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“The Barrow” – M. Smylie

This is a review of “The Barrow” the first book in the Barrow-series by Mark Smylie.

When a small crew of scoundrels discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map appears to be destroyed in a magical ritual, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place. United by accident and dark design, they set out on a quest that will either get them all in the history books…. or get them killed.

The world is very well thought out. It is big and incredibly populated, and well described. The history of the world has been carefully thought out and lovingly crafted, there is no doubt about that at all. It is clear that the Author took inspiration from real life history and cultures, but he also made it his own.

Stjepan’s Athairi past was interesting, and there should have been more of it. Erim was a strong female character generally speaking, and Arduin was a steadfast knight who never went out of character. Leigh was cooky and interesting, and Gilgwyr was a smarmy bastard that made the story fun until the end.

When it comes to the story itself, it was a solid one. Up until the very end of it, where it started to fall apart at the seams. And until then it suffered greatly and was painfully bogged down by bad stuff.

Oh, where to start on the bad stuff?

Too much time was spent on the first one-third of the book, where the characters have to get together. It left the last part of the book – the barrow itself – less than 180 pages, and that is far too little considering the buildup it was given until then.

The characters are rather useless all around. Stjepan didn’t get to do a thing except to guide them from point A to point B, and he was clearly the Author’s Darling. Also, there should have been more hint of his real employers throughout the story. Erim complained a lot about her lot in life, but nothing was done about it. The fact that she was usually hidden away during the journey and we were never really given the chance to get to know her, made the change in Annwyn too sudden. One remark from her maid is all the hint we had, and that was not enough. Leigh and Gilgwyr and Harvald being worshipers of the Nameless Cult was also too sudden. There were no hints of it, no changes in personality until the very end, nothing that the did at the start which might seem out of character for them.

The grammar is some of the worst I have ever seen. There are painfully long, run-on sentences and superfluous information and constant info-dumps about things that are quite useless and irrelevant to the story. There is no need for a two-page essay on which countries do circumcise their children, and which country doesn’t. Or the fact that the main character is carrying a spyglass in his pack, but he doesn’t need it. Nor do we need to know the names and ranks of knights that have fought in a tournament over ten years ago. It was as if the author was trying to emulate Tolkien or even Martin, but fell painfully short on both accounts.

The biggest complaint is the ridiculous focus on sex. Each main character we are introduced to, gets one or more pages of text about their sexual preferences or lack thereof, Gilgwyr’s being the worst by far. Not only that but women are, apparently, sex-obsessed and mad for it, and the only sex they can have is painful and against their will. Men, on the other hand, will always have good, pleasurable, non-rape sex (especially with other men), and if a male character actually forces a woman to do something against her will, then we as readers know that he is evil and that he will die a painful, horrible death.

This brings us to the final complaint: the treatment of women in this story. Three paragraphs into the Erim’s point of view, she has already imagined a complete orgy and just how much she would have loved to join in on it. And also how stupid she felt when she couldn’t count the numerous steps, but the men around her could. Annwyn was such a victim and quite useless until the last 80 pages, where she suddenly turned into a sex-obsessed libertine who raped a man, and then had sex with a corpse animated by magic and maggots before disappearing into the earth with the dead.

All in all, if a couple of dozen editors had the chance to go through the book, then it might actually have been good. As it stands, it is a story of porn dreamed up by an adolescent boy, with some adventure thrown in for good measure, and where the best characters are the secondary ones.

I will most definitely not be touching the second book in the series.

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Posted by on July 27, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“The Gaslight Dogs” – K. Lowachee

This is a review of “The Gaslight Dogs” by Karin Lowachee.

At the edge of the known world, an ancient nomadic tribe faces a new enemy – an empire fueled by technology and war. A spiritwalker of the Aniw and a Cpatain of the Ciracusan army find themselves unexpectedly thrown together, one a prisoner and the other a reluctant student of a forbidden talent. From the rippling curtains of light in an Arctic sky, to the gaslit cobbled streets of the city, war is coming to the frozen north. These two people have a choice that will decide the fate of nations – and may cast them into a darkness that threatens to bring destruction to them all.

Basing the world on the myths and traditions of the Inuit and other First Nation peoples. That is not something one finds every day, and it was a breath of fresh air. The world was populated by tribes akin to Native Americans as well, and a lot of what was happening had obvious roots in the meeting between natives and whites when Europeans reached the American continent.

The world that is made is varied, and the magic that is described and used is very different from what one usually finds in fantasy stories. It is much less refined than what has become the norm, and that sort of primal spirit-based magic was fascinating to read.

The very best thing about this book, though, were definitely the characters. Each one was well-developed and written, though the secondary characters did have a tendency to end up too stereotypical. The best character of them all was Jarrett Fowle himself, closely followed by his father, the General Fowle.

Unfortunately, the pros don’t outweight the cons in this instance.

Flowery language that is – not simply ‘could be’, but is – down right confusing sometimes, as if there are commas or full stops missing. Also it is so flowery that it forced me to start skimming right from the start. Not even the developing mystery could make me want to start reading seriously once more, and the most difficult parts to read were Sjenn’s.

There were too abrupt changes between scenes. Even with the spacing to make it clear, the segue was still too sharp. It got better towards the middle of the book when the two characters were introduced and were at the same place at the same time, but the start of the story was incredibly choppy.

It is also telling, perhaps, that the book is merely the first in a series and though this book was published in 2010 none of the following books have been published . I doubt if they have even been written.

The book had great potential, the characters were excellent, but the execution and particularly the language, left a lot to be desired. I would have to read the following books in order to know if I would or wouldn’t recommend them, but as they aren’t published that kind of falls to the wayside.

So, try this book if you want. The second half of it seems to make the first half worth it.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“Excavation” – J. Rollins

This is a review of “Excavation” by James Rollins.

Deep in the South American jungle, Sam Conklin is leading a dig on a lost ancient city when he stumbles upon a sealed door: the portal to secrets and treasures hidden for centuries. As the excavation party descends beneath the ruins they fall victim to ingenious traps laid to ensnare the careless and unsuspecting, and protecting unimaginable wealth. But their perilous journey takes them deeper into the cold, shrouded heart of a breathtaking necropolis, and they find that they are not alone. Something is waiting for them – something ancient, wondrous and terrifying…

The book is fast paced and never boring. Because of the fast pace that simply going and going, it is easy to keep reading and reading. Full of action, adventure and traps, it reads almost like an Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider action adventure movie. In fact, the book would be perfect for a movie adaptation. It is a perfect break from heavy-duty high fantasy or sci-fi books that require a lot of focus, and it is incredibly entertaining as well.

Very little time is spent on describing the surroundings, and for some it might be a bit too little. The segues while people are caught up on what happened to others are a bit too obvious and a bit too often used. There are other ways to bridge a gap without long expositions.

There is a lack of character development, but even so it isn’t a truly bad thing. The story is so short and so quick that there isn’t much time to develop anything really, and though the characters are stereotypical stock characters they are still well written and a joy to read. None of them truly annoyed me, and they occasionally even surprised me in a good way. So, in essence, there isn’t much to complain about at all.

The only bad thing about this book is the way things came together at the end. It was a bit too smooth, a bit too perfect. The shock value of the epilogue would have been far greater if more time had been spent on the monsters when the characters met them. Despite this, though, the ending was satisfactory.

At one point I think there was a mistake made with people knowing the name of a priest, but I am not even certain about this bit.

All in all, I truly do recommend this book.

I have already ordered more books by this author, and I will definitely read them!

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Action Adventure, Books

 

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“A Game of Thrones” – G. R. R. Martin

This is a review of “A Game of Thrones” the first book of the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin.

In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the North of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of plenty, here is a story of the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Short chapters makes it easy to read about characters that aren’t as likeable. It also makes it easier to read in general, and to find good places for a break. Information is given in short bursts, and there is a whole lot of information. The world building is deep and thorough. The scenery is varied and expertly described, populated by peasants and royals, and it feels real even if most of the focus is, obviously, on the royals and the people immediately around them.

It is impossible to mention every character we were introduced to in this book. Suffice to say that everyone is a hero in their own mind, and a villain in someone else’s. The ever changing duality of human nature, and the way humans are fallible and so very liable to ignore things that make us uncomfortable. Some people are too trusting, others too proud, too impatient, too patient, too honest, too honorable. The brashness of youth, the naivete, the painful journey intro adulthood, the loss of family, and the way a life can change in a single day, with a single act.

Unlike some other books, every action has a reaction and it is simply a picture of humanity in all its horrible, terrible, wonderful, beautiful violent glory.

Despite the sheer amount of characters that we follow through the story – both main and secondary – the story never feels bogged down. One never feels like it stops up, like we are re-reading the same day over and over again. The story always pushes forwards at a good pace, and something that happened in one chapter is never showed in another chapter from someone else’s point of view. They might mention it, talk about it, but we as readers never have to re-read it. That is part of what makes the story move on, along with short and concise sentences. There is no flowery language to suffer through here, and the creeping realisation and the discovery of the Others/White Walkers is perfectly sprinkled throughout the story.

Concerning bad things about this book, there are none. There is absolutely nothing that I hated about this book. There are, however, things that I found mildly irritating.

There are a lot of people to keep track of, both main characters and especially the people around them. Yes, it adds realism to the world, it makes it seem populated and grand, but it can be overwhelming and confusing. The charts in the back of the book barely give a hint of what family swears fealty to what house, not who is who, nor do they show any marriages or children. It made it for an overwhelming amount of guess-work as to why such and such should follow the Lannisters or the Starks when their family is actually affiliated with the enemy house according to the appendices.

Younger girls react to boys/men in two ways: either they are scared or they fall for them so hard they almost worship at their feet. Arya Stark is the only exception to this, but she’s written more or less as a boy herself so it almost doesn’t count. Where are the girls who don’t give a fig or aren’t impressed by a fine face? I do miss them in this book. This is a bit annoying, but not overwhelmingly so, but what did bother me a bit more was Daenerys’s quick change of mind concerning Drogo and her relationship. She goes from being terrified and from sex hurting, to liking it and taking charge. In one single chapter. It was a bit too quick, and it would have been far better served to have another chapter covering that progress better. Otherwise it tastes a bit too much of the Stockholm Syndrome.

There was a scene with Tyrion Lannister revealing what seems like a bit too much about his past at a bit too awkward point in the story, but that is also quite a minor thing.

Amazingly enough there wasn’t a single character that I truly hated or even disliked. Sansa was irritating through most of the book, and Jon was a bit annoying with his angst, but it was hardly worth mentioning. The story itself was so strong and powerful that I hardly noticed it, and I didn’t even mind the politicking going around – and usually politics-heavy books aren’t my cup of tea at all. I am definitely going to continue reading this series even if I feel like I need a break between the books so that my cup doesn’t runneth over.

I definitely recommend this series!

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“The Screaming Staircase” – J. Stroud

This is a review of “The Screaming Staircase” which is the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud.

The dead are back to haunt the living, and evil spirits crowd the streets after dark. With ghostly criminal cases on the rise, psychic investigations agents are in demand as never before. The smallest – but arguably the best – of these agencies is Lockwood & Co. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, however, they have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending a night in one of the most haunted houses in all of England, and living to tell the tale.

This was a bit of excellent world building. A lot of thought went into how people would deal with living with the problem of ghosts of all kinds, and it shows. The ghost-lamps, the various tools, the various agencies dealing with the problem, the producers of the equipment. It was full of depth and it made the world come alive.

The science of the ghosts themselves was also well thought out. It was just complicated enough to be deep and yet simple enough to not need too much explanation, and enough to keep one’s attention. The descriptions of specters and ghosts, their effect on humans and their surroundings, was literally bone chilling. The action itself is also very well written.

Unfortunately there are difficulties with this book.

I did not like that the first thing one focused on – and continued focusing on – was Goerge Cobbins’s looks as a reason (especially as the main reason) to hate him, rather than his attitude. The former shouldn’t matter, but the latter might actually have insulted someone into disliking him. Lockwood himself also has a moment of hypocrisy when he berates Lucy for accidentally hiding stuff from the team, only to do the same a second later.

Lucy taking two cookies at the end of her interview somehow gave her the job. I am uncertain of exactly why that is so, what the point was of that. It wasn’t explained at all, and it was confusing. There were a couple of other similar, equally as confusing small situations and lines of dialogue through the rest of the book.

There was a bit too much similarity between Anthony Lockwood and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbach. They have the same manic, mercurial moods. The brief foray Lockwood makes to the town they are to go to, disguised and seeking information, has painfully strong ties to the tale of the “Hound of the Baskervilles” and what Sherlock Holmes does in that story. The similarity between the two characters was so strong that it was difficult to tear away from it, and it overshadowed Lucy and George so much that they are made forgettable.

The last problem with this book is that there is a big break between the two main cases even if they are connected. The break is just a bit too awkward, a bit too abrupt, and it is quite obvious. That means that it seems like the book uses far too much time setting up the story, the world, the characters, and then rushes through the the big case – the Screaming Staircase itself. Which it does. The case of the Screaming Staircase is barely twenty pages long at the most, from start to finish, and that is far too short. The title is misleading, and the book doesn’t deliver on that promise.

All in all, it’s a good book for children, spooky and fast paced, and an okay read for adults, but it’s nothing truly special to write home about.

I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2018 in Books, Horror

 

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“The Knight” – P. Pevel

This is a review of “The Knight” which is the first book in the High Kingdom series by Pierre Pevel.

This is the tale of Lorn Askarian. Some say he brought the kingdom to the brink of destruction, taking advantage of a dying king and an unpopular queen to strike against his enemies, heedless of the danger posed by a growing rebellion. Others claim he saved the kingdom, following the orders of a king who had him falsely imprisoned, loyal to the last – fighting against desperate odds on the political and physical battlefields alike. Whatever the truth, whatever you choose to believe, this is his story.

It is written in a simple style, and very easy to read. Despite the book’s size, it is a quick and easy thing to get through. There are enough characters to be interesting, but not so many that things get confusing. And it is obvious that the entire world is vast and with lots of lands and peoples. There are strong signs about the various cultures being influenced by French and Italian culture.

The legend and lore of the dragons was fascinating. The Dragon of Destruction and the Dragon of Destiny and the Dragon of Darkness, they were all pulling the strings behind the scenes. There ought to have been more of them. The few characters of the growing Onyx Guard were interesting to meet, the Queen was ambitious and Alan was a good friend and an excellent prince despite his faults. Lorn himself is a fresh breath of air with coldly sacrificing other people to further his goals – a trait usually given to the bad guys.

The battle scenes were very well written. They were full of action and of surprises, and probably the best thing in the entire book.

Unfortunately there are a lot of problems with this story.

It is written in an omniscient style that removes much of the intrigue. Everything that happens gets an instant explanation, and that reads more like a re-telling of a story rather than the main story itself. Small segments at the beginning of most chapters explain what happens and where people go, removing the need to describe a lot of the characters’ surroundings which made things less real. And there is a lot of telling rather than showing what happens, further weakening the writing.

The omniscient style also hurts the characters. When each of their sentences or actions or thoughts get explained right afterwards, the mystery of the book is gone. With it goes any and all desire to get to know the characters, because they are already explained to minute detail. Thanks to that most of the characters seem quite shallow and not worth investment. Lorn is the only character that isn’t over-explained, but in return some of his decisions seem a bit too out of the left field because there were absolutely no hints about them.

When it comes to the mystery surrounding Lorn’s initial accusation that landed him in jail, and even the enmity between the High Kingdom and Yrgaard, they were mentioned so much that they lost their significance. When the revelations came it was difficult to care about them, especially about Lorn’s big secret. They talked about it, but there were few hints at what it could have been, and these hints were far too vague to be considered interesting or very valuable.

The writing is solid, the story is solid, but the way it was executed? Not as much.

It was an okay book all around, but nothing special.

If the second book had been translated from French, then I think I would have liked to read it sometime in the future.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Books, Fantasy

 

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“Wraith Knight” – C. T. Phipps

This is a review of the book “Wraith Knight” by C.T. Phipps

The King Below, enemy of the world, is dead. Will his successor save the world… or rule it? Jacob Riverson was once the greatest hero of an age, but cut down during what was supposed to be the final battle against the King Below, he was condemned to centuries of torment as a Wraith Knight in the King Below’s service. With the destruction of his master, Jacob regains his free will, and discovers that he’s in a world torn by civil war. Now he must determine whether he has any place in the new world, and whether his destiny is as a hero or a monster. Or both.

The story takes place in a vast world, but the world itself is left mostly for the readers to imagine. There are small explanations and expositions about the various climates and natures, but it doesn’t play the main role of the story. Still, it was more than enough to get a rough overview.

There is a lot in this book about the philosophy of good versus evil. There is a lot about choice and consequences, about how one cannot exist without the other, and that most beings are actually somewhere in the grey area between. The book manages to avoid becoming too preachy, too, and instead lets the conflict be embodied in the main character Jacob.

The character of the Trickster/King Below was a delight to read. His snarky remarks, his apparent hidden plots and urging, and then the truth about him. He was never considered a “misunderstood” being, and that just made him even more likable.

Thomas and Jacob were excellent characters. Thomas was a delight to read despite being in the story only for a very short time. Jacob’s story was well thought out, simple and yet convoluted. His doubts, his nightmares and his fears were perfectly understandable. Especially after being under the King Below’s rule for over two centuries. Even the way he dealt with his feelings about Jassa and what all that included (forgotten or not) was believable.

The Golden Sorceress and the fate of Jassa, and the way the Lawgiver and his religion has developed, was truly inspired. It is so  very rare to read something like that in fantasy of any age. Regina and Serah were a bit more wobbly in their characterisations, but not so much that it was an annoyance. These wobbly incidences also happened during times of great emotional stress, so it could be deliberate.

Unfortunately, there are several bad things with this book.

For one there are countless writing mistakes. Either editors weren’t used or they didn’t do their work properly. The structure of some of the sentences is also a bit confusing occasionally.I have been in contact with the author and there has been a lot of trouble with the publishing company. It has gone so far as to end up in court. That is the reason for all the truly horrenduous writing mistakes. Luckily the story itself was more than strong enough to push past these mistakes.

There is also a bit too much trust going on all around between characters who, though desperate, shouldn’t trust each other quite this easily. Not only that but the happenings in the story are solved a bit too easily despite all talk about dangers. It is a bit simple.

Despite these faults, the story and the characters are strong enough¬†to push through. The book was truly a delight to read and I couldn’t put it down.

This is definitely a book that I recommend!

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in Books, Fantasy

 

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