Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme pioneered by The Broke and the Bookish, but which now makes its home at That Artsy Reader Girl. I’m… not much of a meme kinda guy, and I can’t say this is one that I’m likely to continue with, but I did enjoy this week’s theme which features your favorite books published by each year over the last decade. I’m sure some or most of you’ll have seen one of these by now (and will be expecting quite a number of Sanderson books).
The Way of Kings – by Brandon Sanderson
I mean, seriously. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and, considering it’s 1000+ pages, more impressive that I’ve read it 3-4 times. The world of Roshar didn’t rekindle my love of fantasy or anything, but it certainly expanded it.
Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline / Leviathan Wakes – by James S. A. Corey
There were actually a couple years that could’ve commanded a pair of books. This one, I honestly couldn’t decide. I loved both of these to the extent I’ve read them multiple times and still kinda want to reread them now.
Blood Song – by Anthony Ryan
Prior to 2012, my favorite book hands down was Eye of the World. Blood Song made this too close a race to call. While the WoT intro got me back into reading, Vaelin Al Sorna’s adventure (the first part, anyway) is just too good and too exciting. I’ve read Blood Song maybe 4-5 times by now, and am skimming through it this year as well!
Three – by Jay Posey
Ain’t seen this one mentioned yet, but the cyberpunk renegade Three totally makes the aptly named “Three” a must-read. Love the cover, too.
Valor – by John Gwynne
A hard choice in 2014 between two heavyweights, but I gave Pierce Brown the nod in 2016, so Gwynne gets it here. Book #2 of the Faithful and the Fallen is like The Empire Strikes back meets The Two Towers. Besides, I loved the rest of the series and was bummed I couldn’t favor any of the rest of them.
Twelve Kings in Sharakai – by Bradley P. Beaulieu
While none of the other Shattered Sands books have lived up to my lofty standards, it’s no wonder when Twelve Kings came out and killed it. Another one of my all-time favs, it stands as a hands-down winner in 2015.
Morning Star – by Pierce Brown
I was actually leaning towards Wrath until I remembered the Son of Mars ended in 2016. I loved Red Rising, but the series’ conclusion was my favorite book of Darrow’s journey, and so it easily gets the nod here.
Oathbringer – by Brandon Sanderson
Yeah, whatever. I probably could’ve let Sanderson have more here, but what kind of list would it be then? No variation, no competition. Had to include Oathbringer, though. It brokered no competition.
Record of a Spaceborn Few – by Becky Chambers
This was actually one of the more difficult years, because… well, um. I had a little trouble remembering what I read. And since I don’t usually read a ton of new books, I then had to remember what came out. The final Wayfarers book delivered an emotional ending to an amazing trilogy.
2019 (so far)
Walking to Aldebaran – by Adrian Tchaikovasky
What to say about this little novella? Well, it’s pretty great. If you need more, check out my review of it.
David B. Coe is the author of more than 20 novels, half of them under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson. His latest series, the Islevale Cycle, began with the release of Time’s Children (which I really enjoyed) last fall. The subsequent volume—Time’s Demon—comes out this Tuesday. If you want, you can find my thoughts on it here. Somehow, I was lucky enough to play host as he agreed to answer a few questions regarding life, liberty, and the release of Time’s Demon.
Also, some other stuff.
First off, congratulations on the release of Time’s Demon! This is the second Islevale and your 23nd work published to date. As such, mostly I wanted to focus on your upcoming release, but first—what does it feel like to know you’ve published so many works?
Thank you for the good wishes, Will. And yes, it’s actually quite satisfying to look at the shelf in my office and see that line of published novels. This is a tough business, and there are moments when I focus on the things I haven’t accomplished that I want to—I would love to get to the top of the NY Times Bestseller list; and I would love to win a World Fantasy Award. But the fact is, I’ve survived in publishing for more than 20 years, and I keep on selling books, and that’s really gratifying. I recently figured out that over the course of my career, I have published nearly 3.4 million words. So, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing…
When you started writing Time’s Demon, did you expect it to go in the direction it ultimately did? Or did you have it pretty much mapped out from the start?
Time’s Demon, of course, is the second novel in my Islevale Cycle, so in a way I suppose you could say that my work on this second book began back a couple of years ago when I first started trying to conceptualize the entire series. All three of these books (Time’s Children, came out in October; I’m just finishing work on Time’s Assassin (Book 3)) have proven stubbornly difficult to plot and write. I usually like to outline my books, especially with epic fantasy novels, which tend to be sprawling stories with lots of plot threads and characters, and doubly so with time travel, which can be so complicated and mind-exploding. And for some reason, these books would not submit to outlining. I still don’t know why.
I began work on actually writing Time’s Demon in early 2018. But then I needed to do an extensive edit on my first draft on Time’s Children, and the changes I made to that novel forced me to rethink Demon as well. I returned to writing it in the spring of 2018 and finished it late in the year.
So certain things about the book had to change, but I always had in mind this approach to the structure—a continuation of Tobias and Mara’s story, but a deep focus on the other two main storylines: 1) Droë’s transformation; and 2) Orzili and Lenna’s backstory.
Who was your favorite character in the series to write?
I really do love all of my characters. That sounds like something all authors say, but there is truth to it. We create these “people.” They are the offspring of our imaginations and our emotional connection to them is deep. I will admit, though, that I am particularly fond of the time demon, Droë. She is capricious and predatory by nature, but also innocent and unsure of herself in certain ways. And her quest to understand the nature of love is one that I think speaks to all of us. Finally, just the fact that she is not human, that she experiences the world from an entirely different perspective, makes her fascinating to me, and I hope to my readers as well.
All authors struggle sometimes when writing. From anxiety, depression, or simply connecting with their characters, so many factors go in to being an effective writer. I know in the past you’ve chronicled about some of the challenges you’ve overcome while working on a piece. Did you have any of the same issues while working on this story?
That struggle with outlining the book that I mentioned before was truly difficult. I know it sounds like a small thing. So I had to write the books without planning them out. So what, right? Except that we’re talking about the creative process. I’ll refer you back to how we began this conversation: I’ve written 20-plus novels, and I’ve always outlined them. Some with more detail than others, to be sure—each project brings its own exigencies of process. But to confront these huge, ambitious, complicated books without a concrete sense of how I intended to take them from point A to point B to point C, etc. That was disorienting, to say the least. I spent months trying to work out the outline for book I, until finally my wife suggested that I stop banging my head against a wall and just start writing. That turned out to be good advice. And yet, it made the books a tremendous struggle. My first drafts of all three books were much rougher than my first drafts usually are. With the rewrites of the first book, I literally cut 45,000 words and then added in 60,000.
Now, the books have turned out great. The first book is the best reviewed book I’ve ever written, and I believe the second book is even better than the first. But it really was a fight every step of the way.
Anything time related gives me a headache. Pretty much from when my alarm goes off in the morning onwards. How did you manage to keep the events in order while writing a time-based fantasy? Were there any specific challenges?
Yes, writing time travel will give an author fits. Part of it is the complexity of following multiple time lines, and that I found challenging but fun. It’s not all that different from writing multiple plot threads in different parts of an imagined world, which I have done before with other epic fantasy series. The harder parts of time travel books involve the anachronisms, the implications of playing with timelines, and the fact that if characters can move through time they can render pretty much any plot point irrelevant. They get an endless supply of do-overs. And so the biggest challenge for me was coming up with a time travel “system” that made time travel rare, that limited how often my characters could go back and mess with my plot points. I did that by exacting a heavy cost for my time travel. Time travelers are rare and the “between” through which they pass to go back in time is harrowing and harsh. More to the point, though, for every day my time Walkers go back, they age that amount. If they go back a year, they arrive a year older. And when they return to their rightful time, they age another year. So, they can’t time travel too much without spending chunks of their lives. That keeps the complications and do-overs to a minimum.
What can we expect from the series looking forward?
Well, the initial draft of the third and final book in the series, Time’s Assassin, is written, and I obviously don’t want to give away a lot. But I can tell you that all the plot threads are tied off in the end. All the answers you’re after as a reader—What happens to Tobias and Mara and Sofya? What will Droë do with herself after her transformation? What will Orzili and Lenna do to ensure that Sofya never comes to power?—all of those questions will be answered. There are moments that will be difficult for my readers—really difficult. And there will be others that will make them cheer. In the end, though, I expect that fans of the series will be satisfied by the conclusion.
This is the sixth book I’ve read by you under the name of D. B. Jackson (to go with another four under David B. Coe). May I ask, why did you decide to use this pseudonym for this series?
So the D.B. Jackson pseudonym originated with my Thieftaker Chronicles, which I wrote for Tor beginning in 2012. I had just finished my third epic fantasy series for Tor, which together accounted for eleven novels, and I was making the switch to historical urban fantasy with Thieftaker. The folks at Tor were concerned about my branding. They felt that people knew me as a writer of epic fantasy and would expect that same thing with the new series if they saw my name on the cover. So they had me write the books under a different name. I was fine with that. Now since Thieftaker, I’ve written two series: The Case Files of Justis Fearsson for Baen, as David B. Coe, and the Islevale books for Angry Robot as D.B. Jackson. Baen asked me to write the Fearsson books under my own name, because they felt that their fan base, in the part of the U.S. where I live, would know me by that name and would be more inclined to find the books. Angry Robot chose to have me write the Islevale series as D.B. Jackson, because they saw that the critical response to the Thieftaker books was good, and they wanted that reputation behind the new series.
Frankly, I don’t care too much one way or another. I have fans under both names (and most people know that both names are me, although every now and then I come across someone who has NO idea) and I have a good reputation critically under both names. The bottom line is this: I get to write stories for a living, which is the best thing in the world. The rest is unimportant.
Last question: I’ve got to ask. I really have to. I’m a big fan of your Thieftaker and Justis Fearsson series; is there a chance we’ll be seeing anymore of those, or are they shelved for the foreseeable future?
Well, there is a Thieftaker short story collection—Tales of the Thieftaker—that came out from a small press a couple of years ago. And I’ve had another Thieftaker short story come out since then. So Thieftaker is certainly still ongoing. I haven’t done a novel in a while, but I fully intend to return to that world. And I plan to write more Fearsson, too. I love the Fearsson books. In many ways, they are more dear to me than anything else I’ve written. So I would expect that I will go back to both in time. I may have to self-publish them or go with small presses, but I’ll do more.
Thank you so much for your time! I know you’re probably really busy with the release date for Time’s Demon so near at hand and I really appreciate any time you were able to spare.
My pleasure! Thanks so much for the questions and for hosting me on your site!
A few quick things before we wrap this up. First off, a big thanks to Angry Robot for help in setting this in motion! If you haven’t heard of them—well first off you should feel very foolish. While not the biggest or most popular publisher out there, they rep good stuff. I’m a big fan of the Islevale Cycle, but The Legend of the Duskwalker (specifically Three) by Jay Posey is probably my favorite series they’ve released. Anyway, you can check them out on twitter or their website if you’re in the need for something to read.
David B. Coe is the author of 23 published works (22 novels, plus the Tales from Thieftaker novella omnibus). These include the LonTobyn trilogy (which won a Crawford), the Winds of the Forelands pentalogy, Blood of the Southlands trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, the novelization of Scott’s Robin Hood (the one with Russell Crowe), and Knightfall: Infinite Deep (a tie-in with the Knightfall series on History Channel).
David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
Ravencry is the sophomore effort of British author Ed McDonald, sequel to 2017’s Blackwing, as well as the second novel in the Raven’s Mark trilogy. I came into it fresh off reading the first, and hearing a lot of high praise about its improvements. Since I loved Blackwing, I was definitely excited. And yet, I myself wouldn’t say that Ravencry does too much different, or better, than its predecessor. Certainly it seems more hammered and polished; the language used, the loose ends tied up, the writing style itself all account to the author’s ability to write. Indeed, he’s done this before. But when we come upon the story, the character development, the mystery and plot—none seem any better than the original. To me, at least.
Four years have passed. Ryhalt Galharrow has changed little. Protagonist of Blackwing, the Blackwing captain still mourns the loss of Ezabeth Tanza, his would-be paramour. Since then, he has come up in the world, albeit grudgingly. He still consorts with all ill-mannered types, regularly visits the same bars and haunts, drinks enough to give an elephant kidney failure, routinely slogs through muck, sewage and mud. He owns a mansion, but never uses it. Instead, Galharrow sleeps in his office; perpetually at work.
Neither does he venture into the Misery. Following the loss of Tnota’s arm, the navigator’s will to navigate seems to have evaporated. After the successful defense of Valengrad, Nenn was made a general (though she has come down from there—punching her superiors seems to be to blame), and so lives the high life in the city. Without his crew, without the need, Galharrow appears to content to remain in Valengrad, wallowing in his own personal misery.
The trouble starts when Galharrow kills a dead man. Re-kills, I guess.
Shortly after, a message from Crowfoot kicks Galharrow into action. Shavada’s Eye—the only piece remaining of the former Deep King save his heart—has been stolen from Crowfoot’s vault. And it falls to Galharrow to find and recover it.
There are new characters: a love interest for Ryhalt that never quite feels legit; a page that somehow replaces the children he lost; an acquaintance from long ago; and a special guest appearance by… Ezabeth Tanza?
What follows is an intriguing tale, albeit one without the same latent mystery found in Blackwing. But more adventure, more lore, more interaction with the Deep Kings, the Misery and the Woman in the Light—believed to be Tanza, come back to save the people of Valengrad. Everything bears an undertone of something more, someone else; Saravor—the cutter Galharrow took Nenn to in the first book—and his quest for power. But after the first hundred or so pages we know all this, or at least pieces of it. And it’s way too easy to connect these pieces. The mystery isn’t as deep, as entertaining, as interesting as it was before.
The Misery adds an intriguing twist partway through, as we catch a glimpse of it far greater than any we’d had before. But this feels like more of an addendum than a plot-point. Maybe it’s setting up something for Crowfall, but in this story it acts more as a distraction (albeit an entertaining one).
The one part of Ravencry (two if you count the Misery tangent) that I preferred to Blackwing was Galharrow’s character progression. His growth, development, his humanity. And Galharrow shows quite a bit of humanity in this entry, much more than before. Then, he felt like a man of flesh, blood, sorcery and steel, whereas now it has been reduced to flesh and blood with more than a little liquor thrown in. I found Ryhalt more relatable this time around, somehow more real.
Despite the fact that I’ve been negatively comparing it to Blackwing, Ravencry is quite a good read. It fills in more of the world than the reader had been privy to before, including the Drudge, the Kings, and the Misery itself. Much of it’s lore, but some seems actually relevant to the plot. While the new potential love interest never materializes into anything approaching Ezabeth, it was Galharrow’s obsession with her (Tanza) and the love they had lost, that dominates the story. It makes him seem like so much more, and less, than he’d be without her. And without that hope, that obsession, perhaps his entire life would fall apart. But you’ll have to read it to see.
I can only wonder what the future will bring. Will it be better, or worse? Will the trilogy conclude on a happy note, a sad one, or will it be both of them and yet neither? Only way to know is to read it. Crowfall—the final book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy—comes out July 2 in the US and June 13 in the UK.
Gollancz; February 1, 2008 (UK) Del Rey; May 4, 2009 (US)
Now, I’ve actually read The Red Wolf Conspiracy, but it was so long ago that I don’t really remember it. Yeah, there were some extenuating circumstances: I was in my last year of college, fighting through The Wheel of Time while simultaneously devouring the likes of Lynch, Abercrombie and Butcher. I remember picking it up somewhere in between something and something else. Wasn’t really memorable. There was a bit about a boat, some little people, a tar boy, a princess and some conspiracy bits. But a while later when I picked up the 2nd Chathrand (The Ruling Sea) (or The Rats and the Ruling Sea in the UK), I got 70-80 pages in before calling it quits. From what I remember it wasn’t bad, just… I had no idea what was going on.
Anyway, here’s the blurb:
Six hundred years old, the Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand is a massive floating outpost of the Empire of Arqual. And it is on its most vital mission yet: to deliver a young woman whose marriage will seal the peace between Arqual and its mortal enemy, the Mzithrin Empire. But Thasha, the young noblewoman in question, may be bringing her swords to the altar.
For the ship’s true mission is not peace but war—a war that threatens to rekindle an ancient power long thought lost. As the Chathrand navigates treacherous waters, Thasha must seek unlikely allies—including a magic-cursed deckhand, a stowaway tribe of foot-high warriors, and a singularly heroic rat—and enter a treacherous web of intrigue to uncover the secret of the legendary Red Wolf.
The Chathrand is the last of her kind. Now, having survived countless battles and centuries of typhoons, it has gone missing. This is her story.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy begins the four-book Chathrand Voyage, which saw its completion maybe eight years back. Since, Robert V. S. Redick has released Master Assassins, first book of a new series, but I know little about it.
I recently picked up the Ruling Sea used, hoping that the actually physical-ness of it would help me gain the motivation to go back and read the Red Wolf. So far… no luck. The last Untraveled thing I posted did actually help me read the book (or, well, I’m reading it now), so I figured it was worth a shot. No if only someone will follow up on this to make sure I get around to reading it…
That said, has anyone out there read through the series? What did you think?
The Grand Dark is a roaring-20’s dark, film noir set in a fictional world with robots, chimeras and more drugs than an entire nation must know what to do with. This vibrant, dark world brings us to the banks of Lower Proszawa, a city at the end of the world. Its populace now revel, having survived the Great War which stole away their sister city, High Proszawa, formerly set across the bay. Though the city can be incredibly vivid and detailed, the lore surrounding it is anything but. The lead POV, Largo, though possessed of visions for his future, is happy now just living for tomorrow. His lover, Remy, stars at the Grand Darkness Theatre itself, and shortly into the tale, Largo lands himself a new gig, complete with higher pay and all the advantages it brings him. Unfortunately, he is soon confronted with a mystery the likes of which he doesn’t even seem to pick up on for over half the book.
The Grand Dark is a perfect example of a good idea let down by its own lofty expectations. Its blurb describes the book as “a subversive tale that immerses us in a world where the extremes of bleakness and beauty exist together in dangerous harmony in a city on the edge of civility and chaos”. Indeed, it is the world itself that makes The Grand Dark a triumph, if for but a moment. Kadrey does well to paint an alluring picture of a nation ravaged by war, on the brink of chaos, its hedonistic populace living for the day rather than saving for the ‘morrow. Except for a few key details.
Despite the mention of the Great War haunting near each and every page in the book, we really never find out anything about it. High Proszawa was reduced to rubble; the Lower city survived; veterans of the war—known as ‘Iron Dandies’—skulk about, their mutilated faces hidden beneath iron masks; and… that’s about it. The enemy is just referred to as “the enemy”, if at all. The cause of the war is never mentioned, or questioned.
In the prompt, and indeed later on in the text, it states the city is on the brink of chaos. Except it doesn’t really feel as though it is. Largo sure as hell never notices it. Or, at least, never points it out. Until one day it pops up and he doesn’t question it. Sure, there is dissenting literature, and a police force attempting to clamp down on it. But Largo isn’t really a political sort, so he pays it no mind. And when the chaos begins, it was as if he knew it would happen eventually.
The hedonism is definitely shown. For roughly 70% of the book, if you’d have told me this was a story of a guy who would alternating riding around on a bike with having sex, only to fill the other 90% in with drugs and booze, I wouldn’t’ve questioned it. Thing is, while there was a bit of mystery lurking around, to that two-thirds mark, no clear plot had emerged.
I have to give the drugs their own mention. From what I’ve read in a number of other reviews, I was not alone in feeling put off by the sheer amount of narcotic paraphernalia. But Largo is obviously an addict, and addicts often do devote an awful lot of time to whatever they’re addicted to. The thing is, for the amount of time Kadrey dwelt on this, I left the book feeling like he didn’t actually know what he was talking about. Later in the story, Largo gives up morphia—it’s not really a plot point, so I don’t feel bad spoiling it. He’s pretty much hopelessly addicted by this point, having been on it pretty much since the war ended. He kicks it, cold-turkey and in a couple days, is feeling no adverse side-effects. I mean… none. It doesn’t seem like the author understands how addiction and withdrawal work. Which is impressive from the sheer amount of cocaine, morphia, hashish and whatnot that is present in the text.
One thing Richard Kadrey has always done well is his dialogue. The Sandman Slim books championed the foul, sarcastic asshole that was James Stark. At first, Largo is a sweet talking, playful scamp, and the entire world around him bends to his will. Despite having so many issues, The Grand Dark benefits from generally interesting conversations—even if the mostly revolve around hallucinogens. Towards the end, this all changes. No spoilers; it just devolves to a quick, dirty way to relay information. It seems that, after the three-quarters mark, the author was just as impatient to get it over with as I was.
Even the positive points I listed for the novel soon fell through. While initially I was entertained by the detailed city, the snippets of lore introduced between chapters, and Largo himself—the appeal of these quickly faded. The further I got in, the more cramped the world felt; nothing outside Lower (and High) Proszawa is even mentioned. The flashes of randomness between chapters became just that—introducing nothing new, just more sex, drugs and more drugs. As for Largo himself… he’s not right for this tale. It just doesn’t work well as told through him. He’s too naïve, too slow on the uptake; it’s almost as if he’s fighting the story that tries to take hold of him.
The bottomline: The Grand Dark is a highly ambitious project—one that just didn’t work out. The author spends overly long developing a story that seems amateurish when it finally comes together. The abundance of narcotics (half the damn book was a constant cocktail of morphia and cocaine), detracted from rather than added to the story. Little to no character development, a city surrounded by fog, references to things that are never revealed, a story that couldn’t wait to finish—are all reasons to skip this book. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but far, faaar from the best.
Lost Gods is the debut fantasy for Brit fantasy author Micah Yongo. It features a setting and world-building reminiscent of feudal Africa, centering around five young warriors of the Shedaím—a brotherhood of assassins that help control the nearby tribes and kingdoms through, well, killing. In particular, the brunt of the story follows Neythan, one of the initiates who is raised in the early stages of Lost Gods and given his first assignment. All five are raised, in fact, and prepare to depart Ilysia.
Twins Josef and Daneel are the first to depart, as their assignments lie farther distant. The other three—Neythan, Yannick, Arianna—follow soon after for Dumea, where Neythan is to kill the chief scribe’s wife. A day from the village, however, Neythan’s priorities change.
He awakens to find himself covered in blood. The bed and room in which he slept are a mess and in a chair nearby lies Yannick, his best friend, his throat roughly cut. Arianna is nowhere to be seen. Men break into the room, and upon seeing the body, finger him for the crime. Neythan eludes them, escaping the room and seeking out Arianna, whom he believes is the true killer.
His search for Arianna leads him out of the town to a river, and to a Watcher, a mythical being of great power and sight. It also leads him to Caleb, an unlikely companion. But Arianna eludes him. Neythan’s chase will take him across the five realms, where he has adventures, does favors for favors, and attempts to seek out the heart of the mystery.
In addition to Neythan, there are three other POVs—Yasmin, wife of a local governor; Daneel, another young assassin of the Shedaím, whom, along with his brother is tasked with killing Yasmin’s husband, Hassan; and Sidon, the young king of Hanezda.
I found Lost Gods very cliché. The noble assassin. Being framed for a murder he didn’t commit. It certainly wasn’t anything I’d call new or groundbreaking. Combined with characters that lacked depth, a story that doesn’t live up to its ambitions, and a mystery that was often not explained well. There were several times that I kept reading but was in the dark about what exactly was going on, and rereading didn’t seem to do any good. I will say that the world’s description was lush and unique, though its characters lacked the same definition. So many of them just seemed to be there to inhabit the space, while the POV characters moved around them.
Another main issue I had with this was its pacing. So often Neythan is described as being impatient or upset that he needs to find Arianna, only to look off at something completely random and then spend the next couple pages describing it. Or entertaining a flashback that isn’t terribly relevant. Or going drinking. The other POVCs are even worse. The plot is one that seems to demand urgency, and yet the characters ignore it. It’s like a chase scene with no running, no panic. Instead like an intense chase-stroll in the park, without any intensity. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The mystery made Lost Gods readable. While not great, there were a couple twists that I didn’t see coming. Although, as I mentioned before, the mystery itself was often not explained well, paving the way for many things I couldn’t’ve seen coming. The POV characters (well, the young Shedaím, at least) were interesting and deep. A few even underwent character growth and development. But not all—not enough, even.
All in all, Lost Gods was an underwhelming debut. A story that tried to little, and mostly failed when it did try. Bland, uninteresting characters detracted from a lush and ofttimes vibrant world. I’d read another, but don’t think I’d pay much for it.
The Lost Gods saga will continue with Pale Kings. It comes out August 13, 2019.
One Word Kill follows fifteen year-old Nick Hayes through his weekly chemotherapy, D&D sessions, and a slow but insistent descent into madness. You see, it begins with the diagnosis of cancer, but takes off when Nick notices a strange yet familiar man following him. This man, Demus, claims he’s in a race against time to save Mia—Nick’s friend (in the way that teenage girls are considered friends to nerdy, quiet teenage boys; so, maybe somewhat)—and needs Nick’s help. Nick agrees but only after an important piece of info. See, Demus claims to hail from the future, a future in which Nick lives, something that’s of a great concern to a boy diagnosed with a mostly terminal disease. Now, Lawrence may not describe this as Nick’s intro to a less than sane version of himself, but honestly that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Next thing it’ll go all Pincher Martin and dude’ll wake up to find that he died at the beginning.
Anywho~ so begins Impossible Times.
So, going in to this I didn’t remember a whole lot of the premise. I knew it was by Mark Lawrence (whom I’m familiar with), about time travel, and set somewhere in the 80’s. That’s about it. And I started reading.
The resultant was actually pretty good.
While I was initially disappointed that the chemo didn’t make Nick develop time-bending superpowers (Spoilers!: he doesn’t), and he didn’t use said powers to travel time fighting crime and teaching various generations of women to looove—I got over it. The actual story is… what? More realistic, I guess. I mean, it’s the 80’s. In London. Back to the Future has just come out. D&D’s a thing. And there’s time travel, apparently.
The story’s pretty solid. I mean, it’s… complete. But kind of a bare bones complete. A straightforward plot that doesn’t take the time at the outset to cover all its bases. So, it’s your classic back-in-time to save-the-future time travel adventure, but with some interesting twists at the end. There’re also more than a few details we’re left hanging on. Maybe the author’s holding these for Book II, but it seems more likely an err on his part.
The D&D sessions help set the tone of One Word Kill. The title, for instance. It’s based on some D&D thing. If you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, well, the book will help with that. Maybe watch some Critical Role to top it off. Nick and his friends Simon, Elton, John and Mia find that their adventures through the fantastical world of imagination and twenty-sided dice often parallels their real world dilemmas. Many sessions even provide insight into how to approach their physical lives. As D&D often does, I’m told.
There’s a fair amount of math and physics talk, which Lawrence gets through in generally broad terms (this being a book that he’d like people to read for like, fun) and gets mostly right. If you don’t like science or math or find it confusing—it’s cool. Just skip it. Mostly it all comes down to Nick trying to justify time travel as an actual thing. Not just science fiction. Despite this, there was never any explanation of how exactly (roughly) time travel worked. I mean, like if there was a machine or wormhole or something. I would’ve expected Nick to harp on this, but he didn’t mention it once. Maybe Lawrence forgot, or couldn’t think of anything.
Nick’s a pretty cool guy. For being a total nerd and teen genius, I mean. His narration skills are pretty good (yes, this is written in 1st PPOV), although he gets distracted by the normal teenage things like girls, alcohol, girls, and video games (did they not have Mountain Dew yet?). Also cancer, but that’s natural (getting distracted by it, I mean).
I’m really trying not to spoil the plot, so forgive me if I’m being a little vague. Or maybe just get the book. I think it’s free for kindle unlimited. Or cheapish otherwise. Besides, it’s a great little adventure, yet fails to provide answers to all the questions it raises. It’s not bad by any means, but hopefully the plot will improve with the sequel. Which I eagerly await.
Limited Wish, Impossible Times II, comes out in just a couple weeks, on May 28, 2019.
• One Word Kill – by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #1)
A little bit of time travel fiction, Mark Lawrence’s first (published) foray into the genre. It’s a shorter read at 200 pages—hope it’s good!
• Flex – by Ferrett Steinmetz (‘Mancer #1)
Been wanting to read this for a while now. Excited to finally have it. My library only has the 3rd ‘Mancer book (go figure), but I was able to pick this up used for under $4. I hope the magic system is as new and innovative as I’ve heard!
• The Cruel Stars – by John Birmingham
An eARC about an enemy that was defeated hundreds of years prior only to come back with a vengeance. Human purists, waging war against the augmented and genetically impure. An interesting premise, but we’ll see how it works out. So far, there’re 6 POVs which is slowing down the plot as it jumps madly around. The story’s pretty good, though.
• The Grand Dark – by Richard Kadrey
Another eARC, by Sandman Slim creator Richard Kadrey. Like a Great War Germany with mechanicals. I’m not sure what I think of this. The premise or the execution. Not far in yet, but there was apparently a great war that’s referenced quite a bit, without actually giving any details. Also, apparently happy, free people do lots of drugs. Huh.
• Exit Strategy – by Martha Wells (Murderbot Diaries #4)
The conclusion to the Murderbot Diaries I just picked up at the library. Haven’t had occasion to start it yet, but hopefully I’ll race through something and can start it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed its tale so far and can’t wait to see where yon Murderbot ends up!
• David Mogo: Godhunter – by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
The title should tell you all you need to know about why I want to read this. That and the cover. I mean how awesome is that cover? I’ve an ARC of it—but with Grand Dark out first, it took priority. African god-punk. An urban fantasy set in Nigeria. I mean, yeah.
What the Future May Hold
• Revelation Space – by Alastair Reynolds
Most anyone who’s a fan of Scifi will have heard of Revelation Space. I’ve had some trouble getting through it, though. Recently, I’ve accrued an audio version which I hope will help.
• Charmcaster – by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #3)
I actually do occasionally buy books (cheap ones, anyway), and I recently picked up both this and Soulbinder. I really liked the first two Spellslinger books and hope the trend continues. I’ve heard worrying things about the series’ future, however, and can’t wait to read them for myself.
• Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro #3)
Metro 2033 was an interesting experience for a book [link]. 2034 ditched the tale of Artyom in favor of a quasi-romance set in the post-apocalyptic metro, but in 2035 he’s back. I’m a big fan of Metro: Last Light Redux, which is supposedly the story that Glukhovsky tells here.
• The Dragon Pearl – by Yoon Ha Lee
A library book I’ve on hold. I’ve always meant to read his Machineries of Empire series, but we don’t have those yet, so… I’ll have to settle. Absolutely no idea what this is about, except that it’s Scifi and YA. Anyone out there a fan?
Every now and then my real life invades my reading life. My refuge from it. Hence the name of the blog and all (I mean, I wanted to name it something else, but that domain was taken. Quite a few of them were, in fact). This’s just a little aside.
I’m a little bogged down with books this month, but that’s not like it’s a bad thing. Every now and then I like to break off and read something waaaay off my radar, though so far the need has not consumed me. Last month, I requested a bunch of books on NetGalley. It’s not like this is anything new; I put in, they reject me, I move on with my life. What makes last month different, however was that I wasn’t rejected. Okay, okay, the first two I put in for turned me down. Quickly, even. But then I got one. And another. And another. By the time I figured out I’d probably put in for a little more than I could handle at once, I already had them.
But, so life goes. It was a rough couple weeks. Lost one friend and a job. I’ve also been busy planting and preparing for the summer. Trying out some apple trees that I had to rush to get in the ground on time. I also contribute content to the occasional outdoor site, but this year it may be more. We’ll see, I guess.
In book news, hopefully I’ll have a review of Lost Gods and Ravencry up soon. Lost Gods was okay, but Ravencry definitely the better of the two. Not sure I liked it as much as the first one, though.
I’ve been after Ex-Heroes for a while. I mean, zombies + superpowers + apocalypse = well, I suppose it’d be a bad thing, but for the reading of it, I’d say it’s all good. Peter Clines debut features all the big names of a world that has succumbed to chaos: Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Zzzap, the Mighty Dragon, Cerberus. Essentially they represent the last, best hope for mankind. The rest comprises gangs, outcasts, and somewhere around 99% Exes (the pretty-much-zombies).
When the infection began it was expected to be mopped up in a week. After months of fighting, however, and the fall of the eastern seaboard, the heroes were left with little in the way of allies. The fall of the government, the army followed, and the last vestiges of civility set up shop in LA—transforming the area of several film studios/locations into “The Mount”, their final stronghold against the hordes.
A year into the apocalypse things are looking bleak. The South Seventeens have stepped up their attempts to take down The Mount. Ammo is running thin. Patrols into the city are bringing back not only essential supplies, but also news of more. Exes acting strangely. Roadblocks and traps. And more worrying, sightings of previous heroes; those that once bitten, succumbed to the Ex plague. Now they are little more than shamblers themselves. Albeit totally badass, superpowered ones. And all the while, it seems the South Seventeens have been consolidating power.
This was a pretty good read.
I mean, it went by quick: only about 300 pages, took me about a week as I was reading two other things at the time. A straightforward plot with little surprises, a little mystery, and mostly packed with fight scenes and dark realism. Not surprisingly St. George (the Mighty Dragon) stood out as the character I enjoyed the most. After him… probably a tie. Between Zzzap or Cerberus. But St. George… yeah, the dude has superpowers, but he’s as human as the rest beneath it all. Though he’s pretty much unkillable, he bears the emotional and psychological scars of survivor’s guilt. Of everything he’s seen go to shit over the years. And still he tries to be better. And maintains that the people around him—even the other heroes—should do the same.
The story features a back-and-forth between past and present, with each glimpse of the past taken through the eyes of one of the heroes. Their origin story, the outbreak of the plague, the fall of civilization, how The Mount came to be—I can’t say they weren’t interesting flashbacks. And yet they leave a lot to be desired. Somewhere between ending to soon and taking to long to begin again. It’s not like some other books (Porcelain Blade) where there’s a flashback every other chapter. They appear now and then, but usually don’t remain for too long. Interesting snippets of lore, yet little more.
I really don’t have anything all that bad to say about Ex-Heroes, except that it was over too quick, and possessive of nothing terribly life-altering. I will say the opposing gang had a very unfortunate name (the SS? Not the best choice). The concept was good, combining the zombie apocalypse with superhero fiction, two tried and true genres. But as a book, it wasn’t anything special, either. A good read with some interesting (although not very developed) characters and a straightforward plot with gentle twists.
Not a super complex story here. I mean, it ain’t winning any awards. But even so, it was a quick, entertaining read. And I’d definitely be interested in seeing where Clines takes the series from here. Hopefully he develops the characters more. Explores the pre-collapsed world. And some more post-fall locations. This book begins a pentalogy—a five-piece series. Ex-Heroes is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Ex-Heroes series continues with Ex-Patriots, released in 2011.
Note: I couldn’t find this at my local library (I live in a nowhere-adjacent locale), but managed to score a copy on the cheap. Think I paid about $4 for it, used. While I’d whole-heartily recommend supporting the author and buying a new copy, if you’re on a budget: Ex-Heroes has been out since 2010. There’re bound to be more than a couple used copies lying about. That you can pick up, for a good price. Or, if you can get to at your library, do! Libraries are great like that.
Both written by Victoria Schwab—who you can find here—both YA Fantasy. One, set in a similar, but not-earth. The other set in a very earthly, if supernatural earth. Admittedly, I don’t get through a whole lot of YA Fantasy, and since both were by Schwab—it just fit.
Now, the styles are definitely different, but I’m not an artist, and I’m not here to debate the merits of each as a piece. I’m just gonna judge them. On their readability. From their covers.
See? Totally reasonable.
Now, I’ve read Victoria Schwab before (both her YA and Adult stuff), so I came in expecting a certain level of darkness in her novels, even the YA. And yet, judging just off the covers, I would’ve expected the darker of the two to be Cassidy Blake. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little creeped out by the Blake covers.
Baily Crawford’s Cassidy Blake covers are by no means her only. You can find some others at her website.
Monsters of Verity
And yet, Monsters of Verity is definitely the darker of the two. Blake gives off a cartoonish, Danny Phantom vibe (if you haven’t seen it… really? I think it’s on Hulu, so go binge), an episodic series starring a teen and her ghost hunting parents. Monsters is… about two teens that hunt the monsters themselves, and certainly involves more blood, death, and darkness.
Far as I can tell, Paul Zakris did both Monsters covers, but couldn’t find any links for him. Maybe try google, or bing?
Personally, I like them both. Neither is a disappointment. I think the first Schwab book I actually read was This Savage Song—and this cover (and her reputation) helped sell it. But, if I had to go with one… Cassidy Blake. City of Ghosts is a cool one, but Tunnel of Bones kills it. As for the story though, Monsters of Verity is a better read. In my opinion.