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“The Traitor God” – C. Johnston

This is a review of “The Traitor God” by Cameron Johnston.

After ten years on the run reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city, but he failed. Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut, and nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Edrin Walker will burn them all if he has to. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he has killed a god…

That the gods were ancient magi that grew powerful beyond their wildest dreams, and the way of keeping them in check was to guard a monstrous beast hidden deep under Setharis, was a master stroke. It added so much more depth to the characters, and most importantly to the entire world. Which it needed because we never got to see much of it. What we did see, though, was very solid stuff.

All the female characters introduced – from Charra and Layla, to Eva and Shadea, and even the few short meetings with the female street gang – were strong. They were tough and practically every time they were better than Edrin himself. There are definitely no weak or swooning women in this book, and it was a joy to read about them.

There is a lot of action and adventure in the book. The entire thing takes place in about a week if not less, and the pacing is quick and yet not too quick. The story doesn’t sacrifice information or character evolution for speed, and that is a rare skill. The fight scenes are excellent, especially with the way magic can be used during a fight. The Magash Mora and its creation was monstrous, but it made it painfully clear how it could have almost wiped a civilization off the face of the earth. It was easy to understand why they were so scared of what in essence amounted to a giant blob.

What was also great was that Edrin Walker was not an all-powerful mage, excellent fighter, or even in peak physical condition. He wasn’t automatically liked by everyone, he made mistakes several times – serious mistakes at that – and he was as terrified of his magic gift as everyone else around him. He struggled to not give in to it, nor to let the magic seduce him, and that made it very easy to like him as a character.

There is very little bad to say about this book.

There is quite a lot of info-dumping, but it is in short paragraphs and easy to get used to. It isn’t as much of an annoyance as it sounds. There are also a few times where the main character says he can’t use magic in a situation but still uses magic, and once att he start where he said that he had “killed a god” but then later on he doesn’t know if he did or didn’t – though this bit can easily be attributed to what was done to him. All of these are minor faults and easy to ignore. The only other thing that was a bit of a peeve was Harailt and Byzants and their roles in the story, but this is hardly worth mentioning because the rest of it was so overwhelmingly good.

There was so much left unsaid, hinted at and unexplored, and I cannot wait for the second book to be published.

I really recommend this book. It has been a long time since I found a book that I couldn’t put down until it was done!

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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“Vampire Hunter D” – H. Kikuchi

This is a review of “Vampire Hunter D” which is the first book of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s series about the dhampir D.

It is the year 12,090 A.D. The world has ended, ravaged in a firestorm of man’s wars and madness. Humanity managed to survive the calamity… but they are not alone. Doris Lang knew what her fate was the second the vampire Count Magnus Lee bit her – an agonizing transformation into one of the undead, to be hunted by her fellow villagers, or cursed to become the Count’s eternal bride and thirsting for human blood. There was only one chance, one hope for her: hiring a vampire hunter named D.

The world that is created in this book, is vast. It is complicated and has a lot of history, and there is a need for a good deal of infodumping in order to actually understand what is going on. There is not a single bit of infodumping that isn’t needed or tied to what will happen next, or later on in the book.

The characters in the book can surprise you. Doris and Larmica aren’t weak at all, and Dan is tough. The sheriff and the old doctor and all the people of the little town just do their best to survive in a rather hostile environment. Greco is a force of chaotic neutral who is allowed to be as bad as he wants to be, Rei-Ginsei is someone I would have loved to return in another book. The Count is a bit of a stereotype, but the sci-fi elements of the story help to lessen that considerably.

And as for D himself, he is made to be what we consider today as a Gary Stue, but he is so quiet in action and in speech that this isn’t as painfully obvious as one would think. Even if both Larmica and Doris fall for him instantly, he doesn’t pay either of them any attention, and he is even killed by Rei-Ginsei at one point. There is enough mystery around D to keep reading.

This was a book written all the way back in 1983, and storytelling was different then. This sort of omniscient author wasn’t rare, but at least Kikuchi actually gives us breaks in the infodumping and omniscience with sharp episodes of action and fun. The action scenes are very good, and one can see them happen like in a movie.

The storytelling was, well, not perfect at all. This could be either because the author wasn’t actually all that good, or the translator wasn’t quite up to the task, or a mix of both. Japanese can be a difficult language to translate if one isn’t used to it, so some turns of phrases didn’t quite work out. The author is also an omniscient storyteller with more telling than showing, and that can get a bit annoying.

While not perfect writing, the setting and the mystery surrounding D are very good. The book is also very short, so it doesn’t take long to read. I already have the next four books on order, eagerly waiting to get my hands on them.

I do recommend this!

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Action Adventure, Books, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

 

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“Jurassic Park” – M. Crichton

This is a review of the book “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton.

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now mankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them – for a price. Until something goes wrong….

Let’s admit right away: it is impossible to avoid comparing this book to the movie.

The book offers far more backstory than the movie ever did, which does explain some of the things that might have seemed less logical in the movie. The movie has a more neat storyline, merging some characters and dropping a lot of them to tighten the story and fit it within a 90 minute timeframe, but both book and movie tell the story fully.

Already this early in the franchise Henry Wu was eager to improve on dinosaurs, arguing that the dinosaurs they have made aren’t real and to change them some more wouldn’t matter because no modern human would know. This is an attitude that the character didn’t express until the two Jurassic World movies – probably because he didn’t really have the time in the first movie – and he is given much more to do and more to say in the book.

Gennero is more likable in the book than in the movie. In fact, Gennaro is one of the best people there. Grant likes kids in the book, but not in the movie, which was a bit odd, but generally speaking he is the same as he was in the movie. The progress of the book better described where he learned that a T-rex’s sight is based on movement, which was good. Ian Malcom was more or less the only person who was completely the same in book and in movie, closely followed by John Arnold and Robert Muldoon.

The book is better at building up suspense and thrill and anticipation with small remarks or thoughts, or quick, rapid scene changes that don’t quite give you the full picture. It is all just enough to tease you along and build a sense of growing danger, especially at the start of the story. It is also amusing to recognise dialogue from the book that is used in the movies.

Unfortunately there are some bad things about this book, and they have nothing to do with outdated information about dinosaurs.

Henry Wu’s lack of knowledge about what DNA he has used to compelte the dinosaur DNA, is ridiculous and down right impossible considering his position. John Hammond comes off as quite a stupidly-ignorant man in the book compared to the willfully-ignorant one in the movie. Quite frankly, it’s unlcear how the book-Hammond managed to gather enough money for his project. His grand-dauger, Lex, is younger in the book than in the film, and she acts like a total idiot. Yes, a seven- or eight-year-old will bounce between emotions even in dangerous situations, but not as extremely as Lex does in the book.

Though Ellie Sattler was given her moment to shine towards the end, it wasn’t quite enough to cover that she was largely ignored throughout most of the story. Even in the scenes she was in, she said very little. Gennaro was also inconsistent in his character at the end of the story, being set up as one thing and then suddenly apparently being the total opposite.

A few of the relevations in the book weren’t as surprising or as shocking as they were probably meant to be. Not only because the information was revealed in the movie, but because of the writing in the book itself. The characters’s reactions to the revelations were muted and therefore greatly underwhelmed the surprises.

I am a big fan of the franchise and of dinosaurs in general, so the book was definitely worth the read for me. That means that I will definitely read the second book in the future, no question about that.

I recommend this book!

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in Action Adventure, Books

 

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“Master Assassins” – R. V. S. Redick

This is a review of “Master Assassins” by Robert V. S. Redick, the first book of the Fire Sacraments.

Kandri and Mektu are the closest of brothers. Village boys drafted into the army of a madwoman-Prophet, facing war and death, they struggle to hide their crumbling faith. Mektu is at the breaking point, convinced that a murderous spirit is stalking the camp, and that he may be its next target. But a night of violence leaves the brothers with holy blood on their hands. Mistaken for professional killers, they have just one path of escape: into a sprawling desert where the landscape is as deadly as the men and monsters it contains. On their heads is an irresistible bounty. Hot on their heels are the Prophet’s death squads, and a terrible servant in the form of a demonic child. And ahead lies a reckoning with their own family’s darkest secret – a secret that tears their world apart.

The world of this book is fascinating, deep and well-built. It is especially interesting since it has a very Middle-Eastern feel when it comes to culture and traditions, with a hint of Indian thrown in for flavour. With war and magic, betrayal and desert thieves it is an incredible place to read about. And the characters that inhabit this world are varied.

Kandri is the main character of them all, and it is his point of view we follow. His struggle with losing his faith and trying to keep his brother from saying something that will get them both killed, is well described. Mektu – said crazy brother – is fascinating to read about since it is unclear exactly what is wrong with him, and Uncle Chindilan is a loving, protective man. Eschett and Talupéké are incredibly strong women who whip them all along when needed.

The Prophet is, perhaps, the most fascinating of them all. She is a strong, terrifying woman. As a character she is very well-developed. It is clear that she fought her way to the top in a world where women are supposed to be submissive, and she is delightfully mad and crazy. It makes her stand out, makes her fascinating. Her special guard force ride enormous sabre-toothed cats and wield magical gloves, and her White Child is a horror all on its own.

The most incredible part of the story was the flight across the Stolen Sea. The description of the salt-encrusted landscape was fascinating. The same with the giant vultures, and they were cleverly used in the plot. The thieves and nomads making the Stolen Sea their home were also very well imagined and adapted to their surroundings.

Unfortunately the good stuff is overwhelmed by the bad.

Kandri and Mektu aren’t very likeable as characters. Kandri especially is far too wishy-washy, going back and forth about a various amount of things. It could be because he is struggling with his changing world view, but it was far too much and boggled the story down. The first 150 pages or so were full of this, and that nearly made me stop reading. And Mektu himself is just annoying and sometimes impossible to understand. Even if one accepts the fact that he might be possessed by a demon or just struggling with a mental disability of some sort, the rest of the writing doesn’t support it so he ends up being kind of just annoying.

There are constant flashbacks to help understand the choices of the various characters, how things evolved into what they are, but it just drags the story on. Some of the flashbacks don’t seem to be important to the tale at all, and could have been omitted or just summarised into a single paragraph.

Kandri’s constant moaning and mooning over Ariqina just made her seem annoying, because he was so annoying about it. And the mystery surrounding the brother’s father wasn’t enough to keep the interest up. Especially since the mystery was waylaid by everything else, and when some revelations came along, it was far too late to salvage it all. I simply didn’t care about it.

The biggest problem is that when the story reaches a moment where things happen rapidly – for example a battle – the writing becomes choppy and the sentences short. It is probably to show the speed and the confusion of battle, but it simply ends up being too much and makes the story itself confusing.

Overall the book isn’t outright bad, but I will not be continuing with the second one.

I don’t really recommend this book.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“Subterranean” – J. Rollins

This is a review of the book “Subterranean” by James Rollins.

When a hand-picked team of experts is sent to explore an underground labyrinth in the icy wilderness of Antarctica, they believe themselves to be the first humans at the site. But they’re wrong. A research team has been here before – and they did not return. In the darkness beneath the ice and rock lies a devastating secret, one that will change human history. But as the team dig deeper, they come face to face with a terror that should  never have been disturbed…

The author is excellent at creating suspense and action. The story flowed fast and quick, always something new happening, and there was enough description of the surroundings to make them interesting. The creatures that appear in the book are freakishly dinosaur-like. I would have loved to read more about them because of that alone! The humanoids are fascinating. The entire ecosystem is wonderful to read about simply because it is so believable.

It is also quite enjoyable that the book is an obvious nod towards “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, or at least inspired by it with a modern twist to it.

The characters are a bit less stock-characters than in the previous book. Ben and Jason are easy to like, as is Linda after a while, and Michaelson. Dr. Blakely was a very nice surprise towards the end, and though the two SEALS that joined the expedition started out stereotypical, one of them grew more real quickly. But I have to admit that the most developed of the lot was Khalid.

Ashley herself, though, is a bit difficult to come to like as a character. She is a bit hot and cold, teetering occasionally on the edge of harlequin romances. It is especially obivous when it comes to her relationship with Ben. Her conjugal scene with Ben was a bit awkward considering the situation they were in. It would have been far more believable if they had sex before the team descended and everything went to hell.

It has the same formulaic approach to the story as the previous book by this author. From a small team being separated from the main group, to the bad guy, and the traitorous other bad guy. This could be because it is a one-shot book and the Sigma Force series is different. It is obvious that the formulae works, and the story is excellent, but it is something to remember.

Conclusion is that though this is a totally okay adventure, I did prefer “Excavation“.

I will, however, continue reading his books.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2018 in Action Adventure, Books

 

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“The Never King” – J. Abbott

This is a review of James Abott’s book “The Never King“.

Xavir is rotting in gaol. Sentenced to life in the worst gaol in the lands the once legendary commander is all but forgotten. His elite band of warriors are dead – and the kingdom he was poised to inherit is oppressed by the tyrant who framed him. For half a decade now Xavir has ruled nothing but a prison gang. Yet vengeance comes to those who wait. When a former spymaster comes bearing news of his old enemy’s treachery, plans are forged. A few are compelled to restore peace, but peace and vengeance make poor companions. And first, Xavir must make his escape.

The the world was well-thought out, it was difficult to get to know it because there was no map at all in the book. A small one of Stravimon itself would have been enough. There were forests and hills, mountains and lakes, and villages and towns and cities. There was history and different peoples. The Dacinarians with their giant wolves deserved a book of their own, and the Akero were magnificent!

Elysia was a strong female character, a bit innocent at the start but clearly developing throughout the story. Her mother, though only appearing in a few flashbacks, was equally as strong. Lupara the Wolf Queen was a great representation of a strong warrior and someone who wasn’t afraid of their sexuality. Cedius the Wise was one of the best kings that have recently appeared in fantasy fiction, and the start of the book was extremely well done and very strong.

There are a lot of bad things about this book unfortunately.

Xavir was convinced to leave prison with only a few words, no built-up, no real explanation, no real incentive. After spending six years in gaol that was a bit too quick and easy. Not only that, but throughout the book he mentions several times that they have to be careful and not let the enemy know they are opposing them, and yet he wears his old uniform with the very recognisable insignia and swords he was so famous for. He was also the only person who didn’t have any trouble in the battles. He didn’t stumble, he didn’t slow down, he didn’t feel tired.

For being a commander and career soldier, Xavir did a lot of things that were rookie mistakes, some were even down right stupid and ended up hindering his allies rather than helping them. At one point Elysia asked Xavir if the Solar Cohort used to do assassinations back in the day, and instead of giving her an answer, he gives her an entire speech about feasts he has been on. There is no logic in the progress from one to the other whatsoever.

The worst part was that Xavir could simply walk in anywhere without trouble. Not so much as a stumble. He needs to escape an apparently inescapable gaol? He walks out. He needs to infiltrate the home of the country’s military commander? He walks in. He needs to enter Golax Hold and assassinate two people involved in the conspiracy? He walks in to the town, he walks into the castle, and he walks into a feasting all full of people. He barely kills six people in his quest to get there, he doesn’t sneak around, and no one flees when he comes. The bad guys don’t attempt to flee even, they just ask him if they couldn’t talk in an adjacent room rather than in the full hall. Then they talk and talk and talk. There was no reason to remove themselves from the full hall where the deaths could have far more impact.

While we are on the topic of impacts, the lack of it when it was revealed who was the Red Butcher and the traitor, was painful. One memory of a single scene where the character had a dark look about them – and considering the situation they were in, that look was very much expected and nothing special – is not enough as a hint for the character’s true alliance. There was no shock value, there was no emotion at all because we didn’t get to know that character at all.

Landril’s remark of ‘stranger things afoot’ that he had no information about when two chapters earlier they fought monsters that were clearly inhuman. Although probably meant to signify just how little information the spymaster has about the subject, it sounded like the author had simply forgotten what he had written. He was also annoyingly naïve and innocent at several points from the start to almost the end of the book, and then suddenly he isn’t. The change was far too abrupt.

Valderon was surprisingly (and annoyingly) bashful for an old soldier who had spent time in gaol, and the romance between him and Lupara was beyond awkward. It never led anywhere as if the author realised that it was a no-go, couldn’t be bothered going back to change a few sentences, and then just as awkwardly finished it off. Birgitta spent far too much time berating Xavir for not taking on the father role and then berating him for doing it his own way. In general there was a lot of back-and-forth from each character.

The mystery surrounding the Voldirik people had a lot of potential. It is too bad that said potential never went anywhere. They were the perfect bad guys, they did truly horrible things, but it was impossible to feel anything for them. They were mighty, but couldn’t stand up against the hodgepodge army Xavir and his allies scrunged up. The mystery of their god was revealed three pages after the concept was introduced, and just how stupid are people for not realising what was happening in their capital what with the Voldiriks running around?

A lot of the book was composed of tell rather than show. People updated their friends about something in one sentence and one expects it to be over. But it isn’t. We get the entire conversation in full three sentences later. Xavier’s group of escapees were referred to as ‘the prisoners’ for more than half the book, even long after they had escaped. Then they were suddenly ‘freemen’. A little after that bit came an entire chapter about some sort of celebration Xavir once participated in that had nothing to do with the current story at all. Add to that a lot of useless info-dumping, and a lot of repetition of the info. The author is very fond of the following: supposedly, seemed to, presumably, appeared to. They were used over and over again in situations they had no business being. The author is also in love with the word ‘whilst’.

The second half of the book was definitely the worst one, and I cannot believe that any editor would let this sort of writing pass them by. It would have made a much better story had it been a duology, because as it stands it was badly written and rushed that made it ridiculously simple for the heroes to win over the supposedly unbeatable enemy. And a passable second-to-last chapter was not enough to save it at all.

I do not recomend this book at all.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“Pacific Vortex!” – C. Cussler

This is a review of “Pacific Vortex!” by Clive Cussler, chronologically the first book in the many adventures of Dirk Pitt.

Fully armed and with all hands on board, the nuclear submarine Starbuck sailed into the calm Pacific Ocean for sea trials – and vanished. There was no trace of it until ace maritime troubleshooter Dirk Pitt finds a single, chilling clue in the shark-torn surf off Hawaii – the log of the Starbuck. A crazed journal of madness and death that locates the Starbuck’s grave hundreds of miles from her las known position. The search for the submarine plunges Dirk Pitt into his most shattering assignment to date – a whirlpool of deep-sea mystery and terror – the Pacific Vortex!

The story has very good, and very easy writing. It flows quickly and concisely, with great action sequences and exciting adventure. The ideas explored and used are firmly rooted in fact, and it is obvious that the author knows what he is talking about especially when it comes to the maritime aspects. It is a story of a more modern Indiana Jones, treasure hunting and dangers under the sea, and it works very well in deed.

The secondary characters are very well written even if they were a bit shallow. They weren’t anything truly special, nothing to really remember, and their lives and emotions were little explored apart from their place in the story. Still, they were solid and they weren’t useless even in comparison to Dirk Pitt. Al Giordino and Admiral Sandecker being foremost of these characters, and I wish they had been given more screen time.

There was also little to no over-explanation of concepts, maritime terms or other things like that which neatly helps to avoid most of the dreaded “As you know, Bob” conversations. The omniscient tone to the writing wasn’t as annoying as it could have been, which is always a bonus.

There are, however, some bad points.

Dirk Pitt became quite the Gary Stue-like character, and he acted more or less like a bastard most of the time. There wasn’t much to actually like about him even if all other male characters admired him. He keeps on eyeing women at the most inopportune moments, kissing them when underwater caves are flooding around him, and his banter with people seems a bit off and weird. He also has a weird need to keep on ignoring sound advice and logical rules.

The women in the book are rather useless. Most of them were either secretaries there to be ogled. One was a previous one-night stand who continued having a whole bevy of one-night stands, and all she was good for was getting kidnapped and rescued. And the last one, supposedly cold and detached and raised as a cold-blooded killer, fell apart and fell deeply in love with Dirk Pitt after only two meetings. Not only that, but if all the women in the story were removed, it wouldn’t change one whit. That is not good.

I am a big fan of the movie Sahara with Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz, it was one of the largest reasons why I started reading this Dirk Pitt adventure. I have to admit that I like the movie better, it treated female characters better than this book did. I can only hope that Cussler’s other books are a bit better – especially the series with the husband-and-wife treasure hunter team!

Great adventure and a quick read, but not really special.

I am ambivalent about this one, though I do think I might pick up another Dirk Pitt book in the future.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2018 in Action Adventure, Books

 

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