Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: "Red Sister" by Mark Lawrence

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

If you’ve heard anything about Mark Lawrence’s latest book, “Red Sister” ($27, Ace), you’ve probably seen that line. The reason that you’re seeing it so much, and that I’m repeating it here, is because it sets the tone for the book and tells you that you’re in for a very interesting ride.

After an incident in her home village, Nona Grey’s mother and neighbors give her to the child-taker, a man who collects children that may have special talents to sell them to the places that look for those abilities. She shows traces of Hunska heritage – one of the four great tribes of Abeth’s past – which makes her potentially valuable as a warrior and lands her at a training facility for gladiators. But after another incident, she finds herself in prison and scheduled to hang. At the last minute, the Abbess of the local convent intervenes, saving Nona at the cost of making an enemy of the powerful lord that sent her to the gallows.

Once at the Sweet Mercy convent, Nona shows exceptional speed and fighting skills and quickly begins her training to become a Red Sister, the warrior sect of the nuns. In order to become what she’s meant to be, though, she’ll have to fight off enemies both outside and within the walls of her new home.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Memory Lane: "Mort" by Terry Pratchett

I continue my travels back through the Discworld with a book that I still believe is one of Terry Pratchett’s funniest outings, “Mort” ($9.99, HarperCollins).

What happens when Death decides he needs a vacation? Well, he hires an apprentice, of course. Enter Mort, a farmer’s son who thinks way too much for life on the family farm, and his father is only too happy to send him on his way.

His apprenticeship starts rather mundanely in the monotone lands of Death. He meets his new master’s daughter, who seems none too happy to have him around, and his strange servant, Albert. He soon discovers that Death has plans for him.

Things begin to go very wrong, though, when Death turns the Duty over to Mort for a night, and the young man must take the life of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, destined to be killed by an assassin. Smitten with her, Mort changes her fate, causing a ripple in the fabric of reality on the Disc.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld" by Patricia McKillip

Even after 30-plus years of reading fantasy, there are still a few icons in the genre that I have not read. One of those was Patricia McKillip. With her World Fantasy Award-winning novel “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” ($9.99, Tachyon Publications) up for its first e-book release in the near future, I took the opportunity to fix that oversight.

The sorceress Sybel has lived an isolated life in the mountains of Eld, with only the group of legendary beasts that she’s called to her and a nearby medicine woman named Maelga as family. Then a visitor, Coren of Sirle, shows up at her gate with a child. He is believed to be the bastard son of the Queen Rianna, a child that started a war between King Drede of Eldwold and Coren’s kingdom of Sirle.

Sybel takes in the child Tamlorn, who is later discovered to be the rightful son of Drede, and sets off a chain of events that will change her life and the lives of everyone that she touches in a whirl of love, betrayal and vengeance.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Review: "Sins of Empire" by Brian McClellan

Brian McClellan’s latest, “Sins of Empire” ($26, Orbit), takes us several years past the Kez-Adran War and the events of his outstanding Powder Mage Trilogy. The world has changed, but some things stay the same.

Vlora Flint leads the Riflejacks mercenary band, finding her current work in the Fatrastan countryside, putting down Palo uprisings for Lady Chancellor Lindet of Landfall and her enforcer Fidelis Jes, the Grand Master of the Blackhats spy organization. She is summoned back to the city for an unusual job. Vlora and her army are hired to root out and apprehend a revolutionary known as Mama Palo who is sowing discontent in the Palo area of the city, known as Greenfire Depths.

Her liaison with the Blackhats is accomplished spy Michel Brevis, in a much more public role than he prefers. Brevis has risen through the ranks of the organization, and may claim his prestigious Gold Rose through this assignment. That is, if he doesn’t earn a sword through the gut from his psychotic taskmaster Jes first.

Last, but not least, is Mad Ben Styke, a hero accused and convicted by Jes of war crimes. He’s believed to have been executed, but he survived the firing squad and now lives in a labor camp, hoping in vain for his parole. When he doesn’t get it, a mysterious lawyer named Gregious Tampo makes him an offer. All he has to do to earn his release is get close to Vlora and be prepared to do whatever is necessary.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: "Owl and the Electric Samurai," by Kristi Charish

In her third adventure, “Owl and the Electric Samurai” ($18, Simon and Schuster), things get even more sticky for Kristi Charish’s antiquities thief Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl.

As the book opens, Owl finds her loyalties divided and about to be divided further. She’s trying to retrieve artifacts for her dragon boss, Mr. Kurosawa, being pressured by the IAA to find the two creators of the World Quest game and being tempted by the possibility of stumbling into the fabled land of Shangri-La.

All of those things come together when she’s called home and given a new assignment by Kurosawa, to retrieve an ancient and magical suit of armor last worn by one of Genghis Khan’s generals. Dubbed the Electric Samurai by Owl, the suit has been missing since that time, and the faction that now wants it raises concerns about the stability of supernatural society.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tell-Tale Thoughts: Ligeia

If ever there were a Poe tale that I almost gave up on in my youth, it was “Ligeia.” As I started this story for the first time, I remember asking myself where was the Poe that I knew and loved. Where was the neurotic and deranged narrator? Where were the creepy horrors? Why was this guy spouting pages of praise for the beauty of his now-dead love? Romance has no place in my tales of terror.

Of course, I came to realize over the years that there was more depth to Poe than creepy-eyed old men, deadly diseases, living burial and the like, and while “Ligeia” still wouldn’t be my favorite story by a long shot, I came to appreciate it more.

The story tells the tale of a man who loses the love of his life. While he was singing the praises of her beauty and presence, though, the younger me failed to notice that, indeed, this subject does have some of the deranged tendencies of Poe’s unfortunate narrators. If nothing else, he’s certainly obsessed with his lost love, yet for all those lavish details, he claims to be unable to remember how they met and isn’t sure that he ever knew her surname.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: "The Grey Bastards" by Jonathan French

I started reading Jonathan French’s “The Grey Bastards” a few days before it was named the winner of this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Like its predecessor in the contest, it’s a most worthy recipient.

Numbers-wise, “The Grey Bastards” scored impressively in the second year of Mark Lawrence’s contest. It pulled down an average rating of 8.65 of 10, and scored the only perfect 10 awarded by any blog in the two years of the contest. If I awarded stars or scores here, mine would definitely be in that range.

The book follows the story of Jackal, a member of the half-orc hoof known as The Grey Bastards. After the last incursion of full-blood orcs, the hoofs, formerly kept as slaves, were granted the barren lands known as the Lots for their service to the kingdom of Hispartha. They exist to serve as the last line of defense against another orc invasion.