Fated – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #1

Urban Fantasy

Ace; February 28, 2012 (US)
Orbit; March 1, 2012 (UK)

278 pages (paperback)

Author Website

Goodreads
StoryGraph

3.5 / 5 ✪

Alex Verus is part of another world hidden in plain sight. A mage himself, he owns a magic shop in Camden, a little on the nose perhaps, but not unheard of—much like a certain guy who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”. Comparatively, Verus’ life is quiet by comparison—something he’s quite a fan of. See, for years Alex has done his best to remain under the radar, out of everyone’s business but his own.

But when the Council comes calling, it seems there’s little chance of that continuing. See, Alex is a diviner, meaning that while he doesn’t have access to any kind of flashy magic like the ability to shoot flames or ice or force, the ability to raise the dead or create vast armies of constructs, the ability to heal or snuff out life with a touch and a thought—he does have the ability to make people very, very nervous by reading their every move for every interaction. Now, divining isn’t a science or anything like you see on TV; he can’t foretell anyone’s death (unless it happens to be in the very close future), he doesn’t tell fortunes, and no, he can’t predict the lottery. What it is is probability and chance—two things Verus has extensive experience with, and have not only kept him alive, but made him very good at his job.

It’s this that the Council is after. And they’re desperate.

So when Alex turns them down, they don’t take it well. Fortunately for the Council, the next group to come calling are a group of Dark Mages, and they ask a great deal less politely. See, Dark mages are consumed with power beyond anything else—anything they want, they take, and if you’re not strong enough to resist them, then it’s not anything you deserve having. The strong lead; the weak follow.

So when Alex turns them down, they take it even more poorly. Soon he has cause to rethink the Council’s offer, but there’s still concern. Because when Verus sees the object in question, he has great misgivings giving such a thing to either side. In a perfect world, Alex might just walk away and let the two go to war over it. But this isn’t a perfect world. So it begs the question: just what is he going to do now?

‘ “What’s motivating you?”
“Well… right now, staying alive would be good.”
Morden shook his head. “ Oh, I think you can do better than that.”
“Um, staying alive is a pretty big motivation for me.” ‘

Thus begins the Alex Verus reread!

With part 1 of 12 successfully complete, I’ve slightly better hopes of accomplishing this feat in 2022, though most of the challenge is still ahead of me. And I have quite an ambitious idea for just what it may entail. While I’m a big fan of the series, I’ve only actually read one of the entries before—and it wasn’t Fated.

So here it is: a return to the roots of one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And… it’s okay. Pretty decent, even. The first book, at least.

Fated isn’t the greatest read ever, nor is it the best beginning to a series that I’ve ever read. It’s okay—though obviously the work of a relatively new author. There’s not much depth, not much character development (although we spend most of the time exploring Alex and his history, so that’s not any great surprise). The first great disappointment is in the supporting cast. They’re… kinda shallow. By which I mean they don’t have a whole lot of substance to them, or any kind of development or history that’s worth caring about. As a returning reader I can tell you that some of them flesh out quite nicely in the future—just not in Fated.

The first time I read this, I stumbled regularly over the first 100 pages or so. It took me much longer to get into the story, which is a bit of an issue in a 300 page book. This time, I had no such trouble getting into the story. I really moved along quite quickly once the plot got rolling—and I managed to get into it much easier since I had a vague idea of where it was headed.

“ If there’s one thing all diviners share, it’s curiosity. We can’t really help it; it’s just a part of who we are. If you dug out a tunnel somewhere in the wilderness a thousand miles from anywhere and hung a sign on it saying, Warning, this leads to the Temple of Horrendous Doom. Do not enter, ever. No, not even then, you’d get back from lunch to find a diviner already inside and two more about to go in.

Come to think about it, that might explain why there are so few of us. “

As I said, this is obviously an early effort by a recent author. But what does that mean? Well, in this case it means that it’s not as polished, not as refined, not as immersive as their later work, once they’ve established their writing style and have some experience under their belt. It does seem to be thought out and written according to some plan, as such not wandering around waiting for something to happen. There’s a story pretty much straight out of the gate, and while it’s not very innovative (at least at first), it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity either. The language is also a bit fiddly, but it’s not like there are grammatical or punctuation errors or anything. It just… sometimes takes the long way to say things. And hell, some authors do that more as their career expands. It’s not even something you’d certainly notice. It’s just not… the same language the author uses in later books—once he’s really developed a feel for these things.

The thing that didn’t change was its entertainment value. I found this just as entertaining—if not more—the second time around. When I first read Fated back in 2016, it took just short of two weeks (but then there are many reasons for that). This time around, it took me about three days. And while I have to admit it was a very straightforward plot (at least at first)—it was quite enjoyable. Even more so knowing how the story grows from here. It’s honestly a bit like Storm Front (by Jim Butcher, first entry in the Dresden Files) in that it’s not the author’s best story, but it’s definitely enjoyable, certainly entertaining, gets the series off on solid footing, and sets the stage for what’s to come. And there is in fact a nod to the Dresden Files in the early pages: ‘ I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”… ‘—so there’s that.

TL;DR

For those of you who didn’t want to read my jaunt down memory lane—yeah, whatever. The short of it is that Fated isn’t the best book out there. It smacks of being written by a relatively new author—characters don’t have a whole lot of substance, and aren’t developed much; the plot was straightforward and far from innovative; and, in my first time through at least, I had trouble getting in to the story. But while not terribly innovative, the world is certainly creative and well-told. Another world hidden within our own, but this one not entirely out of sight. Alex Verus isn’t a flashy mage, but a thoughtful one. And he’s not without his skill. It’s a great intro, as these things go, and the series only gets better from here!

The series continues with Cursed, which—to be honest—I’m drawing a blank on. I mean, I remember liking it, but not any specifics. Huh. I guess you’ll have to check back in February to learn more. Or… you could always just read it yourself first:)

The Long War – Beautiful World of Books

I’ve read A.J. Smith only twice before—having stalled in the middle of not one, but two of his series’ sequels. The trilogy he’s currently writing is the Form & Void trilogy, but the one that started it all was the Long War tetralogy, a series of epic, dark fantasy novels Smith wrote; set in a world he created over several years of tabletop gaming. While I’ve been having issues getting into the books themselves, the world is very finely crafted and vividly imagined. And while I continue to hear good things about the series, I’m not sure this is a story I’ll ever experience to fruition.

But I can show off the covers.

The Long War

To be honest, while I find the cover of the Black Guard somewhat interesting, the next two—the Dark Blood (#2) and the Red Prince (#3) (not to mention the Tales omnibus)—are rather boring. Weapons, by themselves, are a bit overplayed in fantasy books, and maybe as a result somewhat pedantic. That said, I quite like the axe adorning the cover of the World Raven. It’s probably my favorite of the four.

Form & Void

These all stick to the same basic sea-theme, but since they’re waaay less generic than the Long War covers. And I kinda like how well they go together.

I’m still planning on continuing the Form & Void trilogy (I need to restart #2, The Sword Falls sometime soon), but I might not ever come back to the Long War. I know Drew would be somewhat disappointed in this decision as I seem to remember him really liking this series, but has anyone else read it? And what do you think? Also, what’d you think of the covers—favorites?

Salvation – by Peter F. Hamilton (Review)

Salvation Sequence #1

Space Opera, Scifi

Pan; September 6, 2018 (UK)
Del Rey; September 4, 2018 (US)

552 pages (hardcover)
19hr 3m (audiobook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

2.5 / 5 ✪

Salvation begins another Peter F. Hamilton special: a grand space opera where humanity has expanded across the stars via wormholes. As always, this grand plan is very complex, very detailed, and prone to convolution. In fact, Salvation may be the best example of this out of all his work to date. Let me explain.

The Olyix were welcomed to Earth during our brightest hour—a Golden Age of effective human immortality where our influence spans the universe, and our colonies stretch across the stars. They required fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy—for which they offered to help advance our technology with their own. But is this another instance of humanity’s hubris sure to bring about our downfall, or is it a friendship that will last until the end of time as the resulting empire spans the stars?

Only time will tell.

AD 2204

When an alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the edge of human-explored space, its cargo finishes what its very existence began in raising a few eyebrows. The cargo however, stokes humanity’s wildest dreams, and their most terrible nightmares.

17 humans, taken from Earth, held in suspended animation, bound for and taken by an unknown threat that at the very least was not human.

Security Director Feriton Kayne is tasked with investigating this anomaly—and he handpicks a team to help him assess this threat. Kandara Martinez, corporate mercenary; Yuri Alister, Kayne’s director and architect of the whole mission; Loi Zangari, Alister’s technical advisor; Alik Monday, FBI Special Detective; Callum Hepburn, senior advisor within the Utopial culture orbiting Akitha; Eldlund, Hepburn’s utopial assistant, genetically altered to be both male and female; Jessika Mye, Hepburn’s second assistant and renowned exobiologist. And, of course, Kayne himself. Together, the eight form the most impressive team the director could imagine—he just hopes it will be enough.

Kayne needs every member of the team if he’s to address this new threat. All of them, but especially one vital member. He doesn’t know which member this is, exactly, but he does know one thing about them: they’re not human.

THE FAR FUTURE

Dellian and Yirella lead a team of genetically engineered super-soldiers with but one purpose in life: to confront and destroy their most hated enemy, the one that caused mankind’s near-extinction and resulting flight across the stars. Their goal is simple: destroy the enemy. Otherwise, humanity will be wiped from existence.

Salvation is the kind of story you’d never see from a debut author. The way it is told—through extended narratives and flashbacks, occurrences in 3+ different timelines with a story that constant jumps between them, and threads that didn’t seem to relate at all right up until the end—makes it so tortuous, and in many ways convoluted, pretty much assures that no mainstream publisher would touch it. But if you’re Peter F. Hamilton; established, famed, known for stories that span multiple time-periods, and a love of wormhole technology—well, you can get away with such things.

It’s not that Salvation tells a rotten story—the plot is very immersive and entertaining, at times—it’s just that it’s really hard to see just where the author is going with it, and incredibly easy to get lost in the labyrinth of the author’s narrative. Upon picking it up, I was spellbound for a time, but it soon wore off.

See, it’s the way this is told that’s the problem. The Assessment Team occupies the majority of the text. But their plot is divided between the present day (AD 2204) and the stories they tell about their experiences in the past (i.e. why Kayne has chosen them for the team), which can be set anywhere from 2092 to 2199 AD. These stories averaged about 2.5 hours per chapter, or 75 pages, but in the case of Callum-Yuri: Head to Head lasted over 5 hours. While these tangents were often quite interesting, they had mostly little to do with the overarching plot. In fact, it was Callum/Yuri’s that was the biggest issue. Set 60 pages into the book, this flashback lasted over 150 pages, so when I got back to what was happening at the present, around 6 hours had passed.

Now you may have noticed that my math didn’t exactly square up in that last example. This is because while the story jumps in time between the Assessment Team’s present and past, it also jumps between the Assessment Team’s narration and events in the far future, following a team of super-soldiers. So imagine you’re less than one-tenth of the way into a book: the plot has just got going, the setting keeps changing, and time has jumped from the present to the far future and back once or twice. Now, you spend the next quarter of the text off in a random memory that doesn’t connect to anything you’ve read thus far. And then you’re back in the future, where it expects you to remember what the hell is going on.

I enjoyed the stories. I enjoyed the book, to a point. I mean, that’s the only reason I finished the stupid thing (that and I’ve heard the second is much more linear). But I couldn’t for the life of me remember what was going on. It was infuriating.

The sheer disconnected nature of this book requires either intense patience and fortitude, fond familiarity with the author, or a complete leap of faith on the reader’s part. The sheer size of this is also an impediment—I mean, this was an interesting book; the life stories of each of the characters, the grand plan coming together thread by thread, the situation in the present indicating at least some of the crew had survived that long. But damned if it didn’t take its damn time getting to the point. I was interested in everyone’s stories, but taking them like that—while just abandoning whatever plot there was—was an incredibly bold, arrogant and stupid move.

TL;DR

So, I’ve heard good things about the second book in the Salvation Sequence—Salvation Lost. And I do plan to continue with the series. Those who’ve read to the point might be surprised, but there are a couple reasons. First off, I actually left Salvation wondering what was going to happen next. Second, I legitimately enjoyed the story. Third—and most importantly—I’ve heard that Book #2 is much more linear. There are still time-skips to the future, but these are spread out between 4-6 chapters set in the present, with nary a flashback in sight. If you just skipped to this point: yeah, I kinda don’t blame you. I went off on a pretty good rant there, but this book deserved it. I maintain that the author never would’ve gotten away with publishing this mess had he not already been well-established and much-loved. So, instead of rehashing my thoughts, here’s this: If you’ve not read Peter F. Hamilton before—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! GO back and read some of his other stuff first. If you’ve read some Peter F. Hamilton and are familiar with the way he does things, and you’re a fan of space opera, and long drawn-out stories, and don’t mind a time-skip or two—go ahead and pick this one up.

Audio Note: As always, the narration by John Lee was amazing. Heck, it probably rescued this one from the embers of what should’ve been a fire long dead. He was likely the only reason I continued with this story, and even then I had to switch between reading the hardcover (where I focused on the far future) and listening to him narrate the exploits of the Assessment Team. If you’re not familiar with John Lee, dude is a legend. He’s the reader for all the Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds space opera. I would totally recommend giving him a try. Just, maybe, not this book.

Q&A with Richard S. Ford – Author of Engines of Empire

I was fortunate enough to get a little Q&A with Richard S. Ford, author of Engines of Empire and the Steelhaven series—each of which I’ve featured here—but also much more! Mostly it’s talk about his new book and the upcoming sequels, but also there’s a glimpse into the past: concerning books already published, sequels not yet written, worlds not yet realized. I learned a few things—and even made an addition to my TBR.

I was hoping to get this out last week, in time for the release of Engines of Empire, but these last few weeks have been insane—busy, stressful, everything happening at once. So… here it is now!

Many, many thanks to Orbit for making this happen, especially Angela Man, and of course Richard S. Ford for taking the time to answer some of my burning questions!

As is my style, I mostly stayed on task and asked questions about his latest release, but also snuck in some about his other books, other series, ones that we might not have had an adequate resolution to (ahem, Steelhaven). Luckily he didn’t seem to mind, and here’s the result!

Well, this is your fourth series (three as Ford, one as Cullen), and (unless I’m mistaken) your fourth different world (five including Kultus). Though some authors stay in one world their whole career, you’ve decided to do the opposite. So, do you have just so many ideas for different worlds, or feel the need to get started on something new after spending three straight books in one place, or some third option?

I hate to shatter the illusion that I’m some kind of creative dynamo, but the main decision to jump in and out of different worlds has mostly been made for me. I wrote Kultus back in 2010 with the intention it would be part of an ongoing series of 5 or 6 novels. However, Headline made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and my focus had to shift away from Blaklok’s story to Steelhaven. When, after a couple of years, Headline then decided to cancel its SFF imprint (and fire my editor) I was forced to move on to something else, which would eventually become the War of the Archons series. Due to the fact my previous books had been left hanging in the wind as far as ongoing narratives were concerned, I decided WotA would be a self-contained trilogy with a definite beginning, middle and end.

Before I even finished that trilogy I’d had ideas for other stories percolating in my head for a while. I wanted to write something truly epic, but I’d also wanted to dip my toe into historical fiction for years. So which one to write? I decided, why not do both at the same time?

And do you think you’ll ever revisit any of your other fantasy worlds in the future?

I have toyed with the idea of finishing the Blaklok books, perhaps via self-publishing (I now have the rights back from Solaris) but it’s quite a difficult series to market. Self-publishing relies on being able to promote your books by leveraging established genres, and Blaklok doesn’t comfortably fit in one, since it’s an occult, steampunk, action-adventure, with an ultra-violent, potty-mouthed protagonist. But who knows?

There are also lots more stories to be told in the world of Steelhaven (what has happened to Nobul Jacks?), but while Headline still clings onto the rights for the original trilogy they’ll never be written.

Saying that, the two trilogies I’m working on at the moment may well spin out into longer series, though that will entirely depend on their popularity.

I quite enjoyed the book, but really would’ve liked to see a bit of the revolution from outside the Hawkspur family. Did this worry you at all when you wrote the book? And do you think we’ll see any more diversity from the characters moving forward?

No, it didn’t worry me. The first book establishes the world through the eyes of the Hawkspur family, and adding too may external POVs would have diverted the narrative focus. Saying that, book two will bring a couple of minor characters from the first book to front and centre. You’ll just have to wait and see who they are.

And which character was your favorite to write? And the most challenging?

Conall was the most fun to write, mainly due to his snarky interactions with Sted, his stalwart lieutenant. In my original draft he wasn’t even featured, but on revising the MS I realised I needed a character with a bit of ‘bite’.

Every character brings their own unique challenges. Usually finding logical motivations for your villains, without making them moustache twirling bounders, is the most difficult part.

Could you explain the magic system to me? Without spoilers, of course. I never quite wrapped my head around it. If it was interconnected or different or based on the different gods or… there was a lot going on!

The magic system is sort of interconnected, but not really. In Torwyn traditional ‘magic’ has been outlawed since the war of the Archmages a thousand years before the story begins. The only magic that’s allowed is the use of pyrestone, which can be harnessed as a power source for artifice, and manipulated by webwainers.

Across the Drift in Malador, magic is much more traditional, but with a slightly demonic bent. In Nyrakkis they use necroglyphs – magical sigils ritually scarred into the skin – to harness demon-magics, though they would call them gods. In Iperion Magna magic is even more sinister, but its use is mostly reserved for the Scions and their servants.

Due to various cultural taboos, few people have ever (in recent years anyway) tried to combine the two. But, perhaps soon, someone will…

There are some hints that we’ll be going somewhere new in Book #2, which I can’t get into because of spoilers, but what can we expect from the series looking forward?

Rumour has it that in the coming year or two, more novels are going to focus on ‘joy’, so I thought I’d embrace that and have everyone make friends and live happily ever after in this next book. Only kidding – there’ll obviously be much more violence, betrayal and rip-roaring adventure!

And what can we expect from you looking forward?

I’ll be continuing both my ongoing series. Shield Breaker, book two in my historical fiction series (writing as Richard Cullen) will be release around July. I’ve almost finished the first draft of Engines of Chaos, and once that’s nailed and sent to the editor I’ll be jumping straight into book three. So pretty busy really!

Congratulations on the release of Engines of Empire, and best of luck in the future! I already can’t wait for Book #2!

Hope you enjoyed this little peek into the mind of Richard S. Ford/Richard Cullen. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my various reviews of his stuff, and then maybe go check out his books. It sucks about Headline and the Steelhaven stuff. Having recently finished that series, I’m still a bit frustrated by wondering about Nobul Jacks. But there are still other books yet to discover. I know I’m definitely interested in reading Kultus!

Richard S. Ford — Website

Kultus — Goodreads

Engines of Empire — Review • Goodreads

Herald of the Storm — Review • Goodreads

The Shattered Crown — Review • Goodreads

Lord of Ashes — Review • Goodreads

Beautiful World of Books – The Wyndham & Banerjee Mysteries

After last weekend’s review of Smoke and Ashes, I thought I’d do the Wyndham and Banerjee Mysteries on this week’s BWoB, as many feature quite pretty (or if not, interesting) covers. While a few I find disappointing—for they seem to cast Colonial India as a drab (which it wasn’t), depressing (which it very much was, depending on who you were) place—through their use of unflattering yellows and browns, in general it’s a bunch of lovely covers depicting an even lovelier series. And I do so love when a good book is matched with an equally good cover!

A Rising Man

Vintage (2016) • PegasusVintage (2020)

I have no idea who did any of the cover art for these, so if you do please do let me know. As much as I love both the first two, I hate the 2020 release from Vintage enough to make up for that. I won’t go into the reasons why—I just don’t like it. The 2016 Vintage is probably my favorite, but the Pegasus is a close second. This is the only book in the series I didn’t prefer the Pegasus covers on.

A Necessary Evil

Harvill SeckerPegasus

I had to uncrop this specifically to get the flowers to show. So they won’t match up, something that is kinda driving me nuts. But the addition of red blooms here to break up the green and brown of the jungle is what makes this one of the loveliest covers in the series, in my opinion. While there’s nothing wrong with the opposing cover, the Pegasus one features a character shrouded in the shadows of the jungle around him, something that lends itself directly to the lead’s experience in the text.

Smoke and Ashes

PegasusHarvill Secker

The most recent book in the series I’ve read is always my favorite to date. But—other than possibly the most recent Shadows of Men—I’d say it has the blandest covers. Though the smoke and indistinct shadows of the Pegasus copy did relate very nicely to the actual text.

Death in the East

Harvill SeckerPegasusVintage

The strongest covers of the series feature in Book #4—Death in the East. I’m not sure which one I like the most, and that’s okay. They’re all good, and all for the enjoying! While I’ll probably never own this in physical form, ideally I’d like to have all three of these covers (provided I also had somewhere to put them).

The Shadows of Men

VintagePegasus

The most recent release from Abir Mukherjee finds Wyndham and Banerjee traveling to Mumbai (Bombay) investigating a murder. Here, both covers go for the same stylized arch, the so-called “Gateway of India” (yes, I had to google the name). The background colors are a little different, but neither instills any real feeling of hope. One feels very much overshadowed by dread (at least that’s what I think of when I see the red and black clouds like wildfire), while the other’s drab overtones speak more of hopelessness.

My favorites here by far are the Pegasus covers—the shadowy figure, the cursive text done in an opposing color, the use of color and light. What do you think?

Engines of Empire – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Age of Uprising #1

Fantasy, Epic, Steampunk

Orbit Books; January 18, 2022

575 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

4.4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with an ARC! All opinions are my own.

While Torwyn was once a nation based on the will of the Wyrms—five great dragons that granted men magic and ruled the doors of life and death—it is now powered by the might of industry.

And industry is booming.

But industry is only as good as the people that run it—and in Torwyn, industry is run by the Guilds; chief among them the Archwind Guild, whose guildmaster now occupies the Emperor’s throne. Only a step below them sit the Hawkspur Guild, run by the Emperor’s only sibling, Rosomon. It is around Rosomon that the story resolves—her and her three children.

Conall, the eldest son, is dispatched to the frontier, where he hopes to earn honor and fame through military valor. Instead he finds a desert full of enemies, be they human or demon. The sands also hide a conspiracy, one that hints of a coming revolution, one that may shake the empire to its core.

Tyreta, the eldest daughter, the future Guildmaster of the Hawkspurs, is sick of duty. She’s not her brother, and constantly feels the weight of responsibility. A webwainer, she can control and wield the power of pyrestone—a geological component vital to the Empire’s burgeoning industry. When Tyreta is dispatched to visit Torwyn’s overseas colony of New Flaym, it might be just the escape she has been seeking. Or it might change everything for her, including in ways she never thought were possible.

Fulren, youngest son and brightest star of the family, is a talented artificer, one that is destined to lead the Guilds into the new age of industry. If he survives to see it. After being assigned as an escort to a foreign dignitary, he soon finds himself accused and condemned of murder he didn’t commit. A crime that may just start a war.

Industry drives the future of Torwyn. And the future seems bright, for now. But whispers in the Empire’s darkest corners tell of something more: of revolution, of rebirth, of the rise of an enemy long forgotten.

In many ways Engines of Empire is high fantasy at its best. A rich, immersive world, built on the backs of its strong leads, and equally strong characters. A lovely steampunk setting that blends magic with technology, and that pits the new ways against the old. A plot that plays at speculation, at fears, at rumors of revolution, and even darker whispers of unknown evil at its edges. It all comes together to tell an amazing story, one that I had absolutely no trouble tearing through once I got into it.

The problem is that I didn’t get into it right away. While I appreciated that the story was driven by alternating POVs of the same one family, it was this style that somewhat dampened my enjoyment. See, in a story of technology, one that tells of discontent and possible revolution, of an industry built on the backs of the working class, it’s important to see at least some of what the working class is dealing with. The Hawkspurs are each different, each see the world their own way and each want something different for their place in it—but if there’s one thing they’re not it’s underprivileged, downtrodden, working class. I would’ve liked to see at least one POV from the commonfolk, to see what life was like out of a position of inherent power. This is my main issue with the plot, one that really kept me from getting immersed in the story sooner.

That said, it’s also really my only complaint.

The story is a great one—interesting, entertaining, faced-paced at times and slow-built tension at others. There’s not a lot I can say about Engines of Empire, other than you really should read it. There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, and I’m happy to say it was entirely warranted. I’ve read R.S. Ford before; his first series, Steelhaven, was a bit of a mixed bag—partial world-building and mostly human characters, some combination of dark and epic fantasy that never quite figured out what it wanted to be. It’s a good story, but one that leaves something to be desired. It’s been seven years since Steelhaven finished, and it seems that Ford has spent his time since well. Engines of Empire begins a much different series, one with stronger leads, stronger world-building, and a more immersive plot. It’s not that I hated his previous works—it’s more how much I love this new universe. Can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Age of Uprising continues with Book #2, Engines of Chaos, presumably out 2023.

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher (KK’s Review)

Dresden Files #17

Urban Fantasy

Ace; September 29, 2020

432 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for the Dresden Files up to date!

Recap

So many events have led to this moment. Destruction of the Red Court of vampires. Never-ending conflicts with Order of the Blackened Denarius. Winter Court. Summer Court. Za-Lords Guard. Friends and foes have now come together and Harry Dresden is now against a supernatural opponent like no other. A Titan! And to think this is just because everyone wanted to gather for some Peace Talks. 


Rambling Review (unspecific spoilers ahead)

I was extremely excited when it was announced that Peace Talks and Battle Ground would be released only months apart. And then I made the huge mistake of NOT READING Battle Ground immediately upon arrival. I’d even purposefully reread the entire series to prepare for Peace Talks because I had a feeling that these two books were leading to another major change in the Dresden universe. However, when I finally got to the book, I couldn’t remember anything from the previous one. Internal monologue: “So…who’re we fighting again? Right, right…big bad Titan. Okay. Wait, what happened to Thomas again? Oh yeah. Ok, I think I remember every-WAIT WHO IS THIS CHARACTER? Oh…yeah they’re from that book. And whatabouthatitem…???” And on and on and on….Books that focus heavily on battles are not my favorite. I have a hard time picturing how the characters move through a space and I’m more interested in what happens after the fight. I’m ashamed to admit I COMPLETELY MISSED Butters turning into (essentially) a Jedi in a previous Dresden because my brain was saying, “Fight, fight, punch punch…okay, what’s next?” And Battle Ground is essentially one massive fight. Sure, there are some mini side events and conversations that provide a brief respite from the battle, but it’s mostly fighting. And it’s not my favorite. And I probably missed something, again….Major character death in this book. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. The death happened, Harry reacted to it in the moment, but he had to deal with big baddy. At the end of the book, there were pages of Harry talking about the death with other characters. Perhaps I was caught up in the main battle to truly feel the impact of the character’s passing or maybe it was the way the character passed, but the end of the book was more emotional for me than the moment the character died….Bob is one of the best characters. More Bob, please. Let Bob stay with Harry!…  Mab’s deadline was unnecessary. It felt like a way to justify some character relationship in future books. Don’t force me to think about that when I’m still processing another major emotion. Again, unnecessary….The ending of the book was the best part. Some family reconciliation (FINALLY). A bit of mystery to tickle the brain. Harry takes back something that’s his. I like all of that. The whole story shouldn’t rely on a solid ending though. Perhaps on a reread I’ll find more enjoyment in the battle arc, but at this time I’m pleased enough with the book to know I’m still excited to continue with the series.


Reader Remarks

As previously noted, I’m a fast reader. I’ve always liked the Dresden books because the flow of conversation and pacing of the book always keeps me entertained. But, I will never get over completely missing Butters using the sword as a lightsaber. Greatest reader shame of my life.   

How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying – by Frank Hyman (Review)

Guide

Story Publishing LLC; October 5, 2021

256 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.7 / 5 ✪

I was kindly granted an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion. All opinions are my own.

I don’t review a whole lot of guides.

In fact, I don’t review a whole lot of non-speculative fiction. Mostly what I read is science fiction or fantasy. Then come mysteries, thrillers, or young adult, which I do every now and then. Then the occasional horror, or adventure. Very occasionally I read science books, mostly astronomy or archaeology. The point is… Don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a guide before.

Well, this’ll be a first.

“How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying” is quite the mouthful, but most guides are. Yes, it even has a longer name—did you want to see that? Sigh, well. It’s “How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Identifying 29 Wild, Edible Mushrooms”. Now that’s a title. But again, most are. Otherwise they’ll be just one word, like “Change” or “Dust” or “Mushroom”, that sound cool and chic and all, but don’t actually explain what it is they focus on. Usually these will keep you in the dark until you’re halfway through—or have given up and moved on to something less abstract. This title here isn’t too abstract. In fact, it tells you exactly what this book is about, and what wisdom it hopes to impart. Namely, how to forage for mushrooms. Without dying.

Originally, I had just planned to review this by saying I’d foraged for mushrooms and not died. Problem is, I read this at the start of winter. And I live in the Rockies. Most mushrooms in this book aren’t found in the Rockies. Like, at all. The ones that are have seasonal availability, but uniformly aren’t present in winter. Except for Oyster Mushrooms. I know they grow in winter because I’ve found them before. The thing is, I’m not about to go out in the cold and snow just to find them. Guess I’m just not that dedicated. Plus I get cold easily.

I received a free ebook copy of this in exchange for an honest review. But… I liked what I saw so much that I wanted an actual print copy. To like, take with me. While foraging. (Also, I kinda thought that color pictures would be nice, and with mushrooms I don’t like to take chances.)

Luckily, the author of this doesn’t like taking unnecessary chances either. As such, he’s only included mushrooms that are easily identified, plentiful, and don’t share characteristics with any poisonous fungus. See, this isn’t an end-all guide. It’s very much a beginner’s guide—for beginners. I may have been foraging before, but I’m very much not an expert.

In the beginning, the author (Frank Hyman) explains the concept of mushrooms. Their structure, growth, reproduction—things like that. It’s all very basic, and he doesn’t go into great detail. Again, this is a beginner’s guide. If you want to know more, ask a mycologist. Or get a thicker book. Or both. After the chapter on getting to know mushrooms, there’s a “how to” chapter on foraging. It turns out that even with mushrooms that are edible, you need to be careful about how you cut them, store them, otherwise they might still make you sick. Three important points I picked up from this include: 1) if you’re not sure what it is, don’t eat it. This one seems straightforward, but bears repeating. Don’t eat it unless you’re as sure as sure can be. 2) even if you are sure you know what it is, only eat a little. At first, at least. If it doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you sick, you can always try more. But there’s no reason to overdo it. In mycology, as in most things, a little caution can’t hurt. 3) try to store your mushrooms in a paper poke, or on ice. This will keep the fungus fresh longer. You know when you get mushrooms from the store and put them in the fridge for a few days and after a little, they get these soft, greyish, bad looking spots on them? Yeah, those are actually another kind of fungus or mold that can make you sick if you eat it raw. It’s more prevalent on wild mushrooms, but still. Anyway, there are more tips and tricks inside.

The third chapter gets to the heart of the matter. Foraging. Mushrooms. What to look for, how to identify, how to double-check, where to find and in what season, how to cut, cook, and preserve. The next three chapters deal with foragables—detailing different kinds of mushrooms and what will help you find them.

The next chapter is brief, but important. It shows you some commonplace, but vital, mushrooms to avoid. Ones that will make you sick if eaten. Or maybe even kill you. I would’ve liked to see this section farther away from the edible mushroom one, though it still slaps icons and X’s all over the place to help avoid confusion.

The next two chapters deal with cooking and preserving, and an overview of the various tools of the trade that will help with mushroom harvest. These are more of an afterthought to the beginner (to me, at least), as you can only get so into something before you’ve actually done it. Foraging comes first. If you’re serious about it, you can worry about the tools and the recipes later. The final chapter concerns where to go from here. If you enjoyed the book and the foraging, it suggests further guides, books, and reference materials. If you didn’t, well, you’ll still have this one guide in case you ever want to try again!

I’d definitely recommend this guide (though only so much as I haven’t used it in the field yet) to anyone interested in the basics of foraging. I’ll be sure and post a followup once I actually do use it in the field, but in this one case I think I can definitely say that I’d prefer the physical copy over the ebook. Ease of access is import here; being able to flip through the book without having to worry overly about the wet or damp or dirt (there are some nice water-resistant glossy pages in its paper form), but a more important aspect is the pictures themselves. My e-reader, while useful, doesn’t do color. I put a copy on my phone, but it wasn’t great for showing the whole picture, the text, and the detail in a helpful manner. A tablet would work, but would also be clunkier. Nope, I’d recommend the paper copy if you mean to use this in the field—without dying.

That’s it for now, but I’ll definitely get back to you after using this to forage in the wild. Hopefully still with no dying.

Note: Frank Hyman also has a book about ways to keep your chickens happy and laying. There’s more on his website if you want to check it out. I didn’t, but there are way too many wild predators in my neighborhood to keep any chickens happy. Also, like, alive.

Fantasy from Richard S. Ford – Beautiful World of Books

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Engines of Empire, I’ve decided to move some things around and feature the fantasy novels of Richard S. Ford on this week’s BWoB. To date the English author has published 7 fantasy novels (including the forthcoming Engines) under an extensive variation of Richard S, R.S., or Richard Ford. He also has an ongoing historical series out under the pseudonym Richard Cullen, but we’re going to skip those for now.

Steelhaven

As some of you are no doubt aware, I’ve recently finished Steelhaven—to mixed opinions. Anyway, there are six English language covers for these books: two for each. The colored ones grace the original Headline covers, while the white ones one from the reissued kindle editions.

War of the Archons

War of the Archons is the second series from Ford, and one—while languishing on my TBR—that I’ve yet to get around to actually reading. Thus I can only judge these books by their covers alone, and… well, I judge them to be a little better than the first series. So, by the transitive property… the books must be a little better? I’m sure that the math there is solid, so it must be true.

Age of Uprising

Now going into the most recent book here, I was curious to see if any of these series connect. If they’re set in the same universe, or involve any of the same characters however, I haven’t seen any indication of it. So I’m pretty sure they’re all different. And this IS probably my favorite of them all, so I guess it stand to reason that this would be my favorite book of his to date!

But I guess you’ll have to check back Tuesday the 18th to find out;)

Have you read any of these? Which do you think you would, if any? And how do you like those covers?

Lord of Ashes – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Steelhaven #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Headline Publishing; May 7, 2015

341 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for Books 1 & 2 of the Steelhaven trilogy. Also language and violence.

Review of Herald of the StormReview of The Shattered Crown

One very important note on this series: it’s called the Steelhaven trilogy for a reason. Yes, the characters take center stage, but wherever they are and whatever they’re doing—the city is always around them. It is in every shot, every scene, every moment. While the story may wend back and forth between the POV of all the characters, it’s the City of Steelhaven that the series is concerned with. And this is more important than ever, for the moment we’ve been waiting the entire series to see has arrived: Amon Tugha, displaced prince and would-be King of the Riverlands has come to pluck the jewel for his crown.

As his army sets up before the city gates, despair covers Steelhaven like a blanket. There is no escape from this battle. For there will be a battle; Amon Tugha’s forces are not content to simply starve the defenders out. They mean to take the city by force—whatever the cost.

Waylian hasn’t slept in days. But with the army on the city’s doorstep, there is much to do—not that he understands any of it. But his mistress thinks it’s important, so Waylian is quick enough to try it. The worst that can happen is he’ll die painfully, and after all, there’s always been a pretty good chance of that happening.

Rag has survived, somehow. But with the city sure to fall, it can’t be for much longer. When the Guild calls on her to complete a task, what can she say? While this new job will most likely get her killed, with the city locked up tight there are even less places to hide than usual—and nowhere to run.

Nobul and Regulus stand on the city walls. Around them the defenders quake in their boots, one loss away from a complete massacre. But each man means to fight til the end—one for honor, the other for blood.

Merrick has joined the Wyvern Guard, while Kaira remains beside the Queen. Together they form the elite guard for the castle itself; essentially the last line of defense. But while the Raven’s Guard may be content to wait for the enemy in their castle, Janessa is not. She has picked up her father’s sword and means to lead the city’s defense—no matter the danger.

“I think we’re fucked.”

All in all, it was a pretty good end. But it’s important to note that the trilogy is about the city itself. Vital, even. So much so that I’ve mentioned it again. See, if you go into the final book thinking that there will be a certain amount of resolution at the end… well, you might be disappointed. Steelhaven’s fate will definitely be decided. The other characters… less so. Yes, there is some resolution—most, even—but it is not universal.

Going in I thought that this was the last nail in the trilogy, but upon reaching the end I figured that it had to be like one of the JAbercrombie efforts—where subsequent books help expand upon the story of Steelhaven, and resolve some of the characters’ destinies that don’t end here. But while Ford has a couple more trilogies in the works, neither seems to have anything to do with this world. Now I could be wrong (hope I am, in fact), but I don’t think I am.

So while the end itself is a tad disappointing, the journey there is an entertaining one. Again, the characters feed off one another; their threads overlapping and interlinking and weaving in and out while coming together to complete the tapestry itself. It really is quite something to see how it all comes together. We find a few familiar (if surprising) faces, and many of our old faithful ones. Most of the sub-plots are resolved, and nothing too great is left hanging at the end. This was a good read, an entertaining one, but by no means perfect. I know I’ll see more from Ford in the future, and hope that his quality of storytelling can only improve from now on.

A must-read for readers who’ve made it this far, or for fans of the author. For anyone still on the fence… not sure what to tell you. Do you like dark, realistic fantasy where there’s no such thing as “happily ever after”? Then you might like this. But only time will tell.

If you’re interested, Engines of Empire, the first book in Ford’s new series—the Age of Uprising—comes out next week: on January 18th! Maybe check it out.