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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 Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Title: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant

Author: Drew Hayes

Series: Fred, the Vampire Accountant #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort. One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

The Review:

I must be more of a cover snob than I thought because had I not received a review copy (for audio production quality) I would have never picked this up. Although I will say it fits the story perfectly. 

It was a fun story. More a series of episodes (I remember hearing that this author specializes in web-serials, so that makes sense), it felt like reading a bunch of novellas with a solid through-line.

A boring (self-proclaimed), awkward white collar worker turned vampire was a funny duality. The character didn’t change much, which was a delight. It was a twist on an overdone genre that I’ve never seen before and I quite liked it. It was also pretty nerd-tastic (a good thing), and one of my favorite stories from the bunch had a whole LARPing section. The writing was conversational, sardonic, and self-depreciating. A very clear voice that made the characters likable and the experience of reading about them fun and light-hearted.

Really, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the book. While it didn’t knock my socks off, it was a nice little splice of fun amidst my other reading. I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing. I find myself much more interested in his Superpowereds series, but we’ll see.

Recommendations: the sardonic voice and short episodic nature of this story makes it easy to recommend. It’s a lot of fun without a lot of commitment. I think it would be great for people who want to read more but struggle with time or motivation. It’s quite satisfying to read short stories like this from start to finish in a single setting. And the through-line of the plot in each one will keep you coming back to see what happens next.

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 Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Title: Guardian

Author: A.J. Hartley

Series: Steeplejack #3

Genre: Either YA Fantasy or Adult Fantasy… it’s one ofthose that straddles both genres and I keep changing my mind on where to shelve it. It reads more YA, but the format of the books suggests it belongs in a different category. Perhaps even Mystery.

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The city of Bar-Selehm is tossed into a whirlwind of scandal when the Prime Minister is found dead on the floors of Parliament: and Anglet Sutonga’s friend and employer, Josiah Willinghouse, is the one holding the knife. Determined to prove his innocence, Ang investigates leads throughout the city, only to discover even more chaos wherever she goes. A mysterious but fatal illness is infecting the poor. A fanatical politician seizes power, and rolls out his plans to make Bar-Selehm great again. Amidst these surrounding dangers, Anglet Sutonga must gather her friends from places high and low to form a resistance… and hopefully, protect everything she knows and loves. -Goodreads

The Review:

There are a lot of things I liked about about this series, but unfortunately The Guardian was just a bit too ridiculous for my tastes.

The author does a great job hanging a lantern on diversity, discrimination, and racism in this series. In fact, the whole plot of this book kind of hinges around those ideas. I just wish the story hadn’t gotten so far-fetched because it stole momentum from other really solid components.

For one, the writing. The author has a very sophisticated yet accessible writing style and I quite enjoyed it. Another great element is the cultural immersion through settings, dialogue, world-building, and plot. It has a 1920s vibe with some South African indigenous people and wildlife along with a subtle albeit weird fantasy twist. It’s such a unique atmosphere, I’ve never read anything like it, and that’s saying something these days. I’d also never heard of a steeplejack before but loved every single page describing the profession. It’s just now occurring to me that I don’t even know if it’s a real thing or just made up for the series. Whatever the case, it gave the main character some interesting background skills and knowledge that played an active part in the unfolding mystery of each book. I really loved that aspect, even when things got weird.

There were a few eye-rolling moments where I thought “okay, I know I’ve been pretty amiable about just going with all the weird ideas up to this point, but that was so completely far-fetched. I just can’t.” A few such scenes really cheapened a lot of the other fantastic things going on. I also thought the overall conflict was too oversimplified; resolved a bit too seamlessly. The idea behind it was great, it just needed a more realistic approach and a longer timeline to satisfy what I wanted out of it.

Recommendations: read this series if you want something fun, unique, and slightly odd.

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