Book Review – The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

My review of The Dirty Street of Heaven by Tad Williams

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Tad-Williams/The-Dirty-Streets-of-Heaven.html

To be honest, before beginning this book I was unsure of the story and concept Williams was portraying. However, I have always enjoyed Tad Williams books and I know he does like to mix up his writing style so thankfully I was pleasantly surprised in The Dirty Streets of Heaven. I found the main characters and view to be engaging. The principle character, Bobby Dollar, is a nice balance of several characters types. If you have seen the movie or read the comics, you will find elements of Constantine, in his view of aspects of Heaven, Hell and Demons. I also found characteristics of Sandman Slim in the anthropomorphic depiction of demons and miscellaneous things that walk. Dresden is also in the mix in the elements of Bobby’s motivation and actions towards demons. Divine hero, wounded, beaten, and tired, out of his depth and trick but ever growing, evolving and becoming something more.

The topic of Heaven, Hell and souls is a hefty one in real life, let alone fantasy. In a good fantasy book we usually are fighting with magic against Monsters and Dark Lords, but in The Dirty Streets we are tackling the issue of the balancing of the soul, and who gets to go to Heaven and who goes to Hell. The construct Williams uses is simple in its meme but complex in approach, and quite thought provoking. Salvation or damnation at the end of a gavel, where every action in life is chronicled and used to defend and prosecute you, no death bed repentance her. As part of a souls judgement we are introduced to the ‘Outside’, a place outside time and this is a nice model for dealing with the number of souls to be balanced. It’s along this path that the story diverges and leaves Bobby with more questions than answers. What happens when you cannot find the souls to judge?

Like most of our fantasy heroes the main character is a lone wolf but he does have some interesting friends and resources which get introduced along the way; the most notable is character called Fatback: cursed, Fatback could be called a were-pig (kinda) human with a pig mind during the day and by night a pig with a human mind. I like this concept, it’s a nice twist on selling your soul and getting what you asked for.

Williams has introduced the notion that as an Angel you don’t remember your past and your first memories are of being an Angel serving God’s great plan. I hope this goes somewhere as it has been mentioned on several occasions in the book. The same goes for the specific details around Angels in human bodies. There is great detail in some aspect but little in others.

There is an undercurrent in the story of a possible division in Heaven. As well as Bobby’s own misgivings and perspectives on Heaven without the rose coloured glasses. Heaven is not divine, and even this world can be flawed. This approach I feel will have larger ramifications in later books. Ignorance is bliss, while knowledge carries responsibility. I am looking forward to seeing where Williams takes this idea.

When Bobby finally uncovers the truth behind the mystery of souls disappearing, and that Heaven or Hell is not the only choice, that there is a third way, his struggle between duty and free-will is written skilfully. God gave man free will, but are we truly free if the only choice is Heaven or Hell. If even Angels have their doubts.

I will be honest though – I did have some gripes with how Williams wrote certain aspects.

There is a constant theme whereas Bobby keeps talking to the reader, telling them lines like “I might tell you about this later” or “it’s none of your business”. Well if we don’t need to know don’t write it in then.

While I know it’s only a story form, I did find the view that you go to Heaven regardless of faith or religion a little forceful and not really productive to the story. I can see what Williams is trying to put across but it felt like I was back in Church on Sunday and Williams is preaching the word, Old Testament style: fire, brimstone and damnation. Thankfully there is not too much of this. I commend the level of detail Williams has tried to portray in some areas of divinity but I did not feel there was the same level of detail for the Hell side.

I love my fantasy and the hero should always have a love interest and Bobby’s love interest was fairly predictable but still surprising in elements. However, I found the addition of a fairly graphic sex scene to be completely pointless in portraying their growing affection. It’s a book not a movie or TV series looking to score rating.

I found I could connect with the story but not with the characters as much as I normally would have. I put this down I think to the lack of detail in Bobby’s character which strangely was not evident in Bobby’s love interest, the demon bitch from Hell, which in the end I actually have a level empathy for. I hope we start to see more of Bobby’s history in the second book.

Overall I enjoyed this book, Tad Williams likes to keep his style evolving and brings us something new in each series. Worth the read and investment for the second installment.

7.5/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

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Book Review – The Fate of the Dwarves by Markus Heitz

My review of The Fate of the Dwarves by Markus Heitz

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Markus-Heitz/The-Fate-of-the-Dwarves.html

“Vraccas defend us: He has returned! Returned as the Commander of Evil.”

The land of Girdlegard has fallen to the rule of the Mad, Evil and Monsters Tungdil and Ireheart sacrificed friend and love to set it free from.

The Barrier is now failing and the Black Pit awakens. The peace and protection long fought by Tungdil will shatter and the evil contained within will roam free once more.

On this day of anguish and despair has a hero long through dead arisen to aid his once friends or to conquer a land besieged.

With armor black as night and a countenance of bitterness and determination has Girdlegards greatest hero come once again.

The Fate of the Dwarves is the fourth book in the Dwarves series and like many books before it, and many to come there, are traces of true magic, wit and secrets untold; unfortunately these aspects of the story have been greatly under-capitalised in the conclusion to the Dwarves saga. What I have truly enjoyed from this series has been the personality of the characters. Ireheart has been one of my most loved characters and I was greatly relieved that this has not been lost in this instalment. Thankfully, in the events portrayed there has been a greater emphasis on Ireheart as a character and he really comes into his own more. His playfulness, lust for battle and devotion to friends has earned him a place in my heart.

It is in this way that I think the book excels, several of the newly introduced characters have really been kicked up a gear, most notable was the descendant of the Great Rodario; Rodario the Seventh. I feel this is the character that original Radario should have evolved into in the previous books. While being no less cocky than his progenitor, he is smart, capable, ruthless and just as confused by women as the rest of us men. My one negative thought about the character is “if only he could have been a Maga”. I almost feel a hint, a scent on the air but it does not go anywhere, a recurring theme for aspects of the book.

The story… I honestly do not know where to begin. The Black Abyss, home to the most vial, loathsome and destructive creatures the land of Girdlegard and beyond has ever seen and yet it doesn’t go anywhere. The Abyss is a constant in the story but the author really fails to exploit this mine of possibility. The threat is ever present, however you never feel like this chasm of evil is really that frightening. The same can be said for the lesser plots, which seem to number greatly but never get beefed up. As a reader you don’t feel connected to the story, it’s more like watching the extra at the back of the Star Trek scene who just follows Kirk, Spock and McCoy about and dies after 5 minutes. Except here He Just Will Not Die.

There is the making of a true Dark Lord or Evil Mr. Rogers but there is no back story; no anathema for the character and it just feels empty. Tungdil as the hero is also wanting, there is some true gold (no pun intended) in his back-story and his struggle for survival but we only get a taste of it. How he survived, the mystery behind the armour he wears and the dramatic change in personality. These elements had the making of a truly exceptional character unlike the Tungdil of old and one I would have loved to read about again.

The Fate of the Dwarves does not feel like a conclusion; there are too many unanswered questions and unfinished plots. While trying to capture the threat of the retuning evil and the plight of Girdlegard and its people, these underlying themes do not get the detail they deserve. This last instalment could have become two novels which would have given it the breathing room to the development some of the new elements like Tungdil, the Evil from the Black Abyss, the desolation of Girldlegard from internal forces.

There are elements in this story that I think are true to the series and the characters I have committed to. If you are a fan of the series I think you will enjoy the story, but be warned there might be more questions unanswered than answered.

6/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Thiefs Magic by Trudi Canavan

My review of Thiefs Magic by Trudi Canavan

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Trudi-Canavan/Thiefs-Magic.html

Unearthing secrets and cultures long departed is the cornerstone for every archaeological student and while excavating an unmarked tomb Tyen Ironsmelter, student sorcerer and archaeologist of the Academy makes a discovery that will change his life forever.   Hidden and buried in anonymity Tyen discovers a book of immense power. Once a human sorcerer, Vella has been transformed into a receptacle of magical knowledge by the greatest scorer that every life, Roporien. Bound to this fate for a 1000 years Vella cares for nothing and will never speak a lie. No loyalties bind her and any who hold her can seek all the information she contains. Keeping Vella hidden Tyen is soon betrayed by those he trusts mpst, when his mentor Professor Kilraker tries to steal Vella for the power she contains. Rescuing Vella Tyen must run from the life he has worked hard to build and searching for knowledge long lost to free Vella from servitude.

Along this journey Tyen soon discovers a truth, feared and hidden that magic is failing. The great magic powered industrial revolution is destroying his world. The illustrious machines created for the betterment of mankind is now its most lethal weapon. The precious few who recognise this secret will do all in their power to keep it for the masses.

In a place governed by the Law of the Angels, Magic is forbidden expect to those of the priesthood. Rielle, daughter of a rich family has from a young age had the ability to see magic, and has schooled that she must hide this secret lease the priesthood discover her shame. Rielle, knowing that if she can see magic’s stain she can use magic is tricked into igniting her ability. Caught and sentence to imprisonment by the priesthood, all is as it appears. Brought before her Gods and charged with a mission, Rielle must leave all she knows behind and venture alone into her world and replace the magic she has used. All know to create is to restore.

I have always enjoyed Trudi Canavan’s novels and for her latest I have been fortunate to be presented a proof copy of Thief’s Magic. This is the first advance novel I have had the good luck to be given and it’s a strange sense as it feels there is more of a thrill and anticipation to reading a book not available to all readers and more of a responsibility concerning the review of that book. For me, I have to be sure the balance of positive and negative aspects on the story are right as well as not providing too many spoilers.

Our introduction in Thief’s Magic is to Tyen and I will say it was a pleasure to read. Tyen, while initially bowing to the law of the Academy, is intelligent, resourceful, analytical and somewhat adventurous. He is a young man from a poor background who appreciates his past and the sacrifices his family made to get him where he is. Canavan has written him somewhat naive to the world and its harsh realities but his other attributes come clearly of the page while on the run from the Academy.

The idea that sorcery and archaeology are taught side by side was appealing to me, it is an adventures dream and can provide a writer with some interesting scenarios for the lead characters. The mystics of the sorcerer and the practicality of archaeology, Indie eat your heart out. I’m sure a fedora would have been a little much but would have been cool.

Eventually and thankfully Tyen’s trust and naivety sees him betrayed by his friend and peers, forcing him to flee with Vella. This is where the story kicks in for Tyen and you begin to empathise with the character. Determination, intelligence and luck flourish for him as we read about how he fairs in sorcerous duels, stealing air ships and captivating young women’s hearts.

It pretty obvious how this plays out for Tyen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Tyen’s future I see him doing one of two things; replenishing his worlds depleting magic or forcing his world to reduce its magic use so that magic can return naturally. He will look to do good but cause great disaster, not through malice but a willingness to trust and help others.

~SPOILER~

It’s this level of trust that is a cause of the catastrophe at Spirecastle. This piece of the story doesn’t make much sense to me for the linear progression of the character. Tyen has been running from Kilraker and the Academy for a while and to suddenly trust Kilraker’s scheme to restore magic kind of defies the lessons he has learnt. I can appreciate Tyen’s need to help the people of his world, but to aid the man who ran Tyen from his life, future, family and friends – I just don’t see it.

Vella as a construct is a creative character addition. She is alive yet dead, a person with a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips and all you have to do is just ask the question and the truth will be revealed. Yet even without this emotional connection to the reader, you empathise with her and the things she says have been done to her. A lot of fun can be had with this character; she supposedly can’t lie and has no concept of trust or loyalty. Vella has no emotion whatsoever, so depending on how this turns out she could be the greatest Villain of all (secretly hoping). Towards the end of the story we do start to see snippets of a more controlled intelligence – when describing the process for travelling between worlds, she omits the whole truth from Tyen. There is an abstraction here as she purposely left information out. While the argument may be made that an exact question may not have been asked, the constraints of Vella’s imprisonment dictate she cannot lie, but isn’t a truth of omission, still a lie?

Fair warning… this is most likely my own personal bias caused by some other books I have read recently – I am tired of reading about weak willed female leads that are controlled and directed buy their male counterparts. From time to time I like a female lead to be strong willed, determined and capable of looking after herself. I understand that not everyone can start out strong and that we all begin somewhat fragile and needing guidance but I didn’t need two thirds of the story dedicated to Rielle to revolve around her meekness and religious conviction before she finally shows some backbone.

This gradual development of a character doesn’t necessarily bother me as long as the plot and persona engage me; unfortunately the back-story to Rielle was a real struggle. With the wealth of good elements to Thief’s Magic I must admit to skimming Rielle’s chapters until I got back to Tyen.

Stepping out from my own perspective I could see a possible balancing of the characters traits. Tyen rose from docility to strength quickly with Rielle’s slow breaking of her chains possibly needed to counteract this. Additionally, Rielle’s status as a woman in a male hierarchical world is one where her duty will be to marry into a wealthy family to ensure her own family fortunes. This is a true format used time and time again in fiction but I am sure that Canavan will eventually evolve the character into a sure-footed confident heroin. Well I hope so anyway. In contrast to Rielle’s character development the history and layers of the world which Rielle exists has more depth and flavour than Tyen’s world, which does keep you on track for the novel.

The book is structured into eleven parts with each part dedicated to either Tyen or Rielle. Initially I struggled to find the common link between the two protagonists (not hard considering they are on different worlds) apart from their acceptance of the authority over them and it wasn’t until parts ten and eleven that crossover begins. Up unto this point you could consider these two separate books based in the same universe. If they were released as separate books I would be very disappointed with Rielle’s story as a standalone.

When Tyen and Rielle finally do meet I am not sure how they will interact with each other. There defined personalities and belief structure differ enough that a mutual understanding may be difficult to blend in subsequent books, without some large realisation from Rielle’s religious belief or Tyen’s own understanding of the universe.

At this point in the trilogy I can only see one outcome for Rielle’s evolution, learning how to replace the magic in her world. She will meet Tyen and discovers he wants to replenish the magic on his world and they decide to work together towards mutually benefit. I’m actually hoping for a darker twist to Tyen and Rielle’s interactions, maybe something along the lines of them competing against each other to replace magic on their own worlds, before finding a common ground.

Canavan’s concept of magic as a depleting resource is interesting; it provides a delimiter to what and how a sorcerer can accomplish. In a lot of fantasy novels a sorcerer’s ability is expressed by some innate mystical ability, a physical magical power. Canavan, true to form, has added what could be considered her signature perception to her magical world: magic as a force of life; it exists in everything around us, it lives, dies and can be reborn. What she has works, but I would have hoped for something more of an adaptation, a fresh take on the theme.

Having read all Canavan’s previous works I do feel she may be porting one too many elements from her other novels. To me it feels like there is an Age of Five crossover, particularly with the concept of sorcerers’ learning immortality to become god-like, as well as the concept of leeching magic from living things and the environment. I would be interested to see what comparisons other readers pick up when they read.

The idea behind the industrial revolution using magic as its coal was a nice addition, the concept that progress unchecked, bleeding the world dry of its natural resources to ensure the betterment of its people rings true in our own world. Innovation without control and consequence is a dark theme, which I hope comes up more in the subsequent books. The idea that humans are both their own destroyer and savour is a nice addition. It adds a responsibility to the user that they are part of the problem and part of the solution. Thankfully in a fantasy world we can hopefully make it right.

Overall the story is a success, mostly due to Tyen and Vella, with the last couple of chapters of Rielle’s story picking up the pace. There are some true Canavan elements and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next story. Tyen will only develop and learn and it will be interesting to see how he handles the power and responsibility. Rielle must evolve or stay the pawn of a religious overlord; I am not sure which way she will go.

I find that I want to be a little creative with my scoring, so I think I will be. I previously mentioned that this story could easily be divided into two books, so I am going to score accordingly:

Tyen 5/5

Rielle 2.5/5

Total 7.5/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

My review of Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/David-Eddings/Pawn-Of-Prophecy.html

Magic old and new awaits the world when Riva’s Orb is stolen from its Guardian. Sleeping Gods that should be left to lie begin to awaken with consequences for all. Prophecies ruin and dominions eye will fall upon the men of the West if Ancient Belgarath, Polgara and Garion can’t return the Orb to its rightful place.

Let’s begin with a simple question, have you heard of David Eddings? No, shame on you and you call yourself a fantasy nerd! Quickly Google away and come back to me. Still no, well maybe just maybe you have come to the wrong site, perchance where you looking for The Prawn of Prophecy, the world’s best prawn recipe. While this site can’t help you with that but maybe I can:  first you need garlic, chilli, peanut oil… hold on I think I am getting side-tracked…

Pawn of Prophecy is a fantasy novel in its truest form; we have Kings in waiting, mad Gods, magic swords (slight spoiler) and Ancient sorcerers. At the core of Pawn of Prophecy is the quest to retrieve a precious (intentional) object of power before Evil rises once more and destroys the world. You know, nerd candy.

We follow Garion from being a babe on Faldor’s farm, then as he emerges into manhood and joins the quest to retrieve Riva’s Orb. The Orb is an object of immense power and alongside his grandfather Belgarath and is aunt Polgara they must track and retrieve it before it can be used to wake the mad God Torak. Along the way Garion, Belgarath and Polgara are joined by a fellowship (I think you know where I am going with this) of diverse individuals: Silk the spy and Barak the protector. Eddings has written these two wonderfully: Silk is sly, smart and accomplished and Barak is big, strong and a magnificent brutal. Their interactions are quick and funny, exposing an able and close friendship. Traveling far and wide the group cross a world of beauty, featuring with a wide variety of peoples and cultures just daring to be explored in more detail (but we have to wait for the later books to satisfy this craving).

While this is a tried and true fantasy format you never feel like its redundant or that you have read its kind countless time previously. From the outset you feel a connection with Garion’s character and share in his doubt, frustration and his struggle to be the man he wants to be in a time when major events are shaping the world around him. The first time I read Pawn of Prophecy was when I was a teenager and I think we can all relate to this need and desire to be confident, strong and dependable, making your voice heard to the world and the ones you respect. To a degree this will always stay with me when I read this novel and I know I will enjoy the book every time because of it.

Eddings has also injected an edge of doubt and fear into Garion’s character in the guise of Asharak the Murgo. It’s a subtle play and the right level of threat for this book and Garion; Asharak has been watching Garion from the day of his birth but a compulsion keeps him from ever being able to let anyone know about him. With the passing of years comes normalcy, complacency and Garion forgets the danger is even there, right up to the moment you least expect. As you progress through these books this relationship does build to a satisfying climax.

The one negative I found, well two, was firstly the book is finished too quickly, so I suggest you have the second one handy as you will be moving on quickly to Queen of Sorcery. Secondly, I found Garion’s luck and ability to be in the right place at the right time to discover a vital piece of information or thwart a reprobate to be bothersome and redundant. However, the positions Garion becomes involved in are drafted well and the character isn’t just handed the win but is provided the opportunity to get himself out of the moment.

This book and subsequent will feed your fantasy appetite greatly, unfortunately you may have to take a second bite to get that “filling at the corners feeling”, if you don’t mind me paraphrasing a very famous hobbit.

9/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Dodger by Terry Pratchett

My review of Dodger by Terry Pratchett

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Terry-Pratchett/Dodger.html

Come one come all to greatest city in the world.

In London, all men are free, the streets are lined with gold and the naughty ladies are friendly to all.

In London there are geezers on ever street corner and every urchin and tosher is an angel with a dirty face. Home to Her Majesty, Fleet Street, the Square Mile and Dodger – known to all, Dodger is crafty, nimble and some what flexible object of lost and found. Its not really stealing if it could have fallen out of a pocket any way, It’s a service really. So, you saw nothing, you heard nothing and Dodger wasn’t even there.

Dodger rises from the gutter as the hero of London; rescuing damsels in distress and defeating the villains with a smile and a quick wit, but lets not forgot wit gets you only so far so brass knuckles and a crowbar do help.

I still remember my first Terry Pratchett novel. I picked it up by chance and I haven’t looked back since, thank god for specials at Waterstones.

It’s hard not to compare to Terry Pratchett’s non Discworld novels because I love them so much and in Dodger I feel like I am getting a Discworld novel in structure and flavour, but with a difference. There are some definite Discworld style characters, Onan, Dodger’s dog has been illustrated in a manner, and with such personality, I expected him to be able to speak or turn out to be a Wizard of the Unseen University on an expedition from the next universe over, except disguised as a dog.

Pratchett has beautifully narrated Dodger. The story has been written in such a way you can feel the cobblestones under your feet as Dodger works his way around London; thankfully you don’t have to feel some other things described. The quality of the writing takes me back to discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time.

Without giving too much away the sewer grate has definitely been left open for further book, and I say yes, more please. One of the few negatives I had of the book was I would have liked a little more back story on the main characters, but there is always room in the sequel. I am not sure if I would have liked it a little grittier but that would have just made it a different book with a different feel.

This is a little left field but I feel that story was been written in such a way that once Terry succumbs to his illness it could be continue on in its own fashion without trying to recreate Discworld, that uniqueness and wizardry belongs to Terry Pratchett. I can think of no greater tribute to Terry Pratchett if his works could be continued in a small way by others.

If you love Terry Pratchett novels you will love this, if you haven’t read any off Terry’s works before and want to start, you can’t go wrong here.

9.5/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Cold Days by Jim Butcher

My review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Jim-Butcher/Cold-Days.html

In the Heart of Winters domain ‘Artcis Tor’ Harry recovers from his injuries after Mab returns him for the edge of death.

Mab’s rehabilitation techniques could be considered unique; constantly trying to kill Harry Mab is merciless and devote of compassion. Harry must heal quickly or be replaced as the Winter Knight. As the Winter Knight Harry has access to great power. Can Harry control the predator within or will Winter’s lust for death and destroy control Harry?

The schemes of Mab are twisted and elusive, and Harry is ordered to kill Meave, the Winter Lady. He must contend with how can you kill an immortal being of immense power and what game is being played. Will Harry be more than just a pawn!

Finally returned to the world Harry unmasks the fantastic purpose of Demonreach Island. Crafted by Merlin as the most secure prison every built, the Outsiders creatures of hate and malevolence from beyond the Void are seeking to destroy it and release countless nightmares upon the world.

Along this voyage the true nature of Sidhe is revealed to Harry. The battle for the Universe has been going since time immemorial at the Gates between the Void and the Universe. Winter, cold, strong and enduring defends all humanity and beyond. Countless numbers have fallen and now it is down to Harry as a lone defender to protect the Island and the world from the Outsider insurgents.

Harry must work fast, think quickly and count on his friends once more if he is to come out of this one.

As is to be expected from a Dresden novel there is some good humour in Cold Days. My first good chuckle was finding out Santa Claus is part of the Winter court and Harry’s reaction to it. When you think about it it’s pretty obvious. And I won’t spoil a good Santa twist at the end… but the concept that the gods of old have been reshaped into modern legends, well I found this idea to be a clever way of bringing the old into the new. A good question from Harry after a meeting with Mother Winter and coming to this realisation is, “Who is Mother Winter really?” and remember to stay on her good side!

Merlin. I have never sure about Merlin as a character construct for the series; he is just too common in the fantasy world. The flip side to this is, as we get more background on the Island and the fact that Merlin was its creator, you get the feeling more is going on than what is said on the packet. The details about how Merlin creates the “power” behind the Island hints at the ability to travel though time, something what we haven’t come across before. If I am being honest, I am not sure I am in favour off this type of magic in the story. We begin to get a taster of questions to come, how does Merlin tie in with Harry and Harry’s link to the Island? We all know Harry is going to be top dog one day so how does Merlin and the Island come into it?

As the Winter Knight Harry has access to the power of Winter and I have enjoyed that it’s not just a power boost for him, it’s something he has to battle to control. The power itself is corrosive, polluting and engaging and if he were to give into it fully, to give into the lust for death and his baser instincts, he would not be the same man. There is the potential for a continual battle, an internal conflict to be played out everyday. I find this a nice little metaphor for everyone’s internal struggle, “Anger, fear, aggression… the dark side are they”.

Harry is always on the back foot and constantly out-manoeuvred as he tries to make sense of what’s happening around him. This is as true in Cold Days as in the rest of the novels and I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoy the series so much. It’s not simply that he is unaware of what’s happening, he is always trying to figure it out and keep rolling along until he does; bruises, broken bones and deals with the devil aside. It shows that Harry is human and can get things wrong, even though he now has access to fantastic powers.

One of my favourite moments in Cold days was the return of the ‘Hunt’: Harry riding an enchanted Harley Davidson across the river, armoured by smoke! I will be honest – it put a nice wee smile on my face. Sometimes it’s just fun to have the author let loose and throw some magic powered fun into the story.

I am glad that Harry is now getting more involved in the grander schemes and plots and not just stuck protecting his own city. The concept of the Battle at the Edge of Universe I found to be very World of Warcraft and a little hard to swallow. I am not saying that is a bad thing but it just doesn’t gel with how the Sidhe has been previously portrayed: calculating, indifferent and only interested in their own entertainment, not defenders of the Universe; at least no one said “By the power of Grey Skull! (actually that would have been cool!)”. I think I will reserve judgement until the next book and see how it pans out. I would loved for Harry to cross that border and see what’s beyond the universe inside the void.

I may be being a little precious but I have seen it increase greatly over the years: product placement. It is on TV and in the movies constantly and in Cold Days I got that feeling also. In the previous novels there has been references to Coca Cola (Harry’s drink of choice) and movie quotes which tended to tie into the scene. However, I found the constant reference to Coke in Cold Days to be fairly blatant product placement or just lazy rehashing of known themes. I love a good quote from a movie or TV show (see above) but I really felt they could have been dialled back a little. We know Harry loves Coke and movie quotes but we don’t need the filler!

Last page closed and book down my first thought was there appeared to be a washing away of Harrys past adventures and connections to a degree. It’s like Harry is being rewritten/transformed into something more than Harry, and while change and growth of a character is good and hoped for I did have the feeling it was a little rushed. Cold Days isn’t a Dresden novel in the old style; it tends to be concentrating on expanding the Dresden world and having Harry step up to play in the big leagues, to steal an American baseball quote. Some aspects I would have liked are missing and some only get a small piece in the story. A good example of this is Karen, who does not appear in the book until half way through and when she does she is a powerful and strong character written well who adds value to the story.

I missed Harry but this didn’t have the depth I was hoping for but I still got that Dresden feeling, no crunchy involved. Yes I know that three terrible quotes! I can see the transition of Harry to something more and looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

7/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Magicians End by Raymond E. Feist

My review of Magicians End by Raymond E. Feist

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Raymond-E-Feist/Magicians-End.html

There is an old saying “whoever brought me here must also bring me home”. Feist brought us to Pug and Midkemia many years ago and has finally brought us home to an ending; unfortunately I am just not sure that it is an ending worthy of the life of Pug and the Midkemia Universe.

When I read a series I have a tendency to not read the last novel, I guess I don’t want it to actually be over. Nevertheless, it felt like it was time to close the page on Pug (pun intended); I just wish it were more. In Magician’s End I found the plot to be lean, the sub-stories unconnected and I found no empathy or connection with a lot of characters laid out in the story.

We as readers have known the fate of Pug and his eventual demise. Through each story have we not felt the death of each of Pug’s loved ones and related with him as he tries to continue on with the fight? To come to this end, a story without depth or vigor, without the sense of struggle to the bitter end. There was an unsatisfactory realisation that while not all things end happily for everyone, some of those we love can continue on as long as we are willing to sacrifice.

In this book and the others the character I have enjoyed the best has been James Dasher and those of the Jameson line. There is a roughish quality, as well as a commitment that Feist has brought to the character and his offspring, that have always been right. Thankfully the latest incarnation follows true and is one of the main characters in Magician’s End that I took pleasure in. He’s written as intelligent, committed and decisive and this is portrayed well on the page.

Pug for his part never actually feels like the main protagonist. He, Magnus, Miranda and Nakor add an undertone to the book but I got the feeling Feist was trying a little too hard to make a circular story, tying in past lines and characters. The plots that involved these characters were under-developed and lacklustre. This is most evident in how Pug et al must relearn the lessons of the past to save the future. The concept was good: travelling through different worlds, dimensions and times, but the execution and the realization of these lessons was not engaging and overly simplistic.

The re-emergence of the conDoin brothers as main characters added nothing to the story of Pug and his struggles. However, their tale was very entertaining (the brothers’ story line is actually the most action in the whole book) and well written, it should have been its own novel.

The penultimate novel focused a lot on Miranda and Naktor’s return, all be it in a different form, but for the life of me I found no real relevance for this in Magicians’ End. The best I can come up with is that Feist wanted these characters returned for sentimental reasons; standing shoulder to shoulder with Pug at the end. Dead sometimes should just mean dead, no re-spawns or extra loves allowed.

Feist has been leading us down a merry path to the ultimate end for a while now, the unseen hand of true evil who has guided events for 100 years of Pug life… and then we get the Dread Lord… there is no great darkness, no shiver down the spine, yes the Dread is all powerful, yes if they lost the world ends, but between Bliss (don’t get me started on this concept – I am me and my memories are mine… I would not wish to lose myself in a state where I did not know who I am no matter how pleasant) or nothingness I don’t know what’s worse. I think Feist’s concept is extremely flawed and is another big disappointment.

I feel I am focusing a little too much on the negative aspects. Don’t get me wrong, it did have its positive elements. I enjoyed how Feist has portrayed the Gods of Midkemia, the distinction of the Higher Gods in relation to the lower and the greater Power (Universe). Thoughts have power and belief can narrow focus and limit us in small or large ways. Gods are what we make off them. The final great enemy, the Dread Lord, was a tremendous anti-climax however; the idea that the beings of light Sven-ga’ri are actually a caution of the enemy and were made in this image so people would not destroy was very clever.

The texture and attention to detail of environments and surrounds that each character inhabits was another highlight. There is one chapter where pseudo-Marcus is showing off the Universe in all its majesty both large and small. Feist has written with such a level of imagination and skill that I could see it in my mind’s eye as I read.

If there is an epitaph for Magician’s End it’s that the viewpoints and elements Feist is trying to put across are solid but the implementation is lacking and unfulfilling.

At The Gates of Lims-Kragma you choose the delight of the after-life or return to the wheel to be reborn. I have loved and poured over this series for years, there have been some misses but mostly wins. To end it like this, in a whimper and not a bang, with opened ended stories and half promises, I feel completely let down. I choose for the conclusion of Pug’s journey to return to life as a different book, he deserves better.

6/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

My review of Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Tad-Williams/Happy-Hour-in-Hell.html

Bridge off stone, upon the flame,
Path of ash for those unclaimed,
The door ajar for those not shun,
Angels love not undone.

Lords abound in Perditions realm,
Run little Angel, run to Hell,
Her love for you, cold and fleet,
You heart may break once you meet.

Angel broken, Noble defeat,
Loves grasps not within reach,
Friends unseen and friends returned,
Woe to love, hearts defeat.

Controversially, I skimmed the chapters that formed the lead up to Bobby’s journey through Hell. Suffice to say (in my opinion) they were fairly mundane and a bit of a basic preamble to his voyage. However, two pieces of important information can be gained for these initial chapters. First, his supervisor helps get him into Hell, for a price of course. The second a deranged grotesque assassin, formally a serial killer whom Bobby saw destroyed twenty years previously, returns to try and kill him. Great, super, all loose ends tidied for his long journey. Hell GO!

Book one ended with the Countess returning to Hell and this is where book two really kicks in, with Bobby in Hell to rescue his love. There is a very human theme here, the urge and desire to keep safe the ones we love, but is this the Angel or the human side of Bobby coming though? Who would win the internal battle between Celestial host and human soul? One thing stands out for me in this scenario, how can an Angel love? If love is an extension of free will and Angels serve the will of God, doesn’t that mean they have no free will so can’t love? Maybe that’s a little too much heavy thinking…

That aside, in book two we begin to delve more into heavenly and demonly (yes I know that is not a word) affairs.  We are reminded that Bobby is a small fish in a big pond, mostly by himself. However, for such a small fish those in power are very interested. I am unsure if there is a hidden path for Bobby or if it’s just the depths of his abilities and determination flow from his forgotten history. I am currently favouring two options at the moment. One: Bobby is an Arch-Angel, disillusioned with Heaven and trying to regain some faith by doing some leg work on earth. Two: Bobby is actually a Fallen Angel who has been granted access to Heaven again. More than likely it’s neither, but it’s fun to guess.

Finally Bobby makes it to Hell through a long forgotten conduit and as he walks this path from Hell’s outer regions to find the Countess we get to see people and souls trying to survive in a world on the brink. The portrayal of the damned actually begins to make you empathise with their plight; condemned as they are for all eternality with no chance of redemption.

There is symbolism here, where all you know, see and feel is pain, everything around you is death and a struggle to exist. Wouldn’t the best of us can succumb to our darker natures?  It is this sentiment that even Demon Bobby surrenders to during his low moments and it is very human.

The imagery of the different levels of Hell as Bobby traverse through them is sublime, not just descriptive but immersive. You can really see the path and world around you as you walk with Bobby. Williams has given us a place of texture and realism that resembles Dante’s. A nice touch is the additional commentary surrounding Hell’s geography and its reason for being, provided to Bobby at certain junctions by his Hell sponsor, which helps him survive Hell’s infernal extremes. This helped anchor the reader to both the place and Bobby.

Inevitably, Bobby’s own needs and desires play him for a fool but a new resolve is born from this broken man.  Battered, bruised and barely coming out alive Bobby steals himself towards a new purpose.

I like how Williams ended this story and found that the race was better than the price. It would have been too easy any other way. This leads the reader nicely to the next installment with just the right level on uncertainty for the character.

8.5/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

Book Review – Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

My review of Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Brian-McClellan/Promise-of-Blood.html

The alchemy of gunpowder fused with the magic of sorcery. In a time of upheaval, resurgence and corrupted Royalty Privileged, one-man’s love for his lost wife and his country burns and fuels a new order where all can be treated equally.

Sometimes to build new you must burn the old.

Legends long hidden may rue the day when Old Gods return and Field Marshal Tamas’s coup against a failing, rotten and self-indulgent royalty balances on a knife edge. Tamas must rely on his friends and alienated son Taniel if his people and the Nine Nations are to survive.

Initially I was unsure concerning backdrop for the story, the French Revolution. This premise screams off the page and the mix of gunpowder, muskets and magic didn’t initially pique my appetite; thankfully I was wrong (it’s surprising how often that happens). Gratefully, considering the Revolution theme we didn’t have to wade through pages of blood and beheadings, but the backdrop added well to the undertone for the narrative and the characters stories and motives are portrayed well because of it.

The story’s layers are evident from the opening page; McClellan builds out a vision of his world step by step, first slowly admittedly but soon picking up pace, and draws you into the lives of Tamas, Taniel and the Nine Nations. You begin to understand better and can appreciate the interactions in the world they inhabit.

McClellan’s magical world is divided into three main factions; the Privileged, the Powder Mages and the Knacked. This mix gives rise to some interesting encounters and abilities. The Privileged are sorcerers and have traditional normal sorcerer powers, Powder Mages fuel there abilities by ingesting gunpowder which increases there physical attributes greatly to superhuman limits and the Knacked can have any ability from physical or a magical talent, but are locked into that one talent only. Using this recipe McClellan really spiced it up between the three groups as part of their exchanges. Privileged have the power to can kill anyone, Powder Mages can kill Privileged and the Knacked are along for the ride.

The main character Tamas is initially comes across as a hard and chiselled personality but as you progress through the story you get that he is a committed man who is trying his best to do the right thing, which sometimes includes hard choices with hard outcomes. There is a realism and quality that I found appealing in Tamas.

There is a fairly meagre attempt at intrigue when Tamas survives an assassination attempt by someone in his trusted circle. The biggest problem for me was the character Adamat investigating this attempt didn’t actually give the reader any real detail, so there was no way to actually speculate whom the turncoat may be. Thankfully I didn’t find it to be a major plot item so it can be somewhat excused. This can be considered the one weak link in an otherwise good plot and it did lead to a nice fight scene at the end of the story.

Ultimately some tried and trusted fantasy concepts make there way into the story; near immortal sorcerers who called down the original Gods.

Love, betrayal, swords, magic, muskets and Kresimir returned, there is trouble on the horizon for Tamas in book two. I will say this now, Tamas will die; he is going to sacrifice himself to the Kresimir to save the world or his son or both. I just can’t see another out outcome for him. Thankfully we are a while away from that, maybe I should say hopefully…

8.5/10

Recommended, you can almost smell the gunpowder and hear the guillotine falling.

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.