Saturday, November 22, 2014

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Another great week with some big titles making their way through my hands:


Congrats to Erin M on being the lucky winner of Prince Lestat!

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Nothing new in the mail this week but, on the digital front, new arrivals included What's Dead Pussykat by Sam Stone (which caught my eye with it's promise of gargoyle-like monsters and a gaggle of vampire women), Journals of Horror edited by Terry M. West (which he offered up after my review of his novel earlier this week), A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda (which I'm still hoping will land on my doorstop as a physical review copy, but I just couldn't wait any longer), and The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (which I've been meaning to read for ages now, so an omnibus edition is very attractive).

 

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf:

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
It's been a while since I last read Anne Rice, and I never expected to see another vampire tale but here it is. If you've yet to snag a copy, stop by on Monday for our Q&A and giveaway.

• Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
A surprise review title that arrived on my doorstep and immediately caught my attention with its promise of  a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fantasy Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

In a stunning follow-up to The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley builds upon the character-driven adventure of the first book, expanding the history, mythology, and world-building to suitably epic proportions. More than that, The Providence of Fire reveals the treachery of the first book to be merely the opening gambit in a complex, wide-ranging game of conquest and rebellion.

Like the first book, this second volume follows our three protagonists - Adare, Valyn, and Kaden - through their own journeys to discover the truth about the situation in the Annurian capital, and to avenge the death of their father.

Those who felt Adare got shortchanged in the first book will find the narrative balance more to their liking here, although they may not necessarily like her role in the affairs of the Unhewn Throne. In fact, none of the siblings come off as entirely noble or heroic here, with each of them forced to make difficult choices, and ever more difficult alliances. Valyn starts out strongly, but slowly withdraws from the foreground as the book progresses, largely riding the wave of circumstance and waiting for his opportunity. As a result, the women of his wing get to step up and become narrative POV characters themselves. Kaden has a lot to say and even more to do, and there's no doubt he forcefully claims his role as a leader of empires, but his approach is not quite what we've come to expect. Having said that, he definitely grows and develops the most of anybody here, and you have to respect his ability to seize every opportunity and twist it to his own purposes.

None of that is a complaint, however, merely an observation of how much is going on in the novel. There are plots and counter-plots aplenty, with multiple armies on the march, and far more threats to the throne than were hinted at in the first book. Where I felt Staveley stumbled a bit in the plotting of The Emperor's Blades, I did say at the time that I suspected much of the story had yet to be revealed. Wow, was I ever right! As we discover, the empire is under siege from without and within, with spiritual, mythological, historical, and political foes each having a hand in the war that's brewing. By the end of this second volume, the entire conflict has been turned on its head, and we're left wondering what version of events we can trust. What originally seemed to merely be a play for power, a plot to seize the throne, may be a well-intentioned effort to save the empire from its own failings, or merely the opening gambit in a genocidal disaster.

The Providence of Fire is a massive tome - about 25% longer than the first book - that demands your full attention. It's a complex, complicated story, but that's precisely the kind of depth I was looking for here. It's just as well-written as the first, with the words flowing naturally upon the page, and the political strategies are just as fascinating as the battles. I'm not entire sure where he's heading with things, but I do hope the immortal/mythological element doesn't overwhelm the human struggle. It certainly adds an interesting facet to the tale, and really calls into question everything we assumed we knew about the events of the first book, but the siblings have to remain legitimate protagonists for the series to work. Fortunately, I think it's clear Staveley understands that balance, and I suspect there's still more complexities to be revealed as we move into book three.

Most definitely recommended.


Hardcover, 608 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Tor Books

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tough Travels – Missing Heirs

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: MISSING HEIRS

MISSING HEIRS occur with great frequency. At any given time, half the countries in Fantasyland will have mislaid their crown princess/prince.

I struggled a bit with this one, which is rather surprising given how common the theme of lost, hidden, or missing heirs is in the genre. Regardless, here are the sagas that came to mind for me:

While most people remember The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien as the story of a hobbit, a wizard, and a ring, a huge part of it revolves around the need to restore the rightful king of Gondor back to his throne. The identity of that heir is a driving force in the first half of the saga, but at this point I think we all know that it's Aragorn who is the hidden heir, a descendant of the Kings of the West.


The original Farseer Trilogy from Robin Hobb is a variation on this theme, with FitzChivalry being a hidden bastard and heir to the throne. He gives up his right to the throne, however, and agrees to serve the King as a trained assassin. His lineage becomes more and more important as the series goes on, and while there are hints or suggestions that the world would be better off were he to step up and claim the throne, this is that rare fantasy saga where the hidden heir remains just that - hidden.


The Memory Sorrow And Thorn series by Tad Williams features a young protagonist by the name of Simon (later Simeon) who was raised as an orphaned foundling, with a a gold ring that eventually reveals his true heritage as a descendant of the former Fisher King. It's this secret heritage that makes it possible for him to marry his true love at the end of the saga, a royal daughter of the current ruling lineage.


One of the key elements of the Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is the story of Daenerys Targaryen, the last descendant of the historic rulers of Westeros, and the only surviving child of King Aerys II, who was deposed during Robert's Rebellion. Exiled far across the Narrow Sea to Dragonstone island, she is slowly gathering allies in a long-gestating plan to take back the throne of her ancestors - starting with the Dothraki. Oh, and she just happens to be the one responsible or bringing dragons back into the world, which is (of course) awesome. Jon Snow is suspected to be a hidden heir as well, but so far that's just a theory, without the full backstory being revealed.


Perhaps the best example of a hidden heir, however, is the Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling. Here we have a young man, the king's nephew, growing up far from the throne. As it turns out, however, Tobin is really a young woman by the name of Tamir, the true Queen. With the usurper king killing any girl child with even a minor claim to the throne, darkest magic was used to disguise her as a boy, raising her ignorant of not only her true heritage, but her true gender. This is an incredibly powerful work of fantasy, with a very dark sort of fairy tale feel to it, that did an amazing job of dealing with the difficulties of hiding, revealing, and restoring an heir.

Horror Review: Heroin in the Magic Now by Terry M. West

Damn! Heroin in the Magic Now is some dark, weird, perverse stuff. It crosses so many boundaries, and obliterates so many taboos, it's hard to determine whether it's genius or just pure filth. The truth is, what Terry M. West has crafted is a bit of both, but it makes for one hell of a read.

Our story is set in a filthy, apocalyptic version of New York City, one where homeless zombies lay sprawled on the sidewalk, just down the street from creepy old vendors selling magical charms, and just around the corner from undead hookers who make the filthiest junkie prostitute of the real world look clean and healthy. It may be infested with monsters, but it's still a city of indifference, where nobody gives a damn about anybody else.

As the story opens, a pair of underground porn producers are meeting with the lead singer of the Bloody Carnivores (an anarcho-punk / extreme metal band) to discuss a promo video for their new album. The first act of the story is all about the making of that post-apocalyptic snuff film. It's actually a very well written bit of fiction, one that captures the very essence of such a disgusting experience with some very dark humor. The film itself stars an insecure young vampire and a prima donna werewolf, with a heroin addict directing, and a towering middle aged transvestite behind the camera.

Of course, any porn film with a surprise snuff ending is likely to have consequences, and the undead aren't too happy with anybody involved . . . even if Gary does agree to work for the other side of the grave and follow up that effort by filming the "Gone with the Wind of zombie porn." No matter how gross, how nasty, or how vile you can imagine that might be, you've still got a long way to go before descending to the true depths of West's perversions.

Heroin in the Magic Now is an incredibly bleak tale, full of monstrous perversions, and saturated sexual gore. It is not, by any means, a tale for weak stomachs or innocent minds. If you're okay with that, it's actually a very well-written slice of grim horror, with an extraordinary effective tone and atmosphere. Each scene is dripping with darkness, with emotions laid bare upon the page. Equally disturbing and powerful, it's a story that won't get the audience it deserves, but which should be appreciated all the more for it.


Paperback, 190 pages
Published August 27th 2014 by Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Canada

Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.


I was fortunate enough to have an ARC of this land on my doorstop back in September (complete with an origami owl), and it definitely caught my eye. I like the idea of a modern "Indiana Jane" taking center stage in an urban fantasy, and I'm always anxious to read more Canadian authors.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Urban Fantasy Review: Max Cutter and The First Black Book by Jacob Tate

For some reason I had it in my head that this was an Indiana Jones type adventure, with perhaps a dash of Dirk Pitt thrown in, which made for a few awkward first chapters. Once I had a chance to check out the cover blurb online, and reset my expectations to urban fantasy monster fun, I settled right in and enjoyed myself.

Before we get into the story itself, I have to say Max Cutter and The First Black Book is an odd sort of narrative. At first, I found that it read a lot like a YA novel that's been spiced up for adults, in that it's often silly and juvenile, and some of the characters are as thin as their motivations. Eventually, however, I found myself adjusting to Jacob Tate's sense of humor, and I realized he was just having fun, conventions of the genre be damned.

As for Max, once I aligned myself to Tate's sense of humor, I quite liked him. He's neither the perfect hero nor the bumbling sidekick, but something in between. Imagine, if you will, Xander Harris (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) all grown up, out of school, and investigating those myths and monsters dismissed by Giles. That should give you a good sense of who Max is and why he rides that fine line between embarrassing and entertaining. Fortunately for me, I always like Xander, so Max and I hit it off perfectly.

The other characters don't get nearly that level of depth, with many of them no more than names and faces. The villains of the piece are worthy of Max's attention, and even if I would have liked them to be a bit more rounded, they're entirely suitable to the tale. In fact, they propel the novel much deeper into old fashioned, supernatural horror than you might expect from the way the book begins, but that darker edge served to balance the humor, redeeming (and even justifying) some of Max's sillier moments of cocky vanity.

Overall, this was a quick, fun read that doesn't require too much thought. It moves at a quick pace, has an easy style, and enough imagination to back it all up. It's also full of pop culture references - some of them so subtle I wondered if it were wish fulfillment on my part, and others so obvious you can feel Tate hitting you over the head. The chapters were a bit short for my tastes (I found the breaks distracting), but that does seem to be part and parcel for the genre. As indie efforts go, Max Cutter and The First Black Book isn't just a decent read, it's the start of a promising new series.


Paperback, First Edition, 272 pages
Published April 6th 2014 by NCB Publishing