Category Archives: Books

Orb Sceptre Throne

Ian C. Esslemont’s fourth novel in the Malazan world is titled Orb Sceptre Throne referencing the three central artifacts of power in the plot of the book. This novel finds itself on better footing than its predecessor, Stonewielder, almost from the first page. The book is helped by the geographic density of the plot. Where Stonewielder sprawled a continent, Orb Sceptre Throne finds itself largely located within the confines of the city of Darujhistan.

The addition of the Malazan deserters including Blend, Picker, Antsy and Spindle makes for a familiar set of faces and relationships. Esslemont handles the characters deftly and, as former Bridgeburners, they provide equal parts comic relief and brutal efficacy throughout the novel. It was fortuitous or prescient that Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon centered on the Bridgeburners as they have been the most consistent performers throughout the series. Nuanced and varied, even when they diverge, they consistently become the most interesting characters in the novel. Continue reading

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Any attempt to encapsulate the plot of a book set in the joint Steven Erikson/Ian C. Esslemont world of Malaz is a venture inherently more detailed than can be delivered in a thousand work blog post.  Stonewielder by Esslemont is no exception to this. A sprawling narrative that spans a continent, the novel neither lacks in scope nor quantity of characters.

The world building that has spanned Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, several novellas, the new Kharkanas trilogy and Esslemont’s own narrative strain stretching into his third book remains the strength of the book. Featuring the island of Fist and the Stormwall of Korel, Esslemont explores a portion of the universe largely untouched by previous novels. The legendary Stormwall gets special attention early in the novel and the author gives special care to the wall’s description.  It’s a unique feature with an interesting back story.  It features, as in other works, the unusual background in archeology that the author brings to his writing. It’s clearly a reason why the world building is so strong and the setting so vivid. Continue reading

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Chasm City

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds takes place in the “Revelation Space” universe, which is the far flung future of human civilization.  The series as a whole is some of the best hardcore science fiction being published currently. Reynolds does not delve into the fantasy realm at all. Science, however beyond our current understanding, remains at the heart of this series.

The linear stories from this series can be found in other books, namely Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap.  Chasm City, however, is tangential to those books in as much as it shares a setting without any overlap in characters. Continue reading

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Lamentation is Ken Scholes first novel with a strong fantasy bent set in a post-apocalyptic world.  Scholes uses a rotating viewpoint among the main cast, which keeps the pace of the novel moving and adds insight to each character’s personality. The characters are of varying interest; however, the leads generally hold up well over the course of the novel. This is important as the characters are fundamental to drive the novel forward much more so than the action, which is often depicted via second hand accounts.

The novel is part of a five book arc and, in as much as it is discernible from the opening work, follows a well worn fantasy trope of an ancient, displaced evil returning to conquer its former home. Whether this turns out to be the true thrust of the over-arching storyline for the planned quintet, will hinge upon factors that are almost impossible to know after reading Lamentation.

The sectionalized plot for this novel is rather mundane. An ancient magic is unleashed upon a city wiping it from the map. Neighboring nation-states proceed to wage a war in order to avenge the wrong doing.  The initial perpetrator turns out to be a decoy guided by the hand of another.  By the end of the novel, allegiances have shifted and the decoy is killed to sate the desire for punishment among those remaining.

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The Rise of the Iron Moon

The Rise of the Iron Moon is Stephen Hunt’s third adventure set in the world of Jackals. The novel is an unequivocal mess, destroying most of what Hunt had built in the previous two novels. Another dual thread narrative exposes the inability of Hunt to balance his stories creating inevitable peaks and valleys in the enjoyability. At times interesting and other times a horrible slog, the book sacrifices most of the compelling characters to create an incoherent, disjointed and lunatic plot.

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Sometimes, little author, the only way to destroy your enemy is to make them your friend.

– Colonel Paul-Loop Keyspierre
The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt

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The Kingdom Beyond the Waves

The second novel set in Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian World, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, is a clear improvement from its predecessor The Court of the Air. Both stories, while they share a common setting, are self contained despite the presences of overlapping characters in both novels.  (I actually read The Kingdom Beyond the Waves first by happenstance.)

Professor Amelia Harsh, who made a brief cameo in The Court of the Air to rescue  Molly Templar from the criminal undercity, opens the book on an archeological expedition searching for clues of an ancient civilization called Camlantis. Representing an era of peace and prosperity in the distant past, Camlantis is regarded as heretical by the senior university officials throughout all of Jackals. This leaves Professor Harsh bereft of school funding and forced to engage in questionable personal adventures to try and find tangible proof of the Camlanteans.  Unsurprisingly, the questionable personal adventure she is currently on contains questionable people who betray her once the treasure is found. She is left limping back to Jackals further disgraced and marginalized.

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The Court of The Air

With the opening novel set in the Jackelian world, The Court of the Air is a thrill ride that contains more ideas than it knows how to deliver.  Author Stephen Hunt pits two orphans against a menacing evil, gives them power they don’t understand, allies that they can’t trust and asks them to save the world as they know it. The two primary story lines are uneven in execution and one protagonist fares better as a character than the other.  The novel is, at times, a daunting read and Hunt fails to fully execute on some of the grand ideas but, on balance, it’s a fun adventure tale with elements of steampunk and fantasy.

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Crack’d Pot Trail

Steven Erikson is a master of modern epic fantasy. His opus, a 10 book series named The Malazan Book of the Fallen, is a masterpiece on par with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Erikson creates a menagerie of fascinatingly amoral or ambiguous characters and proceeds to wind them all together in sub-plots that build off the primary thread. Some of those secondary plots fall away and some stay in tune but all of them are interesting. He is a tremendous writer.

That is why the novella Crack’d Pot Trail is such a collasul disappointment. Nominally about Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two necromancers who provide an element of comedic relief through parts of Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, who are pursued by a band of knights and hunters sworn to kill them, the book is, in reality, a violent assault on the fourth wall (the “wall” between the stage and the audience) and role of the audience in artistic affairs. Narrative is a secondary concern, if at all, and the titular characters are absent for all but two pages of the book.

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The Man Who Went Up in Smoke

The second detective novel by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo featuring Martin Beck as the lead, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, lacks the charm of the first novel. Even attempts to contextualize the book, written in 1966, offer few positives to take away. Where Roseanna featured a wider array of characters and a better crime narrative, the sequel focuses too much on Beck’s introspective and uses a grating twist to solve the case.

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