Saturday, April 18, 2015

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

A quiet week this time around:
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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.

A few new digital additions this week . . .

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold  by Peter V. Brett
From the dangerous world of the Demon Cycle comes the early adventures of Arlen, Peter V. Brett’s quintessential fantasy hero. These exciting origin tales follow Arlen as he learns to navigate a world where the elemental forces of evil conjure themselves from the earth each night.

Humanity has barely survived a demonic onslaught by using magical wards that protect their cities and homes. Only a handful of mercenaries and explorers risk traveling after the sun sets. Arlen, seeking adventure and fortune, is barely protected by the warded armor upon which he has inscribed intricate defensive runes. From a journey ferrying a wagonload of dynamite to a mountain stronghold, to a dangerous mission to recover desert treasures, Arlen faces friends and enemies with a strong arm and a cunning wit.


Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.

Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Daishini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…


Cattle Cult! Kill! Kill! by M.P. Johnson
Strange things happen in the parts of Wisconsin where nobody is looking. Catspaw is one of those parts.

After his car crashes in Catspaw, Renny watches his girlfriend, Sera, dragged away by men wearing severed cow heads as masks. He follows them into the snow-soaked wasteland of Wisconsin and slips face-first into a sordid underworld of vicious farmers. He fights to overcome his innate inability to do anything right, but can only watch helplessly as Sera is eaten alive, the first sacrifice for the resurrection of a forgotten god of agriculture – Bovikraaga. She will not be the last…

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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.

With my review schedule all caught up for a couple of weeks, I'm using this time to dive deep into the first 5 of my assigned reads in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. On tap for this week are:

1.    Stoo Goff – Knights of Elevar
2.    Blair MacGregor – Sand of Bone
3.    Rick Chiantaretto – Death of the Body
4.    Steve Muse – Heir of Nostalgia
5.    Lila Lestrange – Black Silk

In addition, since we're off on a mini vacation this weekend, I decided to dig deep into the stacks and reacquaint myself with the the non-Abrams expanded universe of Star Trek. Seriously, his films left such a sour taste in my mouth, it's taken me this long to feel upto exploring the universe again. Revelation and Dust by David R. George III is the first book of The Fall miniseries, which (in hindsight) was the wrong book to begin with. Rather than encounter any more spoilers (and there have been some HUGE ones), I've decided to stop where I am and reverse engines back to the Destiny miniseries from David Mack, before docking with with Typhon Pact next, and then returning to The Fall. I think I have my summer reading cut out for me.

What's topping your shelves this week?

A to Z Challenge: Power Protocol Peril

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Protocol Peril (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"The Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch has the Earth Sphere Alliance bound by treaties with their alien trading partners to honor their laws and extradite people who break them, with judgements handed down by a Multicultural Tribunal. Many of the alien crimes, punishable by death or Fate Worse Than Death, are acts that would be completely innocent in the eyes of humans - say, stepping on the wrong sort of plant. This is why there are agencies to Disappear people who run afoul of them, trackers that hunt them for the law and retrieval artists working outside the law who may bring them back for other reasons."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Horror Review: Positive by David Wellington

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

Given that I've grown rather tired of zombies, dystopian futures, and coming of age angst, it's surprising how much I enjoyed Positive. It's neither great literature nor a genre blockbuster, but David Wellington's latest is an entertaining tale of survival against all odds with just enough flourishes of creativity to (almost) balance out the moments of deus ex machina.

This is a story told in arcs, the first of which is actually the most interesting, as it establishes the world one generation removed from the zombie outbreak. He doesn't attempt to explain it, just acknowledges that it happened, as the focus is on survival in the new world created by the collapse. This is a world where America is in ruins, the water is toxic, and highways are abandoned, and the zombies are still wandering the wilderness. There are some exquisite set pieces here, including the flooded subway tunnels of Manhattan and the bombed out town of Trenton, and they provide much of the appeal.

The characters, unfortunately, are rather thin and undeveloped. Finnegan is forced to grow, but he does so in leaps and bounds, trading his youthful naivete overnight for a jaded sort of street sense. Those around him are really just playing roles, and we never get deep inside their thoughts or their emotions. The villains are, not surprisingly, the most interesting of the bunch, but even they're largely one-dimensional. Adare is a pragmatic survivalist who doesn't mind looting to stay alive, and he's actually be almost respectable if it wasn't for his predilection for underaged girls. Red Kate I thought had some real potential, and I kept waiting for some deeper layers to be revealed, but she never rises above her bad-ass road pirate role. Anubis and his skeleton cult sounded promising, but he's left completely off the page, and all we get to see are the stalkers to preach the doctrine of sacrifice.

All that aside, it really is an interesting tale of survival, with the second story arc introducing us to the looters, outlaw towns, and corruption within the army. The third arc gets rather dark, as we discover that some things really are to good to be true, and that sometimes one man's sanctuary is another's prison. The final act, though, is the strongest of the them all, as we bear witness to an act of rebuilding, an attempt that everybody thinks is ludicrous, but which earns the respect of even the army. Of course, this is also the act where everything comes to a head, and all the enemy forces converge on Finn and his people, but it's well-plotted with some real moments of sorrow and drama.

If you're as tired of zombie novels as I am, then rest assured that Positive is a novel about the survivors, not the zombies. It's a post-apocalyptic sort of morality tale, one in which the evil are punished, the good suffer, and hope shines through. It has its flaws, no doubt about it, but it's a legitimate page-turner right through to the end.


Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Expected publication: April 21st 2015 by Harper Voyager

A to Z Challenge: Only You Can Repopulate My Race

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Only You Can Repopulate My Race (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"Parodied in Terry Pratchett's Eric, where Eric has typical adolescent male fantasies of all-female kingdoms in the jungle who regularly kidnap men and make them live with them for certain services only men can provide until they die of exhaustion. However, these "certain services" are more along the lines of mowing lawns, changing lightbulbs, killing spiders and sorting out strange noises in the attic."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tough Travels with . . . Awesome Displays of Magic

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: AWESOME DISPLAYS OF MAGIC

Sometimes magic can be subtle. Who wants that? Big explosions or acts of creation, death and destruction or acts of awe inspiring wonder. If your world has magic then why not show it off?

For starters, let's take a look at The Runelords by David Farland. This is a series that's all about awesome displays of magic. Unfortunately, it's also a series that struggles to keep topping itself with those displays, often at the expense of character building or plot, but the first 2 or 3 books are well worth reading. Basically, this is a world where attributes such as strength and charisma can be magically transferred from one person to another. Runelords who gorge themselves on these endowments become superhuman - and when one becomes too superhuman, the other just gets another endowment, becoming more superhuman, so the other gets another endowment . . . and the cycle continues.


As much as I felt his Mistborn Trilogy lost steam after the first book, suffering from the absence of my favorite character, there's no question Brandon Sanderson knows how to establish kick-ass magical systems. There are actually 3 kinds of magic in the series, but it's allomancy that really provides the awesome. Basically, allomancers eat small bits of metal and 'burn' them internally, providing them with different abilities, based on the metal (strength from pewter, enhanced vision from tin, etc.). Kelsier and Vin are not only able to burn metals, but flare them as well, providing them with even more (temporary) awesome. Their metals of choice are iron and steel, which allow them to either pull or push on other metals, giving them the power to magically race across the rooftops like the bastard child of Spider-Man and a mutant mistress of parkour.


Robert Jordan put a lot of thought into the magic of The Wheel of Time, and it goes far beyond the awesome of the One Power and the taint on saidin. For starters, there's traveling, the art of opening magical portal that allow armies to basically teleport across the world - except these portals are razor edged, removing limbs that don't make it cleanly through, and slicing travelers in two if they don't make it through before the doorway slams shut. Far more awesome than that, though, is the magic of balefire - think a magical laser beam that not only obliterates everything in its path, but actually erases those targets from history so that they're not just dead, they never existed . . . and nothing they've accomplished ever happened.


Before it got all preachy and philosophical, the Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind was actually a solid epic fantasy trilogy with two awesome displays of magic. First of all we have the Confessor's touch, a magical touch through which a Confessor breaks the mind and will of her target, making him or her completely, unconditionally, and helplessly in her thrall. It ensures loyalty and answers, but at the cost of one's sense of self. Next we have the Sword of Truth itself, a weapon wielded by Richard Rahl, that allows him to cut through lies, falsehoods, and deceptions, cutting through anything (no matter how strong or well-protected) that the wielder thinks of as an enemy, but refusing to touch anyone Richard considers a friend or ally.


The Night's Edge series from Julie E. Czerneda has one of the most awesome displays of magic in recent memory. Jenn Nalynn is turnborn, cursed to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, but possessed of an incredible magical power that's basically wishes made real. The first time she uses it, she transforms the dragon's spirit that's been watching over her into a crippled young man. The second time she uses it, she changes the personality of another young man, forcing him to obey her simple command. It gets to the point, as she comes into her power, that very moods are able to subconsciously reshape the world around her, changing behaviors and even the weather to suit her whims.


Finally, simply because I can't resist the temptation to dabble in the dark side, I have to wrap things up with The Rage of Kings from Andy Remic. Orlana the Changer is a cold, cruel, stunningly beautiful sorceress with absolutely no regard for anything but her own motivations who clawed her way back up from the underworld to take a second crack at power. Where does the awesome come in? Well, she is the mistress of the splice, allowing her to create monstrous creatures by magically twisting horses, lions, bears, orcs, and men into terrible, tortured, twisted creatures. She could do it neatly and cleanly, but she is deliberately imperfect, using the tortured nature of her armies to fuel their rage and hunger, and to instill even more fear in their enemies.

A to Z Challenge: No Heterosexual Sex Allowed

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have No Heterosexual Sex Allowed (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"In A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer, heterosexual sex is allowed, but next to impossible for unmarried women, as men are so scarce. This leads to female prostitutes who try to appear as masculine as possible so attract female customers."