Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Empire and Empire Reviews at SFFWorld

Mark and I reviewed two books recently for SFFWorld and here’s where I provide a blurb, cover image and the link to the reviews.

Mark reviewed a debut novel from the fine folks at Angry Robot that’s generating quite a bit of buzz, for a number of reasons including the terrific cover/design, solid story, and marketing behind the book. The novel in question is Adam Christopher’s Empire State which involves gangsters and superheroes in a noirish New York City:

We have murder and gunshots in dark city streets, where it is always raining, detectives under streetlamps wrestling silently with their broody thoughts and dubious morals. We have Superheroes entwined with Gangsters. And with illicit booze, gang fights, car chases, airships, and robots, it’s a great mash-up of pulp fiction, film-noir and even a little SF ‘sensawunda’. It’s a book with the detective feel of Chandler and Marlowe living in the strange urban landscapes of China Mieville, mixed in with a good dose of Paul McAuley quantum universe SF. And above all, it’s a pulp style superhero book, one that is reminiscent of George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series, or my recent read of Paul Malmont.

In such tales where the writer is juggling so many aspects, there’s a great risk it isn’t going to work, that there’s too many references to the past and not enough originality, and that ‘the grand idea’ in the end peters out to nothing. There was an issue here in that the set up in the initial pages is quite impressive, although by the middle the novel suffers by a colossal slow-down of pace, with lots of running around between low-key locations which is a tad repetitive. In order to maintain the air of mystery before the big reveal midway through, we don’t see a lot of Empire State and so momentum is lost. Some things are kept deliberately enigmatic: the war between Empire State and ‘The Enemy’, the fact that most residents of the Empire State cannot remember much of their history, but seem to exist mainly in the now.

I read and reviewed the second Riyria Revelations omnibus by Michael J. Sullivan, Rise of Empire:

As the title of the omnibus would imply, the Empire and lineage of the thought-to-be lost heir of Novron is making a foothold in the world, absorbing smaller nation-states into its thrall. The empress Modina is a puppet, existing in a state of shock – almost zombie-like – since she was raised from the backwoods girl named Thrace to the role of Heir of Novron and “rightful” ruler of the empire. The ‘scheming manipulator’ behind her ascendancy, Saldur the uncle of Princess or Arista and King Alric of Melengar has posited himself as the one pulling the strings of the burgeoning empire. As such, he raises a random kitchen girl, Amilia to the post of tutor to the emperor. Considering Amilia’s predecessor was not successful in Saldur’s eyes and taken to task because of that failure, Amilia is less than thrilled about her new appointment.

In the two novels (
Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm) collected in the Rise of Empire omnibus, Michael J. Sullivan’s storytelling abilities continue to shine. It becomes clearer that he’s got the forest of a saga in mind, rather than just a few trees of story. A lot of nice set pieces (a gladiatorial fight involving Royce, Hadrian and some of the companions from The Emerald Storm against a pack of goblins; the various identities under which we meet Arista, etc) highlight the panache of Sullivan’s narrative arsenal. I particularly enjoyed the character journey on which he’s got Arista moving, though she was a primary character in the previous volumes, she fully came into her own in these two novels as a character on the same importance level as Royce and Hadrian, from my perspective.

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