Book Review: The Blade Itself

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The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Summary:

This is a multi-POV novel following various characters.

Bayas, First among the Magi, is a wizard from story books, the ancient kind. He also happens to be a baker, living in his northern library. Political forces are moving, and Bayas leaves his sanctuary on an adventure.

Logan Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine, is a northman and prior champion of Bethod, the king. When Bethod unsuccessfully kills Logan, Logan is collected into Bayas’s group of adventurers.

Jezal van Luthar trains for his chance to be the city champion at fencing. A title once held by Sand dan Glokta and Collen West. In the interim, he falls in love with a commoner and is recruited into Bayas’s adventure.

Ferro Maljinn is a slave on the run from the Empire. She feels no pain and is driven by the need for vengence. She’s exactly what Bayas needs for his adventure.

Sand dan Glokta, a POW surviver and cripple, is an inquisitor of some skill. Under the command of Arch Lectur Sult, Glokta tears apart the mercer guild, opening trade routes in the south, and begins his own investigation into the corruption of the government.

Collem West worked for years to win his fencing championship and became one of the few commoners to be given rank  in the Union army. Skill and strategy leads him into the high chain of command, and his next big assignment is to win a war against the north.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My thoughts:

I knew this was the first novel in a trilogy, but I heard it was a stand-alone novel. It is not. If you plan to read it, plan to read the remaining books. This book starts with a couple big plots. First character on scene is Logan Ninefingers after being nearly killed by Bethod. Classic novel structure suggests that this would be the event which should close the novel, making it a stand alone. Nope. Logan finds Bayas early in the book and becomes his traveling companion. He has a few early chances to face Bethod, but he does not. That chance doesn’t come around again in this novel. Actually, at the end, Logan chooses to sail to the End of the World with Bayas when full ships of armed men are going north to fight Bethod, thus losing him the “”opportunity” to directly fight his foe.

There is a major trend of plots not ending or ending very early in the story, leading to this novel feeling like it does not stand alone. Examples other than Logan Ninefingers: Sand dan Glokta, who never finds what he is looking for and cannot answer the question of why he still struggles even though pain and his crippled status leave him wanting to give up; Bayas, who sets out to collect a group of men for an adventure to collect the seed (in defense of the book, Bayas is able to collect his group, only to be left with the big open story issue of the entire adventure he gathered the group for); Collem West and his sister, who appear throughout the book and advance in character while never having a clear goal and resolution; Ferro, who wants revenge but is steadily carried away from it then redirected without the chance to get her revenge; and the fencer Luthar, who wins the contest that he never really cared about and is subsequently drug into Bayas’ adventures.

Worse than not being a stand alone novel, it started to become predictable. What! The dashing swords man who disdains anyone of a station lower than himself will fall for the common girl? What! Logan Ninefingers, who is constantly called the Bloody Nine, a figure so scary the northmen, Anglanders and even people in the center of the Union tell horror stories about him, has an internal blood-loving beast that is ready to kill but must be suppressed by Logan’s human side? What! The cripple is being used by the Arch Lektor? What! The closed council is corrupt? What! The wizard has been helping the Union in disguise for years? What! Their future mission (should they choose to accept it) is to finish the adventure from centuries before that was never achieved? I had heard so much before reading this book about how unique it was and the interesting twists. I was disappointed.

These two issues were enough for me to make this 3.5 stars.

However, the story is well written, and I enjoyed some of the characters.  Sand dan Glokta is, by far, my favorite character. He has hit his low point (years of torture which has lost him half his teeth and the use of his leg). He’s scary looking, has come to accept that, and uses it as a weapon. He laments his lost life, is bitter about to the point of being incensed when one of his prisoners does not recognize him, yet still steps in to encourage Jezal to continue fencing, agrees to watch over West’s sister, and is honestly interested in fighting corruption. More than any of the other characters, his action show a sense of hope and stubborn defiance. I finished the book, hoping West’s sister would give up the idea of Jezal and fall in love with Glokta.

Yulwei is another character I grew to enjoy. Yulwei is the magus who finds Ferro. He is wise, kind, and makes an excellent cat burglar. If he wants to be unseen, he is. If he wants a band of traveling slavers to think his traveling companion is a boy, they do. If he wants to walk through enemy lines, he does. He does not choose violence, yet when faced with flesh eaters (breakers of the second law), he destroys one with water and the other with fire. Very practical. He made me smile.

I’m unsure at this point if I will read book two. I’m curious about what will happen with Glokta, but I don’t foresee anything amazingly exciting happening with the plot. If I read book two, I assume it will also not be a stand-alone, so if I read book 2 I need to be in it for book 3. Honestly, I’m not sure if the characters alone are enough to keep me reading the next two novels. I’ll give it some time before I decide.

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Book Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

51dimrpqvpl-_sx328_bo1204203200_An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

Summary:

Princess Isabelle is misshappened, cursed, and discarded by her own family, yet she is the precious culmination of centuries long planning and the lynch pin of a breeding program.

When she is forced into a political alliance with a neighboring country, she must carve out her place among warring princes, a greedy queen, and the church.

 

Rating 4.5 stars

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book; however, it has one issue that drove me nuts. In this world, women have no identity outside their husband or father. Blah. In one country, that ownership is used to degrade the women, and the next the men dote on their wives, but either way, women gain their identity through the men they are attached to and their ability to have children. That’s the big negative. It’s a big enough negative that at one point I considered putting the book down.

Why did I give it 4.5 stars then? Because once the issue of women is put aside, this is a fun adventure. I initially picked it up because the first chapter is set on an air ship (think masts and sails). I want a sky-faring adventure of exploration and intrigue. I was sorely mistaken, as most of the story happens on land, but I definitely got intrigue. There is no limits on what might be set on fire, exploded, stabbed, shot, or manipulated. There are crown politics, tavern dealings, and mistaken identities. Princess Isabelle’s chief protector is a scoundrel who is not a scoundrel. Her best friend is a lifeless corpse, kind of. Her future husband has been broken, remade, and replaced, and he may or may not be trying to kill her. Some buildings are destroyed, some carriages exploded, and the church has underground labyrinthine catacombs.

This was a fun adventure.

Book Review: The Dwarves

The Dwarves by Markus HeitzThe Dwarves, by Marcus Heitz

Summary:

This novel follows three-ish groups who all end up fighting an epic battle.

Tungdil is a dwarf living with a mage. In all his hoping and errands, he has never come across another dwarf. Instead, he has learned to read, speak multiple languages, and be a smith. The mage writes to the dwarves, informing them of Tungdil’s existence. While waiting for an answer, the mage tasks Tngdil to deliver some items to the mage’s former apprentice in Black Saddle. So Tungdil sets off on a long journey.

In the dwarven kingdom, the high king has grown old. Preparing for his death, he has asked the king of the fourthlings, Gandogar, (fourthlings are one of five kingdom of dwarves) to present himself as a potential to be high king. At the presentation, Gandogar reveals his intention to lead the dwarves against the elves in war. The old high king, distraught by the prospect, seeks to delay making Gandogar high king until the council can be persuaded to avoid war. To delay the crowning, the high king states there is a second challenger to the throne, Tungdil.

In a third front, the mages meet. The Perished Land, a dead place full of orcs and revenants where the dead come back to life, presses against a barrier, which the mages maintain. The barrier has started to fail. The mages, including Tungdil’s master, meet to reinforce the barrier. During the spell, Nudin the Knowledge-Lusty betrays the mages stealing their power. He then kills the other mages. He then calls together the mage apprentices and steals their power as well. This leaves the Perished Lands to invade the realm and the orcs to plunder towns at will.

Tungdil meets up with the guards sent by the high king, learns of Nudin’s treachery, and agrees to challenge for the throne. In the challenge, each challenger picks tasks that both must complete. Tungdil challenges Gandogar to a journey that includes reuniting the dwarven kingdoms, killing a dragon, and forging a legendary weapon. On the way, his group is threatened by orc, evil elves, treacherous dwarves, and fate which sometimes guides and other times ignores them.

Having forged the mighty weapon, Tungdil, Gandrogar, the elves, the humans, and the last surviving magus meet on the battlefield to fight Nodin.

My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thoughts:

This was a good adventure. If you are looking for a coming of age adventure with an epic grand battle, this is a solid choice, but it has some pitfalls.

Names and titles. This book, especially at the beginning, is overrun by names and titles. A dwarf cannot introduce himself without giving his name, nickname, and clan. I give you: Boïndil Doubleblade and Boëndal Hookhand of the Swinging Axe clan and warriors of the secondlings; Gandogar Silverbeard of the Silverbeards, king of the fourthliings; Goingar Shimmerbeard of the clan of the Shimmerbeards, Lot-Ionin the Forebearing ruler of the Enchanted Realm of Ionanda; etc. All the names bogged me down and almost convinced me to stop, but I soon stopped paying attention to all the names.

There is a sense of things happening too easily. For instance, with all the names floating around, the evil elves, enslaved to Nou’donn the Doublefold, announce their master to the orcs, while Tungdil eaves drops from a tree. Thereby relieving poor Tungdil of any investigation to determine who his enemy is. At another point, Tungdil is faced with his first orc battle. He is untrained and knocked down, but he is saved by the appearance of the high king’s escorts. Plausible, but then when the group of three dwarves come across Nou’donn, one of the previously dead magus reappears and saves them. At another point, Tungdil’s group is searching for a dragon so they can steal its fire, only to get to the exact cave where it is at and find it already dead. Never fear, however, because the dragon lit the lake on fire, leaving what they needed within their reach without the dragon battle. But fire is tricky and in the final battle before reaching the forge, it is extinguished. Again, never fear because the Perished Lands does not let anyone die, and 11 century old dwarves who have battled their internal anger and evil regained their sanity and have been protecting the forge still lit with dragon fire since their downfall. 11 centuries ago. There are many other instances in the story.

This is a Tolkien realm adventure. Sure the names of the individual players are different, but there are no substantial differences that ever lead me away from thinking of Tolkien. Wizards are magi, but the other races have the same names. The races are described the same down to the bearded dwarven women and the leaf-shaped elf ears. Sure the wizards have to recharge their magic, which is not something Tolkien used, but that alone wasn’t enough to drag me away from the Tolkien realm.

Women have no individuality. Sure there are women in the story. Yes, the women do some cool things. The last remaining magus is a woman. She heals people, balances good and evil, throws lightening, and does some other cool stuff, but she is a woman. So she is hit on and seen as a love interest by one of the males. Her male travelling companion is for a brief mentioned suggested to possibly be something more than just her body guard. The female dwarf the joins Tungdil becomes his love interest. The woman Tungdil is friends with at the start of the novel is fairly consistently referred to in connection with her children. The human actress who joins the party is the lover of one of the other actors, and in the indexes at the end is not noted for her battle bravery or her own actions but rather as the actor’s lover. The female queen of the firstling dwarves has her own independence, but of course it takes Tungdil showing up and suggesting she go north before she breaks the long silence between her clan and the others. (This part was probably more annoying because Tungdil literally only had to tell her to go north, she mentioned she had already considered breaking the silence, and the assumption was that she needed to go to the male kings versus them coming to her.)

All that being said, I still gave the book 4 stars. When I want to read an adventure book, I’m not worried about the role of women and weak plot choices. I’m reading for battles and intrigues and action. This book had a lot of those moments. Once the naming settled down, the story smoothed out, and it was a fairly quick read. I still recommend reading, but go into the book knowing its a Tolkien-esque fantasy adventure. Enjoy it for what it does well.

Book Reviews: I’m supposed to do those?

Ok. I’ve heard this advice a million times: good writers are good readers.

Far enough. I’m an audiobook reader, which means, I don’t have time to sit down with a real book and actually read, but I am happy to switch my radio time with someone reading to me. I have been a audiobook reader for more than a decade at this point.

What I have not done is write reviews of the books I have “read.” So this is my mid-year resolution. Once a month, I will try to review a book. I will mark them as “Book Review” with the book title.

Let’s see what happens.

By the way, as a newb to book reviews, feel free to leave me comments on how to do it or what you expect from a book review.

Boredom, Research and Coffee

Boredom: It happens. Sometimes it happens often. Other times, I can go months without a true period of boredom.

For me, boredom is one step past procrastination, where I have already broken down and completed all the unwanted tasks, like laundry and cleaning. It’s a time when my writing mind is blank, there is no work to occupy me, and I feel untethered. Adrift. Lost.

So there I was, on a Sunday, bored, mindlessly clicking on a computer game then getting up and wandering the house then sitting outside, rinse and repeat. I suddenly got curious about what other things might be out there to occupy my mind.

Follow this logic if you can: I wanted to find community activities, which lead to adult dance classes (that socially appropriate ones not the pole dancing variety). From there, it became adult fitness programs (remember this because it feeds back in later). Couples activities -> activities to do with your dog -> mommy and me dog treats -> luscious desserts -> why do I crave sugar -> sugar and fitness (see the fitness came back in) -> breaking sugar addiction -> symptoms of sugar withdraw

That’s where I stopped chasing down the rabbit hole of internet research. At the end of it all, I was left with three conclusions:

  • I’ve spread my sugar addition to my dog if his begging is a good indicator
  • While I still eat my sugar happily, I’m ahead of the game since I stopped drinking all soda and in-taking caffeine.
  • I miss coffee: going to my local coffee shop and ordering a barista’s choice, drinking a cup on the front porch with my husband in the morning, and having a reason to go to the break room every few hours at work.

Sadly, I never really found a good article or diary on withdraw symptoms. I thought it would be particularly good information since Felix (one of my four brothers) is an addict and I have toyed with forcing him to quit. When they say to torture your darlings, well, that would be one way to make his life more miserable.

Anyway, just some thoughts about where things go that I wouldn’t expect and why periods of boredom can be truly dangerous.Coffee

A Bit of Magic — Interview with Heather Hayden

Hello again.

Today, I have an interview with Heather Hayden. Why should you care? Heather is the driving force (largely) behind the Just-Us League Anthologies. If you aren’t familiar with them, here’s some cover art for you to see:

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Fueled by chocolate and moonlight, Heather Hayden seeks to bring magic into the world through her stories.

A freelance editor by day, she pours heart and soul into her novels every night, spinning tales of science fiction and fantasy that sing of friendship and hope.

Heather’s other publications include Augment, a YA science fiction novel, and several short stories in the JL Anthology series. She is currently working on Upgrade, the sequel to Augment, as well as a gaslamp fantasy series titled Rusted Magic.

 

I asked Heather to give me some feedback on the newest of the anthologies A Bit of Magic.

Why did you choose to participate in this anthology?

I love writing fairy tale retellings, so when the opportunity came up for another fairy tale anthology, I hopped on board!

What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, if any?

I’ve published a short story in each of the JL anthologies (Volumes I through V) so far, and I’m currently working on one for Volume VI, which will be released in October. I’ve written three fairy tale retellings, a superpowered science fiction short, and even a horror story!

This anthology contains fairy tale retellings and you retold the story of Puss and Boots. What inspired your retelling?

I’ve always loved “Puss in Boots”. However, it was Puss who captured my attention every time I read the tale–the miller’s boy always seemed so lazy and boring in comparison to a hat-wearing, sword-wielding cat! So I asked myself, “Why is the miller’s boy so lazy?” That’s when I realized it could be because he’s a daydreamer like me, someone whose talents lie outside the normal sphere of everyday life (I’m a writer; Pip’s a storyteller.) From there, my short story “Monsieur Puss” was born!

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Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?

 

Fairly close in some ways. However, there are a few things that are different… For one, Puss is very clear about how uncomfortable he finds his boots and hat! However, wearing them is all part of his plan, so he suffers through it for Pip’s sake (and his own).

Who did you write your story for?

Honestly? Myself. Readers who love a good fantasy story that stars a daydreamer and a cat will enjoy it, but I always write stories that I would enjoy reading.

However, the story is dedicated to Echo, a very sweet kitty who left her paw prints on my heart.

It’s a fun story that I enjoyed, but why should readers choose to read your story? What would draw someone to your retelling?

They should choose to read my story if they like fairy tale retellings, cats, adventure, storytelling, magic, or cats. Did I mention the cats? Puss’s scenes were my favorite when I wrote this story!

Do you prefer a happy ending? Will your readers see a happy ending to your tale?

Yes, I do prefer a happy ending. That does affect my writing, but the fairy tale I based my story on has a happy ending, so I didn’t need to worry about completely changing how the story goes.

Because the story is fantastic, let’s assume people will want to red more like it. If readers like your story, what other stories or novels would you suggest they read?

Other fairy tale retellings! There are so many out there, from novellas to novels to anthologies! The Just-Us League has two other fairy tale anthologies, From the Stories of Old and Of Legend and Lore. I also really like Lea Doué’s The Firethorn Crown and Kyle Shultz’s The Beast of Talesend.

There are also many stories with fairy tale-esque settings, such as Kristen Kooistra’s Heart of the Winterland and H. L. Burke’s Coiled.

Very cool, but what if they want to read more of your writing. Where should they go and what should they expect next from you?

I’ve published a YA science fiction novel, Augment, and also have a short story in each of the first five JL anthologies. All of them are available on Amazon.

Readers can connect with me through my website (hhaydenwriter.com), which lists my works, upcoming appearances, and other interviews I’ve done. It also includes a blog where I interview other authors, review books for my monthly Magic Monday series, share my goal-tracking Month Maps, and more.

I also have a Twitter account and a FB page; I can be found as @HHaydenWriter on both. On Twitter, I co-host the #WIPTruthOrDare Twitter game with Allie May, a fellow JL author. On Facebook, I share fun pictures and occasional snips of my works-in-progress.

I have a newsletter as well. Readers can sign up for it on my website, and I send one or two emails a month with updates, giveaways, book recommendations, etc.–it varies from newsletter to newsletter, but I always aim to keep it short and fun! (Plus, readers receive two free short stories for signing up, one of which is a fairy tale retelling!)

You can follow Heather’s writing adventures on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter, or through her newsletter.