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Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates

Author: Steven Erickson

Series:  Malazan #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends. -Goodreads

The Review:

I started Deadhouse Gates in January… Of 2019.

The writing is dense, no bout a doubt it, but it took a lot longer than it probably should have to get through the book considering how good it is. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist and a completionist, so if I was going to tackle a series like Malazan, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience from it. There are so many characters and places referenced that it really does take a lot of extra concentration to keep it all straight. And I don’t know about you, but as soon as I start to lose focus and get confused on which character I’m reading about, my level of engagement and investment in the story drops significantly. So I read this at a snail’s pace, utilizing kindle’s X-ray feature what seemed like every freaking page to make sure I knew who or where or what was being referenced. Not to mention that the writing itself is very abrupt and succinct, especially surrounding revelations and epiphanies, so I constantly had to reread passages to make sure I understood all of its implications. All in all, a very slow process. And one that is not conducive to dragging out the reading over several, uh, years. I kept putting it down in favor of things that took less effort and eventually, this past January 2021, decided to lay everything else aside and commit fully to Malazan. I restarted the book and overall, with my full attention devoted, it took about three months to read.

It was soooooo worth the effort!

There’s no doubt in my mind that this book and series (as far as I’ve gotten) are masterpieces brilliant in their originality, expansiveness, and execution. The reading experience is unlike anything I’ve come across before (clearly) and the total immersion required almost guarantees you’re going to take a few gut punches. I can see why so many proficient fantasy readers hold Malazan on a pedestal – it’s truly an amazing story.

Believe it or not, DG was actually a little easier to follow than Gardens of the Moon. There were fewer new characters to follow and it seemed like we circled back to them more frequently. I particularly loved the elegant plot construction. It was an intertwined, unfolding “dance” of information and convergence of characters that built to an amazing peak that left my brain wheeling. It was so thoughtful and so well-executed. I truly can’t wait to see what the author has in store for me next. Now that I think I’ve gotten the hang of reading this series, I’m hoping I’ll be able to clip along a bit faster.

So how do I rate something like this? If I’m applying based on merit alone, it’s a solid 5 stars. However I think it’s important to also consider my actual reading experience with the book, and the fact that it took so much time and effort should be represented (even though that’s just as much on me as it is the writing). 4.5 stars it is.

Recommendations: this is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read and I consider the series a must-try for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s not for everyone and will require a lot more concentration than most novels, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Maybe try not to be as anal-retentive as I was in keeping the details straight and just enjoy the process (after all, if an element is truly important the author will most assuredly highlight it again at some point). If you can get into the swing of it, get ready for one of the coolest reading experiences you’ll ever have!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Heroes

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. For glory, for victory, for staying alive. –Goodreads

The Review:

The Heroes was an entertaining read even though it’s my least favorite of the saga so far.

But not by much. True, it didn’t offer a lot of variety in setting and plot (which I think accounts for why some may not have liked it as much) but it did make up for it considerably with good characters and a really creative execution of the story. It’s essentially a series of battles in the north that take place over the course of just a few days. Bouncing around POVs, it provided insight into what the battle experience was like from every perspective. In that regard I really appreciate the total immersion. There was one battle scene in particular that was done so creatively I’ve never seen anything like it before. Abercrombie’s deft writing style continues to impress me more with every book. He’s definitely solidified among my favorites.

I’ll admit it took me a good 25% to get acclimated with all the characters. I had to use a few more brain cells than normal to keep straight who was on which side. I also thought the POV bounced around too much for me to really get invested at first, but eventually we came back to the same ones often enough that by the halfway point I was super into it. It helped considerably that many of these characters we’ve seen before and I love how Abercrombie expands his reach to give secondary characters a moment to shine. It’s not something you see many authors doing. It’s also cool that some now have a ton of depth and development because we’ve been with them in past novels. It feels like a giddy secret knowing the history behind certain characters when they are still enigmas to those around them. I’m excited to see how Abercrombie ties in the stars of this show in future books. Not surprisingly, Gorst was my favorite here (though they were all good). Reminiscent of Glokta with his many dualities and entertaining inner dialogue, he added that heavy sardonic flair that I’m starting to crave from Abercrombie’s works. I’m not sure how I’m going to cope when I finally get caught up in the series.

This is one of those books which compared to other Abercrombie novels is a bit more modest, but compared to any other book on the market is still superb.

Recommendations: I highly recommend anything Abercrombie as a staple in the fantasy genre. He’s a master of character and writing and the more time I spend with him, the more he solidifies as a new favorite author. Don’t be like me and let the books sit collecting dust for 10 years before picking them up. They’re worth a jump in the TBR.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook

Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook

Title: The Decoy Princess

Author: Dawn Cook (aka Kim Harrison)

Series: Decoy Princess #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Princess Contessa of Costenopolie knows everything a royal should about diplomacy, self-defense, politics… and shopping. She ought to. She had every reason to believe that she was groomed to rule. But her next lessonis in betrayal… The sudden arrival of her betrothed, a prince from the kingdom of Misdev, has forced Tess’s parents to come clean: She’s no princess. Their real daughter was raised in a nunnery for fear of assassins. Tess is nothing but a beggar’s child bought off the streets as an infant and reared as a decoy. So what’s a royal highness to do when she discovers she’s a royal target? Ditch the Misdev soldiers occupying the palace, use magical abilities she didn’t even know she had, restore the real princess to the throne, and save her own neck. But first, Tess has to deal with the scoundrel who’s urging her to run away from it all, and the Misdev captain who’s determined to thwart her plans… -Goodreads

The Review:

Dawn Cook (aka Kim Harrison) is one of my favorite authors. There was a point in my life when her Truth series (written as Cook) was my favorite fantasy and The Hollows was my favorite urban fantasy. And this was BEFORE I discovered they were one and the same person. Talk about mind blown. In any case, while my tastes have evolved, I’ll still always love her works. This little duology was the only thing I hadn’t yet devoured…

And it was fun. :)

It’s one of those fantasy books that would be a great transition novel from YA to adult fantasy. It didn’t take itself too seriously and all the characters were fun and animated. I especially liked the hidden plot (involving a secret society) and hope she expands on that in the next novel. 

Even so, a couple of things kept me from really loving it. For one, the main conflict of the story. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels recently with dynamic court politics and somewhat ruthless rulers. The situation in this book involving the King and Queen was just so bubble gum and unrealistic, it made me stop taking the story seriously early on. It’s hard to describe without spoilers, but suffice to say they got themselves in a situation I don’t think would’ve ever happened if the castle was manned by guards and if the rulers actually had any common sense. They came across very naive and ignorant, and those aren’t usually characteristics I associate with kingdom rulers.

The only other bother was the love interest. Grown men don’t usually drop everything to blindly follow a stranger around indefinitely, even if she’s pretty. It made his character profile feel rather thin, as if he didn’t have anything going on before she became his whole focus. It was unrealistic, speeding up the relationship development for the sake of advancing plot more quickly, and I think the story suffered because of it.

It sounds like I’m majorly knocking the book, but really, I liked it overall and plan to continue. The issues were just too prominent not to mention, but didn’t really affect the story much more than in plausibility. I was able to just go with it and enjoy it for what it was. It definitely wasn’t bad, by any means. It just wasn’t as gritty as some of the books I’ve been preferring lately.

Recommendations: this is a light, fun read perfect for those wanting a transition between YA and adult fantasy.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The King’s Own by Lorna Freeman

Title: The King’s Own

Author: Lorna Freeman

Series: Borderlands #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: When Rabbit joined the Royal Army of Iversterre, he was just trying to get off the family farm. Instead, he got mixed up with a magical from the Border, learned he couldn’t escape his noble lineage, and developed some surprising talents that he can’t always control. But with Iversterre sliding toward the abyss, Rabbit needs to master his powers quickly-before someone else does it for him. -Goodreads

The Review:

I still think this series is a hidden gem for all of its great components, but the King’s Own was a bit of a random tangent.

The first book did such a great job in gradually expanding the plot and the settings. The ultimate culmination of events left things wide open for the second book to push the boundaries even further. The stage was set for the conflict to get much broader, and I honestly thought this middle book would be a setup for some sort or final throwdown in the last book…. not so much.

The entire book was one random trip to a random town to solve a random mystery. And as far as I can tell, none of these random things added a single thing to the overall arc of the series. What’s more, it was a bit odd that, despite the interesting political maneuvering in the first book that shook the framework of this world, the king and his entire retinue decided to pack up and join the main character in this random town. For no compelling reason I could see other than the author just wanted include him.

It was a head-scratcher.

I normally don’t have the patience to continue series when too many tangents are in play. And although this was the Great Bambino of tangents, it was written beautifully and I somehow still actually enjoyed it. It did take me a good 30 or 40 percent in to figure out that it wasn’t going to go beyond its narrow framework, so I’m sure that was a factor. The main character is cool – I like how the author writes him with a subtle yet very distinctive voice. To my surprise, I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the world building despite the fact that they didn’t add anything new of value to the series this time around (or so it would seem… I have yet to read the final book, so I could be eating crow at some point).

Overall, I both acknowledge that it’s a little weird and random yet appreciate most aspects of this book. The final novel will be telling and I’m hoping it’s good enough for me to continue endorsing the series.

Recommendations: this is an old hidden gem series (so far) that’s heavily character driven – the kind of slow-burn story that makes you feel like you’ve really gotten a lot out of your time reading it. The King’s Own lacked trajectory from the first book, but it was still an entertaining read. The jury is still out for the series as a whole…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Rhythm of War

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained anadvantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength. At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rhythm of War was a satisfying addition to the series, offering a lot of cool new revelations. Not the least of which was finally learning how to properly spell “rhythm.”

I seriously can’t figure out how these 1000+ page books never feel as long as they are. Every page yields something of value and while I prefer some characters and settings to others, never once have I ever been bored while reading this series. Even on the reread! Probably even less so then. And that’s another thing – I almost never reread books (too many on my TBR to justify the time) but have zero compunctions reading these several times over in preparation for each new release. Considering how colossal they are, that’s a huge time commitment and should illustrate how much I love the series.

This novel felt more narrowly focused than the previous three. There weren’t a lot of new world discoveries and most of the story took place between only two different locations. I missed the adventure a little, but what it lacked in breadth it made up for in depth. It boasted more academic discoveries, particularly advancements and insights into fabrial construction and uses, which essentially meant we gained more knowledge on how the magic system of this world functions (more than in the previous three books combined). I ate up every moment, but I can see how those more drawn to the action scenes might not have enjoyed it as much. We also learned a lot more about the Spren and I love that even after everything Sanderson has revealed about them, they still seem enigmatic. It’s those kinds of gradual reveals/payoffs that keep me coming back for more.

I’ve read so many books that these days something really has to stand out for me to carry more than a vague imprint on what the story was about. And names? Forget names. At least, I do even while I’m actively reading a book (my brain takes a general impression of each name enough to tell the characters apart and that seems to suffice). But this series is different. I recall the tiniest details. I remember even minor characters names. I feel a connection to the characters (rare, indeed). My mom joked that it’s probably only because of the large page count, which no doubt helps, but I think it’s also that they sing to me on another level and I actually want to carry them with me beyond the pages. All the characters are interesting and fun to read about. And it’s surprising to me how much I value them considering they’ve always lacked a bit of complexity and depth. You get what you see with Sanderson’s characters, with just enough profile exploration to balance all the other elements he does so well. Somehow, it just works.

All that said, this was probably my least favorite so far (not by much) because I was missing a bit of that exploratory appeal even though it made up for it considerably with its academic focus. And is it just me, or did the writing feel a little rushed? Like things weren’t quite as flushed out or detailed as they used to be? Even so, I loved all of the revelations, and there were a few key scenes that still have me reeling. I can’t wait to see how the first arc of the series wraps up in the next installment.

Recommendations: among my top three series, this is definitely a must-read for fans of the fantasy genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Best Served Cold

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play adeadly game to choose who will be king. War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started… Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge. -Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t believe I’m only just now reading this series.

I had my doubts when people told me the books after the initial trilogy were just as good, but if all the others are anywhere as amazing as Best Served Cold then I’m in for a fantastic year of reading. I would be hard-pressed to name anything I didn’t like about it.

I’ve heard mention that BSC is essentially a Count of Monte Cristo type story, and as I’ve made a habit of avoiding classics like the plague since grade school, I can only take their word for it. Presumably the similarity is the relentless pursuit of vengeance at any and all costs. I normally find plot structures like that boring. After all, if you kind of already know where it’s going, where’s the excitement? But I tell you what, Abercrombie added so many interesting characters and dynamics – the story felt anything but a tropey knockoff. I was glued to the pages the entire time and loved every moment of it.

Upon reflection, this may have been my favorite story in the First Law world to date, which is saying something considering Glokta (easily one of the best characters in the genre) doesn’t even make an appearance. It’s an amazing combination of gruesome, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and depressing all wrapped up in an angry little package. I think I might be adding it to my very short list of all-time favorites.

Overall, this was an excellent tangent novel that did a superb job expanding the world-building of the series and giving us a whole new cast of characters to love/hate. I can’t wait to devour everything Abercrombie has on the market. And to think I was only so-so after reading the first book. This author is now a favorite.

Recommendations: if you loved the First Law trilogy and are wondering if you should keep reading, the answer is an emphatic yes!! Best Served Cold was written brilliantly, with careful care given to all the characters and a plot that will have you cringing and laughing and loving every moment. Consider it a new Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

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by Niki Hawkes