The Shadow Throne Review (No Spoilers)

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This weeks book is The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler. It is the second novel in the Shadow Campaigns series. Second books often tend to struggle. Executing them properly can be extremely tricky.

Firstly they have to keep the momentum of the first book going, while simultaneously raising the stakes. This is key to keep the readers interested in the characters. They must be given room to show their growth while still remaining underdogs. Furthermore, they must continue to develop and grow, which can be a challenge. Finally, the second novel must end strong, in order to keep interest building for the next book.

I found that the Shadow Throne was largely successful in accomplishing these goals. The pace remained as quick as the first with the plot chugging along at a good pace. New and interesting characters and locations are introduced while meshing well with the characters from the first. Wexler manages to keep many of the same strengths from the first book in this one. The characters are immensely root-for-able and interesting. The battle scenes crackle with energy and the conclusion leaves you wanting more.

However, in my opinion it is a weaker book than the first. At times the chapters did drag as the book’s momentum was ground to a halt. This was only for a short time but I did find myself struggling. The first book was filled to the brim with the discovery of the unknown. This is not as evident in The Shadow Throne and the book suffers for it. In addition, the antagonists fell a little flat when compared with the ones from the debut. I felt as though I was not delivered what was promised in that regard.

Despite this, I still really enjoyed the novel and I am looking forward to continuing the story. If you are a fan of military fantasy, I would strongly recommend taking a look at this series!  

As always you can follow me at James Bee

You can pick up this book up on amazon  here

Pyramids Review

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This week’s novel was Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. The last few books that I’ve read have been long, dark, and full of complicated intricate and complicated plots. Pyramids was a much needed and enjoyable palate cleanser. Lighthearted and hilarious, Pratchett takes you on a memorable romp through it’s pages.

As in all of his books, Pyramids is chock full of interesting and ridiculous characters that play off of each other very well. Jokes that at times make you laugh and groan are scattered like mines throughout the pages. In particular I found that the dialogue was particularly sharp in this novel, requiring the reader to pay close attention.

Pyramids takes a very close, and critical look at religion, royalty, and tradition and the lies that must be told to keep them in check. With almost vicious abandon, Pratchett tears them apart, uncovering the folly that lays beneath. As you would expect by the title, the ancient civilization of Egypt is largely the butt of the joke. Mummies, cat worship and the like are all examined and found silly.

In fact, this may be the most silly and absurd of the disc world books that I’ve read, which is saying quite a bit. The intersectionality of time and different dimensions make for a variety of truly ridiculous situations and encounters.

Overall the novel was extremely enjoyable and I sped through it happily. While it was at times quite lighthearted, I was left with quite a lot to think about. What traditions and dogma’s exist in my mind, only because they have always existed? What in our society do we believe in whole heartedly because we have always done so? As always when you look through the microscope you inevitably see some part of yourself. Pyramids was Pratchett at the height of his powers, weaving charming characters with a engaging story, topped off with a generous helping of gags and jokes. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would fully recommend it to anyone who enjoys his work or fantasy at large! 

As always you can follow my reading adventures at James Bee

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

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.

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.