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Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Series: Book 1 in Dark Gifts series

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Del Rey Books

 

Gilded Cage is the first book in Vic James’ series that goes by the name of Dark Gifts. A story that blends human tragedy, oppressive legislature and love in an alternative world.

Luke Hadley’s world changes only days before a big test when his parents and older sister Abi announce they will all be going to Kyneston. That would not be so bad for it is one of the most opulent and grand houses in all of Britain if it was not for the fact that this meant that he was starting his slavedays. In this alternative world the nobles, here known as equals possess a magic they call Skill. As a measure to create free labor as well as to keep the citizens under control people are forced to serve ten years as slaves, working menial jobs at various facilities, in return they are afforded certain rights. Abi, the med student, has arranged for her family; mother, father, Luke, young Daisy and herself, to work at the home of the most important of the equal families: The Jardines. This would entail a cushy ten years without the hard labor others might have to endure, but once everything has been sold or packed away and goodbyes been said the harsh reality sets in. When the bus comes to collect them it is revealed that Luke will not be joining his family at Kyneston, but is instead on his way to the slavetown of Millmoor.

As the Hadleys arrive at their new home the Jardines have their own issues. There are three son; the Heir Gavar who has spawned a child with a slave, Jenner who is without skill and Silyen who is looking to end the slavedays. The two families become unavoidably intertwines when Daisy is charged with caring for the bastard Libby and Abi becomes Jenner’s secretary. The world of the equals is filled with intrigue and clandestine affairs as the chancellor is preparing to make his yearly proposal, and Gavar Jardine his impending wedding. The proposal is to end the slavedays, forced by Silyen who is the only one who can wake the man’s fiancé from her coma. Meanwhile Luke is being drafted into a secret organization at the slavetown called the club that stages random incidents.

There are many stories being told here, a full cast of characters each having their own intrigue and plot and in the end, even if there is a resolution it gets to be a bit much. Several of the plotlines are told so briefly or are only hinted at that they do not have time to marinate and they could have been better off in a sequel. For it is quite obvious that Gilded Cage is but the first in a series of books. It’s not like the story isn’t interesting, quite the contrary it is more as if some plot elements would have benefited from being prolonged and moved, while others needed more time in this first installment. The character of Luke, who spends the first part of the book in Millmoor, is moved to Kyneston for reasons best left spoiler free, but his time in the slavetown is so short when it comes to page count that the reader never gets the feeling of the horror of spending ones slavedays there. In truth the plot revolving around the equals is more interesting and more in depth than that of the Hadleys and that is really too bad since they are supposed to have an equal amount of the story.

There is much to be had from Gilded Cage and what James wants to say about the times in which we live. The divide between the wealthier classes, call them one per centers if you will, have everything and others have to slave away to even become part of our society. At times the book is a perfect blend of the romance novels that Abi reads and sometimes it is a political fantasy story that may rival the intrigue of the Tudors or G.R.R. Martin. In the end Gilded Cage is a good launching point for the world James wants to create and it will be interesting to see where it takes us.

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Genre: Fantasy/Chinosaire

Publisher: Daw books

 

Back in September 2016 we reviewed the prequel to The Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, Of Sand and Malice made, we called for more desert and more of the heroine Çeda and Bradley Beaulieu delivers nearly 600 pages of just that.

REVIEW With Blood Upon the Sand is book number two in the series The Song of the Shattered Sands and the readers once again get to follow the adventures of the once White Wolf Çeda. As to not spoil the first books for those who might become interested after this review we will avoid to delve too much into the plot. In her continued effort to bring about the downfall of the Twelve Kings, legendary tyrants of the desert landscape, Çeda has become one of the Maidens. As such she has the opportunity to fight them from the inside and free the asirim, slaves to the Kings, but loosing to The Moonless Host, a revolutionary type organization has made them vengeful and out for blood.

With Blood Upon the Sand is definitely what Empire Strikes Back was to A New Hope. It manages to delve deeper into the story and characters than the previous books, just like a sequel should, but that might be to simplify things. Even though Twelve Kings was a great read there were points one might have considered a bit too heavy and why not? The first book in a series is often used to set the scene, present the characters and add history. It gives the reader a chance to slowly immerse themselves in the setting, plots and various subplots. With that out of the way Beaulieu shows that he can flex his other muscles and flew them he does. There is a breeziness to the language of this book that was not as present in the first one. That is not to say that said language is simpler, on the contrary, but without the weight of giving detail to background and descriptions Beaulieu can concentrate on character interaction and driving the story forward; and this makes for a thrilling page turner.

What also feels different in the sequel is the fact that the story branches out in an almost vine like fashion. Twelve Kings mostly gave the reader Çeda’s point of view and her story and that was expected, but now Beaulieu flips the script and allows us more insight into the other players in this oriental drama. It is only one of the ways he manages to keep an already intriguing story alive, as well as introducing deeper plot twists, new magic and mythical objects. As stated in other reviews; the strength of a great story is to avoid the hackneyed tropes or at least reuse the same in a new and interesting way and Beaulieu shows us that he is a master of this time and time again.

At the heart of it all the same theme so common to fantasy stays true; The Heart’s Desire and the battle between good and evil, although what this desire might be or who stands on what side may be up for debate. The language is consistently strong, as is the plot, and it balances from everyday training and dialogue mixed in with an almost thriller like quality reminiscent of any Cold War drama. All in all the melding of tropes in a new cauldron brought to the boil truly results in a delicious and easily digested stew.

With Blood Upon the Sand is a perfect transition from the initial act of Twelve Kings to the inevitable climax of the next installment, it sets the stage perfectly and adds the right amount of actors, intrigue and backdrop for something awesome to come down the road.

So the call for more Çeda, more desert is coupled with more intrigue as well as cloak and dagger, bring it on and quickly.

With Blood Upon the Sand is released on February 7th and the first installments The Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and Of Sand and Malice Made are available wherever you might find books.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C. Marry Hultman

 

 


Review: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl

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Genre: Fantasy/Gothic Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

 

Familiarity in a story can be a double edged sword. It may be comforting to the reader like in romance novels purchased at the grocery store, to others it may be annoying and trite; to always know what is coming next, to not be surprised and maybe even at length be talked down to or taken for a simpleton. Naturally this might be dictated by what you read. An experienced fantasy reader with books by Stephen Donaldson, Ursula K. Leguin or Peter Beagle on their shelf might find Rowling’s Harry Potter books repetitive and borderline plagiarism. That isn’t to say that the end goal for most writers is to not turn out something new, it may be more about if the end result matches that very goal.

Eric Scott Fishcl’s Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show begins in a familiar setting, that of a traveling carnival at the end of the 19th century. To most readers a setting we know well, or at least have an idea of. It comes complete with a barker selling snake oil, a strong man, a singer and freaks. That is where the normalcy, if that can be an accurate description for a carnival, ends. The barker is Dr. Potter himself and the medicine he is trying to push is the Chock-a-saw Sagwa, a tonic that supposedly cures most ailments. He has not concocted it himself, instead there is another doctor, a Dr. Morrison Hedwith of Portland, behind the miracle drink. The Sagwa is the centerpiece of this tale of personal misery and broken figures trying to fight their obvious obstacles. As with most tonics of the age the Sagwa that Dr. Potter sells is useless, but there is a formulae that has other, more sinister effects, ones that he, the strongman Oliver, the Chinaman Fan and the proprietor of the show Lyman Rhoades desperately need. All of them are beholden to Dr. Hedwith due to dark events in their pasts and are therefore forced to help him in his twisted experiments rooted in alchemy. The very fragile balance in the medicine show is constantly threatened as the members regret their decisions, but Lyman exacts vengeance upon them regardless of their usefulness to the mission.

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is an excellent example of how to use tropes that have worked well in the past, and by disregarding those that have not successfully creating something fresh. The setting is reminiscent of TV shows like Deadwood or Ripper Street, a general melancholy  with a sense of not being able to get out of ones current situation. The descriptions and language are used in a masterful way. The reader becomes instantly immersed in the sadness and sorrow of the characters and the world they inhabit, but there is a beauty and serenity in it, very much like the poems by Baudelaire who is oft quoted by singer turned prostitute in the book. The tempo is fast paced without ever feeling rushed, composed like a thriller the story moves along with ease without ever simplifying words or uncomplicating the plot. It speaks to Fischl’s ability to trust the reader and speaking to the reader’s intelligence. He makes no excuses and the characters suffer and go through hell without mercy and it is refreshing.

Fischl is great at using a variety of tropes belonging to just as varied a genre of literature; The western, the Gothic romance, the urban fantasy, the thriller and classic horror and he uses their various strengths like a master craftsman carrying a toolbox filled with the best tools for a job. The characters are easily recognizable as being plucked from Gothic Horror of Victorian style. The crazed and unethical aristocrat, the young innocent damsel, the idealistic young hero, a horrible assistant and a slew of other figures that make up a rich gallery.

There is a lot that Fischl does right with this book. It is a story about broken people, seemingly feeling like they have no hope and a man preying on them for his own sick and twisted reasons. One could easily see the story being picked up by FX or HBO, it’s that kind of story. That is one of the truly interesting aspects, it has a contemporary feel, the way the tale is told. Fischl has his finger on the pulse of what is going culturally be it TV or genre fiction, but in a late 19th century setting. It melds the credibility of human interest with a fantastical element written well enough to suspend ones disbelief. In the end it makes for a great and wonderful read that won’t disappoint those used to fantasy, horror or suspense.

Familiarity is a double edged sword, a trap that an author might fall into if they are not careful. The waters are tricky to navigate when using tropes from genre fiction, but the ship that Fischl commandeers keeps the reader dry and he does not wreck on the reefs of repetitiveness and triteness. Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show takes what is familiar and makes it original and engaging.

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

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Review: Numenera: The Poison Eater by Shanna Germain

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Genre: Science Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot

 

One can sum the theme of The Poison Eater with one word: secrets, and if one was interested in exploring more one could say that it’s about protective secrets. Set mostly in the city of Enthait the story centers round Talia, the Poison Eater. Her job is to at regular intervals ingest poison, in the end ten different kinds, and through this see visions of threats while also endangering her own life. Once all the poisons have been taken she will be the Orness, the ruler of the City, and in charge of the aria, an apparently great weapon in her charge. The job of Poison Eater is pivotal for the existence of Enthait and the people, who depend upon the visions in order to send out soldiers to cut off the threat, a ritual that ensures the safety of the community, but that ritual comes with a price; the possible death of the Poison Eater. Talia is well aware of this and has managed to survive seven poisons, a feat not pulled off by many others, even if she has a secret; the fact that she is not the Poison Eater at all.

A stranger to Enthait, arriving alongside a mechbeast named Khee, she has managed to hide her violent past and has taken the position in order to take control of the aria so she can exact revenge on the monsters that haunt her dreams. Living in constant fear of being revealed as the fraud she is it becomes evident that she is not the only one who is keeping secrets, that in fact there are deeper secrets going around in Enthait, and that the reason for her survival so far might not be able to help her anymore.

The Poison Eater is the first fiction based in the role playing world of Numenera, a science fiction world mixing futuristic technology and a fantasy setting, one billion years in the future. Though it takes place on Earth, this is never addressed in the story. It is unclear how much the reader must be aware of this world or is expected to be aware of it. The story in itself is not affected by this knowledge, but Germain does leave quite a few things out; like the terminology the characters use. They make reference to certain objects or jobs that the reader has to guess at, but becomes clearer the farther one reads. It is understandable if some might lose interest in reading when words are not explained and even though holes in a story usually is a good thing it at times can take the reader out of the tale.

The story of Talia the Poison Eater is intriguing enough on its own and the backdrop of Numenera as a setting is not really necessary. That being said, the omission of details pertaining to terminology and the history of Enthait or the so called vordcha is a bit much to overlook. It makes the emotional connection to the main character and the other figures who pass through the story almost non existent and it is difficult to invest the book. Germain has the ability to create and interesting plot and the thought of a futuristic dystopian world where past technology is still being used is fascinating, but unfortunately it never comes together as something the reader gets to sink their teeth into. For the bright spots in the book there are dark ones that take away from them and in the end the latter ones outweigh the former.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

 

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Review: The Last Sacrifice by James A. Moore

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release Date: 3 January 2017

 

The most common trope in the realm of fantasy literature has to be the battle between god and evil. It is as prevalent as the heart’s desire or the yearning to be more than one is, it is also what gives the protagonist the vehicle to make that change. In The Wood Beyond the World, regarded as the first fantasy novel, the hero Golden Walter battles an evil witch to save a princess and Frodo and his friends need to defeat the vile Sauron by destroying his proxy the one ring in Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings. These two books may be the two most important works in the genre and cement the idea of good vs evil. Once the genre moved into the modern era and the rise of a darker version of it began to appear with books like Grunts, where the orcs are heroes and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy where those who appear to be the heroes are not quite that. To turn tropes on their ear, flipping the script as it were, is what keeps genre fiction interesting and relevant.

The Last Sacrifice does this as well, and that might just be its core strength, the uncertainty of who to route for. To some readers, those who only read books for the familiarity of themes and tropes, this might break the trust between sender and receiver, but in this case that audience may just find that need satisfied as well.

When Brogan McTyre returns home he finds that his family, wife and three kids, are gone. In their place are four gold coins, the calling card of the Grakhul a tribe of people living on the outskirts of civilization. Hidden away in an are known as the Gateway the Grakhul, protected by the Five Kingdoms, sacrifices people to appease the Gods, leaving behind their calling card; one gold coin per person abducted.

Enraged Brogan and his friends raid the Gateway and the keep hidden inside it, but all in vain, his family has already been thrown into the bit. In a fury of revenge he kills all the Grakhul men and takes the women and children to sell them into slavery. The problem is that the dead and captured are not the real threat, they are mere worshipers of the Undying, the He-Kisshi, seemingly inhuman immortals who demand the sacrifices to live, but also to keep balance in the universe. A chase ensues as Brogan and his men hit the road, all the while chased by the Undying who want their followers back.

Moore’s story is an interesting experiment in the fantasy genre. He tells several parallel stories from several different vantage points, each with its own protagonist. There is little judgement from the narrator when it comes to deciding who is in the right here and it makes the reader sit on edge when trying to figure out who to root for. Each character is driven by desire; Brogan to find his family initially and then to escape the He-Kisshi, the He-Kisshi to find their followers and exact revenge, but also to restore balance, Myridia, a Grakhul woman wants to find a new place of sacrifice to continue her work and so on. There are very many different paths to follow and story lines that all intersect in the end. Brogan’s action set in motion such a slew of events that all threaten to culminate in one great climax. In the end it might be so that his need for revenge may destroy the entire world.

Moore plays his cards close to the vest and the information about how the different stories connect literally trickle through the pages creating suspense and thrills. As a reader this isn’t the only thing that immerses the tale in mystery. The fact that there are no real descriptions of the characters’ appearances or clothing and the sparse portrayal of the surroundings. Moore paints a vivid picture of what the characters do, feel or sense and the same is true for the milieu, but not how it appears and it allows the reader to delve deep into the self to conjure up images. It also allows relatively inexperienced readers of the genre to venture into the story without the preconceived ideas about what the genre is.

As stated earlier in this review the battle between good and evil often stand at the center of many a fantasy story, but in The Last Sacrifice it is difficult to pin down who belongs to what side. They all seem to have their own interpretation of who is right and who is wrong, and in the end that is the strength of this book.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

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Review: Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps

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Genre: Horror/Western/Dystopian Sci-Fi

Publisher: Crossroad Press

 

There are few authors who live on in the cultural sphere the way H.P. Lovecraft does, at least within genre fiction. His influence transcends various cultural forms not only literature, but we see his fingerprints on TV, movies, video games, comics, music and even science (just ask Erich von Däniken). One of the reasons for Lovecraft’s longevity is most likely not his use of adjectives, his inability to describe the horrors he envisioned or his overt racism. It is the world and characters he imagined, the great old ones and the figures who interacted with them. The fascination with these nightmarish creatures has spawned a slew of copycat writers both pastiches and parodies. Even during his lifetime authors like August Derleth and Robert Bloch expanded his vast universe with their own creations and stories to such a degree that they today appear canonical, they become a integral part of that shared universe.

C.T. Phipps’ book Cthulhu Armageddon, while not doing exactly that, borrows heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos and everything surrounded it. To an expert in the field like S.T. Joshi or Robert M. Price it is a cornucopia of references and nods to everything Lovecraft and that should be enough to make a fan want to read it.

Billed as a dystopian sci-fi western Cthulhu Armageddon is set one hundred years after the return of the old ones. They have destroyed much of civilization and created a desert landscape with pockets of humanity, living in frontier like towns. There is a Richard Brautigan type quality with a Gothic flavor reminiscent of The Hawkline Monster, but more violent and less noir.

John Henry Booth is a ranger out of New Arkham, one of the new city-states and on a mission to The Black Cathedral to retrieve some kidnapped children when his crew get more than they bargained for. Cultists who become reanimated eradicate his squadron and Booth himself is cursed by the necromancer Ward. Ostracized by his community and seen as the one to blame for the failed mission Booth ventures into the wasteland to avenge his men, find the children and locate one of his missing rangers. His adventures take him through the dreaded Dreamlands and confronts Nyarlathotep and fights night gaunts, with the aid of a doctor and young girl.

The difference between Phipps’ book and those of Derleth, Bosch or Lumley is that while inspiration is a key element the constant threat of destruction brought on by Cthulhu and his ilk has happened and man must live with those consequences. Cthulhu Armageddon is a fast paced tale that blends science-fiction, horror with western tropes. Phipps’ protagonist Booth narrates the tale in a hard boiled style reminiscent of Spillane or Ennis and gives the darkness and melancholy it needs. There are several nods, as previously stated, to classic Lovecraft tales, as well as some of the man’s friends; Clark Ashton Smith makes an appearance and Chambers’ book The King in Yellow.

The book may not further the Cthulhu Mythos as such, but it is a fun read for fans and is an interesting take on what the future may hold for us all.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: The Burning Isle by Will Panzo

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Ace

 

Fantasy is one of the genres that a lot of people have issues with. The reasons for this may be the fantastical elements, the shattering of the suspension of disbelief that may occur when a farm boy can slay dragons or the mere fact that the desire of the heart displayed in the tale is difficult to relate to. The best, of any genre fiction, are the stories that create something new, something different. In some fantasy novels it can be a strong sense of reality like the books by Joe Abercrombie, a female hero who puts a common myths on its ear like Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon or it may, while still using the genre specific tropes and themes, place the setting in an inventive area like Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings or Lays of Anuskaya, and that is what Will Panzo does in the Burning Isle.

The spellcaster Cassius shows up on the island of Scipio, a hotbed, described as a slum, of criminal activity mostly due to the fact that the inhabitants are unable to live in other parts of the Republic. The council that is supposed to run the island are more or less for show as the power is divided by the gang leaders Piso and Cinna. They, themselves are at war for the ultimate power of the island. Cassius is unknown when he comes to Scipio, having spent years in training at another island. He displays great power of the runes, that spellcasters control through gauntlets, the magical source in this world when he manages to kill a man during a prizefight. This catches the eye of Piso and they form a relationship wherein Cassius begins doing jobs for the mobster. It becomes more and more clear that Cassius has more plans than just running errands and he begins to stir the pot by doing jobs for Cinna as well. The violence begins to escalate until it surely must boil over.

There are a lot of things to enjoy in Panzo’s tale of treason and conflict in the underworld. Firstly he places the story in the new setting of a sort of Roman world, complete with words and classifications used during that era and when one initially reads the book it easy to believe that it’s a historic fiction. It creates a link between the reader and the author as a lot of the terms and concepts are easily recognizable and most everyone has an image of Rome and the people therein. Panzo’s language is also sharp and would appeal to a great spectrum of readers and not much is lost between sender and receiver among the pages. The plot in itself is simple enough, yet the actual goal of the protagonist is not revealed until half way through the story and this is good, although the first half reads like a sandbox type of game in the vein of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. This does get tiresome at times as it feels like Cassius only moves from place to place aimlessly, but as it advances his agenda and reasons become clear, and this is done in a very clever way. Though the Republic as such is never really revealed the history of Scipio is dealt with and the reader is privy to the background of the gangs on the island. Scipio, home to those rejected by society on other islands, becomes a representation of nations today where the government is no more than a faceless puppet and those who actually rule threaten to tear it apart due to their own petty personalities and egos. Cassius becomes a kind of vigilante in the den of corruption and violence, a representative of the people, the anti hero reminiscent of the old hard boiled detective of yore. As such he isn’t all powerful, he may be a great spellcaster, but he is often injured or hurt and this way he retains his humanity and Panzo manages to keep the suspension of disbelief intact.

There is so much that is good in The Burning Isle, from its language, to its setting and to the character development. We recognize the tropes, the people, the intrigue and the setting, but from different places. It’s all so familiar, yet we have seldom witnessed it in this constellation and that is what makes it unique and a great read.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

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Review: Plushinomicon- The Legends of Teddy Bear Island

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Genre: Fantasy/Horror

Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications

 

 

Books based on role playing games are not unheard of, they might be less common today, or less of an intricate part of the fantasy genre as they were in the heyday of Forgotten Realms or DragonLance, but one does come across the odd Warhammer 40k books and for what its worth they are fairly decent. Plushinomicon is one such book, a collection of short tales set in the fantastical world of Teddy Bear Island. Teddy Bear Island is an RPG created by Orcs Unlimited and was created through a Kickstarter campaign. The world of Teddy Bear Island is very much like any old fantasy world, filled with the same old creatures one might encounter in Dungeons and Dragons like elfs, dwarfs or orcs. It is also filled with something different, something very different; stuffed animal zombies and they all live on the island, once created by a Fluffomancer. As a role playing game this concept does open up to several interesting possibilities and certainly hilarious problem solving scenarios.

Plushinomicon is in short a collection of ten short stories by a variety of authors and among them even the editor herself. The stories all center around Teddy Bear Island, it might be about getting there for one reason or another and adventures on the very isle itself. There is a wide variety of characters all typical heroes that are easily recognizable to those familiar with the fantasy genre.

It is futile to try to recap the short stories within the pages of Plushinomicon and they might just be directed to those who have played the game or who may be interested in doing so. Most of the stories are structured the same way and with a minimal amount of intrigue, in short, they are very quick reads that don’t challenge the reader at all and it comes across more like a collection of adventures that the authors have played through themselves and found funny enough to share. Unfortunately the authors aren’t given enough space to create compelling tales to excite and scare the reader and that is one of the big downfalls of this collection. Of course there is some understanding that this is all based in a strange world that maybe isn’t supposed to be taken so seriously, but there is still an overwhelming feeling that more could have been done.

Though the prospect of villainous zombie plushies sound like an entertaining way to spend some time these stories are not close to other RPG based counter parts and one would most likely be served better to pick up a DragonLance or Forgotten Realms.

 

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: DAW Books

 

Prequels are an interesting cultural affair. In movies the have been used to extend the life of a franchise, maybe the actors are too old or just not interested in continuing, maybe it is a promise once made to fans that the background story will one day be revealed, only to fall short i.e. Star Wars 1-3 or Prometheus. In literature it is something different; a device an author might use to further explore their created world, to tell those tales merely hinted at in a fleeting moment between two characters or to widen the intrigue. In his Tales of Egg and Dunk, beginning with The Hedge Knight, George R.R. Martin gave his readers a taste of his world before A Song of Ice and Fire takes place. He explained those things his original series could not, for such a departure would have made little to no sense.

Bradley P. Beaulieu, perennial favorite at the Guild office, has now also released a prequel to his Arabian Nights fantasy Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and is therefore subtitled The Song of Shattered Sands 0,5.

In this book the reader is treated to a tale from Çeda’s past, before the events of Twelve Kings take place. She has already made a name for herself in the fighting pits, and is referred to as The White Wolf. Çeda becomes involved with an ehkreh, some form of demonic entity, by the name of Rümayesh who lures her into her lair in order to steal her memories. Çeda finds herself fighting to not reveal her inner secrets, ones that may very well ruin her, to the crowd that Rümayesh has gathered. She’s in luck and is saved by two godling children; Hidi and Makuo and that is where she thinks the adventure ends, but alas that is not so. The White Wolf finds herself drawn in deeper and an intricate part of the ehkreh’s destiny.

Of Sand and Malice Made is a fun foray into Çeda’s history. It hints at some of her secrets and the conflict within her and the community in which she lives. The world of Twelve Kings comes alive in a vibrant blend of smells, colors and sound that complements the first book in a wondrous way. Çeda becomes somewhat of a classic picaro in the desert landscape and guides the reader through her reality filled with mischief, dangers and exotic people, like a child showing off her new room to first time visitors. Beaulieu’s world complements his protagonist and she does the same to the backdrop that houses her. His descriptions of places and people has been his strength throughout his production and without it his fairly fairly simple intrigue would fall flat. He uses tropes more common in the setting of a 19th century coming of age novel and places it in a world foreign to that kind intrigue, taking a page from Stephen Donaldson.

To those who have read Twelve Kings Of Sand and Malice Made is a welcome return to the dry climate of Sharakhai and satiates the thirst whilst waiting for the next installment. For a new reader it may well be a good starting point before delving into the complexity of the Shattered Sands series. The book is shorter than most fantasy fair and the story less elaborate, but nevertheless enticing.

Of Sand and Malice Made cements Beaulieu’s position as the next big thing in fantasy and makes us hunger for more; more Çeda, more Sharakhai and more hot desert sun.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

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Review: Deadbringer by E.M. Markoff

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Genre: Fantasy

Series: Part one in The Ellderet Series

Publisher: Tomes & Coffee Press

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer, one of the last of his kind. As such he has been gifted with certain necronomic abilities like unwillingly making objects rot or decay, raising and speaking to the dead. The Deadbringers in this world have all been eradicated due to these abilities by the so called Sanctifiers and it is prudent for Kira to mask his true form. Therefore he works as a mortician, the perfect occupation for someone with his skills, in the city of Opulancae with his uncle Eutau. Eutau is the one who keeps Kira’s secret safe through his own contacts with a place called the Bastion, but he is the keeper of a secret of his own.

Kira and his uncle are lured into a trap when trying to resurrect and question a dead woman and as this is happening he reveals what he is. Forced to leave the city Kira and Eutau become hunted by Sanctifiers across the country, the future uncertain.

Markoff has with The Deadbringer managed to build a world with great depth and background. The history the Deadbringers, the Sanctifiers and creatures like Kataru is intriguing and sparks the imagination as does the city of Opulancae and the universe that houses it all. Unfortunately that is where it ends; as a spark. Markoff tries to cram to much into this first book without delving into any of it. The story of Kira Vidal, a person whose name indicates it to be a woman at first read, is lost in a treacle of story making progress like dragging oneself through mud. The story is promising enough initially and sets a pace early on that captures the reader, but this is halted ones the chase begins. Hints at certain events or significant facts are dropped at regular intervals and that is all well and good, but there is never anything to hook the reader to these things. It peaks ones interest, but not is given to satiate the hunger and making the reader want to proceed.

The writing style is also on the wordy side and it is easy to get lost in odd sentences and overambitious use of words. One rarely becomes invested in the characters and when tragedy befalls them one does not care, this coupled with the fact that focus is switched from Kira and Eutau to the Sanctifiers who hunt them is quite confusing. More is said about the apparent antagonists than the hero. This also adds to the sensation of becoming tired while reading the tale and in the end it hurts what could have been quite a good book.

-C. Marry Hultman