Saturday, January 15, 2022

 2022 Starts Off With A Real Bang



Maker’s Curse

It’s been a while since I read the previous book in the Millennium’s Rule series, (Thief’s Magic, Angel of Storms, Successor’s Promise), but I’m glad to say, it was well worth the wait.

For those of you who might not have availed yourselves of the previous books, the basic story arc centers on Tyen Ironsmelter and Rielle Lazuli. Two individuals from different worlds who discover they have a natural propensity for magic. The trouble is, such talents are either frowned on, or discouraged. In Tyen’s case, his home world is virtually depleted of magic, so its practitioners are few and far between. When he unearths an ancient ‘living’ book, it opens up a whole new universe to him. One filled with imminent and impending danger.

Life couldn’t be different for Rielle, for her land is ruled by corrupt, magic-practicing priests who teach the doctrine that using magic without permission is stealing from the angels. And as she find out, if you have a knack for something illegal, it gets you into trouble.

What follows is a journey of discovery. For the universe is immense, and there are sorcerers out there who are hell bent on seizing power and ruling a seemingly endless network of worlds. And Tyen and Rielle end up in the thick of it. In the midst of war and intrigue, Tyen fulfils many roles, only to end up as a teacher of magic, while Rielle discovers she is an actual creator of the raw essence of magic itself. And they are coveted by representatives of both sides in the war.

So, with that basic understanding of what has gone before, here’s the blurb for Maker’s Curse, the latest adventure from the Millenium’s Rule series.

 

**********

Rielle is the Maker, restorer of worlds. She has lost count of the number of worlds she has been sent to save.

Tyen has cast off his old identity. No longer a spy, he now attempts to teach new sorcerers and find ways to counteract the war machines that are spreading throughout the worlds.

But when an old enemy brings news of a dark threat - something far worse than magically dead worlds and dangerous sorcerers - Rielle and Tyen must reunite if they are to have any chance of saving humanity.

**********

Now, if that wasn’t a hook to draw you in, then I don’t know what is. Because the blurb is deceptively devoid of detail, allowing you to discover for yourself just what a great story Maker’s Curse is.

The universe is under threat from a vast, magically empowered machine army led by the enigmatic Kettin. A woman who is as cold-blooded as she is focused. She doesn’t view what she’s doing as wrong, and believes she is on a crusade to protect humanity, everywhere, from the evils of magic. She promises to end that evil, granting access to magic to a select few who will oversee the worlds on her behalf. All well and good?
The trouble is, her methods are draconian, for everywhere her army visits is left devoid of life. Their natural resources are stripped, all magical potential is drained, and the populace is destroyed. And that’s happening again and again, in world after world.

It’s up to Tyen, Rielle and their friends to stop them . . . if they can.

What follows is a rather engaging adventure that maintains a steady pace throughout. The machine army seems unstoppable, and will remain that way, unless Tyen and Rielle can discover a way to halt Kettin’s advance, and prevent her from doing any further harm. The only clue to doing so involves something called the ‘Maker’s Curse.’ Something that could prove devastatingly catastrophic in the wrong hands.

What that is, exactly, you can find out for yourself. But I rather enjoyed the way Trudi Canavan set up the finale so that it could go either way. And you don’t find out what happened until the final pages.

Excellent stuff!

And, if I may, give you something to ponder:

I noted from other reviews that some have complained that they think this story displays a poor/weak ending. As if the entire series has come to a sudden and hastily contrived end. I don’t agree. Canavan is a talented writer. You’ll see from this from her other series. She knows how to construct a sound story and how to conclude them in a satisfying way. She always has done.
The feeling I get from this particular story is that Tyen and Rielle’s journey isn’t quite over yet. There’s more to tell. That’s why this book ends in the way it does. She’s setting up a grand finale, and I can’t wait to see what that will be, even if we have to wait a while to get it.




Tuesday, December 28, 2021

 See How Harry Digs a Hole for Himself In. . .




Grave Peril

Okay then. Here we go on Harry Dresden’s third outing, Grave Peril. And this one sounds as if it might be his best – and most difficult – caper yet.

Let’s take a peek at the Blurb:
**************************

Harry Dresden’s faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory, when you’re the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book.

But in all Harry’s years of supernatural sleuthing, he’s never faced anything like this: the spirit world’s gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble—and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone—or something—is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn’t figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself...

**************************

So what do we get?

A story of – what I like to call – “start/stop/starts.” That’s what.

What do I mean?

Let me explain. It starts off well: this adventure takes place about twelve months after his previous one, and Harry has made some new friends. In particular, Michael. A holy knight with a blessed sword. Just the thing Harry needs when dealing with all things fiendish and foul. Which is exactly what you get from page 1. Harry and Michael are speeding toward a local hospital where a crèche full of infants are in danger from the specter of a dead nurse. She’s powerful. She’s nasty. And before her death, was desperately unhinged. You get an idea from the blurb that she’s also hyped up on some form of ghostly steroids.

So, we’re straight into a bout of magical mayhem and fisticuffs. Action that hooks you into the storyline and gets you invested almost from the moment you turn that first page . . . (That’s the great start I mentioned).
Then things grind to a near-stop when Harry is presented with the perfect opportunity to end the situation early on, only to do what I complained about in the previous novel. His Mr. Nice Guy/goody-two-shoes syndrome kicks in, and spoils what is a great opening action scene.

I mean, think about it. A nursery full of newborns is in peril. The ghost is killing them, draining their little souls away. One baby in particular has been singled out, and has already stopped breathing. Harry Dresden is gifted with an opening that would unbind the phantom and send her back where she belongs. What would any sane person in their right mind do?
Yup . . . ZAP! Goodbye spook. You’re already dead, so get yourself back into the spirit realm and stay there where you can’t harm anyone else.
Except, Harry doesn’t do that. Just as he’s about to dispatch the infant-murdering ghoul, he feels a pang of sympathy for what she went through in life and holds back. Not only does that turn everything upside down, increasing the danger for everyone present, but for me, (and this is only my personal opinion, mind you), it arrested the connection I’d made with the story. I just can’t imagine anyone in a position to save so many children acting so irresponsibly . . . and all because he didn’t want to hurt a poor ghost’s feelings?

Anyway, I stuck with it and soldiered on.

Thankfully, the story picked up again sufficiently to recapture my interest. But it was trying, as there were several more instances where Dresden acted like a wet-wipe in a way nobody in their right mind would do, which dragged the tempo right down.

And yes. I know we’re talking about a work of fiction here. Something designed to titillate and entertain. Yet, works of fantasy also need to carry a solid element of reality. Something the reader can anchor themselves to, thereby allowing them to stretch the realms of ‘what might be’ into the fringes of the ‘might be plausible’ or ‘yeah, I can see that happening.’ And I don’t know. Perhaps it’s my background. But when I see a character gain control of a situation, or gain the upper hand, only to choose – time and time again, and quite deliberately – to put other decent, innocent, law-abiding (you get the picture) characters in danger at the expense of a bunch of supernatural murdering scumbags? No. It grates on my nerves and spoils my enjoyment of what would otherwise be a great story.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s a start/stop/start kinda tale. It begins like a blazing comet; sputters badly, due to the main character’s unbelievable choices; stokes up the heat for a second time; cools again; recovers well; only to fizzle toward a finishing line that thankfully raises the bar to pyrotechnic glory with its dying breath.

A shame. I really, really want to like this series. But I think it might give me hives if I try any more.


Amazon Review


Friday, December 17, 2021

 All The Right Ingredients Are There

In . . .




Dead Wrong

Here we are, back in the blood-n’-guts Nomfest that is Greg Stumbo’s Generation Zed series. And if you’re hoping for a lucky break, here’s NOT the place to be.
As the blurb so clearly intimates:

 

******

You’d think there’d be a Third time's a charm – right? Okay, so attempts one and two were a bust, and if you haven't learned anything from the first two, hopefully this one will help. It’s not like there’s a rulebook for staying alive during an apocalypse.

Spoiler alert – this is the third book, so if it's the first one you found, you might want to hunt the first two down to get caught up. If you can't find them right now, I guess you can start here, and play catch up
...

******

And that’s a rather poignant indicator: “Playing catch up.”

Because that’s all our dungeon masters of disaster seem to do. Don’t get me wrong, they come up with a pretty good scheme. But executing it? Let’s just say, it dies a death before they even get started. Yes, how to focus people’s attention when priority number one is looking out for yourself. (Something our ineptitude bunch is still trying to fathom).

It’s as if the guys have gathered all the ingredients for the world’s best cocktail, yet all they manage to do is mix a rather weak cordial . . . or should that be uncordial. Because what follows is an uncivil, disorganized, hit-and-miss rout of a tale that leaves our would-be entrepreneurs feeling both shaken and stirred. In fact, were I to take the cocktail analogy a step further, you could say the gang are so unorganized, they’re like an eight-fingered ‘flair’ barman trying to juggle mixers. And all they actually to do is beat themselves about the head and body with a Clover Club riddled in Rusty Nails until their Gimlets fall out. (Get it?)

Nobody’s interested in what they’re doing. Each little community is either too suspicious or too wrapped up in their own personal struggle for survival to care about bartering. Unless the goodies are left out for the taking. . .

And as the guys find out to their cost, there are plenty of ‘patrons’ out there who are willing to do just that. And tips are not included.

Yes, it would seem the initial fizz of survival is falling flat, and no amount of umbrellas will deflect the flack, proving there’s nothing really Cosmopolitan at all about this Zombie-town. A Dark & Stormy night is coming. Will the guys live to see another Tequila Sunrise?

You’ll see, in a Bloody Mary of a story that doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste. 








Saturday, December 11, 2021

 There Are Lunatics Galore in This Weeks Review Of. . .




Fool Moon

Harry Dresden likes to advertise his services. Lost items found. Paranormal investigations. Consulting advice. Reasonable Rates . . . No love potions, endless purses or ‘other’ entertainment.

In a place like Chicago, you’d thing that would attract some form of attention, even from weirdos and crackpots. Yet, the blurb for his latest adventure puts the record straight:

 

******

You’d think there’d be a little more action for the only professional wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn’t been able to dredge up any kind of work: magical, mundane, or menial.
 
Just when it looks like he can’t afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. There’s a brutally mutilated corpse, and monstrous animal markings at the scene. Not to mention that the killing took place on the night of a full moon. Harry knows exactly where this case is headed. Take three guesses—and the first two don’t count...

******

As I intimated at the outset; business is sluggish. So sluggish, that it’s in danger of dying a slow and tragic death. . .

Unlike the first of many bodies that start turning up in alarming volumes and equally disturbing, grizzly circumstances. As you can guess, the Chicago P.D. quickly turn to Harry for help. The trouble is, no sooner have they done so than the death count rises exponentially. And it all seems to happen when Harry’s around, leading to him – you’ve guessed it – becoming the chief suspect.

Not the kind of attention he wants to attract when obvious clues that rampaging werewolves are to blame need to be followed up. Like yesterday! Yet, how can he balance the investigative side of things, while preventing his law enforcement buddies from learning too much about the supernatural world? A world that isn’t supposed to exist, let alone announce itself in a fanfare of fangs, blood and gore?

Sound rather juicy, doesn’t it? And to a large extent, Fool Moon is. There’s breathless chaos. Lots of fast-paced action. A touch of romance under a full moon. Damsels in distress. Idiots who get in the way and who soon pay for it. But for me, one thing did put the proverbial spanner in the works. THIS story reveals how powerful Harry Dresden can be when the mood takes him. Yet his insistence on going out of his way to always do the right thing – on this outing – proved rather irritating. Yes, we all want to be honorable and noble. But sometimes, the occasion calls for a cold heart and a firm hand. And boy, do the baddies in this adventure need just that.

(Apologies, I can’t clarify too much as it would lead to spoilers, and I hate doing that). But suffice to say,  Dresden’s penchant for being a bit of a ‘goody-two-shoes’ turned a spicy, involved bit of super-sleuthing into an unnecessarily overcomplicated grind that took some of the magic away from an otherwise great story.

But I’m not going to give up. I love the mood Jim Butcher manages to invoke throughout the chase; the self-depreciating humor his main character uses as a shield; the balancing act that Detective Murphy brings to the story. Overall, it’s an entertaining little romp through the underbelly of Chicago, and I’m still involved enough to want to see how it develops.



Amazon Review


Monday, December 6, 2021

 Breaking News

On the 6th Day of Christmas, My True Love Sent to me. . .

Six fiends a slaying!

Yes - SIX
Relating to a new six-book dark fantasy series to be published through:



Details of what the new series is called and the titles of each book will be released soon.

In the meantime, here's my author entry:
Raven Tale Authors


Stay tuned for more details, over at:
Raven Tale



Friday, December 3, 2021

 This Past Week, I Was Caught. . .



Dead to Rights

My readers and blog followers will be aware of the fact that I have something of a weak spot for the different. The zany and unusual. I like things that stand out from the mundane. Things that make the tired and staid special. The humdrum enjoyable.
That’s probably why I was drawn to Greg Stumbo’s Generation Zed series.

As you know, I dipped into the first story, Dead Serious, the other week, and was delighted to find a fresh approach to the zombie apocalypse. One where the surviving band of misfits isn’t made up from ex army rangers, cops, Special Forces, or geeky know-it-alls with PhDs yelling, “Bazinga!” and  dropping knowledgeable expressions into every longwinded sentence. No, our – and I use this term loosely – ‘heroes’ are a bunch of nerdy friends and newly-met acquaintances with the combined skill level of a lobotomized walnut. Excellent stuff, as it made following their dodgem ride of misadventure through a not so funfair of chomping death rather fun to follow.

And that mayhem continues in – Dead to Rights. You get just a hint of that from the blurb.

 

******

So, that didn't work. You know what's worse than dead people getting in the way? Not yet dead people getting in the way. This whole end of the world thing is starting to seem like an awful lot of work. Who signed me up for this anyway? The pay is worse than a cheap neighbor when they ask you to mow their lawn. I’m starting to think the undead are safer than the not yet dead!

******

Okay then. What total disasters – and yes, that IS meant to be plural – befall our hapless protagonists this time?

Well, here’s the thing. Despite being shockingly inept at most everything they do, the gang has been relatively lucky. The zombie apocalypse hasn’t been in full chomp-mode for too long, so they haven’t come across anyone particularly nasty. In fact, everyone they’ve met has been the exact opposite. Downright friendly! Not the thing you want when you’ve got a bunch of incompetents planning an ill-advised rescue mission of the friend they left behind in the Wal-Mart.

As it turns out, that rescue mission is something of a stroll in the park – or should that be, stroll through a fenced-in compound – populated by incredibly polite survivors, whose idea of a disagreement is to sit around a camp fire singing ‘Kumbaya’ while the grown-ups ‘talk about it’. Still all awfully nice and pleasant . . . and an absolute recipe for disaster for the gang, who start getting crazy ideas about how to improve their lot in a world turned upside down.

What do I mean?

Let’s just reiterate that up until now, they’ve met some very nice people. (Pains in the collective butt, most certainly - but nice nonetheless). And of course, that makes the gang somewhat complacent, especially when they start branching out into the wider community with grandiose ideas of becoming ‘fixers’ for those people still in hiding.

Think about it. In their area alone there’s an armory manned by jumpy national guards. Several larger groups who imagine that being isolated will protect them. Oh yes, and there’s a prison full of community minded citizens who are undoubtedly shocked of the events that have led to their early paroles, and who are now eager to show repentance for the misdeeds that led to their incarceration in the first place.

What could possible go wrong?

I mean, the gang possesses all the savvy of a drunken dungeon master breaking in a new game, where the instructions are written in Braille. Klingon Braille. What’s worse is that they can’t even make the simplest of decisions without arguing. So you just know what’s gonna happen.
Not so much, “why didn’t I take the blue pill,” as, sneaking into a firework factory, lighting as many blue touch papers as you can, and sticking your fingers in your ears . . . and hoping there won’t be the inevitable boom!

As before, this neat misadventure is tied together by the glaring ineptitude of the main characters, who haven’t yet begun to appreciate the reality of the nightmare they’ve woken up in. And until they do, they continue to stumble, fumble and grumble from one rose-tinted disaster to another in a wonderfully entertaining way. You just want to slap them! And when you realize that, you begin to appreciate how adroitly Greg Stumbo has drawn you into their apocalypse, and how invested you’ve become in what happens.

But of course, to find out the answer to that little conundrum, you’ll have to read the book.
And boy, will you be glad you did.


Goodreads Review



Saturday, November 27, 2021

 The Sun Is Rather Shiny In My Review Of. . .




Storm Front

Although I’m an avid sci-fi/fantasy reader, this is my introduction to the Dresden Files. (I know, what HAVE I been doing with my life?) And I’ve got to say, it was a rather good – tongue-in-cheek/rabbit-out-of-the-hat – escapade!

Here’s the blurb to set the scene.

******

As a professional wizard, Harry Dresden knows firsthand that the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don’t play well with humans. And those that do enjoy playing with humans far too much. He also knows he’s the best at what he does. Technically, he’s the only at what he does. But even though Harry is the only game in town, business—to put it mildly—stinks.

So when the Chicago P.D. bring him in to consult on a double homicide committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name...

******

So, what do you get and why did I enjoy it?

First off, you have to understand something about Harry himself. He walks a narrow line between two worlds. On one side, he’s a natural wizard. He’s powerful too . . . if you pick up on the hints we’re given as the story unfolds. But we only ever get to see glimpses of his potential. No doubt because he has to tread very carefully indeed.

There’s a cloud – or in his case, the Sword of Damocles (a commuted death sentence) – hanging over him because of an incident in his early life, during a phase when his gifts were emerging. That incident led to the death of someone, breaking one of the seven laws of magic: Thou shall not use magic to kill. . .

As such, he’s watched closely. Monitored – in a restrictive and often very invasive way. A great hindrance indeed, especially as he tries to make a living as a Private Eye. And one of his biggest customers is the Chicago PD who get to call him in on a regular basis when those cases ‘hard to explain’ come their way. And in Storm Front, the case involves people dying when their hearts burst out through their chests for no reason!

Glorious and blood-festy stuff.

But who could be behind such atrocious acts? And why are the victims being targeted? Yes, this opening case introduces us to some very nasty individuals – both earthly and otherwise – out to cause harm and cover their tracks by any means . . . though as you will see, they prefer the ‘mostly foul’ option.

Harry is a self-depreciating, heart of gold kinda guy who genuinely wants to do right. His police liaison, Lt Karrin Murphy, is blunt as they come, and their relationship is built on patient sufferance and an almost siblinglike friction that’s fun to look in on. (Think X-Files combined with Lucifer and you’ll be on the right track).

The thing is, Dresden is a damned good investigator. But how can he share some of the information he comes across when mere knowledge of it might put the mortal in question in danger? That leads to a bumpy ride with Murphy, who is also as sharp as the proverbial button. She knows Dresden hides things, but can be persuaded to bite her lip IF he comes up with the goods.

Along with those characters necessary to the story arc, we also meet people who are obviously going to be with us in the future. Morgan, for one. A wizardly internal-affairs agent who will also act as Dresden’s executioner if our hero slips up . . . (And boy, does Morgan ache for Dresden to slip). We also meet Bianca, an influential and deadly business woman/madam, who also just happens to be a vampire. (I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of them).

But, as Harry investigates all the comings and goings/all the false leads and dead-ends of this murder case, we also get a glimpse of what’s to come. Jim Butcher has very wisely adopted a course that will gradually develop our wizardly sleuth, and help us pick through all the trials and tribulations he has to endure as a wizardly P.I. walking in a human’s world.

There’s an old adage that rings true here. “Don’t run before you can walk.”

I’m glad to say that Butcher has avoided the temptation to give us an ‘all guns blazing’ superhero, and acquainted us instead to a down to earth guy trying to do his best in a dog eat dog world. Oh, and he just so happens to be a genuine wizard as well.

I enjoyed this opening adventure of the Dresden Files. Dresden’s character is engaging. His manner appealing. The supporting cast looks like they’re going to be annoying, complicated, and fun. And the action is gumshoe/urban/noir fantasy at its best. (Some aspects reminded me of J.R. Rain’s Samantha Moon meets Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series).

As for Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden?

Apart from a tendency to be overly virtuous – even when the circumstances call for a coldhearted response – I’ve no doubt he’s far more powerful and complex than we’ve been led to believe. I look forward to how he evolves as the cases roll in.