Book Review: Fallen Gods – by James A. Moore

Tides of War #2

Grimdark, Fantasy

Angry Robot; January 2, 2018

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

3.5 / 5 ✪

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh Loot: 6/29 (I don’t have any shelf space)

We’ll just call this my “Stacking the Shelves” for now, as I’ve never liked the name. Besides, everyone has one of these; I just wish I didn’t enjoy them so much. It’s an oddly embarrassing thing to admit. Anyway, this marks my first of… whatever I end up calling it, which may or may not become a thing. Shooting for biweekly, but we’ll see.

And yeah, at the moment I have no free shelf space. I really have to get on that, but uh… haven’t?

So, credit for “Stacking the Shelves” goes to Tynga’s Reviews, I think. Anyone confirm?

eARCs (via NetGalley)

Old Bones – by Preston & Child (Nora Kelly #1)

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for this one! I’ve not actually enjoyed many of Preston & Child’s books lately, particularly the Pendergast ones. I mean, they’re okay (the Gideon ones’ are awful, in my opinion), but I really liked all the ones Nora Kelly starred in, so I’m going into this spinoff cautiously optimistic.Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for this one!

The Wolf’s Call – by Anthony Ryan ( #1)

Another where I haven’t enjoyed, well, much after Blood Song. But it was probably my favorite book ever. Tower Lord was good, just not compared to Blood Song. Queen of Fire is best just forgotten. Anyway, I’m hoping that with Vaelin al Sorna back center stage this will be the a worthy successor. I can report that it seems to be written much in the style of Blood Song (at least at first), in 3rd PPOV with Vaelin as the chief narrator, so there’s that. Thanks to Ace Books for the ebook!

ARCs

The Girl the Sea Gave Back – by Adrienne Young (Sky in the Deep)

Thanks to St. Martin’s press and probably Goodreads for this! This was a surprise. I must’ve won it, but I couldn’t remember entering a contest. After reading the blurb I am looking forward to reading it, so hopefully we’ll get to that soon! As far as I can tell, this is set in the same world as Sky in the Deep, but isn’t a direct sequel. Which is fantastic, as I haven’t finished the first yet.

Purchases

Silver in the Wood – by Emily Tesh

I knew I was going to end up buying this. I’m a sucker for anything involving the Green Man, and the sample I read earlier in the week already hooked me. I can’t wait to read this!

Other

The Great Book of Amber – by Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber #1-10)

Totally forgot about this one as my birthday wasn’t anytime recently, but my sister’s present finally got here. It’s been a decade (more?) since I read the first Amber book (Nine Princes in Amber) and can’t remember squat about it. Can’t even recall what I thought of it. But, this’ll give me a second chance at that, eh? This thing’s like a brick, too. A solid 1258 pages—almost a Stormlight’s worth. Probably won’t take it backpacking.

Do y’all have any suggestions or near-future books you’re excited about? Let me know, please!

Book Review: The Six Directions of Space – by Alastair Reynolds

Standalone, Novella

Scifi

Subterranean Press; January, 2009

85 pages (Hardcover)

2.7 / 5 ✪

An interesting piece of scifi set in a future where the Mongol Khanate never fell but overran the earth, eventually extending their vast empire to the stars. Interesting, but quite short—especially when considering Reynolds’ other work—Six Directions tells the story of Yellow Dog, a spy for the Inner Systems sent to investigate phantoms on the Empire’s fringe. These “phantoms” appear in wormholes on the outskirts of the Outer Systems, and are thought by most to be simply a glitch of the machine, mistake of the eye, or even ghosts from the past. Others believe them to be aliens; though these are far in the minority.

And yet the Inner Systems seem to be taking the phantoms seriously, as they have sent one of an elite number of spies to investigate (albeit, after quite some time). Yellow Dog’s investigation will take her to unique and new places, let her see sights few of her kind has ever laid eyes on, while danger and death close in all around.

Six Directions is… okay. I mean, it was interesting, and I never had any trouble reading through it. I liked it, when everything was flowing. It’s just that right when I began to really get into the story—it ended. To say the conclusion was abrupt would be an understatement. I mean, I knew the thing was short, but it just… stopped. Some loose ends were tied up, the main arc as well, I guess. The story wasn’t anything to get excited about. The main problem with novellas is that; it’s hard to weave together any kind of adequate thread-count when your tale lasts about as long as the average cartoon.

The author also seems unwilling to completely separate the Chinese and Mongolian influences, although historically they were completely different, only coming together during the short period where the Khans conquered China (known as the Yuan Dynasty). I mean, they’re separate in the text, yet still oddly connected. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with their relationship.

All of this lends itself to my rather odd rating. I’d read it again, if only as it wouldn’t take much doing. I’d recommend it, but only if it were cheap or free (I got it from the library, so that was a win-win). I’m familiar with the author (and generally enjoy his stuff), so knew it’d be thoughtful if not terribly fulfilling.

Ultimately, however, it was just a thin story followed up by an brief, shallow conclusion and no prospect of future continuation. In short, it was interesting, but only that.

Book Review: The Tattered Prince and the Demon Veiled – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Song of the Shattered Sands Novella

Fantasy, Epic

Quillings; November 28, 2017

70 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

SPOILERS: Beware minor spoilers for Of Sand and Malice Made.

I used this to brush up a bit on my Shattered Sands before Beneath the Twisted Trees, as well as get some insight into Brama’s backstory after the events of Of Sand and Malice made. Ideally, I’d say you’d want to read this after Sand & Malice, but before A Veil of Spears. The novella is set after Brama has returned to Sharakai following his encounter with the ehrekh Rümayesh (a powerful demon that inhabits the Shangazi), and details the events that lead him to encounter the woman Jax.

I’m not a huge fan of novellas (specifically those that try something new and different) as there’s very little time to get everything out there before you run out of pages. They typically feel cramped, hurried. The Tattered Prince is no great exception, however, as it instead details a backstory (and something previously alluded to), I was much more accepting of it. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.

The Tattered Prince is written in 1st PPOV, narrated by Rümayesh. Upon beginning the tale, Brama is wandering the slums of Sharakai when he spots a foreigner with noble bearing, sticking out amongst the gutter rats which otherwise choke the streets. It turns out that this is Jax, and she and her brother have been hiding amidst the slums in a desperate attempt to escape the assassins sent to kill them. Brama’s subsequent involvement changes the course of his life forever. Uh, again.

A nice bit of backstory filling in the blanks, with a equally interesting bit of lore and insight into at the mind of an ehrekh.

The Tattered Prince is one of a handful of novellas set in the Shattered Sands. I feel like it would actually’ve fit quite nicely at the end of Sand & Malice, but hey as a standalone it wasn’t too bad. You can get it from Beaulieu’s sales for around a buck, but for $3 it’s acceptable. Ish. Acceptable-ish. Actually, I think I got it as a bonus for pre-ordering Veil of Spears. I do believe he’s running the same promo this time around, should one pre-order Twisted Trees.

The cover’s quite nice, too, innit?

Beneath the Twisted Trees is out on July 2nd in the US, and July 4th in the UK.

Book Review: Ex-Heroes – by Peter Clines

Ex-Heroes #1

Scifi, Zombies, Superpowers, Post-Apocalytic

Broadway Books; February 25, 2010

310 pages

4 / 5 ✪

I’ve been after Ex-Heroes for a while. I mean, zombies + superpowers + apocalypse = well, I suppose it’d be a bad thing, but for the reading of it, I’d say it’s all good. Peter Clines debut features all the big names of a world that has succumbed to chaos: Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Zzzap, the Mighty Dragon, Cerberus. Essentially they represent the last, best hope for mankind. The rest comprises gangs, outcasts, and somewhere around 99% Exes (the pretty-much-zombies).

When the infection began it was expected to be mopped up in a week. After months of fighting, however, and the fall of the eastern seaboard, the heroes were left with little in the way of allies. The fall of the government, the army followed, and the last vestiges of civility set up shop in LA—transforming the area of several film studios/locations into “The Mount”, their final stronghold against the hordes.

A year into the apocalypse things are looking bleak. The South Seventeens have stepped up their attempts to take down The Mount. Ammo is running thin. Patrols into the city are bringing back not only essential supplies, but also news of more. Exes acting strangely. Roadblocks and traps. And more worrying, sightings of previous heroes; those that once bitten, succumbed to the Ex plague. Now they are little more than shamblers themselves. Albeit totally badass, superpowered ones. And all the while, it seems the South Seventeens have been consolidating power.

This was a pretty good read.

I mean, it went by quick: only about 300 pages, took me about a week as I was reading two other things at the time. A straightforward plot with little surprises, a little mystery, and mostly packed with fight scenes and dark realism. Not surprisingly St. George (the Mighty Dragon) stood out as the character I enjoyed the most. After him… probably a tie. Between Zzzap or Cerberus. But St. George… yeah, the dude has superpowers, but he’s as human as the rest beneath it all. Though he’s pretty much unkillable, he bears the emotional and psychological scars of survivor’s guilt. Of everything he’s seen go to shit over the years. And still he tries to be better. And maintains that the people around him—even the other heroes—should do the same.

The story features a back-and-forth between past and present, with each glimpse of the past taken through the eyes of one of the heroes. Their origin story, the outbreak of the plague, the fall of civilization, how The Mount came to be—I can’t say they weren’t interesting flashbacks. And yet they leave a lot to be desired. Somewhere between ending to soon and taking to long to begin again. It’s not like some other books (Porcelain Blade) where there’s a flashback every other chapter. They appear now and then, but usually don’t remain for too long. Interesting snippets of lore, yet little more.

I really don’t have anything all that bad to say about Ex-Heroes, except that it was over too quick, and possessive of nothing terribly life-altering. I will say the opposing gang had a very unfortunate name (the SS? Not the best choice). The concept was good, combining the zombie apocalypse with superhero fiction, two tried and true genres. But as a book, it wasn’t anything special, either. A good read with some interesting (although not very developed) characters and a straightforward plot with gentle twists.

Not a super complex story here. I mean, it ain’t winning any awards. But even so, it was a quick, entertaining read. And I’d definitely be interested in seeing where Clines takes the series from here. Hopefully he develops the characters more. Explores the pre-collapsed world. And some more post-fall locations. This book begins a pentalogy—a five-piece series. Ex-Heroes is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Ex-Heroes series continues with Ex-Patriots, released in 2011.

Note: I couldn’t find this at my local library (I live in a nowhere-adjacent locale), but managed to score a copy on the cheap. Think I paid about $4 for it, used. While I’d whole-heartily recommend supporting the author and buying a new copy, if you’re on a budget: Ex-Heroes has been out since 2010. There’re bound to be more than a couple used copies lying about. That you can pick up, for a good price. Or, if you can get to at your library, do! Libraries are great like that.

The Book Untraveled: Flex – by Ferrett Steinmetz

‘Mancer #1

Angry Robot; March 3, 2015

432 pages

I’ve heard good things about Flex, including that it has one of the most inventive magic systems ever. Moreover, I’ve heard that the entire series is on point and pretty much a must-read. The blurb is as follows:

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.

I mean, it SOUNDS pretty good. And some of my friends recommend it highly. It’s been on my list of books I’d like to read for the past couple years, and I’d quite like to check it off before Flex makes a third. But I haven’t gotten around to it yet, for a few reasons. One, it’s been somewhat off my radar until the last year or so. Two, it’s proven difficult to locate a copy at a decent price (in my opinion). My library, in its infinite wisdom, owns Fix (‘Mancer Book 3)—but neither of the first two. Angry Robot books aren’t terribly easy to find in my little secluded nook of the world. Or… cranny? I mean, I could just get an ebook version, but the resale value of such a purchase is nonexistent. I’ll probably end up getting it online—I tend to buy most of my books online, as the library does have many that I’d otherwise find in a local bookstore—but wanted to exhaust the possibility of buying local first. And I’ve seen it for sub-$4 around-places, so I’ll probably accrue it at some point soon.

In a related note, Steinmetz has a new book, The Sol Majestic, out in June. It looks pretty cool, though I’d really like to give Flex a try first. If there’s anyone reading this who’s read Flex—it any good?