Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: "The Crimson Campaign" by Brian McClellan

“Conventional wisdom” often holds that the second book of a trilogy will be the weakest, as it’s usually a bridge between the beginning bang and the big conclusion. So much for conventional wisdom.

Brian McClellan’s “The Crimson Campaign” ($26, Orbit) is the rare middle book that not only lives up to the first, but surpasses it.

In “Promise of Blood,” McClellan introduced us to an intriguing magical system with his powder mages – wizards who burned black powder to fuel their magic. In “The Crimson Campaign,” that novelty has worn off a bit, but McClellan one-ups himself with exceptionally compelling drama.

The book opens with the Kez army gathered en masse at the Adran border, as Field Marshal Tamas attempts to hold them off with a much smaller army. Tamas believes that his son and war hero Taniel Two-Shot is in a coma after a massive explosion resulting from Taniel shooting, and supposedly killing, the god Kresimir. In reality, Taniel is trying to drown his sorrows with a drug known as mala.

Meanwhile, Inspector Adamat, employed by Tamas to root out traitors in his alliance, is dealing with his own issues. A powerful man known as Lord Vetas is holding his family hostage, and he’ll be forced to attempt a daring rescue with a handful of Tamas’ men, while also maneuvering his way through the political wrangling in the capital city of Adopest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Legend of Drizzt: "The First Notch," read by Felicia Day

R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden stories were once among my favorites, but I really haven’t thought about them in about a decade. The last few I read seemed to be really losing steam, and I drifted away.

It’s funny that, of all things, it would be Ice-T that would bring me back around to Salvatore and Drizzt. A few months ago a blog post from the rapper/actor got some attention online with him cracking wise about being hired to read a Dungeons and Dragons book and the issues he encountered. We didn’t know at the time that it was for the audiobook version of “The Legend of Drizzt,” a collection of Salvatore’s short stories about his drow hero. 

I’ll be honest. I’ve only tried an audiobook once before and didn’t really care for it. One of the joys of reading a book for me is, well, reading. But once upon a time I felt the same way about e-books, and now I read about four or five e-books for every physical book. So, who knows?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: "The Rose and the Thorn" by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m not usually big on prequels. In most cases, I think it takes some of the suspense and tension out of the story because you know what happened. I’ll make a very big exception for Michael J. Sullivan’s “The Rose and the Thorn” ($16, Orbit), though. Not only is it a great prequel, but one of the best books in his Riyria series.

We rejoin Hadrian and Royce during the uneasy tension of their early days together, as Hadrian tries to prove to Royce that people are basically good and Royce tries to prove his position that everyone is selfish and uncaring. The book opens on this note as Hadrian pauses to help a woman who says she needs a drunken, threatening man removed from her barn. That man proves to be none other than Viscount Albert Winslow, and the woman, well, let’s just say she’s not as helpless as she pretended.

That sets the stage for the birth of Riryia. The pair heads back to Medford House to visit their friend Gwen DeLancey only to be shockingly turned away. They find themselves across the street at the establishment of the girls’ old boss Grue, where they find that Gwen was brutally beaten on the street. That sets Royce on a course of vengeance that will alter the political landscape and set some of the events of the Riryia Revelations into motion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Memory Lane: "Wolf in Shadow" by David Gemmell

Reading Mark Lawrence’s latest novel, “Prince of Fools,” put me in mind of a writer I’ve long admired, but not visited with in a while – the late David Gemmell. So I decided to devote my next few Memory Lane pieces to his work.
Though I love Druss the Legend, arguably Gemmell’s best known character, it was not Druss that hooked me on his work. That distinction falls to Jon Shannow, The Jerusalem Man, and “Wolf in Shadow” ($7.99, Del Rey).

Technically, “Wolf in Shadow” is the third book of the Stones of Power series, but it is the first to feature Shannow, and the first Gemmell book that I read.

I believe that the third and final Shannow book had recently been released in the U.S. when I stumbled upon this one, in a discounted version to celebrate that release. I stayed up all night reading the book, and went back the next day to pick up the remaining two volumes, which I also blew through.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: "The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince" by Robin Hobb

As I await the release of “Fool’s Assassin,” the latest tale of Fitzchivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb, I decided to step back into that world briefly for her novella “The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince” ($4.99, Subterranean Press).

The brief tale provides us the backstory of the Piebald Prince as told by the nanny who raised him. The history told by the victors says that Charger Farseer was a pretender to the throne who used the now-reviled Wit magic and was ousted by nobles to remove the taint from the Farseer line.

We’re assured by our narrator Felicity, though, that this is the unvarnished truth about the rise and fall of the Piebald Prince, and it tells quite a different story.

In this tale, noble jealousy rears its ugly head when Charger, a bastard son of Queen-in-Waiting Caution, is named heir to the throne, resulting in the eventual ouster and disgrace of the Piebald Prince.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Review: "The Serpent of Venice" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore returns us to the tale of Pocket, his version of King Lear's Fool, "The Serpent of Venice" ($26.99, William Morrow).

Pocket, now known by many in Venice as Fortunato, remains in mourning for his beloved Cordelia. He's invited to the home of an acquaintance, Brabantio, known often by his title Montressor, to his home to try a rare wine. Brabantio is upset because his daughter Desdemona has married the Moor general Othello. It was Pocket who defended Othello when Brabantio went before the council to try to break up the marriage and accuse the Moor of taking his daughter by magical means. Pocket ends up drugged by Brabantio and his cohorts Iago and Antonio and bricked into a wall in Montressor's crypts, a seeming end to the bawdy fool, until he receives a strange visitor.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: "Prince of Fools" by Mark Lawrence

One of the things that I always admired about the late David Gemmell was that, unlike many fantasy authors, he seemed to understand the truth of heroes – that they are usually men and women forged in the fire of a single moment, not people that scamper about committing one act of heroism after another for their entire lives.

Gemmell probably could have made a good career for himself writing book after book about his hero Druss the Legend, but gave us only a handful. Instead, he moved around the Drenai world both in time and location to give us glimpses of the rise and fall of other heroes.

It’s that same approach that Mark Lawrence uses as he begins his second trilogy, the Red Queen’s War, with “Prince of Fools” ($26.95, Ace), though I’m not sure that anyone would call Prince Jalan Kendeth a hero. But then, Jorg Ancrath was hardly a hero either.

“Prince of Fools” is set in the same world and time as Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, and we do indeed bump into Jorg and his band of road brothers for a brief moment. But this book focuses completely on Jalan and his unlikely Norse companion Snorri ver Snagason (and speaking of Gemmell, how’s that for a nice tip of the hat?).