“A Queen in Hiding” by Sarah Kozloff – An unexpected epic fantasy

Sara Kozloff’s “The Nine Realms” series has been hyped up as a chance for fantasy readers to binge an entire epic fantasy series over the course of just a few months. The whole series is being published over the course of four months, with a book each month, starting in January 2020. I’m writing this in February, and the second book is already in hand! A Queen in Hiding is the first book in the tetralogy, and it does not disappoint. I want to hype it to you, dear readers, so you can go get it and talk about it like I want to! I’ll try to keep the SPOILERS minor, but if you prefer to avoid spoilers, I’d say get this book if you like your epic fantasy to take a few new directions while still scratching that itch.

First, I love how unexpected some of the plot points were in the book. There was an early scene in which Cerulia meets a young peasant, and how this is woven into the plot later. It was such an innocently perfect scene of kids befriending each other–the kind of scene that is almost never found in epic fantasy.

Second, I loved the plot taking place quickly over the course of years rather than days. There’s certainly something to be said for intricate, intimate details of every aspect of each character’s life for months (you know which series I refer to–there’s a wheel, and time, and stuff, and yes I love it), but there’s also something refreshing about skipping ahead and learning more about the character through snapshots of life. I wonder if the other novels will go back in time at all or whether this whole series will be an extended, decades-long rumination on the coming-of-age, exile, and perhaps eventual rule of a Queen? Because that would be awesome. Either way, I’m excited.

Third, the characters were fascinating and worked in ways that  felt real. They messed up, they made mistakes, they loved, they cried. It was wonderful, heartfelt, and genuine.

Those three points summarize my love of the first book of Kozloff’s series. I have the second book in hand, so I look forward to diving into it ASAP! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments! And if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to check out this new epic fantasy.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Mechanical” – Ian Tregillis’s Steampunk Epic

I first read The Mechanical after I saw it at a bookstore. The premise immediately struck me as something I’d be interested in, so I gave it a try. I was completely enamored at once with its compelling cast of characters and extremely high octane drama and intensity. I want to commend it to my readers here, so I’ve written up a short review. There will be some minor SPOILERS here so if you want to avoid that, just go read the book, it’s great.

The Mechanical

There are many things that make this book great. First, the setting. It’s set in the early 1900s in an alternative world in which the Dutch have mastered a kind of magical clockwork that allows them to animate robots to do their bidding. This has led to the Dutch dominating much of the world. Meanwhile, readers are also treated to following the attempts of New France to become a power again, using their chemical know-how to fight the mechanicals of the Dutch. Throughout all of this is woven a heaping helping of religious strife, with the Dutch Protestants and French Catholics being at odds against each other on almost every level.

Another aspect of the series is its fantastic characters. Ian Tregillis writes not just one, but three extremely compelling characters that were sympathetic almost from the start. On the flip side, it’s not always clear who is “good” or “bad” in many of the scenarios presented. Because much of the conflict is over both religious and economic war, it is difficult to find a right side, and that certainly reflects the real world. But tied into this is a third fantastic part of the series, which is the deep philosophical questions raised about free will and religion that come with it. Jax, a mechanical and one of the protagonists, is immediately sympathetic as one who seemingly has free will thwarted by clockwork. Meanwhile, other characters must deal with almost opposite effects. It is all fascinating.

Yet all of these wonderful details are tied into a plot with an absolutely roaring pace that never lets up. Whether it’s spy drama, nefarious evil, or warfare, there is an enormous amount of action in this book, and it never lets off the gas. It is a thrill ride that has much deeper elements than one might expect.

I have read the rest of the series, back when it first came out, and it is all very good. I will be re-reading it on audiobooks now as I continue. I recommend this series to you, dear readers. Check it out! Read The Mechanical now! And come back and discuss it with me!

Links

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis- A Steampunk Delight– Like Steampunk? Be sure to also read Robyn Bennis’s fantastic “The Guns Above.”

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

 

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis – A Steampunk Delight

It’s no secret: I love steampunk. The thing is, I’ve struggled to find novels that capture the feel I really, really want out of the subgenre. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is one prime example of an excellent series. Then, I saw The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. It had a blurb from my favorite author, David Weber on it. Surely, he would not lead me wrong! Would he?

No, he wouldn’t.

Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above is the beginning of what I hope becomes a lengthy fantasy series. Bennis doesn’t do much experimental here. No, she instead delivers to readers an extremely sound, tight, action-packed steampunk novel. Do you want harrowing air battles? Do you want some political intrigue? Character development? Check all the boxes, it’s all here.

The story centers around Josette Dupre,who is the first woman airship captain in her nation. Some doubt her abilities. Upping the drama is the addition of Lord Bernat, a love-to-hate aristocrat with a gambling and womanizing problem. These might sound like familiar tropes, but Bennis develops them so well and adds just enough twists and turns in the overall plot and world to make it a novel that I churned through not once, not twice, but three times already. I’m thinking about adding the audiobook to my collection because it’s that good. It’s a lengthy read, but one that is so quick to pass by that I sat and read it in a day the first time.

Character development is clearly one of Bennis’s strengths. I know that term gets thrown around a lot. Too many times it means a character is interesting throughout the book. Here, the mains truly develop. They change in meaningful ways that make sense within the plot. They’re not static, but living and breathing.

The blurb from David Weber is spot-on as there are many parallels here, from the military trappings to the character development. It’s a debut novel that not only shows a ton of promise but also absolutely delivers the goods. And it has airships. AIRSHIPS, people. This is the kind of novel that fans of older JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV-IX and their like have longed for. Go get it. Read it. Love it. Share about it. And then come here and talk to me about it. Oh, and good news: the second book is already out!

Tell me what you think of The Guns Above in the comments!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Re-Read of “The Legend of Drizzt” – The Icewind Dale Trilogy

drizzt-IIIt has been many years (13 or so) since I read the tales of the Legend of Drizzt Saga. For those who are familiar with this series, the name evokes memories of adventurous tales of grand action. For the uninitiated, these books are perhaps the definitive experience for those wanting to read fantasy works set in the universe of Dungeons and Dragons. Nerd hats on, everybody. Here, I review volume II of the Legend, which contains the Icewind Dale TrilogyThe Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, and The Halfling’s Gem.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

The “Icewind Dale Trilogy” is a fast-paced fantasy adventure following Drizzt and company as they fight enemies, get pursued by assassins, and more.

Salvatore does an excellent job here of keeping the action moving. The books never seem to drag–a problem that existed in the Dark Elf Trilogy. Here, readers are thrust into action scene after action scene without letting up. This was an excellent decision because that also means there is little time in the whirlwind of activity to reflect on the total coherence of the story. More on that later, but for now it is worth noting that at no point did I feel like these books dragged or that the story had crawled to a stop.

The overarching plot isn’t quite as cohesive and interesting as the Dark Elf Trilogy’s was. This trilogy feels quite a bit like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a few points linking all the adventures together. It just is not as tied together as the prequel trilogy. Although enemies do persist and there is a general sense of a broader world, there is little sense I do have to wonder, too, why it is referenced as the “Icewind Dale Trilogy” when, realistically, only the first book deals much with Icewind Dale proper. It’s a minor complaint, but there it is.

The part of the stories that I think I enjoyed most when I read these books so long ago was actually the part I most frequently found myself skimming this time around: the action. I know I already talked about how it is good the books stay fast-paced, and it is. My point, though, is that a lot of the fights feel very similar. Scimitars slash, hammers whirl, axes cut in half, bows fire–all with abandon. But after a while it feels like the characters are just going through the motions. The fights began to get meshed together in my mind, with just settings and a different order of enemies slain to differentiate them. They’re clearly choreographed and thought out, but–maybe this is a symptom of being older–I just wanted more plot.

What Salvatore did do quite well regarding the plot, however, was character development. Each main character (and indeed most of the secondary characters) felt like real people with motivations and personalities that were generally distinct. Whether it was Cattie-Brie or Bruenor, Wulfgar or Drizzt, the characters were all well written and interesting. Moreover, the villains themselves were intriguing and had enough backstory or mystery surrounding them to keep me interested.

Overall, the Icewind Dale Trilogy was a solid read. It’s not going to blow readers away with the plot, but it will provide several good afternoons full of sweeping adventure. And really, that’s much of what fantasy is all about.

The Good

+Fast-paced
+Good character development
+Glimpses of moral issues
+Interesting villains

The Bad

-Repetitive action
-Weak overarching plot
-Why is it called “The Icewind Dale Trilogy”?

The Verdict

Grade: B+ “It drags at times, but ‘The Dark Elf’ Trilogy is an intriguing introduction to a fantasy legend.”

What do you think?

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Re-Read of “The Legend of Drizzt” – The Dark Elf Trilogy

drizzt-IIt has been many years (13 or so) since I read the tales of the Legend of Drizzt Saga. For those who are familiar with this series, the name evokes memories of adventurous tales of grand action. For the uninitiated, these books are perhaps the definitive experience for those wanting to read fantasy works set in the universe of Dungeons and Dragons. Nerd hats on, everybody. I recently decided to re-read the adventure and picked up an omnibus edition labeled “I” for the Legend of Drizzt. Interestingly, they opted to put the prequel, “The Dark Elf Trilogy” first rather than putting them in published order. No matter! We begin our foray into the Drizzt saga with the Dark Elf Trilogy.

The Dark Elf Trilogy

I’m not going to summarize the plot (see summary here [click each book for more summary]), but the basics are that there is a Dark Elf (AKA Drow) named Drizzt Do’Urden growing up in one of the cities of the Drow, Menzoberranzan. He and his father, Zaknafein, do not conform to the moral corruptness and insatiable lust for power that perpetuates in Drow society. Because of this, Drizzt rejects his people and flees into the Underdark, where he meets some friends as he avoids encounters with his deadly family. Finally, he emerges on the surface.

I have to say I enjoyed re-reading the trilogy very much. The world is particularly well developed, with a true sense of vastness and complexity that makes readers excited to explore further. The story also has a pretty broad scope, stretching across years, conflicts, and realms in order to bring it to fruition. The setting is pretty phenomenal.

There is surprising depth to some of the moral issues raised in the book, despite having a fairly simplistic view of good and evil (see characters, below). Drizzt’s struggle to reconcile his moral compass with his upbringing is intriguing, and his father’s own struggles observing Drizzt is emotionally engaging. It’s pretty impressive that Salvatore included a decent depth of these issues in a series that is, at base, a tie-in for a role-playing game.

The action, when it happens, is always intense. Although the action scenes are perhaps not as well-executed as some other stories’, they are engaging and hard-hitting when they do happen. I was never bored or put off by them, which is sometimes hard to do. Too much action or poorly written action is worse than no action at all.

That said, there are some pretty big issues here. The most obvious one is there are major issues with pacing in these books, particularly in Exile. It felt like there were stretches of 50 or so pages in which almost nothing happened. Drizzt is in a tunnel. He is lonely. He encounters a beasty. He is sad. These sections drag on for seemingly interminable lengths and make reading the books at time feel like a chore. Thankfully, the style they’re written in makes them very quick reads, so it is easy to churn through these sections, but it remains a major difficulty with the trilogy.

Another issue is that most of the characters lack depth. There is little backstory or even hints of backstory to them. Characters are sorted into simplistic black-and-white good-and-evil categories that make it difficult to care much about what backstory there is at points. There are exceptions, like Zaknafein, but overall there just isn’t much to care about for the other characters.

Overall, “The Dark Elf Trilogy” is an enjoyable read that I’m glad I took the time to go back through. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited these books, and I’m intrigued about what will come next!

The Good

+Overarching plot very interesting
+The world of the Underdark is unique and well-developed
+Impressive scope
+Surprisingly deep looks at moral issues at points

The Bad

-Pacing issues abound
-Most side characters lack depth

The Verdict

Grade: B- “It drags at times, but ‘The Dark Elf’ Trilogy is an intriguing introduction to a fantasy legend.”

What do you think?

SDG.

Book Review: “Never to Live” by Just B. Jordan

ntl-jordanNever to Live is madness. The main character, Elwyn, is tortured into madness after she agrees to try to stop an ancient evil. The book then follows Elwyn and a cast of characters on an adventure which seems as disjointed as Elwyn’s mind. There will be SPOILERS below.

Terms are introduced with little-to-no definitions anywhere in the book. Things like “loxasta” are mentioned but their role is never clearly defined nor is there ever enough description to know what they might be motivated by. Locales are as bare bones as possible, often with no description so that it comes as a surprise when someone steps out from behind a tree (after all, how did we know trees were here when there was no description?). Characters similarly have almost no detail, with readers left to try to fill in the pieces of their motivations, descriptions, and backgrounds. All of this is a bit surprising in a book that comes close to 700 pages.

What is done with those 700 pages? The first 100-200 pages are largely a trip through the mad mind wanderings of the main character, Elwyn. There’s not enough detail to explain why these memories are chosen or what context they might have or how, exactly, the torture is happening or even really for what reason. Yes, hints are dropped, but they never meld together to form anything coherent. The next 400+ pages are basically just following the set of characters–largely without motivations–through a journey through the land. During this journey, one character discovers the ability to turn into a dragon, another starts sprouting roots (!), others discuss their thoughts with a demonic character, a dragon shows up, a were-panther follows Elwyn around (why?), and more.

All of this makes sense, in a way, because Never to Live never sets ground rules for how the world works. There are no apparent restrictions on the possible, so having characters randomly start turning into a plant only to reveal later a link between that and a covenant with the dryads–another faction without any background (along with the loxasta, the “kings”–apparently some malicious rulers of some land, though it’s never entirely sure which land where or why, etc.)–seems almost reasonable. The problem is that because there seem to be virtually no rules, no descriptions, and no background, the book never gets its feet grounded in a reality that readers can relate to. It seems entirely disjointed throughout, with little reason to care about what’s happening.

Even when the story starts to wrap up (page 600 and following), some threads are tied, but completely new open-ended thoughts are introduced, like a horse that apparently was Elwyn’s son the whole time. The ending is probably the best part, but it does little to tie up all the loose ends or even make sense of the world in which the story takes place.

On the plus side, there are some interesting points brought up by a character named Weaver–possibly a God stand-in but it is never clear–regarding theology and philosophy. Moreover, the exploration of self-worth and the concept of reducing a main character to madness is intriguing, it just doesn’t work as portrayed in this book.

Never to Live is a tough read. I re-read multiple sections, even going back and re-reading the introductory chapters a few times after things related to them popped up later in the book. Even after that work dedicated to the book, I am left with the conclusion that it is, unfortunately, a jumbled and faceless outline of a story rather than a complete story on its own.

The Good

+Some intriguing philosophical/theological points
+Interesting premise

The Bad

-Completely incoherent opening
-Characters receive almost no development
-Locales have almost no description to ground them
-Ideas are introduced seemingly at random
-Key terms insufficiently explained
-No motivations for characters

The Verdict

Grade: D

At times incoherent, and on the whole lacking in development, Never to Live is a sometimes tantalizing mess.

I received a review copy of this book from Enclave publishing. I was not influenced or required by the publisher to write any kind of review.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Just B. Jordan, Never to Live (Colorado Springs, CO: Enclave, 2009).

SDG.

Microview: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

mistbornWhat’s a “Microview”? It’s a miniature review of something! I doubt that I coined the phrase, but I just randomly thought of it today so I’ll claim it for now. With a Microview, you, dear reader, get exposed to random things I read/watched/experienced in a very short form. Because this is the first, I’d love feedback from you on the format!

Mistborn

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn features the coolest magic systems I’ve ever read. It’s truly unique and worth reading the book for that alone. However, the plot is also fantastic and Sanderson masterfully weaves a history of the world into a book filled with action and intrigue. Vin and the other main characters are very interesting and each has a past that makes readers want to know more. Philosophical and theological problems are also briefly addressed throughout in ways that inspire reflection and thought.

The Good

-Astoundingly unique magic system
-Interesting Characters
-Great Plot with many twists
-Brings up issues of worldview in ways that demand engagement.

The Bad

-At times feels rushed

The Verdict

Overall a fantastic book that I would recommend you immediately go and read.