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Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan

That was one hell of a roller-coaster of a book. We start off pretty much where we finished in Age of Swords, and basically the whole book is set in Alon Rhist. Since it’s the third book I can’t really go into too many plot details as it would be spoilers for the previous but all the POV’s basically stay the same with an addition of one or two I think.

I’m still a big fan of Persephone as she feels very realistically written. She’s a bit older and definitely acts that way. Too often in fantasy books I think there is very little middle ground, characters are either quite young or quite old so it’s nice to read about somebody in the middle, who’s learned some of life’s lessons and acts accordingly, she’s not one to let sentiment get in the way of what needs to be done. The growth of Suri is also really well done, she has matured, even more so in this book, but man it’s not been easy on her and it doesn’t get better here. Raithe and Gifford both have great storylines in this book after not featuring so much in the previous and man are they emotional, both good and bad.

After quite a slow start to this book the pace builds from about half way through and doesn’t let up. There are so many moments in this book that got me quite a bit, I’m still thinking about them. This is the end of the first ‘arc’ I believe and it shows. There are revelations, some of which I didn’t expect at all and that end, wow. Epic feels.

The author has a way of always catching me by surprise. The books feel quite straight-forward, I think they’re going one place, and maybe they do get there but it’s the how that catches me. It happened in the first Riyria books and it’s happened again here, I really didn’t see that end coming. It’s not a twist or anything, just an unexpected end.

I’ve only minor quibbles with this book. It took a bit to get going and the rise in technological invention amongst the human contingent continues unabated, they’ve gone through what feels like 1000 years of progression in 2. There are mitigating factors but still bothers me a little. However these are only minor quibbles. What was a pretty solid, enjoyable book was turned into an amazing book by that last half. A brilliant series and still three more to come!

5 stars out of 5

The Swords of Night and Day by David Gemmell

Another great entry in the Drenai saga and the second and final part of Skilgannon’s story. Unfortunately we will never know if Gemmell had planned more stories for him due to his untimely death but what we have are some of his best.

This could be read as a standalone, it would give away some spoilers for the previous book but honestly not too much. It’s set 1000 years after the first one. How this is possible is explained in the book, ‘magic’ but not really. Skillgannon wakes in a world that he feels completely disconnected to and is told is vastly different to one he last knew. It is ruled by somebody called the ‘The Eternal’ who has battled and created her empire over the last 500 years. Soon however Skilgannon realises it’s not really that different after all and is soon swept up in the events of the day.

Like a lot of Gemmell books there are ruminations on the futility of war and whether it is worth making a stand, doing what’s right, as all things wither and fade. There is death, betrayal and moments of hope. Character’s die, even lots of POV’s and things never quite work out as you think. There are great fight scenes, battles and character interactions.

As I have mentioned before, I think Gemmell is the epitome of heroic fantasy (with a dark twist) and if you like that sort of thing and haven’t read him, rectify that immediately.

5 stars out of 5

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

This wasn’t a bad book but it just didn’t interest me too much. There seems to be a lot of this nowadays, re-imagining a classic story from the bad guys perspective. I guess you have a ready made market for your story already in place.

This story is all from Jamie’s (Captain Hook’s) POV, from the first stirring of changes in his attitude to Peter to the grown up we all know from the original story. Jamie was the first lost boy and we find he’s been there for a long time. Other boys are killed, die or just wander away but it’s always him and Peter as the constants. This starts to change as Jamie finds the constant death of the boys getting to him and he starts to question the motives of Peter and his uncaring attitude.

It’s supposed to be a dark book, almost horror-esqe but I didn’t find that at all. Yeah there is death and violence but it all felt very young adult to me, a fairly prosaic coming of age story. Maybe at another time it would have interested me more but I found myself reading it very quickly just to get it out of the way. Never really a good sign.

2.5 stars out of 5

Outcasts of Order by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Update March 2021:

Not too much more to add here except that again I absolutely loved the mundaneness of it all. There’s basically zero action or conflict, apart from a very few minor incidences and a whole lot of fairly polite backstabbing and vindictiveness, it was great! Jessyla is also fairly rounded out considering we don’t get a POV from her. This is definitely shaping up to me one of my favourite Recluce series within the series.

Original July 2018:

This is one of the best Modesitt books I’ve read in a while. It is actually lighter on the action than in The Mongrel Mage but for some reason it clicked more for me. Like the previous 20(!) books there is a lot of day to day minutiae taking up the space but as always I find in both interesting and relaxing in some way. There is tension but honestly you always know that the protagonist will find some way around it. 

I won’t go into to the plot really except that to say that Beltur (and others) basically become refugees so has a lot of relevance in today’s climate. It deals with their struggles trying to find a home when wherever they go somebody tries to make their life difficult as it will upset the status quo or their own personal satisfaction.

The relationship between Beltur and Jessyla is well done, I like the way that small mundane things can cause issues between people in a relationship and this is highlighted here. It’s probably a bit unrealistic for a couple so young to be in tune that much but it does kind of make sense in regard the rules of order/chaos in the Recluce world.

This is also the first trilogy in the Recluce series (they’re mostly standalones or duologys) and I am most eagerly waiting the final part (It’s actually four books). I’ll be honest I had no idea at the start of Beltur’s story that it was going to be about the the founding of Fairhaven!

5 stars out of 5

The Mongrel Mage by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Update March 2021:

Beltur is actually pretty interesting for Modesitt as he is not quite as determined at the start as his other protagonists. The only one that comes close is Lerris, but Beltur isn’t even disaffected, he’s happy out generally in his life and if it wasn’t for events forcing him to change he probably wouldn’t have done much. I can relate to him pretty well.

Another aspect that struck me was that here I didn’t enjoy the campaigns at the start and end as much as I usually do, my favourite parts were the day to day experiences, especially when he’s trying to get set up in Elparta in the middle sections. It’s also a quadrilogy, a first in the Recluce series.

Original: July 2018

Another good solid entry in the world of Recluce. All the ingredients that usually make up a Modesitt novel are here. A young, determined, self-depreciating, naive protagonist slowly comes into his powers while overcoming hardships, a new life, and enemies trying to make him fail.

This novel is rather early in the Recluce timeline, after the fall of Cyador/founding of Westwind but before the founding of Recluce and is set in Candor. Beltur is our guy here, working for his uncle as a white mage but not having much power and just doing what he’s told until realising that he is maybe not that white after all and has an affinity for order. Things fairly quickly (for Modesitt) deteriorate and Beltur has to learn and work and overcome the obstacles in his path.

Like I said there’s nothing really new here. The love interest is identified early on, and a long courtship occurs with a lot of politeness and silences of things left unsaid. Beltur does things nobody has done before, or for a very long time but thinks he is useless. A lot of the book is basically slice of life, trying to earn money and survive. This sounds like it is boring. It is not.

There is something about Modesitt’s book, on paper they sound boring and repetitive, if you’ve read one you know the general way the story is going to work, but I love reading them. I find them interesting and realistic. Just because you have great power doesn’t mean people are going to hand you money. You still need to eat and have somewhere to live and be able to afford clothes. The economic reasons for major political events are explored and every action has consequences, both globally and personally.

This is a start of a new duology (maybe trilogy?) and though it’s book 19 in the series you could probably start here without having read any of the earlier books.

4 stars out of 5

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This was a book of contrasts. It started cold and distant but as the story got bleaker, the warmth increased. The story is unlike anything I had read before.

A single envoy of an alliance of planets, Genly, is on Gethen (an ice world that was informally called Winter), trying to sell the country, indeed the whole planet, on entering the alliance. He’s sent by himself as it is non-threatening, and must sell it without an obvious displays of technology to a sceptical populace. The story then follows his trials and tribulations in two different countries and his growing friendship with a native of the planet.

As I already stated this book starts out distant and almost text book style. I found it very hard to relate to our protagonist or anything that was happening in the story. This is primarily because what this book is is a study of gender and sex. The Gethen’s are gender neutral, only entering a sexual state once a month and can be either male or female. People can give birth during one cycle and father a child in another. Genly is just a ‘normal’ man and his struggles to understand a gender neutral person is one of the main points of the story. He theoretically understands it but struggles with it, even to himself, throughout the story. It is also a study of what society’s would be like where people are less emotionally/sexually involved for most of the time. It was fascinating but not the most riveting from a story point of view.

However this changed it the latter half of the book. After Genly was imprisoned I still hadn’t really connected but the journey he and Estraven take was beautiful and poignant and I was fully invested by the end. I think this book will benefit from re-reads as I always tend to miss things on a first read due to wanting to know what happens. I know there were levels and concepts that I missed, and there was a depth to the language that I know I will appreciate more when I don’t need to concentrate on the story. I can see why this is considered a classic and I was tempted with a 5 star rating but that slow start gives this a stout 4 stars.

4 stars out of 5

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

So this is Feist’s first book outside Midkemia for an awfully long time. I was, and am, a huge fan of his even though the later books in the series had some serious issues.

It’s fairly obvious from the start that he is trying to be a little edgier here. There is proper cursing, lots of talk about sex, and the violence seems more visceral than his usual style. It’s like he’s trying to write darker while keeping the same sort of character tone from his Midkemia books. I’m not sure my description has come across well but not sure how else to frame it. I’m also not sure he pulled it off very well.

We have two primary POV’s; Hatu the last remaining heir to a betrayed and destroyed kingdom (this is not a spoiler, it’s on the cover blurb and in the prologue), and Declan a journeyman blacksmith. Hatu has been raised in a criminal fraternity, learning to fight, steal and spy. Declan is also an orphan, on the verge of his blacksmith mastery in a small town in what is a neutral zone between 4 (used to be 5) kingdoms. Events occur and our protagonists travel and learn things and end up in very different places than where they began.

So from that description above it seems very Feist does it not? He does love his orphans. And it is very like his other books, especially the earlier ones. Orphans with hints of something greater, mysterious powers and senses, little glimpses of something bigger going on out of sight.

I liked the Declan character, a fairly straightforward person with a few hints of ruthlessness that aren’t immediately apparent. His is the more ordinary story, fairly low key and almost slice of life. Hatu has the bigger picture storyline for obvious reasons but I did not enjoy all of his even though I should have. It’s because he spends pretty much the whole time thinking about one of his friends (Hava, who we also get a couple of POV’s). I was a teenage boy myself so I understand that it’s probably fairly realistic to think about sex and a girl all the time but it gets tiresome pretty quickly reading about it. Honestly I’d say it’s 40-50% of his POV’s are him brooding and moping about her and his feelings.

Also there are a lot of infodumps. I usually don’t notice these but these were pretty common and not much attempt was made to hide the fact that they are infodumps, it took you out of the flow somewhat.

Having said all that I did enjoy it. It’s no Riftwar or Serpentwar but it’s an interesting world with the bigger picture only seemingly touched upon so far. Some events near the end make me hopeful that Hatu won’t be so annoying in further books, and I am very curious as to where Declan is going. The style is very clunky and hopefully Feist will master the blend between the darker tone he’s striving for with his more traditional outlook in later books.

3.5 stars out of 5

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Hey this was a fun book. I used to love Enid Blyton when I was a kid so this book was perfectly targeted to me. Set in Blyton Hills (a town in the US)(very subtle!) there was a summer detective club where our gang of 5 (2 boys, 2 girls and a dog) used to solve crimes. Then after a successful last case they all split up and never went back to the town.

Their lives never quite played out the way they should have and 15(??) years on they get back together to look into that last case as things did not really work out as well as easy and simply as it first appeared. The tomboy has become an ex-marine with law issues. The nerdy pretty girl has become a college dropout working in a bar, the ‘leader’ is definitely not in the best place and the nerdy guy is in a mental institute. The dog (well his descendent) is fine. 

The characters here, while all deliberately a stereotype, are well drawn out with distinct personalities. I like the way the author explains how they got there and there’s a nice joke near the end that kind of skewers their justifications. There are nice moments of levity throughout the book but there are also some darker moments and the author blends the two together well.

While the book is an homage to those Blyton books, it also pays respect to the Lovecraftian books about vast beings from other dimensions and crazy sorcerers hiding in small towns. It’s a pretty cool combination that turned out to be much more enjoyable than I originally thought. The prose is fairly standard I think (I’m not too good at judging these things) but some scenes are well done with a movie script type character jump arounds that were pretty cool to read.

A better than expected novel that kept me up too late one night finishing it, which is always a good sign.

4 stars out of 5

Wrath by John Gwynne

As this is the final book in a four book series I’ll keep it short and sweet. This was a great series. It is not the most original thing I have ever read, but everything it does that you might have seen before it does extremely well. It has heroes, proper heroes, and villains.

For a series that started out slow the last book is basically non stop action. People die, lots and lots of people, people you’ve known from the first pages of the first book. I’ll be honest, I felt people cutting onions around me a few times at the end there. I think all the characters have been done so brilliantly, people are not the same as they were at the start, a natural progression done seamlessly.

Everything you want for an epic conclusion is here; battles, individual fights, revelations, twists, betrayals, character arcs and resolutions. I could not have asked for more. Honestly looking back at the first book now, I feel like the characters, wondering how it got to the end, things were so different.

I can’t wait to re-read this series in a few years time, looking at things knowing how they are going to end, taking more in that I may have missed. Even better, the author has a new series set in the same world and the first book is already out. I won’t be delving into that immediately but it’s already bought and I probably won’t be able to resist for long.

5 stars out of 5

Ruin by John Gwynne

Another amazing book. I’m not going to go into too much detail as it’s the third book. If you’ve read this far you’ll continue, if not, it doesn’t matter.

I love all the characters. I love the story. I’m kind of trying to draw it out I’m liking it this much. The author has no qualms about killing anybody off, it makes it heart breaking and tense. It has moments of glory. I’m really not too sure where it is going from here.

Best new series I’ve read for quite a while.

5 stars out of 5