Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King is my first book of his, and it’s great, if not ground-breaking.  It follows young Prince Yarvi, who has a withered arm, content to step away from the throne and dive into a life of books and study.  Not strong enough to fight, he hones his mind, but everything changes when his father and brother are killed and the throne is thrust back upon him.  It goes from bad to worse when he is betrayed and left for dead.  What follows is a quest for vengeance, and to retake the throne he didn’t even want.

Joining Yarvi are a cast of odd crooks and malcontents, forming an uneasy alliance while fleeing captivity.  Undoubtedly a YA novel, it’s not nearly as dark some of Abercrombie’s other work from what I’ve seen, but the book serves as a great palate cleanser between heavier reads.  There’s action and humor and twists you may or may not see coming.  The book is available now via Amazon or B&N.  Thanks to NetGalley for the copy.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

It was with some trepidation that I started this latest Star Wars novel, Maul: Lockdown.  Kindly provided via NetGalley, it had several warning signs.  First, it’s about a prequel trilogy character, one that barely qualified AS a character.  Maul was red and black, and had a saber-staff.  He got killed by Obi-Wan, which has to be kind of embarrassing, honestly.  This had “retroactive badass” written all over it.  That’s my term for a character that’s a throwaway or unimportant who later (in subsequent movies or ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff) gets turned into the most awesomest guy EVAR.  Boba Fett is your poster child.  The second knock against the book is the author, Joe Schreiber – his catalog is mostly supernatural horror, of the Eli Roth variety.  The third knock was the completely unoriginal ‘prison/gladiator fighting ring’ plot.

There are some positives here though.  The story does move at a solid clip, and the fights are the well-described brutality one might imagine of a prison fighting ring.  Maul is sent to the prison to find an arms dealer who has been hiding there for years, and has a secondary mission of acquiring a weapon that Palpatine will use for his own nefarious purposes.  The ending feels very abrupt, with things that seemed important earlier sort of glossed over.  I kept trying to page past the end for more but there was none.

Maul: Lockdown wasn’t terrible by Star Wars EU novel standards, and if you are more of a horror fan it may be worth your time.  For everyone else, it’s probably a pass.  Here’s the link to check it out.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Steelheart

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, is a spin through a dystopian world where an event (the Calamity) has given a small number of humans super powers.  The problem is, they are ALL evil.  Even though not all ‘Epics’ are equal in power, there are enough that they pretty much carved the world up into chunks they rule with impunity.  It’s in this world that we see our protagonist, David.  He witnessed Steelheart, now ruler of a large swath of the former United States centered around what once was Chicago, kill his father.  David’s dad was one of the Faithful, who believed that with villains around, heroes would come.  His father died for that belief…but not before he wounded Steelheart.  David is the only one who knows what happened that day, having escaped the purge by Steelheart that followed, and he’s trained himself for years to hunt the villain down and kill him.

To make that happen, David finds and worms his way into a group called the Reckoners.  Normal humans who hunt down and kill Epics by studying their weaknesses.  Every Epic has one, of course, and it’s their most guarded secret.  Our hero believes he’s the only one who can figure out Steelheart’s weakness, since he was there on the one day he was hurt.

This book was quite a bit of fun, even if you’re not into comic books.  Steelheart is an obvious ‘evil Superman’ stand-in, though comic fans might feel Black Adam is a closer fit.  The world is interesting, I’m very curious about the Calamity and what caused it, why all heroes go bad, and the fate of one of the characters left at the end.  The supporting characters (the typical band of misfit rebels of the Reckoners) don’t get far beyond basic characterization, but for a YA novel, that’s not the end of the world.  The action is fun, and as a whole I was engaged enough that the plot twists worked on me.  4 of 5 stars.  Definitely want to know what happens next.  Steelheart is $4.99 as of now on the Kindle and Nook.

Categories
Books Review

Book Series Review: The Gentlemen Bastards Series

red seasOkay, my friends had been recommending this series to each other for years, and when I saw the third book was available on NetGalley, I jumped in and started reading.  WOW.  This is some great fantasy writing for sure!  Take Ocean’s 11, add in magic and alchemy, stir with swords and hatchets, and you’ve got the gist of it.  The stories follow Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean, as they lead a life of long cons and thievery.  Each book intersperses the ‘present day’ chapters with a story from the past that helps illustrate the central pot of each novel – it works because the more you learn about Locke, Jean and the other ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, the more you want to know how they got the way they are.  The downside is, the main plot gets delayed, but soon enough you’ll like the characters so much you won’t really care.

I won’t spoil the books, but they are filled with daring capers, weird magic and alchemy, disguises, loves lost and found again, and a man killed by a leaping shark.  And that last one wasn’t even in the awesome pirate-themed second book.  Many of the twists and turns were jaw-dropping, and I couldn’t wait to see how they resolved things.  It’s really great fun, and a great palate-cleanser if you’ve been reading denser, more grim or serious fare.  Not that there isn’t grim, serious moments here but damn if it isn’t funny and action-packed too.

The first two books, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies have been out for a while now, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, comes out October 8th.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Kenobi (Star Wars)

Got this one as a review copy from NetGalley, and it’s a bit better than the last one (Crucible).  It’s about, as you might guess, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he tries to watch over the infant Luke.  It’s framed by Obi-Wan’s attempts to recreate the meditation Yoda showed him in order to speak to Qui-Gon.  The rest of the story plays out much like a western, with the Sandpeople taking the role of the (possibly not so) evil Indians, the black-hatted head of the local militia/neighborhood watch/cattle baron trying to wipe them out, and the simple, honest townsfolk caught in the middle.  There’s even a potential love interest for our Jedi Master taking the Miss Kitty spot, though not in a space bordello.

That woman is the real driving force of the story – Annileen runs the general store/saloon in these parts, having taken it over when her husband passed.  Both she and her daughter take a shine to the mysterious stranger, moreso when he time and again steps in to try and smooth over an argument or defuse a dangerous situation.  The resolution of the main plot gets a little jumbly and scattered, but the story is worth reading if you like Obi-Wan, and want to learn about what he did to keep busy after setting up shop to watch Luke.  John Jackson Miller does a solid job making the idea of people living on Tatooine make sense.  The book is out today, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy.  It’s one of the better SW EU books I’ve read recently.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series, Book One: Air

KorraNaga*whew* That’s quite a title.  I got a chance to check out the book thanks to a review copy from Netgalley, and it’s great.  I love The Legend of Korra almost as much as its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I’m also fascinated by the creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino.  Whether it’s fun sketches, behind-the-scenes pictures, or deep thoughts about story and plotting, there’s always something interesting coming from them.  The Art of the Animated Series is no different, other than adding in the insights of artist Joaquim Dos Santos and some beautiful art from Ki-Hyun Ryu.  DC comics fans would know him from his work on the Justice League cartoon, as well as the DC Showcase shorts.

The book begins with the early development of the show, including early character design for Korra, Mako and Bolin.  Asami was totally going to be a bad guy, by the way, but they liked her too much, and I agree.  Team Avatar always needs a non-bender.  From there, it continues on through each episode of the show, highlighting new characters and places as they appeared, all accompanied by little insights from the creators.  For instance, Shiro Shinobi (the pro-bending announcer guy) has ‘Larry King’ shoulders.  The attention to detail as they point out something they thought about and put in (and yet would be impossible to see unless you were looking REALLY hard) is impressive.

If this sounds like something you’d like, get your copy here.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review: Crucible (Star Wars)

I am quite out of date with the Star Wars ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff, as I’ve mostly kept to Timothy Zahn and a few other notable books after being burned by KJA.  But I was cruising NetGalley for books to review, and they had a couple of Star Wars books in the mix.  This, Crucible was the first.  I’d like to tell you what it was about, but I’ll be damned if I can really tell you, despite reading it over the course of a week.  Something about mining, and hidden bases, and a way to empower anyone with the Force.  It almost felt like someone took elements from other Star Wars content (the hidden base sounds a lot like where Daala’s fleet hid in KJA’s books, the Crucible itself could be heavily inspired by the Valley of the Jedi in the Jedi Knight PC games, etc.) and mashed them together.

Even that, in and of itself, wouldn’t be a problem, but none of the writing seized my attention.  Things happened, but none of it felt particularly important.  Much of it also didn’t feel true to the characters as we know them.  The Star Wars universe should feel vibrant, energetic – Space Opera! – but if you made this book into a movie, I’d feel like every bit would be gray and brown.  It’s too bad;  Troy Denning has written a lot of books in various shared universes (Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and Planescape along with Star Wars) but I’d avoid this one.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon’s Gate is the third book in James S. A Corey’s Expanse series, and it kicks a whole heck of a lot of ass.  James Holden is haunted – literally. Miller is dead, but that doesn’t stop the detective from appearing to Holden again and again, each time speaking nonsense, or possibly a warning, to him.  Despite that, things couldn’t get much better for his plucky crew.  They are flush with cash after some successful freelance missions, they have a ship that’s been refit and repaired better than it was before, and they can keep out of the political mire that from the events.

It all changes when Mars wants their ship back and brings considerable legal muscle to bear.  Holden has to deal, and it lands him exactly where he doesn’t want to be, heading straight for the gate built by the alien protomolecule (remember that?).  Where it leads and the consequences of it all are vast, and could decide the fate of humanity.

We get a few new POV characters – a Methodist pastor among many religious leaders heading out to the gate to try and make sense of it, and a woman with an axe to grind with Holden and the crew.  It’s kind of funny, since I’ve traveled in many of the same internet circles with Ty Franck (one half of the James S. A Corey pseudonym) I know exactly where the pastor character comes from and why certain areas are mentioned.  I enjoyed the book immensely, even if Bobbie Draper’s absence was noted.  This book could be considered a trilogy’s end, but they’ve got more stories to tell in this world, and let’s just say the ending is ‘open’ to it.  Highly recommended.  Get it here.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – The Tyrant’s Law

Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series has gone from a bonus title included when I bought Leviathan Wakes to a day-one read.  I really, really enjoy Marcus Wester’s chapters as he and Master Kit hunt the Spider Goddess (and the reveal there, wow).  Cithrin gets caught between the advances of Geder and trying to help people get out from under his heel.  Clara Kalliam continues to try and build support to take on Geder and the Spider priests, and makes a shocking discovery as to the identity of a potential ally.  All of this is framed by a story from the time of the dragons that hints at their downfall, and just what the heck the Drowned might be doing.

The thing I’m liking about this series is you are actually finding out answers as you go – you aren’t waiting 6 books to learn what happened to someone or find the significance of an event.  Sometimes with a middle book in a series it’s all continuation and little satisfaction.  Not so, here.  If there’s a weak spot, it’s keeping Cithrin an alcoholic.  She’s got enough on her plate (and enough potential to make mistakes without it) that the mentions of it seem a bit forced.  Let it slide.

If you enjoy epic fantasy tales, this is definitely a series to check out.  The Tyrant’s Law is third in a series, here are links to the first and second books.

Categories
Books Review

Book Review – Wool (1-5)

Where to begin. I could tell you that Wool is about humans eking out an existence in underground silos, but that’s just a frame – a common one in fiction, from City of Ember to the Fallout games, it’s been done. No, what this series of tales is about is people, psychological manipulation, mob mentality, and what happens when good people find out they’ve been lied to for a nebulous greater good they don’t agree with. Post-apocalyptic dystopia books aren’t normally something I seek out, but you can’t beat this one. This is actually 5 novellas in one collection, but they tell a complete story, each one peeling back another layer of the mystery. Highly recommended.

Here’s a link to the Nook version: Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) and for Kindle:  Wool Omnibus

Categories
Books Featured Review

Book Review – Caliban’s War

Caliban’s War, the second book in James S. A. Corey’s “The Expanse” series, begins with a bang.  Ganymede, the moon of Jupiter, is the breadbasket of the outer planets, producing the food needed in all the asteroids and ships out that far.  Mars and Earth both have domes on the moon, and with the uneasy truce, the Marines on both sides settle into a routine of patrols. Patrols made more ridiculous by the fact that any war would typically involve smashing the domes from orbit.  When Martian Marine Bobbie Draper witnesses…something ravage the opposing UN Marine patrol and then do the same to hers, well, that’s when it really hits the fan.  Is it related to whatever the alien protomolecule is growing on Venus?  Or something worse?  And what does it have to do with a bunch of children that went missing before the attack?

I LOVE this book.  Caliban’s War moves at a breakneck pace, through the same claustrophobic and dangerous world of realistic space travel.  This time, though, instead of mixing noir detective intrigue in with kickass space opera, you have a peek into the politics and pressures that have so far kept Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planets from self-destructing.  It’s an interesting change, and that’s coming from a guy that would rather jam ice picks in his ears than listen to politicians speak.  Two female viewpoint characters (the previously mentioned Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Draper, is one) mix things up a bit.

I’ve evangelized about The Expanse series before, and this book lives up to even my expectations.  The figurative bomb dropped in the last line has me DYING for the next one in the series.  CHECK IT OUT already.

AmazonBarnes & Noble

Categories
Books Featured Review

Book Review – Redshirts (or: Dead Ensigns is going to be the name of my next band)

If you’re like I was when reading the early reviews, this one might frustrate you, because I’m going to try not to spoil things too badly.  It’s not going to be easy, though, as Redshirts is not like most sci-fi books you might read.  You’re going to make assumptions about this book, John Scalzi’s latest, based on the cover and title, some of which would be correct.  It’s about ‘Redshirts’, the disposable ensign that gets killed on away missions instead of Captain Kirk or Spock or whoever.  Many shows have them, and no, they don’t always have a red shirt, but we all know how to spot them.

In fact, you could make a fun genre romp that just turns that trope on it’s head – what if the Redshirts figured out they were cannon fodder?  What do they do?  There’s some of that, here, but it goes a lot deeper than that.  It gets freaking meta, man.  There’s…well, here’s where I run into the “don’t spoil it, asshole” part.  Hmm.  Instead of giving it away, let me just ask you this:  If you think a combination of Star Trek, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Matrix would be interesting, with characters who are snappy smartasses, and a set of three codas that twist your perspective around on itself a few times, check this out.  Just do it before a Borgovian land worm eats your brain.

Buy this at Amazon or B&N.