Fantasy Hardships

This is a blog dedicated to reviewing fantasy novels and the occasional science-fiction work. If it's daring, innovative, or shrewdly bends existing tropes, chances are good I'll love it.

REVIEW: Ascendancy (The Godswar Saga #1) by Jennifer Vale

Ascendancy (The Godswar Saga) (Volume 1) - Jennifer Vale

This is a typical fantasy novel that doesn't stand out in any way. It's solid enough, but relies too much on standard fantasy tropes (like elves and dragons) to be anything but mediocre.


In fact, the main feeling I had when reading this book was a continuing idea that the author had it in her to do better. There are some points where it seems to reach more lofty heights, only to come crashing down again a few pages later.


Final verdict:

Mediocre. I don't expect anyone reading this to have lasting impression, which is a shame really. I might give another of the author's books a try to see if it's a series only thing.

REVIEW: Born under Bone (Elements of the Æther #3) by Marin Wyden

Born under Bone (Elements of the Æther Book 3) - Marin Wyden, Richard Sheehan, Sally Evans-Darby, Joe Pee

This review assumes you read the two previous books.


First things first. Even though it's the third book of the series, most characters from the first two books won't be reappearing. This is an odd thing for a fantasy series, but considering that the second book closed the story lines for those characters, it's not wholly surprising.


Born under Bone begins sixteen years after the events in the preceding books and takes place entirely in Hertwolf, a city briefly visited before. This also means my favorite minor character from there (The Demon of the Tower) returns.


The plotting is consistent as before, yet this time it's much less expansive. There are only four points of view this time around, which means the book is a good deal shorter than the previous two. Yet that's not a problem. I didn't feel there was more story to tell, and I vastly prefer an author who keeps the plot tight, rather than pad out everything with pointless fluff.


The epic storyline started in the two first book advances as we learn several more things about the lost element and those who chase it. That said, the book feels standalone, which is good because we'll have to wait a year for the next one.


Final verdict:

Great continuation of the series. The plotting is tight as usual and things tie together in ways you didn't expect. I can't wait to see where it all leads in the end.

REVIEW: Fire and Dust (Elements of the Æther #2) by Marin Wyden

Fire and Dust (Elements of the Æther Book 2) - Marin Wyden

This review assumes you read Shadow of the Candle.


An excellent continuation of the first book. The cast is joined by two more point of view characters who each bring another unique personality to the cast.


Things that I like in specific:


The mystery is being unraveled slowly. As the story progresses, you do learn more and more about the original event that triggered the first book. However, as is proper for an epic story, the answers just lead to bigger questions so you are never left hanging with a sudden reveal and no payoff (there could be no payoff in future books, but I considering how tight the plotting is so far, I doubt it). Basically, it's tight plotting.


The story also ends. Not as in a series ending, but a story ending. The characters all get some form of closure at the end of this book, leaving only the 'epic' plotline, concerning the lost element, open. Doing this prevents characters from fanning out all over the place, which is in line with the tight plotting I mentioned earlier. It also doesn't leave readers high and dry while waiting for the next book in the series, and this looks like it's going to be a long one.


Final verdict:

My first five star. I don't hand these out lightly and I must note that the theme and style of this book are exactly to my taste. Yet I really can't see how anyone who enjoys reading serious fantasy can not like these novels.

REVIEW: Shadow of the Candle (Elements of the Æther #1) by Marin Wyden

Shadow of the Candle (Elements of the Æther Book 1) - Marin Wyden, Sally Evans-Darby, Richard Sheehan, Joe Pee

I read this book last year, but with the recent release of the third book I decided to do a proper review.


To get right to it, this book is one of the best fantasy novels I read in recent years. Regular readers of my reviews know I frequently harp on poor plotting, which is an all too common occurrence in many fantasy novels (a wizard did it!).


That doesn't happen here. The plot begins in the city of Rios where an entire magic guild vanishes without a trace from within their own guild seat. This event sets several factions into motion, each represented by one of the six point of views in the book. The point of view style of the book is similar to Game of Thrones, an entire chapter deals with one character's point of view.


Most importantly, however, it's the characters that drive the plot. The actions of one character frequently affect events in a manner that causes things to rapidly shift for another character, who then is forced to respond and change things for yet another character. Needless to say, the six characters and the factions they represent all have their own ideas on how to handle the crisis and frequently get in each other's way. Sometimes as allies, sometimes as enemies.


In essence, it's basically a mystery novel that just happens to be set in an epic   fantasy world. Even the cliffhanger of the book throws you for a loop as the expected 'big finale' isn't what you expect it would be.


The only issue I have, which prevents me from giving five stars is that the writing is a bit shaky in some spots, but never to the point of distraction. I actually do appreciate the style, which is light on description. Show, don't tell.


Final verdict:

This is the sort of book that is right up my alley and I therefore cannot recommend it enough. If you care in any way about well-crafted character-driven fantasy plots then this is the book for you.

REVIEW: The Crucible of Empire (Jao Empire #1) by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth

The Crucible of Empire - Eric Flint, K.D. Wentworth

Not much to say about this. It's your regular human race hero trip, which is suitable for Eric Flint who writes 'rah rah rah!' stories like they're candy. Yet where in his other series this annoyed me to the point of not wanting to read on, in this series it's not so bad (I suppose that's the influence of Wentworth).


Final verdict:

Whereas I wasn't interested in continuing the 1632 series, this was entertaining enough to give the next book a try. If you like SF and light reading, you might want to give this a try.

REVIEW: The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just City - Jo Walton

The story follows various people who take part in an experiment, set up by Greek gods, Athena and Apolla to recreate Plato's Republic.


The writing style is solid and there is plenty of eye for detail. For example, when Apollo stands in a beam of light that shines on Athena's desk, she notices him not because he casts a shadow, but because the light broadens (Apollo is a god of light after all).


The initial setup is well done and you get drawn into the story, even if you haven't read Plato's Republic.


My only and biggest complaint is how the book works towards the ending. There is some setup done for it, but it all feels disjointed. It's not that the ending isn't logical, and the suddenness of it is justified. Yet the way the plot gets there struck me as extremely artificial.

The ending thus left me dissatisfied, and maybe that was the intention of the author, but I can't say I enjoy reading such things.


Final verdict:

I think that to get the most out of this book you must have read Plato's Republic. I haven't and maybe that's why I consider this book only 'okay'. On it's own, the story doesn't carry.

REVIEW: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers

I read this on a whim and can be pretty brief about it. The story is simplistic, events coincidental and disjointed and all dipped in layers of teenage angst. Or in other words, a typical YA novel.


I learned that my whims are stupid.


Final verdict:

In a surprising turn of events, YA zombie stories are not my thing.


Okay, maybe not so surprising.

REVIEW: Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World (Shattered Sea) - Joe Abercrombie

I'm having a few busy weeks so I won't update as often this month.


In the first book we followed the coming of age of Yarvi. In this book he's no longer the protagonist, instead filling the role of an important supporting character.


The two new protagonists are your typical teen fantasy characters (one boy, one girl), which leads to the plot being fairly typical as well. In fact, anyone who ever read Lord of the Rings should see the last 'surprise' in the plot coming from a mile away. One of the protagonists is a bit too capable as well.


Final verdict

I saw someone describe this series as 'Abercrombie lite' and that's pretty much accurate. It's a 'by the numbers' Young Adult novel, so unless you are the target audience or really enjoy those, I wouldn't recommend reading this.


REVIEW: Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie's recently begun YA series.


There really isn't much to say about this. It's a by the numbers YA fantasy novel and holds little of the grimness of Abercrombie's First Law series (even though I've seen claims to the contrary).


One thing that did stood out to me was the way the protagonist grew into his new personality. Often, such a shift takes place suddenly, which makes it seem odd. Here, however, the transition is a smooth one. The slow turning of a dial rather than a switch being flipped.


Final verdict:

Solid.  If you like fantasy of a young person overcoming hardships and becoming a better person than before, than this is the thing for you. The only thing you might get hung up on is the world building which is a bit marginal in my opinion. But considering how much I myself read, I doubt this will matter to most.

REVIEW: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold

It's strange, but in a lot of fantasy books it's obvious to me if they are written by a man or a woman. This novel's atmosphere was similar to the novels written by Michelle West. I can't put my finger on it exactly where in the style such a thing manifests, but it's there all the same. Descriptions of things, interactions between people all seem more... fluffy? vibrant?


Regardless, the plot of this novel is solid, there are some unexpected twists and the ending, while predictable in result, wasn't so in execution.



Final verdict:

Solid and an enjoyable read, although for me personally not exciting enough to bother with the sequel; Paladin of Souls.

REVIEW: Undying Mercenaries Series by B.V. Larson

Steel World - B.V. Larson Dust World - B.V. Larson Tech World (Undying Mercenaries Series) (Volume 3) - B. V. Larson

I'm going to review these in bulk as they are effectively carbon copies of each other in every respect except the overarching plot.


To make this clear, these books are SF pulp. Don't expect an in depth exploration of the human condition here, even though the underlying premises (soldiers that keep getting revived after every death) is suitable for such a thing.


Now mind you, it being pulp isn't a complaint in this case, especially if you are the target audience, which is teenage males. The women in this book are all pretty and hot, and the protagonist has sex with most of them. Dip it all in a sauce of flesh tearing violence and you got yourself a novel.


Luckily, the world building and the plot that ties the books together is interesting enough to lift these up above your typical 'author self-insert' novels.


Final verdict:

Entertaining if you want to veg out with some easy reading and indulge yourself.

REVIEW: The Daylight War (The Demon Cycle #3) by Peter V. Brett

The Daylight War - Peter V. Brett

The third book of the Demon Cycle.


Just like in the last book, we are given a new point of view (Inerva) and given the play by play on her early life. This time it works out much better, however. We don't really know much about her to begin with from the first two books and Brett seems to have learned from his earlier experience as this opening is far more concise and interesting.


What didn't improve is the overall plot, however. It has now solidly moved into predictable territory and I can guess what's going to happen from here. Which is a shame because the tribulations of the people in the book just aren't interesting enough to hold my attention. It made the final critical event that closes the book feel cheap, which is a shame.


Just like in the previous book, the combat against the demons is just filler. I don't know why, but there simply isn't any dread left and the scenes involving the fights are just slogs you might as well skim through. The protagonists in this novel win far too often and suffer losses that in the grand scheme of things are insignificant.


Final verdict:

Me personally, I am done with this series. For those who enjoyed the first two books, you can read this one, because the tone remains the same.

REVIEW: Desert Spear (The Demon Cycle #2) by Peter V. Brett

The Desert Spear - Peter V. Brett

This review assumes you read The Warded Man.


This novel is basically in the same vein as the first book, although I must say it begins to crack at the edges.


We are treated to several new points of view, which leads to some interesting scenes as we revisit some events from the first book, just looked at from another side. Unfortunately, it also leads to a boring first one third of a novel. Reading about Jardir's rise to where he is in the first novel isn't very interesting, because you already know where he ends up. This robs most of his scenes from impact. The writing of the combat scenes isn't interesting either and skim worthy for the most part.


The plot is turning out stale as well. Ancient Evil challenged by rising young power has been done to death and so far I saw little in these books to believe that it will change.


Final verdict:

If you loved the first book you'll probably love this one. If you were 'meh' about it, don't bother continuing.

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane won several awards the last few years and I decided to give it a read.


It left me like most of these awards winning books do, in a entertained, but not excited place.


The story itself is easily picked up and proceeds to a satisfying conclusion... and that is basically all I have to say about it. The novel is about the disconnect between childhood and being an adult, just made far more extreme by a fantasy aspect in the plot.


I know there are people who enjoy reading about these explorations of the human self, but I find myself not caring about the deeper message at all, because the message itself is dull.


Final verdict:

I don't regret reading it, but I can't say it enriched my life either, beyond saying that I read it.

REVIEW: The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett

The basic idea behind the novel is compelling. Demons rise from the ground every night, hounding and killing the ever diminishing human population. We follow the lives of three different protagonists at various points in time.


The plot of the novel isn't very strong. It's basically three coming of age stories and each of the three protagonists has a clear 'unique' skill that makes them superior to their surroundings. Once this becomes clear, the plot follows the same path a thousand novels have threaded before, and unfortunately the writing itself isn't strong enough to make things more than 'okayish' at any point.


A thing that stood out is that few people in this book seem to have any loyalty to marriage or other relationships. Sleeping around, or wanting to, is a common occurrence. Then again, there is an emphasis on baby making to counter the casualties suffered at the hands of the demons, so looser sexual morals fit right into that.


Final verdict:

Average. By itself the novel is okay. As the first book of a series it isn't as there is barely any 'threat' setup for future novels. I'll still give the next one a try though.

REVIEW: Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1) by Pierce Brown

Red Rising - Pierce Brown

This is going to a very straightforward review if you read The Hunger Games. Take your impression of that book and apply it to this one. Red Rising has a different setting and characters, but the plot is similar and the underlying theme is a carbon copy.


If you haven't read the Hunger Games, then the novel is, at it's core, a coming of age story with a science fiction veneer and a whole lot of violence.


Final verdict:

A good read to munch down on if you aren't interested in reading something complicated.