My SPFBO Reviews


Pilgrim Of The Storm is a story of otherness, lost identity and a journey to find answers. It starts slow, but gets interesting as the world unfolds and character relationships develop. Pilgrim Of The Storm is a rather short book compared to the massive fantasy tomes I have been reading lately, it is just 200 pages but a nice read.

Sidge is the lone bugman, an insectoid humans look down on, adopted and raised by his human master at the Stormblade Temple. The whole story has a melancholy undertone stemming from this theme. Poor Sidge is treated terribly by most people, his race is considered inferior and bestial, he knows nothing of his heritage and bloodline, and he goes on the arduous pilgrimage journey with his semi absent-minded master Izhar. A good part of the book takes place on the road, where Sidge and his master join the pilgrimage caravan headed to the Stronghold. Sidge discovers mysteries and finds more questions as he finds some answers along the way.

The story is overall decent, but has a few rough edges, especially in the beginning chapters. The pilgrimage journey is slow-paced for the most part, nothing much happens except for a few scary moments, the encounter with a troll and Sidge’s spiritual vision. The most interesting character of the whole story is introduced in the earlier part of the journey: Mistress Kaaliya, a street-wise woman who has a big mouth and a colorful personality.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/780-pilgrimofthestorm

Kindling features interesting main characters and great action scenes, especially in the last quarter of the book. It opens with a great prison sequence which reminded me of the Elder Scrolls games. The main protagonist Zahir left a great first impression on me, as did the realistically depicted inmates. However, after the first chapter it started to fall flat due to the dire need of editing. I can overlook a flaw or two, but they piled up rather quick.

Before I talk about those, I would like to talk about the positive aspects. Zahir and Marietta are definitely interesting and complex enough, also easy to root for. Absalom and Althea, are pretty cool, even though I did not connect with them as well as Zahir and Marietta. The buildings, castles, citadels and dungeons are realistic and interesting with vivid detail. Gore and splatter is well-executed. I am no fan of gore, but it was depicted pretty good without being too repetitive. The cannibalism and savagery of the zombified pit-dwellers is one of the highlights of the book, with the drama and tension aspects neatly woven into the brutal imagery. I found the the action in the last parts of the book quite impressive with the perfect pacing and suspense elements.

Unfortunately there are also quite a few issues. First of all, there is a major Wheel of Time derivative aspect. The order of sorceresses called the Flames sound like the Aes Sedai taken over by the Black Ajah. The symbol of sorcery (flame) is pretty much the same as the Aes Sedai symbol. Men’s magic is tainted and they turn into monsters when their power reaches the pinnacle. The Flames ladies hunt down and kill the men with magic, and they use the ones with rare powers as tools until those men go berserk. This was a tad too much for me to overlook as a reader who values originality above all else.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/849-kindling


This is a sword and sorcery tale, with a good amount of sword and little sorcery. It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn’t feel derivative at all. The characters and the general atmosphere were different enough.

Benjamin sets out with this group to help take his adopted sister to the City, where she will go to the mage school.The fighting scenes, action, adventures, political intrigue, journeys, city and market scenes are top notch quality and the book is a solid page turner. One great thing about this story is, the main protagonist is just a simple brewer from some backwater village. He has no special powers, no prophecies, no magic. He is not a chosen one or savior. He listens to his mentors and learns skills with hard work and daily practices. This was quite inspirational stuff, no special powers coming out of thin air, but with disciplined work and dedication. I really liked this about the story.

Ben is likeable enough, but my favorite characters overall were Rhys, the mercenary rogue, and Renfro, the little thief friend of Ben. However, as fun as it was to read, Benjamin Ashwood has quite a few issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/898-benjaminashwood

The White Tower is a big book at a whopping 624 pages, but it is a page turner in enough parts.It is a sprawling epic fantasy tale with a huge character cast and diverse settings. It starts as a typical run of the mill epic fantasy, which I didn’t mind at all cause everything I love about epic fantasy was there. The White Tower features a lot of Point of View characters, but the plots are centered around four of them. These are Ty, the fae-bred youth who seems to be some kind of chosen one, Ayrion the Guardian Protector, the heroic warrior figure, the magic wielding smith Ferrin, and the villain Valtor who is a dark magician hell bent on summoning the long-banished dark lord figure. Ty’s point of view scenes have a whimsical quality; I particularly loved the magic displays and the interesting secondary characters there.

Ferrin’s and Ty’s parts were among my favorites as well as Ayrion’s excursions and rather interesting battle scenes with a bit of a magic twist. The action scenes are impressive and the character perspectives get interesting as you progress through the story. Poor quarter and thieves’ guild parts were excellent. Another positive aspect is the presence of amazing female characters. These being said, the White Tower has several serious issues.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/942-whitetower

As severely underrated as it is, Pilgrimage to Skara is a highly engaging and entertaining flintlock fantasy tale.

This is the last book in my SPFBO batch, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much since I had two strong books which got high praise from the other folks. After checking its Goodreads profile, my expectations dipped further since it has only one rating, one review, and a cover that is far from attractive.

However, this book grabbed me from page one and I ended up turning the pages at the airport with 4 hours of sleep, during the flights and in whatever free time I could find during my extremely busy work travel schedule. I haven’t been so surprised by an indie book before.

Full review: http://booknest.eu/component/k2/spfbo/959-pilgrimageskara

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At Bristolcon, We Drink and We Learn Things

I totally suck at writing convention recap posts. In fact I failed to do one for Worldcon, it was simply too overwhelming to pull my head together and write a post. I figured I should do one for Bristolcon since it is a very special gathering for me and I owe it to the folks.

I booked a few days in order to actually see the city this time, do a trip to Bath, and take some photos of Bristol. I don’t have the energy to download and sort the DSLR photos at the moment, but I will post them on instagram at some point.

We planned to be there at the same dates with my buddy Thomas James Clews (who is an amazing fantasy and grimdark literature advocate) and we attended the female grimdark authors panel at Waterstones the night before Bristolcon. That was a great panel, featuring authors including brilliant Anna Smith Spark, Jen Williams and Anna Stephens.

I haven’t been in the best shape in terms of physical and mental health lately and I was not able to update my own blog while I was involved in judging the SPFBO for Booknest (check this link to see all of my SPFBO reviews on booknest)

Late it better than never, however. I had some of the best moments of my life with my awesome bookish friends, made some new friends and got to visit Mark Lawrence along with T.O Munro (Check his books out on his Goodreads profile!)
Celyn Lawrence has the most heartwarming and precious smile. Those big smiles made my day as much as the company of my dear friends.

Special thanks to Julia Kitvaira and Marielle Ooms-Voges for the surprise presents. Huge thanks to Thomas James Clews for being a beacon of positive energy and goodness, of and R.B. Watkinson for being such a sweet and caring friend since my first Bristolcon. Also, James Latimer deserves a big trophy for organizing the sightseeing trip.

Dyrk Ashton came all the way from the States and Petros Triantafyllou (of Booknest) traveled all the way from Greece, winning both the distance award and life of the party award. Dyrk was a finalist in last year’s SPFBO with his book Paternus, and he is one of the most likeable and fun people in the fantasy scene. One of the most positive and energetic folks I’ve ever met. I am hoping his arch nemesis Michael R. Fletcher can make it to Bristolcon next year. We are trying hard to make it international.

Sadly I didn’t make it to any panels other than the pre-Bristolcon one at the Waterstones, the crowd at the bar was so awesome I just couldn’t leave such a magical party for any panel even if it were GRRM. Yes, the Bristolcon crew is that good.

I must also thank the Doubltree Hotel’s night shift manager and bartenders for taking great care of everyone and tolerating us. Bristolcon is the one place where you can geek out about books with the bar staff (they turned out to be Polish, so we started chatting about the Witcher books and it went to Wheel of Time and other good stuff from there.)

I’m not known to upload photos from my DSLR right away, sometimes I take up to a year to process the photos from trips, but I intend to make a post with the Bristol and Bath photos soonish. (Don’t take my word on it, I’m a lazy sod!)

But here are some photos from Laura M. Hughes’s Twitter feed which sum up the party spirit: https://twitter.com/HalfStrungHarp/status/924725739190136832

And T.o. Munro’s blog post which makes a better summary: http://tomunro.blogspot.fi/2017/10/i-dont-get-out-much-but-when-i-do-i.html

I am hoping to do better convention reporting next year.

Book Review: The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker

The Unholy Consult

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Aspect-Emperor
Author info: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/

This is the fourth and last book of Aspect-Emperor,the sequel series after The Prince of Nothing. You will need to read The Prince of Nothing books for the story to make sense. The starting point is The Darkness That Comes Before.

Here are my reviews for previous books in the series (First one is spoiler free, but the following reviews inevitably have spoilers for the previous ones)

The Darkness That Comes Before (book #1)

The Warrior Prophet (book #2)

The Thousandfold Thought (book #3)

The Judging Eye (book #4)

The White Luck Warrior (book #5)

The Great Ordeal (book #6)

 

I should have written this review months ago, but I have been in ill health and busy with a lot of other things, and then I got into SPFBO and didn’t have the time and energy to wrap my head around this. The Unholy Consult is not an easy one to review, it is quite intense and packs a few punches to the gut to say the least. I didn’t want to rush it.

The first 200 pages was an unrelenting force wind of grimdark, comparable to Category 5 hurricanes in terms of darkness, gore and abject savagery. I had been wondering if Bakker could outdo himself after six extremely dark books, and boy he did! These parts are definitely not for the faint of heart and will disturb even a seasoned veteran reader of grimdark.

There are some major reveals and twists I didn’t see coming. The Consult is laid bare, but not in the way I thought. Not at all! To be honest, I found the reveal about the Inchoroi a bit of a letdown, but now that enough time has passed to process it all, what’s behind the grand scheme is quite fascinating. Only I didn’t realize it at the time, but after I thought about it for a few weeks.

The twists come like a tornado and spin your head around. That is as much as I can tell without spoiling anything.
Akka, Mimara and Serwa parts were among my favorites, and Akka levels up in badassery here. Serwa’s heroism will make you tear up. She got on my nerves a few times in the former books, but her epic acts made me forget about that rather quick.

Kellhus and Golgotterath chapters balance out the extreme savagery with intelligent strategy, and Akka-Mimara chapters as well as Serwa’s killer scenes offer the emotional depth, page turner action and great insights.

Ishterebinth survivors joining the Great Ordeal was quite a bit of fireworks, along with the Nonmen’s tragic past echoing its glum tones.

The Darkness that Comes before hangs over the Great Ordeal like a black veil of horror, and I felt its strong effect on pretty much everyone. The best and worst of humanity gets exposed in all its glamor and depravity.

The most innovative aspect of the book was the scenes written from the POV of Malowebi as a decapitant. A character without a physical body is no mean feat to pull off and yet another beautiful display of Bakker’s genius.

There are some epic quotes in The Unholy Consult, as one can expect from a Bakker book:

No truth spoken is true simply because words have consequences, because voices move souls and souls move voices, a great radiation. This is why we so readily admit to corpses what we dare not confess to the living. This is why only the executioner can speak without care of consequences, Our speech finds freedom only when the speaker is at an end.

Truth becomes ignorance when Men make gods of Deceit.

Ink affords all souls the luxury of innocence. To write is to be quick where all else is still, to bully facts with words until they begin weeping.

Men, the cracked vessel from which the Gods drank most deep.

The Unholy Consult doesn’t start with a bang, but certainly ends with one. What’s even better is, there are the two short stories called Atrocity Tales (which were previously published on Bakker’s blog) and a 150 page Unholy Simlarillion encyclopedia in the end of it, which is packed with more sweet details adding to the one in the end of The Thousandfold Thought. This whole package was a great medicine for alleviating the massive book hangover.

The first short story, titled The False Sun, provides important insights to the working of the Consult, betrayal of Mekeritrig and the evil sorcerer Shaeönanra. The second one, Four Revelations, gives a great glimpse to the disturbing decay of the Nonmen’s memory and how it messes them up in the most heart-rending ways. That is straight up literary fiction right there. It punched me in the gut all the same the third time I’e read it (I’ve read both stories twice before The Unholy Consult came out.)

Now I will be counting days until the first book of next series comes out.
Verdict: The Unholy Consult is the grimdarkest of all grimdark books published to this date, featuring profound horrors and some incredibly epic scenes. You are missing a huge deal if you aren’t reading this series. The Second Apocalypse will come to be known as one of the milestones of the fantasy genre, its criminally underrated status nothwithstanding. Just mark my words.

Book Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King

Faithless
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Author info: http://www.grahamaustin-king.com/

This book is as solid and kickass as the cover promises and then some. I loved Riven Wyrde Saga, which is the debut trilogy by Graham Austin-King. I expected high quality from this book, but Faithless exceeded my expectations by far. Riven Wyrde Saga books were great reads, and already on my re-read list (I can afford to re-read very few books given my swamped schedule) but Faithless is at a totally different level. I must give the trigger warning though: There are scenes involving child sexual abuse. Nothing graphic, but might be disturbing for survivors. Read at your own discretion.

The editing is top notch and superior to no small number of mainstream published fantasy books for one. The worldbuilding, realism, characters and action scenes blew me away.

The story is told from the perspective of two main characters, Wynn and Kharios. Both are compelling characters who grow and change through the book. The tale starts with Wynn being sold into slavery at the Temple of Forgefather and dumped into the underground mining city called Aspiration to do hard labor.

The Aspiration is a living nightmare. Law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. Wynn joins the first crew he encounters, it’s impossible to survive in this harsh place alone. Life is hard. The whole town is ruled by vicious tyrant. If you can’t make the tally,you are screwed. Sometimes crews who are unable to meet their tally go around robbing others. It’s the law of the jungle all the way. The place is fascinating to read with all the cool details, and the stark realism of it gives you the feeling of being trapped there along with poor Wynn.

The only way to get out of this hell is to go through difficult tests to become a temple novice. Few can qualify to apply for the test. Out of thousands, less than a handful can make it. But in the Kharios point of view chapters, it seems the temple isn’t so much better. Corruption, degeneracy and tyranny rule supreme, only it’s not filthy like the mines and the living conditions are better. But are they really? A different kind of evil plagues the temple and the bad gut feeling never leaves you.

Faithless is a gritty fantasy story, but it reads like horror in places. The story takes a sharp turn halfway through and the haunting darkness gives way to breathtaking action scenes. It would make such a great movie!

One thing I loved about Faithless is the exquisite detail about the mining work and smithing. Graham Austin-King has done an insane amount of research and it shows. The world is so realistic, not only the hyper-realistic setting but with its myths and religious beliefs, customs, culture and way of life.

The other thing I loved is the male-female friendship without romance. That was a real nice thing to see. I’m sick of every male-female friendship turning into romance, I have been wondering why the fantasy authors can’t take a page from the police procedurals where men and women work together as just colleagues, with absolutely no romantic interest. When I see such things in fantasy, I bounce with joy. Kudos to Graham Austin-King for that nice touch!

The smithing parts, with the touch of magic and religious rituals, were my favorite parts after the kickass action. They had just the right amount of suspense and tension, making the incredibly well detailed forge work so much fun to read.

The ending leaves the door open for a second book, I truly hope there will be a second book!

Faithless is a high quality book with amazing worldbuilding, neat character development, fast-paced action balanced with suspense and a bit of horror, well-written and realistic side characters. A great read overall, I highly recommend it. I think people looking for dark fantasy that isn’t too grimdark, fantasy books without romance, books with underground settings and religion politics.

As far as indie published books go, Faithless belongs to the top shelf with highly engaging storytelling, realistic characters, flawless editing and brilliant setting.

Grey Sister US Cover Reveal

that thorn guy

It is with great pride and near-giddy joy that I hereby reveal this stunning US cover from ACE and artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharmefor Mark Lawrence‘s upcoming book: Grey Sister

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In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and…

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Book Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

My original plan was to get all my summer reading and ARC’s out of the way before getting into Malazan so I can read all of them back to back. However, the constant stream of people posting in various fantasy groups on Facebook about how Gardens of the Moon is so confusing and asking whether they should keep on reading stirred up my curiosity to the point of dropping the WoT #4 and everything else and grabbing this, and I am so very glad I did.

Gardens of the Moon has the reputation for being one of the biggest Marmite books of fantasy genre. I didn’t care much for Marmite, but I totally fell in love with Gardens of the Moon and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Even Erikson laments about it in the foreword, you can see the pangs of regret between the pages. But I think GOTM is just fine the way it is.

People who are used to reading books with a clear beginning-middle-end and linear story arc where the world and magic and how everything works is explained in detail are going to find GOTM confusing as hell. People who have enjoyed ASOIAF books -preferably more than once- won’t have much trouble. I was warned about paying attention to detail so I watched everything like a hawk from the very beginning. Tiniest details and pieces of dialogues from the prologue comes back to you with a bang later on, but if you miss it in the beginning, you miss out and end up getting lost. This is true for everything else, not only the beginning parts. Just pay attention! Even the seemingly insignificant and unimportant minor characters are there for a reason and serve a purpose.

I have read a number of medieval chronicles and some early modern fiction, so I was no stranger to the format of the book. Erikson doesn’t explain things with infodumps, he doesn’t hold your hand, so you figure things out by paying attention. Some people say Gardens of the Moon requires a lot of effort, but I beg to disagree. It requires no effort other than paying attention. It’s just a book, not some rocket science manual as some folk make it out to be, only it is structured in a rather unusual way. Unusual for the fantasy genre, that is.

Gardens of the Moon is more like the medieval chronicles and early modern fiction. Sort of like Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabeleis, which I highly recommend to fantasy lovers of high brow tastes (there is some irony to be found here) and I talk about in detail in this post here. Gardens of the Moon structure is quite similar to that. It is also somewhat similar to medieval Byzantine chronicles.

Those chronicles start with the reign of the current emperor, maybe his predecessor, but they throw you right into the thick of things without holding your hand. They don’t explain the state institutions and how things work and how the framework of the whole empire is structured, you are supposed to know it. Those books were written as a record of the history, and after 1000 years many things got lost. Historians were not able to make sense of some of the jokes, alliterations and references. Some they deciphered by cross-referencing other books and documents of the period, but what’s lost is lost for good.

I have read the chronicles depicting the city I was born and raised and spent the first few years of my adult life in, but it read more like an alien city in some imaginary fantasy land most of the time. Only because some of the edifices present in the period still stand today it is possible to even recognize the place. There are footnotes in almost every page, explaining names, terms, references, military terminology, government positions, measurements (they used different reckoning of hours, calendar, distance units, weight units, nothing like the stuff we use today.) For example, they talk about the time of the day like “third hour of the night” which would be roughly 9 pm of a couple hours earlier or later depending on the season. They measure all distances with stades, which is about 1/10 of a mile. You read the footnote where it’s used the first time and do the conversion in your head through the rest of the book. You convert all those things in your head to the modern units you are familiar with, and if you forget, you have to go back to the footnotes. Now this is something that requires effort to read. Gardens of the Moon certainly does not fall into that category. There is no math, no calculations. You only need to pay attention to things and remember them, that is all.

If you are having trouble, there is an excellent read-along guide recapping every chapter of every book. You can check with it after you finish a chapter or few. Here is the guide: Malazan Reread of the Fallen.

But like I mentioned, if you are an ASOIAF fan, you should have no trouble comprehending Gardens of the Moon. There is a big cast of characters, but even if you aren’t an ASOIAF veteran you eventually get used to it if you stick around. Chapters are short and POV changes within the same chapter sometimes, so it takes a while to get attached to any of the characters. But once you start following them, you will find your favorites. Some of the best ones don’t show up or start revealing their badassery until later.

The sheer number of main characters may be overwhelming for people who aren’t used to that kind of setup, so here is an excellent guide made by my lovely friend Laura M. Hughes to help out: Laura’s Guide to Malazan Characters (Gardens of the Moon)

Some of those characters start out as ordinary folk, but they turn out to be hell of a lot more than what they seem. It’s great fun to watch it unfold, I’m telling you!

Now, if you are a big fan of Riftwar books and Elder Scrolls Games, there is a good chance you will totally love Gardens of the Moon (and the rest of Malazan I suppose.) There are thieves, assassins, rooftop wars, heist scenes, alchemists, cool artifacts, and an epic tavern/inn where all the ruffians meet up and hang out. I’m a huge fan of the thieves’ guild and Dark Brotherhood in Elder Scrolls games, as well as the thieves of Krondor in Riftwar books, so all those scenes were more than reason enough for me to love this book to death before even reaching half of it. Oh, and magic. There is awesome, bombastic, kickass magic. The awesomeness of it is slowly revealed, layer by layer.

More than anything, Gardens of the Moon is a political intrigue and military action book. There is a number of political factions and complex political plots. It was hell of a lot of fun to read as a big fan of political intrigue.

Now let’s get to the characters: There are total cunts you will love to hate, as well as some charismatic guys, silly boys, strong women, loveable ruffians, mysterious elder races, funny dudes, sinister politicians and the legendary Bridgeburners. Brigeburners is the elite military squad everyone respects and their enemies are doing everything to decimate them. Those guys are so damn cool and they have epic tricks up their sleeves and some hilarious bickering moments as the icing of the cake. Gardens of the Moon and the Bridgeburners got me so hooked, I ordered a Bridgeburners t-shirt before I even finished reading the book. That should tell you something.

And then there is the glorious Anomander Rake. I didn’t think I would ever fall head over heels for a character and go all fangirl after R. Scott Bakker’s magnificent Cleric character in The Judging Eye, but Anomander Rake totally caught me off guard. He is ambiguous, mysterious, melancholy, supremely charismatic, has a killer magic sword called Dragnipur unlike any magic sword I have ever read in fantasy books, and badassery level off the charts. I’m smitten! Can’t wait to read more.

And then there is Kruppe, who is the funny uncle with the silly ramblings, but he has some neat tricks up his sleeve and some more. That is all I can say to stick with the spoiler free premise.

There is this Deck of Dragons, which is like a magic level +10 version of Tarot cards. If you are into Tarot, you will definitely enjoy it. Another thing I absolutely loved about Gardens of the Moon is the lack of sappy romance and ridiculous love triangles. There is one case of a dude having a crush on a girl, but it’s hilarious rather than sappy. There is no annoying pining and all that jazz.

It might be a bit confusing to some readers who are not used to this kind of structure, but the payoff is massive. Trust me on that! Not only that but there are excellent companion guides to help out if you are having any trouble, which I linked above. If you love fantasy, this book has every element of fantasy without being cliche and derivative. Steven Erikson is a professional anthropologist and it shows in the realism of the cultures and different lands. It’s incredibly rich in detail. If you are a history buff, you will most probably become a fan.
Then again, it’s known as the Marmite book and you might not like it at all. There is only one way to find out!