Armada by Ernest Cline – A Review

Dear lord have mercy.  Armada.  A book that, as best as I can tell, is fairly divisive among fans of Cline.  His second outing after Ready Player One.

A book that I wish I liked more then I did.

Let me put this up here quickly, for those who don’t want to get too bogged down.  Armada, for me, is average at best.  A decent story, but with a variety of issues that prevented me from enjoying it more.

Armada tells the story of Zack, a high school senior with anger management issues.  He is a gamer, playing the online MMO Armada, a space fight sim that is the biggest game in existance.  Billions of people play it every day from all over the world, and Zack is ranked 6th in the world.  He lives with his single mother, and tries to connect with his deceased father through his fathers old belongings and music.

Early on in the story Zack sees what he thinks is a space ship, straight out of Armada, hovering near his school.  He assumes it to be just his imagination and having played too much Armada, and then vows to lay off the gaming after the evenings major event.

He works after school in a small Retro Gaming shop, where his boss spends all day playing the alternate game to Armada, Terran Defense Force (or something along those lines, I cant remember).  A ground combat game where the enemy aliens of Armada are fought on Earth with Giant Mechs.

He eventually discovers that not everything is what it seems and that maybe aliens are real and that Armada was only a training program to fight them off!  What follows is Zack trying to come to grips with several disturbing revelations as he tries to save the world from the alien invaders with the help of some new friends.

All in all the basic premise sounds great right?  Alien invasion that is fought off by gamers instead of the military, who have been secretly trained via video games?  But there is one major flaw that makes the whole thing fall apart for me.

Characters.  They are as flat as can be.  Zack can truly be summed up as the teenager with anger management and daddy issues.  Thats all he is in this book.  Zacks mother is your standard Single Mom missing her dead Husband.  Zacks two friends are comic relief one and two.  The school bully is just that, a bully.  Zack meets a girl who he almost instantly falls for, who can be described as the Punk Rock Hacker Chick.  He meets the other 4 members of the top 10 (members 7-10) and they can be descirbed best as Religious Single Mom, The Foriegn Kid, The Excitable Youngster, and the Pothead.  He meets his 2 commanding officers, one can be described as the level headed conspiracy theorist, and the other the hardnosed battleweary general.  His primary commanding officers aides are the super conspiracy theorist and the skeptic.

Thats right.  Every character can be summed up in such a way, and the book moves at such a breakneck speed that no development that makes any sense is given to anyone!  At one point, when it seems like they are all going to die fight, everyone but Zack and his commanding officer break up into pairs and bang.  I am not even kidding.  Zack cant bang his supposed love interest though because she is on earth and he is not at the time.

Further, there are a few twists that occur in the book, and both are easily telegraphed early on.  I don’t want to spoil them so I wont point them out.  But seriously, you can see them coming.

Now there is some good.  It does a good job portraying what could happen in such an event.  The writing is spot on, and while the characters get almost no development you can sort of forgive that at times just because of the action scenes.  And the action scenes are stellar.  As is the world building.  I can easily imagine a world where these sort of games take over.  Just look at our world now.  Much like Ready Player One, Cline presents a future that is entirely plausible to a point.

Overall, there is some good here, and some bad.  Its average at best, and after Ready Player One I think thats the biggest problem here.  Its just simply average.

I would give this a 3/5.  Read it if you are a fan of Cline and want more of his work.  Otherwise you can avoid it, or hell just wait for the apparently upcoming movie.

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Marked by Sue Tingey – A Review

A Copy of this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an Honest Review

THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS HERE YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Book Blurb: “In a world filled with charlatans, Lucinda “Lucky” de Salle’s psychic ability has always made her an outcast, even as it has also made her a sought-after (if reluctant) investigator of paranormal phenomena. With no remaining family and very few friends, she has only one “person” she can rely on–Kayla, the ghost girl who has been her constant companion since she was born.

When Lucky is called in to investigate a spectral disturbance at the all-girls school she attended as a child, she isn’t surprised. She herself had had a terrifying confrontation with the troubled spirits of two girls who died in the attic room. But when Lucky goes up to the attic, she discovers that the vicious little girls are the least of the problem–a demon has been released into this world, a creature of such malevolence that even the spirits of the two girls are afraid. When the demon demands that Kayla be handed over to him, Lucky realizes that this case will be like no other she has ever experienced.

For one thing, it seems that her chatty, snarky spirit companion is not what she has always seemed to be… “

This is going to be the first and hopefully only time I do this. This is a book I DID NOT FINISH, prior to writing this review. And part of the reason is the above blurb, which is from Netgalley itself. I made it through half the book before I just about threw my phone (its an EBook) away from me in a combination of horror, surprise, and rage.

You see, that blurb makes the book seem like a supernatural mystery story. Its not. Its Paranormal Romance with an almost fanfiction level main character. You ever hear jokes about people who Roleplay online, who have those “Half demon Half Dragon MC with a Tortured Past who has no idea about their heritage and just wants to be loved!” kind of things?

Well! Lucinda does not start out that way, seemingly. But rather, ends up BECOMING that way. Also the stuff that the Netgalley / Amazon blurb mentions take place in the first chapter of the book. And yes, this is the blurb used on Amazon page. Thats right.

Here come the spoilers. Under the little cut right here.

Continue reading “Marked by Sue Tingey – A Review”

Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games by Matt Barton – A Review

I grew up in the early 80’s.  I was born in 82.  And I grew up gaming on the PC.

One thing I love now, and I have loved since the day I played Betrayal at Krondor, are Computer RPGs.  I cut my teeth on the likes of Baldurs Gate, Lands of Lore, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights.  Curious about the games I might have missed growing up, I found this book and picked it up.

The early parts pre 2000 were very well done but after that the book shows its age very obviously.  It goes over in great detail the Ultima series, Wizardry, Might and Magic, and the other Pre 2000 RPGs.  However, he makes mention at one point of PC Gaming dying (Which has been proven wrong) as well as having very little real info on anything in the last 6 years or so.  The book is great for the history of the old pre 2000 games, but anything more recent is rather sparse.  But I can understand that.

I would pick this up and read it ONLY for the early information.  He also frequently dives into Adventure games rather then sticking to RPGs, as he feels that is necessary to understand.  I disagree, but I understand the usage of it.

I would have also liked to see more interviews with the game developers.

This is a solid 3/5.  Good for gaming history buffs but anyone else should not really bother.

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Careless Juja: For Naughty Children – Album Review

Hey folks, time for something completely different! Today, I bring to you…an album review!

Wait, I can hear you say. This is a site and blog about books! How dare you bring this music stuff here. Well allow me to explain. You see, for me, reading and music go hand in hand. I almost always have SOME form of background noise or music playing when I read. It helps me to focus. I have ADHD and having a second thing for my brain to focus on actually makes it work better.

So on occasion, I am going to bring up music here on the site. Not often, but sometimes. Next monday you will see something similar.

But today, I am reviewing an album given to me by Careless, of the band Careless Juja. Its titled “For Naughty Children” and is a Halloween/Christmas hybrid themed album, about Krampus and Baba Yaga.

Now, full disclosure. I consider Careless one of my best friends. I have known him for about 2 years running now. I frequently get to listen to tracks of his prior to them being released to give my opinion on them. And just like anything else, he knows that when I review something, I give my honest thoughts. I frequently tell him I don’t like some tracks, and like others. Further, my voice (Along with several other folks) is featured as the chorus on one of the tracks. Even then, I will give this album my normal treatment. And yes, he gave me a digital copy to review, and is going to give me a physical copy for my little collection of CDs that I have.

So the way I review albums is a little odd. I review them track by track, and then give an overall rating to it. Frequently I find one or two tracks I like, one or two I don’t, and the rest I am just sorta eh about.

SO LETS BEGIN!

Careless Juja - For Naughty Children - cover

Track 1: Bedtime Rhyme – Purely vocal track. Not really music. Its setting the mood for sure though. Holy crap this is creepy. Yup, sets the mood well. Wouldn’t listen to it again though honestly. By itself, it serves little purpose. You kinda have to listen to it prior to the rest for it to make sense.

Track 2: Yule Lord – This is the track featuring the “Geek Easy Chorus” which included me. Here is a picture to show this. I have circled my ugly mug.

Geek Easy Chorus

Christ I forgot how catchy this damn song is. It tells the tale of Krampus the Yule Lord. I actually listened this prior to going to work on Tuesday morning…and kept chanting the damn chorus all day. Its a fun song and I actually really like it. DOOR TO DOOR ACROSS THE WORLD SPREAD THE YULETIDE CHEER FOLKS.

Track 3: Swamp Witch Swing Intro – Not sure exactly what the point of this is. Its a nice clarinet piece. Speeds up towards the end and got my feet tapping so that was nice. Kinda…odd by itself though. Not sure why it was seperated from Swamp Witch Swing…

Track 4: Swamp Witch Swing – Ok now this is a remake of his old Random Encounter track, Swamp Witch which I honestly am not a fan of. Lets try this song. Ok this a much more enjoyable version for me. I am digging the big band style. I caught myself again tapping my feet as I listened to it. Its also much easier to understand what the hell he is saying. This is all about Baba Yaga. Fun song, I like it. Much better then the other version, for me at least.

Track 5: Swamp Witch Swing Instrumental – Just the instrumentation of Swamp Witch Swing. Combines both the Intro and the rest of it. Nice enough, but I kinda miss the vocals honestly. I don’t think I would listen to this more then this one time. I will admit that the Intro flows RIGHT into the main part very well though. Ok I turned it off after a bit, the vocals make the song for me. This is a meh.

Track 6: Untold – This is a new one to me. I was aware of the other two in some fashion or another. But I don’t know what this is…Ok creep factor up to 11! This thing starts off spooky, and then starts to jam. Loving the flute rock (I like Jethro Tull what can I say) and then we get some Violin and damn. This is good stuff! Ahhh yis.

Track 7: Yule Lord Instrumental – Another just instruments version of a song already on here. Catchy song but again, I can’t help but hear the vocals in my head. Skipping the rest of this.

Track 8: Swamp Witch Swing Full – So this is the full version of the song, with the nice slow build of the clarinet right up into the full song.

Overall thoughts: When given a choice between the instrumental versions and the vocal versions, I choose the vocal ones. Also I don’t see why Swamp Witch Swing is put into 2 parts, cept maybe folks won’t like the slow build of the intro bit? Odd choices to me. It doesn’t ruin anything but I do find it odd. But I am definitely putting Untold, Yule Lord, and Swamp Witch Swing Full on my MP3 player. The Rhyme was nice but its not something I will listen to more then once honestly.

I give this a 4/5 for a rating. Great music, fun, and you can listen to every track on the Careless Juja Bandcamp so why not go give it a try. And hell, if ya like it, pick it up from there. Get into the Yuletide mood!

Also there is a cool little making of PDF included as well as the art created by Kaitlin Statz. So thats awesome.

SoulServe by Robert S Wilson – A Review

I was given a copy of this book by the Author in Exchange for an Honest Review

The Book Blurb: “An emotional and suspenseful prequel to e-Thriller.com’s July 2013 Thriller of the Month, EXIT REALITY from the Ray Garret/Lifeline cyberpunk detective technothriller series!

Death is but a doorway… when SoulServe holds the key.

One by one, a group of scientists at Brizen Health are being murdered by… something. Doctors, subjects, and even janitors are reporting disturbances in Section 671, the Neuro-Technical Division. Ever since the death of Dr. Carl Broxson, the server room in Section 671 has maintained a negative 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Printers turn themselves on and print out terrifying cryptic messages. People have been seeing things in and out of the virtual world of the Lifeline. Including the apparition of their beloved colleague Dr. Broxson himself.

When local police realize the case leads directly into the deep digital canyon of the Lifeline, Antivii agent Ray Garret is called to the scene to get to the bottom of things before another brilliant mind can be taken. But when his wife, Rhonda, starts falling at random and begins to have seizures, the ghost in Brizen Health could be Ray’s only hope to save the love of his life.”

Alright, this review should be pretty short because this was a novella, and honestly there is not much to talk about. SoulServe is the prequel of another novel called Exit Reality. It deals with the character Ray Garret and his investigation into a series of murders happening at a place called Brizen Health.

I know that what I just said is up there in the blurb but that is because there is not much else to this story.

This is at best average for me. You see, Exit Reality came first, and I assume that there are better explanations as to the characters and world in that then in this, because frankly I know next to nothing about anything other then who the villain was and how the story played out. I know almost nothing about Ray other then the fact that he is something called an “Antivii Agent”. I have no idea what Antivii is though. I got the idea that the Lifeline is basically the net only visually. After 3 chapters I finally learned what HPDID was (seriously, if you are going to use an Acronym please tell me what it means as soon as it first appears!) and realized it was basically a jack in device for said Lifeline.

I know that Ray was married to Rhonda, and that she got sick.

But beyond that? I know next to nothing. I don’t know WHO these people are. Or what these things are. There was next to no world building done, and I can almost guess that it would be very difficult to do so in 100 pages. Further, early on plot points feel disjointed as the narrative seems to jump from event to event, almost like the bits in between are meaningless. Everything just felt rushed.

Now, thankfully it does have a solid ending, with everything about the case wrapped up. And the actual technical aspects of the writing such as format, spelling, and grammar usage are all spot on. But it felt, well, soulless. I did not care what happened to Rhonda because I knew nothing about her. How could I? My intro to her was her making dinner and falling down, then her going to a doctor, then her having a seizure. She is basically there to make Ray emotional.

Then there is a strange bit involving a woman trying to seduce Ray for some strange reason which I still don’t understand. That came out of left field honestly. Especially given the ending.

Truth be told I feel this would have been much better if it honestly had more world building and time spent getting me hooked on the characters. But things moved so quickly I could not really connect with anyone or anything here. It just felt so lifeless.

Overall I give this a 3/5. I am not a fan of this at all, its dead average for me, and I don’t think I would want to read Exit Reality at this point, as that actually was written BEFORE this one, and thus I am worried that the mistakes and missteps here are repeated there.

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The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny – A Review

Oh dear where can I begin with this monster. Normally its easy for me to really get a grasp on how to start, but this tome is 10 books in one. Thats right, 10 bloody books in one volume. So I am going to do my best to give it the treatment it deserves.

If you want the short answer: GO READ THESE BOOKS. Find the Anthology, and go.

Now then, I suppose the best place would be a rough description of the tome. And make no mistake, it is a TOME. You see, the Book of Amber is the collected works of Roger Zelazny, and houses his Chronicles of Amber. It goes under a few different names, but seeing as how I read the Omnibus edition titled The Great Book of Amber, I figured I would discuss that here.

Firstly, this houses 10 total novels, split into two “cycles”

The first 5 are the Corwin cycle, and are:

– Nine Princes in Amber
– The Guns of Avalon
– Sign of the Unicorn
– The Hand of Oberon
– The Courts of Chaos

These five detail the story of Corwin, a Prince of Amber. What is Amber I can hear you asking? Well! Amber is no less then the center AND the only real point in the known universe.

The basica idea behind the world is that Amber is the center of the Universe, and everything beyond Amber is nothing more then a Shadow cast by Amber. Our universe is one such Shadow, and its where Corwin begins his journey. From there he deals with other members of his family as well as a great black Road, trying to determine what happened to his father Oberon, and a few other insane mysteries as well as the forces of Chaos.

Its very much a product of its time. Written in 1970, it has the trappings of detective noir, lots of smoking and drinking and instrospective moments. The world building is fantastic as well. You get a real sense of Amber, and its environs, and Corwin’s family. The one that sticks out in my mind are Brand and Ran, and Benedict. Corwin’s family are basically superhumans. Almost all of them are tougher then a normal man, faster, and devious to a fault. Corwin remarks requently that the family is not a very “close” one. Lots of backstabbing here.

Without spoiling too much, the series starts with Corwin awakening in a mental hospital in upstate New York with no memory of who he is. He manages to escape, find the person who had put him there, and from there begins the process of unrvaelling his memories as well as the intricate plots and politics of being a Prince of Amber.

Another thing that is very prominent in the series is the Pattern. At the very center of everything lies the Pattern in Amber. This is basically a huge pattern that houses the very Stuff of Reality. To show you are a Prince or Princess of Amber, to gain the ability to Walk the Shadows (which is how they access the various realities of the Multiverse) you must survive walking the Pattern. Corwin does it to prove he is who he says he is at one point.

The Corwin Quintet is a great read but can be a bit hard to get through. The prose is dense and you can miss things if you read too quickly. Further, there are layers and layers of interaction. But its a page turner make no mistake. And by the end you will have things ending in a satisfactory way.

The second 5 books are the Merlin Cycle, and are:

– Trumps of Doom
– Blood of Amber
– Signs of Chaos
– Knight of Shadows
– Prince of Chaos

The first of these books was wrriten in 85, and shows a very different style and tone when compared to the first five. While the first five came off as a Noir / Detective styled story, this came off more action oriented, almost like a Hacker novel. Merlin is the son of Corwin, and a Prince of both Chaos and Amber.

He has walked both the Pattern in Amber, and the opposite, the Logrus, in Chaos. He is a being of both worlds, and strives in the books to try to save both from destroying themselves as well as the very fabric of the universe. He also creates his own AI in the form of Ghost, a machine who thinks of him as its father and tries to help him out.

I found this group of stories to be…less interesting then the first. Perhaps it was fatigue that got to me here. I am not sure. But I can promise you they are still worth your time and by the end of the 10 books the whole world felt nice and complete, and the story done.

I would rate this Omnibus a solid 4.5/5. I urge you, if you are interested in a different sort of Fantasy, to give this a read. Yes, its going to take you a LONG time, but its worth it all the way till the end.

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Glyphbinder by T Eric Bakutis – A Review

GlyphbinderCoverBigI received a copy of this book from the Author in exchange for an honest review

The Book Blurb! “Kara was thirteen when she learned her mother was dying. Five years later, the last component of her mother’s cure waits in the city of Tarna, but that is one journey she may not survive.

Even as a Glyphbinder, a wielder of blood glyphs created by a people long dead, Kara is no match for the madman that hunts her or the dark forces at his beck and call. As those Kara loves fall one by one, her hunter’s purpose is finally revealed.

Demons thought long defeated stir now in the shadows of her world, seeking a dark power hidden in Kara’s blood. Tireless and without pity, these demons will not be satisfied until they claim Kara’s world … and her soul. “

Here. This is my review of this book. Go buy it. Did you buy it yet? Why haven’t you bought it yet?! I NEED YOU TO BUY THIS SO ERIC GOES AND FINISHES BOOK TWO SO I CAN DEVOUR THAT!

Ahem.

Glybinder, as you can tell from the blurb above, is the story of Kara, an apprentice Glyphbinder. What is a Glyphbinder you ask? Well its a mage. But its so much more.

Eric has crafted a wonderfully rich and believable world, with interesting characters and a riveting plot. Now what drew me to this originally were the sample chapters on the web. If you are curious I urge you to go check them out. Sci-Fi and Scary pointed em out to me, and then got Eric in contact with me and I am glad she did.

Its going to be hard to really dig deep here without spoilers but in truth I refuse to spoil anything about this wild and imaginative ride. Suffice to say, right now, this is one of my favorite books that I have read recently.

So what IS a Glyphbinder? A Glyphbinder is a mage who uses their own blood as a power source, in order to channel the power of the Five Who Made the World. Life, Ruin, Breath, Land, and Heat. In addition, some can also channel beast spirits such as the Wolf, Turtle, and Bear, although I cannot recall exact names. Rannoc is the Wolf I want to say.

There are different sorts of mages. Firebrands who specialize in fire magic, Bloodmenders who can heal and transfuse blood, Beastlords who can communicate with animals, and the Glyphbinders who can actually do a little of everything. Kara is a Glyphbinder, as if you didn’t know. On her journey she eventually gets joined by her two best friends Sera and Byn, a Bloodmender and Beastlord, as well as her rival Aryn a Firebrand, and Trell, a man who lost his memory.

The story starts with Kara trying to discover the ingredients to a glyph that will allow her to heal her mother Ona from a terrible disease that is ravaging her. However, things quickly get insane as people appear to try to kill or kidnap Kara, as well as attacking her very school. From there things go off the rails and all sorts of twists and turns occur.

What I really enjoyed was Eric’s ability to keep things tight and controlled while still giving each character some time in the spotlight. You really get to know the group and each character’s motivations. Further, not a single word is wasted. There are no useless descriptions or pointless passages. Everything has its point, and every bit of the narrative is tight.  Also, while there is a bit of romantic subplot here, its not overt between Kara and her love interest, and in fact only manifests towards the end of the book.  And even then its not fully realized.

And finally the ending is actually almost fairy-tale in style. I won’t spoil it but its greatly satisfying, while also hinting at a larger threat in the background.

I will warn you this book does have violence.  And has quite a few twists.  To sum it up I thought at one point we had reached the big climax, but nope, we hadn’t.  That was just the foreplay for the main event…which was just as amazing.

This is definitely a 5/5 for me. If you like Fantasy you need to read this. Its excellent, and I want more. I crave me. I NEED MORE.

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Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan – A Review

Yes, I know, a Review on a Saturday?! But honestly, I HAD TO. This book was amazing.

The Book Blurb: “Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .”

I will be frank here. I love Rick Riordan and his style of storytelling. The wit, humor, and attention to detail in regards to the things he is talking about is great. His sense of grammar and spelling are perfect. In short, he is a fantastic author.

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer is no different. Whereas in the Percy Jackson / Heroes of Olympus books he tackled Greek and Roman mythology, and in the Kane Chronicles it was Egyptian, now he is butting heads with Norse mythology. Odin, Thor, Freya and Frey, Fenris, Loki, ect. Its all here.

This book tells the story of Magnus Chase. And yes, if you have read the Percy Jackson series, he is related to one of the important folks there. Her cousin, point of fact. Magnus lost his mother roughly 2 years before the start of the story, and has been living as a homeless person on the streets of Boston. He is a survivor, not above stealing or scavenging if the situation calls for it. His mother frequently warned him to not talk to any of his relatives, and he has done just that.

When the story begins however, said cousin, her father, and his uncle have decided suddenly to start looking for him. Its his sixteenth birthday you see and all sorts of things are about to happen.

I can’t really say too much because I do not want to spoil one single solitary bit in this story. The way the world is connected to his previous works is fantastic. I really got a sense that all his worlds (Kane, Percy, and now Magnus) are interconnected. Its awesome to know that there is a shared world here.

However, at the same time, if you have never read a single one of his other books you thankfully will not be left in the dark. Yes there is a connection to the Percy Jackson world, but its only shown twice and its not overtly mentioned. Rather, this is the story of Magnus. His adventures through the Nine Worlds, his dealings with giants, gods, dwarves, elves, and more.

I am a huge fan of mythology, personally. And while Norse is not my strongest suit I do know a decent amount of it, and he stays true to the mythology of it. He even goes so far as to mention the Odin myth and how Odin learned rune magic: By hanging himself by his neck for nine days after stabbing himself with his spear. Magic, you see, requires sacrifice in the Norse world.

If you have an interest in Mythology, or just want a good solid YA Fantasy read, you should check out Magnus Chase. Also I would like to mention that the story has a solid conclusion, and is definitely part of a larger adventure. I want to see how things pan out after the reveal at the end.

I rate this a 4/5. This absolutely deserves a place on your shelf. Its funny, witty, heartwarming and heartbreaking, and will even teach you a bit.

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The Way of Kings, The Stormlight Archives Book 1 by Brandon Sanderson – A Review

This review was previously posted on Goodreads.

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SOME MINOR SPOILERS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

The Way of Kings is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s challenger to the Wheel of Time series. Brandon Sanderson himself is the man who finished the Wheel of Time series with the last two books at the behest of the Estate of Robert Jordan, so he has the chops to write. Further, Sanderson has written quite a few books that I personally have enjoyed, including the Mistborn Saga and Steelheart, and the Rithmatist. It’s safe to say, I enjoy this man’s writing.

In the Way of Kings, the world is constantly ravaged by “highstorms” which basically appear to be Hurricanes. The world has adapted to it, and there is some sort of magical quality to these storms as the currency, these gemstones, absorb “Stormlight”. The gems act as both a lightsource frequently, and the currency as well.

The book follows three primary storylines using point of view styled storytelling, along with interludes using tertiary characters. The primary characters are Kaladin (an ex soldier turned slave turned bridgeman), Shallan (the sheltered daughter of a dead nobleman trying to save her house), and Dalinar (a Highprince and uncle to the king). Each character has their own goals and wants, and the storylines are all interesting in their own rights.

The book is LONG, at just over 1000 pages. But I found myself reading it nonstop as its very character focused. Each character was interesting and while seperate, eventually their stories start to intersect.

The story starts with an assassin, called The Man in White, killing the King of the Aleshi, on the night of their treaty signing with this group called the Parshendi. The Parshendi take credit for the killing, and a war breaks out. It has been 6 years since the war had started when our story begins.

Kaladin’s story focuses on his trials as a slave turned bridgeman, a person who has to run large wooden bridges for a highprinces army. The bridgemen as expected to die as they are basically bait for the Parshendi archers. Kaladin is basically a broken man but eventually starts to overcome his own issues and tries his best to rally his fellow Bridgemen and keep them alive.

Shallan however, is the daughter of a noble who has died, and his family has decided to hide his death in an attempt to avoid creditors. She goes chasing after the kings sister, Jasnah, to steal an item called a Soulcaster. She eventually learns several amazing things about herself and discovers a love of learning, as Jasnah is primarily a scholar. A lot of her story is focused on learning about the world and the history of the world.

And finally, Dalinar is the uncle to the King and a Highprince, basically a leader of a country. He is a very honorable man who dislikes the games his fellow highprinces play with the war, and follows a very strict “Code” and forces his children to follow it as well. He bodyguards his nephew against assassins as well. Dalinar is plagued by visions throughout the book and a great deal of his story is him trying to figure out if he is going mad or not, along with dealing with the politics of war.

By the end of the story all three plot lines begin to tie together, and the ending was satisfying while also making me want to read the next book to see how things turn out.

Some things that are truly fascinating to me is the usage of racism as a way of life. The characters in Aleshi, the main country, are divided by the Lighteyes, and the Darkeyes. Your eye color determines your station and if you are a noble or not. A Darkeyes cannot be a noble and generally must obey the orders of the Lighteyes. Kaladin is a Darkeyes, as an example, while Dalinar and Shallan are lighteyes.

Further, woman are the scholars in Aleshi, while men deal with war and the like. In fact, Men do not learn to read or write, having their wives handle such things. Its quite interesting as beyond there, the gender’s are basically equal.

The Parshendi are, at least for now, an Enigma. Not much is known about them from the character’s point of view beyond the fact that they sing nearly constantly, and they hold their dead with the highest reverence. Whats really interesting is that there is a race of people who are totally subservient to the Aleshi called Parshman, which appear to be cousins of the Parshendi.

The last thing I want to touch on is the magic system. As with all Sanderson novels, there is a magic system here, but there seem to be only a few practitioners. First there is Soulcasting, which is something Jasnah and others like her can do. It basically lets them transmute any one thing into anything else. Like turning stone into bread for example. This is something that people do with the aid of Soulcasters.

There is also Surgebinding, of which the only one the reader knows about at the start is the Assassin in White. Surgebinding lets him defy gravity, push or pull objects, and stick objects together. Surgebinding requires Stormlight to use, and a Surgebinder absorbs the Stormlight that is stored in the various gems.

Finally, there are the Shardblades and the Shardplate. These are more magical artifacts, left over from a time when a group of beings called Radiants walked the world. These weapons are bound to a person. Shardplate is basically power armor in fantasy form, increasing its wearers strength, speed, and defense. Shadeblades are almost like plasma swords. They can cut nonliving material likes it nothing, and living matter they “kill” without actually damaging it. Get hit by a Shardblade in the arm, the arm itself dies and can never be used. Shardblades also must be summoned, and if the carrier is disarmed of one it vanishes into mist.

The Way of Kings is an interesting book and looks like a great intro to a new series. My only real issue is with its length, as some people may put off from its sheer size. But if you enjoyed Sandersons previous works or want a fantasy novel that is not the same old same old, give Way of Kings a try.

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A Vanishing Glow by Alexis Radcliff – A Review


A Copy of this book was provided to me by the Author in exchange for an honest review

Lets start this with the official book blurb: “A VANISHING GLOW is the exciting opening to THE MYSTECH ARCANUM series, a deep and thrilling blend of steampunk and flintlock fantasy with mature themes.

It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife.

Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?

Sweeping from the ancient cities at the heart of the nation to the dusty edges of the war-torn frontier, A Vanishing Glow tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and assassins, friends and lovers, who come together in a time of epic struggle. Here a brave officer risks everything to win back his estranged father’s respect; a brilliant young engineer attempts to atone for her sins; a war-weary commander tries to pick up the pieces of the life he lost; and a man touched by the gods struggles to prepare a nation for the coming of an ancient evil which only he can see. In the dying light of a once-prosperous society, amid twisting plots, suffering and betrayal, lost love and shattered dreams, all must fight for what they hold dear. Who will taste the fruits of victory and who will lie bloodied on the ground in the light of a vanishing glow?

This book contains Volumes 1 & 2 of The Mystech Arcanum, respectively titled Shattered Dreams and Dark Omens.”

Sounds pretty epic right? You have man-machine hybrids and court intrigue and betrayal and suffering all that jazz! What more could you ask for?

Well…honestly quite a bit more. There will be SOME SPOILERS in this review in regards to the characters, specifically.

Allow me to explain. Alexis is a very pleasant woman and I am honored that she offered me a copy of her first book to review. And I feel that, with practice and polish, she can become a really solid writer. This book shows excellence in world building that appealed to my D&D roots, making me want to learn more about the world and its mechanics. What is numen? What are ascendants? What are the gods like and who are they? These questions popped up because of the way things were introduced, and this is a good thing.

Also from a technical standpoint her writing is spot on. No major spelling errors or grammatical mistakes.

However, there are some major problems that I had with this book, and sadly the problems exist with the two things I hold most paramount for a good story. The plot, and the characters.

You see, this is a dual plotline book. Similar to say Way of Kings by Brandon Sanders, or the Game of Thrones novels. We have two primary protagonists: Jason, a soldier who is a successful captain of a border patrol called the Windriders, and Nilya, a spunky sapper working for the Crimson Fist legion, the military of the Federation where the story takes place.

Each character has their own plotline. Thing is, only Jason’s is really developed with an actual story to it. You see, Nilya spends the first part of the book just living life as a sapper in the military, hanging out with her squad mate and trying to get noticed so she can become a company engineer and thus invent things rather then just blow stuff up. Jason however deals with political intrigue, mystery, and is the primary focus of the real story. Nilya’s story doesn’t actually pick up till about 40% of the way into the book, when certain events transpire. Its also at this point that we get a hint that maybe the two plotlines are connected. But Nilya’s story really doesn’t go anywhere. Its a story of redemption for things Nilya has done, but what she has done doesn’t really need redemption. Seriously. But I will discuss that more when I discuss her character.

And the second issue comes from the two characters themselves. Again, some spoilers about their history.

Jason is dull. Moreover, he is an archetype, a typical honest loyal and bullheaded soldier who is more at home on the frontlines then in a council room. He is also an idiot. He frequently does or says things that logically no one would say or do in these situations, but because he is super loyal and honest he does it anyway, damn the consequences! Thankfully when he fails (and he fails nearly constantly) he does suffer said consequences. He pisses off his few allies, misreads situations, and constantly gets his ass kicked in combat. This is supposed to be an intelligent and decorated captain of a border patrol, but he shows none of this during the course of the story. Further, he is constantly plagued by self doubt as to his ability to accomplish anything, and its warranted. Because he doesn’t really accomplish much. He also of course has a dark past, which you learn about roughly 40% of the way into the book during a major plot event. And his dark past is legitimate: He accidentally as a child killed his younger brother. His father then proceeds to send him to boarding school and does not speak to him for years, till the start of the book.

Nilya however starts as a much more interesting character. She is funny, witty, intelligent and has a personality beyond “suffering and self doubt”. One thing that drew me to her were hints that she had a dark past, as she constantly references thoughts of her parents, a school, and a girl named Tess. But she never goes into it. Its obvious early on that she is running from something she did, but its not until the 76% mark that you find out what she is running from. And when I did I about exploded in rage. Its the stupidest, most asinine thing I think I had seen. She ran…because she was a teenager who felt love a girl and the girl did not love her back. So she ran to avoid being forced into a life she didn’t want. Basically she is a selfish emotional teenager. I was like..SERIOUSLY?! It seemed that it would be vastly worse then this, the way I was strung along while reading about it.

And the way Nilya’s story ends is ridiculous. She helps a man she helped nearly kill to a town where a Monastery to the goddess of healing is, and then trades her life for his…by becoming a priest of the goddess. This leads to her redemption from all the things she has done…I guess? It was a non-ending to a non-plot involving a character who could have had so much more done with her.

Now I want to talk about the ending a bit. There are hints that would lead to the already announced sequel. The villains of the book start making references to “something out there” that will come if the people do not prepare. And of course the only way to prepare is take over the world and force the people to submit! All the intrigue and stuff in Jason’s story comes to head at the end, and the ending is adequate. The villains are believable at least, and the action at the end is decent. Be ware that there is not a lot of action but I did not mind so much.

Finally I want to point this out. The following is something the author tweeted when promoting the book:

“Steampunk cyborgs, flintlock soldiers, half-mad sorcerers, and a badass lady engineer. New debut novel!”

See that half-mad sorcerer bit? Yea. Unless you are referring to one villain who shows up for about 3 pages and gets captured at the end of the book and is more in common with a mad INVENTOR then a sorcerer, then there is not a HINT of actual magic in this book.

Everything is sword and gun here.

Further I would hesitate to place this is the “steampunk” genre. The standard definition of Steampunk is “a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

There is no steam here. Everything is powered by Mystec Crystals, which are created through the use of Numen, or life energy. No steam. There is tech, but its pretty advanced.

Also, this doesn’t really factor into my rating but…the word Constructs is not the same as Cyborg. The people in this book which are called Constructs are actually Cyborgs. The general definition of Construct that I am aware of would be more along the lines of a Golem or Robot. Basically something with sentience or programming made of nonliving matter. Just an odd choice of words really.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book. There are flashes of something more buried here, and I think with practice Alexis could become a better writer, but unless you are a REAL hardcore fan of this sort of thing and can put up with the issues with the characters, I would avoid this book.

I rate this a 2/5.

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