Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: "The Shepherd's Crown" by Terry Pratchett

With only a handful of books by the late Terry Pratchett that I haven’t read and only one of those in the Discworld, I’ve put off “The Shepherd’s Crown” ($18.99, HarperCollins) for months. Once I finished it, I knew that, on some level, this world that I’ve enjoyed exploring for the past quarter of a century or so has come to an end.

Eventually, though, you have to accept that reality, and so it was with mixed feelings that I finally cracked the cover on Tiffany Aching’s last adventure and Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novel.

“The Shepherd’s Crown” begins with a major shift in the power on the Disc. The formidable Esme Weatherwax is preparing to meet Death for the final time. Part of that preparation, of course, is choosing her successor as the leader of the witches, though, of course, no one would suggest to the witches that they have a such thing as a leader.

To the surprise of all, Granny Weatherwax taps Tiffany Aching, the young witch from the Chalk, who has shown much promise.

But more challenges await Tiffany than just proving herself worthy to the other witches. The elves, long held at bay by Granny Weatherwax’s power, see her death as an opportunity to once again wreak havoc in the world. Tiffany will need the help of all of the witches, her fierce friends the Nac Mac Feegle and a strange new apprentice to stop them.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Review: "She Who Waits," by Daniel Polansky

After enjoying the first two books in the series, it took me a while to get around to Daniel Polansky’s “She Who Waits,” ($13.99, Hodder), the final volume of the Low Town trilogy.

For those unfamiliar, the books center on a character known as the Warden, a former war hero and government agent turned drug dealer. He owns the streets of his home, a grimy, impoverished and crime-ridden warren known as Low Town. But even in a place like Low Town, he can’t escape his past.

There’s a new drug on the market, called Red Fever, which can induce violent rages. The users are often aware of the horrific acts they’re committing, but unable to stop themselves. It’s a calling card that’s familiar to the Warden from his days in secret police unit Black House.

Meanwhile, a religious organization, the Sons of Sakra is making a play for Black House’s power. The Old Man, leader of Black House, calls on his former agent to infiltrate the Sons and find out their plan, but the Sons have also called on the Warden for information on Black House. It finds the Warden doing a dangerous dance as a double agent that puts him and everyone that he cares for in jeopardy.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: "The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye," by Michael McClung

I read Michael McClung’s “The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids” a month or so ago when it won the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, and I absolutely loved it. I couldn’t wait to dig into the second volume, “The Thief Who Spat in Luck’s Good Eye.”

The second book is a bit of a different creature from the first as the stage and story get bigger.

Amra Thetys and Holgren, who we met in the first volume, make an odd couple. Holgren is a mage who dislikes the use of magic, and while Amra does seem to enjoy her work as a thief, she works by her own moral code.

When a giant reward is offered for anyone who can retrieve the secret of immortality from the ancient lost city of Thagoth, Holgren convinces the reluctant Amra to help him claim it, even though they're not really sure what they're looking for or where it is. If they can discover the location of the city, Holgren can open a gate to get them there well ahead of the other adventurers seeking the reward who will have to travel by more conventional means. They can claim the prize and be back before their competitors really get started.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Review: "Road Brothers," by Mark Lawrence

Just when you thought that Jorg Ancrath’s story had come to an end, Mark Lawrence delivers “Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire” ($5, self-published).
This collection brings together 10 tales of Jorg and his road brothers, some of which have appeared elsewhere and some of which are new for this volume. Over the course of these stories, we get some further insight on Jorg’s character, as well as some of his companions that, perhaps, haven’t gotten as much ink.

If I had to choose a favorite from the stories, it would probably be “Bad Seed,” a tale of the former Alann Oak, who most Broken Empire fans will know better as Red Kent. The tale tells the story behind the nickname of the man who is, perhaps, Jorg’s most violent brother. More interestingly, though, it gives us a deeper look inside a man who is deeply conflicted about his nature.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review: "Sorcerer to the Crown" by Zen Cho

Often, when I see a book I haven’t read on a whole bunch of year-end lists, I’ll add it to my stack. Sometimes I’m happy I did, other times, I discover it’s just not for me. That’s what happened with Zen Cho’s “Sorcerer to the Crown” ($26.95, Deckle Edge).

Zacharias Wythe, the adopted son of Royal Sorcerer Stephen Wythe, is already out of place in London’s magical circles because of the color of his skin. It’s a bit of an old boys club, where they believe people of color are not capable of magic and women’s frail bodies can’t withstand its effects.

The problem becomes amplified when Stephen dies mysteriously, and Zacharias inherits the staff of Royal Sorcerer. Though those in the magical community can’t deny that the staff chose Zacharias, they can certainly doubt his abilities and leadership. He’s blamed for the declining amount of magic in England, even though the problem has existed for years before he assumed the role, and some of his rivals even whisper that he murdered his adopted father and mentor to obtain the staff.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: "Alice Cooper, Volume I: Welcome to My Nightmare"

Though I was at one time an avid comic collector and reader, and I’m a lifelong fan of hard rock and metal, I had never read the Alice Cooper comic series. Recently, a co-worker, knowing my proclivities for both comics and rock, gifted me with “Alice Cooper, Volume I: Welcome to my Nightmare” ($24.99, Dynamite).

The first thing that struck me about this collection was that it was a gorgeous presentation. The hardcover collects the first six issues of the Dynamite Alice Cooper comic, along with a bonus featuring Alice’s first comics appearance with Marvel in the 1970s.

The story arc of the newer comics features Alice as the Lord of Nightmares. Trapped in a bad contract by a trio of devilish agents known as Clan Black, he has fallen into obscurity. That is, until a young man who is being bullied discovers Alice’s music and accidentally summons him from the Nightmare Place for help, freeing him from his contract with Lucius Black, but opening Alice and the young man, Robbie, up to danger from the other two members of the clan.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: "Bloodrush" by Ben Galley

If it’s accomplished nothing else, Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off has certainly gone a long way toward changing the way that I view self-published books. I used to have a strong rule against accepting them, along with a snarky comment in my submission guidelines (Trust me, it was for good reason). But as I make my way through the finalists of the competition, I’m finding some truly deserving books. The latest being Ben Galley’s “Bloodrush,” which finished second with an overall 7.75 out of 10.

I truly think that the Old West milieu is underused in fantasy. I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned, hard-nosed gunslinger protagonist – Stephen King’s Roland Deschain, David Gemmell’s Jon Shannow. There just aren’t enough of them.

So, the setting and cowboy cover of “Bloodrush” alone were enough to get me interested, but Galley delivers so much more.