Book Review – The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron

The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron

The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron

Quoth the blurb:

Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.

But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.

The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.

Like a king.

The Legend of Eli Monpress includes the novels: The Spirit Thief, The Sprit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater.

As the blurb says, this is a collection of the first three books in a series.  It starts off just showing that Eli is awesome (although he gets surprisingly little page time) but over the course of the three books a larger world with bigger stakes is revealed.  It’s the bigger stakes that will have me coming back for the next book in the series.

The first two books are heists, which are pleasant enough, though not as tricky as I might expect heists to be.

The first thing that I noticed when I started reading this collection was that every character was the best in the world at something.  If they’re a wizard, they’re the best wizard in the world.  If they’re a swordsman, they’re the best swordsman in the world.  I guess it makes it possible for the plot to include more epic events if all of the characters are the world’s best whatever, but I miss the ordinary people which should make up the vast majority of the population.

The books get better as they go – at the beginning of the first book the characters aren’t described well enough to tell them apart, but that quickly ceases to be a problem as the quality of the writing improves.

It’s kind of a boy’s adventure in that everyone’s motives are fairly straightforward and conflicts are generally resolved with fights.  It comprehensively fails the Bechdel test, which is surprising considering the author’s a woman.

The magic system doesn’t pass cursory examination – if everything in the world has a spirit then how can a Spiritualist stand to eat or drink anything?  Even being a vegan wouldn’t be enough.

Book Review – Veins by Drew

Veins by Drew

Veins by Drew

The blurb says:

VEINS is a tragicomedy novel about 22 years of a man’s life in the middle of Ohio. The first novel by Drew, writer of the long-running comics Toothpaste For Dinner and Married To The Sea. Dark, weird, and funny.

“For my whole life I’ve had 0 friends or 1 friend, which sounds sad. But in binary, that’s all of them.”

“Sandpaper is like life. If it wasn’t rough, it wouldn’t be worth anything.”

This is a fictional autobiography of a …troubled… young man.  I’m not sure how else to describe it – the main character just usually does his best to get by in a world that he doesn’t understand and that doesn’t understand him, and it goes wrong in amusing ways.

I felt bad as I read this book, not only because the main character is so often obviously going down a path that will cause him trouble, but also because I felt like the author was mocking people who are less intelligent than him (and presumably the reader).

It was funny, but in the same way that laughing at a fart at a funeral is funny – someone else’s tragedy is your comedy.  You feel bad about laughing but can’t help it.

I don’t think the book really had a story arc – the character just recounts the story of his life and the book ends when he catches up with the present.

Book Review – Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey

Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey

Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey

Blurb

All hail Sandman Slim, author Richard Kadrey’s ultra-extreme anti-hero and recent escapee from Lucifer’s overheated Underworld playground. Legendary author William Gibson (Neuromancer) called Kadrey’s first deliciously twisted Slim adventure “an addictively satisfying, deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece,” and in number three, Aloha from Hell, the ruthless avenger, a.k.a. Stark, finds himself trapped in the middle of a war between Heaven and Hell. With God on vacation, the Devil nosing around in Paradise, and an insane serial killer doing serious damage on Earth, Stark/Slim is ready to unleash some more adrenaline-surging, edgy and violent supernatural mayhem—and even pay another visit to Hell if necessary—which is great news for fans of Jim Butcher, Warren Ellis, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and Simon R. Green.

Since this is the third book in a series, you really should have read the first two before this one.  Unlike a lot of the series I’ve read recently, this book doesn’t require too much continuity with the previous books, so if you have jumped into the middle of the series you won’t be too lost.  On the other hand if you’ve read the first two books then you’ll like this one – it has all the same virtues.

The mythology isn’t exactly Sunday School, but it’s interesting and internally consistent.  The author’s version of Hell felt like a cop out to me, but his version of God is interesting.

With series of books that I enjoy, I tend to rate all of the books the same based on my impression of the series as a whole, so unless one of the books in a series is shockingly bad I usually rate them well rather than on their own merits.  Although this is a series of books that I’m really enjoying, there are things about is that are less than perfect (for example the first person narrative and Mary Sue main character makes it feel like the author’s talking to himself) but I’m willing to overlook them.

Book Review – Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Blurb:

Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook are together again in Richard Castle’s thrilling follow-up to his New York Times bestseller, Heat Wave.

When New York’s most vicious gossip columnist, Cassidy Towne, is found dead, Heat uncovers a gallery of high profile suspects, all with compelling motives for killing the most feared muckraker in Manhattan.

Heat’s murder investigation is complicated by her surprise reunion with superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook. In the wake of their recent breakup, Nikki would rather not deal with their raw emotional baggage. But the handsome, wise-cracking Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s personal involvement in the case forces her to team up with Rook anyway. The residue of their unresolved romantic conflict and crackling sexual tension fills the air as Heat and Rook embark on a search for a killer among celebrities and mobsters, singers and hookers, pro athletes and shamed politicians.

This new, explosive case brings on the heat in the glittery world of secrets, cover-ups, and scandals.

In spite of the fact that I enjoyed the first Castle tie-in book (and maybe because it’s been a while since I read it), I had some trepidation about the second book in the series.  I worried that since it was a TV-tie in that it would be a lazy attempt to cash in rather than aspiring to be a good book on its own.

I need not have worried, because the book stands on its own as a pretty good detective novel.  Then when you add the the whole meta-fiction angle it gets more interesting.

Something I found ironic is that in the book Jameson Rook criticizes someone’s name name as sounding made up.  I suppose this is another meta-joke, since Jameson Rook’s name was made up by Richard Castle whose name was made up by a TV writer…  I assume the TV writer has a read name (whoever they are).

Book Review – Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

Quoth the blurb:

Kay Kenyon, noted for her science fiction world-building, has in this new series created her most vivid and compelling society, the Universe Entire. In a land-locked galaxy that tunnels through our own, the Entire is a bizarre and seductive mix of long-lived quasi-human and alien beings gathered under a sky of fire, called the bright. A land of wonders, the Entire is sustained by monumental storm walls and an exotic, never-ending river. Over all, the elegant and cruel Tarig rule supreme.

Into this rich milieu is thrust Titus Quinn, former star pilot, bereft of his beloved wife and daughter who are assumed dead by everyone on earth except Quinn. Believing them trapped in a parallel universe—one where he himself may have been imprisoned—he returns to the Entire without resources, language, or his memories of that former life. He is assisted by Anzi, a woman of the Chalin people, a Chinese culture copied from our own universe and transformed by the kingdom of the bright. Learning of his daughter’s dreadful slavery, Quinn swears to free her. To do so, he must cross the unimaginable distances of the Entire in disguise, for the Tarig are lying in wait for him. As Quinn’s memories return, he discovers why. Quinn’s goal is to penetrate the exotic culture of the Entire—to the heart of Tarig power, the fabulous city of the Ascendancy, to steal the key to his family’s redemption.

But will his daughter and wife welcome rescue? Ten years of brutality have forced compromises on everyone. What Quinn will learn to his dismay is what his own choices were, long ago, in the Universe Entire. He will also discover why a fearful multiverse destiny is converging on him and what he must sacrifice to oppose the coming storm.

This is high-concept SF written on the scale of Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld, Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles, and Dan Dimmons’s Hyperion.

The blurb’s right – it’s on the scale of those books, but that doesn’t mean it’s as good as those books.

This book starts off horribly clunky.  It gets better the further you read, but the first 3/4 or so is hard going.

The writing at the beginning reminded me of 50’s sci-fi (and not in a nostalgic way).  It treated people as if they were very simple – as if they each had a trait that defined them – brave space pilots and slimy corporate executives etc.  It failed to convey the emotions that it claims the characters feel.

What annoyed me more was the world building – yes it’s big and ambitious, but there is very little detail – you can’t have an ecology with only half a dozen species.  Also, having described something impossible the author just waves their hands when it comes to explaining how it works.

So it fails both as a character book and fails as an idea book.

Book Review – New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

The blurb says:

Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world – and its only hope for justice!

Steampunk and vampires.  Maybe I’m coming to this party late, but it didn’t seem that interesting.

This book is composed of (about) four murder mysteries, connected by the characters investigating them.  This made it feel more like reading a series of short stories than a novel.

There was a lot of very unsubtle conflation of vampirism and sex.

Book Review – Zendegi by Greg Egan

Zendegi by Greg Egan

Zendegi by Greg Egan

Shockingly, the blurb says:

Set in a near future Iran (where the theocracy has been overthrown, but where Muslim religion still dominates the culture), an Arab/Muslim focused MMORPG gaming company’s cutting edge AI software might hold the key to achieving “uploaded consciousness.”

Martin is an Australian journalist who covered the uprising and overthrow of the Iranian theocracy, and has since “gone native” with a Iranian wife and child. As tragedy strikes his multi-cultural family, Martin struggles to maintain his place in his adapted culture, and to provide for his child.

Zendegi explores what it means to be human, and the lengths one will go to in order to provide for one’s children. This emotional roller coaster explores a non-Western-European near future that both challenges ideas of global mono-culture and emphasizes the humanity we all share.

First of all there were a bunch of spelling errors in the blurb which I have saved you from by correcting.  This is appalling – the name of the book was spelled wrong for goodness’ sake!

I used to have a very high opinion of Greg Egan’s books – he writes a specific kind of speculative concept novel that is mind-expanding and enjoyable.

Unfortunately I was very disappointed with The Clockwork Rocket.  I hoped that he would return to form with Zendegi – and it is a better book – but after introducing a lot of concepts and spending a lot of time building characters it just ends without any resolution.

The parts with the Iranian revolution were immersive and felt genuine.  The feeling of being a stranger in another country rang true and the characters had some depth, although there was a time jump in the middle of the book that yadda yadda’d past a lot of important events.

I’ve said this before about other books, but it really is as if the author got a phone call from his editor saying “you’re past your deadline, just send us what you have” and then they printed it.

It’s especially galling with this kind of book because it’s an idea book, so ending unceremoniously like that makes it a book of half of an idea.

Book Review – God’s War by Kameron Hurley

God's War by Kameron Hurley

God’s War by Kameron Hurley

Blurb:

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn’t make any difference…

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on–

There’s not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price?

The world is about to find out.

Overall this was a pretty good book.  The setting is refreshingly different from the standard medieval and urban fantasies that are most prevalent these days.  Appearances to the contrary it isn’t even the same as the recent crop of books set in the Middle East.

The world building was broad but shallow.  What I mean by that is that the world building uses broad strokes to paint a big universe but doesn’t go into that much detail for a lot of things.

It got better as it went on, so it ended a lot better than it started.

I plan to return for the rest of the series.

Book Review – The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

Mr. Blurb says:

A fantastical reimagining of the American West which draws its influence from steampunk, the American western tradition, and magical realism

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.

To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.

I thought this was an enjoyable alternate history of the American West, but you have to take it for what it is – a metaphor for the expansion of American settlers from the East of the country to the West.

We treat unexplored land as if it’s not quite real – as if it doesn’t really exist until it’s on a map somewhere – so this book takes that literally.  The parts of the world that haven’t been explored are “the half-made world” which is as magical and fluid and capricious as the explored/settled/civilized world isn’t.  During the 17th to 19th centuries(?) there was (apocryphally) a struggle between the forces of order (represented by the railroad bringing civilization from the East) and the forces of chaos (represented by the gun slinging cowboys of the West).  In this book these forces are represented literally by the Line (demigod train engines) and the Gun (demigod weapons).

Those three metaphors-taken-literally are the basis of the book, although the actual plot takes place with those as the background.

In order to enjoy the book you have to accept its premises, which are that the United States is important to the extent that none of the rest of the world is worth mentioning and that the “wild west” part of American history was important to the extent that it’s worth making metaphors out of.

In order to enjoy it you also have to accept that this is a book about ideas rather than people, so you can’t expect a traditional resolution.  The ambiguous ending may annoy some readers but at the time it seemed appropriate.

Book Review – The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

Here comes the blurb:

Deep within the Wood, a young woman lies dead. Not a mark on her body. No trace of her murderer. Only her chipped glass slippers hint at her identity.

The Woodcutter, keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm of the Faerie, must find the maiden’s killer before others share her fate. Guided by the wind and aided by three charmed axes won from the River God, the Woodcutter begins his hunt, searching for clues in the whispering dominions of the enchanted unknown.

But quickly he finds that one murdered maiden is not the only nefarious mystery afoot: one of Odin’s hellhounds has escaped, a sinister mansion appears where it shouldn’t, a pixie dust drug trade runs rampant, and more young girls go missing. Looming in the shadows is the malevolent, power-hungry queen, and she will stop at nothing to destroy the Twelve Kingdoms and annihilate the Royal Fae…unless the Woodcutter can outmaneuver her and save the gentle souls of the Wood.

Blending magic, heart-pounding suspense, and a dash of folklore, The Woodcutter is an extraordinary retelling of the realm of fairy tales.

I have a mixed relationship with modern retellings of fairy tales – I really want them to be good, but I’m usually disappointed (see Alice In Deadland and Wicked).

This book is surprisingly good in that it manages to weld together a bunch of different fairy tales, myths and legends into a coherent story.  Unfortunately the story that it creates is a bit flat and is devoid of the moral that’s part of the template for fairy tales.

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