Book Review – The Crimson Vault by Will Wight

The Crimson Vault by Will Wight

The Crimson Vault by Will Wight

The blurb briefs:

As the conflict between Enosh and Damasca builds to war, Simon finds himself caught in the middle. 

Alin is bound by prophecy to the Grandmasters of Enosh, but he begins to doubt his fate when he discovers that their talk of freedom hides a darker agenda. 

Leah has never questioned her loyalty to Damasca. Now, she finds that allegiance tested as she is forced to oppose her own rebellious brother. 

With these two powers on the brink of open war, the land soon trembles in the face of an even greater threat. 

Who can stand against the Wanderer?

Compared with the first book in the series, this one has a lot more point of view characters.  I think this is an improvement, because one of my complaints about the first book was not understanding some of the main characters because we spent very little time with them, but it does make it harder to keep track of what’s going on.  I think the author may have overcompensated a bit.

I do still feel like the author should have spent some more time with some of the main characters so that the choices they make seem less arbitrary – with Alin in particular I feel like I’ve been told what he’s done and why he did it rather than experiencing it with him and empathising with his choices.

I think this book suffers a bit from having to treat some of the less well written parts of the first book as canon, resulting in some unlikely coincidences.

The book does a good job of raising the stakes from the first one while setting up even higher stakes for the third one.

It does have a plot arc, but (unsurprisingly for the middle book in a trilogy) it leaves a lot of things for the third book to resolve.

Overall it’s better than the first one but not perfect.

Book Review – House of Blades by Will Wight

House of Blades by Will Wight

House of Blades by Will Wight

The blurb prophecies:

Simon can only watch, helpless, as his family is killed and his friends captured by enemy Travelers—men and women who can summon mystical powers from otherworldly Territories. To top it off, another young man from Simon’s village discovers that he’s a savior prophesied to destroy evil and save the realm.

Prophecy has nothing to say about Simon. He has no special powers, no magical weapons, and no guarantee that he’ll survive. But he sets off anyway, alone, to gain the power he needs to oppose the Travelers and topple their ruthless Overlord. It may not be his destiny, but Simon’s determined to rescue his fellow villagers from certain death.

Because who cares about prophecy, really?

As usual with books I get from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library I had pretty low expectations, and the first few chapters of the book didn’t really gets my hopes up.

Fortunately it does get better as it goes on – it’s never quite triple-A quality, but it’s a lot better than you’d expect from a free book.

The magic system is pretty unusual, so much so that I hesitate to call it magic at all.  People called Travellers just teleport in weapons or creatures from their Territories to help them.  The end result looks pretty magical, but once it’s explained to you it’s more logical than fantastic.

One of the reasons I chose this book was mention in the blurb of the main character not being destined to save the world.  The main character being a prophesied hero is such an overused cliche that I appreciate that the author has turned it on its head.  As a result of this, the book has unusual dual protagonists – the prophesied hero and the other guy.  It’s funny when they get in each other’s way trying to save the day.

One of the ways the writing is less than top notch is that the major relationships in the book are not really established.  We’re told that the three main characters lived in the same village but didn’t know each other well and then they go off in different directions.  It doesn’t result in a lot of reader investment in the relationships.  The book also spends almost all of its time with the main character so we don’t learn enough about the other two to understand them well.

There was some confusion in the book about the chronology of events – one character got somewhere as a bad thing started, another character arrived there as it ended but somehow they both arrived at the same time.  There was no explanation, so I assume it just wasn’t written clearly enough.

Unfortunately one of the things that the book glossed over was morality – the main character went from having never killed anyone and having no desire to, to killing 75 people over the course of a couple pages, without enough of a transition or consequences.

The book does have a plot arc, but it opens more doors than it closes.  Even though by the end of the book you know a lot more about the world, there are still some major things left unexplained, and mysteries seem to be added faster than explanations.  It’s not an unreasonable thing for the first book in a series to do.

Book Review – Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

The blurb declaims:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

I liked the world building and the magic system in the book, although I wish the author had gone into more depth – I wanted to spend more time in the world and felt like I only skimmed the surface.  I think part of this was because none of the points of view were ordinary people.

I noticed an unusual structure in this book – the main character is portrayed sympathetically but the book also tells you how the things the character does (e.g. raising zombies) are perceived as frightening or evil by other people.  This gives you a feeling of dissonance, as the main character is portrayed as a good guy but is perceived as a bad guy.  This would be more expected if the book was something like a reverse fairy tale, where the point is to understand why a mad scientist or wicked witch would do what they do, but in this type of book it serves to make the world more complex.

The blurb makes the book sound like it’s urban fantasy or dark fantasy, but it ends up being a lot more of a murder mystery, which was an interesting deviation.

Something I really liked about the book was the the female characters.  The author hasn’t just made the main character a woman but made most of the main characters women, passed the Bechdel test, made the default pronoun “she” and giving the female characters the most agency.  I think this is a great example of a male writer trying to address gender imbalance in genre books – obviously a female writer would be better, but it’s a good first step.

Basically the author seems to have gone to great lengths to defy expectations and convention.  My only criticism is that I’d like more depth, but I assume that will come with the rest of the series.