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Saturday, July 22, 2017

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

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.



Just the one new title this week, but one I've been looking forward to - The Mongrel Mage by L. E. Modesitt Jr. 



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Weekly Recap

Fantasy Review: Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

Waiting on Wednesday - The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins

Coming up this week, a guest post from Dan Jolley, author of Grey Widow's Web.


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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.

On the e-reader, I just starting Straight Outta Fangton by C.T. Phipps, and in hardcover, I'm deep into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams.

   

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fantasy Review: Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

Few authors can pull off the delicate combination of horror and fantasy. It's something of an awkward dance of genres, even when you're stretching the definition of fantasy with something like the grimdark movement. When you're talking heroic/epic fantasy, it becomes even more of a challenge, and yet Gail Z. Martin has done it again.

Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel is a book that opens with the exorcism of a violent, vengeful spirit, and then immediately leaps into a lynch mob extermination of a nest of undead, fast zombie-like monsters. It is almost like an urban fantasy in epic fantasy clothing, with some contemporary influences (like Buffy & Supernatural) that I'm sure many readers will catch along the way, but regardless of genre, when your heroes are undertakers, you know you're in for an unusual read.

This has all the hallmarks of a Gail Z. Martin novel. First of all, you have strong, complex characters with personalities, involved in real, often messy relationships. The Valmonde brothers are at the heart of it all - with all the bickering, infighting, and brotherly camaraderie you'd expect - but they're surrounded by an equally strong cast of supporting characters, and one of the more entertaining villains you are likely to come across in Lord Mayor Machison.

Second, you have a full, deep mythology, complimented by some exemplary world-building. The supernatural here is only half the story, but it is a fantastic half that delivers on all the promise of ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and more. On the more mundane side, it has the familiar flavor of a medieval fantasy, but with a strong political aspect involving merchant princes and trade guilds of Ravenwood. There is a little bit of info dumping, but it is crucial to the plot, even if it does drag the story down a bit.

On that note, there are some pacing issues with the book that may bother some readers. While it has a frantic, kick-ass opening, there are some prolonged lulls in the middle of the book, and the conclusion feels rather sudden. Part of that is due to the narrow focus, keeping the three brothers at the heart of the action. While a few more POV characters may have helped with the pace, they would have felt out-of-place in a story that belongs to Corran, Rigan, and Kell. Really, so long as you remember that this is the opening chapter of a new series, the pacing (and info dumping) is completely understandable.

If you're okay with swapping dragons for monsters and armies for merchants, with a family of undertakers as your unorthodox heroes, Scourge is a fun read that does something unique within a crowded genre. Well worth a read.

Paperback, 400 pages
Published July 11, 2017 by Solaris

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday - The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins

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

The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins
Expected publication: August 29, 2017 by Orbit

Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit in this rollicking fantasy adventure series.

The Dragons who once ruled over the land are dead.

The motley crew that stumbled through that revolution are rich and praised as saviors.

Everyone gets to live happily ever after, right?

Right?

Well, it might have worked out that way if the dragons in Kondorra had been the only ones. If they hadn't been just the tip of the spear about to fall upon the whole world...


Okay, so I still need to catch up with The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold, but the paperback is sitting here beside me, waiting patiently for its turn. How can you resist "Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit"?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

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

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.



No new review titles this week, but I did make a few purchases.

The Black Elfstone: The Fall of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Pharaoh's Secret by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington


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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.

On the e-reader, I should be finishing Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z. Martin this weekend, with Wraith Knight or Straight Outta Fangton by C.T. Phipps next, in hardcover, I'm deep into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams.

   

   

What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington

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

An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington  
Expected publication: August 22nd 2017 by Orbit

The second book in the acclaimed Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

"Love The Wheel of Time? This is about to become your new favorite series." - B&N SF & Fantasy Blog

"Fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will find much to admire." - Guardian

In the wake of a devastating attack, an amnesty has been declared for all Augurs-finally allowing them to emerge from hiding and openly oppose the dark forces massing against the land of Andarra. As the Augur Davian and his new allies hurry north toward the ever-weakening Boundary, however, fresh horrors along their path suggest that their reprieve may have come far too late.

His ally in the Capital, the new Northwarden, contends with assassins and politicians, and uncovers a dangerous political secret. Meanwhile, their compatriot Asha begins a secret investigation into the disappearance of the Shadows.

And Caeden races against time to fulfill his treacherous bargain with the Lyth, but as more and more of his memories return, he begins to realise that the two sides in this ancient war may not be as clear-cut as they first seemed...


I have to admit, Islington's debut slipped my notice when it first hit shelves, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. My copy of The Shadow of What Was Lost, the first book of The Licanius Trilogy, arrived this morning, so I shouldn't be too long in catching up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fantasy Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

I was honestly getting tired of the whole grimdark scene. I felt it was becoming monotonous and repetitive. It wasn't the darkness or the absence of hope that bothered me, it was something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. As soon as I picked up Blackwing, I realized what that something else was.

Imagination. Wonder. Awe.

Yes, grimdark has become so obsessed with finding new ways to drag the reader down into horror and depression that it's lost sight of those soaring emotions that the fantasy genre, as a whole, has always provoked. Ed McDonald clearly recognizes that, and in Blackwing he's given us a novel that manages to be GDAF while still provoking that classic sense of wonder and awe.

This is almost a new genre, an epic, post-apocalyptic, grimdark fantasy that's full of imagination (and horror). It has been eighty years since the climactic battle that ends most epic fantasy sagas, a victory (of a sort) won at an unbelievable cost. The magical destruction wrought by Nall's 'Engine' has left a wasteland of ghosts, tainted magic, and monsters between two kingdoms. The looming threat represented by that weapon of mass destruction did nothing to end the conflict, however. It just twisted open warfare into a monstrous sort of terrorism, complete with the magical equivalent of suicide bombers and child assassins.

The problem is, there's a very real chance that Nall's 'Engine' is broken, and the agents of Deep Kings are anxious to determine the truth.

From beginning to end, this is Captain Galharrow's tale. He is the protagonist, point-of-view, and conscience of the tale. A scarred and bitter veteran of too many conflicts, he's as haunted by his past as the world is by its future. At first, he just seems like your typical hard-edged anti-hero, but there is genuine depth to his character that goes along with his tragic backstory. Despite having fallen into a life as a bounty hunter, magically tied and indebted to more than one sorcerer, he is a good man for whom the end always justifies the means, so long as he is the one to pay the price. Ezabeth, the other character of note here, is an interesting woman and an even more fascinating catalyst for the story. She is a woman of mystery, capable of astounding feats of magic, and yet scarred by her own past. We spend as much of the book wondering whether she recognizes Galharrow for who he is as we do contemplating whether she is truly mad.

As much as I enjoyed it, I did have one challenge with the book. What we see of the world is fantastically detailed, and the mythology of the Nameless and the Deep Kings is intriguing, but we never really get a sense of the world itself. Much of that is due to us being tied to Galharrow as a point-of-view character - we only know what he knows - but I feel like the story could have used something like a campfire story or a drunken recollection of how the world used to be, what lies beyond their stronghold, or what the cities beyond the Misery are said to be like. Without that context, it almost feels as if these god-like forces are fighting over a whole lot of nothing.

Blackwing not only had one of the greatest opening chapters I have read in ages, it had a finale that was worthy of the story leading up to it. So many epic fantasies seem to fall apart at the end, with a climax that simply cannot compete with the expectations we've built as readers, but McDonald delivered on every aspect of it. I'm not sure where Ravens' Mark heads next, but I'm definitely curious to see where it takes us.


Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Expected publication: July 27th 2017 by Gollancz

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from Gollancz in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.