Sunday, December 14, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-12-13)

Just one book this week, but boy does it look like it will be fun.

The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars #1) by Ian Tregillis (Orbit , Trade Paperback 03/10/2015) – A brand new series for Tregillis, which seems to be Steampunk in nature.

The Clakker: a mechanical man, endowed with great strength and boundless stamina -- but beholden to the wishes of its human masters.

Soon after the Dutch scientist and clockmaker Christiaan Huygens invented the very first Clakker in the 17th Century, the Netherlands built a whole mechanical army. It wasn't long before a legion of clockwork fusiliers marched on Westminster, and the Netherlands became the world's sole superpower.

Three centuries later, it still is. Only the French still fiercely defend their belief in universal human rights for all men -- flesh and brass alike. After decades of warfare, the Dutch and French have reached a tenuous cease-fire in a conflict that has ravaged North America.

But one audacious Clakker, Jax, can no longer bear the bonds of his slavery. He will make a bid for freedom, and the consequences of his escape will shake the very foundations of the Brasswork Throne.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Round Up: SF Signal Mind Meld & SFFWorld Reviews (Staveley, Williams, & Huff)

Wow, it has been nearly a month since I did one of these Friday Link dumps here on the 'o Stuff.  That's partially due to not posting reviews in Later November/Early December (the book I was reading was a gigundo omnibus of three books which took about two and half weeks to plow through). So, without further ado, here's the round up of some recent posts I've made.

At the end of November, my review of Brian Staveley's debut novel The Emperor's Blades (Book 1 of The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne) was posted at SFFWorld. This was a fun and engaging debut.
What Staveley does so effectively with Kaden and Valyn is to give each of them their own mini-boss of sorts – or foil. For Kaden, it is the man who is training him Tan. The mentor/mentee relationship between them is contentious at best; Kaden has many questions and in Tan’s eyes, every question is the wrong question. This battle of the wills made for compelling reading; for Tan was an enigma even to some of the Monks of Shin. Through him, Kaden and the reader learn a great deal about the lore and mythology of the world, which is in contrast to the relatively barren mountain landscape where the Shin monks reside. Valyn is able to interact more personably with his cadets; he forms friendships and even a potential romantic interest which is, of course, frowned upon by the military. Valyn’s arc has as its foil the brash and outspoken Sami Yurl. A simple name, but one that credit to Staveley, easily conjures up antagonism as I hear the name in my head.
As is inherit with an opening volume, The Emperor’s Blades is the table-setter for the series, laying out the world and conflict the characters will have to deal with as the saga progresses. For the most part, it is very successful; I was engaged throughout and wanted to know more about the world they inhabit; particularly the deep past at which Kaden’s mentor Tan hinted. If I can compare the series – at this early stage – to any I’ve read over the past couple of years the closest would be to David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy and Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet. This bodes very well indeed as these are two recent favorites you all should go out and read while waiting for The Providence of Fire.

Last week, my December Mind Meld was posted to SF Signal, wherein I asked Erin Lindsey, Jamie Todd Rubin, Julie E. Czerneda, Michael R. Underwood, Rene Sears, and Sylvia Izzo Hunter:

What Genre Holiday traditions to you partake in every year? What favorite films do you like to re-watch? What favorite books or stories you like to re-read? What are your favorite Holiday-themed episodes of genre shows (beyond the classic Rankin-Bass stop motion specials)?

This week, keeping with a holiday theme, I posted a review of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig, a novella from Tad Williams featuring his snarky angel advocate, Bobby Dollar.
Let me change that, in the case of God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlepig, the novella is a nearly perfect length of story for a little side-story featuring Tad’s angel Doloriel (Bobby Dollar to most folk) an advocate for recently deceased souls. Based on the title of this novella, it should come as no surprise that the latest soul for which Bobby is advocating passes from the land of the living on December 24th. Now you might think an angel arguing for a soul to gain entrance into Heaven on Christmas Eve would be a touchy-feely Holiday Tale, you’d only be half correct. For this is a Holiday tale, but Bobby learns a great deal about the soul of Petar Vesić, not the least of which is that the man was more than just a man, he was a werewolf. What is most surprising is that Vesić doesn’t want Bobby’s help, he is prepared to go to Hell.


I was grinning all the while I was reading this one. I’ve made it no secret that Tad Williams is one of my favorite writers so it would be hard for me not to like this one. Instead, Tad has proven yet again why he remains a favorite writer.

Lastly is a review from a genre mainstay new to me, Tanya Huff with that rarest of beasts in the genre, a standalone fantasy novel.  Here's a bit from my review of The Silvered:
There’s a lot to like in this novel; strong well-realized characters, believable conflict, but most of all for me it was Huff’s incredible world-building. The world is similar to our own during the 19th Century, except magic is real and conflicts with science in many ways. Science and magic don’t often coexist in Fantasy novels, but here they both work together and are in conflict with each other. The Emperor uses his soothsayers (magic) to determine how to acquire the werewolves so he can use science to experiment on them. There’s a strong steampunk feel to the Empire, an aesthetic which is often a blend of science and magic. Huff has crafted such a logical and well-rounded pack dynamic for her werewolves that it seems the only way it could have existed.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-12-06)

As a reviewer for SFFWorld (as well as SF Signal and and maybe because of this blog, I receive a lot of books for review from various publishers. Since I can't possibly read everything that arrives, I figure the least I can do (like some of my fellow bloggers) is mention the books I receive for review on the blog to at least acknowledge the books even if I don't read them.

Sometimes I get one or two books, other weeks I'll get nearly a dozen books. Some weeks, I’ll receive a finished (i.e. the version people see on bookshelves) copy of a book for which I received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) weeks or months prior to the actual publication of the book. I’ve been receiving a greater percentage of electronic ARCs this year which is good because death via drowning in a sea of unread books is not how I want to say goodbye to this world.

Sometimes I'll want to read everything that arrives, other weeks, the books immediately go into the "I'll never read this book" pile, while still others go into the nebulous "maybe-I'll-read-it-category." More often than not, it is a mix of books that appeal to me at different levels (i.e. from "this book holds ZERO appeal for me" to "I cannot WAIT to read this book yesterday"). Have a guess in the comments about which book fits my reading labels “I’ll Never Read…” “Zero Appeal” or “cannot wait” "maybe I'll get to it later" and so forth...

Since nothing new arrived this week, I figured now was a good time for this placeholder post. Also, a good opportunity to show off a Christmas photo of Sully. Last week, we visited a local dog training school (Live and Learn Dogs) run by one of my best friends from high school. The school was partnering with the Vet from whom Live and Learn rents space for an open house / holiday celebration and taking Christmas photos of all the dogs, with the winner (determined by most Facebook likes) receiving a prize. While Sully didn't win, her photo was the highest vote-getter among solo dogs (a photo with two chocolate labs received the most votes and frankly, *I* like Chocolate Labs, too, so I can't get too angry).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-11-29)

Only one book this shortened Thanksgiving week and I suspect this book arrived after a comment I made on facebook to the Ardi, one of Tor’s great publicists

Star Bridge by James Gunn and Jack Williamson (Tor Trade Paperback 11/11/2014) – I like seeing publishers bring classic novels back into print, this one was originally published way back in 1955.

The galaxy’s inhabited planets are held together by the repressive Eron Company, the apparent holder of the secret to faster–than–light travel through the Tubes, the network linking the scattered worlds together. Mysterious parties have hired the adventurer Horn to assassinate the company's general manager, Garth Kohlnar. Horn completes his mission, and in the ensuing manhunt encounters Wendre Kohlnar, the daughter and now possibly the heir of the dead man. Escaping through a transdimensional Tube, Horn finds himself on the planet Eron, a world consumed by the Eron Company. There he encounters a corrupt aristocracy, a brewing power struggle over the succession, a covert revolution, and the mystery of who actually knows the secret of the Tubes. James Gunn and Jack Williamson's Star Bridge marks the return of a classic, high-concept space opera by two SF Grand Masters

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-11-22)

Four arrivals this week; one electronic and three physical.

Righteous Fury (The Legends of the Alfar #1) by Markus Heitz (in German) (Jo Fletcher Books Hardcover 02/15/2015) – Heitz switches publishers to tell his tale of the Dark Elves

From the author of the bestselling fantasy series The Dwarves--which has sold over one million copies--come the dynamic new series The Legends of the Alfar. In Righteous Fury, the elves, dwarves and humans all know the alfar to be dark, relentless warriors. In Dson Faimon, the realm of the alfar, the warriors are planning a military campaign. Caphalor and Sinthoras are looking to enlist a powerful demon to strengthen their army - but the two alfar have very different goals. While Caphalor is determined to defend the borders of their empire and no more, the ambitious Sinthoras is intent on invasion: and he has the kingdoms of dwarves, elves, and me firmly in his sights.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (Penguin Trade Paperback 12/30/2014) – Trade-paperback of Leonard’s very well-received debut (Hardcover, February 2014). Another curious case of a book clearly being genre (in this case fantasy) but published under the parent publisher’s (Penguin) fiction imprint, rather than one of is genre imprints (ROC, ACE, DAW, etc).

A prince with a quest, a beautiful commoner with mysterious powers, and dragons who demand to be freed—at any cost

Filled with the potent mix of the supernatural and romance that made A Discovery of Witches a runaway success, Moth and Spark introduces readers to a vibrant world—and a love story they won’t soon forget.

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the power Mycenean Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in Caithenor that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming. Torn between his quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, Tam and Corin must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

Heritage Cyador (The Saga of Recluce #18) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor Hardcover 11/25/2014) – I read and enjoyed (a lot more than I expected, the 20th Anniversary of the first in the series last year so I’ve got just a wee bit of catching up to do.

From New York Times bestselling author L.E. Modesitt comes Heritage of Cyador, the new novel in the Saga of Recluce.

Scarcely a year after the events of Cyador’s Heirs, Lerial uses his mastery of Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape his world and define the magic that exists within it, to utterly destroy an Afritan military force crossing into Cigoerne.
Five years later, Lerial, now an overcaptain and a field commander of Cigoerne’s Mirror Lancers, must lead three companies of troops into Afrit on a mission of mutual interest: neighboring Heldya is threatening to invade Afrit, and if that nation falls, Cigoerne is certain to be next.

The mission is both delicate and dangerous; Lerial’s value in the effort to repelling Heldya is undeniable, but his troubled history against Afrit may reopen old wounds that will never truly heal.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig (A Bobby Dollar Novella) by Tad Williams (Beale-Williams Enterprise Ebook 11/05/2014) – A Christmas themed story featuring Tad’s Advocate Angel. This could be fun.

"Oh, ho, ho!" the demon Chickenleg said, sounding like your drunk uncle trying to get you to laugh at a dirty joke. "Oh, ho! You'll love this one, Dollar!"

Bobby Dollar, Advocate Angel and perpetual thorn in the side of Heaven, is about to save the holidays for a very special someone. Or somewolf. Or maybe even some pig… Bobby is summoned on Christmas Eve to do his part in the heavenly judgement of a man who is not prepared to go lightly. You see, the family of the gentleman in question are victims of Nazi war crimes, and the crimes are still occurring — in fact, the worst is yet to come. With special dispensation from an Angelic Judge named Ambriel, Bobby Dollar has until Christmas Morning to right some serious wrongs and bring some justice (and a little seasonal cheer) into a rotten world…

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Round Up: Rocket Talk with Justin Landon; Lou Anders and Joshua Palmatier @ SF Signal

After a couple of relatively slower weeks of no new reviews or any content from me, two things appear on the same day, such is life in the hectic world of SFF blogging and reviewing. . Add to those a review which appeared appeared the day after my last link round up, and you have my post for today. Speaking of SFF blogging and reviewing, that was the topic of discussion in one of my appearances this week.  My pal and colleague Justin Landon (of the now closed Staffers Book Review blog, the Joe Abercrombie Re-read for, and general genre rabble-rouser) had me on the Rocket Talk podcast he leads. We talk about the reviewer/fan/author relationship, some other bloggers and a few books we've both enjoyed.  I thank Justin for having me on his show because in all honesty, I'm pretty pleased to be a guest on the same podcast that has featured some great genre folks like Joe Monti, Kate Elliott, N.K. Jemisin, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Delilah S. Dawson.

Listen to Foolish Talk Ye Mortals and Despair!

A couple of weeks ago, my review of Lou Anders's debut novel Frostborn, itself the launch book for his Thrones and Bones series went up to SF Signal:

Frostborn by Lou Anders - Review @ SF Signal
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the novel are the hints at so much more to come, from the hinted-at future for their further adventures to the wonderful world-building which serves as the backdrop of the story. As I often say in novels with great world-building, the world itself is a character and the details are seamlessly delivered through the characters. Such is the case with Frostborn. The world-building does not smother the story nor is it over-indulgent; it enhances the story. I’ve been following the author on social media and listening to podcasts in whch he is featured, and he often spoke about the world-building in this novel and how he fell in love with the Norse region/myth as he was writing this novel. That love comes through quite well. When an author is able to show how much fun he or she had writing and creating a work, it can make for an even more engaging read, like it did here with Frostborn. Many people reading this review will know of the author’s experience on the other side of the publishing desk, which can be seen in his smart approach to the novel.

About an hour Rocket Talk posted, my November Completist column posted to SF Signal. This time, I took a look at Joshua Palmatier's The Throne of Amenkor trilogy:

I turn my focus on Joshua Palmatier’s “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy of books; a series about a haunted throne and the street urchin/thief who becomes tied to the throne. At the time Joshua’s debut published, he might have been overshadowed a bit by two other authors debuting at the same time – Patrick Rothfuss (a DAW stable mate) and Scott Lynch (who tells Lies about a thief named Locke). Joshua’s books are fun, engaging, and where they have an edge over Lynch and Rothfuss’s series is the fact that the series is complete.

In an SFFH landscape where readers are seeking stories which eschew the standard male protagonist, Palmatier has created a powerful and engaging female protagonist in “The Throne of Amenkor.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

100 Page Thoughts - The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

One of the most touted Debut Epic Fantasies of 2014 is Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades. Tor has a big marketing push behind the book, having shown off the cover well in advance of the book’s publication, sample chapters through the seventh chapter of the book months before the book published. as well as the cover for book 2, The Providence of Fire a year before its publication. Lastly, a trade paperback version of the book published in August 2014, not even a full year after the release of the hardcover in January 2014.

So the, hoow do the first (approximately) 100 pages work for me? Very well, indeed. Staveley gradually introduces readers over the first quarter or so of this novel to two of the three children of the Emperor: Kaden and Valyn. He also mentions the third Adar, a daughter Adare. Kaden is the eldest and has spent the better part of the previous decade training with a sect of Monks; Valyn is training the military where he can potentially fly upon the backs of giant hawks, and Adare is mentioned as being raised to Minister. There’s a bit of action, with a nice balance of world-building and character development/introduction. Early on, Valyn hears whispers of a conspiracy before it is revealed his father, the Emperor has been murdered. Staveley alternates chapters between the two brothers for these first 100 pages and it proves effective thus far. His transition between the storylines of the two brothers end seach scene with enough of a hook to keep me engrossed and reading to find out more. At this point, I hope to see more of Adare as the novel progresses.

Like many epic fantasies, this one gets compared to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. While that may be superficially valid, the series I’m most reminded of is of another superb fantasy series, David Anthony Durham’s Acacia trilogy. This bodes very well indeed.