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.

Advertisements

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.

Book Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

The Judging Eye

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Empires of Dust
Author info: http://courtofbrokenknives.org/

This is going to be a bit emotional for me, but 100% honest. I have read a very early version of this book, kind of a beta read, before Anna had an agent or a publishing deal. I knew it was something unique and it ought to be mainstream published. My gut instinct and recognition skills were dead accurate: Something like two years later it got picked up by Harper Voyager, I screamed “Hell YES!” and bounced with joy as if it were my own book. So here goes your disclaimer. However, I do only honest reviews. Anyone knows me well enough knows I won’t review the books that aren’t my cup of tea of I don’t enjoy/DNF. I have refused reviews like this for books of folk I know, cause I can’t be dishonest and I don’t want to damage the ratings of a new debut just cause I don’t enjoy it.

This final published version of The Court of Broken Knives, however, has a lot of thing I enjoy in grimdark fiction, plus the stunning prose, beautifully detailed worldbuilding, culture and religion elements. The main plot of the story is noting unusual, but the storytelling is rich and amazingly unique. Here is a little snippet from the very beginning:

All eternity, they’ve been fighting. All the edges blunted. Sword edges and knife edges and the edges in the mind. Keep killing. Keep killing. Keep killing till we’re all dead.

The Court of Broken Knives is grimdark as grimdark goes. There’s rivers of blood and pools of vomit but also beautiful gardens with jasmine and lilac trees, colorful silks, marble palaces, desert wilderness and frost covered islands, and the most important aspect of grimdark: Highly intriguing, complex, deeply flawed, incredibly realistic characters.

There are four point of view characters: A mercenary commander, a new recruit in the mercenary company, a politician from the high nobility, and a high priestess.
None of those are the sort of people you would exactly root for, but their storylines are compelling in the extreme, and along with the beautiful, flowing, poetic prose they make The Court of Broken Knives a total page turner.

Speaking of the prose. This dreamlike, hypnotic prose makes the violence and gore scenes hell of a lot more brutal, too. I am a seaoned grimdark reader and pretty desensitized to gory fight scenes. Best way I can describe the effect here is a jackhammer wrapped in pretty brocade silk. Let me show one example from the book:

He must have been happy, sometimes, this man who would die before him under his knife. Must have looked at something once and thought ‘this is a good thing.’Must have loved and wanted and desired and hoped. And all of that he’d take from him, like it had never been.

This is not the best example of what I’m talking about but I’m taking pains not to spoil anything, so it should at least give a hint.

The most important character is Marith, the pretty boy who is a new recruit in a mercenary band. He is more than what he appears to be, and you can tell from the beginning. He turns out to be a highborn guy on exile, and then more and more is revealed. To keep this review spoiler free, that is the most I can say. Marith is one of the darkest characters I’ve ever read, he takes the grimdark to a whole another level. The main theme is a decaying empire with its gold veneer chipping away and oh so amazingly depicted.

He watched the weaving figures, twisting in a long spiralling pattern of stamping feet around the square, dancing and shouting and singing while the darkness ate at them. You will all die, his mind whispered. This brightness is only the surface. Beneath is the darkness: you will all die.

This is one of the rather tame ones, dude is DARK! But he is so much more than must a bloodthirsty psycho. Marith has mysterious magical powers, and a profound darkness in him. The magic business is quite a mystery, never explained. It just unfolds and you read with a dropped jaw. This doesn’t seem to be common in fantasy, since detailed magic systems seem to be the trend in the genre. I like the dark, mysterious, scary magic, and The Court of Broken Knives beautifully delivers. If you are sick of magic systems with endless lists of rules and components and whatnot, you will definitely love the magic here.

The Court of Broken Knives is a political intrigue fantasy, and one of the main characters is a plotting high lord who is ready to sacrifice lives for the greater good. The M/M romance between him and his partner in crime Darath is quite adorable. Their flirty bickering is funny and cute. If you are a fan of M/M relationships you will absolutely love it. They are all kinds of cute, but there is the element of tragedy, dark choices and guilty conscience trying to justify horrible deeds. It is a grimdark story, after all.

Thalia is the high priestess character, and some of her chapters are from the first person perspective, which works quite well with the flow. She is also a messed up victim of the culture and society, and we get to see the twisted and brutal religion of the Empire. The worldbuilding depth truly shines in those parts, giving a good glimpse of the culture and faith embedded deeply into daily life of the people of the empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but the whole twilight taboo culture reminded me of the superstitions we had in Turkey, that it is bad luck to do any sewing or repair works in the twilight hour, time between day and night is dangerous and you aren’t supposed to do handiwork or it will bring curses and bad luck.

Thalia is about as broken and flawed like the rest of the characters, she is strong at times, but cannot conjure her inner strength all the time. Which is hell of a lot more realistic than the invincible female hero model. There are no heroes in this book, anyway, there are just people who are trying to survive or escape from their demons in a harsh world.

I am a huge fan of rich worldbuilding, and The Court of Broken Knives has some excellent details like street food, cool trinkets, city scenery and every aspect of a major city from the grand palaces to drug dens,colorful and pretty gardens, as well as awesome wilderness scenes and an impressive harbor/fishing town part. Oh and there are dragons, too. Not as a major element, but they are part of the world, featured in a few neat scenes.

The Court of Broken Knives is an impressive debut, not only for grimdark subgenre but the fantasy genre as a whole. You are missing a damn lot if you aren’t reading it. I have feeling Marith will end up one of the milestone characters of Grimdark, like Logen Ninefingers, Jorg Ancrath and Sand dan Glokta.

Bookshelf show off: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Look what I got in the mail! 

*happy dance*

I’m about to finish Gardens of the Moon, expect my review of this beauty next!

Quint von Canon’s illustrations are so stunning. The map is superb, too. 

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Books I Added To my TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme is the most recent additions to TBR and here goes my list of ten books I recently added to my ever growing mountain of TBR:

Faithless

Swarm and Steel

Godblind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithless by Graham Austin-King has a stunning cover and promises one hell of an epic adventure in the underground mines. I loved his Riven Wyrde Saga books (check my reviews here) and have high expectations of this one after reading the excerpt.

Swarm and Steel is a Manifest Delusions book, I loved the first two and looking forward to the release of this. Michael R. Fletcher has a track record of delivering top notch grimdark, I can’t recommend his books enough!

Godblind is a totally random discovery, recommended by a friend from the FB fantasy book groups I frequent. He showed me the first chapter posted on a giveaway contest page, I absolutely loved it and pre-ordered Godblind. It’s a debut, grimdark as grimdark goes, brutal to the core, and written by a female author if you are looking for diverse books.

 

Valley of Embers

Smiler's Fair

The Glass Gargoyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley of Embers is a SPFBO contestant this year, I grabbed it from the free promo cause the cover is great+I liked the sample excerpt on Kindle store. It sounds like a nice, original epic fantasy with cool battles and magic.

Smiler’s Fair is highly recommended by a friend who told me the cover looks like YA but the book is gritty, awesome fantasy. She knows my tastes more or less so I trust her rec and added it.

The Glass Gargoyle is another SPFBO contestant, the author announced free promo, I totally loved the sample excerpt which features a nice tavern setting and hilarious banter. This book promises a great light reading and funny fantasy experience, plus I like gargoyles and never read any fantasy books featuring gargoyles.

 

A Gathering of Ravens

Assassin's Charge

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Gathering of Ravens sounds like my cup of tea since it’s set in a world of Norse myths and features an Orc protagonist, plus Scott Oden is a cool guy and writes cool blog posts waving Orcs into the world history in a clever way. The blog posts sold me on his writing and the whole Norse myths and grimdark Orc protagonist surrounded with morally ambiguous side characters sold me on the book.

Assassin’s Charge was a finalist in last year’s SPFBO, the blog reviews and the premise got me to put it high up in my TBR since I’m a huge fan of assassins, guilds and pre-modern city environment.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a book folk speak very highly of on Reddit and Fantasy book groups all over the place, my grimdark fan friends said it’s a grimdark masterpiece and I would definitely like it, so I have quite high expectations from this book.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids

 

Amra Tethys books sound exactly like my cup of tea and some of my friends highly recommended the book. Thieves, rogues, immortal sorcerers, epic artifacts, gods, demons -this book sounds like it will be hell of a lot of fun to read! I’m a total fan of thief fantasy with lots of magic and fantasy elements, so I expect grat fun from this book.

What is in your TBR? Link to your post and let me know!

 

Exciting New Releases This Summer

These will be my summer reads.

The Unholy Consult
I have been waiting for the Unholy Consult forever, even held off on reading the Aspect-Emperor books for ages until the release date was certain for TUC. This series is such a magnificent masterpiece of grimdark and epic fantasy, one of the best examples of the fantasy genre in fact. You can read my reviews of all the books in the series here: https://leonahenry.wordpress.com/?s=bakker

 

The Court of Broken Knives

I have beta read a very early version of this book ages ago, I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear about the publishing deal and finally getting a publication date. This will probably be quite a bit different from that very early version I think, can’t wait to read and find out. It’s super grimdark but without a setting mostly covered in puke, piss, rot and other gross things. There is dazzling architecture, grand temples, palaces, beautiful gardens, spiced with utterly savage violence and serious nightmare fuel acts. The characters are so grimdark it’s not even funny!

 

Godblind

 

A friend of mine told me to check this new debut out, and showed me a giveaway page where they had a free sample from the very beginning of the book. I was mighty impressed by the grimdarkness and how Anna Stephens made the characters so memorable in such a short space, I pre-ordered a copy. I heard the book delivers the top notch quality promised by the sample. I can’t wait to read it!

 

 

A Gathering of Ravens

 

Historical fantasy with an Orc protagonist and Norse myths pretty much sold me on that one. Not to mention the grimdark and all of the characters being morally ambiguous. I love books where no one is good or evil. Also I’ve never read any historical fantasy, this should be a good way to begin. It sounds like a pretty solid read judging from the Goodreads reviews.

What are you reading this summer?

Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

Gardens of the Moon: First Impressions

Gardens of the Moon

I keep seeing comments from first time readers about Gardens of the Moon all over the social media, so I couldn’t resist it anymore and abandoned my original plans to get into Malazan after finishing the Wheel of Time and The Prince of Nothing re-read. Fuck it, the curiosity is killing me, I can’t take the torture anymore.

I dropped everything, now reading WoT book #4 in parallel with Gardens of the Moon.

Here are my first impressions: I just finished the prologue and found it quite captivating. I was expecting some confusing mess, since everyone and their brother talks about how difficult and confusing it is. I usually forget the prologues within 5 minutes, can’t keep track of the characters and don’t really understand wtf is going on. A Game of Thrones prologue was the exception. Gardens of the Moon prologue however, hooked me from page 1, characters are memorable and both the imagery and the dialogues are neat. I have a good grasp of what’s going on as far as the prologue goes, it’s pretty normal, ie.not some crazy tangle of hyperactive insanity.

I guess I have to read further to see what’s all the noise about?