Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: "The Path of Flames" by Phil Tucker

I remember a time, not so incredibly long ago, when I wouldn’t even accept a self-published book for review consideration because I’d seen so many awful ones. But, as Dylan famously sang, the times, they are a-changin’.

Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve discovered a string of fantastic self-published books, the latest being Phil Tucker’s “The Path of Flames,” a finalist in the second edition of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off.

I read a number of the finalists in last year’s contest and found some great books and writers, so I decided to get started with them a little earlier this year, and my first foray did not disappoint.

Asho is a Bythian, the lowest rank on the scale of Ascendancy, the major religion of Tucker’s world. After each lifetime, the belief is, that the people are judged for their actions and either sent up or down in class based on them, until they pass through either the White Gate to join the Ascendant or the Black Gate for their punishment.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Review: "The Fireman," by Joe Hill

I’ve never been disappointed by Joe Hill’s work, and despite some misgivings, that doesn’t change with “The Fireman” ($28.99, William Morrow).

A strange and horrifying virus is sweeping across the planet – Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or its common name, Dragonscale. The disease marks its victims with tattoo-like designs that are often beautiful, but just as deadly. Eventually, those designs will catch fire, burning the victim alive and usually anything within reach.

No one is quite sure where the spore that causes the virus came from or what to do about it, and as more and more people become infected, the world begins to panic.

Harper Grayson, a nurse with a penchant for breaking out in songs from “Mary Poppins,” is on the frontlines of the battle to save people from the disease, or at least make them comfortable, until she contracts it herself. That sets off a chain of events that destroys the life she knows and sends her into hiding from her husband and the cremation squads that arise in the chaos.

She escapes with the help of a mysterious man known as The Fireman, who leads her to a place where she just might be able to survive the end of the world.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Random Rants: Of Pokemon, dragons, magic and muggles

If my social media feeds are any indication, it seems that a large portion of the world population these days is filled with rage, sanctimonious indignation or pure nastiness. I guess some of that is to be expected in an election year, but this one seems worse than others in so many ways. This isn’t a political blog, and I have no desire to make it one, so that’s as far as I’ll take that line.

I bring it up, though, to point out how refreshing it is, from time to time, to be able to escape into some other world or perhaps pass a few minutes in some completely frivolous pursuit. Except even that has become cause for ridicule in some circles.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

I knew going in that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” ($29.99, Arthur A. Levine) was not really going to be the eighth tale of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, but I still had high hopes for a return trip to J.K. Rowling’s world.

But while “Cursed Child” might work well on the stage and maybe even in the film that’s almost sure to follow, on the printed page, it doesn’t.

The story focuses on Harry’s younger son, Albus Severus Potter, a boy saddled with a couple of names that give him a lot to live up to. He and Harry are somewhat estranged as Al begins his time at Hogwarts and become even moreso as the story goes on, leading to a disastrous conversation in which Harry says some things he deeply regrets.

The confrontation sets Albus on the path of attempting to undo what he sees as one of his father’s greatest failings – the death of Cedric Diggory. His attempt, though, could open the door for Voldemort’s return.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Review: "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

Much has been made in recent years about H.P. Lovecraft’s racism and how it bled into his work, but none of that conversation has been nearly as poignant or entertaining as Victor LaValle’s response “The Ballad of Black Tom” ($12.99, Tor).

I’ll dispense with the elephant first. On the subject of Lovecraft’s racism, I certainly think it’s unfortunate, but I also don’t think you can hold anything from nearly 100 years ago to modern standards. Our heroes in any space are not often what we would like them to be, but does Lovecraft's racism destroy the legacy of his work? I don’t think so, and though he makes his misgivings plain in the dedication, I don’t believe LaValle does either.

"The Ballad of Black Tom” gives us a quite different take on Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook,” which has been singled out as one of his worst offenders when it comes to race. LaValle puts us in the shoes of Charles Thomas Tester, a hustler from Harlem who gets pulled into a strange and dangerous world after he acquires a book of the Supreme Alphabet for a mysterious woman in Queens named Ma Att.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: "The Wheel of Osheim" by Mark Lawrence

And so ends another tale of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire. Much like the conclusion of his first trilogy, “Emperor of Thorns,” “The Wheel of Osheim” ($27, Ace) brings us a wild finale to the Red Queen’s War.

The book opens with our reluctant hero Prince Jalan Kendeth popping out of Hell through a portal into the middle of the desert with what may be one of the most literary monologues I’ve ever read, and it just gets better from there.

After his unwanted adventure, Jalan thinks he’s punched his ticket back to a comfortable palace life, but he returns home to find anything but. His grandmother, the Red Queen, is prepared to march against her long-time enemy, and she unexpectedly leaves Jalan in a position of power just as the Dead King turns his eyes toward Red March.

It doesn’t take Jalan long to realize how much his travels have changed him, and it’s a good thing because he may be the only person who can prevent the end of the world.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Review: "The Skull Throne" by Peter V. Brett

The would-be Deliverers are missing, and chaos descends on Peter V. Brett’s world of Thesa in “The Skull Throne” ($7.99, Del Rey).
Following their battle at the end of “The Daylight War,” Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir have withdrawn from the world, leaving power struggles in their wake.

In Krasia, the Skull Throne is vacant, and Jardir’s wife, the Damajah Inevera, tries to hold things together. But the Deliverer’s two eldest sons both make moves to try to stake their claim to the throne in his absence.

Meanwhile in the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn have been summoned to Angiers with Count Thamos. The kingdom is in the midst of an attempt to form an alliance with Miln to defend against the Krasians, but the proceedings are strained at best.

Events get more heated when Rojer arrives with his Krasian brides and renews an old rivalry with fellow jongleur Jasin Goldentone, favored at the Angierian court. Thamos, unable to abide Duke Rhinebeck’s attitude, also sparks a new rivalry between the brothers that could lead to a disastrous escalation of Sharak Sun, the Daylight War.