Category: low fantasy


Mormama

Hey all, I’ve got a review for you today. It’s a little late, just due to general life stuff, but still up on Wednesday. So I’m happy with that. Thanks to the nice folks at Tor, this is Mormama. Enjoy!

Mormama cover

Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. The Ellis house has been standing for three generations, a rotting shrine to fabulous wealth and festering greed.  The house keeps its own, drawing them back when they try to escape. Lane escaped once, until her husband walked out on her and her son. She had to go back to the house that nearly devoured her as a child. Memory less, Dell can only hope that the card in his pocket will take him home to the Ellis house and a family that could be his. Theo, Theo wants out, away from the elderly Aunts who haunt the house like a trio of ghosts, away from his mom being stuck unable to care for either of them, and away from the thing that whispers to him at night. Away from the Mormama who tells him about the house’s tragedies and the darkness that presses in on its residents. Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. Sometimes it refuses to.

Southern gothic isn’t a genre I’ve done much with before. Based on Kit Reed’s Mormama, it’s not quite horror, and it’s not quite genre literature, but somewhere between the two. There’s a lot of almost character versus atmosphere going on and, more than that, a character versus past thing. I really dug both of those aspects. The downside to how atmospheric and into how trapped the characters feel by their situations is that the book can be very easy to put down.

So, what do I mean by that? Part of the atmosphere for the book was this sort of floating hopelessness. It seeped into little corners of the characters lives and pulled them more tightly to the house. Lane wants out as soon as possible, but she can’t find a job to allow that. Dell wants his past back, wants to know where he came from, but he’s so desperate for it to be this one version of him that he can’t accept anything else. He also can’t bring himself to use the one source he has that might tell him everything. Even the Aunts are trapped in their past and the bitterness they have over merely being caretakers of the house rather than the belles they had been in their youth. It’s both something that slows down the book and cuts its readability and also, ultimately, really cool.

That’s kind of my feeling on a lot of the book ultimately. It’s a slow read with a lot of bits that don’t feel super important to the story but that absolutely build the characters and atmosphere. Which makes for an interesting read. I do feel like some of the supernatural bits could have been tied in better, but that’s a little thing for the most part. The fairly slow pace over can make the ending feel a little too fast, but that’s not a huge deal, that little too fast can also make it feel cataclysmic. It’s a scale thing I guess. I actually don’t have a ton to say about this one so on to the score I guess?

Like I said earlier, southern gothic isn’t a genre that I have a ton of experience with. That’s part of why I don’t have a ton to say about it. There’s also a lot of almost fiddly bits that would probably count as spoilers, so I’m not talking a ton about those. That said, I did quite enjoy this book. While it can get slow at points that works for the overall feel of it. I’m giving Mormama a four out of five and would read Kit Reed again.

I’m late, it’s tomorrow already! Sorry everyone. Though I suppose it’s a good thing I’m reviewing the comic for a blast from the past. This is, again, a book that I received through NetGalley for review. Enjoy!

The Flintstones Vol 1 Cover

Meet the Flintstones, they’re the modern stone age family. You’re familiar with them. We all are. So let’s go back to Bedrock and see what a modern look at a stone age family looks like.

The Flintstones is something of a slice of life comic centering on, of course, the Flintstone family as well as the Rubbles and Bedrock itself. It’s anachronistic in a way that feels totally true to the old cartoon, while also turning a sharp eye on modern life, and also being a ton of fun. It also goes back to the cartoon’s sitcom roots, being aimed at an older audience. It feels weirdly subversive to see the concept for an old show turned to, more or less, current concerns. I like that quite a bit.

It’s also interesting to see what Mark Russell did with the characters. Fred and Wilma are more communicative, which is awesome in so many ways. The club Fred and Barney belonged to in the cartoon is a veterans’ society now, which ties into just how bedrock came about. Pebbles and Bam Bam are probably the most changed, being teenagers here rather than babies. They often provide a B-plot that reflects the main story in miniature. That’s more than kind of cool. I do sort of wish we’d seen more of Betty. Since she’s Wilma’s friend rather than Fred’s and most of Wilma’s screen time is with her husband, Betty gets pretty left out. I feel like I want the next book to focus more on Betty and Wilma, I want to see more of what’s going on with them especially after the response to Wilma’s art at the museum.

On to the art! Steve Pugh does a really cool job here. Characters from the original are, for the most part, immediately recognizable while also having dropped a lot of the cartoonyness from before. The random background characters have distinct looks. The coloring, done by Chris Chuckry, is vibrant and conveys mood well. My only issue with the art at all is that it does tend to combine massive beefy dudes with comparatively small women.  That honestly feels like it could be a throwback though given that the main characters are fairly set design wise and, as the comic goes, we get more body diversity in the background characters.

So, final thoughts. When I first saw that this was going to be a thing months ago I didn’t expect it to be much, mostly due to cherry picked panels and not really knowing what to expect beyond the old cartoon. I’m more than pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. The writing is solid, the art is good, and while it can be serious there’s always a thread of humor. I like the anachronistic stuff, especially all the little background stuff like store names, it fits and it feels like The Flintstones. So that’s a five out of five from me.

Happy Memorial Day weekend everybody!

 

The teens in Gethsemane, Ohio have begun killing themselves terrifyingly regularly.  No one knows why.  Steven Wrigley just wants to finish high school until the names appear.  They’re in his hand writing, in his notebook.  Clouds and suicides.  Something is wrong in Gethsemane.  Something is feeding off of the sorrow from the suicides.

Anderson Prunty’s writing in The Sorrow King makes me think of beat poetry.  There’s a feel to it like the characters don’t quite know what to do with themselves and are trying to talk themselves through the situation.  Normally this would bother me but it works here because The Sorrow King is very much about the characters.  Steven spends much of his time as a focus character trying to figure out what, if anything, has anything to do with him directly.  He’s interested in finding out more about the girl than figuring out what’s going on with the town.  The character interactions more than make up for the Sorrow King himself not showing up until the last third or so of the book.  He just isn’t as important as the characters’ reactions to what he’s done.  The Sorrow King represents a barrier rather than a character of his own, a mental block that’s become something more.

There were some points where Steven’s whining became a bother, but those were few and far between.  Some of Connor’s parts were hard to read due to his constant worrying.  All said though I would read more of Prunty’s work if it’s all this kind of quality.  I give The Sorrow King a four out of five.

Warcry

I have a bad habit of not being able to find the next book in a series that I like.  I’ll read the first couple and then nothing, which was the case with Elizabeth Vaughan’s Chronicles of the Warlands a few years back.  I never could find the third book in the trilogy.  Not that that stopped me from jumping at the chance to read the fourth book to review. On to the review then.

Atira of the Bear values her freedom above all else.  Heath of Xy would do anything to protect his queen.  Both hunger for each other and maybe something more.  But trouble is brewing in the court of Xy and it will take all they have to uncover the players involved and find what is truly dear to them.

Keir and Xylara are headed back to Waters Fall for the birth of their child, but this isn’t their story.  Front and center in Warcry are Heath, Lara’s childhood friend, and Atira, the plains woman whose leg Lara healed way back in Warprize.  Both Heath and Atira were fairly minor characters for the first two books but the promotion to lead character doesn’t feel forced. Both are dedicated to protecting their leaders and each other.  Both are stubborn and strong and they play off of each other really well.  Atira’s temper meshes well with Heath’s level headedness and it was just hilarious to read his reactions to her teasing.  It was interesting to see Atira’s reactions to the city and its people as well as her responses to Xyan culture.  It was also kind of nice to see that she and Heath were, for the most part, on even footing when it came to fight scenes and verbal sparring.

I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with the villains.  I understand that Lord Durst wants to avenge his sons and that he doesn’t want the royal family to mix with the conquers who killed them, but he also gets into using some fairly misogynistic language towards Lara and doesn’t seem to get why anyone would take offense to it.  This guy’s supposed to be a powerful lord and the leader of a conspiracy?  There’s also Lanfer, who was apparently Heath’s rival from childhood.  He has no real reason to join the conspiracy; he’s just doing it to make Heath suffer.  But why, I never got what Heath did to make Lanfer want him dead.  There were a few instances of heroes holding the idiot ball, but those were forgivable due to circumstances within the novel.

I had a small number of problems following bits of some conversations due to not having read the third book, but it was more like having missed a few episodes of a soap opera than anything big.  Warcry gets a four out of five for solid writing, likeable characters, and continuing the plot of the last three books in the series without getting stale.


I’m really sorry for taking this long to update again, job hunting’s been a real bear and I’m still trying to get settled back home for the summer.

On to the review.

Laurel doesn’t fit with her New York family.  The child of a guardswoman and an unknown father, she’s never fit with anyone least of all when she loses her temper and accidentally unleashes her magic.  So, she’s shipped off to her uncle the lord Redmantyl to learn to control her power.  She digs through his libraries in search of knowledge until he’s forced to take her as an apprentice for her own good.  And then the thespers arrived.

I’m having a bit of a hard time thinking of what to say about Maiden in Light.  It felt like the author, Katheryn Ramage, had several stories that she wanted to tell but wasn’t quite sure how to put them together.  From the blurb, as I read it on Goodreads, I expected to be dropped straight into the action.  I expected to start off with Laurel becoming her uncle’s apprentice, then a few chapters of that, then going off to search out the bad thing.  Instead the first half or so of the book is taken up with a rambling account of what was apparently four years of Laurel’s life starting with her journey to Wizardes Cliff.  This includes setting up several characters to be far more important than they were, events that had no bearing on the plot, and some fairly minimal characterization that could have been better taken care of with more show and less tell.  The second half of the book introduces the plot that was promised in the blurb only to instead jump into excruciating detail regarding Laurel’s aunt’s matchmaking and setting up for a conflict that never really happened.

I’m going to get a bit more nitpicky here than usual, Maiden in Light had potential but that got buried in problems that really shouldn’t be ignored.  The pacing was really bad, the first half of the book could have covered a few months, a few weeks, or a few years.  I really couldn’t tell how much time was passing until someone mentioned someone else’s age for a comparison.  There were two chapters back to back that detailed visits from traveling performers, known in the book as thespers, but there was no real indication that they hadn’t done anything more than leave the gate and then come right back in.

The book also tended to get dragged down in telling about a character rather than showing them.  The readers keeps hearing about how brave and smart and dedicated to her magic Laurel is, but when the chips are down all we get to see is a fragile little girl who doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be doing or how to go about it.  The reader is told how horrible the merchant class kids are to Laurel, but we only see one scene of them being snarky and a bit stupid before they are set aside for the rest of the book.

The plot doesn’t start until the book is more than half over, and then it’s padded so heavily with the aunt trying to get her daughters married off that it gets lost.  Then Laurel suffers the kind of character derailment that makes me just want to stop reading, throws everything we’ve been told about her out the window with what might have been a clumsy attempt at symbolism and proceeds to ignore any previous characterization.  I feel that I should also note that Laurel is a bit of a flat earth atheist, this may not bother anyone, but it was one of the tell instead of show things that seemed to come up way more than was necessary.

The reader also gets treated to fanciful changes of spelling for names and places and changes of name for various holidays.  This doesn’t lend to the world building but instead adds to the confusion regarding time passage and who’s who and from where.  An alternate history does not necessarily lead to changes that radical in language, nor should it if only for the reader’s sake.  I could let this slide if the world wasn’t supposed to be earth with a different history but it just reads wrong as is.

This leads me to the final part of this review.  With all the problems I had with the writing and the story itself, I wouldn’t read anything else by Ramage.  Maiden in Light had potential, but it squandered that with blocks of purple tinted prose, tons of characters who came to nothing, and too much tell but no show.  I give Maiden in Light a one out of five.

Nothing much to say here. Think I may have a bit of the flu, but I’m getting over it.  No sightings of tall skinny fellas recently, so on to the review.

In light of the trend towards YA vampire titles recently, I was a little hesitant when I started reading Will Hill’s Department 19. Happily my doubts were more or less put to rest rather quickly, this is not a weepy diluted romance novel nor a particularly angst filled rage at the world in general.

Jamie Carpenter’s father was killed two years ago by men in black uniforms, shot down as a traitor to England.  Now his mother has been kidnapped by a terrifying man with abilities that can’t exist, a man who seems to know him.  If Jamie is going to save his mother he’ll need the help of Department 19 the mysterious government agency that protects Britain from the things that go bump in the night.  With that help comes information he may not want to know about his father, Jamie will have to deal with the past to face a monster beyond anything he’d imagined before.

Now for the fun part, this was one of the better YA vampire novels I’ve read so far.  With exception to Larissa, most of the important vampires were of the classic undead near-Dionysian sadist persuasion doing what they wanted simply because they could.  The exceptions were, while sympathetic, minor character.  I was rather caught off guard by some of the language used in Department 19.  It was accurate for the way many modern teenagers speak but with far more profanity than I’ve come to expect from a YA novel.  I personally found this refreshing because it shows that the author knows a bit about how his target audience interacts.  Some of Jamie’s interactions with Frankenstein came across as a bratty kid know-it-all to his Watson, but can be forgiven fairly easily.  He is a brat for much of the book, understandable in that he’s a teenager, but it kind of makes me wonder if he was taught any manners.  I didn’t like the speed at which Jamie mastered the skills needed to fight vampires, but acknowledge that it was necessary to the plot and to keep down page length.  My only serious problem with Department 19 was the sequel hook at the end.  We are talking a near painful jar apart the conclusion sequel hook that makes me wonder if all YA novels are part of a bigger series now.  It loses points for that, but for the quality of writing up to that point and the enjoyment I got out of the parts that Jamie wasn’t being a brat in, I give it a four out of five.

First off, I want to apologize for being a week late with this.  Life and classes got a bit crazy, and unfortunately the blog kind of fell by the wayside.  This will also be the first review where I give it a rating out of five.  Here’s hoping that that works out.  I’m also going to admit here and now that I haven’t read the first two books in this series.  My original plan was to read and review this one and then see if I could dig up the other two someplace.  That plan’s been canceled now in favor of some thrillers that I picked up last Tuesday.  Anyone who’s interested in my review copy of Ship of the Dead can check Goodreads in the next few days, I’ll be posting it there probably Monday.

There are a very few books that I just don’t want to keep reading after the first chapter. Ruin Warriors: Ship of the Dead by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker is one of those few books. I really wanted to like this book, but there were just too many problems for it to work for me.

Ship of the Dead tells the story of Dane the Defiant as he drags his friends across the country side to save his one true love from being a valkyrie forever after. In order to accomplish this, Dane makes a deal with Skuld, one of the goddesses of fate, to destroy the revived villain Thidrek the Terrifying to give Astrid the choice of being human again. Trouble strikes the band quickly when Lur the Bent, also known as stock mentor figure number one, decides that he needs to eat the magic apple that they need in order to convince a dwarven smith to make them the magical weapon of zombie killing. From there on, we are treated to lot’s of posturing, second guessing of Dane by his supposedly trusting companions, and the kind of feel good bull pocky that would make Saturday morning cartoons ashamed of themselves.

I found much more to complain about with this book than things to like. It read as though the authors had done little to no research on Vikings or Norse mythology or the time period. The feel good that I mentioned earlier is one of the non-research related things that got to me. Why are there Vikings in the happy good times kids’ book? Why are they bastardizing Norse mythology to say that one can get into Valhalla by being true to oneself and everyday noble rather than dying on a bloody battle field surrounded by the other guys’ dead bodies? Oh, right, kids’ book can’t have anything the good guys do requiring a violent death. What about the part where Dane’s theoretically trusting and faithful companions keep second guessing him at every turn? These guys have been with him for two books before this one, and they still don’t seem to trust him in anything. Or the part where Lur never gets anything but praise for eating the apple of youth? The Ruin Warriors, other than Dane who is always wrong, love Lur for eating the apple and being a young twenty something again. Or the part where apparently everyone over the Bifrost bridge, who isn’t Astrid or Mist or Skuld, is holding a massive idiot ball? The names used for the characters also bothered me a bit, there was no Dane Voldarson no it was “the Defiant”, and it went that way for all of the characters. It was almost like the writers picked one major trait for each of them and then named them after it. Is this something that changes over the character’s lives? Will Dane eventually be changed to “the Second-guessed” or “the Untrusted” or “the Standard Childish Hero”? This is never shown, so I’m forced to assume that his parents just up and decided that he was going to be a little snot and called him “Defiant.”

There’s still more, not much though, there’s still the lack of research. I know that Norse mythology isn’t as widely read as Greek, but this is a kids’ book at least bother to get it right. Hel is not a dragon or whatever scaly monstrosity they decided to make her, she’s half of a beautiful woman and half of a horrifying rotting corpse. I can’t find any record of a “queen of the valkyries”, which feels like a tacked on bit of modern day bureaucracy to make the writers more comfortable. There were an absolute ton of those little bits of the modern that, had they been handled well, could have been funny. Instead of being humorous bit of non sequitur, the pieces of modern life just served to make the authors look more incompetent. Why would there be “attached outhouses” when the idea of an indoor toilet was still considered gross less than a century ago? Why is the bad guy demanding a signed memo rather than going for the kill? This isn’t funny, it’s sad and it makes me sad that I read all two hundred and ninty-four pages of this drivel. I cannot suggest this book to anyone. One out of five and a request for my time back.

It’s Saturday, and as promised there’s a new review, two of them actually.  Both are on books by the same author but from different series.

Karin Miller’s Empress could have been a really good book; it had all the marks of one.  The writing and story were both good.  The world was well thought out.  The characters however don’t feel right.  Maybe it was just Hekat’s views on the world and the rest of humanity.  It could easily have been Hekat herself, but something about the characters just didn’t sit right with me.  The spoken language was stilted and had the feel of small children talking in absolutes.  There was a great deal of repetition between a character’s thoughts and what they said, including some lines that read as thought they had just been copy/pasted from “thought” to “said”.

Hekat starts off as the kind of character that could be very easy to feel sorry for, but as time passed in the book I felt myself waiting for her to grow up.  Her thoughts are angry and proud and childish.  Anyone she disagrees with is immediately “stupid” and thus deserves to be manipulated to suit her ends.  A third of the way through the book I was almost certain that the reader isn’t meant to like Hekat, she was too static in her behaviors right up to the end.  Her suddenly throwing herself into the god’s grace felt like her mind was starting to twist a bit, as if she weren’t meant to be the heroine or was being set up for a major fall.  There were more and more points as the novel progressed that I hoped that one of the minor characters would see her for the monster she seems to be.  It really felt like at some point she should have been overthrown or had an epiphany or somehow been removed “from the gods eye”, but that never happened.

Empress is well written and while I wouldn’t suggest it for a casual reader, I would suggest it to people who enjoy writing as a way to broaden their horizons.  I still have problems with the feel of the language used, but also note that it was written as such on purpose and used skillfully.  The story was a bit predictable, but it seems to lead to something much bigger and less controlled.  Given the chance, I will finish this trilogy just to see what happens next, and that is the mark of a well written book.

That’s one, but it links to the next one.

After hearing a number of good things about it, I picked up a copy of Karen Miller’s The Innocent Mage.  I was expecting something along the same lines of Empress and not too optimistic about it, that changed almost immediately.  Asher is the son of a poor fisherman, and the youngest of his family.  He runs away from home one night to the city of Dorana as part of a plan to build his dream life for himself and his father.  Shortly after arriving he finds himself rescuing Prince Gar, the first child of the Weather Worker.  What follows is an interesting series of events that lead Asher from the royal stables to a job as Gar’s assistant and confidant.

This is far and away different from much of the other fantasy that I read.  The Doranen and Olken seem to be this world’s elves and dwarves respectively, but beyond that it all feels new.  The characters are solid; they have petty squabbles and seemingly reasonless jealousies, they fight amongst themselves and become enamored of ideas and behaviors.  The story is well laid out, I personally could have done with a little less exposition on some things and more on others, but all taken I can’t complain.  There were moments where things seemed to happen just because the story needed them to, such as Asher being able to calm the prince’s horse.  My biggest complaint stems from the fact that The Innocent Mage was originally the first half of a larger novel, and it shows.  The good news is that if the follow up is as good as this was, I’m going to wind up reading both it and Ms. Miller’s new series.