Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

The Coldest War is the second of Ian Tregillis' alternate history Milkweed triptych begun with Bitter Seeds.

I thought Bitter Seeds was a good book, a promising debut, but The Coldest War is very very good and probably the book of the year so far for me.

Given that WW 2 ended a lot quicker than it did in our timeline in Bitter Seeds I thought this book about the cold war between Britain and the Soviets (often referred to as Ivan by their British adversary) may have also taken place earlier, but it doesn't it's set in 1963, when tensions between the two superpowers are at their height.

The Coldest War is an almost flawless book. Tregillis isn't that old, but he had a great handle on the early '60's and this may have been in part because he was working with a version of history that he himself altered in the opening book. He doesn't infodump about this brave new world, just drops in tantalising little nuggets that drive home how the world we know has changed, for instance the Soviets collectivised the French wineries, which ruined their reputation and quality. The best wine now comes from South America, although French cheese is still superior.

As with Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War really shines with it's characters, especially the devious seer Gretel. She's so chilling that the reader almost shivers every time she enters the story. This was driven home for me when she and her brother Klaus escaped from the Soviets (given that Klaus can walk through walls and Gretel reads the future in the same way most people read the morning paper imprisonment is really only a word to the siblings, and they could have run at any time, Gretel just chose to do it this way) and you see why she arranged to have a former teammate killed. Talk about dark!

It was at times painful to read the sections with Raybould Marsh and his wife Liv. In Bitter Seeds Marsh was a dashing and driven secret agent and Liv was the love of his life. Now Marsh has left the secret service and picks up gardening jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Partly due to the death of their daughter Agnes and the stress and strain of caring for their severely disabled son John, the two now hate each other and only remain together out of habit and John's need of 24/7 carers.

Warlock Will has done better for himself, recovering from his drug addiction in Bitter Seeds and getting a nice bureaucratic niche due to his titled and highly placed brother's influence, plus he has met and married Lady Gwendolyn and the two are genuinely in love.

Then Klaus and Gretel defect and it all goes to hell again.

Everyone in this book is Gretel's play thing and you get the impression that nothing happens without her say so. I never saw the ending coming and it has me very eager to see how Tregillis wraps this whole thing up in April with Necessary Evil.

The Milkweed triptych is of the highest quality and you will kick yourself if you don't get on it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black is the debut fantasy novel by Francis Knight. It's the first of a planned series starring the pain mage Rojan Dizon.

It's a hard novel to categorise. It tends to have been slotted into urban fantasy and it does take place in a city and have a protagonist who does tend to bring Harry Dresden to mind, but it's on a secondary world that isn't Earth. It also has a rather dystopian feel to it and that's how it started.

It's set mostly in the city of Mahala. Mahala is a vertical city, that has been built upward and not outward. The result of this is that only the wealthiest and most powerful live in the light, everyone else is oppressed by their dim existence. The city actually reminded me of the giant metropolises in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo and the Pit was rather reminiscent of Chung Kuo's Clay.

Rojan lives in the shadows and hides his ability as a pain mage from most, partly because it's illegal and partly because despite the pain that is required to give him the power it is addictive.

The hard boiled bounty hunter doesn't want to let himself get too close to anyone or let anyone into his life, that is until his estranged brother comes looking, asking for Rojan's help in tracking down his abducted daughter Amarie.

It's an entertaining book and it moves fast with some good action sequences. The idea of pain magic is an interesting one and handled very well.

I felt Mahala itself was a little shallow and the whole book had the feel that it could have been darker and more meticulously built, but it's the opener in a series and I'm sure it will grow as it is written. Rojan himself was a little bland and occasionally inconsistent, but he also shows promise and has scope.

All in all it was entertaining and I am confident it will grow and improve as the series is written. A promising start.

Fade Out by Rachel Caine

I promised in my review of the 6th Morganville Vampires book Carpe Corpus that I would try and get to the next book quicker and I am as good as my word.

A story arc finished in Carpe Corpus and as result the opening of Fade Out has a much more relaxed feel to it than the predecessors. It concerns Eve getting a leading role in a local production of A Streetcar Named Desire. What I found interesting about this is that it's directed by a vampire and one of the town's leading vampire power brokers Oliver has a role in it too.

Claire spends a lot of the early part of this book being an annoying teenager (because of her importance to the story, her kid genius status and the fact that she's attending university you tend to forget that she's only 17) because of Eve's friend Kim. She's right to worry about Kim, because the girl does have the potential to destroy the town, but Claire had it in for her before that was discovered.

This one works a lot more with the development of the characters and their relationships and it's a welcome change from the full on action of the previous few books. I read that in another review and like that reviewer I'm not the target market.

There was a lot of Myrnin and I really like him. It's hard not to like a vampire who keeps a pet spider he names Bob and wears bunny slippers with fangs around the place. There's also a lot of the homicidal Claire hating computer Ada and her attempts to kill Claire. I think it's the relationship with Myrnin that sets Ada off, she's never actively stalked anyone before, but she sees Myrnin as 'hers' and she is very jealous.

In order to get out of one bad situation Shane makes a pretty bad deal with another bunch of vampires and it's going to come back to bite (sorry couldn't resist) him and the rest of the non vampire gang in the future.

There were a couple of interesting revelations in this one about the background of the town and the characters. Richard Morrell (current mayor and brother of mean girl Monica) is one of two Morganville residents to have killed a vampire and not been executed for it. I like Richard and was hoping we'd find out more about that after it was dangled tantalisingly out there, but Richard didn't even appear. Sigh. Maybe in Kiss of Death.

The other one was exactly who Oliver is historically. The hints are his first name, the place he lived, the time he lived in and the age he was when he became a vampire. I know he's not described this way, but I keep seeing him as Eric Stonestreet (Cameron in Modern Family), so never picked up on his real identity before. Ada's also based on a real historical person, and it's entirely fitting and very clever.

I do hope there's some investigation of Richard's past in Kiss of Death and I've already started reading it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine

Despite the fact that I find Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires books a bit of a guilty pleasure and that Carpe Corpus follows on immediately from Feast of Fools & Lord of Misrule I took a while to get around to it, in a vain effort to whittle down the TBR pile, damn thing just keeps on expanding.

Even though I hadn't been back to Morganville for a few months this one was like slipping on a comfortable pair of jeans or a favourite t-shirt. The books are kind of like that; familiar.

If you haven't read at least up until Book 6 Carpe Corpus be warned that you are now entering spoiler country.

When we last left our heroes in Morganville things looked bad. The old and brutal vampire Bishop had taken over the town and ruled with an iron fist.

When the vampires under the rule of Amelie, Bishop's daughter, ruled the roost in Morganville, they took it fairly easily with the human inhabitants, and the university in the town; TPU, was largely off limits. Amelie's vampires, including her 2IC; Oliver, didn't take blood, they asked for it. Admittedly they asked quite forcefully and it was a form of tax or tribute, but people weren't just killed off hand in the way Bishop and his people did it.

As the story unfolds Claire and her allies who prove to be the slightly off centre Mrynin and recent vampire Michael Glass, have to find a way to fool Bishop and his cadre of like minded vampires to take their town back.

Bishop is chased from the town, but he isn't dead and I'm sure until he is completely killed off he will continue to be a threat to Morganville.

A few things were resolved in this. I think Claire has finally decided once and for all between Shane and Michael. She's with Shane, her best friend Eve is with Michael, despite his now undead status. Amelie is going to take the death of her boyfriend Michael's undead grandfather Sam hard. Myrnin seems to have found a cure for the affliction that the vampires suffer from, although he himself is still extremely quirky, I'm trying to decide whether he's been permanently affected by the disease or he puts a lot of it on for show.

Some problems remain. One is that Claire's parents live in Morganville now. I mentioned in the review of Feast for Fools and Lord of Misrule the problems this causes for Claire and how it gives enemies a lever to force her into things, but I think it also creates narrative issues. She's expected to live with them and they'll be mentioned regularly, it just kind of breaks up the story unnecessarily for mine. It would be okay if they'd always lived there, but they haven't, and the author having moved them in for the Bishop story arc, can't just move them out again. Monica Morrell and her Monicettes are still around and they'll always be looking for ways to put Claire off her game. Back to the narrative: for someone who has been shown as a survivor and meant to be pretty bright, Claire is remarkably clueless and naive at times. She almost veers into TSTL (too stupid to live) territory.

I liked the introduction of Myrnin's bloodsucking computer Ada, she definitely doesn't like Claire and this is going to make things difficult for the teenage genius in the future as well. Ada is however suitably quirky and it doesn't surprise that she was Myrnin's brainchild.

All said and done they are damn addictive books and I won't wait so long between installments next time.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

I'm honestly not sure how I made it through this book and retained my sanity.

I'd become used to the Wheel of Time books not exactly moving things along, but over 600 pages and no story development. Actually a I tell a lie, in about the last 3 pages, 2 things happen with do hint at story development.

I honestly didn't think it was possible to write something as long as Crossroads of Twilight and not move your story, which has already gone for 1,000's of pages over 9 books, at all.

How this book did not kill the entire series stone dead, I do not know. It is a testament to the fans that they stuck with the series through the complete and utter twaddle that composes Crossroads of Twilight. I think Elayne spent an entire chapter whinging about tea. In fact there seemed to be a strange preoccupation with various beverages throughout the book as a whole. It replaced the spanking obsession of a few books earlier.

I'm totally gob smacked. I can't say anything else. Jordan could have written blah blah blah for most of this books length and it would have made just as much sense.

Apparently from what I've heard that Robert Jordan gets his mojo back in Knife of Dreams. I hope so, because Crossroads of Twilight is one of the worst, most pointless, unnecessary books I have ever had the displeasure to trudge through.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Last year I discovered Kevin Hearne's hip 2,100 year old druid Atticus O'Sullivan in his series of Iron Druid books and he quickly became a guilty pleasure.

I have to admit I was getting a bit tired of Atticus himself and the rather formulaic feel of the books. I was pleased see that at the end of Tricked it appeared that one story arc had ended, and the snippet of Trapped that was at the back of the book confirmed this by indicating that it took place 12 years after the end of Tricked.

Atticus, his witty wolfhound Oberon and his beautiful apprentice Granuaile are enjoying being thought dead by all and sundry, which leaves them in peace. It makes it easy for Atticus to train Granuaile.

They are startled out of their anonymity by the appearance of a distressed Perun (a slavic thunder god that Atticus befriended in the earlier books), he's being pursued by a mad Loki and once that leads to Atticus, all his old enemies: various Celtic deities, Norse deities, Bacchus and an ancient vampire, all come looking for him.

Despite 12 years having elapsed between Tricked and Trapped nothing much has really changed. Granuaile gets her full druidhood, but she doesn't seem to have learned that much really. Oberon is still the most enjoyable character to read and Atticus, while his pop culture wisecracking (I especially liked a comment referencing a meeting between Granuaile and Nathan Fillion at Comicon) is still fun and can make you crack a smile now and then, the formula is still very much in evidence and use. I can kind of understand why these deities have issues with Atticus, he really is annoying. It's almost like he pushes their buttons just because he can and then gets surprised when they come after him. You'd think he may have learned a bit of restraint over a lifetime spanning more than 2,000 years.

Hearne's main characters are remarkably inconsistent, especially Atticus and Granuaile, they seem to act the way they do for as long as it's convenient to the story to have them do so, once it becomes unnecessary they change. Oberon tends to act in character the most, but he is a dog.

The plots of the Iron Druid books are fairly irrelevant things, they're really only there to give Atticus a vehicle for which to hang his endless jokes and pop culture references on.

The books are fun, they're easy to read and move quickly. You just don't want to think about them too hard.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Liars, Thieves, Gentlemen...Bastards!

The reaction that greeted the news in this post.

Travels Through Iest, always last with the news. Sometimes living in Australia has it's disadvantages.

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Scott Lynch and his Gentleman Bastards series. Like many others I have been waiting years to hear the announcement Scott and his publisher Gollancz made public last night.

The Republic of Thieves is finished! The long awaited third book of Locke Lamora's adventures will be released to the public in October of this year. The US version comes out on the 8th of October and the UK release will be 2 short days after on the 10th. I'm currently trying to decide whether to order from overseas or wait until I can get it down here. Hey, I've waited nearly five years, a few more days won't hurt.

I've already read the prologue that Scott has had available on his website for some time and I was also lucky enough to see the first chapter that he sent to a group of fans some years ago. Both were brilliant and up to the high standard readers have come to expect from Scott Lynch.

This is about the best news I could have ever hoped for!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fated by Benedict Jacka

I'm going to be quite honest and state right from the outset that I did not like Benedict Jacka's Fated.

I thought I would, it had been described as a Harry Dresden meets London type book and it even had a blurb from Harry Dresden's creator Jim Butcher on the front cover, who very rarely does cover recommendations.

There's a fine line between inspired by and shamelessly derivative and Jacka very definitely crossed it with Alex Verus. Unfortunately the similarities end about there. Harry Dresden is a snarkily funny narrator who litters his dialog and descriptions with dead on the money pop culture references. Alex Verus tries, but doesn't get there.

I like Harry, I really feel for him. I didn't like Alex, I was barracking for the bad guys in this one. They were far more interesting and sympathetic than the book's obnoxious emo protagonist.

I think there was a plot in there somewhere, but it was very convoluted and confusing and regularly broken up by Alex's need to explain everything in detail. There was an awful lot of tell and not very much show, especially early on.

The author was trying quite hard and to me that showed, it made the story rather stilted and the dialog didn't have the ring of someone having a conversation, more like it had been all scripted out for them and they were reading from it, like actors in a film.

There was one really good and very cool character; the scatterbrained air elemental Starbreeze. Her, I liked. If the next book was about her, I may be persuaded to give it a look, otherwise I think I'll leave Alex Verus in his book store in Camden, where I found him.

If you do however want a genuinely enjoyable urban fantasy that uses London as it's backdrop you can't go past Ben Aaronovitch's Folly books.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirlees

I'd heard a lot about Hope Mirlees' Lud in the Mist before it arrived on the list, and as a result I was rather eager to read it.

The title itself is odd and piques the curiousity.

It's not the easiest novel in the world to describe, because it doesn't have a particularly strong plot. What plot there is concerns the importation of 'fairy fruit' from the fairy lands near the borders of Dorimare, the kingdom which contains the town of Lud in the Mist. When I read about fairy fruit and it's dangerous and addictive qualities it immediately brought to mind 'goblin fruit' which Seanan McGuire used in the most recent Toby Daye book as a kind of addictive drug for the fae. It's also possible that Mirlees was trying to make some sort of correlation between it and illicit drugs, but I doubt it.

The writing is lush and languid. Mirlees had a great command of language and used it beautifully. The book sort of rambles along treating the readers to little thumbnail sketches of Lud in the Mist's inhabitants. Their secrets and desires are laid bare for the reader, a little like a fantasy Peyton Place.

Lud in the Mist also evokes thoughts of one of it's contemporaries; Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter and I kept being reminded of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, both in style and content. I don't know if Clarke drew any inspiration from Lud in the Mist, but I'd be surprised to find out that she hadn't at least read it.

It's a gentle whimsical little book that deserves it's position as a classic of the genre and if you're in the mood for a prettily written book with some genuine insight and something a bit different you could do worse than to give Lud in the Mist a try.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

Another month, another Wheel of Time book. This time it's Book 9 Winter's Heart.

I seriously do not know how Robert Jordan got away with it. By this stage he wasn't even pretending that he had any intention of advancing the story and was perfectly content to fill up page after page with elaborate descriptions and continually repeating himself.

The prologue went for nearly 80 pages! I counted at least 4 places where it could have been broken and a new chapter started. They weren't editing it by this stage either, they weren't even attempting to do anything beyond correcting spelling and punctuation.

When the story starts (ha!) it followed Perrin and Faile. Faile had been kidnapped by the Shaido Aiel and was being mistreated by them. She of course knows her husband will rescue her, although she seems to like being dominated by the Aiel warrior in charge of her.

The next few chapters centre on Perrin, he spends the entire time wondering where Faile is and why he can't find her and has she been abducted. For God's sake! Every one of these chapters is completely redundant, because the reader already knows! Just come to a decision Perrin and go after her! Perrin does decide to do so, then the book abandons that particular plot line for the rest of it's 400 or so remaining pages. Mystifying.

Elayne blah blah blah. Nynaeve blah. Lan blah. Avidendha blah blah, I will knife you if you look at me sideways, blah. Min and Rand arrive. The girls bond as sisters and then they all bond Rand as a Warder, despite the fact that Alanna has already done this and Elayne predictably threatens to have her birched. I've never understood women's fascination with Rand and this is another example. Admittedly being bonded to Elayne and Aviendha would be a fate worse than death, but Min seems like a nice level headed girl. Far too good for Rand. The bonding also brings up the issue that neither Aviendha or Min are Aes Sedai. Aviendha is sort of the Aiel equivalent, but they don't have Warders, and Min doesn't even like the Aes Sedai much, she has visions, but nothing beyond that.

It takes about half of the book to finally find out what happened to Mat! You remember him? He was in mortal danger at the end of Book 7 and then completely ignored in Book 8. Apparently he wasn't really in that much trouble, because he's in the same place, with the same people, doing the same thing. The only difference is the Seanchan are ruling the place. Jordan also spent a lot of time explaining Seanchan Asian influenced culture. I did find this interesting (not the descriptions of the culture, they were sleep inducing, but the fact that it was Asian influenced, they were descended from Artur Hawkwing, Randland's King Arthur equivalent), but it's not expanded upon. Mat has to meet them, because there's a prophecy that he'll marry their queen The Daughter of the Nine Moons.

After more than 500 pages of complete and utter twaddle, because that is what it is, Rand finally does something that is important to the story, unfortunately this only takes 30 pages and doesn't make up for all the nonsense before it.

There's a glossary at the end of the book. It describes the cultures and terms. It does it better than anything in the books and really a 100 page glossary like this could have been put out in place of Winter's Heart and it would have been better.

The word is that Crossroads of Twilight is even worse. I'll have to read it, because I really don't think that's possible.