Red Seas Under Red Skies Review

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Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch is this week’s book. Or more accurately these last two week’s book. This novel is the sequel to the Lies of Locke Lamora, and is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards sequence.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was probably one of my favourite books of last year. A rare novel that not only lived up to the hype heaped upon it but for me exceeded it. The worldbuilding, character development and sheer fun of the dialogue stunned me. If the First Law books are what made me want to write, The Lies of Locke Lamora nearly made me give up out of sheer jealousy.

Red Seas Under Red Skies very much holds up as worthy successor to the first. Many of the same elements that made the original great shine through. Firstly, the novel is built around the bromance of Jean Tannen and Locke Lamora. Their relationship is nuanced and cleverly built with no shortage of strife and bickering to threaten to drive them apart. Just their banter alone is worth the price of the novel.

In this book there are a number of new settings which all feel as alive and complicated as Camorr did. Lynchs’ descriptions suck you in and make you feel as though you’ve visited them yourself. (Though you probably wouldn’t want to.)

A new cast of characters are introduced and promptly begin making lives difficult for the protagonists. I say characters but each are built deep enough to feel like real people, not cut outs. A brief description and some few lines of dialogue are enough for the reader to understand who they are.

As in the first, the odd are promptly stacked against Jean and Locke. This allows the reader to easily and readily root for them as their underdog status is well and truly deserved. A variety of plots, schemes and scams are present and Lynch keeps the reader guessing the whole time with a multitude of clues and breadcrumbs.    

Much of the book is pirate themed and the pages are packed with nautical expressions and problems. This makes the novel seem fresh and different from the original and allows Lynch to put his characters is new and interesting positions.

While much of this novel is fantastic, the main gripe I have is with the pacing. Towards the end the conclusions felt rushed and not given the gravity that they deserved. Thus the satisfaction that I received was not as great as it could have been and left me feeling bittersweet as I closed the last pages.

That being said, I still went out and immediately purchased the third instalment of the series. I would recommend this novel to anyone who read the first and liked it. And if you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora then what are you waiting for! Do yourself a favour and go out and get it.

As always you can follow me at @jameslikesbooks

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The Thousand Names Review

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There are some novels that are inevitably drawn to a reader. Novels that are inevitable, unavoidable. They simply must be read. For me, The Thousand Names by Django Wexler was one such novel.

Through sheer weight of recommendations alone I would have been compelled to obtain the novel. The fact that it is military fantasy, my favourite sub-genre, was merely the nail in the coffin. I have seen the book described as flintlock fantasy, which seems appropriate.  With muskets and bayonets this novel is very reminiscent of colonial times.

Firstly, I must say that I enjoyed The Thousand Names immensely, as I strongly expected that I would. Wexler does a number of things admirably, but the overriding achievement to me was in his discipline.

Wexler creates and shows the reader a rich, believable world but doesn’t force feed it down your throat. Instead, he parcels the world building out in flashes and snapshots that feel organic and not forced.

There is magic, but it is not over used or over explained. While I do enjoy complex and well fleshed out magic systems, it is refreshing to come across magic that is just that. Magic.

Another way that Wexler shows discipline is in his characters. He is sparing in his use of viewpoint characters. In a literary world where authors seem to be trying to tell their story through as many faces as possible, this choice kept the novel tight. The characters themselves are deep and likeable. Wexler creates a myriad of obstacles and adversaries to keep them busy and struggling. The theme of the everyman, or everywoman, muddling through as best as they can is prevalent and is effective at drawing the reader to cheer for the characters as they succeed.      

However, for me the standout of the novel was in the battle scenes. They were just as I like them, numerous, bloody and easy to follow. Wexler pulls the reader onto the battlefield with the characters, presenting a clear and often gory picture of what was happening. Also importantly, the combat always felt dangerous and had stakes. It must feel as though there is danger for the characters, and Wexler delivered on that.

  Ultimately, The Thousand Names achieved what a first novel in a series should do. It had an memorable engaging story that left me craving more. Immediately after finishing I ordered the rest. Overall, I would fully recommend this novel to anyone who loves fantasy and doesn’t mind a little, (or a lot) of violence.

You can follow my book adventures on twitter @jameslikesbooks

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Review

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This week’s novel was The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams. I picked up this book at Value Village, solely do to who the author was. Those of you who know that it was a Dirk Gently novel, might have though I chose it to because of the current T.V. series that is based on those novels.

This was not the case. I knew nothing about the story, I didn’t even read the blurb at the back before I starting reading. Thus I didn’t even know it was a mystery. As you might imagine, I spent much of the first few chapters completely confused!

However, despite these impediments, I rather enjoyed the novel. As with his other books, Adam’s writing was hilarious and engaging. The characters had depth and were interesting, and the novel’s pace never slowed, speeding along to it’s conclusion.

To me, the plot seemed a bit muddled, especially when I was fresh from finishing it. There were a number of plots, and subplots which were wrapped up quite suddenly. At just under 250 pages, there was little time to really become immersed in the story.

However, the more I reflect the more I appreciate the subtlety to which Adams brought the story to a close. Rather than bashing the reader over the head with all the details, he trusts that they have the ability to comprehend what has happened. A test I nearly failed.

Overall, the novel is quite short compared to others I’ve read and as it is a mystery novel there is not much more I can say about it. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was a delightful read. I has inspired to me to give the show a chance, and I would recommend anyone looking for a tight, well written novel to buy it!

Sharp Ends

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This week’s novel was Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie. Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories that are set in the world of the First Law Trilogy and it’s standalones.

Joe Abercrombie is my personal favourite author and the First Law Trilogy is my favourite all time series. In fact, those books were what originally made me want to start writing fantasy. I harbour a deep love for the trilogy and the standalones, and all the characters that live inside the world.

So if you were looking for an unbiased review you probably came to the wrong place for this one.

Sharp Ends jumps around the well worn world of the First Law books, jumping all around it time. Some stories give the reader alternative viewpoints of events that are shown in the books, while others provide completely new tales.

However, all the stories feel familiar and well fitted in the world that Abercrombie has already established. The characters are particularly memorable, though some are only with the reader for a short time.

My favourite part though was seeing certain characters before we meet them in the original books, most specifically Logan and Glokta. Though there was a smattering of familiar faces, all of which were enjoyable to meet again.

The writing is typical Abercrombie, his masterful use of repetition out in full force throughout. In fact, I would say that some of my favourite of his writing takes place within these stories.

  Overall, I felt that Sharp Ends could be read by someone with no knowledge of past works and they would find it extremely enjoyable. However, this book is likely best enjoyed by readers who have at least some familiarity with the novels that came before. I found that it scratched my First Law itch as well as adding even more depth to the world which Abercrombie has created.   

The Goblin Emperor

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This week’s novel was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This was one of those books that I knew I was going to have to read just by sheer virtue of how often it was recommended to me. People ranted and raved about it’s brilliance, yet on paper it was not something I would typically be interested in. A novel that was nearly all court intrigue with very little physical action. In fact, the story is almost entirely conversation and inner dialogue. So much so that it almost reads like a play.

Yet despite this, I still loved the novel and was sucked in immediately. The Goblin Emperor was an enjoyable read, one that I was sad was over so quickly. In fact, though I generally an happy for a standalone, I am sad that this one has no sequels.

This novel stands on two strengths, character development and world building.   

Firstly, the world building is done very well. Addison cleverly sketches out a world through small hints, without being heavy handed. The world seems lively and complicated, with much more to it than is show in the story. The court in which the novel chiefly takes place is satisfyingly complicated and rewards careful reading. In fact, at times I felt out of my depth with all of the details.

Though, in my opinion, the true standout in this novel takes place in the character development of Maia. Maia is the main character and we spend the whole novel inside of his head, seeing what he sees and struggling along with the complexities of court politics with him. Maia is one of the most relatable and likeable characters I’ve ever read.

His almost excessive desire to be good and fair to all is well tempered by his very considerable weaknesses. Being along for his journey and seeing him grow to meet the almost herculean challenge give him was deeply satisfying. Often in novels the characters grow and change massively by the end of their stories, becoming magnitudes better than they were. Maia’s growth is much smaller but just as if not more meaningful. Every small stride he makes seems all the more worthy of celebration due to the difficulty of achieving it.

Overall, I would fully recommend this novel to just about anyone. Thought at times it is difficult to read, and the sheer volume of character names alone can be overwhelming. Despite this, Addison guides the reader competently and while some details may slip by, the main plot points are impossible to miss. If you enjoy reading deep, complicated fantasy that is heavily character driven, I would recommend adding The Goblin Emperor to your TBR pile!

Men at Arms

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This week’s book was Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. This novel takes place entirely in Ankh-Morpork, the centrepiece of the Discworld and easily one of my favourite fantasy cities. All of the usual characters make appearances, though the story is centred around Sam Vimes and the City Watch.

Men at Arms is largely a murder mystery story, with a myriad of twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. The novel is told through a few different plot lines that slowly feed the reader clues as well as keeping them fully engaged. The eventual reveal is as satisfying as you would hope for and as usual my guess was completely wrong.

Before I read this novel, I had already read Night’s Watch, and Feet of Clay. Both of which I really enjoyed, so it was very interesting seeing how the Night’s Watch became the City Watch. Vimes, Carrot and Nobbes and all the rest are some of the most enjoyable characters to read and it was interesting seeing part of their journey, after seeing where they end up.

However, the aspect of this story that stuck out the most to me was in it’s underlying theme of acceptance, and the dangers of bigotry. Pratchett explore and comments on racism, by showing the ridiculousness of a centuries old race war between Dwarves and Trolls. Throw in prejudice against the undead by the novel’s principal characters and you get a story that is surprisingly relevant in todays world. After all, if a troll and a dwarf can put their differences aside and become friends, why can’t all of us do the same?

Overall, Men at Arms was a very enjoyable read, full of the usual Pratchett humour and biting social commentary. The plot was fast paced and engrossing and the all of the characters had enough to do to keep their chapters interesting. Perhaps I wouldn’t recommend this novel as the first Pratchett book to pick up for a first timer, but for anyone familiar with his work it would be a good pickup.

The Lions of Al-Rassan

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The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay is a difficult novel to sum up in a sentence. Set against a world clearly inspired by the history of the Crusades, Kay crafts a tale that is both wide in scope but also painfully personal at times.

Set amidst warring nations and a vast landscape, this novel in my opinion is the story of two men. It is the tale of Bromeo and Dudliet. I will write no more than that, as to not rob a new reader of the experience.

The inevitability of violence and the cycle of life and death are themes that emerge throughout the novel. Before long, the reader begins to despair along with the characters at the hopelessness of it all. Slaughter, mutilation and other vicious and bloody acts all stain the pages of the book. Where another novelist might give a side to cheer for, Kay does not allow this release. All factions are shown to be what they are, made up of good and evil, at times it is impossible to separate the two.

The characters are complex and interesting, and pulled at me easily through the pages. When they were in danger, I felt fear for their wellbeing. Though some were larger than life, there was a palpable vulnerability that was apparent in even the mightiest of them.

As like the characters, the prose was complex and layered. I learned early on not to considered anything written as irrelevant or of little consequence. Kay puts a great deal of trust in the reader, not only to keep up with the names of places and characters, but also to remember small details for later.

On the whole, The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel that feels much tighter than it has any right to be given it’s length and scope. Every character introduced has a purpose and does not feel wasted. The plot moves along at a pace that seems breakneck at times, dragging the reader along to it’s climax.

I will write little of the ending of this novel as it is best experienced fresh and I am loathe to give anything away. I cannot remember the last time a novel left me feeling so gutted but also so satisfied. Perhaps not since closing the pages of the Death Hallows by J.K. Rowling have I felt such a range of emotions.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of epic, wide reaching fantasy. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a phenomenal novel, well worth your time and money.    

Reaper Man Review

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett was the book I read this week. It is impossible to get away from Pratchett recommendations, they seem to find their way onto every list. Not that this is a bad thing of course, I would have never picked up a copy of Mort if it weren’t for the endless number people telling me to read it.

Reaper Man is not one that I have seen on the shortlist when someone asks for the definitive books to read. Mort, Small Gods, Pyramids, Good Omens, these seem to be the tentpole novels that are given.

I would whole heartedly add Reaper man to the list.

This novel, like many others of Pratchett’s are difficult to summarize without giving too much away. Largely this is the tale of two cities, with one city being a rather small town. It has two casts, one begin Death, my favourite character in the Discworld and perhaps all of fantasy. The second cast is pulled from Ankh-Morpork, the greatest of all known cities. Wizards mixed with a deceased rights activist group make for strange bedfellows but play off each other brilliantly. 

These two sets of characters must deal with the consequences of a world where death no longer occurs. Though at times it feels as though two very different tales are being told, the novel does bring them together nicely.

Like any Pratchett novel, Reaper Man is chock full of hilarious jokes, ridiculous hijinks, and interesting characters. Mixed in with these, are a deeper commentary on life, death and the effects and ravages of time. I found the ending to be quite emotional, as well as deeply satisfying.

Overall, Reaper Man was a novel that made me laugh out loud in one moment and ponder my very existence in another. If you are a fan of Pratchett’s work then I would of course heartily recommend reading this novel. If you’ve never picked up any of his work, then I do not think you could go wrong here. Reaper Man is a strong, interesting novel that I believe stands up well against Sir Terry’s best work.     

The Traitor Baru Cormorant Review

Personally, I find that the ending of a novel stays with me longer than anything else about the story. I might forget how the characters got there, but the finale will stay fresh in my mind. Of course, there are many different types of endings. Some leave you hanging on the edge of a cliff, some tie the events and characters to a close in a neat little bow, and some end leaving you wanting more. However, there is another kind of ending, one that punches you in the stomach, pulls your shirt over your head and steals your wallet.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson is one of these novels.

The book itself is a standalone novel, which in my eyes is a big selling point. Not having to shell out the money and spend endless hours to finish a story is always appreciated. Some standalone novels run the risks of feeling rushed or incomplete. This novel does not suffer from these shortcomings. The plot feels well paced and does not drag, making uses of liberal jumps in time.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is told through the eyes of one character, Baru herself. In a manner that is all too familiar and distressing to anyone knowledgeable of the ills and dangers of colonialism, we see how her character is built. I won’t go into detail here for fears of spoilers, but Dickinson develops her character to such a degree that her actions feels justified, no matter how heinous they might be.

They key feature of this novel that stands out to me is in it’s ability to build tension. Chapter to chapter it builds, driving up the reader’s anxiety for the wellbeing of the characters. In fact, the tension rose to such a level that I tore through the last third of the novel just to gain some relief.

Overall, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a very interesting and dynamic novel that lived up to the expectations that I had before ever opening it. The characters feel fleshed out and real, the setting is interesting and deep and the story hums along at a pace that feels neither rushed nor slow. Dickinson’s writing is sharp, focused, and intelligent, much like the character that he created.

If you like dark, intense, character driven fantasy with no small amount of political intrigue, then you should consider picking up The Traitor Baru Cormorant.      

The Colour of Magic Review

 

I arrived late to the Terry Pratchett party. Very late. It was only after he’d passed away and his multitude of fans had sung his praises that I picked up my first Discworld novel. Most would have perhaps started with the Colour of Magic, the first of the Discworld books.

I didn’t. I read Mort first, and fell in love with it. Since then, it seems that every second book I read has the late Mr Pratchett’s name on it. Yet I stayed away from The Colour of Magic. It sat on my bookshelf, ignored and passed over.

Why? I have a phobia of the beginnings. Often I’ll skip the first season of a T.V. show, instead jumping ahead to when it finds it’s stride. My preference for ignoring any early growing pains extends to the novelists and their debuts. This is why I put off the first Discworld novel. In fears that it would not measure up to those books that came after it.

My fears were unfounded. The Colour of Magic was not some stumbling Bambi, instead it flashed with the brilliance of a phoenix. All of the wit and humour that shines throughout the series was on full display in this book. Pratchett juggles the challenging task of setting up a rich and deep world with telling a compelling story, and does so very well.

As in so much of his writing, the characters were both memorable and interesting. They play off of each other perfectly, a reluctant, worrying half-wizard and a endlessly enthusiastic tourist.  At just under 300 pages, The Colour of Magic was a quick read, but not a forgettable one. Travelling along with the main characters, the reader is whisked on a whirlwind journey around the Discworld, from the dark and seedy Ankh-Morpork to the very edge of the world itself. Along the way, a colourful cast of characters both helps and hinders the unlikely heroes.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Colour of Magic, and I wish I read it sooner. While it may not have taken the place as one of my favourites of the Discworld novels, it certainly does not suffer much in comparison to them. Terry Pratchett burst out of the starting block with this novel.