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Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

An incredibly cynical end, brilliant though.

We start off relatively soon after the events of the second book. West and Dogman are still in the North but they have Bethod on the run. Bayaz, Jezal, Ferro and Logan have newly arrived back to Adua while Glokta is threatening and bribing people as the ailing King is now heirless. At the same time whispers of a Gurkish invasion are starting to occur.

I still don’t really know how the author does it. All the characters are pretty horrible people, OK Dogman is still cool, and Jezal has grown on me immensely but still. Saying this I absolutely love them all and want them to succeed no matter how bad and deep they descent. You feel Logan’s weariness but in this book especially you realize how much he has been lying to himself and that everybody was right about him. Ferro feels a few tinges of regret but still doubles down on her vengeance. Glokta just keeps hobbling along doing Glokta things. Jezal has grown but at heart is still a coward and caves at the slightest pressure. Dogman and West are definitely doing the right thing but are getting nowhere. And Bayaz, well let’s just say he’s absolutely perfect for this book and series.

The action ramps up in this book but it is never sacrificed to plot and character development. Things get dark, and we do find out about a lot of stuff, particularly in relation to Bayaz and the distant past, but as usual most of the main characters don’t really care. They continue to be involved in their petty, and sometimes not so petty, concerns.

I also loved that there were quite a few chapters wrapping things up. I notice in a lot of books now, even big series, can just end quite abruptly. Here we follow up with all our characters, most get a superficially happy end, but none actually do really and there are still a lot of things in the air and unknown but it was still a very satisfying end to the series. Now the dilemma is whether to re-read the standalones again or move on to the sequel series which I had originally planned. Not a bad problem though 🙂

5 stars

Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

An almost literally pointless book, but still great!

Logen, Jezel and Ferro are travelling with Bayaz to the end of the world in search for a legendary item that will help in the fight against the Prophet. Glokta has been sent to hold the city of Dagoska, to hold the city to the last man against the Gurkish. Meanwhile West has been sent up to North to fight Bethod after his invasion, along with the Crown Prince, and soon Dogman, Threetrees and his crew are also involved.

I’d almost consider this a concept book. It’s like the author had an idea “What if I send all my protagonists on the stereotypical adventure but it all turns out to be pointless, nothing changes and they all end up where they started off”. If that is the case it was executed brilliantly. There’s character growth (I actually started to feel sorry for Jezel here, it made me realize how young and innocent he actually is) and stuff happens but also nothing really changes. There’s lots of pointless deaths (oh so many), inept leadership and the folly of inherited pride, and by the end it was like a description of futility. I loved every minute of it.

If you look at this book through the prism of our world it is incredibly depressing. The consequences of any Leadership’s pride on the regular person is starkly given, and it is not a good thing. However the (dark) humour that runs through all this makes it more palatable to read. The characters are consistently great in all their limitations, the plot is pointless but riveting, and I just really enjoyed myself reading it. Roll on the last book of this trilogy.

5 stars

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

I’d forgotten how great this was.

We start off on fairly disparate stories. Logen Ninefingers finds himself alone after his companions have been (apparently) killed and receives a message that he should seek out a famous wizard, Bayaz, so he journeys south to find him. Glokta is a torturer with nothing to lose who finds himself promoted and helping his superior in his political scheming in the great city of Adua. Jezel is a handsome, arrogant young officer in Adua who appears destined to star in and win the great fencing contest that is coming up soon. We also gradually get introduced to more POV’s in Ferro, a woman out for revenge. West, an officer and Jezel’s friend and the Dogman, one of Logen’s companions who Logan believes to be dead. Events gradually bring them together as history and legend start making themselves felt.

Describing the basic premise of the story here would make you think that is some bog standard fantasy book (well apart from one of the main characters being a torturer). However it is anything but. Yes there are elements to it of course, but the whole story is so nihilistic that it keeps subverting your expectations.

Logen appears, and is, the most likeable and honourable character here, apart from maybe West, but as we start learning more about him we realize that he was not always, and is not always this way. Even West has his moment with his sister. Jezel is so annoying and arrogant you want to punch him. Ferro is barely human after what’s been done to her. To be fair Dogman seems a good person, to a relative value of ‘good’ but you would definitely not want to get on his bad side. Then we get to Glokta. No matter what has been done to him, he is a truly horrible person but man I love reading his chapters. I think it helps that he is fully aware of who he is and how terrible he is but doesn’t care.

The book is dark but there’s also a lot of humour in it which helps you getting through some pretty horrible stuff. Each chapter is relatively short and jumps between each POV, honestly I enjoyed them all. It’s a compelling read, very smartly written, and some great fight scenes. But with all the action, mysteries, history etc it’s the characters that really shine and make you stay up later than you planned. I’d read this before, but it was almost ten years ago now so I’d forgotten quite a bit of the details but it still feels as fresh as the first time I read it. Really looking forward to the next book.

5 stars

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

A fairly straightforward account of Thrawn becoming the Grand Admiral but a good read.

Eli Vanto is a Cadet with the Imperial Forces. On a routine mission in the Outer Rim, he gets involved with a stranger from the Chiss Ascendancy; Thrawn. Due to a shared language, his career and fate get intwined as they progress up through the Imperial Navy.

The story proceeds in a very linear fashion over years as Eli and Thrawn get fast tracked through the Imperial bureaucracy. Thrawn had a message for the Emperor so he does get some preferential treatment because of this but of course this causes friction with other officers. Eli just kind of tags along as his career expectations take a left field turn. In conjunction with all of this, there is a third POV, that of Arihnda Pryce. She’s part of a powerful mining family on Lothal but finds herself in Coruscant due to an Imperial takeover of her family mine. There she works her way up through the political spectrum, doing whatever she needs to to get ahead.

Maybe because I did watch Rebels, I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I don’t think Eli is in that but Thrawn and Pryce certainly are, so it is interesting to see how they got to where they are. Eli and Thrawn are more sympathetic than Pryce but all are pretty ruthless in their own way. Thrawn POV’s are particularly interesting as you see him analyzing situations and people’s emotions. There’s some superficial plots with the Imperial racism against non humans and people from outside the Core worlds but it’s not dwelt on too much, but again it was interesting and added some depth to the story.

It’s obvious that this was commissioned just for the show but it was still a good read and the author kept the pace moving along well. I’ve never read the original Thrawn trilogy but I can see why Thrawn has always been such a loved character and looks like he’s going to continue to have a relatively large part to play in the new canon universe.

4 stars

Kraken by China Mieville

Weird in the wonderful way Mieville is, but it was also a bit all over the place.

The story starts with the seemingly impossible disappearance of a giant squid specimen from the London natural history museum. Billy is our main protagonist, who was in charge of preserving the specimen and who first discovers that it is missing. He very quickly realizes that something unusual is going on and finds himself drawn into a another, very different London that believes the apocalypse is imminent and he could be the key to either stop or start it.

This is the fourth China Mieville book I’ve read and I enjoyed all the others immensely. If you’ve read one of his books you know to expect the weird, and it is no different here. We have a living tattoo, people with fists for faces, marionettes made from museum specimens, I could go on but you get the picture. It’s all encompassed in London, but like other author’s have done before, it is re-imagined to have a different world that most people don’t know about with its own rules and power factions. I have to say it definitely wins on being the most imaginative version on London that I’ve read.

Saying that, though I loved the premise of the story, the various cults etc, I also found the whole thing a little incoherent. It didn’t help that the main protagonist was kind of bland and boring, and so were most of the side characters. Goss and Sully, and the Tattoo, were properly terrifying in some ways and I did enjoy their occasional appearances, but most others were kind of blah. The language was also so dense that I sometimes found it hard to follow what was going on or just plain zoned out. It just kind of felt that there were too many ideas being thrown out and not all of them stuck or were followed through and it let the story and pace down.

My least favourite of his books I’ve read so far but it was still interesting and oh so very weird. It might have been bad timing and when I read it again down the line I’ll enjoy it more, but even if I don’t it won’t stop me getting around to his other books as I just love what this guy comes up with.

3.5 stars rounded down

A Time of Courage by John Gwynne

A suitably epic conclusion to both series.

We go straight into the action from where we left off at the end of the last book. Drassil has fallen, and our hero protagonists all need to re-group, get over their differences and prepare for the fate of the banished lands.

Our POV’s are mostly all the same here with one addition, that of Jin. Bleda, Drem and Fritha haven’t changed all that much but I did find Riv a lot less annoying. She has finally grown up a bit is not quite so hot headed. It’s not that I disliked her chapters before but they are even better now.

The pace is non-stop and that is both a strength and a weakness. A strength in that the author is one of the best battle writers I have read but a weakness in that I didn’t feel there was enough down time for the characters to grow. The chapters were mostly short and so the constant POV hopping meant you never get close to any of them so to speak.

I’ll be honest I struggled with this a bit and I’ve never experienced that before with John Gwynne books. It wasn’t bad in any way but I felt it dragged too much with the constant battles, like they followed a pattern: heroes about to be defeated, kill the vampire head, saved! Rinse and repeat. I also disliked the part with Bleda and Jin back in Arcona, just felt a bit pointless and didn’t really add anything. I also wasn’t a fan of the vampires or revenants or whatever you want to call them. They were overkill and all I kept thinking was that there must be no one left alive in the countries they went through and thought the characters should be more upset over this.

However the end was amazing. Properly epic, a great conclusion to the two series and also managed to surprise me a couple of times. Overall this is still a great series even if I didn’t enjoy this volume as much as the others and I will still read anything Mr Gwynne decides to publish.

4 stars

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

What an end but honestly not too sure what happened!

For the first time really, this is a direct continuation on from the previous book. You might be able to get away with not reading it but these books are much more closely tied than the previous in the series. The Faceless man has been identified but knowing who he is and catching him are very different things. His plans seem to be coming to a head and it’s up to Peter, Nightingale et all to stop him.

As usual there are lots of things going on. There is the overall picture with many sub branches going in different directions. You also have the history of England, the Rivers etc which are still influencing things now. And of course you have Peter, his friends, colleagues and of course Leslie all still playing out as the story progresses.

It was a fairly frantic book, lots going on and all coming to a head in fairly dramatic fashion. Honestly though I’m still fairly confused about the ending. I’m still not entirely sure what the end goal was and what the whole being in the past thing is all about. I’m also very unsure now where the whole thing is going. I thought it was going in one direction but now I’ve no idea. Is it going to just be purely episodic from now on? Will it continue from here on this plotline but playing out in another direction? Did I miss something entirely (very likely)?

I’m still loving this series and am still surprised by that as I have never liked crime novels before. It’s a great world created, and also surprisingly makes we want to visit London again and actually see all the places referenced throughout the series. No idea where it is going now but I am intrigued to see.

4.5 stars rounded up

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

This definitely raised the stakes by a few notches.

The book starts with two disparate events that end up changing the game completely. Firstly a girl overdoses and dies in somewhat mysterious circumstances. The second is that Reynard gets in touch with Peter Grant to tell him he has a diary that could point towards Newton’s lost paper’s which the Folly would like to get hold of. All this leads to an escalation with the Faceless Man.

My little hypothesis of a standalone, followed by the ‘main’ story is holding up as this is definitely part of the main Faceless man over-arching plot, though I suspect that may change after this one. This was a tense book, as usual it’s lots of small things happening that all of sudden link up and things explode, usually both literally and metaphorically. I’m still not sure what the end goal of this series is, if there is even one. Will it end once the Faceless man is killed or arrested? Is there something even bigger going on that we are not aware of yet?

I wasn’t totally sure about this series at the start but I’m properly engrossed now. The sardonic tone of the series definitely helps, along with very likeable protagonists, a very well realised world, and a proper antagonist. As usual, I have no idea where the story is going to next and that I think is a good thing.

5 stars

A Time of Blood by John Gwynne

The Empire strikes back, can’t wait to see how this is going to play out.

We start off immediately where we left off at the end of the first book. Drem is fleeing with his new companions from the mine to get back to Dun Seren, while Riv and Bleda are nursing their wounds and deciding what to do next. While this is going on, the Kadoshim plans are finally being put into action and the consequences will be devastating.

We have one new POV in addition to the ones from the first book, that of Fritha and it’s great getting the perspective of the other side. The author tries to make her somewhat sympathetic and gives reasons for doing what she does but it is a tough sell to say the least. There is no real shades of grey going on here, she’s bad and does some truly horrendous things. I still enjoyed her chapters a lot though!

The other’s are still growing and learning and we definitely see character progression, Drem we can see gaining more confidence, Riv thinking a little more and Bleda realizing that he is worthy. However this being the banished lands they don’t have too much time to do it as circumstances keep bringing battles and destruction.

There was a bit of a lull in the middle of the book but I actually enjoyed it. I’m not the hugest fan of constant action, I feel it all starts to blend into one big blur, so it was good to have that break to assess and grow. There was still a lot of action going on, but the lull helped and John Gwynne has a great ability to make his battles clear, and easy to understand what is going on. By the end of things it is definitely looking pretty bleak for our heroes, but a la Return of the Jedi, I’m sure it’ll come good in the end, but with a lot more heart break and death.

4.5 stars rounded up

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Different than I imagined but honestly not sure what that was!

Ged grows up on a small island but he soon shows signs of magic and gets sent off to train at an academy of magic. While there, through a show of pride, he accidentally unleashes a shadow onto the world that could have major consequences.

This is a very short book and is told from quite a distant perspective. It’s almost like a summary of a book rather than a normal novel. Events, action etc are all described from such a distance that it’s hard to get close to the protagonist or anyone really in the book. Ged starts off all arrogant and prideful, but after the event when he releases the shadow, he becomes a much humbler and thoughtful person.

You can see where Patrick Rothfuss got his inspiration from, we’re told almost from the start about what great deeds he’s going to do, and the magic system itself is also very similar, though system is a very strong word for it. This is an almost literal coming of age and finding yourself book, nothing feels very original but then again this book has been such an inspiration for so many authors that it is not surprising.

I initially wasn’t too sure about it but I did get into more as the story progressed. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but I was intrigued, and I kind of wish I’d read it much younger and hadn’t read so much other fantasy books in the meantime, think I would have loved it in my teens. I definitely would like to read the other books at some stage as I hear they are all very different to one another.

4 stars