book reviews

Series Review: The Dragon Brigade by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes

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I recently finished the final book in this trilogy, and it was an enjoyable ride. I’ve read Weis’s work before. I enjoyed the original Dragonlance trilogy, though it is pretty cliched stuff by today’s standards. Her Death Gate Cycle (also with Tracy Hickman) was one of those series that I really grew to love by the end. It was similar to Dragonlance in some ways, but it showed more depth and an interesting world (or rather, multiple worlds).

This series has a very different feel. It’s a world of magic and airships and dragons. Most notably, it does not have the generic Tolkienesque/D&D races that I’ve come to expect from Weis. That, for me, was a major bonus. I don’t hate these races by any means, but I rarely see them done in a way that feels fresh.

I’ve always felt the biggest strength of Weis and her various partners (from what I’ve read) is creating characters that are fun to read about. This series is no exception. I loved the dynamics between friends Stefano and Rodrigo. The priest, Father Jacob, was also a lot of fun to read about.

Description of the first book (from Goodreads):

“The known world floats upon the Breath of God, a thick gas similar to Earth’s oceans, with land masses accessible by airship. The largest of these land masses are ruled by the rival empires of Freya and Rosia. Magic is intrinsic to the functioning of these societies, and is even incorporated into their technological devices. But now a crucial scientific discovery has occurred that could destroy the balance of power-and change the empires forever.”

I’m personally not a fan of this description. It’s a bunch of worldbuilding without giving us much about plot or character. The world is fun, but there’s a lot more to the series than that.

My reviews of each book:

BOOK 1:

“Overall, this was a very enjoyable mixture of Steampunk and High Fantasy. The start was a bit slow, but there was a lot of great action in the last two thirds of the book. The writing is nothing special, but that didn’t bother me. I found myself connecting with the characters. It’s nice to see authors who still like their heroes on the heroic side.

Weis has worked both alone and with co-authors during her career. I haven’t read all her stuff, but I’d say this is probably the best first book in a series I’ve read by her. The Death Gate Cycle comes in second while Dragonlance is a distant third.

This one did recycle some ideas from the Death Gate cycle, but that didn’t bother me. This one is definitely more modern in feel. I also like that it’s a Gunpowder fantasy. It’s kind of nice to see a mixture of guns and dragons (and airships).

Overall, I recommend this book for readers who are looking for something that will hit the same spot as Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay series and Jim Butcher’s Cinder Spires. While it’s not as good as either of those series, I enjoyed it.”

Rating: 8/10

BOOK 2

“This was an enjoyable book, probably on par with the first in the series. The characters are fun, the world is interesting, and there’s some good action. These books don’t quite make it into my list of favorites, but I still enjoy them quite a bit.”

Rating: 8/10

BOOK 3

“I really liked this conclusion to the Dragon Brigade trilogy. The final battle was very epic, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters throughout the trilogy. This series is loaded with action, airships, floating islands, and fun characters. It’s a testament to the fact that Weis can write good stories outside of her Dragonlance work.”

Rating: 9/10

Overall, I’d give the series an 8.5. It’s nothing complex, but it was fun to read, and a lot of times, that’s all I’m looking for.

SPFBO Book Review: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

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This is my first review of a fellow Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off participant. I actually picked this book up before it was entered into the competition, but I just finally got around to reading it. I’m glad I did.

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Here’s the description:

Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.

The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.

But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.

In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age…

A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more…

Something of great importance is stolen – or freed – from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers…

And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing…

The first book in The Raveling, a new epic fantasy saga

Here’s my review:

This was a very good beginning to a series and author I’ll be watching closely. It’s classic fantasy done very well. Fans of The Wheel of Time will find a lot to like here. It isn’t a copy by any means, but it gives the same vibe.

The best thing about this book is the sense of mystery throughout. You get the feeling that there is always something more beneath the surface of every interaction, every place in the world, every revelation. That sense of mystery propelled me through the book.

The characters are mix of the likeable (Keilan, Nel and Xin), the conflicted (Senacus), and the mysterious (Jan and Alyanna). This mixture in the characters really worked for me because it provided a lot of variety and had me interested in every point of view.

I’m not sure what to expect from the magic of this world yet. A lot of it still remains a mystery, but that’s okay. There are definitely a lot of competing factions, both magical and non-magical, that make things interesting. You have immortal sorcerers, demons, magical assassins, paladins that hunt sorcerers. It has a lot of the great ingredients that make me love a fantasy book.

It also had some good action scenes. There weren’t a lot of them, but they were good when they did happen. I won’t quite put them up there with my favorite action scenes, though. I also thought at times that Hutson got a bit too descriptive, but that’s about my only major complaint with this one.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: Hope and Red by Jon Skovron

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I’m going to try to get back into reviewing books. I’ll probably review some big names from time to time, but I’m hoping I can get in more reviews of some of the lesser-known authors out there (both in trade publishing and self-publishing).

In that spirit, I will start with a review of Hope and Red by Jon Skovron. This one immediately caught my attention when I first heard of it because it sounded like something Brent Weeks would write.

You have two main characters. One of them is a young woman who, as a girl, was the only survivor of a sorcerous attack on her village performed by the emperor’s Biomancers. These Biomancers like to experiment on people, and the empire largely turns a blind eye to these experiments, which are quite disturbing.

These Biomancers were one of my favorite things about the book. It’s a type of magic you don’t see as often in fantasy, and it made me feel that I’d be getting more than just a Weeks clone.

The girl, who comes to be called Hope, ends up being sent to an island where an order of warrior monks lives. The leader of these monks trains her even though they are not supposed to train women, and she becomes quite a force.

The other main character is a charming young rogue who goes by the name Red, on account of the red eyes he gained as the survivor of his mother’s drug addiction. In addition to being a thief, he’s also quite the artist. He comes to play a major role in a slum within one of the empire’s largest cities.

As you can probably guess, their stories end up coming together. Along the way, there’s plenty of action, some good bits of humor, and characters that you want to root for despite their flaws.

It’s also another in the growing list of gunpowder fantasy you see these days. It’s nice to see more and more fantasy moving away from its quasi-medieval roots. Don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of fantasy novels with that setting, but it’s also refreshing to see more varied settings.

I never quite got that feeling I get reading my favorite authors, but this was a very good adult fantasy debut for an author who has written some young adult before. I recently read the second book, and it continues the story quite well, throwing in some interesting new wrinkles.

Rating: 8.5/10

Fantasy Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

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I’m trying to get more active with this blog, so I’m going to go through some of the various book reviews I’ve written. Next up is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson

I read The Way of Kings quite a while ago. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I’ve read it, so this won’t be too heavy on plot details. Besides, I don’t like to spoil to many things anyways.

This book is a good beginning to the Stormlight Archive, which looks like it will turn out to be Sanderson’s magnum opus. It’s a huge world with a huge story (more than 1000 pages of it, in fact). There’s a lot of good about this book, but at the same time, it’s setting up a much more massive story. Some of Sanderson’s other stuff stands alone (Elantris, Warbreaker, the first Mistborn book). This does not.

It’s also a major time investment and requires you to trust the author before you tackle it. I suggest reading some of his other works first. They’re not as deep and complex as this, but they’re also faster-paced and serve as better introductions to his work.

Now for the good:

This is a highly interesting and complex world. There’s the threat of an apocalyptic war. There are fierce storms that shape geography and wildlife. There’s conflict between and within nations. On top of all that, you have Sanderson’s great magic, though you should be warned that the magic in these books is a bit more mysterious than you’ll find in Mistborn. I’m sure there are rules for it, but it’s been missing for a long time, and so when it does show up, the characters are still figuring it out.

That brings me to the characters. In this book, Sanderson has crafted some of his best characters. Kaladin makes an interesting and conflicted protagonist. Shallan is annoying at times, but she grows on you as you read (and especially in the second book).

I especially found myself absorbed in Kaladin’s struggles. Some of the things he has to endure are truly horrific, and his character journey is a fascinating one to watch.

There’s also a great deal of mystery in these books. Since it’s the first of a ten-book series, you don’t get as many answers as you normally get from Sanderson. I found this mystery added to the book and helped me get through some of the slower sections.

Don’t worry. There is action. Great action. You just have to wait a while for it.

This book continues one of the things I love about Sanderson’s work. He’s not afraid to use common fantasy tropes. He just put his own spin on them. In doing that, he gives the reader something that’s both familiar and different, and that’s the right balance for me. If you’re looking for something that completely avoids tropes, this isn’t the right story for you.

For me, it’s the kind of story that reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place. Sanderson writes the modern update of classic fantasy that keeps most in touch with the roots of the genre.

In all, this was a very good book, but it did have its slow sections. For those who are interested, I thought Words of Radiance was truly excellent.

Fantasy Book Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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I read this a while back, but I thought I’d dig out this old review because this is one of those books that has really stuck with me in some ways.

Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.

Why was I attracted to Elantris?

1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?

This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson’s efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it’s a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.

Elantris was beautiful, once.

This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn’t beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There’s a mystery here, and that’s one great way of showing tension.

When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden’s story. Why? Because of this opening line:

Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn’t even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson’s strengths as a writer.

Now, to the rest of the book:

It has been more than two years since I’ve read the book, so I won’t go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn’t).

The good:

1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.

2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I’ve ever read. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but I’d describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.

3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It’s a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It’s a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It’s this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.

4. The magic. As you’d expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how’s that for alliteration and consonance!). I’ve forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.

5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.

6. The action. Through much of the book, you don’t see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it’s awesome. That’s one of Sanderson’s strenghts.

The bad:

1. The writing isn’t as clean as Sanderson’s later work.

2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).

3. The “interesting factor” for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.

As you can see, I can’t find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It’s not perfect, but it’s a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker.

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I can’t believe I hadn’t reviewed this one here. So here goes…

Here’s my Goodreads review from back in July

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I’m not just referring to self-published books. I’m referring to all books. This one opened up with a great action scene. Then it proceeded to make me care deeply about the characters. There was only one POV that I didn’t connect with completely, and that was Tharok, who is separate from the rest of the characters.

I loved reading in Audsley’s POV. It’s so much fun to see the scholar type of character getting involved in things so far outside his comfort zone. Tiron was also a great character. His internal conflict was depicted brilliantly.

Early on, it took me a bit to adjust to the author’s writing style. He is fond of longer sentences than you see in most fantasy these days. But once I adjusted to it, it didn’t bother me at all. Books like this show that you can find brilliant books that have been self-published.

Rating: 9.5/10

I will add to this review that Tucker really has a way of writing action scenes that make you feel like you’re there with the character. I was frantically flipping virtual pages. It gave me the same kind of feeling I get toward the end of a Sanderson, Weeks, or Butcher novel, where all the various threads come together into an explosive action scene.

I will also add that I thought the second book was even better. Tucker’s roots in horror really show in that one. There were a lot of scenes that I read with great anxiety in that one. But that’s a review for another time.

This is the kind of story that I think has the potential to be commercial fantasy with a capital C. It’s not great literature, though it is written well. First and foremost, it is a fun story, and it only gets better.

This reminds me…I need to read the third book. I’ve been putting it off because I don’t want to run out of material to read.

Not that that’s a big problem, though. Tucker is a prolific writer. Somehow, he manages to write books quickly without sacrificing quality. I wish I could find a bit of that talent myself.

Indie Book Review: Mist Falcon by Ryan J. Doughan

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It’s been a while since I’ve done any book reviews here, but I thought I’d start that up again. I actually read this one a while back and really enjoyed it.

Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads:

Took a chance on this one because I know the author on Twitter (but not in real life). It had generally good reviews, though not a lot of them, so I was a little skeptical going in.

As it turns out, I had no reason to be skeptical. It’s not a perfect book (occasional awkward sentences and minor editing issues), but these issues never pulled me out of the story.

I connected with Aiden and Willem right away. It took me a bit longer to connect with Tako, but his story has a lot of potential to become very interesting in subsequent installments. Rem and Lem were a lot of fun.

The best thing about this book was the action, especially toward the end of the book. I had that frantic feeling reading the last thirty percent. When I get that feeling, I know a book is good.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say fans of Weeks and Sanderson would find a lot to enjoy in this story.

Rating: 9/10

 

 

I’ll see if I can add a bit to the review here. I feel like the biggest strength in this book was the pacing. It rarely let up, and that made it an enjoyable read for me. The characters weren’t the most complex or interesting I’ve ever seen, but I felt like rooting for them, and that’s the biggest thing an author has to do for me to enjoy a book.

If you’re looking to give a self-published author a chance, this book is good option. I feel like it hasn’t been noticed as much as some other self-published titles, and I think that should change.