Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jackal, Blackdog, and Dragons - New SFFWorld Reviews

Here we are, another Tuesday at the Blog o’ Stuff and that means some new reviews to mention that have recently been posted to SFFWorld.

Chris Wooding has been one of the more discussed writers at SFFWorld lately, and he’s just published The Iron Jackal, the third Tales of the Ketty Jay novel, which Mark liked a lot :

The heist occurs, though it is unexpectedly messier than anticipated. The artefact is taken and foolishly taken out of its transport case by Darian. A two-bladed sword, the object stabs Darian’s hand and gives him a ‘black spot’, something that, it is told, will kill him. As the tale unfolds, things get complicated for Darian and this has consequences for his motley crew.

If I had any complaints this time around, and I am struggling a little, really, it’s that this time around, more so than at any time previous, I’m noticing the joins a little more. The train heist is reminiscent of the Firefly TV episode The Train Job, the roof chase Jason Bourne, the Thief of Baghdad or Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s very well done, it’s clearly an homage, yet unlike previous books in the series, in places I’m getting that feeling of ‘been here before’. Though some of the events here are pretty much telegraphed before they happen, it’s like watching the inevitability of a car crash that keeps you reading.

Standalone fantasy novels, not part of any series, are a rare beast in the genre. That is just one element that makes K.V. Johansen’s Blackdog stand out from the crowd. I posted my review of Blackdog today, which I thought was impressive in its mythic resonance:

Where to begin? I suppose the world itself is good enough – Johansen has created a world that resonates with ancient powers and oozes with mythic resonance. I recall one of my college courses – World Mythology – and the text of world myths on the reading list. Johansen’s novel seems as if it could fit right in with those stories, though thankfully for us as readers she’s fleshed out the bones of the myth, added muscle, organs, and more life to the story to make a compelling novel. It should, then, come as no surprise Johansen’s academic background is Medieval Studies. The knowledge and passion, she has for ancient text comes through very well in the narrative energy of the story and world she created.

Johansen’s hook of showing a goddess coming into her maturity is slightly different in that her protagonist is not just an avatar, but the Goddess herself. That fascinating conceit and the requisite storytelling, characters and world-building back up that hook very nicely. Am I stating the stories are similar? No, not exactly, but the vein of myth coming to life and immensely powerful beings striding alongside the common man is similar. Where Johansen’s storytelling, characters and overall ‘feel’ of the novel finds the most similarity, for me, is in Glen Cook’s writing. The raw and almost primitive milieu reminded me a bit of Cook’s Darkwar.

Mark posted his review The Cardinal's Blades, the first in a series that has been called 'The Three Musketeers with dragons’:

The Cardinal’s Blades are the legendary group rumoured to have carried out secret missions on the cardinal’s behalf. Disbanded after some 'nasty business during the siege of La Rochelle’, Richelieu and the Crown have need of them again, as there are signs that the Black Claw, a dragon-led secret society, are up to no good, dealing in secret with France’s enemy, Spain. Led by the beautiful-blonde-looking Vicomtesse de Malicorne, the Black Claw are the Blades’ nemesis in this tale.

The first part of the novel therefore introduces us, in the third person, to the original members of the group, led by Captain LaFargue, as they are summoned to return to Paris. This means that we meet a motley group of superb swordsmen and women, all currently pursuing alternative lifestyles. We’re introduced to the characters that make up the band. These include Nicolas Marciac, who spends his time running up debts and duelling, living off the money he makes in such matters. Red spectacle-wearing Saint Lucq is a half-dragon, half human assassin. Arnaud de Laincourt is a Blade suspected of being a traitor to France. We have to add to this a strong heroine, Baroness Agnes de Vaudreuil. The weak point for me was the unfortunately named LePrat (who manages to get injured!) is a bit of a misstep, though clearly just one of those names that just translates badly internationally...

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