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Thursday, July 2, 2020

This Week's Rumpus of a Review


The Iron Wolves
General Dalgoran desperately needs help. Orlana the Changer – a primal wielder of Equiem magick – has escaped the Chaos Halls, and seeks to satisfy her lusts by inflicting carnage of the world of men. To advance her schemes, she builds an army of hideously warped, superhuman creatures, and supplements them by summoning thousands of mud-orcs from ancient breeding pits to her side.
Only one thing stands in the way of total annihilation. The Iron Wolves. Heroes of old who once turned back an overwhelming tide of evil at The Pass of Splintered Bone when they slew the dark sorcerer, Morkagoth.
But twenty years have passed since the Iron Wolves last stood together with General Dalgoran, and the world is not the same.
For one thing, King Yoon has fallen to madness, and is more intent on indulging in acts of depravity and debauchery than protecting his kingdom. People have become complacent, and refuse to acknowledge any possibility that mud-orcs could ever return.
And the Iron Wolves?
The passage of time hasn’t treated them kindly, and they have become just as scarred by life as the battles they’ve fought. Some have lost themselves. Others, have given in to despair. A few have resorted to committing crimes of a heinous nature, just to get by. They’re mavericks, each with their own agenda. How could individuals so dysfunctional be anyone’s last line of defense?
Ah, I’d invite you to find out, in a helter-skelter ride of a story that is, quite simply, a breathtaking ensemble of riotous fun, bone-crunching combat, and a finger-on-the-pulse tribute, reminding us how Murphy’s Law will stab you in the back when you least expect it.
I connected to the mood from the outset. The Iron Wolves (Book 1 of The Rage of Kings) is down and dirty, dark and gritty, and brays its barrack room humor without mercy. It will appeal to those who have endured the heat of battle and come away scarred, as it makes you feel as if you’re back among comrades again.
And the ending?
Life isn’t always happy, and I found the conclusion of this story rather satisfying. And isn’t that how it’s meant to be?
Try it; it’s a tale that calls to the berserker in all of us.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

This Week's Double Bill. . .


Obligations
This latest outing into the Caine Riordan universe – written by Kevin Ikenberry – focuses on the experiences of Captain Hubert –Bo– Moorefield and his taskforce, who have set up shop at Camp Stark, a Forward Operating Base on the border of the Haman desert region of R’bak, in anticipation of the arrival of Lieutenant Harold Tapper and his Sarmatchani strike force. Tapper and his team had previously liberated a considerable vehicle cache and other operational supplies from their J’strull enemies, and are being pursued. It’s Moorefield’s job to make sure the strike force and their contraband are taken in to safe custody.
There you have the premise of a gritty little tale that’s bound to please, especially as Murphy’s Law runs rampant, and things don’t go to plan.
I won’t say anything further about the story ark, as – for me at any rate – that’s not what this visit to R’bak is really about. No, what I particularly liked about Ikenberry’s approach was its emphasis on the psychological cost facing those soldiers who serve their country and/or end up having to go to war.
Yes, there’s action aplenty. (This is a story within the Caine Riordan universe after all.) And its well written. But as a veteran who has seen action in a number of different theaters around the world, I really appreciated the subtle reminder we get of the other, often hidden war that goes on inside the minds of those who give their all to keep us safe. That war can make you bleed. It hurts. It inflicts injuries just as real, just as debilitating as the ‘real thing.’ And the emotional impact on those you’ve left behind?
In Bo Moorefield’s case, he was abducted from earth and put into cryogenic sleep in 1992, on the very day he received a ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife, Sharon. We explore his feelings about that. After all, he wakes up one hundred and thirty years later on a very different world, countless millions of miles away, and is completely helpless to do anything about it. He can’t call. He can’t write. He can’t offer to sit down and talk things through to see if there’s any chance of a reconciliation. No, it’s a past event; long-gone history by the time he realizes what’s happened, and he has to carry that burden into battle.
But how does it affect him? His outlook? His capacity to relate to others effectively? His ability to take command and make effective, objective decisions? Is he still capable of inspiring those he leads? Because don’t forget, he’s not the only one dealing with ghosts of the past, and the J’strull aren’t going to give up their assets without one hell of a fight!
Yes, there’s a witch’s brew of trouble fomenting, and its up to Bo Moorefield to prioritize his obligations and find a solution before it’s too late.
A thoughtful and evocative tale about what soldiers on the frontline have to contend with.


Man-Eater

When it comes to the Lost Soldiers of the Caine Riordan universe, you’re guaranteed to meet a wide variety of individuals. Technical and combat specialists. Heroes. Professionals in their fields. People who were no doubt greatly missed when tragedy struck, snatching them away from their loved ones and through time and space, only for them to end up fighting someone else’s war. And this latest adventure – Man-Eater, by Griffin Barber – is no different. . .
Except that it IS.
How?
Warrant Officer Chalmers is something of a maverick, a former criminal investigation specialist gone bad. He crossed one too many lines and was being shipped back home to face the consequences of his crimes. But he never does, at least, not on Earth, for he wakes up 130 years later where everything has changed. His world. His situation. His prospects.
And THAT forms the crux of our story.
Have the sins of Chalmers’ past followed him into the future? Can he be trusted? Does he deserve a second chance? A chance to do better? To become a different person?
We find out, for Chalmers has been tasked to investigate a suspected crime ring operating among the local J’strull satraps of R’bak. Their activities not only threaten the Lost Soldiers’ overall objectives on the planet, but the lives of their allies too. In particular, Chalmers is expected to identify the leaders, root out their strongholds among the local communities, and locate contraband tech they might tip the balance of power throughout the region.
How does this shamed soldier fare?
You’ll find Man-Eater a rather cautionary tale, as Chalmers ends up fighting as much against his ingrained behavioral patterns as he does the alien expectations, language and customs he’s been thrown in amongst. It makes for inciteful, painful reading, because even when a person wants to change; indeed, is genuinely determined to change, old habit die hard. And as the story arc so poignantly expresses, Chalmers is his own worst enemy.
A thoroughly absorbing story that adds a greater depth to an ever-growing universe.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

My Review of . . .


The Tower of the Swallow
Were back to the main story arc in this installment of the Witcher series, and although this one is a little difficult to follow – Sapkowski has a tendency to skip backward and forward through time, changing POV as he does so – it’s worth sticking with it, as essential plot points come to the fore.

War grips the land. Everyone is searching for Ciri, the foretold child of prophecy, who is forced into hiding after suffering a terrible disfigurement. Geralt can’t protect her, for he lies gravely wounded in Brokilon Forest and hankers to leave before he’s recovered from his injuries. Yennefer has disappeared, and according to gossip, lies dead at the hands of enemies.

Full-on action. Plots and intrigue. A wonderful blend of fairytale and folk law. And at last, we begin to see the depth of treachery that has plagued Ciri since her birth, and who it is fomenting it. It’s great fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses from here.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

My Hot Off The Press Review Of. . .


Baptism of Fire
War ravages the land. The world is changing. Lines have been drawn, and nothing will ever be the same again. Even the wizard’s guild couldn’t endure the calamity intact, and now lies shattered, its reputation in ruins and its sorcerers in hiding.
With nothing but their own wits and skills to protect them Geralt and Ciri battle their own demons – and more – trying to survive in the aftermath. But how on earth will they manage to find each other when they’re being hunted? Geralt as a fugitive, Ciri as the prize that everyone wants.
Baptism of Fire is a superb example of why the Witcher series is so compelling. It’s dark. Brooding. Brutal and complex. Just the ticket, for sheer escapism.
Indulge yourself, and become part of a runaway magical journey through a land where anything can happen.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

My Thoughts On. . .


The Hanged Man
Rune St John is the sole survivor and last scion of his dead father’s court, the Sun Throne. A role that has left him destitute and something of a maverick among New Atlantean society.
But he gets by, and together with his Companion, Brand, they make ends meet by serving as super-efficient/superpowered private eyes. And they’re good at what they do.
Just as well, really.
Remember, this is New Atlantis, a place where the old gods and new world reside in an uneasy alliance. So, when a new threat emerges – one that could possibly destroy the fragile balance between the two societies – Rune and Brand have to pull out all the stops to ensure chaos doesn’t ensue.
And as is so often the case, it starts so innocuously.
The Hanged Man has set his sights on Rune’s ward, Max, and attempts to assert a marriage claim on the young man initiated at a time when Max’s family – the Heart Throne – were still a power to be reckoned with. But the Heart Throne is no more. Max has no house, no wealth, no sigils of power, and no real assets. So why is the Hanged Man so fixated on him? Fixated enough to try and kidnap him in broad daylight? It doesn’t add up.
Rune sets out to investigate, because the Hanged Man is known to be something of a sadist, a member of the Arcanum who surrounds himself with necromancy and mutilation magic. And just as ominously, those who refuse him always go missing, be they child or adult.
As you can imagine, things get down and dirty very, very quickly.
And that’s what I enjoyed about The Hanged Man, the second book in the Tarot Sequence by K.D. Edwards. Not only is it a wonderful combination of noir chic, living legends come to life, and urban fantasy, but it leaps out to grab your attention from the off, and doesn’t let go until the very end. And no wonder. Relatable characters, well-crafted dialogue, superb imagery, and one of the most believably engaging magic systems you will ever see, create an overall helter-skelter ride that you won’t want to end.
Try this series out. You won’t regret it.

Friday, May 22, 2020

My Review of. . .


Time of Contempt
Ciri, the foretold child or prophecy, the one reputed to have the power to change the world for good or evil, is finally on the way to the magical college on Thanedd Island. Yennefer, her guardian for this stage of her training, has decided it best that Ciri learn how to master the powers to which she is so instinctively and naturally adept.
A wise move, and one it seems, that is bound to succeed. For who could offer harm in a place full of sorcerers?
Alas, there are other powers at play who seek to intervene. They have also heard of the child of prophecy and seek to control her destiny to their own ends. And as we go on to see, Thanedd Island is nothing but a powder keg. The perfect environment in which to light a fuse that will remove sooo many obstacles at once. But to whose benefit?
Yes, it seems even the highest echelons of the mighty sorcerer’s guild aren’t above a spot of political intrigue. The trouble is, when the magically mighty start throwing tantrums, people get hurt. War. Betrayal. The settling of old scores and the birth of new ones. You just know its going to end badly.
How badly? You’ll find out in yet another thoroughly enjoyable and well written adventure that engages you from the moment its starts, and doesn’t let up until the end. Even better, Andrezej Sapkowski skillfully grants us a deeper understanding of Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer. Their affiliations. Their self-imposed ethics. Their individual love of the land they serve. How their complicated, threefold relationship works. And as the story unfolds and they become separated, how each of them holds up when tragedy and loss strikes. Excellent stuff.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

My Thoughts On. . .


Blood of Elves
Destiny converges, twisting ever tighter, ever faster, toward a building crescendo of probability. And at the center of it all, Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer struggle to stay ahead of the game.
Keeping his word, Geralt adheres to the Law of Surprise, and drops off the face of the earth. Nobody knows where he is. Which is just as well. Everyone, from one end of the land to the other, is searching for him and his child surprise, Ciri. So where else would he take her, but somewhere safe. A place where she can begin her training to become a witcher: Kaer Morhen.
The thing is, Ciri isn’t like any other apprentice they’ve had. Realizing this, Geralt and Yennefer find it necessary to provide a much broader and deeper curriculum, so that Ciri has a better understanding of the power to which she is so naturally adept. And it is only by coming to terms with what she is that Ciri stands a chance of surviving, for war foments all around them. Races that have lived together in relative peace for hundreds of years are now driven by violence toward one another. And the ever-present threat from Nilfgaard can’t be ignored.
Coincidence? Or rather, fulfilment of ancient prophecy?
Find out for yourselves, in this engaging, immersive and rather enjoyable romp through the world of the witcher. Quite a bit of background history is revealed in this novel, allowing you a better understanding of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s circumstances, and how this binds them together into an indomitable force for good.