Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates

This is the second book of Malazan series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the first book, Gardens of The Moon.

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Author info: http://www.steven-erikson.com/

I’ve been dying to read this for months but other stuff and life problems come along and I wasn’t able to read much last year. I finally got to read this masterpiece and quite happy for it. The story continues, on a different continent and featuring a different cast of characters. Erikson has a way of pulling you right into the story even though it is an alien environment and none of the familiar characters show up at first. But worry you not, dear readers, they do show up alright! Good old Bridgeburners Fiddler, Hedge, Kalam, and that’s more than good. Our old friends Crokus and Apsalar show up too. Kalam’s ninja assassin badassery is the icing on the cake.

The story starts with Paran’s little sister Felisin, ex-Fener priest Heboric and the brute called Baudin. Even though they were completely new and I’ve been missing the Bridgeburners and Anomander Rake, I found their chapters thrilling and addictive. Felisin is the kind of character you don’t know whether to love or hate.

The new characters are pretty fascinating and there is a great bromance involving two of those, called Mappo and Icarium. I am a huge fan of bromances with humor, and this happened to be the just the perfect thing. They have hilarious moments as well as deeply emotional ones, they are both badass in their own right, the whole thing made me yearn for a Malazan TV show in fact.

Iskalar Pust is an intriguing, hilarious old wizard guy and his chapters are both grotesque and funny as hell. Combined with Mappo and Icarium bromance, those chapters are extremely entertaining. Some of the scenes made me laugh like a madman.
The settings and richness of the cultures is mind-blowing awesome as ever, and Erikson’s arhchaeologist background really shows.

Malazan Imperial historian Duiker is another excellent, complex, work of art kind of character. Wickan commander Coltaine is downright one of the best fighter character I’ve read. Wickans are, along with Seguleh, one of my absolute favorite barbarian-warrior races in fantasy literature.

There are hell of a lot more characters than that, but it’s better if you read and discover for yourselves. Despite the large cast of characters, they are all more or less memorable and most of them have some magnificent scenes that will leave your jaw hanging open. For the curious, here is the excellent spoiler-free crash course on Deadhouse Gates characters by Laura M. Hughes: https://www.tor.com/2017/06/01/a-beginners-guide-to-malazan-characters-deadhouse-gates/

Deadhouse Gates makes you laugh, cry, curse, rage, hopeful, depressed, and everything inbetween, but I must drop a word of warning here: It gets more grimdark as you progress and it is going to rip your heart into pieces even if you are a seasoned Robin Hobb reader. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything. Gardens of the Moon wasn’t really in grimdark territory, but Deadhouse Gates definitely is. If you love grimdark stories and Robin Hobb, you will most likely be a fan.

I gotta say I loved Deadhouse Gates to death despite the lack of my biggest crush Anomander Rake. Even if you read Gardens of the Moon and didn’t like it, I still highly recommend to give it a chance cause Deadhouse Gates is different and its format is more like a fantasy book compared to Gardens of the Moon.

Deadhouse Gates has everything I love about fantasy and then some.

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Book Review: Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info: http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com

Grey Sister is the sequel to Red Sister, and second book of the series. Here is my spoiler free review of Red Sister.

I said Red Sister will leave you with a book hangover in my review. Well, take that and multiply it by a hundred, that’s the hangover you will get after reading Grey Sister.
The sequels getting better and better is a Mark Lawrence thing, going by his track record.

Grey Sister picks up the story fast forward two years. Nona is studying in the Mystic class, with the yearning for vengeance burning in her heart. The way the characters, plots and relationships develops over the foundations laid out in Red Sister is just amazing. Nona’s character development is brilliant and her infinite love and loyalty for her friends will put a tear in your eye.

Nona’s conflicts and struggles, and the way she handles them adds quite a bit of depth to her character. She is overpowered in some parts and totally vulnerable in some others, which creates a good balance.

Things get hell of a lot darker as the story moves forward, with more evil business uncovered, and pretty gritty settings. It is not grimdark like The Broken Empire books, but has quite a few grimdark elements. There are also some horror story moments which gave me goosebumps.

Abbess Glass and Zole are the rising stars in Grey Sister. Zole was an annoying character in Red Sister, but she grows into a first class badass and one of the coolest characters of the series. She steals the show in some glorious and unforgettable badassery moments, as well as some deeply emotional ones.

In my Red Sister review, I said “I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book” about Abbess Glass, and I was right. I have to say Abbess Glass is a wonderful representation of mature female in fantasy literature. She doesn’t have any magic skills, but she has a the genius wits, wisdom and intuition. She has a much bigger role now that she is deeply involved in an intricate chess game of political machinations, which I found absolutely mind-blowing as a huge fan of political intrigue. Not only that, but the corruption in the church and people using religion to further their own agendas makes the story pretty realistic.

Sister Kettle also has a bigger part and her epic assassin ninja mojo steals the show in a few places. Her battle scenes are super awesome, and her lovely personality comes as a bonus. Not to mention she has admirable heroic qualities.

My other favorite was a non-human character called Keot, the little demon companion of Nona. He is a proper chaotic neutral, quite charming in a twisted way, and highly entertaining. It takes a special kind of genius to bring a disembodied character like that to life, with a palpable presence and strong voice. I’m a fan!

There are incredible twists and turns in Grey Sister, dialled up from what you see in Red Sister. I’m still so awestruck with the marvellous political intrigue and the breathtaking action-thriller parts. Second half of the book picks up the pace by several levels and the action gets so thick, you can’t put the book down to the point you forget to eat lunch. I am not kidding you.

The magic system introduced in Red Sister was pretty neat, but Grey Sister lays bare all the dazzling details of it. I have to say the originality and the whimsical beauty of the thread magic was one of the absolute best things I have read in any fantasy book to date. I don’t even have the words to do the justice here. Let me just say that if they made this series into movies, thread magic would make some truly mesmerizing scenes.

The last chapters took me to a whole another dimension and would have left me with a supermassive book hangover had I not lined up just the right books to cure it.

If you aren’t reading this series, you are missing out a damn lot. Grey Sister is a masterpiece and fantastic in every way to say the least.

Book Review: The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #4 of the legendary Wheel of Time series. See my reviews for the first book, the second book and the third book.

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books, since it’s inevitable when reviewing series, especially a long one like The Wheel of Time.

It took me forever to start, since SPFBO and some new releases came along. I have missed whe WoT world until I finally got to reading The Shadow Rising.

The beginning chapters are dynamite, featuring the girls and Mat’s gambling with fireworks. Things get pretty interesting. I found some of the early parts featuring Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne a bit too slow, but it picked up in no time. The Shadow Rising features the most stunning part I have seen in the series so far: The history of Aiel through Rand’s perspective. That is one of the coolest things I’ve read in fantasy.

Now let me say a few things about the characters. Character development didn’t fall short of my expectations. I was hella annoyed with Faile in The Dragon Reborn and found her repulsive, but she actually grew into a super cool figure. Kind of reminded me of Mike Fletcher’s unlikeable characters you love in the next book (the books are Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth for the unitiated.)

Pining romance is one of my pet peeves in fantasy and it annoyed me in a few places, but it was hell of a lot less than the previous volumes, especially the Game of Houses stuff. I gotta say I missed the political intrigue, there was some political intrigue in this book but not nearly enough. The other badass scenes more than made up for it, though, so no complaints there.

I loved Elayne’s and Faile’s character development above all else. The amazing detail of new places, cultures and especially the Aiel parts were great. There are some crazy twists that left me with my jaw hanging open. Robert Jordan’s storytelling is ever so impressive. Tanchico was far grittier than any other city in the previous books, not just the setting but the politics and the relations between different groups.
The Shadow Rising is quite a bit darker and just as intense, and I have a feelings things will get darker still.

I can’t wait to read book 5!

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: 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!

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!