Saturday, September 2, 2017

Blackwing

Blackwing
The Raven's Mark Book One
By Ed McDonald

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer's legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard's paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall's 'Engine', a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery - a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic's defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic's bluff.
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The stage is (what feels like) a grimy city of dust, pollution and decay. It is a place where humanity has been reduced in stature to such a degree (by war and the Misery that lays outside the walls of their home, and whose taints permeates everything) that base traits and are buried only by a thin veneer of skin. The people eke out a meagre living while trying to avoid becoming casualties in what is essentially a war between gods. Or beings of godlike powers. The Nameless and the Deep Kings are never overtly named deities in the sense that they are believed by the populace to have created the universe/life/everything but the powers the wield place them so far above mortals the difference becomes moot. It is the type of dark and war-torn landscape that would be familiar to readers of Joe Abercrombie and Daniel Polansky and other grimdark authors.

Unlike many heroes of epic fantasy, our main - Ryhalt Galharrow, through whose eyes the story is told - is a 40 year old war vet and agent of Crowfoot, one of the great powers in the land. He is charged by Crowfoot to protect a noblewoman and discovers a secret that could see his city and those he cares destroyed. This begins a rip-roaring tale of conspiracy, treachery and murder that will keep you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the end.

Blackwing - Ed Mcdonald's debut - is a finely wrought novel of grimdark fantasy lightened by sparkling rays of rainbow hued magic and has a weighty sense of history of which only a fragment is revealed in this volume. He is also particularly talented at creating monsters!

Given Blackwing is a 'book one', yet resolves nicely and without any over cliffhangers I am very keen to see where McDonald will take us next.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lotus Blue

Lotus Blue

Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.

But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past and the horror of her unfolding destiny as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.

Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity. 
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Easy reading with a very cool take on the post-apocalyptic story. Sparks is an accomplished writer with an imagination that is a treasure-trove of ideas and the chomps to mark her as an Aussie writer to watch. 

The melding of superstition, religion and left over technology as magic was brilliant and evocative, I wanted to dive right into that world and learn everything I possibly could about it. But Sparks knows quite well how to dole such wonders out and tease the reader along as the story progresses. I felt the ending was a little rushed but that has less to do with the author and more to do with me. There IS an ending but some threads are still left hanging. Which is good.

I want more. 

When is the next book due, Cat? Is there a title yet? :D

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Last Mortal Bond

The Last Mortal Bond
The Unhewn Throne
By Brian Staveley

Death is near, armies are gathered, and the future rests on a knife-edge.

The Annurian Empire is losing a war on two fronts - and it's unclear who is in command. Adare is stationed in the thick of battle and now calls herself Emperor. However, she can't hold back the nomadic Urgul forces for much longer. She needs her brilliant general, Ran il Tornja, but will he betray her again?

Her brother Kaden is the true heir, yet he'll accept a Republic to save his divided people. And he faces something even more terrible than war. He's unmasked Ran il Tornja as a remnant of an ancient race who attempted to destroy mankind. The general plans to finish what they started, and is amassing all the power he needs.

The empire calls on the Kettral, its toughest soldiers, but their order has been decimated. Its last fighters are in disarray, but could they still turn the tide of war? Most disturbingly of all, capricious gods walk the earth in human guise. And their desires could seal the fate of a world.


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Loved it! After a somewhat rough start (mainly because I was unsure that the book was heading in a direction that I would like) Staveley changed my mind about EVERYTHING and I couldn't put it down.

An awesome conclusion to a gripping debut trilogy. The Unhewn Throne is an epic tale full of politics and machinations, ambition and servitude and with a new and interesting mythology and magic system.

Dark and bloody, The Last Mortal Bond is a masterfully told story by an author whose future works I am very much looking forward to reading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Darkness That Comes Before - A Review

The July will see the long awaited release of (the US hardback) The Great Ordeal, book three of The Aspect Emperor (the local/UK edition to following September) and I am beside myself with anticipation. So much so that I urge any of you who have not embarked on this brilliant series to have a look at where it all began in:

The Darkness that Comes Before
The Prince of Nothing, Book One
By R.Scott Bakker

A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns... A veteran sorcerer and spy seeks news of an ancient enemy. A military genius plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor but dreams of the throne for himself. The spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. An exiled barbarian chieftain seeks vengeance against the man who disgraced him. And into this world steps a man like no other, seeking to bind all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends.

But the fate of men - even great men - means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten...



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"Two thousand years have passed since the No-God last walked among Men. Two thousand years have passed since the First Apocalypse. Now the Shriah of the Thousand Temples has declared Holy War and untold thousands gather to wrest the Holy City of the Latter Prophet from the hands of their heathen kin."

Into this world comes Anasûrimbor Kellhus, disciple of a monastic order hidden away in a part of the world lost to men. Sent to find his father, he is armed only with his training that makes weapons of insight and revelation. Working from the maxim: ‘If it is only after, that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing,’ he has been taught to look beneath the surface of all things and so directs the people he encounters through the subtleties of word and expression, binding both allies and foes to his own ends.

Among them is Drusas Achamian, a Mandate School sorcerer and spy, who searches for an ancient enemy that none believe exist, while battling his own conscience because of the way he must use others to further his School’s ends. Ikurei Conphas is another, the heir to the Nansur Empire. He is a military genius who has been molded by his grandmother, the Dowager Empress, to supplant his weak and vain uncle, the Emperor, and take the throne himself, while Cnaiur, Chieftain of the Utemot, seeks vengeance against the former slave who slew his father and disgraced him in the eyes of his tribe.

"Unable to distinguish the ‘passion that elevates from the passion that enslaves, they fall even deeper under his thrall, while what begins as a Holy War, a war of Men amongst Men, threatens to become the first battle of the Second Apocalypse…"

Bakker has delivered an strikingly original and ambitious tale filled with engrossing characters, as abundant in number and variation as those that made Erikson’s Malazan books such a success. This tale offers the reader a world sculpted from our own. The melting pot of religions and faith strike a chord with our own Middle East, but the nature of the Fanim faith is more Western in its entirety. Bakker’s languages and cities, castes and mysticism, rituals and history give glimpses of a depth that astonishing and shares a vision and scope akin to that of Geroge R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan. This is a gripping work of epic fantasy with a strong theme of philosophy that offers the reader intriguing questions to turn over if you are so inclined.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Daughter of Blood - Review

Daughter of Blood
The Wall of Night Book Three
By Helen Lowe

A failing wall, a broken shield . . . and an enemy that will exploit every weakness

Malian and Kalan are coming home, but already it may be too late. The Wall of Night, dangerously weakened by civil war among the Derai families that garrison it, is on the verge of failing. Everywhere their ancient enemy, the Darksworn, is on the move as the threads of an old pattern begin to tighten about Kalan, and Malian searches for answers in the fabled Shield of Heaven, which every account agrees was broken beyond repair.

In Grayharbor and in the Red Keep, a child and a young woman are caught in conflict's maw, as whispers gather around Dread Pass and a Darksworn prophecy points to Malian herself being the stake the ancient enemy will drive into the heart of the Derai Alliance.
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It was a long wait but it was certainly worth it.

In Daughter of Blood, the third volume of The Wall of Night series by Helen Lowe, story threads begin to pull together and Malian of Night and her honour bound companion Kalan begin their long trek back to the Derai Wall in northern Haarth.

Though Lowe is undoubtedly a gifted story teller, and books one and two in the series are great, I would have to say that this book is my favorite to date. And that's a good a thing, we always like our favoured authors getting better with each book they produce, and that has happened here.

In book one, The Heir of Night, we were introduced to Malian in her role as the heir to the earldom of the Derai House of Night, as well as that of being the being the prophesied savior of the Derai and scourge of their archenemies, Swarm of the Dark; we also met the Kalan, the young warrior of the House of Blood who was cast out of his own house to be taken in by the priests of House Night when his mystic talent manifest itself. Bound together by fate they flee the Wall, following a half remembered prophecy and scattered legends. In book two, The Gathering of the Lost, the greater world is explored as both Malian and Kalan learn the things they need, growing in age and ability, so they can return to the Wall and their waiting destiny.

Daughter of the Blood picks up all the threads of books one and two and continues weaving the massive tapestry that is The Wall of Night, adding to the cast of characters with new arrivals and bringing into the spotlight those only hinted at before, to brighten and darken in turn, the story as it unfolds. Lowe's characterisation is flawless; people from different nations and houses, with varying customs and traditions and prejudices, flavour the story like fine spices while the action keeps moving apace. Lowe also shows herself to be deft hand at martial fight scenes - which are engaging and move like something from an action thriller - which she then balances with the mystical. In The Wall of Night, magic is not used like electricity - it is powerful and profound, its wielders holding positions of honour in the Swarm of the Dark, and positions of suspicion in the Derai - who thus weaken themselves and cripple their greatest weapons.

Filled with old European pageantry and the blood thirsty political machinations of a more advance culture, Daughter of the Blood is bound with hope and honour on the one side and betrayal and greed on the other, as the hinge of the ages shifts and the shackles of prophecy pull tight around a people on the verge of civil war. Presented within a narrative that moves with constant action and a series of game changing revelations that deepen our connection to the characters, Daughter of Blood unfurls with the force of an avalanche, thundering around us with increasing weight and pull that we have to race ahead of to get to the end and find out what is going to happen! 

Bring on book four - please. I can't wait!