I feel like I buck the trend a bit in the world of Forgotten Realms fiction. Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cole is by far my favorite character and Kemp’s handle on dialogue is superb. The Godborn continues Wizards of the Coast’s Sundering event following Salvatores The Companions. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Companions as a novel, it felt far too transitory to make for a good stand alone read, and thankfully The Godborn doesn’t follow in that tradition. The Companions hinted and The Godborn confirms that the The Sundering is mostly a background tie-in that doesn’t really get expounded on in the plot. Indeed, in The Godborn the major event felt a bit more tertiary to the proceedings than even the previous novel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Kemp’s handle on characterization really brought to the needs and desires of his characters to the fore; a fact which definitely helped in getting things rolling.
Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere was an interesting and complex novel that blended horror, science fiction, and the notion of the American Dream into a cohesive and entertaining whole. City of Stairs is Bennett’s first foray into more “traditional” second world fantasy. The city of Bulikov, the titular City of Stairs, was once not only infused with the magic of the gods but home to one as well. That was before the oppressed slaves from a distant land managed to find a way to kill gods and transformed themselves into a world spanning empire. With Bulikov’s patron diety dead the city’s magical nature is a thin spectre of what it once was. When a regional imperial judge is found suddenly dead the mousy, middle aged Shara Divani is sent to investigate.
Prince of Fools runs parallel, at least chronologically, to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Lawrence is close to the top of my list of new(er) fantasy writers and the Broken Empire trilogy is one my favorite reads probably in the last decade so seeing a new title is exciting news. Prince Jalan is a bet far down the line from the throne currently occupied by his grandmother The Red Queen. Jalan spends his time shirking responsibility, running from conflict, and basically spending all of his considerable effort in looking out for the most important person in the world: himself. The Red Queen summons her lineage to hear the testimony of several prisoners who claim that war is coming and hear the Jalan first sees the Northman named Snorri ver Snagason. Jalan thinks little of Snorri’s tale of the dead returning to plague the living and see him for what he: potential profit in the fighting pits. Jalan’s selfish decision to suborn Snorri’s freedom sets forth a chain reaction of sort that snags the young prince and the stoic Northman in events both dangerous and dire.
The sequel to 2012’s Scourge of the Betrayer opens the world up quite a bit. Jeff Salyard’s expands upon the Syldoon and their culture giving readers a more in depth look at the culture and society that produced Captain Killcoin and his brothers. Picking up bare moments after the first novel Veil of the Deserter’s see’s historian/narrator Arki and his Syldoon employers holed up in an inn nursing over Captain Killcoin who still suffers under the grievous effects of his flail, Bloodsounder. With the loss of Lloi in the previous novel the Syldoon are desperately searching for a new witch to help the Captain deal with stolen memories that Bloodsounder forces upon its wielder. Unfortunately for the band of soldiers they are instead found by a pair of Syldoon memory witches, one of which is Captain Killcoin’s sister Soffjian. While part of the Syldoon power structure the members of Captain Killcoin’s company view the memory witches with distrust a fact compounded by the obvious bad blood between Captain Killcoin and his sister.
John Charming is the descendant of the renowned Charming line; famed for princess rescuing and monster slaying. Bound to defend the Pax Arcana (a magical enchantment that prevents humans from seeing the otherworldly, monstrous, and fey) John was trained, like his father, by the Knight’s Templar. Unfortunately for John his mother was bitten by a werewolf while pregnant and while she perished from the bite John was cursed with variant of lycanthropy; granting him many of the gifts and few of downfalls of being a werewolf. Despite these facts John was exiled from and sentenced to death by the Knight’s Templar and has been on the run since. Working under an assumed name John works as a bartender trying to keep a low profile to avoid the notice of the Knight. Things change when the beautiful Sig walks into his life and John is forced to confront a nest of vampires that has been growing right under his very nose.
I would consider any horror novel beginning with its main character asking himself “What would Kurt Russel do?” to be well worth my attention. Thankfully, Jonathan Wood’s No Hero manages to back up his grin inducing first lines with a solid story full of interesting characters and an exciting, if somewhat bleak, world. In No Hero, Oxford police officer Arthur Wallace has a near fatal encounter with a sword wielding woman seemingly responsible for several murders across town. As he recovers from his injuries he finds out that the truth is far more complex and far more terrifying.
If I’m being honest this review is likely not going to do this book justice. I was going into Words of Radiance, the second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, fresh off a reread of Way of Kings and experience both novels nearly back to back definitely enhanced my reading. Much like with other long-running fantasy series re-reads of all previous volumes will likely become cumbersome at some point but at least with book two the option for a back-to-back read works quite well. When it comes to Words of Radiance most Brandon Sanderson fans know what they are in for and the return to Roshar is like coming home again. Where Way of King eases readers into the world, offering an introduction and exploration of Roshar and how it works Words of Radiance delves deeper into the greater mysteries of Roshar and explores areas of the world glimpsed in the first book. Some spoilers from the first book are bound to occur so if you’ve yet to read Way of Kings consider yourself warned.
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.
The Emperor’s Blades is the tale of two brothers (and a sister, but I’ll get into that later), the sons of the Emperor of Annur. Kaden, the heir to the throne, was sent to a remote monastery to learn the teachings of the Blank God while his younger brother Valyn was sent to join the Kettral, the Empire’s elite military unit. When the Emperor is murdered from within both suddenly find themselves facing more than a little bit of trouble. While Kaden and Valyn face their own threats their sister Adare does her best to hold the Empire together from within its ruling council. The basic structure of The Emperor’s Blades, particularly in how it deals with a geographically scattered ruling family looking to hold their Empire together reminded me a bit of David Anthony Durham’s splendid Acacia series.
I went into The Iron Wolves with the expectation that it wouldn’t be exactly my cup of tea. I’ve been feeling a bit burned out on the whole “grimdark” thing and I figured The Iron Wolves would continue that trend. Much to my surprise I found Remic’s latest fantasy novel to be an engaging, almost hypnotic, opus of foul sorcery and violence. I mean that in the best way possible. The Iron Wolves, a titular squad of heroes have since disbanded and most have fallen on hard times. Of course, there is trouble brewing as the sorcerers creature Orlana the Changer has flesh-crafted horrific creatures to serve her and has set about raising an army of vicious Mud Orcs. So it is that the Iron Wolves are needed once again.