Wednesday 30 April 2008

Amazon Reviews

Was just over at Rachel Caine's (Weather Wardens) livejournal.

Her post of 28th April Taking up John Scalzi's 1 star Challenge is well worth a read.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop

This is the Kelley Armstrong bookclub book for April.

I will admit to being slightly worried about this one after reading a couple of reviews, and it's a hardback. But I like to take part in the book discussion on Kelley's site, so thought I'd risk it.

So this review comes with a caveat. I love the Black Jewels series, I love the world and the mythology. I'm familiar with the trilogy, and the anthology, and I've read the previous standalone novel. The review grade I guess, is for other readers who've done the same. I don't think I could recommend this book to anyone unless they had at least read the trilogy. You need the background, I think, to get the most out of the story. If you haven't read the trilogy and like dark fantasy I heartily recommend it. :)

I think the Dear Reader at the beginning of the book is important, it says what this story is, a tale set after the epic battle has been fought. It's a what happened next. It's a catching up with old friends, who now deal with family problems instead of major catastrophes.

So Tangled Webs follows the Sa Diablo family in the aftermath of the events of the trilogy and takes place after the short story in the Dreams Made Flesh anthology. The story is told from multiple points of view. We catch up with Lucivar and Marian, Daemon and Jaenelle, Saetan, Surreal and Rainier. Jaenelle has decided she's going to 'build' a spooky house to scare the Landen families as they don't understand what being Blood really means. At the same time an author is looking for a new story to tell, and in Jaenelle's spooky house he sees a way to manipulate events to spark his own creative drive.

The beginning of the story is more a series of vignettes about the various family members. How they're coping (or not coping) with normal family life. For me this took a little getting into and the spooky house doesn't really come into play until you're well into the book.

The second half of the book follows Surreal and Rainier as they and several landen children try to escape from the Spooky house trap that has been set for them. As Surreal says :-
"Someone has cast us as the lead characters in a mystery about a house that's trying to kill us. Does that about sum it up?"
At the same time we see what Daemon, Lucivar and Jaenelle are doing to rescue them. Anne Bishop doesn't pull her punches. This is still a world where terrible things can and do happen.

There's some wonderful dialogue and set pieces, plus the characters are so familiar now, you can picture everything that's happening as the story unfolds.

"I had considered making a sign that said 'I have a sharp knife and a large Warlord Prince' and floating it over my head, but I don't want to tell anyone about the knife until after I use it, and anyone dumb enough not to notice you deserves to get knocked into a wall."

I think if you aren't a fan of the books you're going to come away thinking nothing much happened. But I guess it depends on why you're reading. There's something about the Black Jewels books that always leaves me wanting more. Just something about that world that fascinates and I hope there are many more books to come.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Lady of Mercy - Michelle Sagara West

Lady of Mercy is the third book in the Sundered Quadrology. This is the Benbella reissue published in 2006. I think the reason this has been on my TBR pile for a while is that unlike some series, I don't know where or how the story is going to go. So it's not like I can think - I fancy reading some light urban fantasy, or a crime thriller. The plot isn't clearly signposted and in the course of the first two books some awful things happen. So not really a series I'd recommend if you're feeling a little bit down. In Book 3 I have no idea whether the characters will succeed or fail on their quest, only that they will try.

The story picks up virtually straight from the end of Book 2. Erin and Darin have left Stefanos (First of the Dark Sundered) behind. Erin has remembered who she was and wants to free the people that Stefanos has enslaved. She and Darin join forces with a mage - Trethar, and a thief - Robert. They journey to Marantine where they will fight the first battle in the new war between Light and Dark.

Plotwise you could argue not a lot happens here - Erin and Darin join forces with the deposed crown Prince of Marantine, and journey to Marantine with the intention of ridding the Dark Church from the city, and restoring the rightful monarch to the throne.

However, within this story so much else happens. It's a book of what happens between, between finding out the truth and ending the war. Erin remembers who she is, she remembers the fate of Belfas, Kandor and the warriors who came to kill Stefanos so many centuries ago. They are now tied to a dark place, an anchor for her immortality, and as long as she lives they cannot pass over. Erin blood vows to destroy all that Stefanos built up for the Dark. She says she hates him now, but a part of her misses him.

She also discovers the truth about The Lady of Elliath, that her grandmother knew the fate of her mother and father and did nothing to stop it. A very bitter pill for her to swallow.

This is really a story where things start coming together. And unlike the previous two books, it has many light moments. Most of which come from the character of Robert/Renar. Though this optimism and hope, is countered by Erin and Darin's more sombre attitudes.
"Gods, Renar, you stink."
"Really? How kind of you to say so."
Don't become too complacent though, there are still moments in the story that cut like a knife.

There are two more major characters who Erin and Darin meet up with as they flee Mordantari. Trethar an old mage who takes Darin on as his student and teaches him how to call the fire that comes from neither the dark, nor the light. And Robert a foppish thief, who is hiding a secret. Indeed, that's a big thing in this book - characters hiding the truth of themselves, keeping secrets, wearing 'masks', and secrets being found out.

The story starts quite slowly but builds as the quest gains momentum. In particular there are two scenes that stood out for me in the second half of the book. The first a scene between Renar and Erin on the night before they try to take back the city of Marantine. He is fighting this battle to restore Marantine, to give the people back the life they have lost. But she has only ever known war, from the time she was very small until now. She has no concept of a 'life' outside that conflict. They dance together in the training room, and he tries to show her a little of the life they are fighting for.

The second is actually multiple scenes - the battle itself. Told in short bursts from the points of view of many characters. It gives a small idea of the confusion of such a situation. Very well written.

Stefanos only makes a very brief appearance. Also in the first half of the story Erin takes a back seat to what's happening to Darin, Robert and Trethar. But the characters in this story are so well drawn, everything is moving the plot forward.

There is a very important quote that Erin uses to persuade a bereaved father/grandfather to join the fight.
"Do not turn that love inward; it was never meant to be a weapon."
The reason I think this is important is that this is something she is doing, she has turned her love for Stefanos into a weapon. But deep down inside she knows 'it was never meant to be a weapon'.

Just to mention there is a whacking big twist at the end of this story. I almost suspected it, but not quite, so it still had my mouth dropping open. :) It's the sort of twist that makes you want to read the whole book again because you know it's going to alter your perception of events.

One little niggle is that the term Pyrrhic victory is used twice. And this is a fantasy book set in another world, but the term refers to a specific battle which actually took place in 279 B.C.

Finally at the end. Sargoth (the Second) manipulates the First of the Darkness. And soon Erin and Stefanos will meet on the field of battle once more. I almost dread reading Book 4, this hasn't been the sort of series where happy endings are guaranteed. But I so want to know what happens next.

Monday 14 April 2008

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

First off I feel I have to apologize, because I read this during the worst of my flu, and I don't think I did it justice. So it's very possible on any other day it would have got an A.

This is the Kelley Armstrong book for June I think. I know because I'm the one who nominated it. This is the other reason I think I may have been more harsh than usual. Do you ever get that, when you anticipate a book so much to the point where you're almost rabid to get it. Then when you do it's not quite what you thought - of course this could also be a side effect of my flu. So at some point (probably before I get book 2 or June) I will have to read Grimspace again. At which point I will probably appreciate it much more, and I will post accordingly.

On with the review.

Sirantha Jax is the carrier of a rare gene, which gives her the ability to jump ships through grimspace. This talent shortens her life expectancy but allows her to work as a navigator for the Corp, who can then provide Interstellar travel to the paying customer. When the ship she's navigating crashes, Jax is imprisoned and interrogated. But she has no memory of the crash. When March breaks into her cell and offers to help her, she accepts his offer, because she really has no place left to go. But the Corp aren't going to let her go that easily.

I've read in several reviews that Grimspace has been compared to Firefly and Serenity (and I'd add a little Pitch Black), and I think that's a good comparison. If you like those shows I see no reason why you wouldn't like this book. It's full of quotable dialogue, action set pieces and quite a bit of running about.

If I had a problem it was that for my flu-addled brain it didn't quite hang together. The story is well written and engaging, but at certain points I couldn't always follow what was going on.

The other problem (which is kind of tied to the first problem) I had was with it being written in first person point of view (POV). Now I read a lot of Urban Fantasy so it's not the actual first person that's the problem. But there are so many characters coming in and out of scenes, as soon as they leave the POV's sphere of influence you don't get to find out what happened to them, it left me feeling like there were gaps in the story. Plus I don't think I quite got to know Jax as well as I could have. So I hope maybe in a future book Ann Aguirre would go back and tie up those loose ends.

On the positive side, there was much more that I liked about the story.

  • It's original. It read much more like Urban Fantasy in space, than space opera. So definitely one I'd recommend for UF fans looking for something a little different.
  • It's absolutely chockful of quotable dialogue. And regular visitors to the blog will know how much I love quotable dialogue.
    "It occurs to me that, for the sake of symmetry, I should probably kill him."

    "For this "reconnaissance" mission - although the chances are he'll do no more than fact-find are slim - the choices are an alien who can't fight, a geneticist who won't fight, a scholar who would piss his pants in a fight, and Dina, who's in charge of acquiring supplies."
  • It's written realistically. When Jax has to fly the ship when she's never flown before, she doesn't suddenly become an ace pilot. She just about manages to steer in a straight line. (Okay, not even that).
  • Things go wrong. It's gritty and real. These are not people who never make mistakes. They are people who make mistakes and have to deal with consequences and move on.
  • As noted in the above quote, I like that each member of the crew is an individual. They each have their own history and their own reason for being there. I hope in future books we find out even more about them.
There is a romantic subplot between Jax and March, but it is pretty crammed in between the adventuring. What helps suspend your belief about the intensity of their feelings is that as pilot and navigator when they jump their thoughts merge together. There's a level of trust there that allows you to believe they could fall for each other that fast.

So overall I really enjoyed the story. And I think a re-read would probably help iron out my quibbles. I am looking forward to the next book Wanderlust and will be getting it, when it's released in August. And I'm pleased to read on Ann Aguirre's website that books 3 and 4 of the series are contracted. So we have much more Jax to look forward to.

Sunday 6 April 2008

Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong

Hope Adams, a rare Expisco half-demon, has inherited a hunger for chaos from her demon father. When Benicio Cortez asks her to go undercover in a new supernatural gang for the Cortez Cabal, it's an opportunity to feed her addiction to chaos and to pay back the favour she owes the Cabal. But before long things are spiralling out of control and Hope is out of her depth. If she's to get out of this alive, she'll need more than her attraction for chaos. It will be up to Karl Marsten (werewolf) and Lucas Cortez (sorcerer) to help her survive.

I have to admit Hope is not my favourite Kelley Armstrong character. I've got the anthology with her introductory short story in my TBR pile (possibly another book for TBR day). I think I considered her my Paige Winterbourne. So I was kind of going into this thinking I wouldn't like it, or perhaps I would be disappointed. (This is the second book I've read recently where I've been underwhelmed at the prospect of the heroine, and the second time I'm happy to have been proved wrong.) :)

I know I've said this before, so feel free to skip this paragraph, but as a Kelley Armstrong fan, the thing I love about her writing is how quickly she can get you into a character's head. So almost despite myself I'm sucked into the story.

Kelley Armstrong plays a tight line in this book. Too far one way and Hope loses all sympathy with the reader. One thing Hope proves over and over throughout the story is that she's not the best judge of anyone's character. She makes assumptions about Karl's feelings but is quick to accept other people (the gang members) at face value. So I find what I like most about Hope is how her relationship with Karl is explored.

I've liked Karl since his first appearance in Bitten, so love the expanded role he now has in the series. And he and Hope make a great pair, they are two flawed people who ultimately find a home in each other.
"I've never lived with anyone, Karl."
"Neither have I."
"I drool in my sleep."
"I know. It's cute."

Karl is much older than Hope, and it's his experience of having to deal with his werewolf side that allows him to help Hope with her chaos addiction. Hope is an addict, she suffers from an addiction which she can't get away from because it's genetic. In the same way that Karl can never get away from his werewolf.

Lucas Cortez is the second narrator of Personal Demon. This dual protagonist approach allows us to experience two different sides to the story. I'm always glad when we find out more about the Cabals, since reading Industrial Magic (Book 4) it's a part of this world that fascinates me. So one of the major things that lifted this story for me is the further insight into the workings of the Cabal. You can almost feel the tentacles of the Cabal structure pulling Lucas in. And it's also pretty obvious (to me anyway) that he would be a worthy successor to his father.

This dual narration also allows us to 'see' Karl from both Hope and Lucas's point of view. Okay, it's obvious Karl is my favourite character. :)

Although I think you could read this book and enjoy it if you've not read any of the other books in the series as Hope is a relatively new character and Karl has only played a small role in the other books. There is an awful lot here that picks up on events and characters from the previous seven books. There are references back to events in Books 2,3,4 and 7. There's also a very nice (but brief) update on Clay and Elena.

And once again I find myself counting down the days 'til the next Kelley Armstrong release.