Fall of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell

Great end to the series.

So this book covers the end game and is most closely aligned with the Iliad (from what I remember) than the rest of the books. It covers pretty much all the major points though does it in its own unique style. Honestly some of them are so brilliantly done that I don’t really want to go into too much details about the book itself incase I inadvertently give away any spoilers.

There’s a lot of switching POV’s through the book, as is usual in Gemmell’s style, but as he’s put the work in in the previous books, this flows quite smoothly. A lot of the characters, as you would expect, don’t exactly have a happy ending but they are memorable. The last third hits hard.

There are a few flaws, nothing major but was noticeable. Helikaon almost disappears from the final third. The reason for it is actually very realistic but it is a bit jarring when what could consider being the main* character is omitted from a lot of the climax, and seems almost shoehorned in at the very end. Also the Gershom strand that has been hinted at from the first book onwards really doesn’t go anywhere except for a few pages in the epilogue. I’m wondering if there was another book planned to deal with that before the author’s untimely death.

Other than that though this was a brilliant end to the series. I read somewhere that the author wrote this after seeing the film Troy and thinking that they could have done so much more. I actually like that film, even with its cheesiness, but he had a point and made it well with this series. If you want to read a modern, ‘realistic’ take on the Iliad then look no further than here.

4.5 stars rounded up

The MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

DNF at around a fifth to go. This used to be one of my favourite Pern books, strange how things can change.

This is basically the David Copperfield of Master Robinton from the main series. We go from his birth and upbringing in the main Harper Hall until the opening of Dragonflight (which I didn’t quite get to this time).

Honestly I used to love this book. It might have been my favourite or at least in the top 3 anyway. This time it was only a remembrance of how much I liked it that kept me going as far as I did. It is almost like a fan fiction of the character, that retconned the original series to make him look even better than he did before. He is the handsome and a child genius. He talks to dragons. He’s best friends or interacts with almost every major character from the series. We would have been a dragon rider but they weren’t searching when he was of age. To be fair some of it makes sense and is in character but other parts just makes you roll your eyes and almost feel uncomfortable.

The first half is about his childhood and adolescence and mainly revolves around how much he loves his mother and how his father is jealous of him. This isn’t actually too bad if you ignore the continuity errors (which are everywhere in the whole book). However the main take from it was that he wanted to have a loving and supporting father. What does he do once he has a child of his own? He ignores it and leaves it to be raised by the child’s mother because it has cognitive issues and can’t appreciate all the things he loves. Oh he is a nice guy though, he brings him toys sometimes.

The second half is just him being involved in everything that has the slightest significance to main series. He’s basically holding the continent together. And has a tragedy to explain why he’s single. That’s it.

No idea how I used to like this and I doubt I will ever read it again. Such a let down that has grown even worse as I’ve thought about it. I had rounded up to 3 stars for nostalgia’s sake but no, it’s lucky to even have 2 stars.

2 stars

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall by Anne McCaffrey

Not bad, some stories better than others.

So there are five short stories contained in here, though a couple of them are quite long. They range from way before the landing at Pern to a few decades after.

The first is the initial Pern survey and though it is mildly interesting there is not much here for the casual fan.

The second I think was probably taken from the initial draft of Dragonsdawn. This tells the story of the ship evacuation of Landing to the Northern continent that was just referenced in the main book. It’s not bad but I did find myself skim reading it more often than not as you know exactly how it turns out.

The third story is great. It tells the story of the founding of a new holding and is set almost a decade after the end of Dragonsdawn with a lot of familiar characters. We learn it has not all been plain sailing after the founding of the dragon riders and there is a lot of pressure for housing and privacy. I really enjoyed this one.

The fourth is also great and tells the story of the founding of Benden Weyr. Again lots of familiar characters but there is also a new generation of dragon riders who have grown up with the new structure. The Pern from the main novels is more pronounced here and though it deals with a lot of the same themes as the previous it’s still a good read.

The final story deals with the aftermath of the rescue signal that was sent in the Dragonsdawn. Again not so interesting for the casual fan though it does explain why Pern has seemingly been forgotten by humans elsewhere.

A bit of a mixed bag though I think the third and fourth stories are great to round out the previous book.

3 stars

Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey

Great account of the founding of Pern.

So this really should be read after the main Pern books, or at least after the first few as it gives away some major spoilers about how Pern came to be. We start off in the colony ships as they approach Pern. There are hints of major wars with aliens and the colonists want to go back to a simpler life, lower technology and more freedom. The first third of the book consists of the landing and the colony setup as they get to know their new planet. The second third is staged around the initial threadfall and the consequences of that and the final part is the move from the southern continent to the north.

The first third is good, not quite as good as I remember but still interesting. It’s in the second third once thread falls that it really gets interesting. The creation of the dragons is really cool and means that all of what comes ahead makes more sense in world. It is well done piece of retconning and works far better than some of her later attempts.

The characters are decent, all pretty much hewn from the same rock but different enough not to be too boring. My main criticism is that they are all too good if you know what I mean. Maybe my cynicism is growing along with my age but their ‘goodness’ I found hard to swallow in parts and seemed unrealistic. The villains, except for Avril when she went all psycho, weren’t even too bad in a lot of respects, honestly I had some sympathy for them as the pious sanctimony of some of the leaders annoyed me too.

Even with that small rant though I did still really enjoy this re-read. Been a while since I read it but it held up pretty well. Still love the story of Sallah and that of Sean and Sorka. It’s great in that it can be read as a standalone with no other knowledge of what went before though it’ll have more impact if you do, there’s a lot of familiar names sprinkled through the pages!

4.5 stars rounded down

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Some nice phrases and imagery but I found my mind glazing over far too often.

Our protagonist Mark Spitz is part of a civilian clean up crew in New York. The only slight difference here to a regular cleaning job is that it is zombies that he is cleaning up rather than dirt. What follows occurs over the next week or so with constant flashbacks to how it started and how he survived as long as he has.

I definitely struggled a fair bit with this book. There were parts I enjoyed and I did like some of the imagery and language used but most of it is in such a dry tone that I blanked out far too much. For a zombie apocalypse the writer made it all sound rather boring to be honest. I’m sure there is higher meaning behind the book and the vignettes inside but I probably missed them.

It didn’t help that I found it hard to connect to our main character and sole POV. Due to what he’s experienced he’s kind of like a zombie himself, understandable but it makes it hard to care. I’m sure there were parts where I was supposed to be tense or care what happened to Mark and the people he interacted with but I didn’t. I went through the book, much like the main character, taking most of it in but not really interacting with it. Honestly it sent me to bed early on more than one occasion.

It wasn’t all bad, the story was good and interesting enough but I guess it wasn’t the main focus of the book. I did finish it eventually so in that respect it had something going for it. Will I read it again? No. Will I read something else by this author? Not sure.

2.5 stars rounded up

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Not the strongest Witches book but still an entertaining read.

Agnes (Perdita) Nitt who we met a bit in Lords and Ladies has fled the Ramtops to escape the interest that Granny and Nanny are showing in her. She arrives in Ankh-Morpork and joins the Opera House and the other witches follow her on the pretext of a book that Nanny wrote.

This is an unusual book in that not a lot really happens in it. It resembles more a Watch book in that there are a series of injuries and murders at the Opera that Agnes and the others are trying to solve, coming at it from different directions. There is the subplot of Nanny’s book which honestly doesn’t add much to the story other than as a plot device but basically it is a murder mystery while playing off various opera and musical storylines.

Though it is the most low key of the Witches stories so far it is still entertaining. Agnes is a good addition to the main set of characters and we see ‘Perdita’ coming out a bit more. There’s not much change in Granny and Nanny but they are still good value. The main theme of this book appears to be appearances, which seems to be satirising the Hollywood need for everyone to be beautiful, irrespective of whether they have the talent or not. It is acknowledged but comes to the rather depressing conclusion that it is important. Honestly it is one of the most depressing endings of any Pratchett book I can remember.

Though definitely the weakest of the books in the Witches series so far, it is still a very good entertaining read.

3.5 stars rounded up.

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.

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