Seven Forges by James A. Moore

Seven Forges by James A. Mooer | Angry Robot, 2013

Before I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of Serenity Falls, Writ in Blood was a fantastic little book that marked the beginning of a trilogy detailing the horrific past and present of a small town long past its heyday. Sadly by the time I was done with graduate school the Serenity Falls series was out of print. Moore recently entered the fantasy scene with Seven Forges published by the fine folks over at Angry Robot. The novel opens with the mercenary caption Merros Dulver on an expedition into the dangerous Blasted Lands there to investigate the enigmatic Seven Forges; a range of strange mountains. Sent by the Emperor’s Sorcerous advisor, Desh Krohan, Merros is startled to discover that the Blasted Lands and the Seven Forges themselves are not as uninhabited as previously thought.

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Quick Shot: Ghost Fleet by P. W. Singer and August Cole

Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole | Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War is a new military thriller available in June. Singer has written several non-fiction titles about war and military industrial complex. This appears to August Cole’s first book and both authors’ first novel. Singer and Cole blend familiar tactics with modern (and future) technologies to tell the story of a Chinese attack on Pearl Harbor that heralds the beginning of another world war. Ghost Fleet is a fascinating premise that, while speculative, is grounded in technologies and tactics that either currently exist or could exist in the near future. The authors’ premise is backed by a rather extensive bibliography at the end of the novel. As such, Ghost Fleet makes an interesting thought exercise marked with some thrilling action set pieces. Ghost Fleet is a breezy, quick read, that will be well-suited to anyone looking for an exciting piece of fiction to enjoy by the pool or on the beach.

Ghost Fleet, while on sure-footing when talking about tactics  and technology, and while dealing with action, is far less sure when it comes to characters. While some exceptions, particularly the U.S. Marines turned insurgents in Hawaii, many of the characters feel like deliberate tropes who fall into familiar roles. The novel, clocking in at decent 417 pages, is fast paced but offers little room for developing the myriad of characters seen across the novel. In a bizarre move there is significant section of the novel  given over to the hunt for a serial killer in occupied Hawaii. This section of the novel marks for a sharp departure from the military and political focus of the novel. If the intent was to illustrate the effect of occupation on the Hawaiian population then it falls flat on its face. That isn’t to say the serial killer story isn’t interesting, or even well-written, it most certainly is both of those things. However, its tone is such a departure from the rest of the novel that I frequently found it distracting. The various perspectives seen in Ghost Fleet could likely have each filled out their own novel and trimming some of the dross could have lead to a deeper emotional investment in the characters. As a result, I was not invested in the fate of the characters and simply pressing forward to see what happened next.

Ghost Fleet, while exciting feels like a novel that could have been far more that what it ended up being. This fact is depressing because it still manages to be an exciting read that draws the reader in with a vivid picture of a war the could have been. Ghost Fleet will be available in the U.S. on June 30th.

The Ables by Jeremy Scott

The Ables by Jermey Scott |Clovercroft Publishing, 2015

You should know first that I am fan of Cinema Sins. Jeremy is half the writing team behind Cinema Sins and the narrator so when I saw on their Youtube channel that Jeremy had written a book I figured that I should check it out. It didn’t hurt that John Dies at the End author David Wong has a nice little quote up over on the book’s website. I jumped when I saw that Netgalley had it up. The Ables is about a secret society of superpowered peoples living around us. We don’t see them but they are there protecting us from both regular criminals and from super-powered individuals who do not have out best interests at heart. So when Phillip Sallinger learns that he has inherited superpowers he absolutely ecstatic; even if his telekinesis is difficult to use due to his blindness.

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Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

I really enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine wherein the titular hero of Harrison Squared, Harrison Harrison, is introduced. It was a quiet, contemplative novella about monsters and scars that was equal parts heart-warming and chilling. A prequel of sorts Harrison Squared is Harrison’s origin story featuring his first brush with the supernatural. It also borrows heavily from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth so reader’s familiar with Lovecraft’s work may be able to telegraph where the novel is going. Despite this fact (or maybe because of it) I found Harrison Squared to be an entertaining supernatural yarn.

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Quick Shot: Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt

Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt | Scribner, 2013I don’t write about it often here but I love Dungeons and Dragons. I’m a relative newcomer to the D&D having picked up the game just around when the third edition of the game was released in the 90s. I played with a group of friends in high school, continuing that game through college; until life got in the way. I played and DMed throughout college enjoying a handful of different campaigns (and finally branching out beyond D&D). When I started graduate school and worked part-time at a book store I met another group and once again began to play D&D. We still have a regular game on an (almost) weekly basis. That weekly game has morphed over the years as more and more people were brought into the fold. It is often a bit of an unmanageable mess. The eleven odd players and innumerable distractions brought on by both life and 21st century technology mean it is a far cry from the game of D&D I remember from the past. Of Dice and Men describes the history of the game from early beginnings, delves a bit into the nature of role playing in its various forms, and is every inch a love letter to the game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Of Dice and Men isn’t an exhaustive, comprehensive history. A bit more focused than Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks and not as scholarly as Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World, Of Dice and the Men is none-the-less an entertaining and engaging read. In addition to covering the early days of Dungeons and Dragons, Ewalt’s takes several pit-stops along the way delving into the wargaming simulations that served to inspire Dungeon’s and Dragons and LARPing (Live Action Roleplaying) that has been inspired by Dungeons and Dragons. They are interesting diversions that illustrate and illuminate fascinating communities whose enthusiasm mirror that of Dungeon’s and Dragons fans across the world.

While I already know much about D&D Of Dice and Men covers much of the history of the game that I am unfamiliar with. I’m not typically a fan of non-fiction, often quickly losing interest, but Ewalt’s interstitials describing his own home D&D game provided an engaging bit of narrative to keep me going (while simultaneously making me feel a tad guilty about how lazy and lackluster my own gaming style has become). As I said, if you are look for an exhaustive history of D&D than this isn’t the book for you, but if you are looking for a popular history of the game and some of the communities it has spawned or spawned from then Of Dice and Men is the book for you.

Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams

Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams | Baen, 2015

I’m not one to typically read short story collections or anthologies but the theme behind the latest John Joseph Adams’ edited Operation Arcana was sufficiently intriguing to pique my interest. The focus of Operation Arcana is on military fantasy and includes a wonderful list of contributors. The stories in Operation Arcana run the gamut from high action, to more subtle medications of war and combat. By and large Operation Arcana is full of tight, entertaining fiction. I’m not going to go through every story in the anthology but there were really a handful of stories that absolutely blew me away.

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Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley | Tor, 2015

The Emperor’s Blades was one of my favorite debut novels in recent years. A fast-paced narrative and fantastic characterization (for most of the characters) made the pages fly by. The novel had a few issues particularly that the world-building was a little bit light and the only female character felt like a secondary consideration. Thankfully those issues are resolved with the release of the second book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Providence of Fire. Picking up just after the conclusion of the first novel it follows Kaden as he is escorted by Valyn and his Kettral wing on a mission to hopefully get more information on the Csestriim threat that has suddenly rematerialized. Meanwhile, Adare comes to terms with the snake who engineered her father’s downfall and seeks new allies in a dangerous bid to secure her family’s imperial position.

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation y Isaac Asimov | 1951

I’ve had limited exposure to the writings of Asimov but my encounters with many older science fiction works have shown me that in many cases their strengths lay in ideas over characters. As a reader whose attention is drawn to vivid characters this often poses a problem. Niven and Porenelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye had similar problems and I’m not sure I can name a specific character from Rendezvous with Rama. Each of those novels were in one way or another a struggle for me typically since engaging with the novel leaned almost exclusively on the intellectual rather than the emotional. Foundation opens up with a fascinating concept: a psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, has used mathematics to determine that the current Galactic Empire will fall into ruin. Needless to say this sends the current leadership of the Galactic Empire into a bit of an uproar and sees Seldon and his compatriots exiled to the far end of the universe where they can continue their work without upset the current order. What follows is a march through time as Seldon’s work echoes through the ages as he and his descendants seek to limit the impact of the “dark age” that follows the empire’s fall.

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A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Soulds by Mitchel Hogan | CreateSpace, 2013

Small press and self-published titles are continuing to increase not only in quantity but also in quality. A Crucible of Souls is an impressive debut from author Mitchell Hogan that shows an sure, deft hand at character and action. Caldan’s parents and sister were slain when he was a young child and he has been raised in a nearby monastery since their deaths. There he has studied arts both magical and martial alongside the children of the rich and noble. As a ward of the monks Caldan isn’t necessarily accepted by the privileged students of the monks and a terrible mistake soon sees Caldan put out of the monastery and sent out into the harsh truths of the real world. With an earnest attitude and keen mind Caldan finds himself apprenticed to the sorcerer’s guild for a short time before world-shattering events see Caldan on a mission of great importance.

While on the one hand Hogan’s story borrows familiar tropes, particularly when it comes to the protagonist, he manages to inject a number of original elements into the story that keep the familiar from being overwhelming. I was particularly impressed the Hogans light-hand when it comes to world building. Hogan sketches out some simple details: the world is a fallen place, unchecked magic from past seemingly have wreaked some great cataclysm that has seen much knowledge both lost and forbidden. The magic that does exist in A Crucible of Souls is primarily practical, magical inventions that are designed for a specific task (sorcerous globes of light, locks that can be magically sealed, etc.) all of which eventually lose their power and crumble to dust (or burst into flames). The crafting of permanent items has been lost to time though powerful magical trinkets from ages past do exist. The mysteries of the lost art of magic is an important aspect of the story. Somehow Hogan’s intricate world-building occurs stealthily in the background and I never really felt bombarded with information overload.

To some extent Caldan can come off as a bit too pefect. Particularly when it comes his magical abilities and his preternatural ability to play the chess-like game of Dominion Caldan seems to be a bit insufferably good. However, Hogan cleverly turns Caldan’s talents on their head with his seemingly amazing abilities being what constantly gets him in trouble. Caldan’s talents frequently overreach his experience in a way that rounds the character out nicely. In A Crucible of Souls Hogan introduces what is perhaps the most fascinating character of the series in Amardan (this could be spelled wrong since I listened to the audiobook). Introduced relatively early in the story Amardan is a shopkeeper who is also a serial-killer. I’m hard pressed to name many fantasy series that introduce a serial killer as a main character but Amardan is a wonderfully compelling character who, even when he is being outright terrible, is consistently entertaining to read. To me it felt like Amardan and Caldan are two sides of the same coin and their similarities are something I hope are explored in future.

The dialogue in A Crucible of Souls can be a bit clunky at times. In the audiobook this is mitigated by Oliver Wyman’s talented narration; his assured delivery of the dialogue distracts from its occasionally stilted tone. Hogan has offered up an entertaining debut in A Crucible of Souls. While not a perfect novel its creativity and winding plot make up for its short falls. A Crucible of Souls won the 2013 Aurealis Award (Australian Science Fiction) for Best Fantasy Novel. The second novel, Blood of Innocents is available now, and a third untitled volume is in the workd.