18 August 2014

Prince of Fools - Mark Lawrence

The Blurb: The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

First things first, I'm back at last. Sorted some personal and professional stuff out, read a crapload of books and now I'm rearing to go once again.

As my one reader knows, I'm a huge fan of Mark Lawrence. His Broken Empire trilogy was one of the best I've read yet, and the finale, Emperor of Thorns, put me in a book depression for at least a month. It was that good.

The Prince of Fools is the first book in the Red Queen's war trilogy, also based in the Broken Empire landscape and at the same time as the first trilogy. I highly appreciated this, seeing as I love the world and the characters he's created. You can read Price of Fools without reading the first trilogy, but a lot of the nuance will be lost if you do that.

Onto Prince Jalan. He's tenth in line to the throne, a minor Princeling of the Red March and pretty much a bastard in all the other ways that Prince Jorg is. A self confessed coward, putting his wants and needs before everybody else. He's certainly not ambitious, whoring and gambling his life away in all the luxury being a Prince provides. As he says in the book, his priorities is Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan with looking good coming a distant fourth. That being said, I found him an entertaining protagonist, bringing humour to quite a dark world. With us riding in his head as a first person viewpoint certainly helped in this regard. He reminded me a little of Rincewind I must say.

The fun thing about Prince of Fools, with it being set almost concurrently with the first trilogy, is the different viewpoints to the same events. Jalan doesn't really give a crap, but there are enough hints around him to make stuff interesting to the sharp eyed reader. A few old favourites makes short appearances in the story which was pretty awesome. And we get a little bit of a clearer view of the moves made by the powers behind the throne, The Silent Lady, Sageous and their power plays.

Jalan gets caught up in this secret war through no fault of his own, and forced to go on a quest to the frozen north with Snorri Ver Snagason, a huge insane Viking. Honestly the poor bastard had no choice, and he complains pretty much all the way there. OK, it was 30% his own fault, but you'd never hear him confirm that. Snorri is pretty much awesome muscle, power and cheer. He's the perfect counterfoil for Jalan, and their interactions throughout the book is a fun read. Jalan actually shows some real character growth without losing his cowardly charm, and he certainly contributes to their quest, even if it's pretty accidental for the most part. I do not know if Snorri's surname is a nod to Gemmel's early works, but I certainly hope so. Those that do not know of what I speak, go read Legend you lazy bastards.

Our two heroes, one roaring north and the other screaming in terror, run into quite a few fun and dangerous adventures on their way. They even visit the Tall Castle, and Jal almost has the misfortune of meeting Jorg in his early wild days. I'm sure that if this happened, poor Jal's tale would have ended right there, seeing as Jorg would have used his blood to decorate the walls on principle. I have no doubt that Jorg would have taken Jalan out just because he irritated him.

The quest they are on certainly isn't standalone in the Broken Empire universe, and I'm sure the follow up books will clarify and intertwine the two stories more and more. This is easily one of my favourite books of the year, blending a quest adventure story with a deeper, darker one seamlessly. It certainly stuck with me, making me wonder about the implications.


17 April 2014

Kraken stirring

So yes, I've been AWOL for the last six months, which is my fault. I promise to have some reviews up next week, seeing as the real job has settled down pretty well after six months. See you all later.

10 January 2014

Moon's Artifice - Tom Lloyd

The Blurb: In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.
After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers – guardians of the Emperor’s laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.
On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste’s rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all – Moon’s Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.

This is the first book in the second series by Tom Lloyd, author of the stunning Twilight Reign series. Moon’s Artifice is certainly different than Lloyd’s previous work. While Twilight Reign was firmly based in the epic fantasy category, Moon’s Artifice is a bit harder to define. Sword and sorcery? Almost. Epic fantasy? Has that feel to it. Detective crime novel? Yes, kind of. It’s a good mixture of quite a few genres, and as someone who doesn’t honestly care about strict subgenre definitions it suits me fine.

Central to the world is the caste and House system the Empire lives by. The Imperial City is ruled by the house of the Emperor, House Sun. Each of the big houses in the Empire has their own district, in which their lesser houses are welcome. The population is also divided into the nobles and the peasants, and with civilization living tightly within this system and people being tattooed by law with their caste and house marks, escaping to a higher station seems impossible.

Narin is an Investigator, born to the lower caste and working to become a Lawbringer, the enforcers the Empire’s law on the populace. He does have a few secrets, the biggest one being an affair with a noblewoman, which is potentially life threatening to Narin, seeing as sleeping with someone elses wife is really not that a good idea, especially if said someone is noble born. You’d think Narin has enough to worry about, then the gods drop a huge problem at his feet, and it has Empire shattering consequences.

The Gods. The biggest secret that the Emperor’s family has is ascension. Mortals can become gods, if they are perfect in one part of their life. Lord Shield, Lawbringer, Pity, Duellist etc has proven their worth and been ascended to godhood. The fun thing about this pantheon is that they like to get their noses stuck into mortal affairs every now and then. And when a god notices you, it’s too late to run away. Along with the gods there are also demons who has influence on the world. I get the feeling that the gods and demons story has quite a lot more depth to it, and that should be fun exploring in later novels.

At least Narin isn’t alone in his struggles. His best friend, Enchei, supports him throughout the book. Enchei is not just there as support of filler, he has his own secret history and dark past. His immediate superior is Lawbringer Rhe, the most respected of his order with a strict sense of the law and right or wrong. I loved Rhe for his unblinking and uncompromising service to the law and empire he’s sworn to. It almost cost him his life, but he was willing to take that sacrifice to preserve the integrity of the Lawbringers, and that is heroic. Irato is a dark horse character, seeing as his actions influences the majority of the early parts in this book. He is a product of the poison, and shows clearly the dangers it poses to humanity and to the empire. Kesh is my favourite though. A girl who started out terrified, then mad, bent on revenge and at last she develops into a major player in the book. She is a damn great character, doing what she feels she must do to reach their goals. She is tenacious, bold and always ready for a brawl, even if the odds are stacked against her.

The world Lloyd built is intricate and brilliant. He has the ability to drag the gods and demons into the story, not as omnipotent beings, but more as troublemakers trying to get a head start on their fellows. Since the gods are ascended humans, seeing this human trait of selfishness in them makes them quite a lot more interesting than if they were a beard in the sky or hurling lightning at humanity.

Narin is always one step behind the conspiracy. He’s trying to catch up to a group of people who’ve had decades to plot and set things into motion. There is a sense of desperation throughout the novel as they try to unravel the mystery, and it’s mainly through hard work that they manage to get the breaks they need to bother the conspirators. No real lucky breaks are to be had to help them along, which I liked as realistic.

I loved this book. It’s fast paced, mysterious, interesting and the characters are brilliant. It’s an amazing start to a brilliant new series.


08 November 2013

Quick update

It's been a bit quiet around here recently. I've started a new job two weeks ago and I'm loving the challenge. Thirteen hour workdays does really screw up one's reading time and energy. There are some light at the end of the tunnel fortunately, I just needed to change my reading habits quite a bit.

I'm still working on a way to keep my precious blog going, but things are slowly falling into place. So what can you expect coming up?

I've read the Lives of Tao and the Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu last week, and bloody hell I really enjoyed the crap out of them. Interesting premise, witty banter and just all round goodness. Expect a combined review pretty soon.

I just finished The Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and honestly this series deserves a lot more love and attention that it's receiving. It's simply brilliant. A massive world, political intrigue by the bucketful and amazing characters. The review is in the pipeline.

I now find myself in the weird position of not having anything new to read close to hand. I'll spend the weekend sleeping, watching rugby and sipping whiskey. More reviews on the horizon! 

23 October 2013

Emperor of Thorns - Mark Lawrence

The BlurbThe path to the throne is broken - only the broken may walk it.

To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.

This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

This is the third and final installment in the Broken Empire trilogy with Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns the previous brilliant two books. Could Lawrence bring this epic  series to a satisfactory close, or would the ending leave me scratching my head and feeling mildly irritated. 

This book left me depressed. But in a good way.

The structure of the book follows the recipe of the previous two, with two timelines being interwoven throughout the book. The present and five year back flashbacks. We also have a few chapters from Chella's viewpoint, the necromancer who tried to kill Jorg in PoT, and who Jorg resurrected in KoT.

Chella is in service of the dread Dead King, and the rare glimpse into another character helps to show the motivations and machinations of the other side quite well. Chella is one bitter lady, hating Jorg for some good reasons. It was interesting to read quite a bit about the Dead King, and having another viewpoint of the Broken Kingdoms was pretty refreshing.

Jorg is on the road and close to his goal. Attending the Congression with his plans moving along to help him become Emperor, the first in hundreds of years. His motivations isn't completely selfish which shows that our favorite psychopath has a little bit of a soft side. Maybe it's because he became a father, maybe it's because Jorg isn't as evil as everyone thought after Prince of Thorns.

Being the King of seven kingdoms and married, Jorg has certainly grown up. He's not a kid any more. He is certainly more calculating in this book, thinking, scheming and planning ahead. Less compulsive neck stabbing. He has grown by leaps and bounds over the three books, and you cannot help but love him. He's easily one of my favorite characters in literature. 

The whole flashback thing was perfectly done. During the previous two novels it felt at some times that the flashback wasn't really there for any other reason than to show why Jorg is well, Jorg. Thinking back now, each and every one was critical to the story. It should actually be viewed as one book with three parts, with the flashbacks interweaving the story and binding it all together. As soon as I have time I'm going to read all three back to back, which should make this close to perfect series even better.

The ending is intense, and comes as quite a shock. Lawrence always said that this is a trilogy, and he ended it strongly and perfectly. 

I really do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so if you've read the other two and liked them, read it. If you haven't, go buy them. This is easily my favorite trilogy ever.

I was depressed after reading this book because, after I've finished it, I couldn't read anything else for about two weeks. Hell, it's taken me a month to get my thoughts together to write this quick review. And that is what a book should do to a reader. It should make them emphasize with the characters, think about the story and influence them in real life. 

This one certainly did that, in spades. I'll never forget Jorg and his Brothers.


01 October 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer

Three posts in two days? Miracles do happen!

Now I'm a massive fan of The Hobbit. The book of course. The first Hobbit movie irritated me quite a bit, but it was pretty at least. The full trailer of the second movie has been released today. This will also be an irritating movie for me to watch, but watch it I shall. Enjoy.

Drakenfeld - Mark Charan Newton

The Blurb“I am Lucan Drakenfeld, second son of Calludian, Officer of the Sun Chamber and peace keeper. Although sometimes it seems I am the only person who wishes to keep it …”

The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years by laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, nations have flourished but corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive.

Receiving news of his father’s death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King’s sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power.

Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent. The fate of the nations is in his hands.

I was honored to receive an ARC of Drakenfield from Mr. Newton, and with the publication date around the corner here are my thoughts on it.

First off I really like the cover. It's bold, colourful and will surely stand out on the shelves between all the hooded men and daggers populating the shelves. According to Mr. Newton himself, the cover is the banner of Detrata, the nation in which the story plays out. The plan is that the following books covers' will also depict the nation's flag in which the story takes place. That's a pretty smart idea and should make for a real striking collection of books.

The main character, Lucan Drakenfeld -who has possibly the coolest name ever in fantasy- , is a detective. As an Officer of the Sun Chamber it's his job to keep the peace and find those that disturb it. The first time that we are introduced to Drakenfeld he is busy overseeing the sentencing of someone who broke the law. It's not pretty, but shows that Drakenfeld is damn good at his job, fair and that the Sun Chamber is not to be messed with.

Lucan is summoned home on the death of his father, who was a highly placed member of the Sun Chamber. The travel home reveals quite a bit of the world we find ourselves in, and sets the first blocks for the rest of the woldbuilding that is necessary to the story. His struggle fitting back into society in the capital also helps the reader get the lay of the land and to figure out who some of the power players are early on,  which makes for fascinating reading.

The interaction between Lucan and his assistant, Leana, is well done throughout the book. Leana comes from a neighboring kingdom and the outside view she brings to proceedings is quite a nifty way to slip a few facts about the world into the story, fleshing out the world at large as well.

This book is light on the magic, seeing as it's honestly a detective novel. There aren't priests running around with godly powers, no wizard tower that rule the skyline and no flashing lights. Well, at least not yet. Some hints are made, but mostly as rumour and quickly dismissed by the involved parties. It makes for a refreshing change, seeing as we are spared the explanation of how the magical system works which can bog down a book for chapters at a time. This is a character driven story and I love it for that.

The main plotline of solving the impossible murder of the King's sister is well thought out and a real whodunnit headscratcher. False trails are laid bare and obstacles galore are placed in Drakenfeld's path. Drakenfeld also comes to realise that his father's death wasn't as clean cut as he was lead to believe and this personal case works well to add a lot of depth to the character.

There are more than enough twists throughout the novel to keep the pages turning at a brisk pace, and the conclusion of the case of the murdered princess is quite a doozy. Looking back on the book there were enough hints to figure out who was ultimately responsible, but how they accomplished the murder was brilliant.

I really like Mr. Newton's writing style, and it makes his prose a joy to read. I've not read that many murder mystery novels, but I'm surely going to be following this series very closely. This is a very fun book that made me think back on it, well after I've read it. Now that is what I look for in a story.