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Saturday, January 16, 2021

 Hot off the Press

My First Review of 2021


The Burning God

As I come to the end of this ambitious trilogy, I think it only fitting to share a little reminder of what has gone before. Here’s the blurb from the inside cover:

*******

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much – the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges – and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners.

As her power and influence grows, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s voice, urging her to burn the world and everything in it?

*******

That sets the scene nicely for the review, as I’m determined NOT to slip up with any spoilers.

Rin’s journey has been long and arduous. She started out as a despised orphan; became one of Sinegard’s military elite; was bowled over by the discovery of her shamanic gifts; horrified by the desolation she could unleash; devastated by her descent into opium addiction; cast out as outlaw and renegade . . . until the tide appeared to turn and she was lured into the service of a powerful warlord who uses her talents to his own advantage, only to throw her to the wolves as an expendable tool that has no place in the world he envisioned.

Yes, Rin’s life has been a headlong plunge down the rapides, where every rise and fall, every submerged rock and hidden whirlpool, every twist and turn has molded her into the person she is now: a woman capable of rising in power and influence, but one who fights a constant battle to retain her humanity. She’s experienced the power of the Phoenix, and it is an addiction far deeper, far more insidious than anything a poppy can produce. A stark and ever-present problem, seeing as how she is so driven by vengeance. Thankfully, that yearning to burn everything under creation is tempered by a small group of friends.

But for how long?

Kuang deftly incorporates this dilemma into the very real pace of a countrywide war, fought over difficult terrain. (And in this, she deserves a lot of credit).

War isn’t all blood n’ guts and nonstop action and glory. It’s often long, boringly irritating and arduous. Kuang deftly weaves this strange ebb and flow into the story arc to present us with an incredibly accurate depiction of Rin’s war of attrition. There’s the slow build up during long, grueling marches. A gathering of momentum. Repeated anticlimaxes. Short, sharp bursts of activity when an actual battle erupts. The adrenaline dump of the aftermath. The gradual realization of how little victory can accomplish, especially when you’re trying to juggle an ever-expanding web of logistical nightmares with the needs of a displaced or conquered community.

Yes, these riptides and countercurrents are superbly portrayed, as Kuang manages to weave them into actual ancient Chinese history, ethics, war strategy and politics. The end result being a superbly challenging story that brings a truly operatic production to its finale.

As ever, Kuang’s characters are wholly believable and as tragically flawed as the folks you meet in real life. Their strengths and weaknesses are utilized, to deliver a dark, imaginative and brutally uncompromising story of what can happen to the best of us when you try to fight a war on two fronts. (NO SPOILERS).

That’s why the ending is inevitable. THAT’S why the ending is perfect.

Don’t miss The Burning God. It’s symphonic fantasy at its best!



Saturday, January 2, 2021

 See why I Was Happy To Take Shelter Among The Pages Of. . .




The Season of Storms

The Season of Storms is the 8th overall adventure in the Witcher series and – to keep things in context – is set between the events of the first book, The Last Wish, and the one I reviewed last week, The Lady of the Lake. (So, this is before he meets Ciri)

The best way to think of it is as an interquel, because it helps us flesh out the substance of the lands through which Geralt travels, as well as giving us a greater insight as to how – and why – his mind works the way it does. Very clever. Because although our favorite witcher is an out and out killer, something of a dark knight resides within him. He has standards. A personal code of ethics to which he restricts his activities while performing the tasks he is hired for.

And this, despite the fact that most people despise him; that the guild of sorcerers look on him as a joke; and brigands constantly want to test themselves against him.

The poor guy never seems to get a break. As is exemplified by his visit to the city of Kerack. He is wrongly arrested; his swords are stolen; he is mysteriously exonerated and sent on a mission to assist the sorcerers at Rissberg; he is double/triple and goodness-knows what else crossed. Only to find its all been a ruse to force his assistance in deeper/greater matters.

(What they are, you’ll discover for yourself as this wickedly deceitful tale unravels).

Personally, I thought it was a breath of fresh air. Few authors take the time to help you really get to know their main characters and their history, but Sapkowski does just that in a basic straightforward way that helps you relate to Geralt’s plight on a personal level. And of course, it does so on a stage of high fantasy, political intrigue, revenge, and good old-fashioned set-tos that are immensely satisfying . . . especially with the Easter Egg you get right at the end. See if you can spot what it means J

Another gem to store away in your collection.



Saturday, December 26, 2020

 See Why I Immersed Myself So Deeply In. . .



The Lady of the Lake

Well, this is one for – excuse the pun – the books. What a story. And what a way Andrzej Sapkowski has of presenting it:

Sir Galahad, a knight of King Arthur, stumbles upon a maiden bathing in an enchanted lake. He suspects she may be of the faërie, and in that assumption, he’s not far wrong. Although this lady’s countenance is marred by a hideous scar, she has travelled through time and space to be in this particular place at this particular time. Yes, Sir Galahad has happened upon the legendary Child of Prophecy, Ciri, though she is a child no more.

Their exchange sets the basis for a detailed recapitulation of the events surrounding Ciri’s arrival at the lake, and as we see, the Lake itself plays a pivotal role in the unfolding of prophecy, one that touches multiple perspectives as the ages pass.

For example, we are introduced to the fabled Lady of the Lake, Nimue, who delves into the truth of things, no matter how veiled they are by the passage of time; we look in of Geralt’s adventures, and join him and his companions – Regis, Milva, Angoulême and Cahir – as they charged from adventure to adventure in their haste to track Ciri down; we see how Yennefer fares during her imprisonment at Vilgefortz’s hands; are peeved to find enemies of old – Stefan Skellen & Bonhart in particular – are still alive, kicking, and itching to wreak mayhem; and mystified by Ciri’s time among the elves, where she struggles to comprehend the sylvan realm and the future they have planned for her.

We even get to look in on an old friend from long, long ago. Do you remember the Urcheon Prince, Duny, who was cursed to change into a creature that looked like a cross between a hedgehog and a boar? The guy who fell in love with Princess Pavetta? Well, he makes an appearance too, and just wait until you find out the role he’s been playing all along.

Yes, the Lady of the Lake is a marvelous coming together of pieces first places out decades ago, and which now find their place in a complex puzzle for a grand revelation, helping explain why Ciri is hunted by so many factions, who all want to influence the Witcher girl in any way they can.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Lady of the Lake is an incredibly complex and compelling revelation that draws you in, hangs on tight, and never let’s go. A page turner, if ever there was one, because you “just have to find out what happens next!”

But what I liked about it is Geralt & Yennefer’s obvious influence on Ciri. They may have been parted for long periods, but they managed to make a great impression upon her. And no matter how many trials she faces, no matter what torture she endures, she remains her own woman. She never accepts the course any of the manipulators try to steer her along, and chooses her own destiny for herself. A destiny strengthened by Geralt and Yennefer’s loyal love.

Obviously, there are consequences to Ciri’s actions. But isn’t that what makes fairytales so fascinating? The bittersweet seduction that keeps you chomping at the bit until the end?

An excellent story, and one that won’t disappoint. 



Saturday, December 19, 2020

 See why I'm Beside Myself With Joy 

After Reading. . .



Supersymmetry

Just when you think you can’t get enough of a good thing, the expanding universe that is David Walton’s mind comes along with another quantum serving of something special: Supersymmetry, the follow-up novel to Superposition, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Here’s the blurb:

*****

Ryan Oronzi is a paranoid, neurotic, and brilliant physicist who has developed a quantum military technology that could make soldiers nearly invincible in the field. The technology, however, gives power to the quantum creature known as the varcolac, which slowly begins to manipulate Dr. Oronzi and take over his mind. Oronzi eventually becomes the unwilling pawn of the varcolac in its bid to control the world. The creature immediately starts attacking those responsible for defeating it fifteen years earlier, including Sandra and Alex Kelley—the two versions of Alessandra Kelley who are still living as separate people. The two young women must fight the varcolac, despite the fact that defeating it may mean resolving once again into a single person. 

*****

Get the gist?

Good, because this time out, Walton spins the realms of possibility by using a slightly different style to that of the preceding story. For one thing, it’s set fifteen years after the events of Superposition. Alex and Sandra (once Alessandra) have grown into two distinct, separate women: Alex, who follows in her father’s – Jacob’s – footsteps as a scientist; and Sandra, who serves as a rookie cop with the Philadelphia police force.

Their individuality is an integral component in the ever evolving plot – as you’ll see – because when the reality of the varcolac’s return is established, their unique perspectives play a large part in helping stymie the entity’s efforts in gaining a foothold in our world. . .

Or do they?

Yes, for a second time in a row, Walton turns probability on its head by presenting us with the enigma of enigmas: the Grandfather Paradox.

And well played, because we’re thrown into a helter-skelter ride of deliciously devilish twists and turns that spins this murder mystery into a mind warping voyage of scientific discovery. Supersymmetry is a fast-paced, immersive, and outstanding form of alternative SF that will keep you engrossed from beginning to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope there’ll be more to come from the Kelly’s at some point in the spacetime continuum.





Saturday, December 5, 2020

 See Why I Got Into Such a Spin About. . .



Superposition

I am, and always have been, a science fiction & fantasy buff. I love the genre, as it allows you to experience a whole lot of fun in a vast universe where anything is possible. On those rare occasions where I fancy something else to read, I tend to lean toward John Grisham and Tom Clancy.

So, imagine my delight when I realized one of my favorite authors – David Walton – had written a book incorporating all three – sci-fi action/techno-wizardry/courtroom drama – of those elements. (Eureka springs to mind.)

For those of you who might be reading this review from my blog, (and not a purchase page including the blurb), here’s a quick peek into what to expect:

******

Jacob Kelley's family is turned upside down when an old friend turns up, waving a gun and babbling about an alien quantum intelligence. The mystery deepens when the friend is found dead in an underground bunker…apparently murdered the night he appeared at Jacob's house. Jacob is arrested for the murder and put on trial.  

As the details of the crime slowly come to light, the weave of reality becomes ever more tangled, twisted by a miraculous new technology and a quantum creature unconstrained by the normal limits of space and matter. With the help of his daughter, Alessandra, Jacob must find the true murderer before the creature destroys his family and everything he loves.

******
So, having prepared yourself for what’s in store, get ready for the reality-twisting ride of your life. The story arc is delivered in a clever series of ‘hops’ between the court case, and those events leading up to/during/immediately following Kelley’s trial. But are we skipping backward and forward in time (in a before and after scenario), or has David Walton thought of an even more imaginative way to present the narrative?

Yes, there are clues about what you’re going to read in the title; the blurb; and what it says at the beginning of each chapter. It’s a great idea, and one that gives that little extra boost to an already fascinating premise. I loved it! The murder-mystery intrigue starts from the very beginning; the pieces of the puzzle are carefully laid out; and then quantum physics jumbles everything into a gripping, fast paced adventure of possibilities that maintains the suspense factor throughout. You really don’t know what might happen until the very end.

For those of you who enjoy an addictive whodunit played out in a cross-genre playground, then Superposition is the book for you.




Saturday, November 21, 2020

 Dare You Contend With This Review Of. . . 



The Hero of Ages – Mistborn Book Three


The Hero of Ages takes us into the closing chapter of the Mistborn trilogy, where we find events spiraling out of control in a headlong rush toward oblivion. Vin may have killed the Lord Ruler and gained access to the Well of Ascension, but her well-meaning choices released calamity upon humankind.

The Deepness – the all-pervasive and malignant mist that terrorizes people at night – is getting worse; as are the ash falls and ever more powerful earthquakes that wrack the land from end to end. Crops are failing. Society is crumbling. Humanity trembles on the brink of extinction.

They need the long prophesized Hero of Ages to step up and save them.

But who might that be?

A perplexing conundrum that Sanderson employs to lead you through the trials and tribulations facing Vin, Elend and their friends as they struggle to rally the remnants of their civilization into making a last stand against evil.

And what a stand it is.

Sanderson took his time in laying the foundations of this epic story. Wisely so, because its only here, at the end of a long and tumultuous journey, that all the signs, signals, references, half-truths and misdirection come together to help you solve a 1000 year old puzzle and finally discover who that hero is. And what a revelation we get, incorporating issues of faith, hope, loyalty, and sacrifice on a profound scale that reminds us of the frailty – and amazing strength during times of crisis – of the human condition.

I particularly enjoyed the slow burn of this story arc. You have to take your time in laying out the jumbled pieces of a jigsaw, and it’s only as the narrative helps you piece everything together that you begin to comprehend just how vast the bigger picture is.

An epic ending to one of the best trilogies I’ve read in a long while. Don’t miss it!





Saturday, November 7, 2020

Refresh Yourselves with a Review of. . .
The Well of Ascension



The Well of Ascension – Mistborn Book Two

The Well of Ascension takes us back to Luthadel a year after the Dark Lord has been deposed. Far from making things better, the citizens of the land discover that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Yes, the Final Empire is no more and the Steel Inquisitors seem to have vanished. But in their wake, uncertainty follows. Citizens at both ends of the social spectrum struggle to find balance in a new regime of tolerance. Only, there are those who don’t want to change. And they are quick to take advantage.

Luthadel becomes surrounded by no less than three opposing armies, all intent on seizing the one thing that means anything: the former Emperor’s atium reserves. But those reserves can’t be found, and no amount of pledging or promises can make the invading commanders change their minds.

In addition, we find our heroes facing their own personal crossroads. Elend is an honorable and well-meaning young man, but his naivety of the real world places everyone in danger. Vin is feared for her power. She did destroy the former emperor after all. But she is beset by doubts about her own motivations and ability to make lasting changes. And of course, she can’t really believe that a man like Elend would truly love someone like her. Sazed is a man caught between two worlds. That of a Keeper, and remaining a firm friend and confident to the people he has come to know and respect.

And Kelsier’s former crew? For the most part, they take a back seat during this adventure, making way for several new characters who add a little spice to the mix. (I shan’t say more, as I’m always keen NEVER to give anything of the plot away.)

This book is longer than the last one, (over 760 pages), and Sanderson lights a fuse at the beginning that burns slowly but surely toward a climactic finish. Very clever, as there’s a lot of ground to cover. But it’s done well. And what I particularly enjoyed was the time Sanderson took to reveal more about the Final Empire’s history, and the origins and interspecies relationships of some of its more mysterious races. (You’ll see).

And the delicious twist at the end?

The Well of Ascension is a most satisfying read, and I can’t wait to see how things are brought to a conclusion in the final book.


Amazon Review