Archive for Books

The Grim Company

I stumbled upon Luke Scull’s The Grim Company completely by accident. A friend I had met at GenCon two year’s back was talking about books he enjoyed on Facebook. One of the books he mentioned was The Grim Company. his description of the book made it sound interesting. I respected his taste in media so I thought I would give it a shot.

I was not disappointed.

The Grim Company falls into the category of Grimdark fantasy. The heroes of this genre are no shining stars that are held up as role models to the populace. Victories are few and far between and come at great cost. My initial experience with the genre was with Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire and I was looking forward to trying more in this vein.

From my previous posts, you should know I am a sucker for any story that involves the gods. The Grim Company takes place in a world where the gods were destroyed by mage-lords. They killed the gods and in so doing, broke the world. The remaining mage lords squabble to control the remaining magic in a world that is slowly dying.

I was all in from that point on.

The Grim Company follows several threads.

There is Davarus cole, a young man with ideas about what it means to be a hero. His head is filled with romantic ideas of becoming a hero to his city yet lacks the steel necessary to do what is truly necessary. Brodar Kayne is an aging barbarian from the north. He is fleeing a past that haunts him still and struggling with a sense of honor that could easily get him killed. Eremul is a mage that has been maimed. He is the only mage remaining in a city that killed all mages that were not sworn to the mage lord. The price for this survival was his legs and his dignity. Barandas is the high augmentor and lead servitor of Salazar, the mage lord. He believes himself to be a good and just man but that to be good, one must be strong and do what other men will not. Last but not least is Ylandris, sorceress of the High Fangs. She lives in the land that Brodar has fled and seeks a path to power for herself so that she will no longer be powerless.

 

As I worked through the Grim Company, I had a niggling doubt that this many characters would become unwieldy or cumbersome. Scull proved my doubts unnecessary as he weaves the various stories of these  characters together deftly. Each change of point of view builds upon the last so that the layers of grit, grime, and heartache prepare you for whatever comes next. Scull also masterfully maintains the tension throughout The Grim Company. As we follow each character, their story and personality become clearer. There history grows heavier and heavier with each revelation. Each step forward in their adventure is fought for with blood, sweat, and agony. Scull takes the time to give both the characters and the reader time to come up for air and see the light that is still present in the world. It may not be bright, shining like the sun but it is still light.

These characters that Scull has created are magnificent. Each one is fleshed out as we push forward on this marathon to the crescendo. Davarus is a good example of this craftsmanship. He is the quintessential fantasy hero in that he wants to save the world so that he will bathed in admiration. Scull highlights the shallowness of this idea and the narcissism of Davarus as he pursues this dream. The journey of Davarus as he learns more about himself, being a hero, and the nature of the world is both hard to watch and inspiring at the same time. Scull doesn’t sugarcoat the process of redemption and recovery and shows both the pain and the pleasure inherent in the process.

One of the things that really stands out for me in this book is Eremul. In fantasy of any stripe, a differently-abled character is rare. When they are presented, magic is presented as a way around their difficulties minimizing these problems. Scull doesn’t do this. He shows us the daily difficulties and indignities that Eremul faces. he also shows us both the strengths that are present in the man while not shying away from the flaws. Scull shows us a person, not a caricature or token to be pitied. He is my second favorite character of the book.

I loved the Grim company and getting ready for the last book in the trilogy. If you love grimdark fantasy or are new to the genre, I recommend picking up The Grim Company. The world will capture your attention and the characters will force you to want to know more about them

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Three Parts Dead

I’ve had several people I know mention Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Their recommendations have been that it is something that I would enjoy. It took some time before I added it to my Audible playlist and began listening whilst working out.

This book is so good!

I will endeavor to keep this review spoiler-free so that you can enjoy the twists and turns of this excellent story.

The premise of the book is that a god has died. The church has called upon the firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to resurrect their fallen deity and discover the cause of his death. Tara Abernathy is a young craftswoman who has just been recruited into the firm by her boss, Elayne Kevarian. These two must hit the ground running as the city of Alt Coulumb will cometo a disastrous end if they do not succeed.

This description had me hooked. I am a sucker for a story that involves gods. Three Parts Dead not only involved the death of a god, but his resurrection. I was all in.

Gladstone has created a world that is rich in detail and layered in history. Instead of large patches involving Basil Exposition, He doles out the information through the development of the characters of the story. As we learn more and more about each of the players upon the game field, we learn more about the world that they inhabit. This gives the world of they inhabit a greater level of intimacy. It is one thing to know how the college of craft works and another to learn about these things as they relate to Tara’s struggles with the ever mounting problems of a deicide and keeping her job. I love this as it allows gladstone to show the reader the small ways that this world both reflects our own as well as wildly diverges.

I love the world that he has created. It blends tropes from urban fantasy, steampunk, and epic fantasy into a world that is both understandable and alien at the same time. There are skyscrapers built from steel and glass that tower next to buildings of commensurate size crafter by magic. The streets are packed with carts and carriages but there are trains that zip along elevated tracks and driverless horse and buggies where the horse knows where you want to go. This same city that seems so cosmopolitan still has town criers that spread the news by moving street to street singing about the news from far off places. The news is neither timely or relevant to all involved but the city lacks the capabilities of cities not ran by a church and powered by a god.

One of the things that stands out to me is that Gladstone has created a fantasy story that has strong, well-crafted, female protagonists. Tara, the newest addition to the firm takes responsibility for her own actions and works hard to achieve her goals. All the while we get to watch as she struggles with the choices that have to be made in her chosen profession and watch as she makes the changes that she sees as necessary based on the path that she wishes to be on. Cat provides us with the other side of the coin. She struggles to find her path and meaning in this world. She leans on various things as a way to fill that emptiness in her soul. Her path is treated as just as real and noteworthy as that of Tara and Elayne.

I enjoy how Three Parts Dead takes the time to deal with deeper questions as well. The story follows the investigation of the death of a god. His city is dependent on his existence and without action the city will descend into chaos. As Tara, Elayne, and Cat follow the threads of the story, the questions of the usefulness of gods in the modern world is constantly toyed with. As we follow these characters we watches as they deal with this question as well as that of finding meaning in one’s life, self-determinations, consent, bigotry, and other weighty topics. They are handled in such a manner as to not be preachy and to arise organically from the world in which these characters strive.

I want to go on and on about the magic of this world, how the gods interact with their followers, how Tara and Elayne work together. The problem is that discovering all these things are what makes this such a great book.

So, I will reign in my need to gush and leave you with this. Max Gladstone has created wonderful characters in a fascinating world. The story sucks you in and takes you down a path that leaves you wanting more. You should pick up Three Parts Dead and take the journey with Elayne, Tara, and Cat and discover what happened to the god of Alt Coulumb.

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound

bloodboundI finally had the time on my journey to Big Bad Con to sit down and read a book. I took F. Wesley Schneider’s Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound with me on the plane as it is a long journey with several layovers. This ensured plenty of time to immerse myself in the realm of Ustalav.

I am so glad that I did as I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have mentioned repeatedly that I am a fan of vampires and other monsters and this book features vampires, dhampir, priestess of the goddess of death, and many other features of Gothic horror. I was in heaven.

Bloodbound follows the story of two heroines.

Larsa is a dhampir, half-vampire, special agent of the prince of Ustalav. Her job is to maintain the tenuous peace in the city of Caliphas. She is an enforcer of the treaty between the ancient vampires of the city and the human nobility. The vampires are allowed to live in an undercity and thrive but their spawn must not upset the citizenry. When this happens, Larsa ensures that these restless dead are returned to the grave.

Jadain is a young priestess of Pharasma, goddess of death. She is struggling with the dictates of her religion as well as what she sees as the will of her goddess. She is confronted by zealots of all stripes while she wends her way through the labyrinthine paths of power in her church.

Larsa is sent to investigate the mysterious happenings to a noblewoman whom had lived at the outskirts of the city and had been found incoherent on the road into town. Her investigations at the manor house uncover a slew of vampire spawn and the head of a servitor of her grandfather, whom rules the undercity. She also discovers a painting in the home that looks suspiciously just like her. Her grandfather and the nobles she represents would like to discover the cause of this atrocity. This leads Larsa to the asylum that houses the poor noble woman.

Jadain is heard counseling a penitent in the church and chided for her softness on the faithful by the high exorcist of the faith. To test her faith, he takes her to the asylum to remove an unquiet spirit that is plaguing a cell. Instead of assisting her in this task, Jadain is left to fend for herself against the undead and is not entirely up to the task. In a fit of pique, the high exorcist leaves her at the asylum to ponder her failure and await what fate has to offer.

Luckily fate has Larsa in store for Jadain.

Larsa arrives at the asylum to interview the lone survivor of the assault on the manor house and requests aid in her interview. The director of the asylum allows Jadain to assist Larsa in her interview and is there when the poor woman mistakes Larsa for her sister, Ailson Kindler. The mystery deepens as we learn that Ms. Kindler is a much-lauded member of the Pathfinder Society. She created a name for herself by finding and destroying the monsters that haunted Ustalav. The asylum had records in regards to her health and the head of the asylum had become privy to the knowledge that a fiend from Kindler’s past sought to do her harm. The good doctor requests that the Larsa investigate the connection between the patient and Ms. Kindler and deliver his warning in the process.

Some of the information necessary to the investigation is stored within the records of Jadain’s church so her place on this adventure is sealed. It is discovered through a discussion with Considine, a vampire sired by Larsa’s father, that the trouble being caused is from their shared progenitor. This adventure is now sealed and the hunt for the father that abandoned Larsa and fomented rebellion among the vampire is begun.

Schneider has done an excellent job of capturing a gothic tale of horror and combining it with the action and adventure one would expect from Pathfinder. There are points in the narrative where the dread builds slowly and quietly to reveal a horror that is not worth facing head on and there are moments where our heroine’s fight for survival is fast paced and filled with sword-swinging, spell-slinging action. Schneider has an excellent sense of timing for using each thing in this story.

There are a few things that put this book over the top for me.

I love that the two main characters in this book are women. It is not often that I have seen tie-in fiction for a game where the protagonists are female. Both are well-rounded characters that are struggling to find their place in Golarion. I love how we get to get glimpses of how the world works and the ways that these two unique women do not fit in. Watching them struggle with the desire to fit in and being comfortable as themselves was fun.

I also loved the addition of Considine, Larsa’s vampiric brother. He is a  villain but he is allowed to be a character with wants, needs, and motivations which makes him relatable. On top of that, he is also allowed to be a gay vampire that actually cares for one of his thralls and we get to see the consequences of that loss.

Finally, I really enjoyed the glimpses that Schneider gives us into the religion of Pharasma and the country of Ustalav. I am a complete geek for world-building and this book plays into that. Larsa’s story both past and present provides an excellent look at how the ruling class of Ustalav works currently as well as what had happened to this country in the recent past. She also provides an excellent lens through which to view the capital city and it’s accord with the vampires that hide beneath it’s surface. Jadain provides the same service for Pharasma. Every fantasy world seems to have a god or goddess of death. These deities are not often discussed but tend to play a part in larger stories though. Jadain shows how the personal faith works in Golarion as well as how this gnostic could be interpreted and affect the religion as a whole.

Excellent stuff.

Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound is definitely four bear paws out of four. It gives gothic horror with action adventure without ever dropping a beat. It has two wonderful heroines that I hope to see more of and a villain that both is both a monster and more than that. A book well worth your time and money.

Wasteland King

wastelandkingI have talked about the Gallow and Ragged series before. I have reviewed both Trailer Park Fae and Roadside Magic. Wasteland King brings the trilogy to it’s conclusion.

Wasteland King begins where the Roadside Magic left off. Robin and Gallow are struggling to survive while trapped between two worlds. They are both half-blooded fae whom are capable of living in this reality as well as the more real sideways realms. The machinations of the two courts have put in motion a tsunami of violence that awaits the declaration of a time and place to come crashing in.

Robin and Gallow each move through the story struggling with their own pasts as well as attempting to envision a future beyond simply surviving the next encounter. Gallow, in his battle to ensure the safety of Robin, his dead wife’s sister, looks behind for the future. He is caught in his head as he tries to determine analyze the feelings he has for Robin. Bundled with this are his own self recriminations about his relationship with Daisy and how he had failed her. His plans are laser focused and leave little room for his own survival. Robin looks to the future, though through a glass darkly. She seeks revenge on the Queen of Summer for the death of a child, the manipulation of her life, and the torture undergone in the white tower. This vision in not all consuming as survival is the main barrier to her success and her resources are put into this endeavor.

Saintcrow continues her exploration of the Fae from those marginalized by the court. Instead of the grand pomp and circumstance trotted out in fairy tales, the reader is given the view from the cheap seats. The beauty of these nigh immortal creatures is shown to be the illusion that hides a deeper darkness that is smoothed over in more modern stories of faeries. Instead of tinkerbell, the pixies are revealed to be ephemeral creatures of light and magic with sharp teeth and pricking knives. Robin gives some perspective on how they are always around those of great magic yet none deign to take the time to notice them let alone understand these tiny beings.

I love tales of the Fae and find Saintcrow’s perspective on them and their society refreshing.

Robin is my favorite character of the book. She is called Robin Ragged by puck and others throughout the series. Her status a half-blood is brought up and thrown in her face at every turn. Her use to the Queen of Summer is in her ability to perform real-making which is a magical ability that is both rare and much sought after. Despite suffering these many slings and arrows and lacking the strength at arms displayer by Gallow, she still takes a stand against Summer. Despite the forces arrayed against her, she never truly gives up. Robin will struggle with finding the path forward and succumb to the crushing doubt that comes with such grand foes yet still get up and pull herself forward. In Wasteland King, I loved watching Robin struggle with her feelings surrounding both Gallow and Wren. Her distrust of other Fae runs deep and yet these two have both strived to protect her and have failed at this task as well. As she push forward with her desire to have vengeance on Summer, these thoughts serve as both a distraction and goad. Her concern for their motives helps her overlook the insurmountable odds she faces. These same odds give her the ability to work through her own issues and see Gallow and Wren’s actions as something other than crass manipulations for their own ends.

I also love that Saintcrow continues interlacing the story with vignettes about how the random mortals whose paths cross with those of the fae are affected. on the one hand, we are given the story of the truck driver who stops to give Wren a ride after he was deposited in the desert far from anything civilized. The journey is not long but the conversation is pleasant and provides a bit of perspective to the assassin about the nature of home. This chance encounter and bit of kindness to a fae in needs leads our trucker to find a more permanent home that allows him to find a deeper happiness. In stark relief is the story of the child and the oak tree. Robin is fleeing pursuit and happens upon a piece of the sideways realms anchored in the desert by a majestic oak. Here she finds a bit of solace and rest. A poor girl in a nearby trailer park leaves her home to find food which is not present their due to her mother and her friend’s drug habits. In her wanderings, the child is led to this same island in the more-than-real. She is brought in by the image of the sleeping fae and beauty of the tableau before her. She seeks shelter as well amongst the roots of the giant tree and falls to sleep there on the earth and surrounded by pixies. When Robin awakens, our view of the scene changes to show the skull of a child sinking into the loam surrounding the roots of the tree.

Chilling.

I love Wasteland King. The characters are so well done. From Robin and Gallow down to those that only are give a few brief moments on the stage. They are given given a depth that is welcome in the genre of urban fantasy. Saintcrow is a master of pacing and showcases her abilities in this realm with Wasteland King. The story feels like a boulder rolling down hill. The pace builds and builds while still allowing the characters time to breathe and grow. Despite the path of destruction being foreshadowed, there are surprises aplenty in both the journey and the final battle.

Wasteland King gets four bear paws out of four. It is a wonderful cap to this story. It only makes me sad that I will not longer get stories of Robin, Gallow and Wren. This is a world I would like to revisit and hope that we will be given this opportunity. Definitely a book and a series you should try.

Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga 2

EmpireAscendant-144dpiFuck.

Some times you finish reading something and that is the only appropriate response.

Empire Ascendant is a book that leaves you feeling like a boxer at the end of a fight. You are bruised, batter, and reeling and have no true sense of how everything turned out until someone takes your hand and raises it to indicate you won. Except, that in the instance, there is no referee to tell you who won.

Fuck is simple and succinct but still does not convey how I feel about this second book of the Worldbreaker Sage.

I love and hate this book.

Let us begin with love. It takes me back to the world of deadly vegetation, parallel dimensions, political intrigue, unique cosmology, and fully developed characters. In Mirror Empires, these various pieces are placed up on the board and the game is begun. Kameron introduces us to a panoply of characters. Each of these individuals is well rounded and working towards their own ends and struggling to achieve them with incomplete and at times incoherent information. The world itself is a frightening place that is filled with plants that consistently push against the edges of society looking for a way in to destroy what has been built. Into this mix we, have various nations and religions that are struggling to maintain dominance of their own little corners of this world and are in no manner prepared to face the threat of invaders from neighboring dimensions.

I was happy to see Lilia, Zezili, Ahkio, and Taigan again. Each of these individuals provides a point of view on the events that are taking place within the story that is both fascinating as well as unnerving. Lilia is a woman without a world. To survive, she has done horrible things and struggles with both the knowledge of what she has done to survive as well knowing the horrible things that will have to be done to not only survive but possibly win the war for her new home. Zezili provides the other end of the spectrum. She has embraced the monster that she has become and has no illusions about what has happened or why. No matter what the obstacle placed her way, she continues to fight towards her endgame knowing full well the consequences. In particular, I appreciate Taigan. Taigan provides an unique perspective on the happenings in Empire Ascendant. Being an outsider, Taigan see’s the world through the lense forced upon her by a ward but has the wisdom of years lived without the fear of dying to temper her actions. It is different way of viewing this world but is intriguing none the less.

I also love the pacing of this book. It feels very similar to a dance or a boxing match. The narrative has a rythm in the flow of the story, the pace of the action, the change over of the characters. The story moves in with grace and spead, connecting with a character and few punches to let you know that this is no game. The tenor changes and the pace quickens as you switch from one character to another and the stakes rise and the blows begin increasing in their pace and fury. Before you have time to withdraw behind your defenses, you are drawn out by the appearance of another character that is doing much better than you had hoped which opens you up for the gut punch that brings tears to your eyes and stops you in your tracks. By the end of the book, you are reeling and holding the ropes and the bell rings and you weep for the destruction left behind and wonder how you are going to make it through the next round.

Beautiful.

Spoiler Warnings On

I can not speak of why I hate this book without wandering into spoiler territory.

You have been warned.

I become vested in characters. In Mirror Empire, I came to care for the characters that strut upon this stage, ephemeral fantoms whom Hurley has gifted with such life despite their phantasmal existence in imagination. In Empire Ascendant, I have to watch as lives are destroyed in such gruesome fashion. Zesili is a hard and terrible woman and yet I care about how things go for her. She has risen up from near death to take up the task of thwarting the whims of her empress. As she works through this process we learn more about Zesili and learn how she struggled to lay claim to things through power to continually prove she is no slave. She is beaten, maimed, utterly defeated and even stabs her husband, the only ting that is left to her. She escapes it all to only die in fire attempting to destroy what the empress valued.

I fucking wanted to scream! It hurt so much to watch her make it through so much to die in this manner. Despite this, the death makes complete sense and fits perfectly into the dance that I descibed earlier.

Then we have Akhio and Nasaka. These two are planets in a decaying orbit that seems are destined to never crash into one another. They constantly change places in this story and the end, after madness has been mentioned as a lie, it arises to bring it all crashing down. Akhio ends his days running in fear and unceremoniously dumped in pieces down the latrine and Nasaka dies at the hands of mother of her grandchild. One death is so emotionless and the other is brutal and worthy of a red ring.

I was left shaking and had to take a break from the book to finish it.

I have to give Empire Ascendant four bear paws out of four. It has been many years where I have been so emotionally invested in a book. My hate is not because the book is bad but because the book is so good and ripped out my heart soe many times to only hand it back to me tattered and bloody but still beating.

You must read this series as it gives you grimdark with a diversity of characcters that depth of emotion that I am surprised that this isn’t on HBO.

 

Gemini Cell

GeminiCellCoverGemini Cell is Myke Cole’s return to the world that he created for his Shadow Ops trilogy. In Shadow Ops, Cole introduces us to the US that has adapted to the emergence of those whom are capable to wielding the mighty forces of magic. He creates a world where these people are both valued and feared. The US government has created a special arm of Armed Forces that deals with these people but participation is mandatory. Across these three books, readers learn the lengths that the government will go to control these people and the power that spring from them.

Gemini Cell gives us a glimpse into the process that created the Supernatural Operations Corp.  Readers are introduced to Jim Schweitzer. Jim is a US Navy Seal, husband, and father. An operation to investigate a ship possibly carrying terrorists does not go as planned. During a desperate fight to stay alive, Jim and his team discover a cargo unit filled with preserved corpses that appear to be part of some wild experiment. Not long after this operation, Jim’s home is invaded by skilled operatives and his career and life appear to be at an end.

Where magic is concerned, death is not the end. Jim’s soul is bound to his body with with a spirit from the magical maelstrom in an effort to create a perfect warrior. Jim will now serve his country as an undead operative that is capable of devastation on a grand scale while still being more easily controlled than a nuclear reaction. Jim must learn to use the powers that this magical process has granted him while trying to figure out what has happened to his wife, Sarah, and his son Patrick. complicating this is the spirit that has been bound to him is a bloodthirsty monster that revels in the destruction and pushes the new Jim to new heights of violence. compound this with the horrible missions that Jim is sent on for his country due to the unique nature of his being. Who would believe that one man can take down a whole armed camp, much less those who survive and speak of a monster?

Gemini Cell is a fast paced action thriller. It does an excellent job of blending fantasy elements into a Jason Bourne style story. Jim becomes a one man army capable of incredible levels or carnage and enduring massive amounts of damage. Cole does a good job of making sure that Jim, despite his monstrousness, maintains his humanity. His wife and child provide a lifeline while he struggles just to come to grips with what he has now become. They also are a touchstone for when he begins undertaking missions that are definitely on the black hat side of the tracks.

One of the things that I appreciate about Myke Cole’s take on the this blend of military fantasy is that it has a patriotic tone without being tone deaf. Jim is a Navy Seal that is committed to his craft. He does this to protect his country and his family from those who would destroy the things that he holds dear. Cole allows us to watch Jim as he has to come to terms with what his country has done, both to himself and those that they have unleashed him upon. The idea of unquestioning loyalty is held up and dismantled in a way which does not feel cheap or overly melodramatic. The conclusion feels like an organic awakening for Jim as opposed to a forced revelation which was nice to read.

I also liked the conversations between Jim and the spirit that has been bound to him as part of this process. This spirit presents a dark mirror for Jim to look into. It presents itself as a creature of immense power but this story unravels as Jim continues to question it. Each answer reveals the illusions that this creature has wrapped itself in to deal with its time trapped in the magical maelstrom. But as memory is returned, it becomes apparent that this creature was also a soldier that shared similar beliefs with Jim. Just wonderful.

I give Gemini Cell three bear paws out of four. It is a an exciting and action-packed military fantasy thriller. It hits on all the tropes of this genre without being over-the-top patriotism. Myke cole once again has created characters that I enjoy watching evolve and learn more about. I look forward to getting time to read Javelin Rain, the next book in this series.

 

Ancillary Mercy

AMAnn Leckie created a fascinating universe with her first book, Ancillary Justice. She introduced us to a universe where the Radch Empire spans galaxies and the people that are a vast conglomeration held together by the overwhelming might of the Radch fleet. Ancillary Mercy brings the story to a climactic conclusion that answers the questions that had been strewn across the tapestry of centuries.

First off, I love this series! Ann Leckie has a way of dealing with far reaching changes in her universe and making them both seem awe-inspiring as well as something that be accomplished by those willing to make the hard choices. She incorporates super-science that appears magical without making it boring or cumbersome. She creates characters that are both heroic and down to earth at the the same time. They deal with the larger issues that are facing them and their world while still having to make sure that dinner is made and forms are filled out.

These small domestic moments are the anchors for me in these books. In Ancillary Mercy it is these small moments that build to the crescendo. The Undergarden was wrecked and made unlivable at the end of Ancillary Sword. An individual and space that had been unaccounted for are discovered as a result of this carnage. Breq meets with this individual and has tea with them. Breq treats them as if they are human despite knowing that that are an Ancillary just like Breq. It is over these simple domestic rituals that the forms of address, of being, and place within society are further fleshed out. Breq comes to call this stanger cousin. Breq begins, in this simple fashion, to create a family for those that are in a similar plight. From this simple decision, we get to watch as a great transformation builds momentum.

These small character moments play out throughout the series and this book. in other books, a precious tea set would appear to be nothing more than set dressing. In the hands of Ann Leckie, it becomes a tool to learn more about the characters that we follow as well as an entry point into deeper conversations. The tea set in question was destroyed in a fit of pique at the end of Ancillary Sword. A daughter learned that she was worth less to her mother than the tea set that was given to an enemy. This shattered symbol allows Breq to bridge the gulf between the new Cousin and events that have been unfolding for quite some time here on Athoek Station. As they attempt to put the broken pieces back together, Breq’s cousin begins to piece together her own place in this rapidly changing universe.

I love Ancillary Mercy. It picks up the threads of the the first two books and runs with them. Leckie continues to work with the ideas of identity, responsibility, and love in this far future space opera. I love watching as Breq continues to struggle to protect the little corner of the galaxy that she has staked out. In the face of overwhelming odds, Breq, the crew, and the Ship come together to do what they can to protect those that are placed in the middle of something far outside of their control. I especially appreciate that the character gains made it each book are not left to sit. Leckie does not allow these characters to plateau and stagnate. She peeks into the corners of their lives and shows us those little pieces that have been knocked under the couch when then things shattered. Leckie then shows us both the price of the missing pieces and the joy of putting them back into place despite the damage already being done.

I give Ancillary Mercy and the entire series four bear paws out of four. Ann Leckie has created a universe and characters that are vast and layered. She deals with deeper issues while weaving a tale that is captivating, exciting, and heartbreaking. Ancillary Mercy, and it’s two predecessors Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword are books that should be in your library.

The Immortals: Olympus Bound Book One

the-immortalsSometimes when you are browsing at the bookstore, you find a hidden treasure. I was wandering my local Barnes & Nobles as I had some time to kill and they had a book in their new science fiction and fantasy section entitled, The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky. I know I am not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but the title had my attention. I picked up the book and read the back blurb.

I was hooked.

I have mentioned repeatedly that my geekdom has its beginnings in the faraway past with my first reading of Bulfinch’s Mythology in the elementary school library. This book tags those feels so hard that there was no way that I was not going to be reading this book.

The Immortals is my Jam!

Jordanna weaves the tale of Selene Disilva. Selene Lives in Manhattan and works as an investigator. Her clientele is of a particular sort. She takes job where women are being abused and exploited and tries to give these women a chance at a better life. The book opens as Selene waits for her latest client’s problem boyfriend to show up. As the confrontation unfolds we get to watch as things go south but Selene gets lucks and is able to survive the encounter and ensure that, at least for a time, her client will not be abused further by her boyfriend. As Selene returns home, she laments the ever encroaching years that have inexorably sapped her strength and vitality. Unlike mere mortals, her years are numbered in the thousands.

On an early morning walk to exercise her dog, Hippolyta, Selene discovers the body of woman who has been murdered. On closer inspection, the victim has been dressed in the raiment of someone who has participated in an ancient greek rite. It is then we learn that Selene will not allow this death to go unavenged. She will once again take up her mantle as the protector of the innocent. Even if she will not take up her ancient name, Artemis.

The Immortals is a wonderful mix of mystery, suspense, romance, and exploration of greek mythology. Jordanna takes the reader on a trip through New York City with Selene as she tracks down the new cult that has started murdering women in her city. Jordanna’s descriptions are evocative of the thrumming energy that is New York City yet does an excellent job of linking these sites to the ancient rite that is unfolding. The complex relationship between Selene and the Theo, a professor of classics and mythology. Watching these two struggle to find a way to connect across the gulf of years that separate them was something that was heart wrenching and endearing in turns. Jordanna’s use of the Eleusinian Mysteries, different telling of the greek myths, and intriguing viewpoint on the cosmology of the gods of Greece was something that I loved learning about throughout the book.

I loved The Immortals. Jordanna Max Brodsky has created a wonderful tale full of greek myths, modern relationships, and historical research. These are things that don’t sounds like they would combine to create something so spellbinding but Jordanna makes it look easy. The characters are both human and mythical without ever crossing that line to make the characters something that was not relatable. Jordannna weaves in history, both ancient greek and geographical in a fashion to create an even more engaging story. The underlying Eleusinian Mystery which burbles up within the story is both tense in how it plays out but fascinating from the standpoint of how myths evolve. The afterword and acknowledgements that speaks to these historical points was a lovely touch.

If you are a fan of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, or mythology in general, The Immortals is a book you need to add to your to read list.

Four bear paws out of four. I can not wait for the next book in the series!

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1

TheMirrorEmpire-300dpiI have had a book sitting in my To read pile for a long while. It was The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I had read God’s War and really loved it and picked up this book when it was released but there were several other books that I picked up at the same time. It languished in the pile and kept getting moved to the bottom. I did a little organizing and took some time to think about why I had not read it yet. I realized that I was hesitant when it came to the idea of Grim Dark. I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to delve into especially as I was working in Child Protective Services when I picked up the book. There is only so much secondary trauma that I can take. I have recently switched jobs and at a place where grim dark will add more to my plate. So, I added the book to my Audible account and started listening to it while worked out and ran.

Spoiler warnings on.

I loved Mirror Empire. It presents a world that is fascinating and yet alien. It hits on the fantasy tropes for there is magic and mystery abound without every utilizing the standard fantasy tropes. In Mirror Empire, there are no elves or dwarves. There are priests but not in the fashion that one is used too. Magic is present but the wand waving and finger-twiddling are are eschewed for a more astrological bent.

I was hooked from the first chapter. In a style similar to God’s War, Kameron Hurley creates a world that is both alien and understandable. The first chapter introduces Lilia. She is a young girl whom if following in the footsteps of her mother. She works with her mother learning the ways for herbs, poultices, the wilderness, and blood magic. Lilia is knowledgeable in all these things and yet still a child that plays on a rock constantly trying to fly. It is through her eyes that we first catch a glimpse of this strange world. A world where trees walk, vines and plants are constantly trying to find a way in to the village to feast upon the people. A world where blood gives a person a level of control over the world around them.

This first chapter provides excellent foreshadowing of the things to come in Mirror Empire. Lilia’s village comes under attack from strange outsiders. Lilia runs to the village to see what she can do to help but is to late. The invaders have set the place on fire. Lilia’s mother comes to the rescue and takes her hand and the run. It is not far enough though and Lilia is forced to hide while her mother confronts the marauders. Lilia is taken from her hiding place and pushed through a rift between worlds. She stands and watches in horror as her mother is struck down and the surviving invader comes for her, only to be blocked by some invisible barrier in the gate. And the story is begun in blood, death, and grief.

Kameron Hurley has created a world that is fascinating. The world is recovering from a devastating war from over two thousand years ago. The semi-sentient plants that plague the people of the world are just one of the remnants of this conflict. The world is built on a system that is different from our own. Women are the movers and shakers of these worlds and the me are the ones that must struggle for respect. It is a world where relationships are agreements and marriages are between multiple men and women. Queer relationships are part and parcel of the world and are accepted as normal. There are societies where there are more than two genders and room for more than three. Hurley has created a world with a society that requires consent before touching and makes it real.

The characters Hurley creates are human despite the fantasy elements of the world. She avoids the standard characters that have minor character quirks and embraces the flaws that are present within all of us. There are no people here without flaws which makes the people met in the book both difficult to love but no less fascinating to follow. In particular, Zezili captures this for me. Zezili is the quintessential powerful women of her time. Through a bit of luck, she escaped slavery and has risen to a place of power in the army of her empire. She has a husband that belongs to her. His beauty and her ownership of such a trophy elevates her social standing even further. And yet, despite this abhorrent idea of ownership and her abusive nature, she truly loves him. It is a twisted type of thing but it is love. It just takes a while for this to become apparent.

The magic and cosmology of the book are also interesting.

Hurley plays with idea of multiple realities. There are worlds that sit adjacent to one another and and share many similarities. Each person exists on each world which hampers the individuals movement between worlds. If you still exist on the other world, you can not crossover. This simple fact sets up the political machinations simmer under the surface in beginnings of this series. There are other worlds that are not similar to the others and these denizens are not so friendly to those of the other worlds. How these other worlds come into play is one of the things I look forward to learning in the series.

I mentioned earlier that the magic of this world is tied to astrological ideas but I think that is not the simplest explanation. The world has satellites that orbit the planet on erratic patterns. The people are able to predict their rise and fall for most of them with some ease. There are Para, Zini, Sina, and Tira which are predictable. Oma, the dark satellite, has not been seen in over 2000 years and it’s rising is something conjectured at the opening of The Mirror Empire. Each satellite provides power to the gifted to control of some force of nature. When their satellite is ascendant, they are at full power. When their satellite is gone from the sky, only the most sensitive can call on a fraction of their ability. I like this idea as the source of magic and how it drives the various societies to view the gifted and treat them. It is a very organic magic system that works well both for simple folk in the wilderness to those cloistered in temples. I look forward to learning more abut the inner workings of the gifted and their connections to these celestial bodies.

The Mirror Empire was a great but difficult read. These are people that well rounded and fully fleshed. They make horrible decisions and do horrible things to one another. They struggle to make the right decisions despite their own failings and the results go from spectacular to gut wrenching. The world isn’t spoon-fed to you and woe to you if you can’t keep up. Definitely a four bear paws out of four read and a wonderful introduction to the grim dark corner of the genre as well a welcome place to find queerness as part and parcel of the world with no apologies asked for and none needed.

 

The Republic of Thieves

republicI have spoke about the other two books in the Gentleman Bastards series from Scott Lynch. I want to make it clear that I am pretty biased when it comes to these books. I really love them and that colors my perspective a bit.

With that said, on to the review!

I tend to be busy with work, gaming, working out, and other life things. So I have taken to listening to audio books while I read. This has the upside of making me extend a workout to finish up an interesting part of a story. I had read the blurb on Republic of Thieves and I was chomping at the bit to get it read. I had a few other books in the hopper so it took a little bit of time to get it taken consumed. The reason for this is that the blurb teased that the oft spoken of but never seen Sabetha would make an appearance. Since the middle of the first book, I wanted to know why Sabetha cast such a long shadow and why she had left.

The story follows the familiar pattern that was established in the first two books. The reader gets to follow Locke and Jean on their current caper while traipsing into the past to learn how they came to this point. Interspersed between these two narratives are interludes that give further insight into the puppeteers that are pulling the strings in the here and now.

The story that takes place in the present is very Leverage. Locke and and Jean have to steal an election. We last left our daring duo as Locke gave Jean the only antidote to the poison that the two were given to coerce their servitude in Tal Verrar.  Jean struggles to find a cure for the poison, but to no avail. The answer to this conundrum arrives in the form of Patience, a bonds-mage who happens to be part of the reason that Locke is in this predicament at all. She will save Locke’s life if he and Jean agree to win the coming election in Carthane. An accord is reached and Locke’s life is spared.

Locke and Jean must overcome a deficit in knowledge, almost dying, and their opponent having an almost two week head start on the competition. Nothing they have not faced before. The bombshell is that their opponent is none other than Sabetha. The opposition knew whom their foes would be choosing to take up their cause and put the most formidable block possible in place.

The trip to past provides an excellent echo to the present story line as well as telling the story of Locke and Sabetha’s history. The Gentlemen Bastards have grown into teenagers. And as such, begin getting on each others and Father Chain’s nerves. The entire group is shipped off to be actors in a troupe as repayment of a favor owed by Father Chains. The groups skills will be tested as will their ability to live with one another as there will be no Father Chains to keep them from each other’s throats for the entirety of the venture.

I know that I have said this before in regards to this series but I love the dual narratives. In this book more than the other two, it feels more like a symphony. The present day story provides the rising sound and harmonies. It is loud and blustery and filled with emotion. Then we move to the past which is a subtler sound. We listen as the characters dance to a tune much more sedate yet no less engrossing. The tones and nuances built up in the story of the play beautifully highlight what has gone before in the present and provides delicate hints of next movement.

I loved this book and it made me sad. I loved it for multiple reasons. first and foremost of these was Sabetha. This phantom that has haunted the edges of the first two books is finally made manifest. I get to learn what made her such an important part of Locke’s history and why she left the group back ion the past. This dip into the past between Locke and Sabetha is wonderful. combined with the process of them reuniting while struggling to control and election is is just wonderful. Onto this, add the depth to the world that is brought to this world through the exploration of Carthane and it’s Bonds-Magi rulers. The story unfolds to show how the Bonds-Magi came to this point in their own history as well as revealing more about the Eldrin and their beautiful creations. I also love to have magic in my fantasy stories and for this is the book in this series that finally delivers it for me.

The Republic of Thieves made me sad for two reason. The first is simple, Sabetha. Lynch does an excellent job of making her a robust character that I want to learn more about. He creates an excellent foil for Locke without making her a lesser person. It hurts my heart in the end when she makes the choice she does. I understand the need for the grimdark in this series but I would have loved to see this story ending differently. The story also present an origin for Locke. It spins a tale that is both grandiose and unbelievable as any plan concocted by Locke and Jean. Yet, unlike their plans, there is a seed of truth that makes it hard to dismiss out of hand. It is not that I think it is bad or wrong but that I just don’t want it to be real.

I was torn on how to rate this book. I really enjoyed but it made me sad too. Do I give it four paws because it was so good or do I give it two because I did not like how it ended. It bothered me a lot. I finally decided that by virtue of eliciting such a powerful and diverse reaction I need to give it four bear paws out of four. Just because I don’t like and ending does not mean that it isn’t a good ending. What it means is that I hope for another book so that I can see these two parts of the ending resolved in a much better fashion.

Now I wait and hope.