Archive

Author Archive

Book Review- “Kingdom of Ash” by Sarah J. Maas

Kingdom of AshWhen I’m not writing, I’m working at a library and over the past couple of years I had noticed people checking out the books in Sarah J Maas’ “Throne of Glass” series. They had an intriguing set of covers that feature a pale, bad-ass woman, who made me think of almost a female version of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone. They were in the Y.A. Section though so I dismissed those books as not for me. Thankfully two friends (Thanks Liz and Whitney!) convinced me to try the first book and I learned how wrong I was to dismiss this series. I was also told that the series got better and better as it went on. That’s a really hard feat, but Mass pulled it off. With each book I grew to love the series and characters even more.

The books were rather lengthy though and I’m a slow reader. So I did the first six in audio form as books on CD I got from my library. I wanted to do the seventh and final, “Kingdom of Ash,” that way too because it was especially long and seemed daunting. The book on CD set though was not readily available. So I finally decided to take the plunge and tackle “Kingdom of Ash” in prose form and it turns out I shouldn’t have worried about the length at all. The book flew by. It’s the fastest I’ve read something that lengthy in a long time. It was a long book that I didn’t want to end, but couldn’t help to read more. That’s because “Kingdom of Ash” was a reward to readers of the other six book in the series. As good as the other books were, Maas truly saved the best in this series for last, and delivered an epic climax that shined as bright as series protagonist, Aelin Galathynius AKA the Firebringer.

Kingdom of Ash” is utterly enjoyable because Maas did her homework with the sixMaas previous books in the series. She built up a cast of characters that I genuinely cared about and set them on some incredible arcs. So, this novel is pure payout. Things that have been built too since the beginning of the series finally happen and I was there for it. The work that Maas did with her characters is so strong that I found myself rooting for and shedding tears for ones I didn’t like and flat out hated when they first appeared in the series. Those characters include Rowan Whitethorn who I first dismissed as a slab of beefacake and Dorian Havilliard who I initially thought of as a stuck up, snobby rich kid. Now Dorian is one of my favorite characters in the series. I especially loved his arc and the arc of Manon Blackbeak. Villain redemption arcs are some of my favorite tropes in genre fiction and Maas hit that arc out of the park when it came to Manon.

The attachments I felt to all those characters elevated all the grand moments in “Kingdom of Ash” into something truly special. Maas throws out all the stops with epic battles, difficult magical choices, and characters reaching for and trying to become what they want to be and what they’re meant to be. I laughed, I cheered, and I cried . . . a lot. “Kingdom of Ash” is packed with poignant moments; character sacrifices, destinies realized, the loss of loved ones, and best of all faith in goodness and kindness being rewarded.

Some of the especially poignant moments in “Kingdom of Ash” come from characters confronting traumatic experiences. I think that’s true off all the books in the “Throne of Glass” series. Maas forces her characters to deal with trauma and PTSD and that’s part of the reason why these books have the emotional heft they do. It’s not something you see a lot of in heroic/epic fantasy, but I wish we’d see more of it, especially if its as handled as carefully as Maas tackles it.

So, yes “Kingdom of Ash” was a hell of a book, and fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. I’m excited to read more work from Maas.

Advertisements
Categories: Book Review

Book Review-Watchers in Death by David Annandale

Watchers in DeathSpace Marines are ubiquitous with Warhammer 40,000, but interestingly enough they were not the heroes that brought me into the game and the universe. No that honor belongs to Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his retinue, the stars of Dan Abnett’s “Xenos.” They were the first 40K heroes I really got into. However, the elite Space Marines of the Deathwatch were a part of that first Eisenhorn novel, and they did make an impression on me. I thought the Deathwatch were even cooler when I picked up Fantasy Flight Games now defunct “Deathwatch” RPG, which revolved around the titular Adeptus Astartes alien hunters. So I was very curious when I learned that book nine in Black Library’s “The Beast Arises” storyline would be the in cannon origin of the Deathwatch. I just finished that book, “Watchers in Death” by David Annandale, and I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun.

The formation of the Deathwatch is a momentous event in 40K history because it david_annandalerepresents a shift in the way the Imperium of Mankind and its Space Marines fight wars. So there needed to be something huge to lead to the creation of the organization. That big event was the massive defeat and loss of the Salamanders Primarch, Vulkan, in the previous “Beast Arises” novel. Annandale makes good use of that event in “Watchers in Death.” He gives you a real sense that the superhuman Space Marines are shocked to the core and ready to try different tactics like fielding small Spec Ops style teams of Adeptus Astartes from different chapters. You also get a believable reason for the Deathwatch’s signature black armor, that they are in mourning for the brothers they lost at Ullanor in the previous book of the series.

One of my favorite aspects of “The War of the Beast” storyline are the political thriller elements to it, and Annandale works in some of that in “Watchers in Death” in some pretty cool ways. We see how the idea for the Deathwatch comes about, and we also see the chaos and tension that explodes when Koorland, the lone survivor of the Imperial Fists who we first met back in book one, tries to market that idea to the High Lords of Terra. You also get some fun moments with the representatives of the Inquistion, Wienand and Veritus. They’re especially interesting to pay attention to if you know of the Deathwatch’s ties to the Inquisition.

For the most part though, “Watchers in Death” is a novel jam packed with fun and thrilling action set pieces. We get to see newly formed Deathwatch Kill Teams perform boarding actions in a variety of settings. These scenes are the highlights of the book. You can tell Annandale had a great time writing the almost Guerilla Warfare style tactics Deathwatch Kill Teams used against the larger ork forces. The action is fast, furious and fun.


Credit also goes to Annandale for creating Deathwatch Kill Teams readers care about. A couple of the Kill Teams include characters established in previous novels like Koorland and Thane, Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists. Most of them though feature characters readers meet for the first time in the book. And by the end of the novel I was rooting for them to survive. My favorites of the new cast included a Space Wolf named Asger War Fist and a Dark Angels Techmarine named Abathar.

So, all in all, “Watchers in Death” was a pretty fun novel with interesting characters that moved the plot of the “Beast Arises” storyline forward in some interesting ways, especially at the end. There is however still three novels in the series left for me to read. So my concern is that there are more novels left in the series than there are actual story. I hope I’m wrong, but even if I’m not if the last three novels in the 12 book series are even half as enjoyable as “Watchers in Death” they’ll have been worth the read.

Book Reivew- “The Border” by Don Winslow

The BorderSeveral years ago I did my first interview with legendary comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin. At the end of the interview I revealed to him I was a crime fiction fan. So we then spent twenty minutes swapping recommendations, and one of the most interesting novels he recommended to me was a book called “The Power of the Dog” by an author I had never heard of named, Don Winslow. I was intrigued and got the book from my local library. And I now I’m forever in debt to Chaykin for making me aware of Winslow’s work. His recommendation not only turned me onto a fascinating, powerful and epic novel about America’s “War on Drugs”, it also got me in the ground floor of what would later become a trilogy of novels, 2015’s “The Cartel” and 2019’s “The Border,” which I just finished reading.

Each book in this trilogy is full of phenomenally developed and nuanced characters. Winslow’s Cartel books are also jam packed with thrilling action, fascinating twists and turns, and moments that will break your heart and blow your mind. If you haven’t read any of them do yourself a favor go back and read them all in order. They are some of the most powerful and best crime fiction I’ve ever read. They took me on a journey, and that journey was made so much richer in the concluding chapter “The Border.” That’s because the book is as good as an perhaps better than the other entries in the series, but it’s also full of epic payout for readers who have been following the story since the beginning.

The Border” once again follows the exploits of veteran DEA Agent Art Keller. Only this time, we get to see Keller in a new light because he’s put in charge of the organization he’s spent most of his life working for. So we get to see him try to enact real change and collide with the forces and institutions that don’t want to change or end the “war on drugs.”

Also, like the other books Keller may be the protagonist, but the story is an epic full of flawed, ambitious, and well meaning characters on both sides of the drug war as well as the people caught in the crossfire. We spend time with cops, drug traffickers, addicts, assassins, junkies, and immigrant children trying to escape the horror show that their home countries have become thanks to American drug money and monstrous drug traffickers.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the epic journey that is “The don_winslowBorder,” but I will talk about some of my favorite characters. Keller, or course is amazing and so is the journey he goes on. Winslow also brings back two of my favorite characters from “Power of the Dog,” Sean Callan and Nora Hayden. I also was fascinated by the journey an undercover cop goes on in “The Border.”

The drug traffickers in “The Border” are a colorful and eclectic cast. Among them, I was most fascinated by an elder kingpin who rises to power in a way that would make Shakespeare’s Iago very proud. I also was intrigued with and horrified by Belinda, the female security chief for one of the kingpins. She’s incredibly competent at her job and incredibly brutal. She lusts for both the excess and violence that is part of traffickers’ world.

The drug dealers and kingpins are monstrous figures in “The Border,” but they aren’t the only evil Keller and company confront in the book. A large part of the novel’s power comes from the sections where Keller and company are forced to confront the rich and powerful institutions that profit from the drug war. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much.

So, “The Border” is a fantastic close to a journey that has been both an epic thrill ride and a meditation on the injustice, corruption, and lack of compassion that arises when a country wages “war” on a public health epidemic like drug addiction. You can tell Winslow has done his research some of the events and people in “The Border” are inspired by real life counterparts, which makes the narrative that much deeper and poignant. For me, the book is the best kind of fiction; one that takes you on a journey that entertains but also forces you to open your mind and your heart.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes” by David Annandale

February 24, 2019 Leave a comment

Vulkan BookWhen I first started learning about Warhammer 40,000’s various Space Marine Legions I found myself drawn to the Salamanders. All of the legions were heroic, but the Salamanders had something to go with that heroism; a large streak of humanity and compassion. They are renowned amongst the Space Marines for their kindness and devotion to humans. While other Legions are more big picture the Salamanders are more about saving lives. That compassion can sometimes get them in trouble though. It forces them to take on almost suicidal challenges and endure against impossible odds. Fortunately, they have a pretty great example to look up to; their Primarch Vulkan; a brilliant and calculating bad-ass who combines Tony Stark’s engineering process with the stoicism and inspirational qualities of Marcus Aurelius. So he’s a fascinating character, and he’s also the protagonist of David Annandale’s novel in Black Library’s “Primarchs” series, “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes.”

Annandale has written some of my favorite 40K novels, and it’s clear he understands and enjoys writing his protagonist. You get insights into Vulkan’s psyche. You see his doubts, you see his hopes. And you see why he’s special. Also each chapter begins with a passage from Vulkan’s writings that gives insights into what drives him. They feel like could come from Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.”

In “Vulkan” Annandale take his protagonist and the Salamanders back in time to adavid_annandale pivotal point in their history; when the original Terran incarnation of the Legion and the newer Nocturne based one were forged into one. It fits perfectly with the spirit of the Salamanders who are renowned for their craftsmanship of armor and weapons. And it’s even more perfect that a large portion of the novel takes place on a volcanic deathworld.

That deathworld is where the Terran incarnation of the Salamanders are making a final stand against a marauding ork horde. They must hold the line until Vulkan and the new forces of the Legion arrive to enact a desperate plan to save their brothers and destroy the ork’s attack moon (I’ll never tire of typing those words. So over the top and METALl).

So, “Vulkan” is a novel about finding hope in hopeless situations. It’s about risking your neck for humanity and your fellow soldiers. It’s about standing tall against immeasurable odds and going down swinging if you have to. But it’s also a novel about hope and faith being rewarded. Near the end of the book that happens and Vulkan gets a scene so fun, and cool that all I could do after reading it was throw up metal horns. That’s because with that scene Annandale performs the sci-fi writer’s equivalent of a blistering guitar solo.

As I mentioned, I loved Annandale’s take on Vulkan, but the writer also gives us some fun individual Salamanders as well. I especially loved the leaders of the Terran based Salamanders; Vaughn and Numeon. Those two performed some inspiring and exciting acts of heroism while trying hold back the ork onslaught.

So, with “Vulkan: Lord of Drakes” David Annandale tackles my favorite loyalist Space Marine Legion and Primarch and does them justice. The book is not that long, but it’s got a huge scope and scale, is packed with fun, exciting action, heroes you can root for, and an emotional and inspiring climax that will make Salamanders fans stand up and cheer.

Book Review- “The Armored Saint” by Myke Cole

January 30, 2019 Leave a comment

When it comes to fantasy novels I used to strictly be a sword and sorcery guy. I still prefer Conan over Frodo, but in recent years I’ve been convinced to give “Epic armored saintFantasy” novels another chance. I’m glad I did because I’ve discovered a number of books in the genre that I like. The most recent epic fantasy novel to fall under that category? Myke Cole’s “The Armored Saint,” the kick-off to his “Sacred Throne” series. I finished it today and I loved it.

What first grabbed my attention about “The Armored Saint” was the world it’s set in. It’s a place of dangerous magic, violent and corrupt holy orders, and monstrous demons. As a fan of things like “Warhammer 40,000” and “The Dragon Age” series of video games I’m fascinated by those things, and Cole does a pretty great job putting his own unique spin on those sort of tropes. They are a fascinating part of the world he builds in “The Armored Saint.”

I especially loved the way Cole introduces those elements and the over all setting of the book. He doesn’t push you into the deep end of this fantasy world with loads and loads of exposition. You find out the basics right away, but the rest unfolds naturally. It’s almost sort of a mystery; one I found very engaging. You find out about major historical events, like wars, via characters who experienced them first hand and have the physical and emotional scars that come from such experiences. You also find out that things like magic aren’t necessarily black and white. Instead they’re very gray hued.

So there’s a lot more I could tell you about the plot of the book, but I feel like it would run it and some of the surprises. I will say though that the character we join on a journey of discovery about the true nature of her world and herself is a great one. Her name is Heloise and she’s a 16 year old girl with a huge heart. So you root for and you also empathize when she encounters tragedies and horrors both man made and supernatural.

In “The Armored Saint” Heloise’s world is a small one for the most part. It’s mainly just her village and some of the surrounding areas, but I like that. It gave us themyke cole chance to really get to know some fascinating and great characters. My favorites were her burly father Samson, her best friend Basina, and the mysterious wanderer known as Clodio. It also gave Cole the chance to give us a full picture of this portion of the world. “The Armored Saint” is short for an epic fantasy novel, but I don’t feel like Cole skimped or left anything important out.

The book also shines in terms of tone and fantastical elements. There is a lot of horror and brutality in the series, and much of it is man made. It gives the book a sense of power and poignancy and when characters make a stand you’re ready to cheer them on. Cole also handles supernatural horror and combat really well. The climax of the book involves a fight between a monster and Heloise who is clad in a really cool suit of armor.

So, there were a number of reasons why I really loved “The Armored Saint.” Like I said, it’s short for an epic fantasy novel, but it’s jam packed with the stuff of great stories. It’s like a classic Ramones song done up as a fantasy story. It’s short, but it shreds, and it leaves you wanting more. Which is great, because as I also mentioned, there are more books in the series. I can’t wait to pick up the next one, “The Queen of Crows.”

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Dark Imperium by Guy Haley

January 22, 2019 Leave a comment

dark imperiumWhen I first learned of Roboute Gulliman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines Legion of Space Marines, I couldn’t help, but make comparisons between him and my favorite comic book character, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America. Both Gulliman and Cap are blond haired, tactical geniuses, who favor the color blue, and are exemplars of the ideals they fight for. And when Games Workshop brought Gulliman back in 2017 he and Steve Rogers came to share another trait; Both are men out of time. It’s a quality that’s made the Ultramarines Primarch even more interesting, and it’s just one of the many fascinating ideas explored in Guy Haley’s Warhammer 40,000 novel “Dark Imperium.”

Dark Imperium” is one of the first Black Library novels set in the new timelines established in 40K’s current 8th edition which saw Gulliman serving as Lord Commander and Regent of the Imperium, the Imperium split in half thanks to the destruction of Cadia and the emergence of a monstrous galactic rift, and the introduction of the next generation of Space Marines; the Primaris. So there’s a lot of ground to cover and ideas to explore in “Dark Imperium.”

For me, the primary reason why “Dark Imperium” shines is the character of Guy HaleyGulliman. We get to be part of his thought processes. We get to see him both be warrior and statesman, but best of all we see him come to grips with what his father’s Empire has become during his absence. Haley has a lot of fun with Gulliman’s culture shock and disdain for Imperium culture and aesthetic. He also gives the story some especially poignant moments where the Ultramarines Primarch must wrestle with some hard truths about his “father,” the Emperor of Mankind.

So Gulliman is a haunted and flawed character, but the other aspect of him that Haley captures perfectly is his inner nobility. He’s a character you can genuinely root for because he actually wants to bring reason back to the Imperium of Man and improve their crumbling government and infrastructure. That’s a breath of fresh air in the grim darkness that is the 41st millennium.

Gulliman may be Haley’s protagonist, but he’s not the only central character in “Dark Imperium” the series is jam packed with heroes both old and new. Fans of Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines series will enjoy a fun and poignant cameo early on. Plus, we spend some time with the Ultramarines Chapter Master Marneus Calgar and hear his inner conflicted thoughts on the return of his Primarch/gene father. That adds another organic and fascinating layer to the father/son relationship themes of the book.

Some of my favorite new characters included Captain Decimus Felix and Militant Apostolic Mathieu. Felix is part of the new generation of Primaris Space Marines and we get to spend a lot of time with him. He too is a man out of time. So it’s interesting to see how he reacts to things and to see through his eyes the role the new Primaris Space Marines play in the Imperium. Mathieu is the new chief religious figure in Gulliman’s imperium, and he’s a fascinating figure to bounce off Gulliman because the Ultramarines Primarch doesn’t believe his father was a god. So they have an interesting dynamic and some fascinating dialogues.

So “Dark Imperium” is a story of great heroes and epic action, but it’s also a chilling tale of supernatural horror. Because the antagonists of the novel are the fearsome Death Guard, the Chaos Space Marine Legion lead by Mortarion that serves the god of diseases and death, Nurgle. Haley has a lot of fun leaning into the gruesome and horrifying nature of the Death Guard. Plus there’s a great sense of cosmic horror when the Warp opens or we spend time with Mortarion on his flagship.

All of the elements I mentioned combined to make “Dark Imperium” a joy to read. Best of all it’s only the first book in what I believe a trilogy. I can’t wait to see what Haley has next in store for readers and to spend more time with the fascinating character that is Roboute Gulliman.

Book Review- Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

December 26, 2018 1 comment

Deep SilenceI love well written series fiction. As a reader, it’s some of the most rewarding types of storytelling around. You get to go on a journey with characters and watch them grow and change as they face adversity and the harsh realities of their world. The right writer will have you knowing and loving these characters as if they were your own friends and family, and Jonathan Maberry is just such a writer. Over the course of nine novels I’ve come to view the title character of his Joe Ledger series as a brother at arms. Him, his faithful dog Ghost, and the soldiers, scientists, and support staff of the secretive organization they work for, the Department of Military Sciences, are people I love spending time with. Some times that time can be rough and painful because Maberry’s cast are larger than life heroes, but they are still human beings who routinely confront man made and fantastic horrors. So, sometimes, the stumble and fall, but as I said they’re heroes, and when they fall they learn from their mistakes and get right back up. So the Ledger novels are often fun, exciting, harrowing, heartbreaking, and inspiring tales. “Deep Silence, the newest installment in the series, is all of that and more.

One of the best things about the book is it’s full of payout moments for long term fans of the series. The plot of the book heavily involves mysteries from two previous adventures. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you which ones. Part of the joy of the novel is getting the answers for yourself. I will say though that in “Deep Silence” you get some concrete answers about the mysterious world Ledger and the DMS live in. They’re the best kind of answers though, ones that raise more questions. As a reader I was left feeling like I was just seeing the tip of a very large and fantastic iceberg, and I can’t wait to find out more about lies below the surface.

Tone wise, the Ledger books are masterfully fixed cocktails that blend the trappings250px-JonathanMaberry of military thrillers with other fantastic genres. I can tell you there’s a lot of science fiction elements at work in “Deep Silence,” but sci-fi is often about confronting the unknown. That can be a scary thing. And as fans of Maberry’s work know he’s a master at telling horror stories. So, prepare yourself Ledger fans! You’re going to be scared and your heart is going to break a number of times while reading this book. I cried on a couple of occasions. That also means though that you’re going to clap and cheer just ad often. Because as we all know, Joe and the DMS are a never-say-die crew.

The horror in “Deep Silence” is a particularly chilling blend too. Quite a bit of it comes from strange and sinister sources, but there’s also a significant exploration of the horrors people can do to each other and themselves.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a recipe for some great character moments you’d be right. Joe has a lot of very cool and personal moments in “Deep Silence.” I also didn’t think it was possible for me to love his dog, Ghost, even more, but thanks to some very poignant passages in the novel I do.

Joe’s long time brothers and arms Top and Bunny don’t get as big a focus in “Deep Silence” but they do get some huge scenes that offer new and cool insight into their characters. I’ve talked in depth in past reviews about how fantastic Maberry is at action scenes, but what I haven’t touched upon as much is his great ability to add to character with those slam-bang fight sequences. There’s an especially cool scene in “Deep Silence” that made me understand and like Bunny even more than I did. It’s just a couple of paragraphs from his point of view, but they’re particularly insightful and moving.

Deep Silence” also gives a number of the DMS support staff time to shine. You get some more clues about their enigmatic leader, Mr. Church, which is always great. For me though, the DMS’ new head scientist Doc Holiday really stole the show. She got a lot of great moments that showed how cool and layered a character she is.

Readers also get to spend some time with Tracy Cole, a member of Echo Team who was introduced last novel. I loved her introduction and enjoyed getting to know her more in this book. We also met some of Echo Team’s brand new Spec Ops shooters. My favorite, is the team’s new sniper. And it’s not the first time I’ve fallen in love with an Echo Team sniper. Maberry seems to have a real knack for creating fascinating and fully fleshed out sharp shooting characters.

So, as you can guess I utterly loved “Deep Silence.” It’s one of the best novels in the Ledger series, and one of the best things about it is it moves the series forward in so many new and exciting directions. I can’t wait to see where Maberry takes things next.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger