9 December 2013

The Chaos Balance - L. E. Modesitt Jr

The Chaos Balance (The Saga of Recluce, #7)
Image from Goodreads

L. E. Modesitt Jr is still one of my favourite authors. I'm not really sure what it it about his books but I can't get enough of them. This is the seventh book in his Saga of Recluce, a series which is currently comprised of 16 books with a further 3 in the works. It is the immediate sequel to Fall of Angels ad continues to follow Nylan.
In Fall of Angels Ryba abused Nylan causing him to father three children, one with his knowledge, and two without. I've struggled with how this might have been achieved, but since they come from a 'more civilised' world I can think of a few possibilities. 

They built Westwind, a city, or really a tower as a safe haven for the women of the world. The thing that irks me about The Chaos Balance is that Westwind was build primarily using Nylan's skill, knowledge and innovation, and yet he is basically forced from it. Ryba doesn't trust him because she cannot control him. As such The Chaos Balance is primarily a story about Nylan venturing into the world beyond Westwind. 

As always magic plays a huge part in the story, L. E. Modesitt's magic system is more complicated than is found in most of the fantasy genre. It has both rigorous rules and  biting ramifications. A great deal of the time those people in his world able to use magic are divided neatly into two types; the white sorcerers and the black magicians. 

Modesitt's protagonists are almost always black magicians, a fact which played with my head for a long time, I suspect since white symbolises purity and black symbolises a level of taintedness. The thing that makes this book different is that the arrival of the 'angels' in the previous book has thrown the Chaos Balance completely out of skew. 

Nylan comes to the aid of a country, who are fighting a battle against a nation of whites who are themselves waging war on a great forest. The forest is a huge factor in the Recluce books since it teaches balance. It has appeared in previous books as the home of the druids and the place where grey wizards go to learn their craft.

I struggle to remember huge parts of the plot from the earliest books in this series, however I do remember the little twist of magic that the forest teaches. That wrapping of order around chaos. 

All in all it was an interesting development in the history of the Recluce universe. I'm glad Nylan left Ryba. I didn't much like her. But I digress.

I would sat pick this series up if you can. It's awesome. 


7 December 2013

The Painted Man - Peter V. Brett

The Painted Man (Demon Cycle, #1)
Image from Goodreads
The Painted Man is the first book in Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle which begins with Arlen Bales watching his mother get torn to shreds by demons whilst his father stands by and does nothing. The start of this story is innocuous enough. It shows a quiet country idyll... where people just happen to be slaves to the night. 

The premise of this book, and indeed this series is unique, a world where demons rise at night while people are trapped behind their walls, and their fear. I think the reason that this book tells such a good story is because it rings true. Most books in the fantasy genre are full of people who fear nothing and fight monsters on a daily basis, I like those kinds of books, but this book is refreshing. 

If our world were really filled with demons, how many of us would actually stand up and fight? I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't, without first being prompted by someone with more courage than me. It's at this point that this book goes from an above average concept to a freaking fantasy great. 

Arlen Bales lets his anger towards his father at his mothers needless death steer the course of his life, as he wallows he finds ways to fight back at the night. Subtle ways at first, such as becoming a messenger, stepping out into the night to deliver mail and goods. Firmer ways such as learning to ward skilfully, and even antagonising a demon by cutting off its arm. All the way searching for a more solid way to hurt the demons. 

When he finally succeeds his reception couldn't be colder, but it's such a realistic situation, portrayed so well. It really did turn him into the hero of the novel, which is why I felt shocked when at that point we were introduced to a whole host of new characters. 

Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip, unlikely companions with equallly unlikely stories who have ties to a place in a lot of trouble. They return Arlen to himself; and so they helped the 'ripping deliverer' convince one small town to fight back. Peter V. Brett showed us that if we just had someone to point us in the right direction we'd be able to be heroes too.

On a side note I really liked the romantic nuances between Leesha and Arlen and would have liked to see that develop further.


5 December 2013

Blameless - Gail Carriger

Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, #3)
Image from Goodreads

As the third book in the generally hilarious Parasol Protectorate series I would have expected Blameless to have a lot of comedy, if it was for the cliffhanger on which Changeless ended. I’ll be the first to admit that having witnessed the loving relationship between Lord and Lady Maccon, I would never have expected, ever, for Lord Maccon to be yelling ay Alexia about her supposed betrayal.

What quickly becomes clear in Blameless is that Alexia is in fact blameless of everything Conall is accusing her of. As the reader we could, with a small leap of logic, have surmised this for ourselves long ago. But in this story it is very interesting to see how pig-headedly stubborn Conall is. I found it interesting that by the time Conall had come to his senses Alexia had already managed to get herself into, and out of, some deep and fairly personal trouble.

Something that I liked about Blameless more than the previous two books in the Parasol Protectorate series was the development of the secondary characters. It was by no means complete development, but it highlighted some traits I doubt I would have picked up on otherwise. Particularly for Professor Lyall who seemed to get more solo page time in this novel.

I loved the string of events which took place in London, from the planned swarm of Lord Akeldama to the theft of something ‘precious’ to him. Who knew Vampires swarmed? Every time I read about it I couldn’t help thinking of giant Bees.

I found the ending of the book to be beautiful and tragic in a slightly comedic fashion. The series has moved past the compulsory happy ever after. There were tears and laughter and it perfectly matched the overall ambience of the book.

At the end of book three this has turned into a series I’m not sure I’ll ever want to put down.


Day 5

4 December 2013

The Forbidden Queen - Anne O'Brien

The Forbidden Queen
Image from goodreads

The forbidden Queen was the first genuinely trying to be accurate historical novel I ever read. Although it had failings, in that large parts of it were speculation, I did feel as though I'd learnt something by the end, even if only the names of a few of the rulers at a less well known time in our history.

It is the story of Queen Catherine, wife to King Henry V, mother to King Henry VI and grandmother to King Henry VII. In many ways she was a victim of her times, as one of the youngest daughters of King Charles VI of France she was raised in a monastery with little choice in her future and her only prospect to be a bargaining chip between Henry and Charles. 

King Henry wed Catherine in exchange for the support of King Charles and his promise that their future child would one day rule both England and France. At this point I felt the story began to lose it's basis in reality a little, there are very few records from this time period and so Anne O'Brien is worked around the facts. In her telling of the story Catherine is besotted with Henry, but he neglected her. From the first day of their marriage he had other priorities; when she gave birth to their son he never saw him and when he died less than a year later he seemingly called everyone but her to his side.

This part of the Forbidden Queen tells a story of heartbreak and disenchantment. O'Brien's Catherine grows as an individual, and understands that to this man she only ever had worth as a bargaining chip for his country.

The story then had what felt like little more than an interim to me, I wasn't overly enthralled, but I was able to keep reading. During this time Catherine was gradually stripped of her rights and privileges, we see her participation in a brief romance which further damages her situation, and helps her understand once again that she is being used.

During this point of the story our hero, Owen Tudor, is introduced. Quiet and unassuming I fell for him a little alongside our Queen. It is easy to see from O'Brien's descriptions why she would ever have let a Welshman into her bed. 

Upon the discovery of her pregnancy we feel her shock, and the quandary she is caught in. However I couldn't help delighting when she wed Owen Tudor in secret. Her happily ever after began there and played out with only a few bumps in the road. 

Within this story I particularly liked the friendship that developed between Catherine and King James of Scotland. Since both were foreigners trapped in a place where they were disliked and distrusted it was easy to see how they would have talked and laughed together. The basis of their friendship was very believable.

As a story with it's feet planted in fact I think anyone could have put the basic structure on paper. Anne O'Brien's skill lay in her taking the cardboard cut-outs and making them real.

I fell in love with these people and my heart broke when Catherine effectively left a suicide note for Owen. My heart broke for Owen. I couldn't help feeling she was the very reason he lived and breathed.


3 December 2013

Changeless - Gail Carriger

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)
I'mage from Goodreads

Once again I loved these characters. I loved their quirks. I loved their newly developed depths. And most of all I loved the fierce protectiveness they suddenly developed for one another.

If you read my review of Soulless you will know that I enjoyed it and central to that enjoyment were the respective characters of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon. Well Alexia Tarabotti just became Lady Alexia Maccon, and the fun that was these two reached a whole new level.

Married life proposed completely new aspects to what it means to be a Soulless. First of all there’s the practicality, meaning that Alexia lives very much in the real world, even if that real world is fictional to us. Secondly there’s the fact that although he’s immortal, all bodily functions frozen forever, she turns her husband mortal, posing some very interesting questions.

The story itself once again followed a fantastic premise. What happens when you take resumed mortality and spread it to affect pretty much all of London? You get a very angry werewolf! I found it fascinating to watch trails develop and see how various characters would react.

I loved the interaction with Lady Kingair. Once again I think Gail Carriger is exploring avenues most people would never even think to look at.  I’d never before considered the possibility that Vampires and Werewolves may have children before being turned, stereotypically being very young adults at the age of turning, and it was a unique idea.

Finally I once again loved the ending! So dramatic, and a perfect set up for Blameless. But seriously, who else saw the pregnancy coming?! It had to happen just from asking the marriage questions I hinted at earlier!


22 days to go

2 December 2013

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)
Image from Goodreads
Warm bodies is a story that I, like many, first came into contact with when the film trailer was played. It was a film that looked both hilarious and touching, along the lines of Shaun of the Dead, and I wanted to go see it....

I who avoid all scary movies...

I didn't...

However when I found a copy of Warm Bodies in my local Waterstones I jumped at the chance to read it. 

Warm bodies lives up to its promises - how can a book about a zombie falling in love with a girl be anything but hilarious? How can a book about that girl falling in love right back be anything but touching? 

This book captivated me. It's a love story every bit as classic as Romeo and Juliet, or Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. It's a story that I think will stand the test of time. Not because of the context, or the writing style, but because the emotions at its core are so heartfelt, so real, that they shine through every page.

I really enjoyed the flashes of Perry's life that we glimpsed when R was eating his brain. It was a description which for the first time ever helped me to understand why a Zombie might possibly want to eat brains...

The writing style for Warm Bodies seemed unusual for its genre. It reminded me of books like A Room with a View, and other early 20th Century classics. It jumped around a fair bit, which made sense within the story, and I found it made reading it easier, despite this being a style I don't usually enjoy. 

I loved this book! It is quite possibly the best book I've read so far this year! I'd recommend it to all my friends, and I've even passed it on to my Dad, which only happens with the very best books.

Now just to find and watch the film!


24 days to go

1 December 2013

The Magician's Guild - Trudi Canavan

The Magicians' Guild (The Black Magician Trilogy, #1)I picked this book up from a Charity Shop in my home town centre a few years ago, this particular shop I always felt was awesome. It was a relatively large shop, split across two sites, one of which was filled with books. It was crooked, and packed, and there was a guy who used to volunteer there, I'm not sure if he still does, who could tell you off the top of his head if just about any book was currently available. This shop moved sites about a year and a half ago to the main street, this meant it was smaller, all on one site, had ready traffic (it'd always been a bit out of the way before), but also that the book part got relegated to the basement. It's still my favourite charity shop to look around, but it lost something in that move in my opinion. 
Anyway, I saw this book and I bought it. Nothing more went through my mind, the entire Black Magician trilogy was there, and frankly it was beautiful. I came home and put the books to one side; because to be honest I was a little scared they wouldn't live up to the expectations I'd managed to build up while carrying them around for an hour.
Occasionally I would think 'I have those caravan books....' but for a while they were lost in my bookcase, I find this is a not infrequent problem, and I'm excited for the day when I'll have enough shelf space to see all my books, although I'm not convinced it will last. Anyway earlier this year I found them, and since I've been on a bit of a series binge this year I decided to read the whole lot. 
The Magician's Guild I would say did live up to my expectations. It had a unique concept of magic, which at the same time was not indifferent to previous worlds. It conveyed a real sense of danger to Sonea, but at the same time I could see why she would hide from the guild, the very people who have always posed a danger to the existence of her family.

I like the way in which the writing would be able to reach to a wide range of audiences. 

All in all it was one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while and it's a shame I put it off.


I'm hoping to post a kind of Advent Calender on the blog, because I'm way behind on my reviews and I'd like to have them at least tamed by the new year. 

25 Days to go