Initial Thoughts on the 2021 Hugo Nominees

The 2021 Hugo Nominations have been announced. I’m pleased to say I was involved this time as a paying member and got to help nominate. It was a ton of fun, though I absolutely agonized over my choices for best novel. I wanted to talk about the shortlist now that it’s been announced and highlight a few things.

Best Related Work

I start here because one of the selections truly blew me away. Finding new things that I’d never have thought about before is THE reason I read through lists of any sort. Well, when the nominees were announced, I saw “The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy” from Jenny Nicholson, a YouTube video pop up. I know a couple bronies, and my kids love the Friendship is Magic show, so I’ve seen glimpses of it here and there. I figured, what the heck, I’ll watch this video. It’s a bit over an hour long and I was just enthralled the whole time.

First of all, Nicholson is an engaging speaker. She blended humor, personal experience in the community, and a critical eye into a genuinely wonderful piece. It would be easy to make videos mocking bronies or asking why people are how they are. Nicholson has enough firsthand experience to love the community and acknowledge its faults. It was an incisive look at how the fandom rose up around My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and how some parts could be quite toxic while others were wonderful.

The video also made me want to watch My Little Pony much more than I have with my kids watching it in the background. I think it’s always fun to join new fandoms, though trying to navigate the unfortunate (and sometimes, it seems, inevitable) toxicity and gatekeeping makes it tough to get on board.

As a related work, though, what a great work “The Last Bronycon” was. It offered insights into the subject while also calling on viewers to experience the joy and love that Nicholson herself had/has for both the community and the content. I highly recommend you watch it. (Fair warning: some adult content, language, and discussion.)

I love this thumbnail, it’s so great!

Just another quick note, I was tickled to see the article “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony” by Natalie Luhrs on there. The 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony was certainly an interesting thing to behold, but I only watched it intermittently. This analysis helped me see more of the problems with it. I confess I’m a huge Silverberg fan as far as much of his fiction, but the searing he got in this article may have been deserved too. Whether it was or not, I do think that articles like this that help make us aware of potential problems in fandom are helpful.

Best Novel

This is probably the category with the most buzz, and, as I said, I agonized over my own choices. There was so much fantastic speculative fiction released last year. The nominees are

  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

I’ve read most of these, but not Harrow the Ninth or The Relentless Moon. I did a deep dive into some Mary Robinette Kowal recently, though, reading the entire Glamourist Histories series, which was fabulous, along with some shorter fiction. I need to go back and read the whole Lady Astronaut series. As for Harrow–well, I did not enjoy Gideon much at all, but since I try to read every single Hugo nominee for best novel, I’ll be giving the series another chance. I genuinely think Harrow will win regardless. The first book had so much hype and this one seems to be getting just as much. The other four novels, which I’ve read, would each be deserving in their own way. So far, out of these (and excluding by default those I haven’t read), I’d probably pick Network Effect, but they’re all great choices.

I gotta say I was shocked that To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini wasn’t on this list. I thought it was a shoe-in for at least getting a nomination. It was one of the biggest surprises of last year’s reading for me, and I wrote about it in longer form already. I loved it. Given Paolini’s big name from the Eragon books (which I admit I didn’t like much, having only read the first), I figured he’d be on it for sure. Goes to show how much I know!

Best Video Game

I believe it’s the first year for this category, and the nominations are all over the board. A few are expected–Animal Crossing and the Final Fantasy VII remake (which I still need to play, come on PC release!), while others are surprises. Like Blaseball? I’ve never even heard of it, but apparently it’s a browser based horror baseball game? Uh, I’ll be giving that a try.

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko should win this. It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years. I loved it so much, and I encourage you to go read it as soon as possible! I keep seeing A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking showing up places–I need to read it. I wrote a review of Raybearer if you’d like to check it out.

Astounding Award for Best New Author

The choices here are:

  • Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)
  • Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)
  • Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)
  • A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)
  • Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

This is an incredibly solid list. I personally lean towards Simon Jimenez because his The Vanished Birds is a spectacular debut work. Found family, shades of “Firefly.” Check it out.

Best Fanzine

I am so pleased to see the “Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog” ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne on there. I enjoy their presence on Twitter so much, as they both interact so kindly and also help highlight so many works. They’re great at signal boosting others and I just love that.

Other Categories

I’m sorry if I didn’t comment on your favorites, but I’d love to read your thoughts! Let me know what you think in the comments, please! I love talking about this stuff. I also tried to avoid commenting on anything I just hadn’t read or didn’t know enough about to comment upon. Congratulations to all the nominees!

Links

Announcing the 2021 Hugo Award Finalists– Tor dot com’s post about the finalists, a convenient place to view them all.

Science Fiction Hub– I’ve discussed past Hugo Awards extensively, and would love to chat about them and hear your own thoughts! I have several posts discussing entire years’ worth of nominees/winners for best novel as well as my own choice for a winner. Check out all my posts on science fiction (and some fantasy!) at this hub.

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.

Indie Highlight: “The Sovereign of the Seven Isles” by David A. Wells

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books. This is a special edition post for Indie April!

The Sovereign of the Seven Isles by David A. Wells

“The Sovereign of the Seven Isles” is a lengthy epic fantasy series by David A. Wells. Some time ago, the first book popped up as free on Kindle, and I snagged a copy. With Indie April approaching, I decided to finally dive into the series, and read the first book, Thinblade. I quickly followed up by reading the second in the series, Sovereign Stone. I can’t yet comment on later books in the series, as I’ve yet to read them. But I already got the third book from Kindle Unlimited, so I will be continuing this series fairly soon.

The core thrust of the series is a story of prophecy and expectation regarding the Sovereign of the Seven Isles. It’s a setup that will seem familiar to fans of epic fantasy, and so far the series doesn’t diverge much from what one would expect going in. There is ancient family expectation woven seamlessly into ancient evil and, as I said, prophecy.

So far, what makes the series stand out is mostly that it has been so conventional. Normally, that would be a point to potentially un-sell a novel for me, but there’s a sense of comfort reading these books that comes from being a longtime fan of fantasy. It’s easy to sit down and churn through half the book in an afternoon because it just feels like entering into a fantasy world that doesn’t ask too much from its readers. There are a lot of characters, but it’s never overwhelming. More importantly, the action keeps up at such a brisk pace that some of the flaws regarding narrative or prose are easy to ignore for the sake of continuing to the next major point.

The first book, Thinblade, has Alexander working to find the titular blade, which is so fine that it seems to be able to slice through or destroy just about anything. By the second book, the importance of this blade is tempered a bit by Alexander learning he must also have sound strategy and skill. It’s a coming-of-age story in the middle of world-rending events, and fans of fantasy will be quite comfortable.

Wells has written an intriguing world, and for fans of epic fantasy, it’s easy to recommend this one to give a try, especially if you have Kindle Unlimited. I recommend these especially for those looking for some epic fantasy that don’t also want to spend actual hours trying to figure out the world or memorize all the names going in. Sometimes I love books like that–but we all need a break once in a while. These books are a good bridge book for those breaks between heavier reads. The first book, Thinblade, is still just $0.99 on Kindle, so it’s worth a try if you’re interested. Let me know what you think!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

Indie Highlight: “The Carnelian Fox” by Kay MacLeod

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books.

The Carnelian Fox by Kay MacLeod

I love Pokémon. I love monster collecting games in general, and have tracked down a bunch on Steam and other platforms. I’ve always craved books that capture (hah!) that same feel of excitement, exploration, and bonding with creatures of games like Pokémon. Kay MacLeod’s The Carnelian Fox is a fantastic book that does exactly that.

In the world of Maiyamon, some corporation made real life monsters that could be caught out of everyday creatures. Of course, this included giving them stats, bonuses, and other things that go along with monster catching games. The company faded and interested in the ‘mons faded along with it, but the ‘mons remained, and became a problem for the real world to deal with.

Jump forward in time, and we get to follow Sam, a Maiyamon trainer who wants to better herself and her team as she sets out to become a great trainer. She gets paired with Lucy, a wealthy young woman who wants to use her Maiyamon(s) for show (think of dog shows), in order to protect her and earn some money. From there, readers follow a series of adventures, competitions, and more as we get exposed to the world of Maiyamon.

MacLeod has created a beautiful experience with this book. The battles feel just like what I had hoped for–real time, epic battles between ‘mons that still have a kind of pseudo rock-paper-scissors aspect to them. The battles are one of the major highlights of the book. I also quite enjoyed the bonding between the Maiyamon and trainers that happened. Sam cares for her critters, and their interactions are sometimes touching. I didn’t expect to feel emotional in this book, but I did. MacLeod’s characterization is great, and genuine (often witty) dialogue is the name of the game.

There are a few typos here and there, and a few sentences that end with a question mark that doesn’t seem to fit. These are more jarring than I expected (I tend to be pretty good at ignoring such things) because of how few and far between they were.

The Carnelian Fox is a great indie read that absolutely, at last, scratches that Pokémon itch. If you like monster training games and have longed for a novel that can give you that same feeling with a great story, you should run and grab this book. I recommend it.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates)

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

“Raybearer” by Jordan Ifueko – A beautiful, unique fantasy

Let me put it as simply as possible to start off: Ifueko has created an utterly captivating world in Raybearer.

I have been anticipating Raybearer ever since I first found out about it. I followed the author on Twitter before I even knew about the project, so when she announced this debut novel, I was ecstatic. Then, I had it in hand and I… waited. I’m sure other people do this–you want to truly savor a book, so you wait until you feel the time is right and you’re perfectly ready to read the book, even as it calls to you from the TBR (to be read) shelf. I finally thought the time was right, so I grabbed the book on my way to work to read on breaks. But I couldn’t put it down. My breaks flew past, and then I got home. I confess I read the whole book that night, staying up well past when I am normally asleep to do so. “Savor,” indeed. There will be some light SPOILERS below.

Raybearer is a coming-of-age story about Tarisai, a girl whose mother, The Lady, has nefarious plans for Tarisai and others. Tarisai is sent to the capital city with one mission: she must kill the Crown Prince once she’s gained his trust. Here already, I want to pause to point out the subtle ways Ifueko plays with fantasy tropes and turns them unexpectedly into exciting new stories. Tarisai’s origin, you see, was not from a human union, and this results in her having traits that even she doesn’t know the extent of. One of these, The Lady knows all about–Tarisai has to obey the wish of her mother. So my summary above, that Tarisai must kill the Crown Prince, was intentional. This isn’t a predictable tale in which some young woman gets sent, falls in love with the prince, and so decides to shun her evil mother and rebel. No, Ifueko doesn’t give in to tropes. This is a fresh-feeling story from start to finish.

One of the most refreshing and exciting parts of the book is Ifueko’s world-building. The world of Raybearer, from the magic to the way the political system works, is fascinating. The Crown Prince is a Raybearer, and attempting to build his council. He will connect mentally with others to form his council, and they will be unable to leave him without getting a debilitating council sickness. They will love him. Tests, intrigue, and magic work to intervene throughout the novel as we see what will happen to the ticking bomb that is Tarisai’s compulsion from The Lady. Meanwhile, tension builds and hints at broader problems come through the cracks in the seemingly perfect façade of the Crown Prince’s life. All of this adds up to a read that I found completely unputdownable.

Raybearer is a thrilling ride from start to finish. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I hope you’ll pick it up and become as enamored and enthralled by the rich world Ifueko created as I was. The main problem I have with Raybearer is that there’s no release date for the second book. I can’t wait.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

Ken Scholes’s “Psalms of Isaak” – A Haunting Science Fantasy

Inevitably, when you read a lot of sci-fi fantasy, you discover works that you find to be absolutely marvelous but that go by relatively unnoticed by many other readers. Books that you feel deserve awards and widespread sales disappear from publication and booksellers’ shelves. There are several series or standalone books that fall into that space for me. Ken Scholes’s genre-defying “Psalms of Isaak,” a five book series filled with horror, wonder, and hope ranks very highly among them. There will be light SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

My Journey to Reading the Series

I bought Lamentation, the first book in the series, when it first came out in paperback. It languished on my shelf, showing off its beautiful cover art (are those… cowboys in front of a ruin? or warriors riding around?). I lost it in a move but couldn’t shake the image of the cover from my mind. I grabbed it in paperback again, but it was purged when I was getting ready for another move–after all, why keep just the first book in a series I wasn’t sure I’d even like? Finally, as I browsed for audiobooks available through the library, I saw that alluring cover once again. Knowing I like listening to books, and that this one in particular seemed to be haunting me, I dove in.

I was in for an absolute treat. Lamentation has nearly everything I could want in a science fantasy. It has an awesome sense of vastness of the world, both in space and time. There are ruins and mysteries lost to the past. There are subtle hints of technology that may be recovered. There are mysterious steampunk vibes mixed with those of fantasy. Truly wicked villains populate the whole series, while interesting main characters manage to keep hope alive in the darkest of times. The book was brilliant! I immediately grabbed the next one on audio and went through them all. I rarely read series back-to-back, enjoying a break in between with other books, but I couldn’t stop with the Psalms of Isaak and continued all the way through.

What Genre is it?

One of the many things that makes this series so excellent is its ability to defy genres. At its core, it’s a kind of epic fantasy, with some feeling of the hero’s journey happening throughout. But it also has clear elements of science fantasy, with some fantastical elements scattered throughout seemingly explainable with scientific means and in-world rules. Additionally, there is a helping of steampunk swirled in. Ancient artifacts are scattered throughout, as well–one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy tropes. Each time I started a new book in the series I struggled with which genre to file it under, and I ultimately just piled on the labels so that I could find the books if friends asked for recommendations.

On top of all of that, though, there is an evocative sense of religious crisis. I read some autobiographical stuff from Scholes as I read through the series and it appears he has had his own crisis of doubt–I’m unsure where he came out of it. That sense is mixed throughout this series as religion plays a major pot in many of the plot threads. It adds yet another layer of both hope and dread.

Read It!

I hope I’ve sold you on the Psalms of Isaak, because it is a series that is well-worth your time. I’m nabbing the audiobooks on Audible as I get credits. It’s a wonderful journey through a fantastic world, filled with so many vibes and ideas that you might think it’s overwhelming. But it’s not. Scholes does a great job grounding readers in this haunting place, and his storytelling will make you want to stay there forever.

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.

Indie April Highlight: “Awaken Online: Cartharsis” by Travis Bagwell

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books.

Awaken Online: Catharsis by Travis Bagwell

It’s been one heck of a couple months with COVID-19 going around. I decided to finally cave and try out a sub-genre I’ve been thinking about for a while: LitRPG. Simply put, a LitRPG books are written as though they’re taking place in an RPG, complete with leveling up and stats in the text. I know pretty little about the genre, so I can’t comment on how broadly that definition works but that’s how I’ve seen people talk about it. The book I went with was one that advertised hard for me on Facebook to the point I finally snagged a copy of it: Awaken Online: Catharsis

The book follows Jason, a young man who’s had a lot of things go wrong recently–getting in fights, a girl he likes apparently siding with a bully against him, school troubles, etc. He decides to play “Awaken Online,” a virtual reality MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) to blow off some steam, and discovers an experience that seems tailored to his own life in some ways. There are other things going on in the plot, much more than I expected, to be honest.

The book is basically broken into two phases taking place simultaneously: Jason’s real life, and his in-game life and development. I was honestly surprised by how quickly I got sucked into the MMORPG life of Jason’s VR avatar. It wasn’t complex, but it was a lot of fun. The wa he leveled up and thought through how to gain what he desired was interesting, and made for a page-turning read. I loved the magic and other aspects of gameplay, and found myself thinking of it as a real video game I’d want to play. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there are some shenanigans with the company that made the addictive Awaken Online and an AI they created to make it fun to play. 

The real-life portion of the book almost seemed a distraction at times as I wanted to see what was going on with Jason in Awaken Online. But it was important to the story’s flow, and I think it does credit to Travis Bagwell’s writing that I got sucked in so well to the game world. Jason’s real life, as I said, is pretty tough, and his parents aren’t great either. That said, the characters outside the game world have very little interaction or development. I’d say at this point in the series, the meat of the book is the gameworld, though it’s clear more ‘real life’ things could transpire as well. 

I was extremely pleasantly surprised by Awaken Online: CatharsisIt served as my first foray into LitRPG as a sub-genre, and I expect to spend a lot of time here. Check it out, and let me know what you think, too!

Links

Indie Highlight– Read about more indie titles by looking at all my posts about indie sci-fi/fantasy (mostly)! Scroll down for more. Let me know what you think, and tell me your recommendations!

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.

 

“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?

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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!

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SDG.