Book Review – Darien-by C F Iggulden – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE.

WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king.

It will summon strangers to the city – Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt – and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all. Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made – and lost – in Darien.

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

In the preface to the novel, the author gives his thanks to those writers of fantasy that have influenced his own writing. I was not surprised to find the names of Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb amongst those mentioned as they are such huge names in the fantasy genre, (there are many others as well, but I've not read them all). As such, I was keen to begin reading the author's first foray into fantasy, expecting great things from such a well-regarded author, if one I've often struggled to appreciate as much as everyone else, finding his style to be a little too cold in regard to his historical characters. This novel certainly feels much warmer towards the various main characters and this is one of its strengths. This warmth makes the storyline much easier to read (I've often been left wondering why he even bothered to write about some of the characters he's chosen in the past- when it seems he had neither passion or regard for them).

Yet for all that, this novel is not astounding or jaw dropping as a Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb book would be, with their pitch perfect characterizations and world building. It is a reasonably well-crafted novel, although little but character development seems to happen for the first 50% of the novel, and from then on, some of it seems a little rushed. I was also a bit, well peeved, to find a whole new character being introduced at about 80%. I always think this smacks a little too much of desperation (a bit like a who done it when the author brings in a new character as the actual perpetrator even though we've never heard of them before). It is a fairly run of the mill fantasy - the story is enjoyable without being astounding; the magic abilities of some of the characters are interesting; the baddies are bad, the goodies are good and there are a few in-between who we don't ever learn enough about to say one way or another - they are filler for the rest of the story.

I also found some of the author's naming conventions to be annoying - Tellius, Nancy, Daw, Arthur, Lady Sallet - too much of a mix with no firm basis for why these names are relevant  -poor Nancy should have had a much exotic name (although without any X's or Z's in it).

Yet, for all that, this is without doubt, the most enjoyable novel I've yet read by this author. I'm sure that his fans will very much enjoy it, and if it opens their eyes to the wonderful worlds of Robin Hobb and Mark Lawrence, then this should be seen as a plus. Sometimes it takes a popular author to jump genre to find that new genre new fans. 

If there's a second book would I read it? At the moment, I don't know. The novel would need to be about something a little different - I like my fantasy to be bold and new - always a little different and not regurgitating the same old stories (I might be in the minority here) - and as such, this novel is a little too mundane for me. There is nothing new on offer in this fantasy series - but, as I said, this might be just what some people are looking for.

Darien is released on 13th July 2017, and is available from here,

Book Review – The Seven by Peter Newman – fantasy – recommended

“Years have passed since the Vagrant journeyed to the Shining City, Vesper in arm and Gamma’s sword in hand.

Since then the world has changed. Vesper, following the footsteps of her father, journeyed to the breach and closed the tear between worlds, protecting the last of humanity, but also trapping the infernal horde and all those that fell to its corruptions: willing or otherwise.

In this new age it is Vesper who leads the charge towards unity and peace, with seemingly nothing standing between the world and a bright new future.

That is until eyes open.

And The Seven awakes.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

But that said, after only a few pages, I decided to read the previous book in the series, as the world I discovered was both intriguing and quite alien. I thought I needed some back story, and indeed I did. My review for The Malice is here.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2011536175?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

I should also perhaps have taken the time to read The Vagrant but impatience won out, and anyway, The Vagrant, unlike in The Malice, is a real part of this final part of the trilogy (I am assuming it’s the final part).

Anyway, back to The Seven.

The world created by Peter Newman throughout The Vagrant series is inherently alien. It feels new and strange and, on occasion, very, very weird. This, more than anything, immediately draws the reader in, for Newman’s descriptions are sparse in the extreme, and I was often left decrying his lack of description (which is weird for me because I often skip excess descriptions in books content to let my imagination hold sway). Neither is it just his descriptions that are sparse, the whole nature of the book is trimmed down so that you really have to read each and every word – there’s no skipping a bit because you sort of know what’s about to happen. There is also, in the grand scheme of things, little conversation. This ties with the ‘pared’ down nature of the planet that these people inhabit.

The characters in this final book – Vesper, Samael and Scout, The Vagrant, Jem, her daughter, Obeisance and The Seven, as well as The First, Neer and other characters from the earlier book (including The Buck although not as much as I might have liked) – are all scarcely sketched and yet all have very distinct characters. There is no need to’like’ any of the characters (not like in some books) and yet throughout the series you gain respect for them all – even when they might be being cowardly or acting contrary to what we might hope they do. This is a strength of the book – for all the weirdness and strangeness – these are people (I use that word lightly) that we can understand if not relate to.

I very much enjoyed the ‘backstory’ in The Seven. Throughout The Malice I found it a little distracting, but in The Seven, the back story is vitally important, and indeed, at the end, I would have liked to know more about Massala and her creations.

Book 3 is eminently more readable than The Malice – and I don’t think it was because I knew more about the ‘world’ of The Vagrant – I think the storyline is more recognizable and therefore flows better. Yet I don’t think the author ever quite gives the reader what they want – there is not really a happily ever after, there is just an ending, and one which is never wholly assured until it actually happens.

There are very good battle scenes, and very good ‘political’ scenes and yet through it all, the world of The Vagrant remains aloof – difficult to grasp onto. It is not a typical fantasy book and some might well struggle with it, but I think it’s well worth the struggle (The Malice took me a month to read because I struggled with elements of it – The Seven is a much quicker read) and it is refreshing to read something so very different and ‘new’.

The Seven is available now and can be purchased here;

Book Review – The Malice by Peter Newman – fantasy

“Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.”

First things first, I’ve not read the Vagrant, but having received a free EArc of The Seven (Book 3) I dived right into it and then realised that I really should read, at least, the previous book.

The Malice starts very strongly – the world created feels both relatable and also very strange. This sums up much of the novel. The main characters of Vesper and the Kid are introduced very quickly and immediately feel like realistic characters. Yet the author’s writing style is sparse, almost to distraction, substituting words that sound like what they describe as opposed to describing them, for instance, a WarMech. For me, this meant that I was constantly grasping at even the smallest amount of description, which was strange because I often find author’s engaging in too much description and it annoys me, this was the complete opposite.

For all that, the world is richly imagined, in all its strangeness and it is very strange, and this makes it, at times, quite a difficult read, and that’s why it’s taken me a month to read because I just had to take a break half way through because the ‘weirdness’ and the writing style was giving me something of a headache.

For all that, the book is worthy of perseverance and I’m looking forward to reading The Seven.

All in all, not an easy read, but quite an intriguing one.

The Malice is currently available, as is The Seven, and the first book, The Vagrant.

Film Review – King Arthur:Legend of the Sword – highly, highly recommended (historical fantasy)

I don’t often offer my opinions on films – as they can be somewhat divisive. However, given the bad press surrounding this film – apparently it’s a flop, I feel compelled to write a little in support of the film as I went to see it and it was massively entertaining and so well done, I think people might need a little nudge in the right direction and a bit of positivity.

Firstly, I am not a huge fan of King Arthur legends – (apart from Sword in the Stone – obviously). I often struggle with the ‘historical placement’ of it all and the huge body of medieval literature and idealism that has affected the original ‘legend’. There is no need to fear on that part in this film. The massively imaginative reimagining of ‘England’ by Guy Ritchie is so vast and encompassing that you can’t help but love it. This is Camelot and Londinium as you’ve probably never seen it before. The landscapes are stunning, the details amazing – even the costumes don’t jar and the music, with its thundering drums, adds to a movie that starts a little slowly for all of 5 minutes, and then just builds and builds until the fantastic conclusion.

If you’re a fan of Guy Ritchie movies everything he’s accomplished since Lock, Stock is there (I am a huge fan of his Sherlock Holmes films because, again, they are so refreshing, and I think the Man from UNCLE is very underrated because it’s so damn stylish). This is Londinium with all the ‘street talk’ of Lock, Stock and the attitude of its characters and their ‘banter’ is up there with the best Sherlock lines. There are some fantastic and quirky camera angles used that really add to the enjoyment of the film – this is a film without dull moments, and I mean none – (unlike Guardians of the Galaxy 2 which was also awesome but has a bit in the middle that’s a bit ‘flat’). It starts, and it rolls and it keeps going.

If you’re a fan of Arthurian Legends then too, this has much to offer. Camelot is there, Uhtred, Vortigern, the Lady of the Lake, Druids and even Merlin gets more than a mention. This is an ‘epic’ England of ‘Arthurian’ times – and if sometimes Ritchie plays a little bit hard and fast with some of the expected storylines, this shouldn’t detract because you’ll be too busy laughing, or watching in amazement with your mouth hanging open!

This is clever, and witty craftsmanship. Having seen a few ‘good’ action films recently, this film suffers from none of their flaws – while it’s as stylistic as Assassin’s Creed and has superb music to accompany it (I felt the music in Assassin’s Creed throbbing through my veins), King Arthur benefits from a plot and story that drives it ever forward. The slightly forced camaraderie of The Great Wall, (which again is a stylistically fantastic film and very well made) has no place in this film – the main stars work so well together that everything feels natural and never forced.

Jude Law is stunningly evil, Charlie Hunnam doesn’t falter once, his delivery is fantastic, and the actress playing the druid is mystical and powerful and beautiful in a mystical way. The supporting cast, which is both vast and small, is filled with familiar faces – it’s good to see the guy from Game of Thrones, the little nod to the BBC Merlin series, and ‘Blue’ is a little gem. The David Beckham cameo didn’t even make me flinch and some might not even recognise him as he delivers his lines in a bluff ‘Londinium’ accent. Eric Bana is exceptionally heroic as Uhtred, and I’m not unconvinced that Jason Statham doesn’t have a cameo as well.

And all this before I even get to the fantastical elements of this historical fantasy (which I’m not spoiling – go and see them) because they are so well done.

For all those fans of Vikings, this is a film for you that doesn’t suffer from the need to drag out storylines for an entire season. For fans of The Last Kingdom – this film will show you how this sort of thing should be done – there’s no half-ass fighting scenes, weak dialogue, or moody ‘elf’ man. The kings and warriors in this don’t pansy around with wooden crosses around their necks, worrying about what ‘their’ God might or might not think about everything that’s going on.

This is a ‘reimagined’ world of epic proportions, and as you might have noticed, I really can’t praise it enough, so put down your latest historical fiction/fantasy novel, and get yourself to the cinema! This is how ‘Arthur’ should be done.

The Legend of Arthur was released in the UK on 21st May 2017.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1972591/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Book Review: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb (fantasy) Highly, highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

The final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.

ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.”

First things first, I love the Robin Hobb’s Fitz books. I’ve tried to read other books of her’s set in the same ‘universe’ and struggled to varying degrees – I did best with her Dragon books and failed magnificently with The Liveship Traders, but this is not because the books are bad, not at all, it’s because Fitz and his Fool and the Wolf are absent from the books and it’s those characters, as well as the many others that populate her three Fitz trilogies, that draw me into her richly imagined word.

This, is the final book in the third trilogy, and it is an absolute monster, coming in it at over 900 pages, but oh, how I warred with myself. I didn’t want it to end, and I was equally desperate to get to the end; to know what finally happened to Fitz. I tried to stop myself at 45% of the way through but found I was unable to, oh, and you’re kept guessing until the very, very end – so don’t be thinking that anything is going to be resolved any sooner than that.

These stories can be laboriously slow – taken up with one of the things I most hate about epic fantasy – the constant travelling and journeying to new countries – but somehow Robin Hobb gets away with it in ways I will not allow another author to do. Each detail is beautifully drawn out, and you’re left wondering how she has the patience to craft her stories so precisely and so well. There is no hint of a headlong rush to the end, and none of the characters are skimmed over – each is allowed to fully evolve and have their due time on the page and in the reader’s mind before the inevitable conclusion.

I can’t gush enough about how wonderful this final book was – it didn’t feel final for the vast majority of it – it’s not the work of an author giving a few more pages for a host of adoring fans – but rather a fully rounded and complex story. This third book still has much to offer readers, and I’m left wondering where Robin Hobb will venture next – will the story of the Farseers continue? (as really it must) or is this a fond farewell to the whole world of dragons and Skill users she’s evolved over the differing trilogies?

What I know is that I cried when I should have done, and left the trilogy feeling as though a job had been exceptionally well done and my own half-formed hopes and dreams for the characters had been both wholly-wrong and yet also rightly achieved.

I can’t recommend this book enough and for all those who’ve not yet read any of the three trilogies, I can feel only envy that you still have it all to come.

For my earlier reviews of the previous 2 books check here;

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1110324862

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1719671174

And you can buy the book here when it’s released on 4th May 2017.

Book Review – Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (fantasy)

Here’s the blurb;

“Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.”

So I am new to the writing of Brian Staveley and I found this book to be a slog from beginning to end, and in the end, it was only sheer determination that drove me to the end, and not a desire to know the ending of the narrative. The novel felt very much like the hot and muggy climate that the story takes place in, and which the author goes to great pains to constantly describe, it clung to you, the smell, the heat, the sweat, but a good shower and the whole thing was washed clean away with little remaining to remind you of the story.

There are moments in this book when I thought it was fantastic, but they were too short and too few and far between and sadly, were too often stopped abruptly by a complete change of pace by the author, or the ending of a chapter. And, my word, does the author like to ‘world build’. I would have much preferred a style that didn’t involve long and torturous ‘backfill’ when a character did something that the author was unable to explain away. I felt, almost like a bad joke, that if it needed that much explanation then, really, that scene shouldn’t have happened or wasn’t needed.

There were also moments when the plot made no sense whatsoever. There are too many ‘gods’ and too many events that seem ‘forced’. There is no overriding narrative that holds the story together, and the author revels in using language that I’ve never heard of. Repeatedly I had to make use of the dictionary on kindle to understand the words – a strange occurrence as I’ve never had to do this before in any of the many books I’ve read. There are also, and this is a pet peeve, lots of silly sounding names for all the peripheral characters – Gods, people, places.

I very much tried to be open minded about the novel. From my own experience about writing side-stories to an already established universe, I know how hard it can be to find a storyline that doesn’t depend on the other novels – one that truly stands alone – and from what I can gather, I think the author has done this. However, if the novel was intended to inspire me to read more of the ‘world’ that has been created, it has failed. While Pyrre may have been a bold and decisive character, ultimately, I found her to be too ‘little’. There was little to love there, in fact, the characters who surround Pyree are far better – perhaps because we don’t constantly have to listen to their self-doubt – Ruc Lan Lac, Kossal and Ela. They might be more one-dimensional – but they are easier to connect to and understand.

Yet, I still give the novel 4 stars – mainly because it is so detailed and confident in itself and I’m sure that fans of the series will love it.

And you can buy it here from April 25th 2017;

 

 

 

Book Review – Blood Forest by Geraint Jones (historical fiction) Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb:

“Gladiator meets Full Metal Jacket in Geraint Jones’ spectacular debut Blood Forest, where honour and duty, legions and tribes clash in bloody, heart-breaking glory.

It is AD 9. In Northern Europe an army is dying, and an empire is being brought to its knees.

The Roman Empire is at the height of its power. Rome’s soldiers brutally enforce imperial rule, and its legions are the most efficient and aggressive fighting force in the world. Governor Varus leads 15,000 seasoned legionnaires north to subdue the Germanic tribes. To Rome these people are savages, ripe for conquest. But the Romans know little of this densely forested territory governed by fiercely independent chieftains. Rome’s supposed ally, Arminius, has unified the disgruntled tribes, leading the would-be conquerors towards a deadly trap. As the army marches deeper into enemy territory, one small band of soldiers must face the deadliest of foes, alone.”

I must first make two things very clear 1) I don't like Ancient Rome/the Romans and I have no interest in studying it because I'm an Anglo-Saxonist 2) I tried to give this book a 4 star but I've had to give it a 5. 

I am, I must confess, conflicted by those two points above! However, for all that I don't like books on Ancient Rome or the Romans (to me the Romans are all about sandals and skirts - and sandals are mentioned quite a few time) this story by Geraint Jones is stunning. I devoured it in two days and the reason I've opted for the 5 star is because the storyline infected my dreams last night and that means it's had a big impact on me. In case you want to know, it was the cover and the title that made me want to read the book.

I can not, and won't, attest to any historical accuracy in this story. As I said, I'm not a Roman historian however, the majority of this novel is about a small group of men, in a much larger army, and the events take place so far from Rome that the whole Roman 'thing' isn't actually all that important. This is a story of men, battle and comradeship, and perhaps, honour. It is very brutal, it is filled with foul language and hideous images of death and the dying. 

The author manages to avoid stereotyping his Roman soldiers, and all of the 'main' small group (Felix, Titus, Moon, Rufus, Chicken, Micon, Cnaeus and Pavo) have something to add to the story. It is told in the first person - which makes for a quick and easy read anyway - but our main character - whose name we only find out very late on in the novel and who we must call 'Felix' as the rest of the cast do - is an intriguing, if conflicted individual. And to be honest, most of the soldiers are conflicted - in the descriptions of the way the men deal with the violent conflict they find themselves in - the author spares nothing in allowing them to be twisted and changed by the many violent actions they've taken part in, or are forced to take part in, and while we may deplore their acts with our more modern sensibilities - so much of this novel is life and death that we too end up accepting what they're doing.

The reader might not like all of the men, I don't think we're meant to, but that means that we can respect the actions they take.

Even if you don't like Roman historical fiction, I would still recommend this novel to you. The writing style is fresh, the battle scenes well told so that even though there are many battle scenes, they never feel repetitive, and although I think the weakest part of the novel might well be its ending, when all the secrets and lies are exposed about the truth of the men making the decisions for the army that Felix and his comrades are a member of, I would still be interested in reading more about Felix.

This book is available to buy from April 9th 2017.