Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

 

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Warbreaker is a standalone epic fantasy from prolific author Brandon Sanderson. Another set in his overarching Cosmere (though no prior knowledge is required) it is very much a traditional fantasy, filled with princesses, gods, magic swords, rebellions, mercenaries and of course: a patented Sanderson magic system. This magic system is all to do with breath and colour or…something. The story follows two Idrian princesses: Siri and Vivenna. Vivenna (the stoic, brave and ultimately naïve one) has been trained all her life to be the consort to the infamous Godking of Hallandren, a neighbouring country, but for, erm, reasons (I think) Siri (the free-spirited, manic-pixie-dream-girl one) is sent in her stead. When Vivenna finds out she goes to ‘save’ her younger sister and they get involved in conspiracies, an uprising, courtly weirdness and…well, the usual.

There’s nothing in Warbreaker that we haven’t seen before, especially from Brandon Sanderson. Vivenna and Siri are two halves of the same coin, but neither are all that well developed. They stumble from one plot point to the next – they are, in fact, like Vin from Mistborn, if someone split Vin in half and called the parts left over Vivenna and Siri. Likewise, the plot is very similar to Mistborn: there’s the uprising against the evil ruler, the crazy magic system, the spunky heroine(s), the grouchy yet loveable rogues that mentor them. It’s all been done before and better by Mr. Sanderson himself. Yes, there are some interesting twists, mainly involving the Gods and Godking that are a bit more unique and add a bit of flavour to the world. A subplot involving a lesser God called Lightsong is most interesting as it shows off Sanderson’s ability to create strange worlds with weird hierarchies as well as the zany magic systems he’s known for.

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And that magic system. Hoo-boy. I liked the metals thing in Mistborn – it was pretty cool and kinda Matrix-ey. I find the multiple magic systems of the Stormlight Archive really interesting as they’re bonkers and not even the characters understand them. He did a great job manipulating the rules for the One Power in the Wheel of Time, creating some of the best sequences in that whole series. But this Biochromatic breath thing made very little sense to me. It was all a bit unnecessary too, like he felt the need to have this system wedged in when it’s all a bit superfluous to the plot (though the plot isn’t exactly packed out). Some of the more mysterious aspects of it worked well (the magic sword, Nightblood, in particular, along with some of the Gods’ abilities) but when it was explained in plain terms it was all a bit hard to swallow, even for epic fantasy. I would try to explain it in more detail here but, well, life’s too short.

I think Brandon Sanderson’s writing has come on leaps and bounds over the years. Working on the Wheel of Time shows a definite step-up in his abilities. His prose is often a bit stale and basic, but his imagination is incredible (whatever you think of the books) and he does have a knack for writing characters that can leap off the page with their charisma. But Warbreaker is without doubt a weaker entry in his back-catalogue. There’s some interesting stuff going on in the background and a couple of fun characters, but the plot always hinges on the EPIC and yet never really gets there. It’s like a longer series was cut short and shoehorned into this standalone novel that ends with a bit of a whimper. But in many ways I’m glad it ended up this way – the Brandon Sanderson of Wheel of Time/Stormlight Archive fame would struggle to make much more of this, an older book from a younger writer – and it shows. Everything is just reaching for another level that, unfortunately, it never really achieves.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel with a bit of a difference. Like The Stand without all the fantasy and horror (though it’s creepy in places) Station Eleven focuses on the survival of culture after a mass flu that wipes out 99% of the world’s population. It begins with the death on stage of a famous actor, Arthur Leander, and propels outwards from there, both into the past and the future, following the people connected with Arthur and how cultural memory lives on even under extreme circumstances. There’s a varied cast and an interestingly realistic take on an end-of-the-world scenario.

In the past we follow Arthur and his first wife, Miranda, the creator of comic book Dr. Eleven, something that resonates throughout the story and affects characters before the world ends and after. In the present/immediate aftermath is Jeevan, a paparazzo turned paramedic who is connected – sometimes conveniently – to Arthur Leander throughout his life. As Jeevan is given an early indication of how bad the flu is he hoards himself and his brother up in their apartment and we get to witness much of the end-world from his point of view. There is another character who experiences the end of civilisation in a very different fashion to Jeevan later in the book – saying who would be verging on spoilers – but this section was easily my favourite in the book. Twenty years in the future we follow Kirsten Raymonde and the Traveling Symphony, a band of musicians and actors who travel parts of North America. Theirs is the storyline that is returned to the most regularly and perhaps that with what could most realistically be called a ‘plot’. They become tangled with a group of evangelicals led by a man who calls himself the ‘Prophet’.

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The most unusual aspect of this book is not really its realistic take on the end of the world (which is very well done) but its odd structure, jumping between past/present/future at fairly random moments to fill in a complete picture of what connects all of the characters. I’m a bit torn on whether I felt this worked. There’s a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the characters at times, with Leander and Kirsten being our de-facto main characters, and yet neither are particularly likeable or easy to relate to. Jeevan, who is introduced first, is one of our main point of views for the world as it ends, and yet he is really no more than a convenient cipher, helping with exposition and being there when the author needs him to be. It’s a shame because the sections set during the flu crisis and its immediate aftermath, as society breaks down, are by far the most interesting.

The thematic idea behind the book is mostly well realised if a bit tenuous, hanging on this comic that survives the end-times as well as the memory of a womanising actor who we’re supposed to empathise with. It’s interesting and does act well as a link between the characters, especially as the book progresses and their relationships become clearer between each time period, but at times it felt a bit tagged on with the comic in particular being a little on the nose with regards to how it acts as a metaphor for the events in the lives of the main characters.

But I did enjoy Station Eleven, despite my reservations. It’s an admirable experiment at doing something a bit different in a post-apocalyptic novel when they’re seemingly everywhere at the moment. A bit slow at times and it doesn’t read as seamless as is perhaps intended, but Station Eleven is interesting, at times quite wonderful, and without doubt unique.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

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So China Mieville, John Le Carre and Steven Erikson all go for a drink and get to talking. They put their heads together and come up with this crazy epic murder mystery set in a world where the Gods are dead and after the ensuing war the victors hold power over the losers in a cold war-like situation. Into this maelstrom come a sharp-talking diplomat and her crazy, Viking-like secretary (cough) to investigate the murder of an eminent historian who just might have been onto something regarding the true origins of the war and the Divinities (Gods) who used to rule everything. They throw in a setting which is partly based on our own Cold War era Eastern Europe, some monsters that would make Lovecraft cower and a plethora of weirdly magical artifacts: flying carpets and hidden portals, bottomless bags and orbs of sunlight. Meanwhile, as the three are finishing off their drinks and laughing over their combined genius, Robert Jackson Bennett has long since beaten them to it.

The imagination in this book is quite literally out of this world. It’s like someone just kicked open a box of nightmares and took notes. The centrepiece of the story is the city of Bulikov, the titular City of Stairs. Originally filled with the most amazing wonders of the world (streets made of marble, houses of white and gold, giant towers and incredible fountains) the city is now a torn-apart wreck where all of the Divine masterworks have disappeared. With the death of the Divinities the city is a husk of its former self. All that’s left are giant lone spiral staircases that open out into…well, who knows? It’s one of the most amazing settings I’ve come across in fantasy, hands down, with a depth that’s rarely found – and all in a 400 page novel. It’s hardly a doorstopper. There’s a rich history and culture that permeates the story and enriches everything about Bulikov – and the aforementioned magical artifacts that make up much of the fantastical elements in the story are genuinely creative and immensely satisfying to read about.

The characters are very well realised. Refreshingly, the cast – for an epic fantasy – is relatively small, focusing only on a handful of characters with a few supporting ones here and there. Shara and Sigrud are the main ‘duo’ of the story, with the Viking-like barbarian lunatic Sigrud in particular stealing pretty much any scene he’s a part of. Shara acts as our central character – a strong-willed and highly intelligent diplomat who’s more of a detective here; she’s likeable, enigmatic and makes for a very good main character indeed. Filling out the cast is Mulaghesh, a hardened older woman who just wants to retire to the sun but finds herself dragged into Shara’s situation and finally, Vohannes. But the less said about Vohannes the better.

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The plot is excellent, remaining focused and tight-paced throughout. Things move mostly at a steady but fast pace, with revelations every few pages and some incredible set-pieces. Like any good mystery novel the plot becomes more and more tangled the further it goes but eventually everything is pulled to a satisfying ending that leaves no stone unturned. My only gripe would be that the beginning of the novel was a little slow to get started, with a heavy focus on the bizarre politics of Bulikov which made it slightly challenging to get my head round. Likewise, the ending is all a bit rushed. Nothing is left hanging (although presumably there will be a sequel) but the explanations and revelations are piled one on top of the other in the final chapter, making it all feel a bit heavy and bloated with exposition. Maybe there’s a reason why epic fantasies are doorstoppers – City of Stairs could perhaps have done with another 50 pages of breathing space at the end.

City of Stairs is a refreshing fantasy that takes risks that pay off in spades. The world is weird and unusual with a cast and plot that remains tight and focused from beginning to end. I reviewed Bennett’s The Troupe last year and thought it was one of the best fantasy horrors I’d read in a long time. City of Stairs is Bennett’s first attempt at writing in a secondary world of his own, and it feels like he’s been doing it forever. It’s accomplished, bizarre, horrifying and imaginative – I can’t wait for more.

Coming Up For Air (aka: The Post-Malaz Plan)

State of the Blog Address:

So I’ve been away for a while, doing work things, reading Malazan, studying lots for university, reading Malazan and reading Malazan. Of those five things I’m now only doing two of them, so hopefully I can get things moving a bit on the blog front again. I read something like 60 or 70 books in 2013 and reviewed an awful lot of them. In 2014 I’ve read half that (albeit most of those are 1200 pages beasts) and reviewed maybe 6 or 7. That’s pitiful. I mean, it was kinda worth it for the experience of reading Malazan (more on that in a future blogpost or series – still mulling things over) but I want to get back into the swing of reviewing again. I’ve got lots to catch up on and even more coming over the horizon, so here’s a brief, erm, ‘rundown’ of some of the books I want to read and review/discuss over the coming weeks. These are all fairly new books, but expect some older ones thrown in as and when I feel like it. It’d be nice to throw in some more varied types of posts, but I’m a bit lacking in ideas right now. Any thoughts?

Anyway, onwards with the LIST:

Retribution by Mark Charan Newton

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WHEN JUSTICE FAILS, REVENGE FOLLOWS… Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found – or at least parts of him have.

But investigating the unusual death isn’t a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there’s a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous.

Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich façades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised.

When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there’s a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he’s running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed . . .

Note: I really enjoyed the first one in this series last year. In fact, it was one of my top reads from 2013, so I’ve high hopes for Retribution. 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an accident, he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir. Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment. Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naive new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend…and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne-or his life.

Note: I’ve heard lots of good things about this (actually I think exclusively good things…) and I’m hopeful it will be a breath of fresh air as expected.

The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes

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Long before he was sent to hell, the Aeon known as Khoth-Kapira was the closest thing to a living god the world had ever known. Possessed of a vast intellect, he pioneered many of the wonders that persist in the world long after he was banished. Nearly every fragment of medical, economic and technological progress that the mortal races enjoyed could be traced back to him. But with his wonders came cruelty beyond measure: industrialised slavery, horrifying experimentations and a rage that would eventually force the world to bow to him.

Now, as Khoth-Kapira stirs, the world begins to shudder with disasters yet to come.The epicenter is the city of Cier’Djaal. A religious war between two unstoppable military juggernauts begins to brew. The racial fury among many peoples of the world is about to explode. Demons begin to pour from the shadows at the head of a vicious cult worshipping dark powers.

And Lenk finds himself in the middle once more, his fate and the fate of Khoth-Kapira interlinked as the demon attempts to convince him of his earnestness.

‘Your world is breaking around you,’ He Who Makes says, ‘let me fix it. Let me help you. Let me out.’

Note: I’ve never read anything by Sam Sykes. I’m unsure whether I should be scared, excited or sick with anticipation, but one things for sure: that cover is a massive improvement on those from his first trilogy

Nunslinger by Stark Holborn

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The year is 1864. Sister Thomas Josephine, an innocent Visitantine nun from St Louis, Missouri, is making her way west to the promise of a new life in Sacramento, California. When an attack on her wagon train leaves her stranded in Wyoming, Thomas Josephine finds her faith tested and her heart torn between Lt. Theodore F. Carthy, a man too beautiful to be true, and the mysterious grifter Abraham C. Muir.

Falsely accused of murder she goes on the run, all the while being hunted by a man who has become dangerously obsessed with her. Her journey will take her from the most forbidding mountain peaks to the hottest, most hostile desert on earth, from Nevada to Mexico to Texas, and her faith will be tested in ways she could never imagine.

Nunslinger is the true tale of Sister Thomas Josephine, a woman whose desire to do good in the world leads her on an incredible adventure that pits her faith, her feelings and her very life against inhospitable elements, the armies of the North and South, and the most dangerous creature of all: man.

Note: This sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun. Hodder’s SFF catalogue has started to really fill out with some amazing new books and there’s a fair few on this list. Very excited. 

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

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Swedish Lapland: 1717; a group of disparate settlers struggles to forge a new life in the shadow of the grim mountain Blackåsen whose dark mythology lies at odds with the repressive, almost feudal control exerted by the church. Into this setting, Maija, her husband and two daughters arrive, yearning to forget the traumas that caused them to abandon their native Finland and start anew.

Not long after their arrival, their teenage daughter Frederika stumbles across the savagely mutilated body of a fellow settler, Eriksson, in a picturesque glade. The locals are quick to dismiss the culprit as wolf or bear. Maija, however, is unconvinced and compelled by the ghosts of her past she determines to investigate a murder.

As the seasons change and a harsh winter known as a ‘Wolf Winter’ descends, Maija begins a dangerous quest to unearth the secrets that both her neighbours and the church have conspired to bury. Now as the snow begins to fall, she will come to know the full cost of survival demanded from those who would live in the shadow of Blackåsen – and the terrible truth about those who have paid the price.

Note: Another from Hodder, coming in February 2015. Slightly more mainstream by the sounds of things, but it sounds pretty terrific. Expect a review nearer the time for this one. 

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

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Deep in the heart of history’s most infamous concentration camp, a man lies dreaming. His name is Shomer, and before the war he was a pulp fiction author. Now, to escape the brutal reality of life in Auschwitz, Shomer spends his nights imagining another world – a world where a disgraced former dictator now known only as Wolf ekes out a miserable existence as a low-rent PI in London’s grimiest streets.

An extraordinary story of revenge and redemption, A Man Lies Dreaming is the unforgettable testament to the power of imagination.

Note: Yet another from Hodder and this time the absolutely bonkers genius of Lavie Tidhar. I read The Violent Century last year and it was phenomenal. I’m expecting this to be just as good, if not better. 

The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

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In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky.

And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

Note: I’ve had this one on my radar for a while now, and apparently it’s very good, so it’s in the stack. 

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

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Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted – but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the ‘insane’ women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.

Note: I read a few mixed reviews for this when it came out, but since then it’s evened out and FINALLY I’ll be able to read it for myself. This one has been in the pile for a long time. 

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

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On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past – while a world goes to war with itself. In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress. Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself. In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Note: One of two IT books in fantasy this year, I’m very excited to finally read it. (I actually started it a couple of months back but go caught up with something else. It’s very, very unusual.) I’ll be reading this one in December with the Fantasy Faction Book Club. 

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

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You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.

The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners. Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.

Note: The other IT book for 2014, it seems. I’ve actually already started this and am tearing through it. Expect the review sometime next week. 

Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene

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Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people – Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept – will discover just how much Smiler’s Fair changes everything.

Note: Hodder again! This has been getting a lot of positive buzz in the UK. I’m really hoping it lives up to the hype as it sounds great.

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

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There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods.

Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she’s spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there’s no money to be made in chasing rumours.

But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man’s name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel’s darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure … if they’re lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it’s over.

These reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes a story can save your life.

Note: Another that’s been in the pile for quite a while, it’ll be one of my next books. Sounds traditional and a lot of fun.

The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford

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Heroes must rise …

The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground

… or the city will fall

Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?

Note: I reviewed Herald of the Storm, Book One of this trilogy, last year. I think it may have been my first review copy ever! I enjoyed it immensely and hopefully the sequel can live up to its predecessor. 

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

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The University, a renowned bastion of knowledge, attracts the brightest minds to unravel the mysteries of enlightened sciences like artificing and alchemy. Yet deep below its bustling halls lies a complex and cavernous maze of abandoned rooms and ancient passageways – and in the heart of it all lives Auri.

Formerly a student at the University, now Auri spends her days tending the world around her. She has learned that some mysteries are best left settled and safe. No longer fooled by the sharp rationality so treasured by the University, Auri sees beyond the surface of things, into subtle dangers and hidden names.

Note: Lots of mixed views on this one. I’m definitely a fan of Rothfuss but I’m a bit wary of this being a little cash-grabby on the part of his publishers, though hopefully I’ll enjoy it all the same.

The Crimson Campaign by Brian Mclellan

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Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god.

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the truth is darker than he could have imagined.

With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir’s advancing army. Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye.

Note: Promise of Blood was another favourite of mine last year and I deliberately held off on this one so that here’d be less of a wait between it and the third, The Autumn Republic. Review fairly soon. 

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

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Having met the challenge of a posthumous collaboration with the great Robert Jordan to complete his classic, bestselling fantasy series The Wheel of Time® with three #1 New York Times bestsellers in a row, Brandon Sanderson is at last free to return to the decade-spanning task of creating his own multi-volume epic, one that he hopes will make a comparable mark on the field. That epic is The Stormlight Archive and it began in 2010 with Tor’s longest, most elaborately embellished novel ever, The Way of Kings.

Note: I actually read The Way of Kings back in January, right before starting my Malazan odyssey. I may do a sort-of catch-up, review post on some of my thoughts. Long story short though, I’m not a massive Sanderson fan but WoK was a gripping read and I’m quite excited about Words of Radiance. Shallan was my favourite in the first one, so high hopes indeed…


So that’s that and of course things can change and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few, but for now that’s essentially my pile.

Now…what have I missed? 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

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This book is hard to talk about without giving the game away.

Melanie is a little girl in a slightly unusual situation. Her life consists of her days in the schoolroom, her nights in her cell and the soldiers that keep a close eye on everything she does. Melanie loves Greek myths, and she really loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. They’re her favourite things. She doesn’t like the soldiers very much but she especially doesn’t like the mean-spirited Sergeant Parks. And she’s fairly sure he doesn’t like her very much, either. Melanie associates herself with Pandora. As in Pandora’s Box; and one thing Carey makes very clear early on with Melanie: that box should stay very firmly closed.

To talk any more about the specific story or plot of The Girl With All The Gifts would be unfair, as it’s really best experienced by the individual reader. The pace of this novel is outstanding – one of its biggest strengths. Very rarely have I ever found a book where the pages turn so quickly. Carey keeps the chapters short and the point-of-views diverse. Things are constantly moving, with huge twists sprinkled throughout the book.

The characters are another strength, with Carey allowing us to jump into the heads of a varied cast. There’s Melanie herself, who’s an enigma-wrapped-in-a-mystery and the key to pretty much everything in the book. Miss Justineau is the heart and soul; a headstrong and likeable woman with a past that very much informs her present. Dr. Caldwell is the more nefarious member of the cast, and yet a character constantly asking the rest of the cast (and with them, the reader) to question their reasons and posing serious ethical dilemmas in some quite horrific circumstances. But for me the real star of this book was Sergeant Eddie Parks: a character so instantly stereotypical that I had him pegged from the beginning, and yet Carey slowly peeled back the stereotypes and made me get attached to this character in the most unexpected of ways.

The only downside to this book for me was that occasionally I felt as though I’d seen a lot of the basis for the main plot before, and I suppose (no spoilers!) I have, but Carey manages to add something fresh. The ending is satisfying, though some will disagree, although it could have perhaps been allowed a little more room to breathe.

I really enjoyed this book. The horror and science fiction subgenres it ultimately sits in aren’t usually a favourite of mine, but the intelligent take on a familiar subject along with a whiplash-inducing pace made this a fun read. Unlike Pandora’s Box, this is most definitely a book you want to open.