Brief: The Red Knight – by Miles Cameron

The artwork for the Red Knight, with the Orbit cover on the left, Gollancz on the right

Traitor Son Cycle #1

Dark Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; January 22, 2013 (US) / Gollancz; October 25, 2012 (UK)

648 pages

4 / 5 ✪

With a dark twist and immersive story, historical author Christian Cameron makes his epic fantasy debut. The Red Knight is a true epic; featuring brutal and bloody combat, a picturesque if dark world, and one of the most precisely detailed fantasy worlds out there. Though it occasionally reads more like a dictionary than a novel (especially when expounding equipment and etiquette) when the story is allowed out of the narrow confines of realism it thrives. Though the world itself is basically a mashup of Europe and the New World—complete with cultures and Catholicism—and the magic system is fairly uninspired, the story itself provides more than enough reason to read, while the combat kills it every step of the way.

All in all, the Red Knight on the whole is a must-read, beginning an epic quintet; the Traitor Son Cycle, which compiles roughly 3,000 pages of excitement and imagination. Throughout it all, Cameron never abandons what makes this series truly great—the ideals of hope, despair, and the ability to kill off any character, regardless whether it’s your favorite one.

Book Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back – by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep #2

Fantasy, YA

Wednesday Books; September 3, 2019

303 pages (Paperback)

4 / 5 ✪

Delayed thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books for the ARC!

I won an ARC from a contest I tooootally forgot about until it came in the mail! This did not affect my thoughts on it and all opinions are my own. I also want to mention that although this is set in the same world as Sky in the Deep, it’s not a direct sequel. And as I’ve not yet read Sky in the Deep—you don’t need to read it to pick up the thread of this one.

Tova lives among the Svell, and has for as long as she can remember. But she hails from somewhere else. She bears the tattoos of the Kyrr—the mysterious people from the Headlands—specifically those that mark her as a Truthtongue, one specially born to read and tell the future. Halvard is preparing to become leader of the Nādhir, having been chosen by all the village Tala. And yet with war looming before them, Halvard and Tova are set on a blade’s edge.

Tova has never really had a people of her own—not that she can remember, at least. Meanwhile, Halvard is surrounded by a loving family; some of his blood, but all are now his kin. Both must fight to protect both themselves, and the ones they love most. But for one such as Tova, who can see what fate has in store—there can be no surprises. That is, until there are.

First off, I really enjoyed this one. I don’t read a ton of YA, but I was a little surprised regarding the amount of blood and death here. Yet as I read a lot of Dark Fantasy and such—didn’t bother me.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is written from a pair of perspectives. Tova and Halvard chapters are told in 1st PPOV, interchanging between one and the other. Additionally, there are 3rd PPOV flashbacks, also following our two stars. Young’s writing is very descriptive; smooth and flowing, with only slight slip-ups that fail to detract for any real time. Both POVs are incredible, and I really felt immersed in the characters and the story she wove (I enjoyed Tova’s more than Halvard’s by a slight degree, but I loved them both, so).

But as this is the book’s greatest success, it brings its greatest flaw, too. With the alternating chapters, the alternating perspectives, I soon lost sight of whose story I was reading. To combat this, I started taking breaks between POV chapters, which in turn slowed everything down. Thus, the immersion of still great, but it quickly became frustrating to have to mentally disengage after each chapter. I still finished the Sea Gave Back pretty quickly, something I credit to the writing more than anything.

Other than the combat and blood, the only thing that surprised me was the romance. I’ve heard that the romance in Sky in the Deep between Eelyn and Fiske was one of its strongest elements. The same cannot be said of whatever is between Halvard and Tova. I’m not sure what I’d call it, but “hot and heavy” wouldn’t even be close. “Romance” even seems a stretch. There seems to be something between the two of them, but that’s about it.

The ending (spoiler free) is… a bit open, to say the least. I’m not saying that nothing’s resolved or that there’re holes or loose threads, it’s more… it’s open to interpretation. So much so that even three- or four-plus readers may have radically different interpretations depending on what the story meant to them. If you’re the type of reader where everything has to be cut-and-dry come the close… well, this might not sit well with you.

Book Review: Uncanny Collateral – by Brian McClellan

Valkyrie Collections #1

Urban Fantasy

April 2, 2019

151 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I purchased this directly from Brian McClellan, via his website, during his summer sale. I think it was… sub-$4-something? Anyway, hence the lack of a publisher above.

Uncanny Collateral is a decent yet wildly entertaining urban fantasy set in a completely unbelievable world. I really enjoyed the adventure, and had absolutely no problem reading it—but if McClellan was going for a realistic earth urban fantasy… it was a wide miss.

Alek Fitz is a reaper, a soul collection agent that works for a supernatural company that freelances on behalf of the Lords of Hell. Mostly he collects upon deals made with the Lords—souls sold for wealth, fame or power. Based out of Cleveland, he is in the midst of the supernatural, with all manner of loa, vampires, imps, trolls, and whatnot inhabiting the world around him. Despite being a literal slave to his owner, Ada, he seems to enjoy his job, or at least has come to terms with it.

When Alek is assigned a case from Death, however, it seems the terms have changed.

To find what Death seeks he must rely upon an imprisoned Jinn, a handful of somewhat-friends and tentative allies, but mostly his own intelligence, skill and instinct. And meanwhile, someone’s trying to kill him and steal away his closest friend—something Alek is less than keen on.

As I mentioned before, I had no problem reading this. It was good: entertaining, interesting, action-packed. Also, it wasn’t realistic.

You see a lot in Urban Fantasy, but mostly magical worlds that exist alongside our own—with us non-magical folk none the wiser. To this end, many series have Pacts, secrets, whatever to protect our world from theirs. Uncanny Collateral uses a secret government agency to keep the worlds separate. Except, the secret agency isn’t that… secret? Also, it seems like the author did next to no research into how agencies, police, whatever work. So it’s like, a thing that everyone takes for granted even though it’s loose as heck.

I could go on about it, but sufficient to say: the story is solid, the world-building is not. But so long as you don’t question it too much (it’s only a 150 page story, after all) there’s no problem. Uncanny Collateral is fun and exciting, somewhat interesting, but not deep, nor realistic.

Book Review: The Wolf’s Call – by Anthony Ryan

Raven’s Blade #1

Fantasy, Epic

Ace Books; July 23, 2019

432 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

About two months ago—when I requested the Wolf’s Call from NetGalley—I was cautious, though not terribly excited. While I loved Blood Song like I’ve loved no book since, the Tower Lord and Queen of Fire subsequently killed any passion I had for Anthony Ryan. I hated QoF so much, in fact, that it got DNFed after I skimmed a few more of Vaelin’s chapters around the 50% mark. I had heard that this new book was supposed to be all about Al Sorna in a way unseen since Blood Song, but wasn’t sold.

Upon my request being approved a month ago, the first thing I did was download the book and skim the first few chapters. The first features an account from someone else—like it did in Blood Song—then sticks to Vaelin like glue. By this time I was more cautiously optimistic, if guarded.

I finished the book on Saturday. And it was a total surprise: I loved it. Not as much as Blood Song, as Wolf’s Call is not without its faults, but they are few enough in number that the story itself can make up for them. I really loved this book. It was great. But when I started this review I noticed an unwillingness to recommend it a 100%. It’s not anything to do with the ending (there’s a bit of a cliffhanger), the pacing (it could be better), or the lack of Vaelin’s song (remember, he lost it). It’s because of Tower Lord.

Tower Lord was a good read. But compared to Blood Song it was shit. Sorry, but it was. Now, I know that Anthony Ryan would be crazy to repeat the same mistake he made before. Kinda like in DBZ when the creators attempted to transition on from Goku. It was so awful and the uproar so great that there’s no way it’d happen again. Except. Except that he already did it once.

So. Anyway.

The Wolf’s Call is set years after the events of Queen of Fire. The Volarians defeated, their lands now in possession of the Unified Realm, the Queen of Fire—Lyrna—now rules over them with an iron fist. But the queen is away, touring the Volarian Empire. So when there is unrest in the Realm, her Tower Lord departs to deal with it. Vaelin Al Sorna is greatly changed from the boy we first met in Blood Song. He has lost friends, lovers, a child, his song, and more besides. He is different, but not so much. And when whispers come from across the sea—a living god, an unstoppable army, a mustering Darkness, Vaelin’s once lover, Sherin—he departs to confront them. Though Vaelin may not wish to see another war, he will not abandon any of his own to such a fate without a fight.

I mean, it sounds good. Right?

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Vaelin Al Sorna. I think his character development, as well as Nortah’s, is key to the success of the Wolf’s Call. There are a few other returning characters—Sherin, Ahm Lin, etc—but none others that were featured in every book in the original trilogy like the Sixth Order brothers. The secondary characters definitely helped, but in the end, it’s all about Vaelin. His story guides the plot in Wolf’s Call in a way not seen since Blood Song. While I enjoyed the world, the overarching plot and to a lesser extent the setting, the story’s real triumph is its characters. And say what you want about the Raven’s Shadow—but its character development and depth were top notch. I’m happy to report that this carries over quite well.

There’re but a few issues I have with it. I’ve mentioned the future, the pacing, a cliffhanger, the setting—I’ve nothing much more to say about them. The future I can’t control; the pacing’s not too much of an issue, more an annoyance; I don’t care for cliffhangers in general. The book is set in the Venerable Kingdoms, which are pretty much just Dynastic China complete with their own Steppe and Mongol Horde. I mean, it’s obviously China and Mongolia and whatnot, but the author has made an attempt to flesh it out on his own rather than cutting and pasting everything. I would’ve liked to see more of an effort in terms of culture and influence and stereotype, but whatever. It’s hardly anything to ruin the entire book. It’s just a bit disappointing.

The biggest issue I had was that sometimes, more than a little, it feels like Ryan is forcing it. Like he’s forcing everything to go through Vaelin. That’s the issue with having a single primary character. In the first Raven’s Shadow, he told Vaelin’s story. In subsequent books, he split the story between other characters to expand and tell a story about the world. Now, I didn’t enjoy it, but I know why the author chose to do it that way. In the Wolf’s Call, it seems like he’s trying to tell the story of the world, but through Vaelin alone. Meaning that Al Sorna has to be everywhere for everything, and central to every event. And it’s making him feel… stretched thin. And somewhat unrealistic.

And that’s it. That’s my biggest issue with the text. I mean, yeah—I’d definitely buy it. Hardcover, straight-up. And I’m usually pretty cheap. I always loved Blood Song because it could be read on its own, as a single tale. The Wolf’s Call, instead, definitely will connect directly to its sequel. Now I don’t know what that will be. It might be another Tower Lord or Queen of Fire. But, as I said before, I’m cautiously optimistic.

On Tap 07/21

Currently Reading

• Uncanny Collateral – by Brian McClellan

I’ve been looking forward to reading this for a while now, as Brian McClellan is pretty much on my auto-buy list. I got this during some sale or other from his website, which I believe knocked the price down to $3 or so. So far, this urban fantasy is much less impressive than his other work, with a troll-blooded mainstay, a Djinn named Maggie, and a Keith Richards-esque Death. But, we’ll see how it goes.

• The Girl the Sea Gave Back – by Adrienne Young

I’d actually never heard of the author before this book, though I’ve definitely wanted to read it ever since I first read the blurb. A YA Fantasy, tGtSGB utilizes dual 1st PPOVs intermixed with 3rd PPOV flashbacks. I’m… not sure how this one will go. I’m definitely into the premise, but the style reminds me a lot of Iron Gold by Pierce Brown, a book that I finally gave up on because I couldn’t keep track of so many things. Apparently, this is part of the ‘Sky in the Deep’ world that she’s written in before, though I haven’t read.

Next Up

• Charmcaster – by Sebastien de Castell

What’d I say last time? Something like, “I like Kellen and Reichis. Wanna read.” So, that again. I just need to get to it.

• Old Bones – by Preston & Child

I actually somewhat looking forward to this Nora Kelly spinoff now, despite my disappointment with Verses for the Dead. In part, it’s that I’ve enjoyed the few questionable books I’ve read this year, in part it’s that I really enjoyed her as a character. Early thanks to Grand Central Publishing for letting me get it early!

To Do

I’ve a couple of books to review, including the Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan and Planetfall by Emma Newman. Short: I liked one, not the other. I have vacationing and outdoor stuff to get to, but I’ll try to keep the reviews steady. They’ve been somewhat less so lately, I know, as I’ve been reading less. Might even make the Manga Monday thing happen this week.

Book Review: Silver in the Wood – by Emily Tesh

Standalone

Fantasy

Tor; June 18, 2019

112 pages (ebook)

3.8 / 5 ✪

Silver in the Wood is an interesting new play on the Green Man fantasy, most notably for its involvement of a man and a man. While the budding romance between Tobias—the keeper of the Greenhollow Wood—and Henry Silver—the land’s new, young owner—presents the real reason to read the book, the lore and legend given on the Green Man is… well, fairly bland.

Tobias has kept the Wood for centuries: tending the grove and its residents. He lives a simple existence with his cottage, his cat, and the Wood. But everything changes when a young, handsome, new owner Henry Silver arrives. Secrets from the past are unearthed—secrets Tobias would’ve rather just stayed buried. But once they come to life, neither Tobias nor the Wood will ever be the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the take on the Green Man (Tobias) and his story ARE interesting, but quite frankly the real reason to read is the romance. And as romances go, it’s… okay, I guess? I dunno, really. But I hardly ever—okay, I don’t read romances. Anyway, flirting gives way to the beginnings of something more, but only when the real magic of the Greenhollow reveals itself.

I’ve no issue with the man on man action in Silver in the Wood. I mean, romance is romance whether it’s between a man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman. It’s just I’m not much of a “romance as the main reason for reading” kinda guy. While the magic and mystery and lore of Greenhollow was interesting at first, ultimately it was just as hollow as the wood. Maybe if the novella had been fleshed out a bit more; the plot and setting dealt in more detail, greater description and definition given to the world itself, even more of a build-up to the outcome… maybe it could’ve been better.

I’m not sure what else to say about it. In short, the budding romance found in Silver in the Wood provides more than enough reason to entertain its readers, while the new take on the Green Man’s legend ultimately falls short due to a lack of depth and description. I really felt for the characters of the Wood, something I could not say for the world itself.

Book Review: Beneath the Twisted Trees – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Gollancz cover

Shattered Sands #4

Epic, Fantasy

DAW; July 2, 2019 (US)

Gollancz; July 4, 2019 (UK)

608 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and DAW Books. All opinions are my own.

WARNING SPOILERS: The following contains spoilers for the previous Shattered Sands novels!

Beneath the Twisted Trees is the 4th Shattered Sands book, a series that began with Twelve Kings in Sharakai. That was one of my favorite books ever, and I’ve really enjoyed the journey thus far. I’m happy to say that Twisted Trees continues the trend, rather than upsetting it. Though, this installment is a departure of sorts from the previous books of the series as the Kings no longer take center stage. I mean, they’re still involved, and Çeda’s main goal is still to bring them down, but the focus in Twisted Trees goes instead to Sharakai.

War has come to the desert.

With so many Kings fallen, Sharakai’s neighbors have come calling. Brama, Emre and none too few of the Kings find their destinies caught up in the battle for the Amber Jewel. Emre heads the delegation from the Thirteenth Tribe—first in an attempt to reunite the other twelve tribes, then on to the invading Malasani as they sit before the walls of the city. But will it be dispute from without or betrayal from within that dooms this mission? Brama—alone with the ehrekh Rümayesh—roams to desert in search of beauty and wonders, but instead finds more than he imagined and is swept up in a gamble to bring Sharakai to ruin. The Kings—Ihsan, Beşir and Hamzakiir (masquerading as Kiral)—seek to save their city by any means necessary, while Hamzakiir seeks only to save himself from Meryam’s clutches.

Meanwhile Ramahd seeks the Qaimiri queen’s downfall; for the murder of her father, betrayal of their people, betrayal of Ramahd himself. Davud and Anila find themselves alone with enemies on all sides, with both the Kings and Sharakai’s new queen searching for them, they must seize on any ally in an attempt to save themselves. And yet, where will their desperation lead them? In the desert, Çeda searches for answers. Riddles, poems, stories—anything that will help her bring down the Kings. But first she seeks to free the asirim, remnants of her lost tribe. And this alone may prove too daunting a task. Nalamae, goddess of the Haddah, hides from the elder gods of the desert. Centuries prior, the other desert gods chose to deal with the Kings of Sharakai, while she abstained. The mystery remains: why? And why now do the other gods—Yerinde particularly—all seek her head?

In addition to these, there are the Malasani, the Mirean, the Qaimiri: all come to the Shangazi to pluck the Jewel from the sands. A work of epic fantasy at its finest, Twisted Trees weaves together a half-dozen POVs with multiple plots into a single epic story; which is but part of a greater, over-arching story. Blood, lies, love, plague, betrayal, and hope abound in this tale, which begins the second half of Beaulieu’s six-book Shattered Sands.

And it was… actually really good.

I had few issues with the book; for the most part I really enjoyed it. Starting from the events of A Veil of Spears—which featured a plot I really enjoyed with an ending that was somewhat uneven and disappointing—Twisted Trees picks up and carries on, expertly blending action with the intricacies intrigue and subtlety. It’s good to see that after four main, plus another six or so novellas set in the world, the Shattered Sands is still going strong. The plot and stories and weave of Twisted Trees continues to impress, and though I didn’t absolutely adore every chapter, there were none that I hated, either.

As with any book, there were those POVs I found myself more excited for than others, though they changed it up a bit throughout as individual stories are wont to do. Overall Brama, Hamzakiir and Ramahd intrigued me, while Emre and Anila fell short. Çeda, Davud and the other Kings failed to wow or disappoint in equal measure (bit disappointed a bit by this, as I’d always been wrapt by Çeda’s chapters, particularly).

My largest issue with Twisted Trees were the relationships. Or love-triangles. Or… whatever. About a month ago, I read the Tattered Prince (backstory on Brama and Jax’s relationship) to ready myself for Twisted Trees, so I was rather disappointed to find that Jax wasn’t even IN this book. Not that Brama seems to notice. Does little to further Emre and Çeda’s relationship either, though again each pursue their own. In fact, everyone (every POVC) seems to have turned a blind eye to their history before this book. YOLO, and whatnot.

My only other issue was with the pacing. It becomes a bit uneven in the second half of the text–particularly towards the end. This added a few days to my read time, and made it a little harder to focus on, but affected little else. It felt quite similar to the the pacing in A Veil of Spears, really.

Beneath the Twisted Trees actually exceeded my expectations in a big, big way. I definitely enjoyed it. More so, in waiting a few days between finishing and reviewing it, I was able to reread a bit of the sections that confused/annoyed me, which really helped me enjoy it more.

The 5th Shattered Sands installment, When Jackals Storm the Walls (working title), is due out in 2020. Beneath the Twisted Trees came out July 2nd in the US and July 4th in the UK. And yeah—it was fairly awesome.

On Tap 07/06

Currently Reading

• Beneath the Twisted Trees – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I can’t believe I’m STILL reading this! As much as I’d say this is no reflection on the book itself, well… mostly that’s true. But I’ve had a bit of trouble with this one lately; a couple of the characters breaking the mold a bit (Emre, mostly), but also I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption (in anticipation of playing RDR2 later), and going places and doing things so I’ve slacked off a bit. Should finish it in the next few days HOPEFULLY though, so…

• Planetfall – by Emma Newman

I spent a good while finding this at my local library (it was not where it was supposed to live!), so I hope it’s a good one. I only just started it, but so far it’s good, which obviously means all of nothing. I’ve actually been assured that it’s okay… but the next one’s supposed to be better, so hopefully that’ll be good enough to get through it. Has anyone read this and think it’s A-MAZING? Please, tell me it is. Please, if you must, just lie to me.

Next Up

• The Wolf’s Call – by Anthony Ryan

I’ve this one and a Ryan novella in my TBR pile, but I’m optimistically excited to revisit Vaelin al Sorna. Supposedly, this is more like a return to Blood Song (which I loved) and less like the other two (which I did not love). Glancing through it, the story seems to follow Vaelin exclusively… but who can know? I really hope it’s not another Queen of Fire.

• Charmcaster – by Sebastien de Castell

I’m really in the mood to revisit Kellen and Reichis, and I do have a copy of this waiting. I’ll probably read it in-between something and something else, if one of those two+ things just depress me. Plus, I need to catch up in time for Crownbreaker (Book 6!) later this year.

To Do

I’ve had slightly more free time lately (for not-good reasons, sadly) so I need to find a new audiobook to listen to while gaming. Or writing. Or cooking. Or… whatever. So, please, please if anyone could recommend something…? I’m slightly finicky about readers, but otherwise not picky. I mean, I’ve made it through Lost Gods and two Tides of War books.

I STILL need to review Exit Strategy. I haven’t been able to get past the first paragraph yet, so I’m not sure if I ever will. Additionally, I’m actually planning a game review, so look out for that in the next… year. Also, I’ve been working on reviews for Silver in the Wood and Fall of Dragons, so hopefully those things too.

Book Review: Verses for the Dead – by Preston & Child

Pendergast #18

Thriller, Mystery

Grand Central Publishing; December 31, 2018

337 pages (HC)

3.3 / 5 ✪

The Preston & Child, Agent Pendergast books have ever blended thriller with mystery, their novels typically lending a supernatural air. While some have taken it further than others—Relic, Reliquary, Cabinet of Curiosities, Wheel of Darkness, etc pushed the limits of realism with elements that could not be easily explained away by science—others, like the last several, have hinted at a supernatural element, which just turned out to be some other nonsense. In fact, the last 5 (since White Fire, which I actually enjoyed) have been crap.

I mean… not good.

Verses for the Dead continues that trend in an unorthodox manner. Initially, it tries something different, something aimed to revitalize the series. For the first time, Pendergast is paired with a partner; a Special Agent Coldmoon, denizen of the Lakota population of South Dakota. I actually fairly well enjoyed his character, even after the authors decided to try and ruin it. More importantly, the addition of him as a partner changed the story—kinda. I mean, it TRIED, but ultimately really doesn’t do anything new.

The story begins with a series of possibly paranormal, possibly serial murders, each where the heart is removed and placed atop the graves of women long dead. With the placement of each heart, there are also letters, each hinting at remorse over their deaths. Expectedly, Pendergast’s perusal of each site reveals new information on the killer, something that may turn the investigation in a completely new direction. Along the way there is the usual incompetence of various agencies, bodies and whatnot; citizens acting like idiots, assholes; while Coldmoon strides through it all like a simple man. This was actually the most refreshing part of the book, at least for a time. Coldmoon drinking cowboy coffee and snacking on Twinkies while alluding to sports, TV and other normal activities. Up until the point the authors doubled-down on the Lakota background.

Coldmoon is half-Italian and Lakota. I can see that growing up on a rez caused him to rebel against his European roots, diving fully into Lakota culture and mythos. Know a few people who’ve done the same, even. It’s more that… his standing with the government. The government and the indigenous populations have never really got on. I mean, there’s the Smallpox blankets thing. Then the reservations. Then the constantly shrinking reservations. Then the whole Indigenous Rights declaration thing. And years of unethical, horrid treatment. Not to mention the whole poverty, racism and about a million-other-things thing. To put it simply, the government and the indigenous people don’t really see eye to eye. So it’s unlikely that a character like Coldmoon could bridge both worlds; as a beloved member of his local community, and a CIA favorite and up-and-comer.

All the while, Pendergast was Pendergast.

And Pendergast. It occurs to me now that I’ve really been frustrated by his character of late. While early in the series Pendergast was more of a figure out of legend: mysterious, aloof, stoic, a lone wolf—nowadays he seems more elitist and erudite than aloof and mysterious, while his lone wolf tendencies appear no more than a belief that he alone has the mental faculties to solve whatever crime. Of course, I’m not being fair. It could just be his character development at work, moving in a direction I’m not a fan of.

I’m avoiding the real issue, though. The real issue is the plot. More importantly—the end. It’s shit. Like… terrible. I won’t ruin it. Let’s just say that as with some of the other recent Pendergast novels, the authors wait until a point where you think you might know what’s going on, then have an “well you’re all wrong!” moment and introduce a whole bunch of previously unreleased info and flip the story on its head. To say it was disappointing is an understatement. It literally left a bad taste in my mouth and soured the rest of the book for me.

I’d been a diehard until right around Crimson Shore. Since then I’ve gotten the books used or at the library, but this may be the last one I read. Moreso, it might be time to consider retiring Pendergast to a ranch somewhere. Where he can brush up on his obscure playwrights, dead languages and wine identification. Or drive cattle. I know that the whole Gideon Crew thing didn’t work out as a successor, but maybe Nora Kelly will be different. If you’re curious or hopeful like me, her new spinoff debuts August 20, 2019.

Here’s hoping.

Book Review: Fallen Gods – by James A. Moore

Tides of War #2

Grimdark, Fantasy

Angry Robot; January 2, 2018

10:12 hours (Audio), 401 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

In The Last Sacrifice, Brogan McTyre failed to save his kin, but in trying managed to doom the world. Fallen Gods finds him and Harper Ruttket trying to fix what he’s done, chasing after myths and legends of ancient, fallen gods in an attempt to kill the ones destroying the land. Meanwhile Myridia and the other Grakhul women rush to farther lands where they hope to appease the gods, thus saving the world. Niall, Tully and the other escapees still flee from the undying, though gradually their aim has shifted from survival to something more. The Kings and Rulers peruse their options for dealing with the end of the world, but how desperate are they? As they burn through their choices, and options dwindle, they are confronted with two final chances, each one bearing a terrible price. Beron has already crossed a line, replacing the gods for the power of an ancient demon, but will it help him save the world, while somehow managing to come out atop it? Through it all, everyone seeks Brogan McTyre and his men; to appease the gods, appease the demons, save the world. But the world may be beyond saving, and Brogan’s desperate long-shot might be the only way forwards.

The initial Tides of War adventure was a perfect example of Grimdark fantasy—bleak, dark, relatively joyless—though it delivered relatively little and presented a shallow world with underdeveloped characters set upon a simple revenge tale. The follow-up filled in some of these gaps, though the story at its heart remains one of revenge, there’s a bit more to it now. In addition, the characters have filled out a bit. Instead of the meager, cardboard cutouts we were confronted with in the first installment, Fallen Gods transforms them into some approaching people, though they’re still a bit shallow and basic.

The world has filled out a bit more as well, although in the beginning (the first half or more, actually) the plot simply whisks us away to new skin-deep locales, before finally circling back to fill in the bit of the world it’s shown us prior. And in those later glimpses, I believe we see what will become the norm moving forward, and won’t give any of it away. There’re still brutal and bloody battle sequences, and yet they remind me a lot of what was done in the first book: blood for the sake of blood, combat the same, a dismissive and dark tone surrounding everything but not relating much back to the story itself. It’s almost as if much of the melees and blood and gore were cut-and-pasted on later, to fill out the battles.

The dreary, bleak, darkness that was so evident in the first continues throughout Fallen Gods—to the extent that it’s debatably darker than the first, if that’s possible. Instead of a deliciously dark, immersive story, however, the text is just dark and brooding. It’s like making a dark chocolate bar just because everyone else is doing it, but then forgetting to add ANY sugar.

Though an improvement on the Last Sacrifice to be sure, Fallen Gods still struggles to find its way, its identity, while destroying half the world in the process. While overall the plot and character development struggled beneath the weight of this identity crisis, the latter third of the book seemed to find its way home, setting up for a conclusion that actually appears promising. In short, if you liked the first one, you’ll probably like the second, but if you were on the fence following the initial, well, I think it’s likely worth the $3.50 I paid for it. Hope that helps.

Audiobook Note – I had a tough time warming to Adam Sims in the Last Sacrifice. He certainly makes an effort to engage the reader and keep them engrossed and interested—such an effort that carries over to Fallen Gods. He’s… while not my favorite reader, he does a decent job, though more than a few of his characters (Harper front and center among them) bear quite a nasal whine to their voices. Still, entering the final book of the Tides of War, he’s maintained an enthusiastic air throughout and, while it may not make up for the story itself, nor change his voice and accent entirely, that’s all you can reasonably ask for from a narrator.

Discount Note – I got the Audio CD of Fallen Gods for somewhere around $3.50, to go with the $4ish I paid for the first book (in the same format). Last I checked, the final book, Gates of the Dead, was available for only slightly more, making this an entire series available on a budget.

Gates of the Dead finishes up the Tides of War. It was released earlier in the year.