Review: The Storm, by David Drake

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be No Spoilers

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative

The Storm follows the adventures of Lord Pal of Beune, a Champion of Mankind. Much like Lancelot’s humble beginnings but a better version of him. A much better version of him. Lord Pal navigates the world, between pockets of what is known as Here and the waste where the Not Here manifests at times. A bizarre world, for certain, but it fits so well.

I’m not quite sure how to explain the book without revealing everything, it’s just one of those books you have to read yourself and come to your own conclusion on what the story is like, how it makes you feel. This is the second book of the series, however it is written in such a way that not reading the first book doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out on something vital. Drake has written this story to make it complete within this book as a stand-alone.

That said, I’ll give my review based on mulling over my thoughts for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s that complicated. But the story isn’t, which is interesting. David Drake has a way of evoking a certain feel with his writing that has me reeling trying to figure out and analyse it. Drake’s writing is, frankly, beautiful. It’s smooth, if it had a physical texture, and easy to follow. But the voice of the story, the way I hear it in my head, is something I cannot explain.

Favourite Character:

Oh, by far my favourite character is Pal. He’s so real, relateable,humble, modest, and human. And yet, his strength is visible, I don’t mean physical strength either. His will power seems to seep out from the text. A character I truly care about.

Favourite Scene:

I don’t have one specific scene I enjoyed above others, though I thoroughly enjoyed every scene where Pal interacts with May, his consort. The wit, the human reactions, and the squabbles between them are so real and very entertaining.

Favourite Line:

“That seemed to be her standard method of breaking tension. It was a good method.”
– Lord Pal’s thoughts, the context of which you’ll have to read to find out. Trust me, it’s brilliant.

Overall:

The Storm is, by far, one of the most intriguing and different stories I’ve read and I’m honestly not sure how to express how I feel about it. The book definitely has an Arthurian feel and vivid, wild world-building that I’m absolutely enamoured with. I’ve never read science fiction, or any speculative fiction, like The Storm before. Suffice to say, I’m speechless.

I love the world, love the characters, and the plot is solid. I can’t find a fault (which I naturally try to without meaning to), and that says a lot. I am mind-blasted, to say the least. And yet, I don’t know if I love the book or not. I do, but at the same time not really. It’s confusing. I can’t stop thinking about it and find several things in daily life that remind me of some aspect of Drake’s world and characters.

I know, I’m rambling but I can’t help it. Writing this is the most difficult review I’ve had to do.

This story will stick with me for my whole life, I’m certain of it. Which is very rare, only a handful follow me in the back of my thoughts. The Storm is nestled in there alongside Asimov’s The Last Question, Lem’s Solaris, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Okorafor’s Binti; stories that have a profound influence on me.


The Storm, by David Drake, published by Baen Books, is available for pre-order and will be released on 1 January 2019.

Image from Baen.com

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Review: The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be Mild Spoilers

Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fantasy

What does it mean to be an exile of your homeland, to have the pressure of expectation that you’ll do great things and save your people, carrying a mark that shows everyone that expectation, the promise you never had a chance to make? This is Isten’s life and story and Darius Hinks takes us through a fantastic world to show Isten’s present predicaments, history, and her future in The Ingenious.

But there’s so much more at play in this story than just Isten. There’s a strong sense of pre-destiny for the characters, each playing a vital role in bringing about the end game, possibly salvation. Very reminiscent of Dune‘s plot arc and I love it.

Hinks takes the reader on a perilous journey, through the grim of the ever-expanding city, to the surreal wonders of the consciousness. And it’s exhilarating.

Favourite Character:

By far, my favourite character is Phrater Alzen. He’s relateable, in a way, with his pursuit for understanding, wanting to know the intricate and majestic wonders of the universe, what makes it work. He’s a misunderstood person and convicted by a limiting system of good versus evil, and what constitutes as either.

Favourite Scene:

As much I enjoyed Alzen and learning more about him, the scene with him and the emerald lion known as Mapourak is, for me, brilliantly executed. The confusion and reality sinking in, the detached horror as a result. Masterful writing right there. Vague, yes, but you need to read it to truly capture what I’m referring to.

Favourite Line:

“No one is above death, they cried, not even the Elect. The living walked on, oblivious, and the dead fell back in despair, forgetting what they had learned, sinking into darkness.” – Beginning of Chapter 11.

What Worked For Me:

The world-building is superb! So much familiarity within the story even though it’s a rather unique take on alchemy and fantasy. The nods and hints to, among others, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld concept, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I also loved the slight hints of science wrapped within the narrative that helped make the world seem real.

What Didn’t Work:

I’d have liked if at least half of all the filter sentences were converted into showing and the descriptions of the surroundings lessened to make room for said showing. To give a deeper immersion of what’s happening and how the point of view characters felt, instead of being told how they felt and experienced things. I can understand the choice to tighten the narrative with filters, though seeing Hinks’s writing skill, I suspect he could have easily made it work and kept it as tight as it is.

Overall:

The Ingenious is a wildly fantastic story. Take everything you think you know about fantasy fiction and throw it in the deepest, darkest trash pit, because this story will take you to a new meaning of the genre. Hinks has taken the best of so many favourites and spun them in new ways with his own ideas that just makes the world, characters, and overall story so colourful and inviting.

And the cover art, created by John Coulthart, is spectacular! A fitting depiction of the atmosphere, world, and tone of the story.


 

 

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks, published by Angry Robot, is available for pre-orders and will be published on 5 February 2019.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

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Review: The Fireman, by Joe Hill

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here Be Spoilers

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Horror.

The Fireman, by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), is set in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic world where the theme is the race for survival of those infected with a fungus called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or more commonly known as Dragonscale, the ‘scale’, or the ‘spore’. The story is told through the perspective of the main protagonist: Harper Grayson (neé Willowes), a nurse who believes in her work despite her own safety.

Harper works at Portsmouth Hospital, New Hampshire, where she meets the Fireman while treating people who have Dragonscale. Although beautiful, Dragonscale is deadly; causing people to ignite and incinerate from the inside out. Due to a chain reaction of incineration, Portsmouth Hospital burns down. Nurse Harper later discovers that she’s pregnant, and a couple weeks after, sees her first black line on her thigh indicating infection. Harper must survive through many life-threatening scenarios, including the one from within.

Harper, along with the Fireman John Rookwood, Allie and Nick Storey, and Renée Gilmonton, fight off not only the deadly effects of Dragonscale but also firing squads, police, and their once community of infected. All to find a sanctuary where Harper can deliver her baby safely and they can live without the constant threat of death.

A curiously good read, leaving suspense and action throughout the chapters that creates the urge to read just one more page before bed. The Fireman has an original take on a possible apocalypse of the world with the potential of its events going horribly wrong all the time.

Favourite Character:

Definitely John Rookwood with his glum, dark humour yet playful demeanour and view of the current predicament of the world. As the Fireman, an image he has taken upon himself through a jest with his late girlfriend, John sets out to rescue and help others with Dragonscale. In a world burning, looking like a fireman is the best way to stay inconspicuous.

John understands the fungus and is able light himself on fire without burning, throw fireballs, and project himself as a huge fire devil. John also creates a phoenix of flame and spore, which Harper finds is more like John than him in his human body.

Favourite Scene:

The fire devil scene, when John, Allie, Harper and a few others went by row boats to rescue two small-time convicts with Dragonscale, hiding from the police. John creates a distraction for the police and firemen by making himself into a large devil, complete with horns, wings and tail. The fire that was John, created enough chaos and smoke, allowed the trapped men to escape to the boats. John even fire-forged a pitchfork during his showing-off of power.

Favourite Line:

“A better name for Dragonscale would be the Nietzsche virus- if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

What Worked For Me:

The concept of an incineration fungus. Combining spontaneous combustion with infection really tickled my nerd-fancy, as well as the (speculative) scientific takes on the ‘scale’ and its abilities and effects.

What Didn’t Work:

The lack of terror put me off. I kept reading and reading, waiting for horror. The essence of horror was there: the infection that makes you burn yourself alive and the psychosis of the people with and without the infection, but there were very few horror scenes happening to the main characters and, in the little that was, the characters seemed to brush it off as odd but not unnerving.

Overall:

While the book was a great concept and a good, easy read, it lacked so much. The potential was bursting through the words for a truly terrifying experience but the story has no dread. The crippling fear of knowing that you could burst into flames at any second, not to mention the horror of seeing everyone around you burn alive from inside, was barely touched. The Fireman read more like a sci-fi drama than a horror, which I still appreciate and it is still a really good book: a book you could read at night, alone in an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm and still sleep well. It left me dreaming about firebirds and dragons.


The Fireman, by Joe Hill, published by William Morrow and Company in 2016, is available for purchase here.

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

Review: E, by Kate Wrath

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Kate Wrath has built a wonderfully dreadful world in the first book of her series, simply titled E, and it’s huge. The politics, socio-economics, crime versus legality being blurred. E has a fascinating dystopia, hinted with some strangeness not in our reality and those little things have a huge impact on how the world is perceived.

E is slow to start in the character department but packed with action, mystery, and suspense from the get-go. After a few chapters, the characters get much more interesting and the plot gradually thickens. Wrath’s pacing is well done, giving enough of the slow scenes to let the reader breathe before it can become boring, then leaping into another fast scene.

Eden, the narrator, could have been more developed. I would have liked more characterisation in the opening chapter to get to know her early on. Sure, Eden doesn’t remember anything, but she has internal dialogue and that can reveal plenty about her personality. But she grew on me after a while, somewhere around the middle of the story when she starts to get more personality and come alive.

While I enjoyed the story, there were some gripes that broke me out of the flow. One is the sexual tensions and subtle near-action flirting between her and three characters that feels stretched out beyond its capacity. The cliffhangers at the end of each scene becoming tiring and jarring when the next scene starts and everyone’s okay and alive. This may be why Eden feels distant, why I don’t care about her, because I don’t see any resolution, even how remote, to the major shocks presented as the closing of most scenes.

As someone with aphantasia, the excessive detail on Eden’s surroundings, actually anything she sees, is a put-off. It’s just information I can’t do anything with. This is, of course, not something that will be shared with the majority of readers so it’s a rather personal opinion.

I also wasn’t too keen on Eden suddenly, and especially without some reaction, knowing so much about how the world around her works from the second chapter onward. Some of its workings she discovers by actively trying to figure it out but other times it’s just there with no external source. This wouldn’t be too jolting if there were some reactions from her about her re-emerging memories and perhaps also some further reflection on them and their significance.

The story is otherwise really good, and the world-building is captivating. I think I’d have long abandoned the book if it weren’t for the need to find out what’s happening to the Outpost and the other characters, specifically Matt and Apollon. On that note, I really need to read the next book, Evolution, and discover more. Wrath has this feel in her writing that hooks regardless of anything I mention above, and I couldn’t stop reading.


 

 

E, by Kate Wrath, published in 2014, is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

Review: Sick Bastards, by Matt Shaw

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: No Spoilers

Genre: Splatterpunk Horror.

Firstly, before I get into this review, I have to say that Matt Shaw has balls. This world he built is highly controversial, and to publish it as well? That takes guts.

Now, be warned, Sick Bastards is not a book for everyone. Mostly, I’m pretty sure only a few people can handle it. The cover even comes with a warning label. With that said, this review won’t go into the details of the story for two reasons:

  1. No spoilers, and
  2. It’s graphic and I’d rather not risk grossing out my followers, and leave it up to you to decide whether to chance the book or not.

To start this review, I need to open with a premise. The content of the story is for the sake of fiction, the character development, and the plot. This is good to remember if you decide to read the book. This is not a story for readers to insert themselves or their moral standards onto the character/s. And, just as a disclaimer, the events and devices used in this book are not condoned or acceptable for real life. Yes, you’re probably getting an idea of this already from just this introduction.

Content aside, the story is great. Shaw has his characters nailed to a T. Well-developed and with proper character arcs we get to see throughout the story. The non-linear approach was an excellent decision in how to tell the story, giving flashbacks of important events to the narrator’s life from the moment he woke up in the house—with no recollection of anything prior.

Shaw also masterfully weaved curiosities in the form of details about the world and the scenario that carries the reader through with the mystery. The planes the sometimes fly overhead, the clear skies and green grass, the birds. How did the characters get there, what are those things in the woods, and what exactly happened to force the characters into such a situation?

It’s a gruesome life.

And an unpredictable story. The build up to the climax and resolution is excellently crafted. While I suspected what the truth was from about part three, I wasn’t exactly confident. Horror has a tendency to either go directly they way you think or not at all. So it was satisfying knowing I suspected right. All the signs were there but the way Shaw weaved them had me suspicious even further that they were only red herrings.

What set me off sometimes from the story was a little bit of authorsplaining (which isn’t so bad, honestly), the repetition of certain facts, and the purple prose. These are, of course, purely my own reader preference and they don’t necessarily detract from the story itself. The big repetitions are clearly used as a device for the atmosphere and tone of the latter parts of the story, though I’d have preferred if they gave new information of the same scenes instead of the word-for-word repeating.

I usually read the Author Notes or Afterword of a story I enjoy to glean some insight into the mind of the writer, and in this book it is definitely recommended to do so. This is the first time I’ve read something from Matt Shaw and, suffice to say, I look forward to reading his other works. It’s such good writing, I devoured the book in under a day. One, non-stop sitting.


 

 

Sick Bastards: A Novel of Extreme Horror, Sex and Gore, by Matt Shaw and published in 2014, is available to purchase here.

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

Review: A Star-Wheeled Sky, by Brad R. Torgersen

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Mild Spoilers Here

Genre: Military Science Fiction

A Star-Wheeled Sky begins with a full and proper space-opera setting, in the ship called Daffodil. In a couple of pages of the prologue, we quickly get the gist of the factions at play, a rough idea of humanity’s progress in expansion in the galaxy, and the sense of the alien through the Waypoints. A hole lot of of essential world-building that I, for one, thought was executed well.

Shortly after, we’re introduced to the characters Zuri Mikton, Garsina Oswight, Wyodreth Antagean, and Golsubril Vex, and later a few more. And the conflict rises from the worlds, this great mystery of a new Waypoint that just showed up. The narrative shows this isn’t normal and, considering they’re in the midst of a war, not good. Torgersen uses several of his various characters to give another piece of the world and the puzzle through their eyes as the story progresses toward the climax, blending in the information almost seamlessly.

Favourite Character:

By far, the character that I enjoyed reading the most was Elvin Axabrast. He’s complex and well developed. Hard on the outside but soft within. He sees life simply but is also able to acknowledge the various complexities that are attached to daily living and history. The strong silent type here works and it’s because he’s a war veteran with a family attached history he’d rather everyone not say anything about. I was delighted when he got his own chapter from his point of view and got more of a feel for his personality.

Favourite Scene:

The scene I most enjoyed, though there are many I wanted to pick, was the part near the end of Chapter 16 when Captain Loper revealed how Wyodreth used to be as a young adult. This scene resonated as the most relateable and as an important message for people to think about. In the scene, Loper’s reveal gives Wyodreth a new perspective on his preconceptions of the Lady Oswight. The point wasn’t that she’s young and new to adventure, trying to make her own mark in the universe and being bossy in the endeavour, but that people should consider others and reflect on their own behaviour, thoughts, and past in order to see the other person’s perspective and try to understand them.

Favourite Line:

“I’ve forgotten more in my time than you could ever hope to know in yours. And that’s depressing, you understand? Why go through the trouble to teach yourself something, when you’ll have to decide to eventually to let it all fall away again later? Took me at least a couple of centuries to figure that out.” – Lethiah.

What Worked For Me:

I particularly enjoyed that space battles weren’t instantly full-on contact, taking several hours from detection of the enemy to reaching firing range. The feeling of “silence” during the battles is believable and appreciated, and Torgersen’s pacing is wonderful.

What Didn’t Work:

It could have been a more immersive story if I didn’t have to break out of the flow every now and then from the authorsplaining or repetitions of information already revealed. Of course, I read the ARC and this might be corrected in the final print version.

Overall:

I experienced disorientation each time I had to pause reading to tend to real life mundanes. It felt like I was ripped from hundreds of lightyears away back to Earth in a few minutes. As much as it has it flaws, I found the story hyper immersive. When I realised I was half-way through, I didn’t want it to end.

A Star-Wheeled Sky is like some mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Battlestar Galactica series (remake). All-in-all a riveting and enjoyable military sci-fi story packed with action, suspense, and mystery. Though I am disappointed with the lack of resolution at the end. If this is the first in a series, it might not be so bad and what I’d expect of a cliffhanger ending. That doesn’t hold in a stand-alone book for me. I do hope there’ll be sequel.

And to top it all off, Alan Pollack’s artwork for the book’s cover is spot-on true to the scene it’s based on and brilliantly made.


 

 

A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad R. Torgersen, publishing under Baen Books, comes out in December 2018 and is currently available for pre-order.

 

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

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