Review: Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

Standalone

Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

47North; April 9, 2019

427 pages

DNF (No rating)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Ghosts of Gotham was described to me as a “mystery-thriller with supernatural elements”, something like the early Preston & Child books before they got all… well, bad. So I was completely unprepared when the story went sideways, entering a realm of witchcraft, demigods and immortals. What it really should’ve been described as was a novel of conflicting genres. The first third doesn’t mention any kind of supernatural forces, beyond saying that they’re a hoax. When the “supernatural” element of the supernatural-thriller shows up—it’s all at once. No build. Then we have to deal with it as any first sequence magic book introduces us to its magic system. I thought this slowed both the story and lost the mystery while things were explained. Wasn’t particularly smooth, though also not the reason I stopped.

Actually, there were two elements that really killed my interest in this book.

First, the relationship of Maddie and Lionel. Honestly, I thought the story picked up when Maddie was introduced as a POV. We got to see things from a different perspective, travel the paths to an objective a different route, not to mention the limited interaction between the two was quite entertaining. I felt the story slowed when Maddie and Lionel hooked up, the disconnect between the two shrank, the paths they walked independent of one another withered away, and the book fell completely to the mystery. And it was quite the mystery, with unexpected twists and turns. It was not, however, enough to keep me invested in the plot.

The second was the supernatural itself—or, really, Lionel’s reaction to it. At some point he’s quoted as saying that the realm of magic is “something he’s been searching for his whole life”, which is why he’s made a living defrauding charlatans and fakes. The ease at which he takes to the supernatural world in Ghosts, however, is… out of character. At other points, he says things like that “he knew this time was different” because of all kinds of ridiculous things. The timbre of someone’s voice. The goosebumps he got from thinking about someone. The look in someone’s eyes. The… please don’t get me started on the love scene.

I made it to a little past that, but it really was the last straw. I wanted to like this, I saw so many good reviews of it, but I just couldn’t. And I don’t waste my time with books I can’t stand, just like how I don’t throw my kindle off the wall. Anymore. It’s old and fragile enough as it is.

Since this was a DNF (I made it to the 70% mark, but hey) I can’t rate it. I’d even hazard to recommend it. As far as I can tell, I’m one of the few people that didn’t enjoy Ghosts of Gotham.

Huh, sucks.

I DO LOVE the cover, though. So, there’s that.

Audiobook Review: City of Ghosts – by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake #1

YA, Supernatural, Fantasy

Scholastic; August 28, 2018

272 pages; ~5 hours (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

City of Ghosts is a YA effort from Victoria Schwab, first in the Cassidy Blake series. Previously, Schwab had released the Archived trilogy (which I’ve heard good things about), and the Monsters of Verity duology (of which I’m a fan). This said—City of Ghosts doesn’t feel like the polished, complete work I would’ve expected from her.

Everything started when Cassidy Blake died. That day she went across the Veil for the first time, she met Jacob—whom since has become her best friend—when he saved her life. Impressive, as he’s dead and all. Now, they’re inseparable, and frequently take trips back across the Veil, where Cassidy can interact with Jacob as if he were alive. Or she were dead.

This whole thing seemed like… an idea. Like, that it isn’t… complete. It comes across unpolished, unrefined—something I wouldn’t’ve expected from Schwab, since her ideas have always seemed to come to life on the page. Early on, when we are introduced to this ability to interact with events through the Veil, it seems like Cassidy is fairly new to it all. Not long after, she states that it’s something she’s been on about for the last nine months. Nine months! And even though she goes on to say that the process has been streamlined and polished, in reality it seems anything but. Frankly, it kinda seems like a spinoff of Danny Phantom; even down to the famous, ghost-hunting parents.

The beginning really did nothing for me. It was hard to get into, contradictory, and as I’ve said before, unpolished. Not “boring” exactly, but not entertaining either. Once we get into the meat of the story, it’s entertaining enough, I guess. Not that much really happens. I mean, there’s a plot and stuff, but it comes to fruition so late in the book (it’s only a 5-hour audiobook), that I’d hesitate to reveal anything in the interest of spoilers. That and… the whole thing basically feels like setup. Like the quick pilot of an episodic show. One that identifies the characters and the premise but really does little else.

I’d read the next one—probably—but wouldn’t pay full price for it. Not if it’s over $10, at least. I’d wait for the library copy, and hope VE Schwab nails some things down before then. Tunnel of Bones comes out September 3, 2019

Note: Reba Buhr was an excellent narrator. Though not anyone I’d encountered previously, I had no problem with her reading. She was actually a pretty good Cassidy; engaging and entertaining.

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Standalone

Scifi

Solaris; May 28, 2019

Novella; 105 pages

5 / 5 ✪

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

So many of my favorite quotes in this novella happen towards the end, and I’m unwilling to use them. That would give too much away, I think. But then, there are SO MANY good quotes everywhere! And Walking to Aldebaran was a good therapeutic read. Maybe this will get me to start talking to myself as I wander around life, too, though I won’t call it Toto. Never liked the Wizard of Oz—I know, that’s just horrible. Don’t judge me too much, please.

“If they didn’t want to be eaten, they shouldn’t be so delicious.”

Walking to Aldebaran is a hundred page novella from the master of, well, so many things: Adrian Tchaikovsky. This is only my third Tchaikovsky book—after The Tiger and the Wolf and Children of Time. Walking to Aldebaran reminds me quite a bit of Children, actually. Not so much the plot, as how it’s written. But that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

As for the plot, Tchaikovsky combines the erudite pilot Gary Rendell with some smart-ass in order to win my heart. Or, at least, I assume. Dude is quite possibly my favorite character of the year. Rendell is an astronaut tasked—along with his fellow crewmates—with exploring an alien artefact that hovers just at the edge of our solar system, known by him as ‘the Frog God’, due to it’s froggy visage. But, shortly after entering these Crypts (yeah, they’re the Crypts once he’s inside), a horrible fate befalls him and his crew, stranding Gary all alone in the darkness, forcing him to either curl up and die or traverse the Crypts afoot until he finds his way home. The narrative in Walking to Aldebaran picks up shortly after this (and after Gary begins talking to himself), but features frequent flashbacks that provide the reader with insight about how he got into this mess. And as the Crypts seem to bend time and space so that they can exit/enter into countless alien realms—he’ll be walking for a while. Hence the name.

Seeing as it only took me a handful of hours to finish it (albeit space across a few days), it proved less a journey and more a… jaunt. But still, with an adventurous and exciting novella like this, the length really doesn’t matter. I mean, I would’ve loved for it to have been longer… but it really didn’t need to be. Tchaikovsky knows what he’s doing, and Walking is fitted to match.

I seriously enjoyed this one. Loved it, actually. The narrator, the concept, the setting. The character arc. The quote-unquote “growth”. The cover was really nice, too. A solid 5-stars, I’d say. The real question is whether I’d justify the $10 ebook price, though. Now, normally there’d be no way I’d even consider it. $10 for a 100 page book, a couple hours read? Nah. But Aldebaran is really, really good. So… I’m torn. I guess, like, may…be? I’d definitely justify reading it, no matter how you get there.

Book Review: Time’s Children – by D. B. Jackson

Islevale Cycle #1

Fantasy, Time Travel

Angry Robot; October 2, 2018

515 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

Time’s Children was one heck of an entertaining read—especially on the heels of another bit of time travel fiction—a time travel fantasy that was an interesting bit of genre-cross that I’d not experienced before. As always, Jackson’s writing is lovely; attaining a classic fantasy feel while painting a vividly colorful world full of deep and insightful characters. This is my 9th book by the author (4 as David B. Coe, 5 under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson) and I have to say, he hops around quite a bit between genres, doesn’t he?

Time’s Children begins the Islevale Cycle, a fantasy world set upon a world of sea and islands, in which certain individuals—known as Travelers—combine their natural abilities and golden, specialized devices in order to cheat the natural order. Spanners use their sextants in order to traverse great distances in but an instant. Crossers use their apertures to move through solid matter. Walkers can move back and forth through time by means of a chronofor. Of these three, Walkers are the rarest and most sought after, due to their ability to change the course of events. Each of these powers comes with a price, however. Never did learn the weakness of Spanning. Huh. Crossers that encounter metal in their passage return with horrible injuries or can suffer death. And Walkers suffer the time they travel twice (meaning, if a Walker were to travel back a year, and then return, their body would have aged two years in that time: one year to go back, another to return).

Tobias Doljan is a Walker, training at the Traveler’s Palace in the north sea. Days before his 15th birthday, he is summoned to the court of Mearlan IV, ruler of Daerjen. Leaving his home for court is a daunting task, but one Tobias is excited about. Yet in doing so he gives up much. The camaraderie of his peers, or anyone his age. An interesting friend—a Tirribin, a time demon, which preys upon humans’ years in order to live (if you’ve seen any Stargate Atlantis, they’re pretty much the wraith, except in the bodies of children). And budding love in the form of another initiate, Mara. And yet Tobias is excited for court life. More than excited, even. It’s something he’s been working his whole life for. And yet, within days of reaching Daerjen, it might all be over.

Daerjen is in the middle of a war, a war that isn’t going well. The monarch has exhausted all his options—all, but one. Something only a Walker might do. For if he can travel back, Tobias can prevent the war altogether. But there is a huge problem. Due to the very nature of Walking, the toll it inflicts on Walkers, the Traveler’s Palace limits the length of time Walkers are to travel to no more than two years. Any more, and the Walkers are told to refuse their employer, that the contract is voided, and to return home. And yet Mearlan asks anyway. He asks Tobias not to go back one or two, but fourteen years.

This establishes an interesting (if horrifying) concept. Should Tobias Walk (Spoilers: of course he does) he would essentially triple in age by the time he returns home. He’d be a 15-year old boy, stuck in the body of a 43-year old man. That’s just… ludicrous. And yet, to prevent a war, Tobias acquiesces. And yet, after his Walk back, nothing goes to plan. Mearlan is assassinated along with all his court, Tobias’s chronofor is destroyed, and Tobias is forced to flee with the last of the monarch’s kin—his infant daughter, Sofya.

The premise of this book was what first caught my attention. I mean, Tobias coming to terms with the fact that he’s doubled in age, that he’s a boy in the body of a man—is fascinating. And horrifying. Not to mention that he now must caring for an infant. Not to mention that she’s the sole heir to the throne. And that everyone in this new time is hunting for them. And that Tobias can’t return to his old (um, future) time. And it’s how he handles it that makes Time’s Children completely worth reading.

My favorite part of this book was actually his dealings with Sofya. The Sovereign’s daughter was 16 when Tobias first met her, but it’s the 2-year old princess that steals the show. Because she acts like a two-year old. She lives, she laughs, she loves—and she poops. Plus, she can’t talk. And she doesn’t understand a good many things that are happening. I figured she’d be little more than a prop in baby-form. And I was wrong. And that’s just awesome.

I did have a couple issues with Time’s Children. One was a lot later in the story, so as not to spoil anything… I’m just going to say it involved time paradoxes, and the decision of when and when not to travel back. The other, actually, is the first chapter. More specifically, what happens in it, and what doesn’t happen in the rest of the book. I hate it when a book gives us a teaser about something that will happen later on, but then doesn’t ever get to that point. Now, I assume that this scene—where someone, presumably Tobias, is back trying to prevent the war or assassination or something—will occur later in the series. Or, is supposed to. But I don’t KNOW that. And unless David B. Coe has FINISHED writing all the other Islevale books, HE can’t know that either. Sometimes, a scene like this will get edited out. Sometimes, the story will simply move in a different direction. A lot of things can happen. Too bad too; I kept expecting the point to crop up and was disappointed when I reached the end and it hadn’t.

All in all, Time’s Children is an excellent read, providing a new and unique premise then proceeding to execute it well. The characters stole the show for me; the character arcs and growth, but especially the interactions between Tobias and baby Sofya made this a book I could not put down. And while an unsatisfying conclusion held it back from being a solid 5 stars, Time’s Children is a must read—and probably the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Its sequel, Time’s Demon, comes out on May 28, 2019.

Book Review: Soulkeeper – by David Dalglish

The Keepers #1

Fantasy

Orbit Books; March 19, 2019

652 pages

4.3 / 5 ✪

Soulkeeper was my 9th Dalglish book, and honestly one of the better ones. I’m generally a fan of him—I mean, a lot of his books were good, yet few were solid, 5-star reads (mostly 3.5 – 4). Soulkeeper begins the Keepers’ series, one that feels a combination of new age and classic, with but a hint of dark fantasy. The Shadowdance series was definitely more in the vein of dark fantasy, though not enough that I’d call it grimdark. Soulkeeper is more what I’d call a realistic take on classic fantasy (there’s too much swearing and blood).

Devin Eveson is a Soulkeeper, a practitioner of the Sisters, the three goddesses of mankind. He, like the others, travels from the capital Londheim, to remote towns and villages, to conduct funerary rituals, heal and comfort the sick and dying, and usher souls into the afterlife. But upon visiting the mountain village of Dunwerth, something changes. For he is not only confronted by a mysterious plague that proves well beyond his ability to heal, but waking monsters that are all but beyond his ability to combat. To compound this, a powerful and generally pissed-off dragon has awakened, releasing a torrent of foul, black water that destroys everything in its path. In its wake, Devin is stranded in a barren and alien land, haunted by new and ancient terrors that he must fight his way through in order to make it back to the capital, if it indeed survives. Along the way, Devin gains a few friends and allies—Tomas, his brother-in-law and friend; CRKSSLFF (or Puffy), a firekin and remnant of a world long forgotten—en route to Londheim, though trailing in his wake is something much older, a mountain of stone that walks upon the earth like a crab.

Following Devin’s arrival at Londheim, quite a few more characters are introduced, including—Adria, Devin’s sister and a Mindkeeper (which is kinda like a nun or something; they care for the faithful and needy but don’t make speeches or hobnob with the rich and powerful); Janus, a supernatural being that butchers humans, turning them into his “art”; Tesmarie, a faerie; Jacaranda, a soulless slave that becomes something different entirely. All of these (plus a few more) got POV chapters, most of which I enjoyed. Despite the size of the cast, I never felt the story slow to try to fit them in. Instead one often took over where another left off, something that actually seemed to work well in this case. Sometimes, in fantasy, there are so many threads and story arcs going on that an approach like this won’t fly, and instead might completely wreck the pacing, particularly if some of the characters are uninteresting or slow. I never found this problem, however; the pacing was good, and I never found myself bogged down by a character arc I found uninteresting.

I quite liked the world-building of Soulkeeper; from the world itself, to the characters, to the creation myth and the church and the Awakened. Everything was well done, though I would like to see a bit more lore in the second installment. The dialogue was really the main aspect that bothered me. Ofttimes I felt it campy, or even lame, though this wasn’t altogether unexpected. Dalglish—which I know from his previous books—is a bit like Michael J. Sullivan with his speech and dialogue. By which I mean he favors a normal, or modern, approach, instead of trying to replicate the speech of the time period (like JRR or Miles Cameron) or make up something of his own (á la Sanderson and Robert Jordan and others). Most of the time this is fine, yet at others it can feel… off, or even ridiculous.

Soulkeeper is a fun, entertaining start of a new series, with lovely world-building and an interesting story that kept me intrigued throughout. I would’ve liked to see a bit more lore for the Awakened, the monsters and such, instead of quite so much of the same about the Goddesses. In addition, a little more polish on the dialogue wouldn’t hurt. Otherwise, I really have no complaints—and eagerly await the next one!

The series will continue with Ravencaller, which as of yet has no release date.

Book Review: Forsaken Skies – by D. Nolan Clark

The Silence #1

Science Fiction

Orbit Books; September 6, 2016

570 pages

4 / 5 ✪

Aleister Lanoe is a living legend. A pilot without equal, a warrior without peers, the survivor of countless battles, etcetera. Through body enhancement and advanced neuroscience, the man has lived for centuries. Centuries which he has spent surviving suicide missions, winning winless wars, and generally being a total badass. Forsaken Skies finds him as the escort pilot for some planetary governor. Or, rather—former escort.

A series of chaotic events find him on the Hexus—a stellar Centrocor (a mega-corp that becomes important later on) shipping hub—confronted by its Chief Technician, Tannis Valk. Formerly known as the Blue Devil, the man is possibly the most famous pilot in history (excluding Lanoe himself), and once Lanoe’s greatest enemy. And yet things have changed.

Auster Maggs is interested in neither, up unto the point where both men have their weapons trained upon him. He’s the son of a respected admiral, a pretty face, a smooth operator, not to mention a petty cheat and con-man. When Lanoe and Valk crash his meeting with a pair of petitioners from the planet Niraya, it appears to be just another unfortunate event in a lifetime of them for Maggs, one that will finally lead to his head set on a platter—until something unexpected happens.

The petitioners—Elder McRay and her pupil, Roan—hail from a planet on the edge of known space. A world that is being overrun by something unknown. Something alien.

For all of its exploration and expansion across the galaxy, humanity has never once encountered aliens. And so the common explanations states: “well, if it hasn’t happened by now…”. But these beings, whoever they are have invaded Niraya, so the people have been sent to seek help. And they have found Lanoe.

And for reasons of his own, Lanoe is ready and more than willing to provide it.

He assembles a team of his best and brightest, calling in all the favors he has accrued over his long years, every man and woman he trusts, everyone from the Navy’s legendary 94th. Well, this amounts to two: Lieutenant Bettina Zhang—Lanoe’s former lover—and Caroline Ehta, a marine. The rest, dead or unwilling to come. Thus, Lanoe is forced to recruit a few more heads to fill out his team, a cast which includes Valk, Maggs, and Thom—son of the governor for which Lanoe used to work. Until the son killed his father.

They embark on a trip to the edge of known space, to a battle where they entertain mathematically insignificant odds to win, to meet a foe the likes of which humanity may have never seen before. Each man and woman carries a terrible secret, which naturally come out over the course of the text. But what they discover at Niraya may be more surprising than any of their secrets combined.

While the cast of characters is fairly solid, and their dialogue is okay, character development is sub-par. Not that the characters themselves are super deep and relatable. Lanoe was clearly meant to be the main focus of the book—a living legend who’s seen it all, up against something no one’s ever seen before. And yet he can’t pull it off. He’s… not dull exactly, but. Too big? Too much to be believed. Lanoe always seems a little to much legend, but a little too little human. His depth of character is soup can deep, however. The cast of characters around him is decent enough, yet none can ever interact with him in any unexpected way. Lanoe is too much a legend to ever act human—at least in Forsaken Skies itself—and his dialogue with any of the rest of them always feels… forced? Stilted. Annoying. Dull. This is something he works on in the subsequent Silence entries, though with limited success.

While the interactions between Zhang and Ehta and Maggs and Valk are so much better than any where Lanoe is involved, it’s the arc between Thom and Roan that carried the story for me. Well, them and the dogfights. The interaction between the two of them was more than enough to keep me reading at first, combined with the adventure and thrill of the unknown. Once the space skirmishes start in the second half of the book, I had no problem getting into it.

The action and adventure is the real reason to pick up Forsaken Skies. The premise is a rather lame—the Seven Samurai vibe being well and truly played out nowadays where every over book seems to run out its own ragtag band of misfits—but the execution effective, and it’s the dogfights and skirmishes that really steal the show. The writing of these is more than entertaining enough to make up for any lack of character development, a cliché plot or a few less than steamy romances.

All said, Forsaken Skies was actually a pretty good read. The story and development, while a bit of a slow build, was entirely worth it when we get into the thick of things, somewhere around the halfway point. Before this point, the setting and characters were interesting enough to keep me going. After—there were enough twists and thrills that it never got boring.

The Book Untraveled: Flex – by Ferrett Steinmetz

‘Mancer #1

Angry Robot; March 3, 2015

432 pages

I’ve heard good things about Flex, including that it has one of the most inventive magic systems ever. Moreover, I’ve heard that the entire series is on point and pretty much a must-read. The blurb is as follows:

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.

I mean, it SOUNDS pretty good. And some of my friends recommend it highly. It’s been on my list of books I’d like to read for the past couple years, and I’d quite like to check it off before Flex makes a third. But I haven’t gotten around to it yet, for a few reasons. One, it’s been somewhat off my radar until the last year or so. Two, it’s proven difficult to locate a copy at a decent price (in my opinion). My library, in its infinite wisdom, owns Fix (‘Mancer Book 3)—but neither of the first two. Angry Robot books aren’t terribly easy to find in my little secluded nook of the world. Or… cranny? I mean, I could just get an ebook version, but the resale value of such a purchase is nonexistent. I’ll probably end up getting it online—I tend to buy most of my books online, as the library does have many that I’d otherwise find in a local bookstore—but wanted to exhaust the possibility of buying local first. And I’ve seen it for sub-$4 around-places, so I’ll probably accrue it at some point soon.

In a related note, Steinmetz has a new book, The Sol Majestic, out in June. It looks pretty cool, though I’d really like to give Flex a try first. If there’s anyone reading this who’s read Flex—it any good?

Nostalgia Trip – Gizmos & Gadgets

The Learning Company, 1993

DOS

Blueprints list all the parts you’ll need

Gizmos & Gadgets was released in the early 90’s by The Learning Company, to teach kids (and adults) about physics and science through the vise of a game where you have to collect parts, solve puzzles, and win races to win. I remember it quite fondly, although I wasn’t even ten when I was first introduced to it.

The general level: a basic platformer design
Entering doors will force you to solve puzzles, and get you to corridors where there are parts to pick up

Morty Maxwell has taken over the Shady Glen Tech Center. To defeat him and his army of Cyperchimps, you must win 15 races against him—five in each: Alternative Energy, Automotive and Aircraft—and throw a lot of bananas around. The object of the game is to teach early physics and science, while making it seem like fun. Must’ve worked, too—my older sister still really loves it.

The kinds of puzzles you encounter

I think the last time I played it was sometime in the late-90’s, but I was able to find a copy on Abandonedware.com, a website that allows you to download games from companies that have gone under. So, I set out on an adventure that took me back to my childhood.

And, well, short of it is… it hadn’t aged well to me. I think part of the problem were the three years I was a physics major in college. Once you’ve transcended the makeup of these puzzles, they just seem like busywork. Maybe if I was after some learning of useful knowledge and skills. The races and design and gameplay itself was fun—at first, but quickly became just as monotonous as the rest.

Just doesn’t hold up for me. But if you have kids, and/or a desire to learn early physics AND have a DOS emulator… totally worth it. Plus, it’s free~

Book Review: Paradox Bound – by Peter Clines

Standalone

Scifi, Time Travel

Crown; September 26, 2017

373 pages

3 / 5 ✪

BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS (though only in the case of “history travel”)

Time travel can often be a bit confusing. Depending on what you’re going for, what the concept is, and how many different paradoxes are involved (not to mention what they are)—time travel in books can often be impossible to explain. Luckily, Paradox Bound is about traveling through history, so… yeah, this isn’t going to make a ton of sense.

Eli Teague was eight and a half the first time he met Harry Pritchard. So begins one of the more consternating standalone novels I’ve ever read. But we’ll get to that. The first time, Eli finds Harry by the side of the road in his hometown of Sanders, Maine—a fictional bit of nowhere in nowhere Maine. A town where nothing changes and nothing ever happens. By eight, Eli is convinced that Sanders is the most boring town in the world. And then he meets Harry.

1929 Ford Model A Business Coupe—turns out I was waaaay off.

The car is a dark blue Ford 1929 Model A; a classic on the outside, a futuristic—with more lights and switches than a—rocketship on the inside (I’m not much of a car guy, but I figure this is worth mentioning, plus, I kept wondering the whole book what it looked like). Harry is dressed in a Revolutionary period outfit, with a matching overcoat and tricorne. Immediately making her the most interesting thing to happen to Eli, ever. Soon after, Harry leaves town, chased by a man in a black suit driving a black Hornet, never to return.

Well, never-ish.

This scene repeats itself several times, with Harry remaining the same age and Eli aging steadily. Bringing us to the present day.

Eli always figured Harry wasn’t from this time, but the truth is a bit more complicated. It turns out that Harry is an treasure hunter, traveling through history in pursuit of an elusive American treasure—the American Dream. Which is… pretty much what it sounds like. A dream. To accomplish more, to do more, to make life greater than it was. How one would find and possess this, however… a bit more complicated. Which involves an Egyptian god and the Freemasons. And then, the history travel part—also complex. But Eli will soon discover this, and more, when he digs in a little too deep and warns Harry about the men on her tail.

The faceless men. Yeah, literally faceless. No faces.

Thus begins their timeless (ha) adventure to find the greatest treasure in American history, and use it to accomplish their wildest dreams (again, ha). It’s an entertaining ride and a fun, interesting adventure—diverted by the fact that it makes absolutely no damn sense.

Upon asking Harry about it for the first time, Eli receives an answer approximating this. There are stories upon stories, but they’re all third- or fourth-hand, with absolutely zero proof to back the whole thing up. I mean, there is the whole time travel—I mean, history travel thing, that clearly works, but the Dream may not and even should not ever exist. I hate to admit this, but the story is actually pretty catchy. In spite of the fact that (or maybe because of) it doesn’t make any sense—it’s new and interesting. History travel is interesting.

In 2017, I read Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, a time traveling thriller which seemed to commit every time paradox cliché there is. Paradox Bound really does none of them. I think that’s the reason I liked it so much (despite it being reaaaally confusing and nonsensical). It’s certainly new, and definitely inventive. Nothing else quite like it that I can think of.

History travel pertains to the ability to traverse history—in this case American—through the years 1764-2050, through the use of time skips, that are only navigable in a vehicle of some sort. You can only go so far up through history (2050, in this case), since… well, it’s unclear. Maybe the idea of America falls through. Maybe there’s an apocalyptic event. Maybe something else. 1764 because that’s where the idea of America began. Any time before, there would’ve been no American history to travel. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t any history before, but that’s different. Apparently. In ways never explained. But it seems one can only traverse history through use of the Dream, so it can only be American. Until (SPOILER) Clines forgets this, and tips that one can actual travel other countries’ histories. Somehow.

The characters of the book are what make Paradox Bound so readable. Eli and Harry (among others) are both relatable, underdog, and human enough that I enjoyed their entire story, but no more so than when they appear together, as their dynamic is excellent. Eli goes through an odd character arc from being a somewhat slow lead, to an inventive and sometimes brilliant one, in the span of a few weeks. It’s… inconsistent? Just a bit. The faceless men… I’m not getting into, as they’re are just ridiculous.

Paradox Bound is an ambitious project with an unprecedented concept that really pushes the envelope. It’s characters, adventure and locations are what make it a truly great read. However, this excellence is let down through poor character development, an essentially nonsensical explanation of so many things, and villains that are Mystery-Science-Theater-bad. If you’re a fan of Clines or a good, fun, casual tale, dive in. If you like a little bit more science in your science fiction, maybe skip it. If you’ve never read Clines, maybe try The Fold first. Either way, I can’t recommend against Paradox Bound, despite how much it aggravated me at times. It’s okay, but pretty much just that.

Book Review: Magefall – by Stephen Aryan

The Age of Darkness #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Orbit Books; September 4, 2018

438 pages

4.8 / 5 ✪

I actually received a free copy of Magefall a little while after it was published, and am kinda embarrassed to admit that I put it off for so long. Not because of the wait. I read what I like, and sadly it kept getting pushed back. But mostly… mostly because it was really good. I’m a big fan of Stephen Aryan’s books, and this one was no exception.

I really shouldn’t have to say it, but my opinions are my own, and I don’t change them for anyone, even nice people that send me free books. Don’t let that stop you, though.

All books are better when signed. It’s just a fact.

Mageborn saw the fall of the Red Tower. Mages and talents alike became reviled, hated for the magic they were born with. Children showing the spark were no longer delivered so that they might be trained but drowned in rivers or smothered in their sleep. The former high mage’s council has fractured into three; each now traveling their own path. Balfruss—arguably the most powerful mage alive—accompanied by Eloise, he leads his group into the east, and to safety. They are welcomed by the desert kingdoms, but once there, it is difficult to return. Garvey leads the faction of students that refuses to bow, nor to run. They rove between the borderlands of Zecorria and Yerskania, murdering and razing towns that will not allow them succor. They become feared, hated, in equal measure. Wren leads a small group out into the wilds of Shael, where they set up camp and try to learn, grow, survive. They are safe, for now. In Yerskania, Monroe searches in vain for her family, an anger unlike anything the world has seen building within her. In Perizzi, Tammy suffers under the mantle of leadership, trying to guide the Guardians through a web of lies and betrayal, while their country crumbles from within. In Zecorria, the Regent attempts to create his own cabal of mages, but for the safety of it or power it brings only he can say. On another plane, gods and immortals play quite a different game, each with their own pieces and rules. Akosh, one such being, plays a dangerous game. But if she can maneuver it correctly, there waits a sea of certainty and power in an uncertain world. But as always, Vargus lurks nearby, waiting for any that dare cheat. A storm looms, and none know where the wind shall take it.

Magefall continues the Age of Dread trilogy (which follows the Age of Darkness trilogy, and will likely precede the Age of Sunshine and Adorable Bunnies trilogy), which began with Mageborn, and in which Stephen Aryan firmly establishes himself as one of the masters of dark fantasy. The quality of the world continues from the pinnacle it reached in Chaosmage and while most of the POV feature returning characters, there are a few new faces as well. The story is solid and yet toes the line between simply advancing the overarching plot and going off on its own course. It’s… it does advance the Age of Dread plot. But there exist slight distractions between this and the characters’ own individual stories, some of which are more self-contained than threads in a greater story.

The overarching plot isn’t terribly intricate, with the events of Aryan’s debut Battlemage as the main focus. The war that turned people firmly against magic. While the Age of Darkness has ended, and the darkness pushed back, the commonfolk it seems are not eager to return to such a time. And there you have it. Short and sweet. I mean, it’s not terribly inventive, and one could say that Aryan is certainly getting his money’s worth out of his first novel. But it works. And it’s entertaining. So, I don’t really have a problem with it.

I really loved this book. The characters, the depth, the world-building, the plot (even though I found it a bit simple), the writing were all truly amazing. Almost up to Chaosmage levels. I’ve really enjoyed the journey so far, and Magefall did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

The most inconsistency Magefall shows is in its characters. Though not their motivations, nor arcs. It’s mostly the POVCs (Point Of View Chapters) in the text. Munroe had increasingly dark POVCs throughout, which—though holding to her deepening thirst for vengeance—made her chapters do little more for me than to move the story along. Akosh was difficult to relate to as all gods are, but particularly the kind of god that you’ve seen in POVCs since Battlemage and are still trying to figure out how they work exactly. But minor players in Book 1; Tianne, Danoph and Garvey stepped into the spotlight. Honestly, two even featured twists I never saw coming. One was so surprising that I keep going back and rereading it. For the most part, the POVs of Magefall I found grossly entertaining, even the few I had trouble relating to. The one-hit wonders provided a bit of struggle, as they do anywhere really. Still, you’re going to encounter that in 99% of novels, and this was by no means flagrant, or a deal-breaker. It may’ve helped hold the book back from a full 5 star rating, but did little else. Magefall is still damn good. And if you haven’t yet read any of Aryan’s books, it’s past time to start.

Pleasantly but not devilishly dark, Magefall features both deep and relatively green characters, both of which help drive its excellent story. While a few, minor inconsistencies and the occasional dropped POV held it back from being something truly special, Magefall is nevertheless one of my favorite Aryan books, and so far the best book I’ve read this year. Can’t wait for Magebane. It drops in June, giving everyone just enough time to catch up on the series if they haven’t already done so.

But.

Literally. Cannot. Wait.