Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Hogwarts Library #3

Short Stories, Fantasy

Bloomsbury; December 4, 2008 (original)

Pottermore Publishing; March 31, 2020 (audio)

109 pages (HC) 1 hr 35 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

A quick little reminder about how cool Harry Potter was. And probably a subtle hint to buy more merchandise and hey maybe your friends would like some too, and hey you know that one family member who hasn’t read the series, you could gift them it now, yeah?

Remember Harry Potter? Dude, yay-high, lightning scar, glasses, wizard. No, no, not “wizzard”. That’s the other one. This is the Daniel Radcliffe one. He was also in that other thing that you probably saw but then regretted it as it wasn’t Harry Potter.

If you don’t remember Harry Potter, I think the first book is still free a bunch of places. If you’re interested, google it. But for the people that remember the Wizarding World, Tales of Beedle the Bard is a quick reminder of how much fun that world could be. Especially at times such as these—where some of us are stuck in, others are stuck out, and the rest are in the fantastic land of in-between—fun is badly needed. Enclosed within the hundred-odd pages there are four new tales from the world of Harry Potter and one tale most of us have probably heard before.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot begins the Tales, a brief reminder of how those that hoard their magic will never find peace from it. The Fountain of Fair Fortune was my favorite of the tales, and teaches the lesson that if you think your life is bad, well, someone else probably has it worse. The Warlock’s Hairy Heart pushes the point that you can’t hide from your feelings without the consequences being impossible to live with. Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump shows that anything can be lovely, but some things you can’t afford “to fake it til you make it”, and consequences be damned. And the Tale of the Three Brothers—which was featured in the books—returns to stamp home the point that you can’t hide from Death, because… no, wait. Never mind—the last one has no moral.

TL;DR

So, five stories, four of them new, and four with morals. I swear that the Tales were used as some kind of history read in Harry Potter, so these folk tales with morals attached make little sense here. I guess it’s just a little lore that will remind you how fun and cool Harry Potter was and how much you should go back and read them now. For diehard fans (which I am not—I like the world and the story enough, but y’know, I like other stories too) (it’s not a Stormlight level of good, anyway), I guess it’d be a must-read. If you’ve Audible, it’s free, so the read was worth it. But otherwise… meh. Pretty light, nothing too deep. It’s mildly fun and interesting, though nothing special.

Audio Note: The narration was the strongest part. A star-studded cast feature, each reading a separate tale. Considering this was free, it’s incredibly well narrated.

TBR – December

Top 4

  1. Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #5)
  2. The Outlaw and the Upstart King – by Rod Duncan (Map of Unknown Things #2)
  3. Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #5)
  4. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

Next 4

  1. The Grey Bastards – by Jonathan French (Lot Lands #1)
  2. The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Tide Child #1)
  3. Dispel Illusion – by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #3)
  4. Babylon’s Ashes – by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse #6)

Last 4

  1. Vengeful – by V.E. Schwab (Villains #2)
  2. Rotherweird – by Andrew Caldecott (Rotherweird #1)
  3. After Atlas – by Emma Newman (Planetfall #2)
  4. The Wastelanders – by Kristyn Merbeth (Wastelanders Omnibus)

TBR Finished Since November

  1. Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Wells of Sorcery #1)

Only one off this last month, so I shifted things around a bit to bring up some new books. As usual, my TBR is faaaaaar from lacking. In other news, I just got my Christmas Cold, which sucks. I’m usually sick for Christmas ON Christmas, but whatever—maybe I’ll try out New Year’s. No flu this year, though, which is a plus.

Have you read any of these—any I should skip? Any that I should bump up? Any that are super AAAAWESOME? Let me know!

Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Review)

Wells of Sorcery #1

Fantasy, YA, Teen

Tor Teen; January 22, 2019

366 pages (Hardcover)

3.5 / 5 ✪

Ship of Smoke and Steel is the latest offering from Django Wexler, a YA/Teen fantasy novel with adventure and romantic elements. A bit of a mashup, it involves some mystery, combat and suspense as well. Some of these it does very well, while others it fails at spectacularly. While I definitely enjoyed my time spent reading it, SoSaS wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I would’ve thought after the first third. While hardly a slog, some sections were weighed down by clumsy, uneven pacing or slowed by the melding of two stories that just didn’t fit.

But let’s get into it.

In the slums of Kahnzoka, 18-year-old Isoka once ran collections for a shadowy crime lord. One that may or may not have also been her. A Melos adept, she used her combat magics to cut her way through anyone or thing that opposed her. But when her secret was discovered, Isoka was snatched up by the Empire, and given an impossible choice. To steal a legendary ghost ship for the Empire—something that is almost surely a suicide mission—or to turn her back on the one person Isoka truly loves: her little sister, Tori.

Soliton is more myth than ship. It makes berth in Kahnzoka once a year, where the adepts and sensitives of the city are sacrificed to help swell its ranks. Isoka is one such sacrifice. Infiltrating the ship under the orders of the Empire, she’ll have one year to deliver them Soliton, or lose Tori forever. But the task is a daunting one. And as you may’ve guessed, it begins from the bottom.

Thrown in with a ragtag group of misfits, Isoka’s mission looks doomed from the start. But—as these misfits show their character (and Isoka nearly dies)—she soon comes upon an opportunity for advancement. One she can’t afford to pass up. But on a ship of magic users and sensitives, how can she tell friend from foe? And what else may be lurking, ready to pounce?

As a teen fantasy adventure, SoSaS impresses. I loved the new and mystical sights; the mysterious ship Soliton, the creatures onboard, the descriptions, the Vile Rot, the wonder and adventure and twists and turns. Isoka’s journey is a bleak and bloody one to be sure, but the vibrance of the world itself makes up for her heavy handed approach to life. Soliton doesn’t seem like a ship, encompassing vast swaths of mysterious and unexplored heights, depths, and decks. Truly a world in itself, the ship is a triumphant creation, pulled off by Wexler through what I suspect is a time-honed combination of skill and luck, tempered with a wild imagination.

The story itself is… good. It’’s a little lame at first, if I’m honest. Kahnzoka isn’t the best backdrop, and the initial plot of blackmail and an impossible task, then a ragtag group of misfits seemed a bit cut-and-paste. Once aboard Soliton, the story really takes off. While beneath it all, there’s still the rather unimaginative blackmail machination driving everything—the story of Soliton itself steals the show. Now, though the ending itself is a little less than spectacular, the journey there is well enough worth it.

The romance, however, is a complete dud. Unless an awkward, fumbling teen romance is a thing that people actually WANT to read about. Now, Isoka has no problems cavorting with the opposite sex. At least when screwing them. It’s the fairer sex that’s the root of her issues. Specifically, one certain princess. This is the focus of the book’s romance. And personally it makes me cringe. Not the same-sex attraction, but the way that it is rendered. It reminds me of a simpler, more awkward, complicated, adolescent time when everything was all puberty, puberty, PUBERTY. It certainly does NOT make for an entertaining read.

The magic and combat of SoSaS is where the action is. The Wells of Sorcery—eight of them, at least—make for an entertaining combination of combat and tactics. When these Wells are combined in a single person, the opportunities for different styles of attack are nearly endless. Here, Wexler has built an impressive arsenal of potential magical powers and techniques that is certainly worth a look. That said, I felt that it was undersold in the book. The story gives a brief overview of the Wells, but little detail is given to anything beyond Melos. I would’ve liked to see more depth from the magic, especially beyond mere combat. The Lost Well (Eddica, the Well of Spirits) is well featured in the mystery around Soliton, but not very well explained. Actually, this is about par—the other Wells are similarly underused, vague and ill explained. We’re left with just a basic understanding of the magic; little beyond how to kill things.

SoSaS doesn’t feature a cliffhanger or anything, but the ending is less than perfect. For days afterwards I felt too disappointed to start this review, preferring to put it off while I searched for any fulfillment the text had yet to offer. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that it’s abrupt. There’s little feeling of resolution—the story falling flat after such a great buildup. I’m still enthusiastic for the next one, just not excited. I want to read it and all, but it can wait.

TL;DR

Ship of Smoke and Steel is the latest addition to Wexler’s family, a Teen/YA novel that takes two different perspectives of a girl—Isoka—and attempts to weave them into a single story. The resulting adventure is fantastic. With flashy magic and brutal combat that helps support a lush and vibrant world aboard the mysterious Soliton, which is more continent than ship. The story of one girl’s quest to save her sister, at whatever cost. The resulting love-story doesn’t work. With cringe-worthy scenes that disrupt pacing, will-they won’t-they moments abound—as Isoka travels the length of the world to find love. I suppose it IS a teen novel, and nothing screams puberty more than this romance. Combined, the two tales make one halfway decent story, just don’t expect too much. The conclusion, as well, could’ve used an overhaul. I left SoSaS feeling unfulfilled, even disappointed, as Wexler usually does a better job at resolution. While Ship of Smoke and Steel is well worth a look as a fantasy adventure, it’s worth little as a well-rounded tale. There’s action, combat, adventure, mystery and suspense, but anything beyond the hitting of things is rather lackluster. As is the magic itself. Full of color and flair, the Wells are skirted over—no real detail, nothing in-depth, and little seen other than with Melos itself.

The short of it: Ship of Smoke and Steel underwhelmed me. I definitely enjoyed the adventure—and would recommend the book for that alone—but a well-rounded fantasy it is not. While I am looking forward to the sequel, I honestly expect more from it.

City of Stone and Silence comes out January 7, 2020.

The Test – by Sylvain Neuvel (Review)

Novella

Scifi

St. Martin’s Press; March 1, 2019

104 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

The Test is a science fiction novella by Sylvain Neuvel, owner of one of my favorite names in scifi. I recently picked up the paperback after months on the fence as to whether or not I really wanted to buy the ebook. Turns out, I probably should’ve gotten it earlier.

Idir Jalil is a good man. Originally from Teheran, he is currently taking the British Citizenship Test in an attempt to formally immigrate to England. Polite and courteous, soft spoken but brave when the situation requires, Idir cares for nothing more than his family—his wife Tidir, children Ramzi and Salma. And only 25 questions stand between him and his family’s new life. Or their trip back to Iran.

But all is not as it seems. And after the test takes an unexpected turn, Idir is granted not just the power to change his and his family’s lives, but the power of life and death over his fellow immigrants.

Not bad, for a novella.

Most of this is told from Idir’s POV, but there are other perspectives. If you’re familiar with Neuvel’s Themis Files, then the layout and telling of this tale won’t be any surprise. If not, then the interview, back-and-forth style that he uses may take some getting used to. Maybe even more pages than this features. For the most part, this style works fairly well to tell Idir’s story. But it’s less than perfect. For the Themis Files, I thought it was a new and innovative approach. For this story, I found it a bit clipped.

Nothing that I can complain much about, though. Overall, the premise was interesting. More than, in fact. It was a quick and entertaining read. I read it in a day. A bit short, not very filling, and a few unresolved issues in the end, though mostly on the scifi end. I would’ve liked a bit more, but it was clear that Neuvel told the story he was trying to, and it all flows very nicely. So, other than a couple issues, I’ve no reason not to recommend this.

I liked Idir. I enjoyed his perspective. I thought his character and his story were very good. But worth $4 (or more, or less, if you wanted the physical copy)? Yeah, probably. Especially if you enjoyed the Themis Files. And I would actually recommend it. And as a bonus: we even learn an important lesson in the end. Need anything else?

Yeah, well.

TBR – November

So I just finished Age of Legend, but haven’t picked out my next TBR book yet. Though it’ll most likely be #1 or 2 from the following TBR list. But we’ll see, eh?

Top 4

  1. Hitchhiking Through Fire – by Brent McKnight
  2. Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #5)
  3. Ship of Smoke and Steel – by Django Wexler (Wells of Sorcery #1)
  4. Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

A bit of a shake-up in the Top 4 since last month. So, I got hard copies of 3 & 4—which I began reading only to stop (yeah, both of ’em; nothing against them, I just had an impossible time focusing on anything when I was ill)—and then a digital copy of #1 which I’m dying to see is any good or not. But then the last Legends book ended in a cliffhanger, so I’ll also probably start AoD before too long.

Next 4

  1. Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft (Books of Babel #1)
  2. The Thousand Names – by Django Wexler (Shadow Campaigns #1)
  3. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  4. Cold Iron – by Miles Cameron (Masters & Mages #1)

A bunch of series’ starters here, including a second Wexler book, which would be my 4th by the author. Also my 8th Beaulieu and 6th Cameron. Never read anything by Bancroft. YET.

Last 4

  1. An Easy Death – by Charlaine Harris (Gunnie Rose #1)
  2. Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro #3)
  3. The Last Stormlord – by Glenda Larke (Watergivers #1)
  4. Age of Assassins – by R.J. Barker (The Wounded Kingdom #1)

Several more noobs, then essentially the novelization of Metro: Last Light, or so I’m led to believe. But as Metro 2033 was so much more an existential experience, I’m not convinced.

TBR Finished Since October

  1. Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan (Map of Unknown Things #1)
  2. Age of Legend – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #4)

Two’s not bad for the latter half of the month I had. AND the beginning of November. I DID say I doubted November would go as well, though. Lucky…

In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Review)

Pax Arcana #4

Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

Orbit; April 26, 2016

424 pages (PB)

3 / 5 ✪

Carry the Story, Check its Baggage

In Shining Amor stars Harry Dresden and Taylor Lautner knockoff love-child John Charming. Fresh off the events of Fearless (or was that Daring?), which found Charming the godfather of Constance, knights and werewolf daughter alike, In Shining Armor finds her a captive—I suppose because James needed a new book idea and went with his very first thought.

It’s been a few months since John and Sig got together. Charming, being his usual optimistic self, has spent this time automatically assuming something will go wrong. Eventually, you’d have to assume he’d be right. The kidnapping of his goddaughter certainly qualifies. And yet the intriguing part of this is that although her abduction is the initial selling-point of this book, it’s not the all-encompassing story that I assumed it’d be.

No, instead of Constance, In Shining Armor has more to do with her absence. In particular, what her absence means. For when everything points to her abduction being an inside job, the two factions behind her protection start pointing fingers. Mostly at one another. And when the tenuous alliance between knights and werewolves begins to decay, a war is brewing.

Though not the war you’d expect.

The worst part of this was book was the relationship between John and Sig. Seriously, they were really annoying. Really, REALLY ANNOYING. I mean, the casual, witty, sarcastic banter was cute at first. Entertaining, even. But to read it throughout the entire book got old very, very quickly. Especially as it seemed to bleed into every single conversation. The group gets ambushed and almost killed? Witty banter underscored with sexual tension. Our heroes battle for their lives against an ancient, unknown foe? Witty sexual banter. Trying to figure out who wants to start a war and why? Sarcasm and banter mixed. An old ally, a new enemy, any bit of mystery or any kind of planning? Sex. Sarcasm. Relationship. Drama.

It all reads like a guide to Sig and John’s relationship, with the actual plot a simple undercurrent to it. Which is too bad, because the actual plot is pretty solid. Wasn’t what I expected, that’s for sure. The abduction of Constance is too obvious, too quick. The war, the misdirection, the rest—it’s really quite entertaining. Like, a 4.5 or higher story. And yet everything seems to distract from it.

The action is… actiony? I mean, it seems to be added specifically because the author thought there should be action. Because he wanted his characters (semi-action hero-y in the past), to be total Action Heroes. The first fight scene blends pretty well into the background of the tale. From then on, it seemed the fights were just an addendum to everything. Violence for the sake of violence. Now, as a guy, I love a good violence every now and then. You know, 300, explosions, kung fu, Braveheart, All For One and that kinda thing. In Shining Amor reads kinda like a mystery covered in a bunch of sticky notes. Through these, James tries to flesh out the characters, the action, the romance, the development and everything else he thinks the text needs. All the while the real story sits buried—perfectly good in its own right. It really tries to be too much. Could be a romance (well, maybe a casual chick-flick), just cut the action. A thriller, just get rid of the John-Sig affair. A mystery, or paranormal fantasy, just stop trying to add everything else.

TL;DR

In Shining Armor tries and tries, just in the end it tries too much. Its fantastic story is buried beneath heaps of romance and action and thrills that don’t really work. And certainly don’t go together. The dialogue is disgusting and annoying, especially once you get into it. The action is your basic fight-scene, copied and repeated throughout. The story is pretty amazing, by itself. In the end, In Shining Amor is a pretty good read, without all the fiddly bits. It really is. I recommend it, just don’t take it too seriously. Skip over some of the dialogue, some of the fight scenes, some of the sex. It becomes a shorter, much more entertaining adventure, mystery, and experience.

Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Review)

Impossible Times #2

Time Travel, Scifi

47North; May 28, 2019

222 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The new Mark Lawrence time travel epic confused me past the point of… confusion. Not that that’s unusual. I’ve a physics background and can often follow the math to a point. That point was not in Limited Wish. I mean, I’d never even heard of half the principles in this book but… I digress.

Nick is 16, a budding genius, working on a time-altering project in Cambridge beside to his idol, Dr. Halligan. Following the events of the previous year, his hair has grown back, his leukemia’s in remission, he’s lost a girlfriend, and made several new and interesting enemies. Not bad for a teen, right? As Limited Wish opens, we find Nick easing back into his old life as just one more unrecognized genius. But that is about to change. Thanks to a previously unsolved proof, one famous professor, and the power of cancer, Nick’s stock is on the rise.

That is, until he attends a garden party. And his world changes forever.

Demus is back, as is a new time-traveler—doppelgänger for Helen, a cute girl Nick’s met at Cambridge—that Nick knows nothing about. But she knows him. As the story progresses, we find out more and more about time travel, the fate of the timelines, and more about 80’s music and D&D than some of us thought was possible. And the travelers themselves have their fates revealed.

One Word Kill was based on a strength of story and characters. While Limited Wish may have the theory nailed down (I honestly couldn’t tell you, but that Lawrence dude seems pretty smart, so) and the characters are stronger than ever, I found it was the story that suffered. I mean, a little. It was entertaining and all, but… well, time-travel novels tend to tie my brain in knots. Especially those that have their theory really down. Granted, I prefer them to the half-assed ones or whatever the “traveling through history” thing was in Paradox Bound—but I find that they still tend to detract from my enjoyment. Additionally, I didn’t think that this round’s main and D&D narratives melded as well as One Word Kill’s did. They were kinda related—but it was sometimes a stretch.

While I may have additional issues with the 2nd Impossible Times, I also have additional praise for it. The characters—mostly thorough and thought-out in OWKill—have evolved into something more, something truly believable. With one absolutely enormous caveat: the main villain. I didn’t really like Ian Rust in the first book. Thought he was pretty much around because the story needed a villain, but wasn’t believable at all. Charles is worse. I feel like he’s only around for the same reason, but isn’t the strong, believable person that Ian was. Which is just sad. Anyway, excepting Charles, the characters of LWish are what brings the story alive. From the interactions between Nicodemus and his D&D party members, to the group that collects when his cancer returns, to the love-triangle between Nick, Mia and Helen—the book’s strength is in its characters.

TL;DR

Limited Wish is an entertaining sequel that nearly lives up to its predecessor, yet fails to improve upon it. Pack with interesting characters, mind-bending time paradoxes, and entertaining pitfalls, it may be just what you need to break yourself out of a reading slump. However, a subpar story, unrelated D&D mashups and a villain that’s just stupid ridiculous may prove a setback to others. Free for Amazon Prime members means it’s probably worth a shot if you’re on the fence. But I’m hoping for better from the Impossible Times series when Dispel Illusion drops in November.

On Tap 09/13

Currently Reading

• The Dark Blood – by A.J. Smith

After the Black Guard, I raved about the world, but didn’t like the story. Now that we’re back for #2, I’m hoping the story will improve. And that I’ll love it. I AM sure the world-building will continue to impress, so… Fingers crossed!

• Fallen – by Benedict Jacka

The 10th of a planned 12 Alex Verus novels (if you didn’t know that, sorry to ruin it!). Things are really heating up in the story, finding Alex with a love interest, and more power than he ever wanted. #10 takes place one year later, finding Alex fighting to keep everything he holds dear. I can’t wait to get into it!

• Shadows of Self – by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve been rereading the Wax & Wayne books on audio (from my library fyi), and so far they’re just as good as the first time through. The reader (Michael Kramer—from Way of Kings and Eye of the World) is a good one, and everything’s still in Mistborn swing.

Up Next

• The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker

This sounds like a cross between Marc Turner’s Dragon Hunters (which I loved) and John Gwynne’s Banished Lands (which I loved MORE). I put it off a little to finish A Little Hatred and Fallen on time, so I’m reeeeally anxious to start it now!

• In Shining Armor – by Elliott James

Been reading a lot of epic, high and dark fantasy lately, which means it’s time for more urban and scifi. Book 4 of the Pax Arcana looks like just the thing! Doesn’t look like we’ll get anything beyond #5 (as the author’s gone dark), though, so I hope the next two provide a good wrap-up.

To Do

I still have some reviews to get through, as I’ve a backlog from my vacation still. Also, there’s the release of a Q&A with Tyler Hayes, author of the Imaginary Corpse (find the review here!) on September 23. Maybe it’ll provide a little traffic, but I’m really just hoping that some of you find it interesting!

Reviewed since the Last (09/04)

The Forbidden Library – by Django Wexler (Forbidden Library #1)

Bloody Rose – by Nicholas Eames (The Band #2)

The Ember Blade – by Chris Wooding (Darkwater Legacy #1)

Additional TBR

  1. A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne (Of Blood & Bone #2)
  2. Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro series #3)
  3. Sky in the Deep – by Adrienne Young (Sky in the Deep #1)
  4. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  5. Street Freaks – by Terry Brooks

Book Review: The Ember Blade – by Chris Wooding

Darkwater Legacy #1

High Fantasy, Epic, Dark Fantasy

Gollancz; September 20, 2018

832 pages (HC) / 30hr 40m (AU)

5 / 5 ✪

The Ember Blade combines the typical coming-of-age fantasy with a bit of something dark, in order to create an epic debut that fails to fall under either category—yet somehow succeeds in both. Early on (for the first 10 hours or so), I was convinced that this was your general light vs. dark tale, complete with ancient evils, a chosen one, and third-party horrors awaiting to devour them all. And yet towards the latter half of the tale, it morphed into something more. Something different.

It begins with Ossia, a once great nation laid low by the Krodan, subject to Krodan rule for so long that freedom is little more than an idea. Enter Aren, a merchant’s son, obsessed with everything Krodan. Their language, their history, their law. Even the young love of his life is Krodan. They have no chance of being together, however, as Aren, as hard as he tries, is not Krodan. Enter Cade, son of a carpenter, obsessed with stories. Tales of illusion and grandeur, greatness and adventure, fame and fortune. And especially Ossia. A free, independent Ossia. Two unlikely friends against the world.

And yet when the Krodan law comes down upon them, their friendship is tested. Aren’s father is arrested for being a traitor and slain, Aren and Cade sent to a work-camp in his stead. Not only is Cade’s friendship with Aren in jeopardy, but Aren’s fascination with all things Krodan is as well. And yet with the help of some unlikely allies, they escape the camp. But… to what end? For there is something bigger than just their story between them now, and Aren and Cade—caught up in it—find themselves playing a much grander game. One that may just end with their finger in a Krodan eye, and the first piece to a free, independent Ossia. For the young prince of Krodia is due to be wed, and at his banquet shall fall the Ember Blade: a symbol of Ossian nationalism. But can Aren and Cade and their newfound allies begin the dream of a free, unified Ossia, or will they be crushed under the heel of the Krodans once again?

First and foremost, this is a coming-of-age fantasy. The main characters, Aren and Cade, definitely grow and change over the course of the text. It’s their character growth that makes the Ember Blade a success, above all else. The dynamic of their friendship is tested time and again—sometimes it bends, maybe even breaks. And yet persists throughout the entire book. Even when they’re not speaking it’s that dynamic that drives their story, whether Wooding means it to or not. I mean, there are other factors in play, too. Of course there are.

I mentioned earlier that I struggle to classify this as anything more than a coming-of-age story. I mean, it is SO MUCH more—I’m just not sure where to start. It begins with the classic CoA fantasy vibe. Light against dark, battling ancient evil with their team of misfits and mentors. An oppressed people trying to overthrow a tyrannical power. A true underdog story.

But then, something changes.

I’m not exactly sure when it happens. It begins with a crack here. A crack there. The great and noble dream of Ossia may not be that noble at all. Krodia may not be the horrid power we once thought. And slowly the realm of heroes and villains is slowly replaced. By that of people—humans—just trying to do what they think is best. The lines blur from black and white, and occasionally the story gets downright dark.

I, uh, really enjoyed it.

Chris Wooding tries something new, here. Blends it with something tried and true. And it… works. I mean, the Ember Blade may not be for everyone, but I think it will appeal to more just through its split nature. It’s not a classic good and evil battle. It’s not a grimdark piece, where everyone’s inherently selfish and the world just sucks. It’s not a clean split, a dark fantasy, or much in-between. It’s… hard to pin down. But I’d say it’s a blend of High and Epic, with just a splash of Dark. And it works. Very well, in fact.

If you needed a further reason to read it, it’s the characters. There are several POV chapters throughout, each with their own strong narrators that have their own history, morals, strengths, weaknesses and depth. In addition to Aren and Cade, there’s the freedom fighter Garric. The Druidess Vika. The prisoner Grub. The survivor Ren. A bard, an exile, a lieutenant and more. Can’t say I was thrilled to read each’s POV, but I was actually fairly well invested in everyone’s. Didn’t hate any of them, even. Each with depth of character, arcs and change and growth and regression.

A detailed world, it gave me just enough for my imagination to fill in the rest. A powerful story, though lacking in subtlety. A pretty good chunk of text—800ish pages. Or, if you’d prefer an audiobook like I did—30-odd hours. And I didn’t have any problem getting through it. No lags, as it were. Not much disinterest. For such a long book, it really kept me entertained throughout.

TL;DR

The Ember Blade is an immensely entertaining coming-of-age fantasy, set in an interesting, well thought out realm. It defies traditional light vs. dark, good vs. evil plots, instead choosing the middle ground; while committing to neither high nor dark fantasy in its telling. The text is jam-packed with POVs, each as deep and intricate AND entertaining as the last. I can’t say there was one that I was dreading, one that I had on auto-skip as I usually do in these long epic debuts. While I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy all your time reading this monster, I will predict you’ll find something you like within—something that will likely see you through to its conclusion.

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.