Tag Archives: troubled hero

Review of The Medusa’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Mask of Medusa series by T.O. Munro

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I met the author during a late-night session at the bar at Bristolcon 2016 – a marvellous evening and it ended up with him giving me a review copy. I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it…

Haunted by very different pasts, three travellers journey together across a continent riven by clashes of faith and race. Odestus, the war criminal flees from justice. Persapha, new to all things human, yearns for a way and a place to belong. Marcus Fenwell, schooled in diverse talents, seeks a future beyond a wine bottle. But past and future entwine to snare them all, for the Medusa has not been forgotten nor her daughter forgiven.

As it happens, that very snappy, non-spoiler blurb neatly sums up the ongoing structure of the book. We follow the fortunes of all three of these interesting characters as events unspool around them. This is complicated by the fact that one of the characters is in a very tricky position in a timeline ahead of when the rest of the action takes place.

Munro certainly knows how to wind up the tension as we witness one of the protagonists being interrogated in fairly dire circumstances – before switching to one of the other characters. The focus of the book is the title heroine, Persapha, who has had a very peculiar start in life, having been hatched from an egg and raised by reptiles. We are alongside as she starts to pick her way through a busy city filled with humans, who she finds difficult to understand. I found myself genuinely concerned on her behalf as the dangerously innocent girl uses her mother’s mask to try and discover what happened to her.

The magic system is skilfully handled and I really enjoyed the world, which works well. There are some nice twists in the political landscape that I appreciated and the characterisation is convincing with plenty of depth. However, I was more distanced from the main protagonists than I would have liked as Munro tends to drift out of viewpoint and into a semi-omniscient point of view. While I am aware that plenty of readers still enjoy this story-telling structure, it gives the book a slightly old-fashioned feel and left me a little frustrated. Given the depth and complexity of the characters, I would have appreciated a more immersive approach to fully hook me into the story, though this is very much a personal preference.

That said, it is still very well written with plenty going on and a gathering momentum towards the end. Before it all comes to a juddering halt. Not a single storyline is resolved – every single one of the main plotlines is left on a cliffhanger after reading over 600 pages. I am aware that a second book is in the works, but I would have liked some payoff for getting to the end of the first volume in this series.
8/10

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Friday Faceoff – Do not go gentle…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring night, or the dark, so I’ve chosen Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Book 1 of Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden.

 

This cover, produced by Puffin in April 2016, is not my favourite, but like all these covers it is a strong contender. I like the fact that Denizen looks the right age and as the light pours from his hands, the creatures lurking in the gloom are suitably menacing, thus accurately reflecting the content in this outstanding children’s fantasy series. I love the strapline, but I’m not a fan of the title font, which is rather boring.

 

This edition was produced by Puffin in January 2017 has a more grandiose backdrop, though the boy looks older which I think is a bit of a shame. That said, the excellent writing and great adventure ought to be enjoyed by anyone in their early teens, as well as younger children. The title font is still rather boring, but reasonably inoffensive and the cover still accurately reflects the content.

 

Published in August 2016 by Random House, I really like this cover. The sword wreathed in blue coruscating fire glows from the cover, as the dark roils in the background. As for the title font – that’s just what a cool title like this needs! The title now delivers depth and suitable awesomeness that promises – and delivers – a cracking adventure you won’t easily forget. This is my second favourite cover.

 

This German offering, published in April 2016 by Sauerländer ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the cover as it features the depth and breadth of the world, with Denizen standing in the middle. I also like the font, which is attractively displayed and again, reinforces the impression that this is a strong series with a gritted struggle between Light and Dark. This cover is my favourite. What about you – which of these is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Deadly Dance – Book 1 of the D.I. David Vogel by Hilary Bonner

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I was drawn to this one because it is set in Bristol and the fact it is the first in a series, so I requested the arc.

The discovery of the partially-clothed body of a teenage girl in the heart of Bristol’s red light district indicates a tragic yet familiar scenario. But this marks the start of a baffling murder investigation where nothing is as it first appears. Fourteen-year-old Melanie Cooke told her mother she was visiting a school friend. Who was she really going to meet? Detective Inspector David Vogel is led towards three very different principal protagonists, each of whom grows increasingly chilling. But are they what they seem? And is any one of them capable of murder? A darkly complex secret lies behind Melanie’s death – and its ultimate revelation will shock Vogel and his team to the core.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I’d done the right thing in requesting this murder mystery thriller. There are four narrators throughout this tense thriller – D.I. Vogel’s point of view, which is in third person and three first-person viewpoints, who are three tormented young men who are struggling to fit into society – Leo, Al and Saul. As we keep returning to their ongoing battles to come to terms with their impulses, I found myself feeling some sympathy with the crippling loneliness that is evident within all three of them.

By comparison, I found David’s character rather pallid – he isn’t exactly Mr Charisma anyway, but while it becomes increasingly imperative that he solves the mystery, I was tempted to skim his scenes at home with his wife. The third person viewpoint simply doesn’t have the punch and immediacy of the three antagonists – I’m assuming this device is a deliberate ploy, but I don’t think it is wholly successful. It seems to me that one of the major tasks of a first book is to establish the protagonist as a strong, sympathetic character, even if he isn’t completely likeable and I’m not sure that Bonner has ticked that box with this book.

Where she triumphantly succeeds however, is in delivering a gripping page-turner. For as the story progresses, each of these three characters are increasingly mired in a mess of their own making. I was watching each of them begin to unravel and there was no question of my putting the book down until I discovered who did what to whom. The gathering tension as the stakes are steadily raised and the handling of the denouement and resulting fallout is beautifully handled. This book is recommended for those who like their police procedural thrillers tense and gritty. While I obtained the arc of Deadly Dance from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring a fancy font, so I’ve chosen Assassin’s Apprentice – Book 1 of The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

 

This cover, produced by Spectra in March 1996, is not my favourite, however I still like it. The content is directly applicable to the cover and I particularly like the shadowed stag and birds wheeling in the air. While my preference is not to have the main character featured on the cover – it always jars with my mental image – this depiction isn’t offensively different, other than being rather better fed and groomed than the scrawny, feral character I always imagined Fitz to be.

 

This edition was produced by Voyager in March 1996 and is far less eye-catching. The generic ship in a rough sea could be headed anywhere and the small inset headshots don’t really add very much. I do like the design around the title and author fonts, which are at least an improvement on the usual wretched rectangular blocks plonked in the middle of the artwork. However, the overall greyness wouldn’t encourage me to pluck this one off the shelves.

 

Published in November 2002 by Spectra, edition manages to evoke the sense of magic. The deep blue is attractive and I like the fact that Fitz is stroking a dog while Spymaster Chade has his hand upon the boy’s head in a somewhat threatening manner. The castle in the background emphasises the sense that Fitz isn’t free to come and go as he pleases. Overall, I think this cover works really well and is a close contender.

 

This edition, published in 2011 by Voyager fulfils the brief as far the fancy font is concerned and also happens to be my favourite. Given that Fitz is writing his memoirs throughout this trilogy, I really like the effect that this is an old parchment and the lovely flowing font is both beautiful and eye-catching.

 

This Spanish edition also caught my eye – and this time the fancy font is featuring Robin Hobb’s name, which seems a smart marketing move, given just how famous she is. Published in June 2014 by Plaza & Janés México, I love the layers of action fading into the sky as the boy on horseback trots through the landscape, looking rather lonely. Which one is your favourite?

Teaser Tuesday – 28th November, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Bound – Book 8 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
p. 60 I started walking south, along the towpath and Talisid matched my pace. ‘I understand that your current situation is less than ideal,’ he offered when I didn’t speak.
‘That’s something of an understatement.’
‘We’d be willing to offer compensation.’
‘Do you know what Richard would do if he found out that I was spying on him?’
‘No.’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Not personally. He’d give me to Morden instead. Or if he was feeling really sadistic, to Vihaela. Do you know what they would do?’

BLURB: Alex Verus can see the future. But he never thought he’d see this day. Manoeuvred by forces beyond his control, the probability mage has made a terrible choice: he’s agreed to work for his old master once more.
Richard Drakh, the sadistic dark mage Alex escaped as an apprentice, has him in his clutches again. And this time, he won’t let go so easily.

I love this series – see my review here of the first book Fated. Benedict’s depiction of a  mage with prescient abilities is outstanding. So when I saw this one on the library shelves, I had to have it. And it’s immediately pulled me into Alex’s dire situation… I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

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This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

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I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the first part of the blurb – which is far too long
and chatty for my taste – so requested this one from Netgalley. I’m so glad I did.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

This wasn’t remotely what I was expecting. What I thought I was getting was an urban fantasy tale of a werewolf with something of a Jungle Book twist. What this book actually covers is the life of Weylyn Grey, mostly through the viewpoint of people who come into contact with him and whose lives he affects. From the time he is found roaming around the forests with a pack of wolves, he is clearly unusual. But other odd things continue to happen around him.

Given this is set in contemporary America, these unusual talents don’t encourage Weylyn to don a spandex suit featuring a cape and his underpants over his tights – instead they are a constant concern as they often put those around him in acute danger. There is a particularly poignant scene just over halfway through the book where we learn why he hates snow so much.

There are a number of viewpoint characters throughout this book – something I’m not normally a huge fan of. Some of them only feature for a single section, while others return more than once. But each one plays a role in Weylyn’s life as they come into contact with him and become aware of his strangeness. While it has been done before, building the characterisation of the main protagonist through the various viewpoints of a series of transitory characters is a risky strategy. This normal structure most often occurs in murder mysteries where we gradually learn about the victim through the eyes of those who knew her and the investigating team looking into her murder. If we don’t like the victim all that much, it doesn’t really matter – the issue powering the narrative drive in such stories is discovering who killed her. However, for this book to work on almost any level, we need to like and empathise with Weylyn and his plight, because if we don’t care then there’s no point in continuing to read on.

While this may be her debut novel, Lang clearly is an experienced, competent writer with a clean, unfussy writing style that quickly drew me into this book and kept me engrossed until the end. I was sufficiently invested that despite the fact that I could predict the probable ending some way off, I was perfectly happy to relax and go with the flow. And when the ending finally did come, I was left with a lump in my throat.

There is a warmth and gentleness about Weylyn that drew me to him. Lang doesn’t actually sugarcoat his life – some harsh things happen, but there is a steel core of optimism running through this book that swept me up and had me believing that in the end, the right folks would prevail. If you are looking for something a bit different with plenty of heart and adventure, along with a splash of magic realism, then this comes highly recommended.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc novella Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I was intrigued when I saw this on the Netgalley dashboard – and obviously went for it…

Special limited edition science fiction hardcover novella by the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Only 1000 copies.

Scions have no limits. Scions do not die. And Scions do not disappear.
Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong. Now Regan and his men, ill equipped and demoralised, must go behind enemy lines, find the missing Scion, and uncover how his suit failed. Is there a new Ironclad-killer out there? And how are common soldiers lacking the protection afforded the rich supposed to survive the battlefield of tomorrow?

This year has marked an outpouring of creativity by this talented author, who is clearly relishing flexing his writing muscles. The last book I reviewed only a few weeks ago was in the first-person viewpoint of a wardog. This offering features battle-hardened Sergeant Ted Regan, who has improbably managed to keep himself and his small team from being killed thus far in a war where ordinary troops are regarded as fodder for the scary fighting machines and near-impregnable Ironclads.

I found that once I picked this one up, it was difficult to put down. I’m not a huge fan of novellas. It takes a degree of technical skill to downsize plot progression, characterisation and worldbuilding, particularly in science fiction and fantasy settings, so that the pacing and story flow doesn’t suffer. In my frank opinion, relatively few authors can successfully pull this off – and while I think the denouement was just a tad hurried so that I had to go back and reread it to ensure I completely understood what was going on, it certainly didn’t make a major dent in my overall enjoyment of this cracking tale.

The world is a grim one. Now resources are increasingly limited, the major corporations are fighting for control of governments and land in order to continue to make money. Most people have been knocked down to subsistence levels with only the privileged few able to live in any kind of luxury. However, as is often the case, the true motivations of the savage fighting are wrapped up in grander-sounding motivations – like freedom and democracy. Those at the sharp end know only too well what a hollow sham that turns out to be and I loved Ted’s world-weary take on what is happening around him.

It means that when it all kicks off, I care about him and the small band of outmatched underdogs tasked with a Mission Impossible job. Knowing Tchaikovsky’s form, I was genuinely worried that we might lose one of the team. In the event, as the action unspooled I wasn’t going anywhere until I discovered what happened and the ending came as something of a shock. I am really hoping that this proves to be the start of a new series – I’d love to see more of this world.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Zip it, lock it and throw away the key

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is keys, so I’ve chosen Keeper of the Keys – Book 2 of The Cycle of Fire series by Janny Wurts.

 

This cover, produced by Grafton in 1990 is really eye-catching with the limited colour palette of blues. The glowing key illuminating the face from below gives an otherworld, ethereal cast to the character and while I don’t much like chatter on the front cover – at least the endorsement isn’t too intrusive. This is my favourite.

 

This edition was produced by Ace in August 1988 and is far more dramatic. The protagonist is clearly in a desperate situation. I really like the unfolding drama with the sinister figure looming over the hapless lad. My problem with this cover is that the beautifully painted eagle somehow gets lost amongst the large golden lettering. Why on earth didn’t they choose another colour for the title font?

 

Published in October 1995 by HarperPrism, this is another beautiful detailed, action-packed cover. This time, the protagonist (he does get about, doesn’t he?) is hanging off the hull of a boat, moodily clutching the key around his neck as he gazes out across the seascape. I also thoroughly enjoy this one – but the eerily lit face just edges it. Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mongrel Mage Book 19 in The Saga of Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt Jr

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The Saga of Recluce is a classic fantasy series often quoted for the masterly attention to detail to the worldbuilding and fine magical system – but the thought of ploughing through eighteen books is enough to make your knees buckle. You simply don’t have the time – or the stamina. What to do? Well, The Mongrel Mage not only will delight fans of this cracking series but also makes an excellent entry point into this world.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic – the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

Regular visitors to this site will know that I am a fan of Modesitt. At his best, his writing is amazing – see my review of Ghosts of Columbia. But I haven’t read all the Recluce novels and when I was reading them, back in the Dawn of Time, it was way before I was writing reviews. So I was interested to see this one on Netgalley and give it whirl. I’m so glad I did.

Modesitt is a master at crafting a solid world. While there is mayhem and chaos unleashed in abundance, we generally also spend a fair amount of time alongside his protagonist as he goes about his daily life. We learn what he wears, who he chats to and his impressions about them and above all – we learn what he eats. Modesitt always tells you in some detail about what his character is eating. It’s a neat trick. Because you immediately learn how wealthy the food provider is, how effective they are at food preparation and at what level technically and culturally they are operating at.

Though none of this would matter if I didn’t care about Beltur. However, I do. His careful, wary attitude speaks of early loss and pain – and the fact he doesn’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t help that he is something of a failure and despite his uncle’s painstaking training, his mastery of white magic is rather poor, leading his uncle’s official apprentice, Sydon, to look down on him and bully him when his uncle isn’t there.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sortie into the countryside, when we learn a lot about the politics as the Prefect sends out Kaerylt with his two young charges to look into the matter of women fleeing from local towns and villages and making their way to Westwind. If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor constant action, then this isn’t the story for you. But it does mean that when the action suddenly roars in – it matters and is a shock. This pacing is particularly effective if said action comes out of apparently nowhere when treachery is involved – and my jaw dropped at a specific incident and I couldn’t then put the book down to save my life.

All in all, this is Modesitt doing what he does best – painstakingly constructing a world through the eyes of a sympathetic, slightly distanced protagonist and letting him loose in a politically complex world where a huge power struggle is going on. I loved it – it’s a worthy addition to the Saga of Recluce series and a very nifty introductory book for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy.
9/10