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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

This is definitely the best Dresden book I’ve read yet. People have mentioned they get better after the first three and considering I really enjoyed those I had high expectations of this.

I still can’t really define what was better, the basic bones of the story are similar to the previous but it feels more polished somehow, the story feels more epic maybe and maybe we’re getting to know Harry a bit better. Probably a combination of all and that Jim Butcher has more experience. Whatever it is, it made a great story.

We start off with Harry in a deep depression, not really working, living hand to mouth while doing research and dodging assassination attempts due to fallout from book three. He’s made an offer from one of the Queens of the Sidhe as well as being summoned to the White Council, and then things really start to hit the fan as they often do around Harry. He has support from Billy and his gang that we met in book two I think as well as a few other characters, including some people from Harry’s past. 

As with the previous, the pace is relentless. All the action takes place over only a few days. Murphy’s in it again, herself dealing with trauma, and finally her and Harry talk honestly, it was refreshing. She now knows the stakes and what’s involved and she helps whole heartedly.

The action has been really amped up in this one, I loved learning more about the White Council and the courts of the Sidhe. The battle at the end was brilliant. Why I didn’t give it the full five stars was for two reasons. The first was that the motivation of the antagonist didn’t make much sense, after finishing it still doesn’t make much sense to me. The other is that I’m still not very emotionally invested in the characters. My favourite books always have some ‘goosebump’ moments and I still haven’t got that yet from these.

Apart from that this was a really good read, I flew through it, and looking forward to the next. I had planned to spread these out somewhat but I might need to start the next sooner than I’d planned. It didn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything but the next one sounds promising!

4.5 stars out of 5

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another book that most people are probably very aware of, especially through the movies. I’m a big fan of the movies so was curious how close the book was. The answer: pretty close.

It moves fast and does a good job of setting up the world. A few more characters than the movies, mostly back in District 12 but the games itself are remarkable the same from what I remember.

I really liked that by the end Katniss is still playing the whole relationship thing as a strategy and still keeps doubting Peeta, thinking he’s doing the same. Apparently this kind of setup is pretty common in YA books but I’m not very well read in them so I find this somewhat original, there is the Running Man vibe to it but it all still feels refreshing. 

The action seems good and realistic, I like how Peeta nearly dies twice from cuts that in a lot of books people just get stitched up and are fine in a few days. I listened to this on audiobook and I’ll be honest I found the narrator’s voice for Katniss very annoying but it was good other than that. I know where the story is going from the movies but I’m still looking forward to it.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

An appropriately epic conclusion to the book.

I know people complain that the movie’s end lasted far too long but it’s nothing on the book. Frodo and Sam get to Mount Doom by the end of Chapter 3 in Book 6 and there are still six more chapters to go! I think this is brilliant and again while I understand why the Scouring of the Shire was left out of the movies it was one of my favourite bits of the book, here our hobbits got their chance to really shine and show how much they’ve changed.

The Battle of Pelennor Fields is still one of my favourite battles in all of fiction, whether it be book, movie or game. There was no ghost army that miraculously saved the day, no it was the flesh and blood of men (and women) that did it and I always felt the movie cheapened the victory.

I love that lonely march to the Black Gates, only a few thousand to take on the might of Mordor and all the while knowing that they were only a diversion, and even in that they didn’t know if Frodo and Sam were still alive. Sam in my mind is the true hero of this story, forced to go along by Gandalf, hardly ever asked his opinion yet the ring would never have been destroyed without him.

I always read part of the Appendices after this, I still can’t handle the calendar or the language entries but I like reading about histories and the timelines. It’s here we get more of the story of Aragorn and Arwen and find out what happened to the Fellowship after the end of the book, as well as more details on the second and third ages. 

This is such a great series and all fans of the written word, whether you’re into Fantasy or not, should it give it a try at least once.

5 stars out of 5

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m really enjoying this re-read, think I needed the break I had.

So from now on we have the two stories running separately, Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor and the rest of the fellowship in Rohan. The battle of Helm’s Deep was not quite as epic as I remembered, though that could be movies’ influence. Much prefer Treebeard and the Ents in the book than the movie.

I also hated what they did to Faramir in the movies. I understand it was for more spectacle but his moment with Frodo and Sam when he rejects the lure of the ring is one of my favourite moments in the entire book/series, still get goosebumps when I read it.

The language of the book is so beautiful, from his descriptions of the land to another one of my favourite parts, the description of Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog, it just feels so epic and ancient, I understand now how this must have been a bolt out of nowhere when it was first published. This is just such a good series, I’m jumping straight into the final part.

5 stars out of 5

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I have read this book so many times it’s hard to review it.

I’m not going into plot because we all know how it goes. I used to read this almost yearly but the movies kind of ruined it for me (even though I love them). I had certain images in my head but they were all replaced by the actors in the movies which took away some of the enjoyment for me, even though most of them were very well cast. Luckily, enough time has passed that I was able to enjoy it, it was great getting swept up into the adventure again.

There are very few books that you feel the weight of the worldbuilding in the background as much as this, there probably isn’t any really that actually took so much of one person’s life to conceive. Little comments scattered throughout that mention events long ago that bring so much depth to the story. Yes the language can kind of be a bit stilted but that is deliberate and makes it feel like our own epic classics. 

I much prefer Merry and Pippin in the books than the movies and Frodo is better too. Sam is as cool as always. I remember feeling the start was so slow when I was a kid reading these but now you see it’s only a few chapters, the story moves quite rapidly. I’m still not a huge fan of Tom Bombadil, I probably never will be, but I kind of understand his purpose.

I’d forgotten how laid back the journeying was in this part, it took years for Frodo to get going, they chilled for months in Rivendell and another month in Lothlorien. Really enjoying reading these again and looking forward to the stakes being raised in The Two Towers.

5 stars out of 5

Dark Wood Dark Water by Tina Callaghan

DNF at around 100 pages. It was an interesting premise but I lost interest in it almost instantly.

This is definitely a YA book, I like some of them but this is what I dread whenever I pick one up. Very shallow characterisation, a love triangle, instant bonds among people who have barely met. I found the flashbacks to the origin of the town and story somewhat interesting but not enough to continue.

I know this is a debut but I just don’t think I am the target market for this book, I’m sure others will like it, it moves fast and as I said the premise was interesting, especially being set in Ireland.

1 star out of 5

Darien by C.F. Iggulden

This is kind of like an old school heroic fantasy, none of the characters are your ‘pure’ heroes, there are dark and unpleasant aspects to all of them, but they all are generally trying to do the decent thing.

There are quite a few POV characters. We have Tellius, an old man in exile who runs a gang of child thieves, Elias a hunter with a knack of seeings things, and Nancy a young women drawn into major events via a liaison with a young man called Daw. Those three are the main POV’s but we also have quite a few from Daw and another young gunslinger called Vic Deeds as well as a few other minor ones.

The world of Darien is one where people have knacks, kind of innate magical abilities that allow them to do one or two things. Elias has a knack of seeing somewhat into the immediate future, just a couple of minutes, and when Vic Deeds notices this he realises the potential of it and brings Elias to the general he works for. Objects can also be imbued with magic, allowing them to perform particular functions and there are golems and other magical things. The city of Darien is an old one, remnants of an older empire, and is ruled by twelve families and a king as a figurehead.

The whole time I was reading this I was reminded of David Gemmell. Between the character types, the multiple POV’s, magic just being magic without a load of rules, the battles and fights, I just had a very enjoyable time reading (well listening) to this. I really liked how the fighting men saw the potential in Elias’ knack. And the more the story progressed the more right they were. It was very cool.

I thought for the length of the book (it’s fairly short) that each major character was drawn well and I was rooting for them all, even when they strayed into dubious territory. The story was straight-forward enough, and it all happens over only a few days, but it moved along well and there were a few times when the story went places I didn’t expect. There are references to Rome, Carthage and the bible throughout the book so I don’t know if this is supposed to be some alternative history or not, it’s definitely not our world as we know it.

All in all a very enjoyable book, nothing profound or genre shaking but a great read nevertheless.

4 stars out of 5

Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances by Timothy Zahn

Like many Star Wars novels, this wasn’t bad but it also kind of disappointed. I quite enjoyed the first Thrawn book so was looking forward to him teaming up with Darth Vader.

The story is divided over two timelines, back in the Clone Wars when we have Anakin and Padme teaming up with Thrawn for the first time, and then the ‘current’ timeline, set during the Rebels TV series time with Thrawn and Vader. They are both set on the same set of planets near the edge of Unknown space, of which we’ve had a lot of hints in the novels. 

Honestly both storylines weren’t the best. They had good bits but promised more than they delivered. The Thrawn-Vader storyline basically consisted on Thrawn asking Vader to trust him and Vader questioning his loyalty to the Empire. And Vader did trust him a lot which seemed out of character. There is some mitigation because of the events of the earlier timeline but not enough. We did finally get some of the real motivations of Thrawn which was good, I had been wondering. The earlier timeline was ok but seemed rather pointless, similar stories have already been done.

I think one of my main issues is that all these novels sound great and might finally reveal some actual major information but in the end they don’t. More hints about the outer rim but again nothing really relevant to the major storylines from the films. Disney probably have an embargo on what can be discussed but sometimes it feels kind of pointless reading these because of that.

3 stars out of 5

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

This was an exceptional book, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Set entirely in a city called New Crobuzon this is a secondary world, weird urban fantasy. It has a kind of late 19th, early 20th century technology vibe to it with steam powered machines and automations, magic (thaumaturgy) is present but is treated as just another science and doesn’t really play too much of a part in the story.

The city itself is really the main character here. It is described so vividly you can taste it, and I really don’t want to taste New Crobuzon. I’ve never read a book that both fascinated and repulsed me so much through its descriptions, honestly my stomach heaved a few times. It’s the re-made that caused this most of the time. They are people, both human and non-human, that have been physically altered through magic with mechanical or biological changes. Mostly for some crime or another but in New Crobuzon that is easy to happen. They are changed in punishment factories and some of those changes are throughly horrific. I won’t go into too much detail, I’ll leave that dubious pleasure to you, but I think what was so disturbing was that it was all treated so casually, people feel sorry for them but think hey, what can I do about it? 

New Crobuzon is home to a vast number of creatures. The main ones we get to know are humans, khepri (body of a human woman, head of a scarab beetle), weird Cactus people, garuda (bird-like creatures) and a whole host more.

Isaac is a scientist, working on his own research into ‘crisis theory’, when he gets a commission from Yagharek, a garuda who’s wings have been chopped off for an unnamed crime, and this research inadvertently causes a major crisis for the city itself. We also have Lin, a khepri artist who is Isaac’s girlfriend, as well as a few other characters. They are all richly drawn and feel real. They are certainly not heroes, just ordinary beings in a very weird city trying to deal with something they feel responsible for.

One of the only negative things I have to say about this book is Lin’s storyline. It disappears about half way through and only resumes toward the end, and I’m not entirely sure of her purpose in the story, especially as her own agent. 

The book starts slow, almost slice of life for good portion on the beginning but this is great, you actually need this to get a handle on the setting. The last part does have the trappings of a monster hunt but oh in such a great way. I still haven’t mentioned the self aware automation, the inter-dimensional spider, the ambassador from hell, or the giant sloth like creatures that feed on dreams and consciousness have I? Well it’s all in here along with a host of other weird and strange things.

This is a work of mad imagination and I have never read anything like it before and I’ve read a lot of books. Thoroughly recommend if you want something that’s totally different.

5 stars out of 5

A Time of Justice by Katharine Kerr

So that’s the end of the second series and a bittersweet one at that. Please note there are major spoilers ahead.

The first part of the book is mostly spent back when Rhodry and Jill were silver daggers, so just after the very first book. Rhodry is beginning to see that people live many lives and due to his long life he meets a reincarnation of one of his former foes. The flashback is to when he encounters her for the first time. I quite liked seeing them both (Rhodry and Jill) then, it reminded me of how much they had changed over the course of the novels. The rest of the book is back in the present with the siege and the outcome of it.

I’ll give it to Kerr, she’s not afraid to kill off characters. Like we know they’re going to be reborn but still, they’re not the same. Jill’s death was expected as it had been foreshadowed for a few books now but Yraen’s really got me. It was so pointless and quick. This is probably fairly realistic but for a character you’ve got to know over four books to just go like that was pretty callous. And his story was so sad anyway. On another note, it was so melodramatic, but I loved the bit after Jill died and Nevyn was waiting for her. I admire the writer for doing this but was still hard to read.

Events at the end have shown the possibilities of how the story is going to progress but this felt like an end to most of the threads that had been started all the way back in Daggerspell. A really intriguing series and there are still seven books to go!

5 stars out of 5