Spell Robbers is a fast paced action novel aimed at kids around 8-12 (or grades 3-7). In the novel the young Ben Warner gets invited to join an after school “science club” where he learns how to manipulate reality on a quantum level. While grounded in science, the title gives a nob to the tried (and some might say tired) adage from Arthur C. Clarke that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Overall, Kirby has penned an entertaining novel that sure to fire the imagination of children. However, Spell Robbers never really rises above the level of cool and exciting, despite the many chances it has to do so. Children’s literature, when it’s at its best, has a sort of universal appeal. As an adult I am delighted by the worlds of characters like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. There is a level of detail there that helps the fiction really stand out. It is a level detail that Spell Robbers never quite seems to rise to; though I think it could.As an action/adventure novel Spell Robbers is absolutely top-notch, but I think it definitely could have been more.
It has taken Scott Sigler quite a bit of time to finish out his Infected series. The first two novel in the series, Infected and Contagious, were released in 2008 and I reviewed the audiobook version of both around the same time (here and here). The final volume in Sigler’s series, Pandemic, was released almost 5 years since I reviewed Contagious. I didn’t go back and take a look at the previous two volumes before jumping into Pandemic; a fact which made someone leery going into this novel. Thankfully, Pandemic is an extraordinarily approachable novel; not so approachable that it could be easily enjoyed in you missed Infected and Contagious but enough that the distance between the novels isn’t quite that noticeable. Needless to say spoilers for the first novel are ahead so consider yourselves warned.
So I spent the first half of this week at a convention for work called Computers in Libraries. It was an interesting time with some excellent presentations dampened only slightly by the reminder of how utterly and completely terrible I am at introducing myself to strangers even when we likely share the same professional background. Now, while I definitely love my genre fiction two of my other favorite pass times involve food and beer. Being in a new city, or at least a place where I don’t actually live, means that I get to try a bunch of local food.
The convention was held in Washington D.C. at the Washington Hilton roughly half a mile from the DuPont Circle metro station. I knew during the first morning walk to the convention that most of the places along Connecticut Ave. were either outside my budget (particularly the more local eateries) or were chain restaurants. Furthermore, the D.C. Metro isn’t really a fan of bringing drinks on the train so I had to find coffee in the morning. While there were like eight Starbucks in the half-mile to the hotel I decided I wanted avoid Starbucks in favor a more local business.
It took me a long time to finally sit down and read The Shining. The Shining is a multi-layered tale about hauntings both in the ghostly variety and in the sense of the past and how its influences, its echoes, stay with us through the present. The Shining is Jack Torrance’s story through and through as the Overlook hotel’s ghosts and the ghosts of his own past conspire to send him spiraling down the path to madness. Doctor Sleep is Danny Torrence’s story. While in The Shining Danny serves a vital purpose in helping build tension while simultaneously providing a means through which we can get a glimpse inside both Jack and Wendy’s heads he doesn’t really take center stage. In The Shining Danny Torrance is an innocent caught up in the whirlwind of his father’s madness. Doctor Sleep deals with the natural progression of those elements and we see Danny stepping into the shoes of his father as he desperately fights the ghosts of his own past and the strain his abilities place on his conscious.
The Written is the first book in the Emaneska series. All of Emaneska books were self-published by their author Ben Galley. The Written opens with a mysterious mage murdering some librarians to steal a book for some nefarious purpose. From their readers are introduced to Farden a sword wield, fire-flinging gauntlet wearing mage known for his temper and the fact that his father’s mind buckled under the power of his magics. Farden, we quickly learn is tasked (by his vampire mentor) with tracking down the mysterious book thief and murderer. Of course it isn’t quite as simple as tracking down the thief thanks to the fact that the book was a powerful grimoire once held by the mages of Arfell’s ancient enemy: the Sirens. Farden’s quest leads him down dark paths full of conspiracy, adventure, and magic.
The Written is a solid debut book. This is by no means a perfect novel and it doesn’t necessarily do a lot of new things but it a solid swords and sorcery adventure. Farden is an interesting lead equal parts confident and flawed; capable of both deep insight and disastrous oversight. The world of Emeaneska is interesting though at least on the surface a fairly generic fantasy landscape. Over the course of the novel Galley focuses his attention on two main cultures: the mages of Arfell and their once enemies the Sirens. Galley’s narrow focus on both cultures and their differences are where the novel is at its strongest and it becomes easy to see how the radical differences in each of these two cultures has lead to conflict and misunderstanding. I do think that Galley is a bit less than even-handed in his presentation of both Arfell and the Sirens. The Sirens, who were the ones defeated in their war with the mages of Arfell, are definitely painted in a more forgiving light that paint’s the mages’ claims of Siren aggression in a very different light.
Galley plays fast and loose with the magic of The Written, there are no big Sanderson-esque magic systems here and the limitations of the Farden’s abilites are not made explicit. The magic of The Written involves writing, particularly in the form of tattoos born by mages like Farden, and that the process of tattooing is dangerous bordering on deadly. What we never find out is precisely what that magic can and cannot do. For the most part Galley offers just enough detail to keep the sorcerous action interesting without being confusing. Galley also show a deft hand at action scenes and crafts several exciting set pieces that unfold in epic situations. The plot is quick and constantly moving forward with at least one major twist that even experienced readers will not see coming.
The Written is currently available for free in Kindle form so there really isn’t any excuse not check it out now. I’ll definitely be giving the rest of Galley’s Emaneska series a shot in the future.
Before reading this review you should all understand that one of my favorite movies is Event Horizon. For those who aren’t familiar, Event Horizon, is essentially a haunted house story set in space wherein an intrepid group of spacers investigate the titular ship, the Event Horizon, which years ago mysteriously disappeared during the test of the first FTL drive. Event Horizon isn’t a great movie but much like Alien it combines science fiction and horror in a fun and entertaining manner (see also: Pandorum, Eden Log, and Europa Report). As such the blending of science fiction and horror has always been one of my favorite areas of genre fiction (I do less well with video games, I’m looking at you Dead Space). I say all this to warn you that my look at Adam Christopher’s The Burning Dark is not going to be through a completely objective lens.
I’ve been a fan of the Thor comics for a while but with all these so-called “adult” responsibilities I’ve had little chance to really keep up with today’s comics. I finally managed to request the first two Thor: God of Thunder trades, The God Butcher and Godbomb, for the library and man Jason Aaron and Essad Ribic absolutely live up the litany of great writers and artists of yore.
Fortune’s Pawn was a an exciting and entertaining read featuring a strong and capable heroine in the form of Paradoxian mercenary Devi Morris. Devi returns in Honor’s Knight and Bach amps things up somewhere close to 11 for this sci-fi action outing. In the process Bach somehow manages to improve upon the already excellent Fortune’s Pawn in almost every conceivable way. If you’ve yet to read Fortune’s Pawn and you like action-packed science fiction with a strong female you should go do that now…there are definitely spoilers ahead.
I just finished my re-read of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and I’m now rolling directly into Words of Radiance. I’m not going to rehash a second review of Way of Kings, initial excitement aside my thoughts from my review still stand. I can add some additional bullet points:
- I don’t like Kaladin’s flashback chapters. During this second read-through they felt a bit clunky and de-railed the story’s momentum. I understand their importance in establishing Kaladin’s multiple betrayals and his father’s influence in his life but they really derailed the plot for me.
- Knowing more about Shallan actually helped in my second read. I spent less time wondering how she fit into the grand scheme of things and more time enjoying her wit and observations.
- Surgebinding feels very much like a evolution, a streamlining, of allomancy from Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Surgebinding allows for visually impressive action, any scene involving Szeth is something I’d love to see in motion, without the complexity of Allomancy.
- Wit, remains one of my favorite parts of The Way of Kings and hope he returns in Words of Radiance.
- Despite the importance of the Kholin family there is surprisingly little information on Renarin. Maybe that will change in the next book.
- I love the villain reveal as well as the revelation about the Voidbringers.
- Reading Mark Lawrence and digging on Numenera has warped my perceptions a bit but there is a bit of science fantasy vibe here. It’s probably my imagination combined with how shardplate reminds me of power armor.
Anyway, I had a blast re-reading this book and am eager to jump into Words of Radiance. If you didn’t have time to re-read The Way of Kings on your own I highly suggest you take a look at Tor.com’s When We Last Left Our Heroes: The Way of Kings in Ten Minutes.
I seriously enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s The Archived so I decided to give her adult novel Vicious a spin. At its most superficial Vicious is a novel about people with superpowers and how those power affect their lives. Upon close inspection Vicious is in truth a deconstruction of a superhero mythos wrapped up in a careful psychological character study of two very similar men. The comic book fan in me can’t help but note the similarities in Vicious’ story to the history between the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and his own arch-nemesis Victor Von Doom. While Vicious’ Eli and Victor are friends at the start of the novel their is a toxicity and volatility to their relationship that makes their eventual conflict feel almost inevitable.