Shield of Thunder by David Gemmell

Not quite as good as the first but still very good.

We start off shortly after the events of the first book. Things haven’t quite come to a head yet, war has not been officially declared, but things are looking more ominous. Andromache and Hektor are due to be married so all the great and mighty on the great green have been invited to the wedding, each with their own agendas at it.

So after spending the first book getting to know our main characters, Gemmell proceeds to ignore them for the first half of the book and focus on two soldiers who had a little bit of time at the end of the previous book, a girl who had barely a mention and Odysseus. We do go back to the other characters after a while but it is a little disconcerting at the beginning. However like the great the storyteller that he is, Gemmell soon makes you care as much about these characters as the others and you forget all about how new they are.

Things definitely take a turn for the dark in this book. There is even more mention and incidents (very brief) of rape and slaughter. This could be a turn off for some people, I think it’s handled well in that it is not glossed over and has consequences but honestly I can’t say for certain. At one stage there is zero difference between the ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys, they are both doing exactly the same thing and as I mentioned in the first book, I would really not like to be an ordinary person at this time period in our world.

The sadness is even more pronounced now, especially in the second half. Gone are the tales round the camp fires, and friends have found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. We all know how this trilogy is going to end so I know it’s not going to get any better but I still can’t wait to find out how Gemmell is going to do it. Though these are dark books, there are always moments that shine and that helps. A great middle entry, though not quite as good as the first.

4 stars

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

Brilliant read, both sad and uplifting.

This begins David Gemmell’s trilogy about the fall of Troy, though this book starts before the long war kicked off. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, some only a few paragraphs, other’s get much more screentime. Our main POV’s are Helikaon, a prince of Dardania, Andromache, sent as a bride to Hektor of Troy, and Argurios a warrior of the Mykene king Agamemnon. Though there are a few more major ones such as Odysseus and Gershom an exiled Egyptian prince.

The story starts slow, building the tension between the two megalomaniacs that are Agamemnon and Priam. Agamemnon is sending his captains to raid ships of Troy and its allies, under the guise of ‘pirates’ but all players understand what is going on. Agamemnon also receives a prophecy that Helikaon is part of his doom so directs all his warriors and captains to try to kill him, though it can’t be traced back to him. It’s this decision that causes pretty much all that follows.

David Gemmell is one of the few author’s I know that can handle so many POV’s in a book. Usually it drives me mad but he has some knack that makes it seem natural, I don’t know how he does it but he can make a character come to life with only a few lines. The main characters are all brilliant. Only on this read that I truly appreciated how dark Helikaon actually is, in pretty much every story he would be a bad guy. A relatively honourable bad guy but still definitely a bad guy. Thinking about it, there really isn’t anyone who you’d consider a good guy, all have their dark side, even Andromache can be fairly callous.

The world he’s created is brutal. The ordinary person would leave in constant fear of raids, rape and slavery. I don’t know how accurate this is to the actual time period but it does seem alien. Character’s think differently, there’s no pondering whether slavery etc is a problem, it’s simply accepted along with everything else. I like that he doesn’t try to bring modern sensibilities to the characters though there could be some I’m not aware of.

The story moves along briskly but allows time for the characters to develop and the game to play out. The end, indeed the whole story has a melancholy feel as if the character’s know their world and age is coming to an end. Great read.

5 stars

Shadowfane by Janny Wurts

Good end to the series.

Again there’s not too much of a time difference between this book and the previous, though the first quarter covers a decent bit of time. Jaric is now on the Isle of the Vaere and Taen is back on Imrill Kand, and things are looking slightly more hopeful for humanity. However Shadowfane have their own plans which will completely change things.

Luckily most of the problems I had with the second book have been resolved here. The plot moves fast and we finally have confirmation on most things that have been hinted at before. Jaric is out of his sulk and is more interesting for it, though Taen is still a bit passive. We also have more POV’s from the demons which gives a better balance to proceedings.

There are some really standout moments in this book. What happens at Morbrith is truly shocking and was quite unexpected. The whole climax was brilliant and I would love another book or series continuing this story that would be pure Space Fantasy, there are far too few of these that really are an even mix of both genres. The power creep in these books is pretty astounding but it came rather naturally and doesn’t feel forced which is good.

There is a lot of inward monologues and overly dramatic soul searching in these books that means they probably won’t be to everyone’s taste. However there is a great story here in a traditional farmboy type narrative with enough unique points to it to make it interesting. If you are looking for something familiar but different that’s also well written I would recommend giving these a go, even with the drag in book two.

4 stars

Keeper of the Keys by Janny Wurts

Didn’t hold my interest as much as the first book.

This starts off immediately after the events of the first one. Jaric and Taen have recovered the keys but Jaric is still trying everything he can possible think of to not do the cycle of fire and become like his father. What follows are these attempts to deny his fate, all the while Shadowfane are upping their attempts to either kill him or turn him.

I struggled with this book. Half the story is set on ships and the amount of sailing jargon thrown at you is numbing. I like stories set on the sea but I think this was basically too realistic. Unless you know about sailing most of the language and terminology is going to fly over your head and so I felt my eyes and mind glaze over more than once. On top of this not a lot happens. They basically sail a bunch of places, a bit of knowledge is found, some mysteries are revealed but that’s it. Yes there is character growth etc but I don’t think we needed a whole book sailing places for it.

It didn’t help that Jaric is basically insufferable for most of it. Honestly I actually grew to dislike him over parts of it, the arrogance and stubbornness was very off putting and caused so many other people grief, my sympathy for him was erased. I also think it missed Emien as he didn’t really feature much in it. Taen is a good character but is pretty bland and so didn’t interest me as much here, especially due to her circumstances for the majority of the book.

This is a relatively short book (for fantasy) at three hundred pages but honestly could have been cut by a third at least. There is enough here to want me to continue as I think the selfish self pity phase of Jaric is finally over, and we can get moving towards more significant events. After what I thought was a great opener, this middle volume fell very flat.

2.5 stars rounded up.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Wow, I just enjoyed that so much, it’s a beautiful book.

Piranesi (not his name, he’s not sure what it is and doesn’t particularly care) leaves in the World, which is a series of halls and chambers that are full of statues, which cover three levels. The ground levels contain the sea whereas the upper level contains the clouds. Piranesi lives in the middle level though it is affected by the tides and the weather. His only other companion is The Other who he only meets occasionally as he is involved in his great work. Piranesi lives a contented life, living and exploring the seemingly endless halls until he is warned that another is going to come, 16, who threatens to shatter their peaceful existence.

Reading the above introduction summary, this story appears a bit mad. And it is. However, due to how it’s written, after a few pages it all makes sense and you find yourself in the same state of wonderment as our main protagonist. The style, with all the capitalizations, and the language with its pseudo religious framing shouldn’t work but somehow the author makes it all appear natural and appropriate.

It all helps that Piranesi is just a lovely person to read about. His innocence and wonder are infectious and makes the story, I don’t think it would have worked otherwise. There is almost no plot for the first half and though it does step up in the latter half it’s not exactly a scene a minute type of read. There’s a mystery of course, about how this all exists etc, and though I wanted to know, I wasn’t dying to know. I was happy out reading about the character’s life.

This is a short book, I read it in a single evening but there’s a lot there nonetheless. There’s such an atmosphere to it, I just couldn’t put it down. Though it’s totally different to her previous book, there is that similarity in atmosphere and I’m just not sure how to describe it, you can sense her love of the different books she’s read in the way she writes. I know not everyone will love the style but I would encourage people to try it just in case. It’s not long so wouldn’t take too much of your time if it wasn’t to your taste. I wish there more but I’m happy with what there is.

5 stars

Stormwarden by Janny Wurts

It’s been an awfully long time since I read this but it holds up well.

Set in a world where humanity is in constant threat of annihilation by demons we find a sorcerer called Anskiere arrested for the murder of four thousand people. During his arrest he releases a geas, to the surviving son of his once fellow sorcerer who betrayed him, which forces Jaric to come and find him. In the course of his arrest a brother and sister, Emien and Taen, also find their paths going in very different directions.

I’ve read this series a few times but the last time was probably over fifteen years ago. I remembered most of it but it was very nice re-visiting it. There are three main POV’s; Jaric, Taen and Emien. Each are well written though there is a similarity in that they are all scarred mentally from instances in their childhoods. This does lead to a lot of angst ridden internal monologues though to be fair Taen is not as bad as the two boys. Emien is a really great character in that you can see how someone so sensitive can be lead down the wrong path by both real and perceived injustices. His story truly embodies the idea of each small wrong step can lead to a very dark place. Jaric is set up as the counterpoint to that.

There is a lot of soul searching in these books, as there is in most of Janny Wurts’ books I’ve read, and it can sometimes almost reach the eye rolling stage but I do still enjoy the overall feel of the story. There’s not much merriment or humour but there’s a great story here. The world is very interesting and is one of the better instances I’ve found of blended fantasy and science fiction. It starts off small but becomes more apparent as the story progresses. The history and magic system is well thought out and as usual it has beautiful maps drawn by the author herself (I think).

The language can be dense so might not be everyone, the same with the melodrama, but it is very well written and a great story that holds up very well considering it’s nearly forty years old. Looking forward to the next one.

4.5 stars rounded up

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

This was most definitely something different, unusual and enjoyable.

Mahit has been chosen as ambassador for her people, Lsel Station, to the Teixcalaan Empire after the previous ambassador Yskandr has gone missing. There she is thrown into the intrigue of the imperial court with her only potential ally being her liaison Three Seagrass. Things are made more complicated as there is a potential imperial succession issue in which the previous ambassador appeared to be heavily involved in.

So this book takes a bit to get used to. The names of the Teixcalaan people are definitely different than I am familiar with in that they all involve a number and some object which can be confusing. In addition they all try to speak somewhat poetically which makes the language dense. However you do get used to it after a while and as you get to know the characters it’s not such an issue.

The whole story takes place over only a week I think and though it mostly involves just intrigue I was still kept very interested throughout. Mahit is a good character, you feel her confusion and can admire how she works through it to gain an understanding of what’s really going on. Another unique feature of the book is that Mahit’s people have a technology that allows them to take imprints of a person and then implant them in someone else and using counselling and technology kind of ‘blend’ them together. The person who is implanted are still themselves but in Mahit’s case she hasn’t had the full time for integration and the imprint of Yskandr is two decades out of date so she is at a definite disadvantage. Considering it’s a single POV story it was nice to get Yskandr’s voice as well.

My only issue other than the names and language (which is part of the purpose of the story) is that our main characters all act fairly responsibly and grown up but then there are some jarring moments of immaturity that really took me out of the story and made me think I was reading a YA book or something. It was rare but I did notice it. Overall though this was a great read, very different than the usual space opera fare and considering it’s a debut (I think), is even more impressive.

4.5 stars rounded down.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Started a bit samey but got better.

Set a little bit after the first book, we find Peter pretty much where he was at the end of the last one. Soon however he’s called in as there seems to be an echo of music coming from a corpse which then leads down another rabbit hole.

Jazz is featured heavily in this book and I’m guessing it’s a love of the author, that or again he’s done his research. The tone is similar to the first book, a lot of snark and humour contrasting with the darkness that is involved. It definitely feels more of the same for the first half though we learn more about Nightingale and magicians in England though I imagine there’s still a lot more to come on that front. I think we might have met the big bad in this series, or one of them anyway as things start to point towards a dark magician that’s behind everything which is going on. Leslie doesn’t feature as much in this book but we do learn more about Peter’s family.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first but there is still enough to it that I will continue the series. I find myself hitting the same walls as with the Dresden files, can’t do more than two or three of them in a row. Think it’s to do with their episodic nature, each book is self contained with a larger story going on in the background. All in all though still a decent read.

3.5 stars rounded up

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Enjoyed that more than I thought I would for some reason.

So Peter Grant is a junior police officer in London who is called to patrol a murder scene and there he proceeds to interview a ghost. Thinking he is going crazy he jokes around with a gentleman called Thomas Nightingale who turns out to be an Inspector in charge of the paranormal in London and gets reassigned to him. From there he starts to learn that magic is real and that there all sort of supernatural entities living in and around London and begins to understand the protocols that surround them, all the while investigating a growing series of horrific murders with his fellow officer Leslie.

These books have been on my radar for a while, I was meant to read it years ago as part of a book club but didn’t get around to it that month for whatever reason. It has similar vibes to Dresden (my only other urban fantasy I’ve read much of) in that it’s to do with investigating and the supernatural but there it ends fairly abruptly. Grant is an incredibly sarcastic narrator and his light tone can be fairly drastically contrasted with some of the terrible stuff that actually occurs here. However as his is the sole POV it can be quite engaging and entertaining and it helps to move the story on quickly.

The author clearly knows London quite a lot as it feels like another main character in the story. I’m not sure if he is an ex officer as the minutiae of procedures etc is quite thorough, if he isn’t it certainly appears as if he put in the research. The other characters feel real enough, with a lot of mystery still surrounding Nightingale, but as I find with most first person POV’s, there is always a distance there which can take a few books to overcome. It’s well written and as mentioned has a strong thread of humour running through it which helps get through some of the slower scenes.

I enjoyed this and will move on to the next book but I don’t see myself reading them all through in one go, will probably dip in and out.

4 stars

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Short but intriguing and beautiful.

This is the story of a man, who after returning to his boyhood home town for a funeral, starts to remember a summer from when he was seven and met a girl called Lettie and her family. Things immediately start to become quite strange, especially once a new nanny comes to live with them, Ursula Monkton.

As mentioned this is a very short book, I think I read it in one evening. It is very well written in that I think the author really manages to capture that dream like state of an adult remembering a childhood, especially one which was so strange. We never get a name for the narrator though it’s not really an issue, I didn’t notice until I was half way through. It starts off relatively slow but there are jarring moments of something being wrong almost from the start which increase as the story progresses. Since our main POV is a child we notice more than they do.

The characters are all straight out of a dark fairytale. Lettie first appears as a somewhat mature child but with those odd notes that don’t ring right. It’s pretty much the same with her grandmother. Ursula Monkton is proper terrifying, I found myself a bit disconcerted once she really got going. The scariest part of all of course is what happens to the father and the betrayal of an adult to a child. A certain scene in particular will stick with me for quite a while.

I’ve been a bit hit and miss with Gaiman. I loved American Gods and Good Omens with Terry Pratchett but didn’t really like Stardust or Norse Mythology, so this was good in that it is firmly on the side of his books that I’ve enjoyed. It is even a bit scary in parts and I love that most of it is still a mystery by the end. The main flaw I found was that the kid seemed far too old for a seven year old but I do wonder if that’s deliberate in that it is supposed to be a (flawed) memory rather than a straight-forward telling.

If you’re looking for a short, standalone read then you couldn’t go too far wrong here.

5 stars

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