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Category Archives: Books

“Black Wolves” – K. Elliott

This is a review of “Black Wolves” by Kate Elliott.

Twenty-two years have passed since Kellas, once Captain of the legendary Black Wolves, lost his king and with him his honour. With the King murdered and the Black Wolves disbanded, Kellas lives in exile far from the palace he once guarded with his life. Until Marshal Dannarah, sister to the dead King, comes to him with a plea: re-join the palace guard and save her nephew, King Jehosh, before he meets his father’s fate.

There are very strong inspirations from all corners of Asia. All the empires and peoples mentioned in the book are very clearly inspired by real-world ancient empires. Though it can sometimes be a bit confusing to differentiate the clans and peoples, usually it only adds a certain zest to the story that most European-based fantasy stories lack.

Kellas is a fascinating character to read about. He was excellently written as a young man, but he is far more interesting to get to know as an old man of about seventy or so. Not many stories have such an old man as one of the most important main characters. His knowledge and experience comes through in all that he does, as well as all the years he has spent working in the shadows, away from the court. King Jehosh was just as excellent, well-developed and amazing until the very end which ruined him completely as a character.

Sarai starts out as an okay character, with more or less only her secret relationship with another girl to actually make her interesting. It is a shame that this relationship is barely mentioned and only showed proof of once. Dannarah is a strong character, almost overpowering, but it makes sense with her past. Queen Chorannah’s vicious maneuvering is excellently written, and old King Anjihosh was one of the most fleshed-out characters to appear even though he only lasted for about forty pages. His son, Atani, was almost as good.

The mystery of the plot – the who-dun-it and the why – is excellent and convoluted. The political intrigue is also interesting. The various queens and their factions, the Silvers/Ri Amarah, the princes, the various empires surrounding the Hundreds, and, most of all, the demons themselves. The demons are the most interesting, kept hidden and mysterious. What their plans are is the thing that drives the plot forwards and which helped me stay with the book to the end, as well as the apparently many different types of supernatural creatures though we barely get a hint of those.

The writing occasionally dips into the realms of harlequin romances both with the way the words are strung together, and also with how much focus there is on people being aroused in the oddest and most inappropriate of situations. The way some of the characters react when confronted with someone they find desirable, is almost to the point of the ridiculous. A young, inexperienced person reacting like that sounds believable. A seventy-something old man meeting an old lover? Not so much. There are also instances of instant romance when two characters apparently just fit together.

Too much time is spent introducing characters and setting things up after the first part of the book. More than three hundred pages pass before the story picks up again, and there were so many characters introduced and so many plot-lines, that it was almost enough to kill any desire to read further. It was simply too slow and too few things happened that would seem to have any bearing on the plot. The author also occasionally repeats certain things over and over again as if to hammer it into your head that this particular thing will be important in the very close future.

Some of the characters seem a bit superfluous so far, only adding to the confusion since there are so many characters in the book altogether. Gil’s transformation upon his marriage was a bit too over the top, Dannarah suddenly being revealed to have forced Kellas into a relationship once upon a time, didn’t fit with her character. Prince Tavihosh seems like a caricature compared to others, and Lifka – though an excellent character – almost seems to be forced in with her story. It might have been better to leave her out for now, or altogether. The final reveal of the bad guy’s plans and reasons was pathetically simple. It was down right ridiculous.

Considering this is a book of almost 800 pages where the first 500 were quite boring and seemed to have little to do with the overall story, this is a slow book that requires a whole lot of patience to read. Perhaps a bit too much patience, but a did get through it with some skimming occasionally, and the last part was interesting enough to make me want to read the sequel. But not right now, and most likely not anytime soon. I need a break from this story.

It’s good and I recommend it, just be patient with it.

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Posted by on October 11, 2017 in Books

 

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“Kings of the Wyld” – N. Eames

This is a review of “The Kings of the Wyld” by Nicholas Eames.

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help – the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together.

Clay Cooper’s relationship with his wife and his daughter was wonderful to read about. It isn’t often that ex-mercenaries get a happy ending like that when it comes to family. Ginny is also obviously a strong woman who won’t stand for nonsense, but she is also gentle and kind to her child and to her husband. She had the fortitude and strength to help soothe the beast, and still does it. Little Tally is sweet and likable, too.

Moog’s husband and the discovery of the cure was bittersweet and touching. Mattrick actually being a good king and a good father with kids who like him better than their mother, was well done. Gabriel and Rose’s relationship was definitely a pleasure to read about and not stereotypical at all. Ganelon’s choice at the end of the book was surprisingly sweet yet also fits in with his character, though his entire story arch was a bit of a disappointment all around.

The world that is the setting for the book is vast and expansive and very detailed. The terrain is varied, and travel from one place to the next takes the appropriate amount of time. There are countless types of creatures out there, there is always something new to discover. Every creature ever imagined in folklore or in D&D is hinted at, met, or mentioned in passing, and one really gets the sense that there is more to discover about this world.

The secondary characters were all very well developed and interesting. The druins themselves make me think of the Viera from Final Fantasy XII, but not in bad way. Lastleaf was an excellent character, and he avoided the pitfalls of stereotype perfectly. The story behind his quest for revenge was actually a bit of a surprise, and very much understandable, which is why his death in the end just kind of sucked.

Unfortunately this book suffers under quite a few drawbacks. The narration sometimes jumps into omniscient, and there is a surprising lack of fighting. Throw in some odd moments of exposition or reflection thrown in just to make time pass or to avoid listening to conversations, and it slows the story down. There is also a surprising lack of the troubles old men who led a rough life might face when forcing their bodies to do things – although, I have seen worse.

One third of the book was given over to getting the old band together, the next part was given over to finally getting somewhere, and then the final part was about actually crossing the Wyld and saving the day. For a book that makes such a huge thing out of the Wyld and how far away everything is, our band of heroes has little to no problem actually crossing it in a timely manner. They don’t have much trouble at all, and it happens so quickly that it is a bit of a let down.

What also annoyed me was the way things went far too smoothly for the band of heroes. Need fast transport? Get a skyship. They aren’t as rare as they were made out to be. They crash in the middle of the Wyld? Well, this friendly troll will heal you and this friendly tribe of cannibals will lead you out after a short skirmish. Get your hand chopped off? You’re in luck! There’s a giant spider healer who knows how to regrow limbs. It keeps on going. They don’t suffer and there’s always someone or something placed perfectly in their path to help them onwards.

As for the personalities of the illustrious heroes, well, it leaves a lot to be desired. All of them are alike, none of them really get the chance to develop and become familiar. They are stock characters from D&D: thief, mage, swordsman, berserker, tank. The book is written as an action adventure, but even so there could have been better character development. Couple that with the aforementioned annoyance that something always happens to help them out, and there is a lot of tenseness and thrill removed from the story.

All in all, this is an alright book with occasionally amusing humour. It is a quick read and the action scenes are good, but it isn’t really anything special.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Books

 

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“The Lightning Thief” – R. Riordan

This is a review of “The Lightning Thief” which is the first book in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series by Rick Riordan.

I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. Now I spend my time battling monsters and generally trying to stay alive. This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt – and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

The personalities of the Greek gods, how they have integrated into the modern age, and how they don’t really care much or at all about all those little half-blood kids they keep on spawning was really well done in this book. The gods aren’t kindly or goody two-shoes in the Greek canon, so it’s good that they aren’t here either. The way the heart of civilization keeps moving around is also enjoyable to read about. It is quite a fun idea and one can almost follow it throughout human history the way it was described.

Sally Jackson was an awesome mother who deserved more. She deserved more than what so got. What is also worthy of note is the way the rest of the world reacts to the disappearance of Sally Jackson, and the way Percy becomes a suspected and a hunted fugitive. It was unexpected and appreciated.

Percy not being the son of Zeus is inspired. It would have been so easy to make him into the second coming of Zeus. Poseidon doesn’t actually get too much screen-time in most modern stories, so he was a good choice. I do feel, however, that the story would have been more tense and interesting if Riordan had gone one further and had made Percy the son of Hades instead.

I like that Percy had troubles at school and apparently had ADHD and dyslexia. If that had been further expanded upon it would have made the story so much better, but it was conveniently forgotten and set aside the second Percy arrived at Camp Half-Blood, and that was just annoying.

Now, on to the complaints (and beware, there are a lot of those).

Percy Jackson is a wishy-washy kid who goes back and forth without much foreshadowing. Suddenly one thing and then another. At one point he hates his absent father, then he’s all into this new stuff at Camp Half-Blood, and suddenly he hates his father again. No, wait, he doesn’t hate Poseidon when the god saves him. Cool. Percy isn’t the only character who goes from one thing to the other. When Annabeth says that most kids at Camp Half-Blood have learning difficulties because of their godly progenitors, that is okay. But when we several chapters later are suddenly reminded that she has dyslexia as well, it made the story stop up. I had to check to make sure that I didn’t remember wrongly, but nope, it wasn’t mentioned earlier at all. It was barely implied if you squint and turn your head sideways.

Percy doesn’t actually grieve the supposed death of his mother, the one person who has stood by him no matter what. His lack of reaction to her death simply robbed the moment of all its drama and impact. That alone is enough to know that Sally Jackson isn’t dead and will be coming back at some point. Not to mention that most of the characters – Percy himself included – lack a real personality. All of them are stereotypes except for the gods but they already had personalities invented for them a long time before Riordan got his hands on them.

Some parts were too painfully obvious, and also painfully convenient. Even with gods meddling about what are the chances of coming across a clue in the middle of nowhere after escaping three monsters on a bus? Or a poodle dyed pink who just happens to know how they can get some more money? Also, Percy’s complete and utter lack of self-preservation and brains is worthwhile mentioning. As is the fact that except for Annabeth there aren’t any good female characters around after Sally Jackson dies.

And back to the spirit of western civilization. Although a cool concept it totally and completely disregards the other civilizations that came before and existed at the same time. That is quite insulting actually.

Then there are constant monsters Percy meets and defeats. Sure, some he struggles with it, but he still defeats them and survives. He is twelve years old. He ought to react a bit more to killing his teacher or meeting a minotaur or a fury. One would also expect him to actually have a mental break down at some point what with all that’s happening, but he just shrugs it off and keeps on going. That is not realistic in any sense of the word. And save some monsters for the next however-many books there are in this series. Regenerating or not, the way Percy goes through them at the current pace there won’t be any left.

The writing itself is a bit too forced, with several awkwardly placed ‘man’s in sentences as if the author suddenly remembered that these were kids and kids talk like that. Except they don’t. This was told as if ancient-old-man-Percy is retelling the story of his adventurous youth to someone, and the constant “I didn’t know that until later” throw off the flow even more.

Although it is an okay book for the younger audiences, it doesn’t even hold a candle up to the J.K.Rowling’s or John Flanagan’s stories. Thankfully it’s a quick read, but definitely not something I recommend to anyone.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Books

 

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“Royal Assassin” – R. Hobb

This is a review of “Royal Assassin” by Robin Hobb. This is the second book of the Farseer Trilogy. You can find the first book here.

Honesty is the bedrock for any relationship. But how can Fitz – royal bastard, trainee assassin, holder of secrets crucial to the security of the kingdom – bare his soul to his beloved Molly? Danger lies all around him – the raiders savaging the coastal towns, and from within the court. The king is mysteriously ill, and Verity leaves to search for the mythical Elderlings. Apart from his wolf and the strange Fool, Fitz is friendless and exposed to Prince Royal’s malign ambitions. What will he be forced to sacrifice for the sake of the realm?

FitzChivalry’s relationships with the people around him are perfectly well written. They are believable for a young man who has grown up as Fitz has. What’s more, the many pitfalls of teenage romance that make it trite and overly dramatic and strereotypical, are elegantly avoided. The progress is also beautifully done, and this is a rare example of a relationship that doesn’t annoy the hell out of me.

The conflict with the rest of the children that Fitz trained with in order to learn the Skill, is a small but important part of the whole. As is King Shrewd ordering Fitz to marry a nobleman’s daughter chosen for him. Even the wolf – Nighteyes – is believable. His character is clearly an animal, with the cares and concerns an animal has, or doesn’t have. He is very much different from Fitz and other humans, but still relatable enough to be likable.

Fitz’s progress from the last book to this one is obvious and believable. He is more mature, and he shows that in his actions and in his thoughts. His reactions are different, and because of this he is brought deeper and deeper into the court intrigue, treated with respect, gains ever bigger roles to play, and even becomes a trusted advisor to Kettricken.

The fact that Fitz in a few scenes completely forgets his place as the bastard, and acts above his station until someone reminds him, are perfect tiny though those scenes are. They are just examples of the many things and seemingly useless details that make this world come alive.

Finally, we have to mention the Raiders and the Red Ships and the Forged. The Forged aren’t quite zombies but different enough to send chills down the spine of people. There is so little known about them even though their numbers are growing, that it just makes them more mysterious and dangerous. And the Red Ships appearing more and more often along with the mystery of the white ship, keeps the story rolling forwards and suspenseful.

There are a few things in this book that aren’t as good. Friendless Fitz isn’t actually all that friendless no matter how much he thinks it. Verity’s new wife is his friend, as is Burrich and Patience, and even the insignificant background characters like one of the cooks in the castle kitchens. Not to mention the Fool himself.

And then we have Royal. He is dangerously close to going too far into the realm of Stereotypical Evil Princes (TM). He isn’t out of character, but he is completely transparent. The only things that saves him from truly joining the ranks of the stereotypes, is his viciousness and the fact that he exacerbates the entire situation of the raiders.

The ending itself was far too long. It was completely fine and well written and fit in with the rest, the problem was that you expect things to pick up speed after Verity leaves, but they don’t. Things still go slow, slow oh-so-slow. It kills the momentum that the build-up to Verity leaving has given the book.

All in all, this is a good book. Robin Hobb certainly knows how to write political intrigue. The pacing, however, brought it down slightly.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Books

 

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“Ranger’s Apprentice book 6: The Siege of Macindaw” – J. Flanagan

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This is a review of “Ranger’s Apprentice book 6: The Siege of Macindaw” by John Flanagan.

This is a continuation of the previous reviews for book one, book two, book three, book four and book five.

The kingdom is in danger. Renegade knight Sir Keren has succeeded in overtaking Castle Macindaw and now is conspiring with the Scotti. The fate of Araluen rests in the hands of two young adventurers: the Ranger Will and his warrior friend, Horace. Yet for Will, the stakes are even higher. For inside the castle, held hostage, is someone he loves. And now the time has come for this onetime apprentice to grow up.

There are definitely more politics going around in this book – just like in the last one – but never does it take over. It’s still a story for children. It is also a good thing that not all of Will’s plans work out just the way he wanted them to. It isn’t often that main characters can make mistakes like this.

Will and Horace act like the young men they are, talking about girls and teasing and joking with each other. Their friendship has matured just like they have. And Malcolm and his skills and knowledge truly come into their own. And Orman turns out to be a good surprise all around.

The only thing I can maybe complain about, is the very convenient way that the Skandians from the previous book showed up in this one. Just a bit too perfectly placed happening. It would have been better if it had been a totally different crew that had heard about Will helping the previous one and was willing to return the favour.

Other than that, this is a wonderful book and well worth the read as usual!

Definitely recommended!

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Books

 

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“The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring” – J. R. R. Tolkien

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This is a review of “The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring” but John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

The dark, fearsome Ringwraiths are searching for a Hobbit. Frodo Baggins knows that they are seeking him and the Ring he bears – the Ring of Power that will enable evil Sauron to destroy all that is good in Middle-earth. Now it is up to Frodo and his faithful servant, Sam, with a small band of companions, to carry the Ring to the one place it can be destroyed: Mount Doom, in the very center of Sauron’s realm.

Certainly it is impossible not to compare the book and the movie. For example, Gandalf was the one who wanted to go to Moria, Aragorn against it. Caradhras was a sentient-ish mountain that defeated the fellowship, not Saruman’s spell (at least not as far as I’ve been able to find in the Appendices, but I might be wrong). And a whole host of dialogue has changed ownership. Not all of these latter ones are bad changes, but they do shift one’s view of a certain character sometimes at least a little bit.

Sam, Merry and Pippin planned to come along from the start, gives them more credit. Movie ruins that a bit I think, as does the fact that they exchanged Glorfindel for Arwen. She would never be strong enough to face the Nine all alone, but the movie had a certain amount of time to build up the romance, and Arwen is barely even mentioned in this first book. It is understandable why the movie makers made the choices they did.

Of course, there are some minor negatives as well, it has to be admitted.

There is surprisingly little difference between personalities of the different characters, except for Sam. It takes a long time to really differentiate between the Fellowship and get to know them since everyone sounds more or less alike. It also has to be admitted that Tolkien likes taking his sweet time in getting from one point to the next, and it can get a wee bit annoying occasionally, especially if one isn’t prepared for it. His writing style is also old-fashioned and can be a bit difficult to read.

It is fully understandable why Sir Peter Jackson made the choices he did for his movie, it would have been impossible to make the movies if he was going to stick to the book 100%. I am amazed at just how many seemingly tiny, insignificant details from the books that he managed to pack into the movie.

In the end, I have to say that both book and movie have their bad and good sides, and that is okay.

I still like them both equally.

 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2017 in Books

 

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“The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold” – J. Hollins

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This is a review of the book “The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold” by Jon Hollins.

It’s not easy to live in a world ruled by dragons. The taxes are high and their control is complete. But for one group of bold misfits, it’s time to band together and steal back some of that wealth. No one said they were smart.

There isn’t much focus on the world-building on the whole in this tale, but it isn’t neglected either. There are few details but it fits the entire writing style of the book. The story is full to the brim with good action scenes and fights. They are fast-paced and quick, and there is no repetition from fight to fight which can be a possibility in a book of so much violence. The fact that all dragons die in different ways is also a noteworthy detail.

Balur as a character is well-developed and constant. He sticks to his opinions and he is funny to read about even with his odd way of speaking. His fight scenes are also quite imaginative and amusing to read, and even the budding possibility of romance between him and Quirk was well-written. It was a cute addition to the story and I wish there had been more of it.

The main characters are, unfortunately, generic and wishy-washy. It is difficult to care about them or what they do. None of them have any real development that isn’t forced upon them from an outside source, and even then the development is tiny and unimportant. Apart from Balur they flicker back and forth in their opinions, and they don’t really serve a purpose. All characters – whether the main characters, the dragons, the soldiers or the civilians – sound exactly the same. Everyone uses exactly the same language all the time, and there is an annoying focus on balls. All. The. Time.

It must also be mentioned that all the things that happen are too obvious windfalls of lucky happenstance. Yes, the characters get into unexpected trouble, but even then everything goes well and their plans come to fruition. There is no need to pull back and regroup and try the plan again on the same dragon. Everything works out the first time around.

The book is simply too much. It tries too hard to be funny at every turn, it tries too hard to have characters not care – or, at least, focus too much on what’s going on around them and the situations they’re in. But because this is done all the time in the book it stops being funny and it stops being noticeable. I don’t mind humour in my books, I don’t mind a slightly irreverent way of writing or storyline, nor do I demand that everything should be deathly serious all the time. I expected the modernised language and comparisons when I picked the book up. And at first I was amused but then, when it simply continued in the same manner without breaks, I just got tired of it and longed for something else.

This is an OK book that could have been so much better.

I will not be reading the sequel.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2016 in Books

 

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