This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

14 August, 2013


Cover art by Michael Jones


ISBN: 978-0-9572615-1-8
Pages: 476
Publisher: Anachron Press
First published: 20 September 2012

On the cover:

A thousand year shave passed since the Clan Lords and the Fey commanded dragons and raised mighty citadels. The remnants of their ancient power lie dormant and a new conflict threatens the kingdom of Antia.

King Daris rules a peaceful and prosperous land. But his conniving brother Jerim covets the throne and civil war looms.

But there are worse threats to Antia than mere human greed.

Two people will stand against mortal and demonic enemies: Alyda Stenna, captain of The Hammer of Antia returns from campaign to a hero's welcome after prosecuting war abroad with brutal efficiency.

Garian Tain, the spymaster's apprentice, hunts for an assassin through the streets of the capital while the knights bask in the adoration of the crowds.

This is just the beginning.

Both will fight overwhelming odds in a bid to save the kingdom. War and betrayal will test them to their limits. One will rise; one will fall; both will be changed forever.

   This is one of those Epic Fantasy novels that show how far Epic Fantasy has come since the birth of its modern incarnation in 1977*. There is of course elements that you will recognise from the Fantasy novels of the 1980s, it wouldn't really be Epic Fantasy if there weren't, but this is a novel that shows how Epic Fantasy has "grown up" in the last 36 years.

   I was quickly dragged into the story by Davies's writing, and after the first chapter I was already invested in the story, and the characters.
   When we first meet the main character, it's on the battlefield, a setting that Davies brings vividly to life, both here and later in the novel. But I want to begin with the main character, Captain of the First Company of the Antian Royal Guards, Alyda Stenna. 
   Davies does a great job with Alyda, she's a great warrior and a great leader, but she never stops being a female. Neither is she a character that in any way is a male in "women's clothing", she is just a female soldier who has risen to lead, and in the world Davies has created that is something completely natural.
   What it really boils down to is that in Alyda we get a character that is very realistic, while being "larger than life" in the way a heroic lead of any work of fiction needs to be to make it through the trials and tribulations they are given.

   Alyda isn't the only great character in this book, making characters that feel fully alive is one of Davies's strengths. There are no cardboard cut-outs here, but complex living people who have their own hopes and motives for what they do.
   We are firmly in the upper reaches of society when it comes to the main characters, but that doesn't really matter, in that it is necessary to tell this exact story. There is however many supporting characters that come from lower in the ranks, this is not solely a story of the aristocracy.

   I mentioned the word "ranks" above, and it is a central theme there, we are mostly in a military setting. Something that brings us to the middle of the central conflict. A conflict I might add that is what really gives us the basis for a great story.
   We see what is happening through few eyes, and because of that we don't get a ringside seat to everything that is going on. It does however bring us much closer to the events that are described. The story is almost intimate in nature because of the viewpoints used, and for Epic Fantasy my experience is that can be a bit hit or miss, here it is a bullseye.

   Davies writes in a way that really makes you invest emotionally in what is happening to the characters she has created. As the story progresses that creates a lot of tension. The story goes its own ways, and you just have to come along to see what is happening. You're never really sure what is going to happen, because Davies's storytelling doesn't follow a formula. What we get is instead a complex tale that really comes alive.
   It's also told in a raw and honest manner. There's no "Hollywood style" sanitized violence here, it's brutal and at times uncomfortable. Davies doesn't filter, but gives it to us straight. That isn't always pleasant, but it makes for great authentic writing.

   It struck me when I read this how much really happened, and how much I learned about the world the story is set in. There's very little travel to show you the world, and we don't get passages where we are subjected to extensive infodumping. Still I felt I got a good grip on where all of this was happening, and also a sense that there was much outside of that yet to discover.
   I've tried to come up with a good way to describe the feeling this was giving me, and the closest I can come is "dense", but that is not really correct either. This does require concentration, but that is not conscious. Davies lures you into her world, and you are so invested that it takes more effort to pull yourself out. I think maybe rich and vivid is the words I'm looking for, or maybe alive. -It doesn't really matter, I'm sure you understand by now that this was a story that I really got into and enjoyed.

   As you probably have gathered by now, I think this is an excellent debut by Davies. My only "complaint" is that I wish there was more to read, I really didn't want this book to end.
   This is an Epic Fantasy novel that showcases the genre at its best, a book you really don't want to miss, every Fantasy fan should have this in their collection. Davies is an author we hopefully will be seeing much more to in years to come, I know I'll be eagerly awaiting her next novel.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author.

*1977 saw the publication of The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks) and the first Thomas Covenant book Lord Foul's Bane. I don't remember where I saw this mentioned as the birth of modern Fantasy, but the article made a very good case for it. And since I use it here, I obviously agree.

12 August, 2013


Cover art by Paul Young
Cover design by Patrick Knowles


ISBN: 978-0-575-08968-6
Pages: 403
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 13 June 2012

On the cover:

On a battlefield strewn with corpses, a ragged figure, dressed in wolfskin and intent on death, slips past the guards into the tent of the Emperor and draws his sword.

The terrified citizens of Constantinople are plagued by mysterious sorcery. The wolves outside the city are howling. A young boy had traded the lives of his family for power. And a Christian scholar, fleeing with his pregnant wife from her enraged father, must track down the magic threatening his world.

All paths lead to the squalid and filthy prison deep below the city, where a man who believes he is a wolf lies chained, and the spirits of the dead are waking.

The Norsemen camped outside the city have their own legends, of the wolf who will kill the gods, but no true Christian could believe such a thing.

And yet it is clear to Loys that Ragnarok is coming. Will he be prepared to sacrifice his life, his position, his wife and his unborn child for a god he doesn't believe in?

And deep in the earth, the wolfman howls...

   This is the third volume in Lachlan's series, following from Wolfsangel and Fenrir (link to reviews of both at bottom). It continues the theme of rebirth, and cycles that was also heavily present in Fenrir. Vikings are again playing an important part, but this time we have moved to Constantinople, or Miklagard as the Vikings would say.
   The setting is a very interesting one, and Lachlan is very good at making it come alive. Unfortunately it is also the source of some disappointment to me. You see, the Varangian guard were the Viking elite soldiers of the Eastern Roman Emperor, and there is a lot of interesting history connected to them. And I expected that to be more prominent in the book.

   Note the words "I expected" above, this isn't actually a flaw of the book. It's my expectations, based on my knowledge of history, making me want something the author actually did not put in his story. Normally I wouldn't mention something like that, I prefer to stick to reviewing what is actually in the book. And if we are honest, there is always something personal that colours how we interpret, and feel about, what we read. But in this case it did lead to me always waiting for something that never showed up while reading the story, and I wouldn't be honest if I said that didn't effect my enjoyment in a pretty direct way.
   I could of course wait a couple of years, read this book again without my expectations, and then review it. But that is not really fair in my opinion, and it's not really something I do. I don't re-read to change my opinion. Instead I'll write this review giving the impression I got when I read it, with my assumptions in the background. Just be aware that when you read this, that if you know nothing of the Varangian guard, or the Vikings in Miklagard, you are likely to have a different experience.

   I've mention that Lachlan makes the setting come alive, he also does a great job with the characters. They are very interesting in themselves, and they come very quickly to life when they are introduced. The whole build-up phase of the book, about the first half, is great. Everything is set up very nicely, but then it feels like the book does a big shift.

   The shift goes from the story that has been built up, and the setting, to the greater story that this series is about, and for me that didn't really work. What is a great setting, and some great characters, are put on the back-burner to a much more magic/supernatural oriented story. And that makes it feel like all the good build-up that goes before it doesn't really count. From here on in the story could really be set anywhere and be told with any characters. And the strength of the previous book, Fenrir, is precisely that it feels like it has to be told exactly where it is with exactly those characters.

   This is by no means to be taken as it is a bad story, because it isn't. Taken in isolation this is a very good story, whose only problem is that it has some repetition because one of the characters is discovering things that are already known to the reader.
   Ordinarily that wouldn't really be an issue for me, especially when it is well done, like it is here. But this is book three of a cyclic story, and it feels too repetitive when we get that story rediscovered twice in the same volume. Because if you are like me, you will have read the two first books, and already be aware of it.

   When trying to sum up my reaction to this, I'd say it was ambivalent. This is actually a good story, and there is no doubt that this shows that Lachlan is both a good writer and a good storyteller. But it's also got some of the typical diseases of the middle volume(s) of a Fantasy series, it's bogged down in it's own history, and starting to repeat itself.
   As I said above, I also feel that the setting becomes too much of a background here. Some of that is because of the expectation I outlined at the beginning of this review, and some of it has to do with the story ending up somewhere that could be everywhere. Making the set-up, of both setting and characters, feel a bit wasted. And in so doing, the story also becomes repetitive, whereas with a setting affecting it, it would feel much fresher.

   So, overall a good novel, but with some flaws that can make it hit or miss. I'd absolutely recommend someone who has interest in the Vikings and their mythology pick up this book. Reading the previous volume isn't essential.
   For those that have read the previous volumes, if you have no problems with the repetitious nature of part of the story, you should enjoy this. But if  you, like me, was hoping for another exploration into the Viking's journey around the world, then you may be disappointed.

REVIEWS: Wolfsangel  Fenrir

LINKS:  Gollancz  Gollancz Blog

05 August, 2013


Cover painting by Glen Orbik


ISBN: 978-1-78116-264-4
Pages: 283
Publisher: Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
Published: 7 June 2013

On the cover:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life - and what comes after - that would change his world forever.

   This novel belongs to King's "growing up" group of stories. But with a twenty-one year old main character it is not growing up in the sense that we usually see it from King. Here it is more a case of when you finally become an adult, and even that can be debated. Not that it really matters, that underlying theme could easily be substituted with another one without really changing the story. I have to say though, that King does that part of the story very well.

   Unusually enough this starts out as a story about a summer job. Being that the story is written by King, this isn't a job that is par for the course for everyone, and in that lies some of the genius of the book.
   Joyland, the place the book gets its title from, is more than just the setting for this story, it's also a character in itself, in the same way that a city is a character in Urban Fantasy. The way Joyland is put together of a wast number of different parts, often represented by the people, is extremely well done. It is actually so good that this would work very well as a novel even without the Crime element that comes in to it.

   A setting like Joyland is really dependent on the characters that inhabit it. And the characters here are really a joy to discover. They may be a bit archetypal, and recognizable, to the setting they are in. (King isn't trying to reinvent the wheel in that department.) But what is important is that they do not feel like they are part of the scenery, and they don't do that here. Almost all the named characters get enough time to develop real personalities and come alive to the reader. None of those that are important to the story is neglected in that regard.

   This is in some way a character-driven story, and it is one told in first person. As such the main character, Devin Jones, is essential to the enjoyment of the novel. Devin is interesting to get to know, he's really up to the job of carrying this story. Where he is in life when this story starts means that he could have easily become a pure product of his circumstances, but thankfully that is avoided.
   What Devin goes through in his personal life could have been annoying, and I was afraid it would turn to that, instead I found it to be very recognizable and realistic. King manages to tell about this pivotal point in the life of Devin while keeping him one hundred percent real. It sometimes feels almost as if this is an autobiographical story told by Devin Jones.

   The Crime element is introduced fairly early, but it doesn't really take over the narrative for good once it is. It's something that is always there in the background, like an ambient noise, and when it is called for it springs into the foreground and takes over the stage.
   As mysteries go this is an interesting one. It is partly connected to paranormal events, but that is an element that is mostly toned down here. The mystery itself gets revealed to us in a way that works very well, and is satisfying to those that like libraries. But what is most important about this mystery is that it creates an eerie feeling. 

   That eerie feeling, a feeling that something that just isn't like it should be, is something that comes at several times in the story, not always connected to the mystery either. King creates an atmosphere of the familiar becoming unfamiliar, and in some sense creepy, several times. That atmosphere of looking at something from an unfamiliar angle goes for the whole setting too, it's in some ways what Joyland is all about. And the atmosphere King creates is really a brilliant one.

   King is often talked about as an author who writes bad endings, not always deserved in my opinion. This time I think the ending will satisfy fully, and I can't really say there's something to really criticize it for.
   There's really not anything to complain about through the whole novel. This is certainly King's best recent novel, and I would also say that it is King at his absolute best. That this isn't rooted in SFF, like so much of King's fiction, should make it more accessible to those that read only Mainstream novels too. And they should pick this up, actually everyone should, this isn't just a great King novel: It is a great novel.