ended up in even worse slavery in a way… and stayed there, not even trying to change her fate. But she kept complaining about her life constantly in her head, and the reader had to be part of all of her monologues. I wanted to shake her and yell, “If you are so unhappy, then grow a pair and CHANGE it!!! Or shut up and live with it if you are too chicken to act.” And she stayed the same throughout the book. Even in the end, when it had seemed that she had finally tried to do something about her situation, she still ended up doing what her master wanted her to do instead.

As for Shale… his whole story is a collection of tropes. Born to be the lowest of the low. Abusive father. Poor family. Tragedy that kills everyone he cares for. But he has a power that everybody wants! At this point the words Chosen One might as well start flashing over his head. This wouldn’t be too bad if the character had an interesting developmental arc in the book, but he doesn’t, at least not from my point of view. In just a couple years, he transforms from an ignorant boy who couldn’t even read and knew nothing about the world outside of his village into a young man who is more mature, educated, smart, talented (insert other qualities here) than everybody else.

That’s my other problem with this book. Apart from the two main characters, none of the supporting cast are interesting enough to empathize with. It seems that they are there to either guide our young heroes, or thwart them, or die in horrible suffering. So since I couldn’t find an emotional connection to anybody in the book, I was left watching the story unfold as an outsider. I finished the book, but I have absolutely no incentive to pick up the next one, sadly.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of thorns

2 out of 5 stars.

I must admit that my mind is rather divided about this book. Usually I either like the book and finish it, or I don’t like the book and I abandon it. I finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence… but I am not sure I liked it.

The world-building is interesting. It is a medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but there are hints that this world survived on the ruins of our modern world. The castles the new kings and barons live in are built on the stumps of buildings that were made of reinforced concrete. There is a whole vault full of chemical weapons guarded by an artificial intelligence that has gone half-mad in the thousand or so so years of solitude. There are also hints that some horrible cataclysm took the life of so many people at once, that it tore the veil between life and death wide open, and now all kinds of undead stuff is bleeding back into our world. So all in all, the world is interesting, and I would have loved to discover more of it, but not enough to pick up the next book in the series. And the fault for my lack of enthusiasm lies square at the feet of the protagonist.

Prince Jorg is a psychopath, pure and simple. He is also a rapist, a torturer and a ruthless killer. And he doesn’t regret any of the horrible things he has done. Worse, he seems to enjoy them. And he is only 14 years old.  Yes, he has had to go through the horrible experience of watching his mother and younger brother getting slaughtered while he hung helpless and almost crucified in the hooks of a hook-briar bush. Yes, he survives only to see his father do nothing to avenge the murders. The author and the reader could find plenty of excuses for Jorg to have turned up the way he did. But do I want to follow the adventures of a murderous psychopath? Not really, no.

I would have stuck with the series if there had been any other characters to follow, even secondary ones. Unfortunately, all of them are unremarkable. They are only there to play second fiddle to Jorg. I mean, I still don’t understand why the captain of the Palace Guard sent to find the young prince would stick with him for four years and watch him and his merry band of bandits pillage, rape, murder, and burn his way up and down the highroad. Why would he still be loyal to the twisted monster his prince turned into? If you consider what little we see of this character’s believes, that makes no sense at all. The only logic for this is – the author wanted it this way.

So my conclusion is – this is an intriguing world, but I have no desire to watch young Jorg continue his glorious march from King to Emperor, probably leaving death and devastation in his wake, just because he felt like it.