Book Review: Bloody Rose – by Nicholas Eames

The Band #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit Books; August 28, 2018

510 pages (PB)

4.5 / 5 ✪

Bloody Rose actually made me tear up three times—twice in the first three chapters. But while mostly a triumph of plotting, engineering and design, the story stumbles somewhat in its second half, so much so that I was actually considering putting it aside before reaching the exciting conclusion.

Good thing I didn’t, eh?

Bloody Rose is the story of Fable—or specifically Rose, daughter of Golden Gabe, the band’s frontman—one of the Heartwyld’s most famous bands. Told through the eyes of Tam (daughter of a pair of bandmates), as she is hired on as Fable’s bard in the first few chapters. From here, Bloody Rose attempts to tell two stories: one of Fable’s swan song, and another of the Heartwyld itself. It’s basically the same thing that Kings of the Wyld did before it, albeit with Saga. And like Kings of the Wyld, it basically succeeds.

Tam Hashford is the daughter of a pair of bandmates, now retired. She lives with her father, an overprotective parent following the death of Tam’s mother. But Tam has grown up on stories from uncle, also from a band, about her mother and father and various others. And so when Fable rolls into town in search of a new bard, Tam jumps at the opportunity, and soon is off touring the Heartwyld in search of fame and fortune. And adventure.

The real story begins years before Tam’s arrival however, stemming from the first crew of Fable and their fabled end in Castia. The band that Tam greets is a very different bunch. Quite different but at once the very same. The following adventure encompasses both at once, following Fable through the years.

Now there’ll definitely be people who tell you that they loved both books. That they were completely without flaw and great in every way. But for me… I mean, yeah, that’s generally true. The only glaring fault I found was in the transition between tales. Kings of the Wyld actually did it better, I think, weaving the two together with expert precision. In Bloody Rose it’s one and the other. At first, it tells the story of the band, with each character arc getting its own share of the tale before giving way to the overarching one of the Heartwyld. And the transition between these two created a… gap in the text. A place where very little was driving the tale, it was just limping along. This stretch of ~40-50 pages is the biggest struggle any reader’s likely to face, however.

Otherwise, I thought Bloody Rose built upon so many of Kings’ failings. Not that Kings’ had many, of course. Gone are the convenient escapes from peril, the places where the story skips ahead when it doesn’t doesn’t have any answers. Gone is the skin-deep narrative, as the Heartwyld is now rendered in vivid detail. Gone are the decent if not deep characters, as Fable’s are as human as any of us.

As for the adventure, the action, the thrills—it’s all tremendous. An amazing sophomore effort, setting the Heartwyld up for a blockbuster finale. While not the triumph that it could have been, Bloody Rose is a bloody marvel, a thrilling and emotional adventure that not only redeems the Heartwyld from its initial black-and-white rendering, but also promises a more intricate, more complex world in the future.

No release date yet on #3, which is also as yet untitled. I’m hoping 2020, though.

Book Review: The Forbidden Library – by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library #1

YA, Fantasy

Kathy Dawson Books; April 15, 2014

376 pages (ebook); 8hr 31m (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The Forbidden Library serves as my intro to Django Wexler, which probably isn’t for the best. I mean, it’s an alright read—moments of excitement, entertainment and intrigue all wrapped up in an 8 hour package—but it’s nothing to distract from the ARCs spread around me. Of course, I was reading this while playing Sniper Elite, for, while the gameplay is amazing, the story is boring.

Forbidden Library is actually excellent for multitasking purposes: an easy to follow story; a nice, quick read (it followed up the Ember Blade, which went for 30+); an interesting world filled with adequate characters and a lovely adventure.

Alice is an only child. Born to a single father during the early- to mid-20th century, she begins as a child of some means—with her own servants, gas lamps, governor and tutors.And yet this life is not for Alice, as she is soon to learn. She awakens one night to her father’s voice, raised in anger, talking to a mysterious stranger. Upon descending from her room, Alice finds him in an argument with a meager opponent—a small, pointy-eared, pointy-toothed, honest to goodness fairy. They argue over the life of a girl, and something Alice cannot guess, before she is forced to withdraw to her room. But not before she hears the fairy threaten him.

The very next day, her father is called away on business. A week later he is lost for good, disappeared along with the entire crew of the Gideon, en route to Buenos Aires. And Alice is left alone.

And yet, she does not want for long. Soon enough, a car comes for her; in it, a man representing her uncle Jerry. Alice accompanies him to her uncle, where she is confronted with far more than she ever bargained for. A vast library. A world of mystery, fairies and more. A conflicted boy. And magic—the magic of books. What follows is a magical adventure featuring books and magic, a lost dragon, several talking cats, and more than a few interesting characters.

It’s… yeah, it’s okay.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it at full price, but on sale or from the library it’s a deal. I’m never sure exactly how to rate YA books. I mean, if they’re too infantile, they’re barely worth reading at any age. Granted, I don’t read a whole lot of them, so. Otherwise… well, the line is blurry.

There’s a decent amount of intrigue and backstabbing in this, which surprised me. Otherwise it’s your plain, run-of-the-mill YA fantasy, complete with a budding-maybe romance, a simple mystery, a sparsely detailed world, interesting if generally shallow characters. It’s worth posting out that over the course of the next few books, several of the main characters featured in the Forbidden Library DO evolve depth—but as the focal point in the first book is adventure, that element is left behind.

I liked Alice—as a character, as a person. Comparing her to other YA stars, she’s more than competent, her emotions are more complex, she’s definitely fleshed out as to actually appear human. When comparing her to some other characters—Thomas, from the Maze Runner; Cassidy, from City of Ghosts—she’s more relatable, less juvenile, more descriptive. Basically what you’d want in a lead.

So… yeah, I’d recommend it. The story is okay, as are the plot, mystery, magic and dialogue. The development and detail are a little lacking, but the intrigue and lead character are where the book most shines. I’d read it, and plan to continue the series (just finished #2, in fact).

Audiobook Note: the reader was pretty good, while not amazing. Not my favorite, but she tried. I’d try a sample at least if you’re planning on buying this, as at certain points I found her voice grating, and yet I got used to it quick enough. She’s [Cassandra Morris] better in the second book, really.

On Tap 09/04

Currently Reading

Age of War – by Michael J. Sullivan

Second time I’ve started Book #3, but I’m farther along this time. A war is brewing between Fhrey and Rhunes, with all our heroes caught in the middle of it. Once slated to be the epic conclusion of the Legends series, this wraps up many of the storylines. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, with a caveat that it’s cheapened some inventions and annoyed me with others.

• The Alloy of Law – by Brandon Sanderson

2nd, 3rd time I’ve read this—this time I’m doing an audiobook. Reader isn’t bad, and it’s always an entertaining read. I finished the Forbidden Library by Django Wexler and needed another audiobook ASAP. My library only had so many options.

Up Next

• The Dark Blood – by A.J. Smith

I’ve wanted to give the Long War another try, as the Black Guard had some of the best world-building I’ve seen in fantasy, even though it didn’t deliver in other ways. The Dark Blood is the 2nd in the series and is up after Age of War.

• Street Freaks – by Terry Brooks

Got the audio version as a freebie. My expectations aren’t high, but it sounds interesting, and the reader is a good one. Oddly enough, this will be my official intro the Terry Brooks. I’ve read one of his Shannara books, but it was out of order and so long ago I don’t remember it.

To Do

I’m a bit behind on reviewing due to vacation and family issues. That and seasonal work, hunting season and whatever’s upending my sleep schedule means I’ve been negligent. I’ve a pair of de Castell books, three audiobooks, and a couple additional ones still to review. Plus the TBR to get through.

Yeah, well.

Additional TBR

  1. The Last Mortal Bond – by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)
  2. A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne (Of Blood & Bone #2)
  3. Babylon’s Ashes – by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse #5)
  4. Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #2)
  5. City of Stairs – by Robert Jackson Bennett (Divine Cities #1)

Book Review: The Imaginary Corpse – by Tyler Hayes

noob #1, standalone (?)

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Angry Robot; September 10, 2019

321 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 Angry Robot. All opinions are my own.

The Imaginary Corpse is an adorable book in a number of ways. And yet it holds a darkness within that’s surprising for both its intensity and its depth. It’s a cross between Toy Story and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, under the night sky of a film-era detective noir. Detective Tippy is a stuffed, yellow triceratops. Yes, you read that right. He’s the head and only detective at the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency. There’s nothing he likes more than root beer floats, long rides in the dryer—and of course—his creator, Sandra.

The Stuffed Animal Detective Agency operates in the Stillreal, a place where capital-F Friends end up when their creators are forced to abandon them. It’s hard to explain, but the book does a stellar job—I’ll give it a quick shot. You see, some imaginary friends are just that: Imaginary. But if a friend is imbibed with such a force of love or affection, or detail to the extent that they’re very real to their creator, they become a Friend. Alternatively, a nightmare that frightens and terrifies can often feel very real in its own right, thus becoming a Friend as well (albeit a different kind). Now, most often these Friends will be parted with or forgotten when a child outgrows them, discarded when an artist or writer moves on or their commission is canceled. But occasionally, there’s an event that leads to a Friend being abandoned. Some trauma, some insight, some… thing else. And the Friend is forcibly ripped from their creator, never to return. These Friends end up in the Stillreal.

Going to the Stillreal is a one-way trip. Friends can get hurt or injured there—most experience trauma, anxiety or worse from their forced separation from their creator—but once arriving in the Stillreal, they can’t actually die. That is, until they start.

When Tippy witnesses this, the case begins. It will lead down paths even dark by Playtime Town standards. It will force Detective Tippy to confront his own issues—the trauma, the loss, and his mounting depression. It may even change him for the better, should he and the rest of the Stillreal survive it. For even in Playtime Town does darkness loom, and Tippy may not have enough in his pocket flask of root beer to see him through it.

What to say about the Imaginary Corpse? Mostly good things, I promise.

I mean, it’s good. It’s definitely worth reading! It’s in a class all on its own, for a whole host of reasons—but mostly because it is adorable. The yellow triceratops lead, the amount of hugs offered and given, the Rootbeerium… And yet the issues these Friends deal with draw a number of parallels to everyday life. The trauma, the loss, the anxiety, the depression they feel; all seems a tangible, weighted thing, that I struggled with in my read through. Some have overcome the lot, though most still struggle on valiantly in a world they can’t escape, a living memory of a life they’re never to revisit, the memory of their creator, their best friend still fresh in their mind and yet irretrievable at the same time. Tippy walks a fine line—love, hope on one end with depression, darkness and loss lurking on the other side.

Tippy may be one of my favorite characters ever. From his time with Sandra, Tippy was imbued with Detective Stuff, a kind of sixth-sense that helped him know things, feel things, gather clues almost as if by magic—as it might seem to a small child who witnesses detectives doing such. Despite this yellow triceratops being filled with no more than root beer and stuffing, he’s more human than most of what you’ll find in media nowadays.

While Hayes starts with an interesting premise, a fantastical setting and a generally entertaining plot, the Imaginary Corpse falls short of perfection. The mystery lets the story down, sadly. And the Detective Stuff—while a powerful tool—is not enough to carry the story by itself. A couple of times I had to backtrack and reread a section where Tippy connected the dots, because it didn’t exactly make sense. Occasionally, the Detective Stuff would just bypass key details and leap on to the next, like they were too hard to explain or write. Though I suppose that’s a good use for a superpower, innit?

TL;DR

The Imaginary Corpse is a fantasy-mystery-noir, set in a strange but delightful world, filled with some of my favorite characters of all-time. And I really can’t say enough good things about it. An immensely entertaining read, the book takes its readers through the trauma and darkness—coaxing them all the while with hope and acceptance, before finally reaching a hard-fought conclusion that is neither, yet somehow both. While the novel’s mystery may be its biggest weakness, the Imaginary Corpse manages to tell the story it set out to, in the manner it set out to, while toeing the line between dark and adorable. And that above all else is its greatest triumph. Quite the debut from Tyler Hayes—one I’ll not be forgetting any time soon!