Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review of The Shattered Crown (Steelhaven #2) by Richard Ford

The Shattered Crown
by Richard Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

My Overall Enjoyment 5/5

From the Goodreads description

 The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground...or the city will fall.

Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?

"Many more deaths." is how this second book in the Steelhaven series ends, and how appropriate for a book that makes you crave to find out more about it's excellent cast of characters. This is one of the best books I have read this year, and one of the best in the grimdark genre. The author accomplishes more in 400 pages than many do in twice as many. Richard Ford has become one of my favorite authors with this book. It is cleanly written, no unnecessary details, everything moves the stories or ads something to the character which helps the reader to know them better.

This book starts off great as opposed to the first one, Herald of the Storm, which took about 100 pages to take off and really hook me. From the get go in this book I was hooked, flying through, neglecting other much better known books, and when I was reading those, I thought about this book and the characters I loved, which were most of them. Before I knew it, there were 75 pages left and I realized everything has been building up for a magnificent and glorious ending in book 3. And for that, I'm glad. This book built and built, plots were hatched, major people were killed, revenge was enacted, people were reunited and betrayed. Good guys were bad, bad guys were good, much was pleasantly surprising and equally upsetting. 

This is a dark and violent world, with a lot of anti-heros, and it most reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire  (A Game of Thrones) and even though grimdark fans will love it, it also has major crossover appeal to readers who enjoy that book. It's not senselessly brutal or violent, it's expertly written, with a bit more than a touch of magic but not overpowering as in traditional epic fantasy, there is a decent size cast of characters but not needlessly huge with tons of minor characters which is distracting to me, and even if a reader doesn't enjoy all the characters POVs as I do, they are all unique and include an elderly magus, a teenage girl in an underworld guild called Rag, several mercenaries, a queen, her elite bodyguards, a middle age ex-warrior named Nobul Jacks, the 7 foot tall Regulus Gor,whose tribe of warriors fight with teeth and claws as well as swords, the Father of Killers and his sons River and Forest, and several others. The fact I can remember all of these characters without any notes is testament to the power of this story. There are only a few other books I have read that I connected so well with and remembered so much about the story and characters. If real estate and fishing are about "location location location" then fantasy is "characters characters characters" and The Shattered Crown does a stellar job. 

I can't recommend this book highly enough. If I have to recommend a fantasy series from the past two years, this is in the top 10. This series is objectively as good, if not better than ASoIaF and I actually prefer it. More action, less confusing, quicker pace, less minor characters, and less politicking. Basically, everything I like in that series minus the things I didn't.  I could see the sword and sorcery influences as well as David Gemmell , one of my favorite authors. If you are looking for something new, try this series. Start with book 1, Herald of the Storm because this book builds on that story. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review of White Wolf (Drenai #10) by David Gemmell

White Wolf (Drenai Saga, #10)
by David Gemmell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

My Overall Enjoyment 5/5

Once again, I would like to sing the praises of David Gemmell. This book, the tenth in his Drenai series, is possibly my favorite or at least tied with 2 others in the series,Waylander and Legend. The main character, Skilgannon, is a young priest and former general on the run from the Witch Queen. He is responsible for horrible atrocities in the past in the name of the Witch Queen, who was also his former lover. Druss, the main character in several other Drenai books also returns here. Skilgannon is searching for the Temple of the Resurrectionists and Druss is seeking his friend Orastes and they journey together along with some other minor characters and meet more on the way. It is an action packed thrill ride interspersed with lots of moral philosophy. There is some sorcery, powerful but with a light touch.

Skilgannon is one of my favorite characters in fantasy and Gemmell builds him expertly, mixing his current thoughts and feelings about his situation with flashbacks to his past which helps us connect better with him. While I will never be a master swordsman or a deadly warrior and I have never committed atrocities on a large scale, I still empathize with him as a person who has many regrets and failings but is searching for a way to overcome them and become a better person. Druss of course is similar but has his own distinct nuances and characteristics.

The world the Drenai books are set in are brutal and dark but not hopeless. There are a lot of races along with different beasts and many locations which have been explored in the past ten books. I really love exploring this world and while it is not the best world building in all of fantasy, it is very good. Gemmell writes succinctly yet he makes this world come alive to me.

My favorite parts in Gemmell's writing are the little phrases or paragraphs which are woven in throughout and speak about different concepts like heroes, good and evil, the condition of man, love, revenge, hate, etc. Following are just a few of my favorites from White Wolf but all of his books include these little phrases.

'How simple love would be, Younger Brother, if we only had to bestow it on those who deserved it. Yet what would it be worth? If you gave a poor man a silver coin then that would be a gift. If you expected him to pay you back, then that would make it a loan. We do not loan our love, Lantern. We give it freely.'
'Scholars tend to overcomplicate matters,’ said Skilgannon. ‘If a man runs at you with a sword it would be foolish to spend time wondering what led him to such action. Was his childhood scarred by a cruel father? Did his wife leave him for another man? Was he perhaps misinformed about your intentions, and therefore has attacked you in error?’ He laughed. ‘Warriors need black and white, Elder Brother. Shades of grey would kill them.'
'There’s nothing to be frightened of, laddie. We live. We die. A wise man once told me that one day even the sun will fade, and all will be darkness. Everything dies. Death isn’t important. What counts is how you live.'
'And I’m not wise, Rabalyn. Had I been wise I would have stayed home with the woman I loved. I’d have farmed and planted trees. I’d have raised cattle, and sold them at market. Instead I found wars and battles to fight. Old and wise? I’ve met wise men who were young, and stupid men who were old. I’ve met good men who did evil things, and evil men who tried to do good. It’s all beyond my understanding.'
'No. I regret that. Though I have to say that I get tense around the very young. The screaming and the squalling grates on me. I’m not a great lover of noise. Or people, come to that. They irritate me.'
'You remind me of Sieben. He loved these debates, and would twist words and ideas round and round until everything I believed in sounded like the grandest nonsense. He should have been a politician. I would say that evil should always be countered. He would say: "Ah, but what is evil for one man may be good for another." I remember once we watched the execution of a murderer. He maintained that in killing the man we were committing an evil as great as his. He said that perhaps the killer might have one day sired a child, who would be great and good, and change the world for the better. In killing him we might have robbed the world of a saviour.’ ‘Perhaps he was right,’ said Diagoras. ‘Perhaps he was. But if we followed that philosophy completely we would never punish anyone, for any crime. You could argue that to lock the killer away, rather than hanging him, might prevent him meeting the woman who would have given birth to that child. So what do we do? Free him? No. A man who wilfully takes the life of another forfeits his own life. Anything less makes a mockery of justice. I always enjoyed listening to Sieben ranting and railing against the ways of the world. He could make you think black was white, night was day, sweet was sour. It was good entertainment. But that is all it was. Would I deceive an enemy? Yes. Would I deceive a friend? No. How do I justify this? I don’t.'
When he spoke it was as if he was reciting a prayer. The words hung in the air. ‘Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil.’

I quote these to give a sample of the themes which run through Gemmell's books. These ideas, as well as others, are all explored throughout the story. This type of philosophy is highly relatable to every reader as these are all things which people ask or wonder. There are many more good ones but it would be impossible to put them all here and that's a big part of why I love to read these books never knowing what he will touch on next.

If you are looking for something great, check out this book and any other Gemmell books. If you like to think and enjoy realistic darker themed fantasy, this is a must read book.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Month in Reading and Upcoming Reviews

I have been much less active on my blog the past month due to a job change. Prior to my new job, I was working part time so I was pounding out reviews and reading several books each week. Not surprisingly, working full time has cut my output down drastically and it has been 1 month since my last post, when I reviewed the excellent book The Barrow, by Mark Smylie. So here's what I have been reading the past month as well as what I have coming up.

I gave 3 stars to Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell and The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick, both highly anticipated releases. Neither were bad books; rather, I think they would work for a lot of people and were well written and well imagined. Also tried again was John Gwynn's acclaimed debut and David Gemmell Morningstar award winner Malice. I read about half of it and there were parts I loved but there were too many characters for me and it just seemed slow. As with Traitor's Blade and The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, Malice should appeal to fantasy readers and it has a ton to offer in an immersive and fascinating world. I think I have reached or nearly reached my personal limit for new fantasy. Any of these three books I would most likely have loved if I read them a few years ago. But currently I am in the middle of at least 60 (a conservative estimate) series and I think that until I catch up, I should pass on most completely new worlds unless they are grimdark.

I received a review copy of  Brandon Sanderson's second book in The Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance, and after about 300 pages I stopped. The first book, The Way of Kings, is one of my all time favorites and I am unclear as to why Words of Radiance didn't work for me. I had a bit of trouble reconnecting with the characters and I was just kind of lost, not particularly caring about any of the characters. It is a monster of a book and the scope is about the largest I have come across. Maybe after so much reading the past year I am a different reader and my tastes are refined to a specific genre.  I will either reread book 1 and then try book 2 again or I will just retry book 2 when I'm more caught up.

I read some excellent historical fiction, Blood Eye by Giles Kristian and The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Both were brutal, violent, action packed sagas and I can't wait to read the follow-ups already released. Also read was another Viking book, which I consider historical fantasy, which was Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan and it was a good book but I felt it was unsteady and a bit confusing. I plan to try the next one. A lot of people have enjoyed that series. I also read two books by Glenn Thater, The Gateway and The Fallen Angle, both in the Harbinger of Doom series, which are more fantasy but also with Vikings, and while they are not well known, they are very grimdark and I had a blast reading them! I highly recommend them if you enjoy Vikings fantasy. Book three, Knight Eternal, is supposed to be the best in the series I will pick it up soon.

I read two more excellent David Gemmell books, one was in the Drenai series book 9 called Hero in the Shadows and the other was Jon Shannow book 2, The Last Guardian, and I loved them both. If you haven't read Gemmell, start now! He is one of the best.

Veil of the Deserters (Bloodsounder's Arc, #2)
Jeff Salyards Bloodsounder's Arc book 2 comes out June 3, called Veil of the Deserters. I read it. I loved it! If you haven't read his first book, Scourge of the Betrayer, read it now. Review is set for release day. I also read The White Towers, by Andy Remic, book 2 in The Rage of Kings series. he never disappoints and he doesn't here. Review set for June17 when it comes out.

I have ARC's of the following; Half a King, a new series by Joe Abercrombie; Prince of Fools, book 1 in a new series by my favorite author Mark Lawrence; The Incorruptibles, by John Horner Jacobs, a book reviewed by Mark Lawrence and it looks like the kind of book I will love featuring a band of mercenaries; and Sworn in Steel, book 2 in the Tales of the Kin series by Douglas Hulick which comes out May 6. The others come out in June so watch for those reviews.

In between these books I will continue reading Gemmell books, reread Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series, read Red Country and The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie, try Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz and No Return by Zachary Jernigan, and get back to The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.