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!