Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear – A Companion to Wolves

Rising fantasy stars Monette (MΓ©lusine) and Bear (Whiskey & Water) subvert the telepathic animal companion subgenre so thoroughly that it may never be the same. The inhabitants of a cold and perilous world grounded in Norse/Germanic mythology depend upon the brutally violent wolfcarls, men who bond telepathicallywith huge fighting trellwolves, to protect them from monstrous trolls and wyverns from further north. When the northern threat suddenly intensifies, Isolfr, a young wolfcarl, and his wolf-sister, Viradechtis, a Queen wolf destined to rule her own pack, are thrust into key roles in their civilization’s desperate fight to survive.

Looking at the amazon synopsis of A Companion to Wolves, I can pretty much admit that the primary reason for me to pick up this book was my recently-found love and adoration for Sarah Monette’s work. I didn’t really have too high expectations when I started to read this book, because I’m personally not a great fan of collaborations and then was waiting for the next Labyrinthine book, pretty sure that this one wouldn’t be as heavy on the LGBT side as Monette’s other works.

Well, damn. I was wrong.

And luckily so. In retrospect I think that A Companion to Wolves has been one of the best books I’ve read this year and has quickly become one of my all-time favorites. With a little more than 300 pages this is a short, but plot- and character-packed standalone (though I really wouldn’t mind a sequel in general πŸ˜‰ ) that pretty much stands our common animal-companion fantasy perception on its head.

The outcome of what Elizabeth Bear says on her website was originally planned as a satirical novella is a harsh and beautiful book about loyalty and honor and for everyone who knows Sarah Monette’s Labyrinthine books certainly will recognize the intricacy with which the authors deal with sexuality and character relationships.

I daresay A Companion to Wolves probably isn’t for everyone as it’s very explicit in terms of content and generally brings up some issues that will probably put off anyone who expects this book to be a light, entertaining read. It definitely raises some questions about issues more traditional fantasy just doesn’t deal with and that is exactly what makes this book so intriguing along with both authors’ talent in creating a fast-paced plot propelled by the compelling relationships of its characters – human and nonhuman alike.

Even though the book is definitely a standalone, whether Bear and Monette plan to work on a sequel remains to be seen. I’ll keep my eyes open, because the sad thing about short books like A Companion to Wolves is that they’re over much too soon and leave you wanting for more πŸ˜‰

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Kate Elliott – Kings Dragon

The Kingdom of Wendar is beset by civil war between brother and sister for the throne, by two hostile nonhuman races, by ghosts roaming the streets, and by enough other plots and counterplots to fuel the average Balkan war. Key to successfully resolving the overly fraught situation are Alain, a young prophet who needs to learn his parentage before he can act safely, and Liath, a lifelong fugitive sheltered by her father from worldly knowledge that she must acquire before she can act.

Okay, let me tell you this: excessive worldbuilding really isn’t one of my personal favorite things in fantasy. That might explain why it took me a while to warm up to Elliott’s style. Everything starts out as your standard epic fantasy archetype: We have a country at war with a mysterious, non-human race, while said country also is at the brink of a succession war on the inside. The main characters are stereotypes at first, but they soon turn into more. That and tons of religious background, but doubtlessly great worldbuilding make for a little bit of a slow start and it made me realize how long it’s been since I started reading The Wheel of Time & Co. since I’ve been a little ‘out’ of epic fantasy on the big scale.

Again, before I get all the Elliott fans ranting and raving at my utterly deluded judgement – this is just a personal thing. I’m not much of the worldbuilding type, but more of a plot- and character-oriented reader so what gets me hooked is an intriguing character and there my loves, I damn-well can’t complain!

I didn’t really care for Liath’s character much in the beginning, but by the time she meets certain other characters I loved her sections. Alain starts out as your typical ‘good, naive village boy’ character, but he undergoes some changes and gains some nifty abilities that make me want to read more. Oh and did I mention that I’m totally looking forward to getting to see more of Sanglant in the sequel, Prince of Dogs? Yeah, in the end I got hooked and intrigued and wanting for more – so guess where I’m stopping by to pick up at least the second one of this seven-volume series? You got it – Nym’s getting another book-fix today πŸ˜€

I guess I’m sort of finding my way back into epic fantasy, even though I have to admit I’m skipping some of the all too excessive worldbuilding to get things going.Β  Does that tell you anything about my writing style? You bet.

David Gemmell – Waylander

All of Waylander’s instincts had screamed at him to spurn the contract from Kaem the cruel, the killer of nations. But he had ignored them. He had made his kill. And even as he went to collect his gold, he knew that he had been betrayed.
Now the Dark Brotherhood and the hounds of chaos were hunting him, even as Kaem’s armies waged war on the Drenai lands, intent on killing every man, woman, and child. The Drenai soldiers were doomed to ultimate defeat, and chaos would soon reign.
Then a strange old man told Waylander that the only way to turn the tide of battle would be for Waylander himself to retrieve the legendary Armor of Bronze from its hiding place deep within a shadow-haunted land. He would be hunted. He was certain to fail. But he must try, the old man commanded–commanded in the name of his son, the king, who had been slain by an assassin…
Waylander was the most unlikely of heroes–for he was a traitor, the Slayer who had killed the king…

Wow, I actually liked this a great deal more than I thought on first impression. Yes, I seem to go through books like candy lately, one a day or so, especially if they’re fast-paced like this one was – which gets me to write a bunch of reviews lately, basically helping me to keep track of what I read and not forget to post a few lines here.

Anyway, I’ve been planning on getting into David Gemmell’s work for quite a while now, but somehow I wanted to start with something shorter that can be read as a standalone – I also have his Parmenion books (Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince), but for now I wanted something different so I picked up Waylander on a whim, after the manifold recommendations from two people whose opinion in books I’m holding in quite high esteem πŸ˜‰ I certainly wasn’t disappointed, when I picked up Waylander this morning.

What begins as your stereotypical fantasy-setting – country on the brink of war, well actually quite in the thick of it, characters make a rather unlikely alliance and set out for a quest to retrieve magical(?) item of awesome – pulls you into a fast-moving fantasy tale, rich in plot and character-depth. Oh and let’s not forget sarcastic and utterly hilarious lines like Waylander talking to the ‘priest’ Dardalion:

“Your kind likes to suffer – it makes them holy.”

or:

“Go away, I want to die alone.”

Since I’m a newbie to Gemmell’s books, I daresay that Waylander, though part of the Drenai series, can very well be read as a standalone and serves as a great introduction in Gemell’s unique, often sarcastic and character- as well as dialog-driven style.

Waylander is one of those darker, but awesome fantasy books whose premise reminds me a little of Stephen King’s Gunslinger, while I’d say that Gemmell definitely portrays the loner Waylander in a less abstract and more comprehensible way. I remember a friend talking about his character being “kinda…uh…neutral?” and I guess that pretty much sums him up. Yes, we have our standard assassin here who ruthlessly kills for money and he doesn’t really have qualms about it until it’s already too late, but nevertheless he’s that sort of character that just keeps you reading, because you want to find out more about them.

As far as I know there are at least two more books in the Drenai series that feature Waylander and I’ll be sure to pick them up next time when I go to the bookstore, because I definitely want more of this now πŸ™‚

Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragon

In this delightful first novel, the opening salvo of a trilogy, Novik seamlessly blends fantasy into the history of the Napoleonic wars. Here be dragons, beasts that can speak and reason, bred for strength and speed and used for aerial support in battle. Each nation has its own breeds, but none are so jealously guarded as the mysterious dragons of China. Veteran Capt. Will Laurence of the British Navy is therefore taken aback after his crew captures an egg from a French ship and it hatches a Chinese dragon, which Laurence names Temeraire. When Temeraire bonds with the captain, the two leave the navy to sign on with His Majesty’s sadly understaffed Aerial Corps, which takes on the French in sprawling, detailed battles that Novik renders with admirable attention to 19th-century military tactics. Though the dragons they encounter are often more fully fleshed-out than the stereotypical human characters, the author’s palpable love for her subject and a story rich with international, interpersonal and internal struggles more than compensate.

Okay, so why does this book makes me think of Jane Austen meets Eragon? Well, I suggest you read this book and find out. But honestly, since I’m anything, but a fan of Eragon, I probably just insulted the book by comparing the two πŸ˜‰

I haven’t read any books featuring dragons as main characters in a while and have been a bit more focused on the darker, grittier fantasy novels, but honestly, this one was fun. His Majesty’s Dragon is definitely one of those light, entertaining reads and Novik could definitely do a bit more in terms of in-depth-characterization, but overall I enjoyed it.

What initially intrigued me was her ‘what if?’-premise, introducing dragons and the Aerial Corps in connection with the Napoleon wars. It definitely is a fresh idea, deviating from the more traditional ideas of the Dragonriders of Pern or the Eragon series. This is where I really liked her approach of making Temeraire into a very human character who is quite different from your standard heroic and monstrous war-dragon etc.

Another thing that I liked was how Novik’s writing style does remind me a little bit of Jane Austen, especially as far as her dialog is concerned. Her characters definitely speak in style with the 19th century which makes the book and its characters so much more authentic and believable.

Despite the fact that the main character Will Laurence is quite obviously an adult, I’d definitely say that the border between adult fantasy and young adult fiction is a bit blurry here. The Temeraire series probably falls into the same category as Harry Potter et alia, being recommendable for a young adult as well as an adult audience. Right now I have the next three books, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War and Empire of Ivory sitting on my shelf to be read. His Majesty’s Dragon definitely is one of those first books that introduce you to a world and characters that only wait to be explored in further detail.

Paul Kearney – This Forsaken Earth

Okay, just a couple things here as a sort-of quick review:

The plot carries on right where The Mark of Ran left off. Kearney definitely keeps up his breakneck-pacing and you read this book within a day. Yes, 317 pages and a fast-moving plot do that. If I regret one thing now, it is that it’s over and that I don’t know when book three will be published. Let’s hope Paul Kearney gets his attorneys moving on getting the publishing rights out of Bantam’s grip fast πŸ˜‰

There are definitely some intriguing things happening in this second installment of The Sea Beggars. More of Rol’s past is revealed, some new characters are introduced and old ones return – yes, we see Rowen again too, though that one will turn out rather interesting and I honestly wouldn’t have expected what Kearney did there. Not giving anything away of course.

To put it in a nutshell, This Forsaken Earth definitely makes you want to read more. Let’s hope things get moving again for this fast-paced and intriguing series πŸ™‚

Carol Berg – Rai Kirah trilogy

Seyonne was not always a slave. Once a Warden against demons, he is enslaved after the conquest of his homeland and eventually sold to Aleksander, the Derzhi prince who will turn out to be much more than his outward haughtiness and temper tantrums (which are in fact quite amusing :p). All in all this is more or less an adaption of Alexander the Great, mixed with some interesting magic and like I said in a post before; this time he’s not gay (though he and Seyonne might have made a funny pair :p ) but possessed by a demon. I really need to read David Gemmell’s Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince soon to compare the two.

As for Carol Berg’s books, they’re a good, entertaining read, even though her characters undergo occassional Mary Sue moments, but then again I enjoyed Seyonne and ‘Zander’s story even though Seyonne’s people are horrendously illogical and religious fanatics to boot – which again was rather amusing.

The writing and plot certainly has its flaws, especially in regards to some things merely being hinted when Berg could have followed through with the story in a little more direct way. That and the fact that sometimes solutions seem to fall from the sky itself are the books’ greatest flaws.

I guess I’m sort of spoiled by Abercrombie, Monette and their likes, but I personally prefer a little bit of a bolder writing style. That said, I still enjoyed the story, but book three was definitely the best of the trilogy. Given that Transformation was her debut novel, I daresay Carol Berg has found her pace and style in the third installment of the Rai Kirah trilogy that surpasses the previous two not only as far as the plot and characters are concerned, but she also manages to bring the trilogy to an altogether satisfying ending. I’d have done some things differently, but then again, hey it’s notΒ  my book, is it? πŸ™‚

I might check out her duology (Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone) at some time, but for now I’m working on plowing further through my TBR pile. Yay for progress πŸ˜€

Joe Abercrombie – Last Argument of Kings

Alright, so everything is going to shit. Excuse my French, but that pretty much puts the synopsis of Joe Abercrombie’s Last Argument of Kings in a nutshell.

Final book of the First Law trilogy, Midderland is at war with the Northmen and the Gurkish, Glokta, Jezal and Logen are right in the middle of it. I’m pointedly leaving out any further plot summary here, because in the end it wouldn’t do anything but spoil it.

Say one thing about Last Argument of Kings, say that it’s a damn good ending for a damn good trilogy. Honestly, I second what everyone else told me by saying Gods, what a depressing ending. But still, it’s awesome! I don’t think I’ve read anything in a while whose ending was in any way comparable to what we get in Last Argument of Kings. In the end, Joe proves to be absolutely ruthless with his characters, but honestly, what do we expect? After all The First Law trilogy has been a rather unusual fantasy series altogether, but the ending tops what we’ve seen before. I don’t think I exaggerate when I’m saying that book three is definitely the best of the trilogy and more than delivers.

Oh and one more piece of advice, you might not want to read this book in a place where you have to be quiet. It’s one of those books that make you laugh and giggle rather hysterically 8)

Awesome work πŸ˜€