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Patrick St-Denis, editor of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist "editor of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist" (Laval, Quebec Canada)

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The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Bobby Dollar 1
The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Bobby Dollar 1
by Tad Williams
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Successful foray into urban fantasy for Tad Williams!, 15 Sept. 2012
When it was announced that Tad Williams' next project would be an urban fantasy series, I was intrigued. I had no doubt that Williams could pull it off and come up with something good. Over the course of his career, the author has proven time and time again that he was versatile. And yet, Williams would now play in a much different sandbox. His latest work would be compared to those of bestselling machines such as Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher. The question was: Could Tad Williams play with the big girls? Sorry, folks, but other than Butcher, female authors dominate the charts when it comes to urban fantasy.

The answer is yes, at least in terms of quality and originality. Time will tell if the urban fantasy crowd will give it a shot and dig it, or if it will mostly be Williams' existing fans that will move units of this novel. Still, The Dirty Streets of Heaven could well be the author's most accessible book to date.

Here's the blurb:

Bobby Dollar would like to know what he was like when he was alive, but too much of his time is spent working as an extremely minor functionary in the heavenly host judging recently departed souls.

Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by `the other side'.

A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.

The worldbuilding is intriguing. Although it must be said that Williams doesn't offer more than a few glimpses here and there. Hence, not a whole lot is unveiled regarding Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, and their eternal struggle. I enjoyed the glimpses we got from the futuristic and bureaucratic Heaven, and I would have loved to learn more about their hierarchy. Having said that, those glimpses make you want to beg for more, so Williams sure knows how to tease and ensure that we'll be there for the second volume! Another seemingly odd decision, at least by urban fantasy's standards, was to set the action in the fictitious Bay area town of San Judas. I figure that there must be a reason for this, but nothing in The Dirty Streets of Heaven hints at what it could be.

The first person narrative of Angel Doloriel, also known as Bobby Dollar, makes for an entertaining ride. As the main protagonist, Boddy Dollar may not be as endearing as Butcher's Harry Dresden or Vaughn's Kitty Norville. But like them, he's not always the sharpest tool in the shed and given the chance he certainly grows on you. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of interesting men and women, both from Heaven and Hell. Especially Sam and Casimira, both of whom have more depth than meets the eye. However, the whole Good vs Evil love affair was so clichéd that I'm persuaded Tad Williams has something unexpected in mind. Otherwise, that plotline is too easy, and Williams is not known for taking the path of least resistance.

The pace is great. Indeed, the rhythm is crisp, making The Dirty Streets of Heaven a real page-turner. Urban fantasy is known for relatively slender novels, forcing Williams to write with a much tighter focus than is usually his wont. A single POV precludes the high number of extraneous storylines that characterize Tad Williams' epic fantasy dootstopper works and keeps the spotlight on a single character through whose eyes the readers witness everything which is taking place. Hence, those SFF fans who found Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch long-winded and slow-moving at times might enjoy Tad Williams' first foray into the urban fantasy subgenre. Like the author's short fiction, The Dirty Streets of Heaven is quite different than his past novel-length works.

Some people have mentioned that this book is kind of a huge departure for Tad Williams in style and tone, and that it may not be suitable for all audiences. Such claims leave me shaking my head in bewilderment. WTF??? Because people swear and a penis makes an appearance or two? Come on, man! This is ridiculous! Although many of Williams' novels/series have cross-over appeal for a younger audience, I've always been under the impression that he writes more or less for a grown-up audience. After all, The Dragonbone Chair and its sequels made George R. R. Martin realize that fantasy for adults could still be written and published. I mean, these so called "young adults" so many people appear so concerned about, well they hear profanities all day long in school and everywhere else, and they have access to free porn on the internet. Do you really believe that reading a few paragraphs about and man and a woman engaged in sexual intercourse will shock them out of their minds??? If so, perhaps you are the one with a problem? Or perhaps you are of the Brandon Sanderson inclination and you won't put up with swear words and sex in books, but blood and gore and graphic violence are quite all right for kids?

No worries, folks. Bobby Dollar is indeed rough around the edges, but coarse language never becomes an issue. As for the sex, there is something like two quick scenes and it's nothing to write home about. When I read about the fuss this was generating, I was afraid that Williams had turned into Laurell K. Hamilton and that we'd get stuck with a bizarre love triangle between a sexy girl and a dark and handsome emo vampire and a muscular werewolf with a 12-inch cock. Fortunately for us, that's not the case. So please don't let such claims keep you from giving The Dirty Streets of Heaven a shot. It's another smart and entertaining read!

My only problem with the book was that the ending was rushed. The Dirty Streets of Heaven is essentially a vast introduction for what is to come. As such, it paves the way for the rest of the series by introducing the key players and laying a lot of groundwork. Problem is, the novel doesn't offer much in terms of resolution. Indeed, it's not as self-contained as I felt it needed to be. I felt that everything came to a head and ended too rapidly for the finale to have the sort of impact the book needed to end with a bang.

Still, with The Dirty Streets of Heaven Tad Williams demonstrated yet again the length and breadth of his talent and imagination. His first urban fantasy offering should satisfy his legions of fans and hopefully bring some new asses into the seats. The author has never written something so fast-paced and accessible. Hence, if you have been meaning to give Tad Williams a go, The Dirty Streets of Heaven might well be the perfect introduction to the author great and disparate body of work.

Will be lining up for volume 2!

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

Scourge of the Betrayer (Bloodsounder's Arc)
Scourge of the Betrayer (Bloodsounder's Arc)
by Jeff Salyards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-moving but interesting, 27 Aug. 2012
When I found out that Jeff Salyards' Scourge of the Betrayer was being compared to Glen Cook's Black Company series, my curiosity was immediately piqued. Night Shade Books have really been pushing the envelope for the last couple of years, so I wanted to find out if this was going to be another novel/series which would have that distinctive vibe that can only be found in Night Shade Books titles these days.

Salyards' fantasy debut is interesting and different, yet that doesn't always work in its favor. The comparison with Glen Cook works only so far as the structure of the tale is concerned. Indeed, both the Black Company installements and Scourge of the Betrayer are military fantasy offerings narrated by the protagonist chronicling the deeds of their respective military outfits. But that is where the similarity ends.

Scourge of the Betrayer is a relatively short work. Weighing in at only 255 pages, as the first volume in a series, one would have thought that it would be a page-turning tale laying the groundwork and setting the stage for what would occur in the rest of the series. Unfortunately, Jeff Salyards plays his cards way too close to his chest, forcing readers to wade through the better part of this book in near-total mystery, unaware of what is going on and where the story is going.

Here's the blurb:

A gritty new fantasy saga begins . . .

Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies-or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon's dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he's about to find out for himself.

Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men's enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he's killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe . . . and Arki might be next.

Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon, he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience!

A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, Scourge of the Betrayer explores the brutal politics of Empire-and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man's soul.

Interestingly enough, there is virtually no worldbuilding to speak of throughout the novel. Other than a few brief revelations regarding the Syldoon toward the end, Salyards introduces a number of what appears to be fascinating concepts and ideas, but he never follows through and elaborate on any of them. This could be construed as a major flaw, but I reckon it has more to do with the fact that the tale is told through the first person narrative of Arkamondos, a cowardly scribe who has seldom been out and about, and who seems to have little knowledge of the world around him. Innocent and a nerdy sort of dumbass, Arkamondos, as the POV character through whose eyes the entire tale unfolds, cannot offer any kind of perspective. Which results in a very bland brand of worldbuilding. And yet, as I mentioned, there are a few very interesting concepts such as the Deserters, the Godveil, the Memoridons, and the Syldoon themselves. But as the narrator knows close to nothing about each aspect, readers are basically left in the dark regarding each and every one of them.

First person narratives can be tricky things. Indeed, since there is only one POV protagonist through which every single facet of the story is channeled, that character can make or break the book. And it's with the characterization that any comparison with Glen Cook ends. The Black Company novels featured the narrative of the unforgettable Croaker. The man has been the company's doctor and annalist for years and is always part of the action. As an insider, Croaker's commentary regarding the dynamics between members of the Black Company and their deeds is one of the highlights of the series. On the other hand, Arkamondos doesn't have much going for him. He's an outsider and about as big a pussy as one can be. As you can imagine, as a cowardly scribe, he is not made welcome by the Syldoon warriors. Thankfully, Jeff Salyards refuses to take the path of least resistance, and Arkamondos remains true to himself and his convictions throughout the novel. Trouble is, readers might have some problems identifying with someone like that. I'm aware that it's all part of the premise to have such an innocent protagonist chronicle and narrate what is essentially a dark and violent tale of military fantasy. But in the end, I'm not entirely sure it always works well. Especially since Scourge of the Betrayer features a couple of very intriguing characters like Captain Braylor Killcoin, Lloi, and Hewspear. I feel that the story needs Arkamondos' POV to be what the author envisioned to be. Having said that, I'm persuaded that the book would have benefited from one or two more POVs, if only to give readers a different sense of perspective.

In terms of rhythm, I wouldn't say that Salyards' debut is a slow-moving novel. What made it appear slow was the fact that so very little information is disclosed that readers are forced to plow through the better part of the novel without understanding what is going on, what are the characters' motivations, and where exactly the story is going. Like poor Arkamondos, readers are forced to wade through, unaware of what is taking place, feeding on the tiny morsels of information we are occasionally provided with. There is a sudden and unexpected change of pace during the last hundred pages or so. After a very dark and brooding beginning, during which an oppressive mood was set, the finale features action-packed choreographed battle scenes à la R. A. Salvatore that felt a bit out of place.

Though it features a narrator that's not always the sharpest tool in the shed and though I feel that Jeff Salyards kept his cards too close to his chest throughout this book and didn't reveal nowhere near enough, I found Scourge of the Betrayer to be interesting and captivating enough for me to want to discover more about what happens next. Not for what made it into the novel, but for everything that the author left out. Here's to hoping that Salyards will be more forthcoming in the sequel.

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

Forge of Darkness: The Kharkanas Trilogy 1
Forge of Darkness: The Kharkanas Trilogy 1
by Steven Erikson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, but not as epic as The Malazan Book of the Fallen, 27 Aug. 2012
While I was reading Erikson's magnum opus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, even though there were more than enough incredible storylines, my favorite parts were always the prologues offering flashbacks from the tale's distant past. Hence, when the author revealed that he would write an entire trilogy chronicling the story of Anomander Rake and the Tiste people, I was giddy with excitement.

I was looking forward to reading Forge of Darkness, for I knew that it would be a different reading experience. As was the case when we watched the second Star Wars trilogy, we already know how it's going to end. So in a way, we're along for the ride to finally discover how Anakin will turn to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. And yet, as is Steven Erikson's wont, the novel raises a lot more questions than it answers. . .

The Malazan Book of the Fallen was so vast in depth, scope, and vision, my only true concern was that this new trilogy wouldn't live up to the lofty expectations created by the original book cycle. And although Forge of Darkness may not be as sprawling a novel as the other Malazan installments, it remains an epic and multilayered tale.

Here's the blurb:

Forge of Darkness: Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power... and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.

Forge of Darkness takes us back millennia into the past. The earliest flashback from The Malazan Book of the Fallen takes us back nearly 300,000 years and Forge of Darkness occurs centuries or millennia before that. As the tale begins, dragons are just a legend. It is a time before the Elder Gods, before the Holds, before the Warrens. After a bitter and hard-fought war against a previous incarnation of the Forkrul Assail (or so it seems), there is finally peace in Kurald Galain. The cult of Mother Dark cult is growing in Kharkanas and the Tiste people have grown hedonistic and decadent, and now civil war is looming.

As always, Erikson's worldbuilding is top notch. As Warrens don't exist just yet, Kurald Galain is a land situated in a "real" world. It is unclear if this country and the realms beyond it -- the Thel Akai, the Jaghut, the Jheck, and the Dog-Runners' realms to the west beyond the Bareth Solitude, as well as the Forulkan realm to the south -- existed at one point on Wu or if they exist in another dimension or something similar. It is ambiguous, for there are mentions of the High Kingdom and its High King, and Malazan fans are well aware that before he was cursed by three Elder Gods, Kallor ruled over an empire on the continent of Jacuruku. Then again, it might be a different High King, or it might be that he ruled in another dimension. As far as the Malazan canon is concerned, unless Kallor reached Wu first, the Tiste Invasion took place long before the evolution of humans when the Tiste Andii and the Tiste Edur faced the K'Chain Che'Malle on the continent of Lether. Thus, a lot of questions remain unanswered.

Though Forge of Darkness raises a panoply of new questions and provides very few answers, discovering more and more regarding that distant and mysterious past is utterly fascinating. One thing to remember is that as the tale begins, even though there are factions and dissension among them, the Tiste are a united people. At this point, there is no such thing as the Tiste Andii, the Tiste Edur, or the Tiste Liosan. It's interesting to see and learn things about the previous incarnations of races that populate The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Like the Jaghut, who have put an end to their civilization. Or the Azathanai, the people that were never born. Or the Dog-Runners, the Imass' ancestors.

The characterization is probably the aspect that will disappoint some readers. Sadly, the narrative doesn't feature POVs from Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, or Andarist. Forge of Darkness unfolds through the eyes of a great many disparate characters, a lot more than I felt was necessary. But since this is the first volume, only time will tell if such a high number of POV protagonists was required. As was the case with the last few Malazan installments, Erikson's characters go through a lot of introspection. Which at times, it's true, can bog down the narrative.

One would have thought that familiar faces such as the Sons of Darkness, Draconus, and Scara Bandaris would have been the principal POV characters, but the better part of the novel is made up of the POV from new protagonists. Although most of the scenes featuring Draconus are told from his bastard son Arathan's perspective, finding out more about this enigmativ man was great. We are aware that he's at the heart of what's to come, so it's nice to see Draconus feature so prominently in Forge of Darkness. Another factor that readers might find off-putting is that, not only don't we get POVs from Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, and Andarist, but the three brothers don't get much "air time" in this book. Still, it is intriguing to follow younger versions of characters such as Osserc, Spinnock Durav, Sandalath Drukorlat, Orfantal, and others.

Although we were told that Steven Erikson's style would be a bit different in this new series, I haven't perceived any difference in style and tone. But it does feel that Erikson writes with a tighter focus. Though epic in scope, it's not as sprawling as The Malazan Book of the Fallen. More structured, also, which at times feels a bit odd, given the style of the 10-book cycle (where everything could happen at any given moment). Having said that, the plot is as convoluted as that of any other Malazan offering.

The pace of the novel is a bit uneven and much different from what we are used to from Erikson. Habitually, the author starts slow, gradually building up the plotlines, and then going all out for a mind-blowing finale. Virtually all the Malazan installments were like that, so fans have come to expect such structure. With Forge of Darkness, it's the complete opposite. The book features a strong beginning, and then an even stronger middle portion. Yet instead of the exciting ending that we have come to love, Erikson came up with a somewhat weaker and anticlimactic ending for Forge of Darkness. I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with the structure of a trilogy. In and of itself, Forge of Darkness is a set-up book. Steven Erikson is laying A LOT of groundwork for the rest of the series. And though it may be a little lackluster, it looks as though Forge of Darkness ends just the way it should, setting the stage for what should be an amazing sequel. Only time will tell if Fall of Light will live up to that potential. As things stand, it appears that Forge of Darkness is a vast introduction that will serve as the opening chapter for what is to come, and as such I'm wondering how well it will stand on its own.

Even with the absence of the sort of convergence that always allowed Erikson to cap all of his novels off with style, there is more than enough secrets, questions, and revelations to satisfy Malazan fans. Forge of Darkness will have you begging for more, which is all we can ask for!

What would be a new Malazan offering without a timeline issue, right!?! And yes, Forge of Darkness features a couple of glaring timeline errors. The first: Sukul Ankhadu was a soletaken Eleint goddess of the Tiste Edur. She was sister to Menandore, and half-sister to Sheltatha Lore. She was the daughter of Tiam and Osserc. At least, that's what we learned in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Problem is, at the beginning of Forge of Darkness Sukul Ankhadu is already a young woman held as a noble hostage. It is a problem because she appears to be older than Osserc (who could be anywhere between late teenage years and young adulthood). So as things stand, Osserc could not have fathered Sukul Ankhadu. Moreover, at this juncture dragons are just a legend and Tiam remains unknown to the Tiste. The second time issue has to do with Sheltatha Lore. But I can't provide more details without including spoilers, so I'll refrain from doing so.

I brought it up on malazanempire.com and we were told that Steven Erikson is aware of these apparent errors and remains unmoved. Hence, we have to trust the author and see how he will reconcile these errors with the established Malazan canon.

For all of its flaws, Forge of Darkness is a "must read" for all Malazan fans out there!

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

Fevre Dream (Fantasy Masterworks 13)
Fevre Dream (Fantasy Masterworks 13)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Steamboats and vampires!, 25 Aug. 2012
Steamboats and vampires. . . I have to admit that I've always been intrigued by George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream. So when Bantam Books released a new mass market edition of GRRM's early novel, I decided that it was time to give this work a shot. And I'm sure glad I did, for Fevre Dream is an original and engrossing read!

Here's the blurb:

Abner Marsh, a struggling riverboat captain, suspects that something's amiss when he is approached by a wealthy aristocrat with a lucrative offer. The hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York doesn't care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh's dilapidated fleet; nor does he care that he won't earn back his investment in a decade. York's reasons for traversing the powerful Mississippi are to be none of Marsh's concern--no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious York's actions may prove. Not until the maiden voyage of Fevre Dream does Marsh realize that he has joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare--and humankind's most impossible dream.

As always, Martin excels at creating a genuine and realistic setting. His vivid prose brings the reader back to the Mississippi river runs of the 1800s. The narrative is filled with a wealth of historical details from that period, and the author's love for steamboats adds another dimension to the tale. Inventive, Fevre Dream also offers an explanation regarding vampirism that sets this work apart from all the other vampire novels on the market. All of this put together makes for interesting and original worldbuilding. Indeed, in terms of style, Fevre Dream is quite unique.

As is usually his wont, GRRM's characterization is "top notch" and he created another cast of fascinating protagonists. Most of the POV sections are split between chapters in which we witness events taking place through the eyes of Abner Marsh and the despicable Sour Billy Tipton. Although these two characters are far from likeable, both men grow on you as the story progresses. Understandably, the mysterious Joshua York and Damon Julian are the most captivating protagonists of this book. It will come as no surprise that GRRM has a few surprises up his sleeve. Indeed, the author's different take on vampirism allows him to keep readers on their toes.

The pace is fluid throughout, which makes Fevre Dream a page-turner. George R. R. Martin sure knows how to capture your imagination and suck you into a tale, and Fevre Dream is no different in that regard. The more you read, the more you want to know what happens next. Choosing that particular historical period as a backdrop for the story gives Fevre Dream its unique flavor. Add to that a few chilling and disturbing scenes, as well as superior characterization, and you have something special.

I know that most fans would prefer to get their hands on The Winds of Winter instead of this or any other work by George R. R. Martin. Still, Fevre Dream is a fresh and imaginative read that showcases the length and breadth of the author's talent. It has aged rather well, and at no time does it feel that you are reading a novel that was initially published thirty years ago.

If, like me, the premise has piqued your curiosity, do give GRRM's Fevre Dream a shot. You won't be disappointed!

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Snow Crash
Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Cool and smart!, 25 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Snow Crash (Paperback)
Given all the rave reviews Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash has received over the years, it's a wonder that the book has been sitting there on my shelf for well over a decade now. I was getting more and more concerned with each passing year, for this work kept receiving such accolades that it raised my expectations to what I felt was an impossible level. I mean, a science fiction novel being selected as one of the 100 books to read in English by Time Magazine? It reached the point where Snow Crash had to be one of the very best books I had ever read, if not the very best, if it had any chance of meeting those lofty expectations.

Understandably, although it is an ambitious, intelligent, and entertaining novel, Snow Crash couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. It is a fun and thrilling read, no question. And yet, as much as I enjoyed it, I don't feel that it's the sort of literary work that lingers within your mind long after you have finished it.

Here's the blurb:

One of Time magazine's 100 all-time best English-language novels.

Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison--a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo's CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he's a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that's striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous...you'll recognize it immediately.

The worldbuilding is simply awesome. In a not-so-distant future, the USA has become a fragmented ensembles of smaller Burbclaves and city-states. As is usually the author's wont, the witty narrative is full of satiric social and political commentary. What's even more brilliant is the fact that Snow Crash was written between 1988 and 1991. To realize just how on the money Stephenson turned out to be regarding the information age and virtual reality, it's simply astonishing. The same thing goes for the technology now in use, both in terms of software and hardware. Truly, Neal Stephenson was a visionary.

The characterization is well-done, especially considering that having teenagers as your principal protagonists can sometimes be quite tricky. Yet both Hiro Protagonist, the Deliverator and katana-wielding hacker, and Y.T., a pesky Kourier, are well-defined characters you just have to root for. When Hiro is involved in an accident and is about to be late delivering a pizza, Y.T. delivers the pie on time, thus earning a favor from the Mafia and joining her fate to Hiro's, though none of them are quite aware of that fact just yet. Although the narrative follows the POVs of these two protagonists for the better part of the book, they are joined by a colorful cast of secondary characters that give Snow Crash its unforgettable flavor. Chief among those include Uncle Enzo, the Librarian, and Raven.

The pace is fluid and the chapters relatively short, making this novel a real page-turner. Indeed, there is never a dull moment. The early portions about the Sumerian myths and their importance are a bit more nebulous and hard to understand, but everything is explained later on in the book. Hence, for a while at least, you are sort of left in the dark as to what this new computer virus is all about. Be that as it may, you just need to buckle up and enjoy the ride. From beginning to end, Snow Crash remains a dense and surreal work of fiction full of humor that will make you think as much as it makes you laugh.

As I mentioned, what is even more impressive is the fact that this novel was initially published two decades ago. Discovering just how right Stephenson was concerning everything that has to do with the information age and virtual reality will have you shaking your head in bewilderment.

Snow Crash is a smart, cool, funny, witty, and action-packed adventure featuring a pair of unlikely heroes who must save the world from infocalypse. If you enjoy roller-coaster rides, Snow Crash is definitely for you! You will never again look at toilet paper quite the same way afterwards. . .

If, like me, you haven't read it yet, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash could be perfect vacation reading material for you.

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Spellbound: Book 2 of the Spellwright Trilogy (The Spellwright Trilogy, Book 2)
Spellbound: Book 2 of the Spellwright Trilogy (The Spellwright Trilogy, Book 2)
by Blake Charlton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Superior to its predecessor in all aspects but the characterization, 25 Aug. 2012
In 2010, Blake Charlton released an original debut titled Spellwright, a throwback book reminiscent of epic fantasy and sword & sorcery novels from the 80s. In a day and age in which genre authors attempt to subvert traditional fantasy tropes and clichés, Charlton embraced them, making Spellwright some kind of homage to a different era.

Although the author elevates his game in basically every aspect of his craft in this sequel, Spellbound remains the same in style and tone.

Here's the blurb:

In a world where one's magical prowess is determined by one's skill with words and ability to spell, Nicodemus is a wizardly apprentice afflicted by a curse that causes him to misspell magical texts. Now, the demon who cursed him has hatched a conspiracy to force Nicodemus to change language and ultimately use it to destroy all human life. As Nico tries to thwart the demon's plan, he faces challenges from all sides. But his biggest challenge is his own disability, which causes him to create chaos wherever he goes. And the chaos surrounding Nico is affecting the world so profoundly that the kingdom to which he has fled to gather strength is on the brink of civil war, and he suspects that his closest allies--even Francesca, whom he loves more than life itself--may be subject to the demon's vast powers. As Nico tries to forestall the apocalypse, he realizes that he doesn't know if he can fully trust anyone, not even the woman he loves. And if he makes one wrong move, not only will his life be forfeit, he may end up destroying all mortal life as well.

Charlton is a world away from the "New Grit" movement spearheaded by authors such as George R. R. Martin, Richard Morgan, Joe Abercrombie, R. Scott Bakker, Steven Erikson, etc. In Spellwright, pretty much everything was black and white. The heroes were good, the villains were evil. The forces of good always beat the odds and somehow managed to come out on top, with secret knowledge or power falling into their lap in the nick of time. The good guys were all handsome and beautiful, while the bad guys weren't. In a nutshell, it was the whole good vs evil shebang. Even though it's more or less the same with Spellbound, the author added a few shades of gray to the plot. Yet in the end, the novel remains a work that will appeal more to fans of more traditional fantasy series written by the all-stars of the 80s and early 90s such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and Raymond E. Feist.

One facet in which Blake Charlton managed to up his game significantly is the worldbuilding. The structure of a debut is such that Charlton couldn't offer readers more than a glimpse of his universe in Spellwright. I was pleased to learn more about Language Prime, the Chthonic race, the Disjunction, the dragons, and so much more. Readers will also discover more about the world at large, as the action occurs in a variety of localities. Overall, the worldbuilding added quite a few layers to this work.

Once again, the imaginative magical system that Charlton created is a highlight of Spellbound. As was the case in the first book, it can take a while for you to understand how it works. But it remains fascinating and unique.

One aspect which leaves a lot to be desired, I felt, was the characterization. Ten years have passed since the events chronicled in Spellwright, a decade that hardened Nicodemus. The young dyslexic spellwright suffering from cacography wasn't always the sharpest tool in the shed, but the man he became commands respect. What nearly killed the book for me was Francesca DeVega, the novel's main protagonist. Oh my God. . . Where to begin? Think of a strange hybrid between Polgara the Sorceress and Dr. House with a dose of Faile. She is insufferable and I wanted to open my veins every time she appeared in the book. Another thing that readers will either love or despise, with all the bantering and back-and-forth between the characters (most of which often getting in the way of the plot), with Spellbound Blake Charlton firmly established himself as the David Eddings of the 21st century. The supporting cast doesn't play such an important role in the bigger scheme of things, which means that there is an uneven balance between Francesca and Nico's POVs.

You may or may not know that Black Charlton attends the Stanford University School of Medicine. Which explains why there are a few bits of medical porn here and there throughout the book. It's not off-putting in any way, not even the unexpected brain surgery, but it doesn't always have much to do with the storylines. There is also a love story that you can see coming from a mile away. . .

The pace can be a problem in certain portions of the book. Spellbound begins with a bang and the rhythm is fluid for about half of the novel. Then it becomes extremely sluggish at times, before resuming again for the finale. Charlton brings this one to a satisfying close, setting the stage for what should be an interesting final volume.

Spellwright seemed too have a lot of potential and Spellbound demonstrates that there is a lot more to Charlton's creation than meets the eye. If not for the intolerable Francesca, this book would get a much better score. As I mentioned, she nearly killed this one for me. Because in every aspect but the characterization, Spellbound is a much superior tale than Spellwright turned out to be. Which means that if you can put up with Francesca, you might love it.

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

The Night Sessions: A Novel
The Night Sessions: A Novel
by Ken MacLeod
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!, 25 Aug. 2012
It's more than a little deplorable that such a quality and thought-provoking read took so many years to become available on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, Ken MacLeod's The Night Sessions originally came out in 2008 in the UK. I'm aware that science fiction doesn't quite sell the way it used to. But considering the amount of genre crap on the market today, one would think that a novel as good as this one would get an American publisher more rapidly.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the more devout American Christians are portrayed in a negative light. . .

Here's the blurb:

A bishop is dead. As Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson picks through the rubble of the tiny church, he discovers that it was deliberately bombed. That it's a terrorist act is soon beyond doubt. It's been a long time since anyone saw anything like this. Terrorism is history.

After the Middle East wars and the rising sea levels, after Armageddon and the Flood, came the Great Rejection. The first Enlightenment separated church from state. The Second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there's no persecution, but the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority. Now someone is killing them.

At first, suspicion falls on atheists more militant than the secular authorities. But when the target list expands to include the godless, it becomes evident that something very old has risen from the ashes. Old and very, very dangerous. . .

I found the premise of the work to be fascinating. In a future in which the Faith Wars resolved the Middle East problem and rid the world of the fundamentalist islamic issue, if at a terrible price, and which led to the First and Second Enlightenment that separated religion from everything else, I feel that Ken MacLeod created a very believable post-war world. The worldbuilding is intelligent, thoughtful, and daring. Add to that a storyline in which self-aware robots find God and you end up with a book that's impossible to put down!

There are no lies in religion. There are apparent facts that are illusions. There are words to be taken figuratively. There are ideas that are symbols of deeper truths. There are no lies. The people who sent me to the Middle East told us we would destroy an evil empire. They didn't lie, either.

For the most part, the characterization is pretty solid. Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson and his robot partner Skulk are at the heart of this investigation, yet the supporting cast of disparate characters gives this work many more layers. One thing that I found off-putting, however, is the author's habit to jump from one POV to the next without any apparent break in the narrative. Still, the plot captures you in such a way that the POV shifts don't take anything away from the overall reading experience.

The pace is great and there is never a dull moment from beginning to end. The Night Sessions is as smart as it is entertaining. MacLeod challenges readers with thought-provoking ideas and never takes the path of least resistance. My only complaint would be that we don't learn enough about the Faith Wars and their aftermath. And yet, that would probably have required a number of info-dumps that would have killed the rhythm of the novel. As things stand, this book is a page-turner.

Considering the social, political, and religious issues the West is currently dealing with, Ken MacLeod offers a look at a potential near future in which mankind realized how different belief systems can corrupt societies.

Highly recommended!

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God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha)
God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome read!, 25 Aug. 2012
My curiosity was piqued when I learned that Kameron Hurley's God's War was a nominee for the 2012 Nebula Award for best novel. But since it had been blurbed by Jeff VanderMeer and his taste in books and mine don't often agree, I was a bit reticent to give it a shot. And yet, Night Shade Books has been publishing some killer material for a while now, so I caved in and decided to give it a go.

And hot damn am I happy I did! Indeed, Kameron Hurley's God's War is everything I want a book to be and then some! Had I read it in 2011, it would have tied for my favorite read of the year alongside Steven Erikson's The Crippled God. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Hurley's debut is better than C. S. Friedman's Legacy of Kings, George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, R. Scott Bakker's The White-Luck Warrior, and James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes!

Here's the 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.

The worldbuilding is top notch. Her vision is quite unique and the world she created comes alive in a manner that is seldom seen. Islam has taken to the stars, but the religion has evolved over the centuries. That facet of the novel was brilliantly done, with so much left to be disclosed. Revelations are few and far between, which only makes reading the book more fascinating. There are no info-dumps, so the various concepts retain a definite mysterious aura that makes you beg for more. Hurley's narrative creates a vivid imagery that makes the ravaged world leap off the pages. I'm looking forward to discovering more about the origins of the long-lasting war and the different societies/religions populating the planet.

Add to that some strange insectile technology and magic, as well as some cool concepts such as the bel dames and alien gene pirates, and what you end up with is nothing short of superb worldbuilding. Kameron Hurley has created something truly special. If you are one of those jaded science-fiction reader who believes to have seen it all, think again. Kameron Hurley might blow your mind!

In a war-torn and contaminated world, you cannot expect goodie-two-shoes men and women. The product of a brutal and unforgiving environment, the characters are what you expect them to be. Hurley's characterization is similar to that of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin. Forget black-and-white protagonists, for every single character in God's War has shades of grey. Nothing is as it seems, and the more you read, the more this work continues to resound with depth. Nyx may be a bit too kickass to be fully believable, yet she remains a more or less genuine three-dimensional protagonist. Add to that a phenomenal supporting cast of engrossing men and women, chief among them the magician Rhys, and you have a novel that is well nigh impossible to put down.

This one was paced to perfection. Weighing in at only 288 pages, God's War grabs hold and won't let go. A veritable page-turner, my only complaint was that it ends too quickly. It's a good thing I already have a copy of the sequel, Infidel, awaiting my attention.

Yes, God's War is a violent tale set against the backdrop of a centuries-old holy war. But beyond all the blood and violence, it's a beautifully crafted work of art that keeps astonishing you when you least expect it. The author's prose is dark and brooding, the rhythm often balls-to-the-wall, yet she finds ways to hit you with touching moments that pack a powerful punch in terms of emotional impact. Kameron Hurley is a gifted writer and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Bel Dame Apocrypha series.

Brutal, uncompromising, brilliant, enthralling: That's God's War in a nutshell.

Awesome read!

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

The Straits of Galahesh: Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya
The Straits of Galahesh: Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya
by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!, 19 Aug. 2012
This novel is the sequel to what I considered to be the 2011 speculative fiction debut of the year, The Winds of Khalakovo.Bradley P. Beaulieu made quite an impression on me with his first book, and thus I had rather high expectations for The Straits of Galahesh.

After showing so much potential, I wanted to know if the author could bring this series to another level with the second volume. Well, this sequel delivers on all fronts and is even better than its predecessor! Indeed, Beaulieu managed to iron out most of the kinks that were the shortcomings of The Winds of Khalakovo. In the end, The Straits of Galahesh is an even more ambitious project, one that makes for a wonderful reading experience!

Here's the blurb:

West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.

Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past - and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr's lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram - a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless - bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans.

From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo, comes Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya, The Straits of Galahesh.

The worldbuilding is terrific. Once more, very Russian and/or Eastern European in style and tone, Beaulieu prefers to go for something different than the clichéd European medieval environment that gives this book its distinctive vibe and flavor. The author elaborates a lot more than he did in his debut, and what was just a hint of hidden depth in The Winds of Khalakovo is finally revealed in full. I liked how we learned more about the Motherland and the threats it's facing, but also the way it's tied to the islands of the Grand Duchy. Moreover, the revelations regarding the Al-Aqim, the rifts, the peace-loving Aramahn, the violent sect of the Maharraht, the mysterious Matri, and the entire magic system were fascinating.

People have asked me what authors Bradley P. Beaulieu reminded me of, and it's a hard question to answer. But in many ways, he appears to be a mix of Steven Erikson and L. E. Modesitt, jr. That's a weird hybrid, I know. But it's the only thing I could come up with. À la Erikson, Beaulieu likes to throw his readers into the heart of the tale without offering much in the way of information. In the first volume, this often resulted in an occasional lack of clarity that left readers wondering what the heck was taking place. Drawing on the material from The Winds of Khalakovo, Beaulieu does it less often in this sequel. But as is the case with Steven Erikson, sometimes you just need to buckle up and be taken along for the ride, hoping that an explanation will be provided down the line.

In terms of characterization and magic system, his approach is very similar to that of L. E. Modesitt, jr. Beaulieu's cast of characters may not be the most flamboyant bunch of people. And yet, for the most part they are solid, genuine, and three-dimensional men and women that remain true to themselves. The same thing goes for the magic, which is consistent and must follow strict rules that make sense. So far, there hasn't been any Deus ex machina moments where magic is concerned. Again, I feel that too little is known about everything that has to do with magic in The Lays of Anuskaya. But instead of finding this off-putting, my curiosity is such that I'm just dying to learn more and see what will occur next.

As was the case with its predecessor, the layered characterization in The Straits of Galahesh was my favorite facet of this novel. The five-year gap between both installments allowed Beaulieu to showcase just how brilliant his character development can be. Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim are the viewpoint protagonists in this second volume. The structure of the novel is such that each viewpoint always gets two or three chapters at a time, which creates a neat balance between them. Add to that a supporting cast of genuine and interesting men and women, and once again you have a work that really captures your imagination. Special kudos to Beaulieu for letting readers learn more about Soroush and realize that there is much more to him than just being a fundamentalist terrorist leader. All in all, the characterization is top notch.

In addition, I'm not sure Bradley P. Beaulieu sat down and had a beer with George R. R. Martin at a convention in between books, but it looks as though he became fond of creating living and breathing protagonists that readers care about, only to kill them off when you least expect it. Indeed, The Straits of Galahesh features a body count that both GRRM and Joe Abercrombie would approve of. At one point I was left wondering who the hell would be left to make it to the third volume!

In terms of rhythm, there were a few rough spots here and there, the same as in The Winds of Khalakovo. You can see that the author is laying a lot of groundwork for what will follow, but the pace is rarely an issue. In any case, Beaulieu's eye for details and his evocative narrative creates an imagery that never failed to amaze me. There are surprises and shocking moments aplenty throughout the book, making this one extremely unpredictable novel to read.

Dark, ambitious, complex, populated with a great cast of characters that leap off the pages, The Straits of Galahesh is just what the doctor ordered if you are looking for a quality read that's different from everything else on the market today. The Winds of Khalakovo turned out to be one of the very best SFF works of 2011. Somehow, Bradley P. Beaulieu has raised the bar even higher for this sequel, making The Straits of Galahesh a "must read" speculative fiction title for 2012.

Two thumbs way, way up! Do yourself a favor and give Beaulieu's series a shot. You'll thank me. . .

Highly recommended.

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!

Kings of Morning (The Macht Trilogy) (Macht Trilogy 3)
Kings of Morning (The Macht Trilogy) (Macht Trilogy 3)
by Paul Kearney
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great conclusion to a superior series!, 19 Aug. 2012
I couldn't wait to discover how Paul Kearney would bring The Macht trilogy to a close. Both The Ten Thousand and Corvus had set the stage for an unforgettable finale, and the author didn't disappoint! Kings of the Morning closes the show with a bang and opens the door for more sequels. A veritable master of military fantasy, Kearney's The Macht trilogy is one of the very best SFF series of the new millennium.

Here's the blurb:

For the first time in recorded history, the ferocious city-states of the Macht now acknowledge a single man as their overlord. Corvus, the strange and brilliant boy-general, is now High King, having united his people in a fearsome, bloody series of battles and sieges. He is not yet thirty years old. A generation ago, ten thousand of the Macht marched into the heart of the ancient Asurian Empire, and fought their way back out again, passing into legend. Corvus's father was one of those who undertook that march, and his most trusted general, Rictus, was leader of those ten thousand. But he intends to do more. The preparations will take years, but when they are complete, Corvus will lead an invasion the like of which the world of Kuf has never seen. Under him, the Macht will undertake nothing less than the overthrow of the entire Asurian Empire.

Kings of Morning is the thrilling conclusion to Paul Kearney's Macht trilogy.

Once again, this novel is dark and gritty military fantasy at its best. And yet, even though Kings of the Morning is at times all about the stark realism of military campaigns, Paul Kearney delivers more than a few poignant and touching moments that demonstrate just how gifted an author he can be.

It's no secret that Kearney has always been known for his brevity. In the past, his books featured minimal worldbuilding that didn't intrude on the storytelling, and the narrative was never bogged down by frustrating info-dumps or long-winded elaborations. And yet, for the first time, I felt that Kings of the Morning would have worked even better had it been longer. Several storylines converge and are brought together, and though the book makes for an incredible reading experience, I feel that it would have benefited from a higher page count. True, Kearney was able to build on the events of both The Ten Thousand and Corvus, which allowed him to flesh out his world and its people to no small degree. But still, just a bit more depth would have made Kings of the Morning the fantasy novel of the year. As was the case with its predecessor, the narrative is written with tight focus, keeping the pace fluid and making Kings of the Morning impossible to put down.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Paul Kearney doesn't get the credit he deserves for his characterization. Once more, the man came up with a disparate yet amazing cast of characters for this one. Much like in Corvus, there is also a great balance between the various POV sections, with the novel focusing in turn on Rictus, the slave boy Kurun, the Great King Ashurnan, Lady Orsana, and Prince Kouros. Seeing events unfold through the eyes of such different protagonists imbues this book with a human touch that elevates this work far above what is the norm in military fantasy offerings.

I doubted that the author could outdo himself and top Corvus. And yet, he did just that! Kings of the Morning delivers on all fronts. As is usually Kearney's wont, the book features terrific pace, a grim and stark setting, superb characterization, and bloody and violent battles. Doubtless, Kings of the Morning definitely is Paul Kearney writing at the top of his game.

A brutal and uncompromising, yet surprisingly touching, tale of warfare and conquest written by what could well be the most underrated talent in genre. That's Kings of the Morning in a nutshell.

Paul Kearney has written one of the fantasy novels to read this year. Kings of the Morning is a sure candidate for the best fantasy book of 2012!

Along with C. S. Friedman's the Magister trilogy and R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing, Paul Kearney's The Macht trilogy can stand tall as one of the best speculative fiction series to have been published since the turn of the millennium. And like these aforementioned series, Kearney's latest creation remains inexplicably underrated and criminally unread. . .

An awesome conclusion to a superior fantasy series.

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