Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pillars of Sand: A Review

The Pillars of Sand
Echoes of Empire
By Mark T. Barnes

Prophecy declared that corrupt politician Corajidin would rule the ShrÄ«anese Federation, even become its new Emperor—and sinister magic has helped him defy death in order to do it. But his victory is not assured, thanks to clashing rival factions that hinder any attempts to unify the nation. Though he has taken increasingly brutal measures to eliminate all obstacles in his path, the dark forces supporting him grow dangerously impatient. And the harder they press, the more drastic Corajidin’s actions become.

Soon, only his most powerful adversaries will stand in his way: Indris, the peerless swordsman and sorcerer who has long fought to end the Federation’s bloody turmoil; and the warrior-poet Mari, Corajidin’s own daughter and the woman Indris loves. Fate has torn them apart, forcing them into terrifying personal trials. But if Indris can bring to bear the devastating knowledge of the Pillars of Sand, and Mari can rise up as a rebel leader, Corajidin’s enemies will rally—and the decisive battle for the soul and future of the ShrÄ«anese will begin.

This epic tale of intrigue, love, and betrayal, painted in the blood of allies and enemies by Mark T. Barnes, concludes the Echo of Empire trilogy that began with The Garden of Stones and The Obsidian Heart.

When I get to the last book of a series I am passionate about, I always have mixed feelings. I am jubilant to get my hands on the new volume, and sad because it's the last.

We have come now to the end of the Echoes of Empire, the debut trilogy from wunderkind Aussie Mark T. Barnes.

You have no idea how much I want more. Ia, the world in which Barnes' epic saga plays out, is immense. While many genre authors are talented world builders, Barnes, who may well stand on the shoulders of giants has become, to my mind, a giant himself. The world of Ia lives and breathes. It is rendered in vivid technicolor and wonders and horrors lurk at every turn. I am so enraptured that I just want to pry Barnes brain apart and scoop out everything he's ever thought about it... or maybe just steal his notes (hello, coffee table encyclopedia with full colour illustrations please!). For me it is a joy to read and to spend time in such a wonderfully and lovingly crafted creation. You can tell Barnes takes this seriously, that he isn't happy to settle with a ripped off medieval Europe on which to stage his tales. And when/if he does borrow from our past it is reinterpreted with stunning vision and imagination. The sheer number of details that are thrown 'haphazardly' (they really aren't haphazard) are mind-boggling.

Yeah, yeah I know. I am gushing.

You want me to tell you about the story? Pfft. Go and buy it!

In The Pillars of Sand the various threads of books one and two come to head, revelations abound and battles ensue. There are many kickass fight scenes - Mari is amazing - and Indris... well he finally has to embrace the power that is his birthright and finds out exactly what that birthright is. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It is so worth the wait.

The worst part however is that the book ends.

And knowing that Barnes has another 6 books plotted to continue the next arc in Indris' journey is torture. But that's not all he has planned so... it's now a waiting game.

Don't read these books expecting Barnes to hold your hand through the telling. We hit the ground running in The Garden of Stones and it's up you the reader to pay attention to the details that are presented to get your bearings. Anyone who has read Erikson will have no problem, and those who loves epic fantasy - of the truly epic, complex and stunningly crafted kind - then you will love this and, I think, anything else Barnes cares to write.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prince of Fools: A Review

Prince of Fools
Red War Book 1
By Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

Experience does not lend Jalan wisdom; but here and there he unearths a corner of the truth. He discovers that they are all pieces on a board, pieces that may be being played in the long, secret war the Red Queen has waged throughout her reign, against the powers that stand behind thrones and nations, and for higher stakes than land or gold.

You've probably heard me wax lyrical (or try to ) about Mark Lawrence before. You could even go so far as to say I am crushing on his authorial brilliance. And that would be very true. Lawrence has a vivid style of writing. It is smooth and compelling, he says much while actually writing (compared to the mammoth tomes I usually read) little.

This is the first book in a new series set within the same world as his Broken Empire trilogy. Yet for all that, while the stage is the same the story - and character of Jalan Kendeth - is different to that of the Prince of Thorns (aka Jorg Ancrath). And that's a good thing. Who wants to read the same thing all the time? However, beware, for all that you can tell you are read a Mark Lawrence book it is very different...Until it twists and turns on the pages right before your eyes and... but I don't want to give to much away. You're going to have to read it.

In three books Mark Lawrence has taken himself from being a 'rising star' amongst the new writers of the genre to firmly positioning his place in the firmament. I urge you to get on board and start reading him now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shards of Time: A Review

Shards of Time
Nightrunner Book 7
By Lynn Flewelling

The governor of the sacred island of Korous and his mistress have been killed inside a locked and guarded room.

The sole witnesses to the crime-guards who broke down the doors, hearing the screams from within-have gone mad with terror, babbling about ghosts . . . and things worse than ghosts.

Dispatched to Korous by the queen, master spies Alec and Seregil find all the excitement and danger they could want-and more. For an ancient evil has been awakened there, a great power that will not rest until it has escaped its otherworldly prison and taken revenge on all that lives. And only those like Alec-who have died and returned to life-can step between the worlds and confront the killer . . . even if it means a second and all too permanent death.


Lynn Flewelling has been publishing novels since 1996 to great acclaim. I wish I could say I have been following her work all that time but I only had the pleasure of discovering her brilliant novels a few years ago. Luckily for me that meant I have a solid body of her work to make my way through. She is the author of the Tamir Trilogy and critically acclaimed Nightrunner series, of which The Shards of Time is book seven.

Unfortunately it is also - for now - the end of an era, as she wraps up the story of fan-favorite spies Alec and Seregil in a novel that contains all the action, intrigue, political skullduggery and magic that have made the books such an enduring part of the genre.

These are great books and I highly recommend them. Flewelling is a brilliant world builder and these books are perfect to lose yourself in.

I am very keen to see what she brings us next.

Shards of Time

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade: A Review

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade
Erebus Sequence Book 1
By Den Patrick

An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.

Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game.

Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.

Wow. This book impressed me a lot. Hugely atmospheric, it reads like a cross between the gothic feel of Mervyn Peake set within a grotesque caricature of Renaissance Italy. It has a decadent decay within it's pages and is filled with a sense of mystery that is utterly gripping in a fascinating world.

The king is insane and has withdrawn from society to his private Keep. His steward, the Majordomo, rules in his stead, while the Great Houses of the aristocracy hatch plots and jostle for power. And amongst them all are the Orfano, the misshapen 'witchlings' who are abandoned on the nobles' doorsteps at birth.

Our guide into this world of Machiavellian conspiracies and mysteries is Lucien de Fontein, one of the Orfano. Born with no ears, he has grown up hated and feared, and trained in the art of the sword. The novel opens on the day he is to face his Final Testing, which will allow him to graduate from the titular porcelain blade to a steel weapon.

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade alternates between action sequences of Lucien fighting for survival and flashbacks to his youth. Patrick teases out revelations in each flashback and ends every action scene on a cliff-hanger in such way that the novel is always a riveting read.

If you enjoy Scott Lynch, Robin Hobb or Patrick Rothfuss you will be lost in The Boy With The Porcelain. Den Patrick's writing is rich with detail, an ornate style that fits perfectly with the baroque setting, while fast-paced plotting ensures it doesn't get overwhelmed with nuance.

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Lascar's Dagger: A Review

The Lascar's Dagger
The Forsaken Lands Book 1
By Glenda Larke


Saker looks like a simple priest, but in truth he's a spy for the head of his faith. It's a dangerous job, and more lives than merely his own depend on his secrecy.

When Saker is wounded by a Lascar sailor's blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility that comes with it, Saker can only follow its lead.

It will put him on a journey to strange shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he serves, and likely lead to his own destruction.

The Lascar's dagger demands a price, and that price will be paid in blood.

For those of you who have been patiently waiting for a new novel from Glenda Larke your wait is finally over.

Set in a fantasy world that is more akin to the 17th Century in technology and feel than more usual medieval, Larke weaves a cunning tale of religion and the machinations of empire, as great trading fleets discover and exploit new lands.

An absolute master of world building Larke combines the greed for riches to be found in a burgeoning spice trade with native magics and the politcs of religions at war. She has the gift of George R.R. Martin to create an immense world through throw-away lines and character histories that just grows in the background until you are living and breathing a while new world as though you were actually there.

With astounding ease Larke weaves plots twist and turn, and driving tension abounds as characters leap off the page. Glenda Larke is master storyteller. If you have never read her before then you have a load of great books to get through and this is a very good place to start.

Read her. Now.

The Lascar's Dagger