Sunday, May 26, 2013

[Review] Waiting Game

The Shade Chronicles series, book 1

by J.L. Ficks and J.E. Dugue (illustrated by Thom Scott)

Verdict: Great - a solid book and an enjoyable read.

A fantasy adventure concerning a Dark Elf assassin and his latest target. A start to a greater work.

Shade is a Dark Elf assassin. He's growing bored -- nothing is a challenge to him anymore. When a Shamite nobleman hires him to defeat Warlord Lewd, the 'king' of Kurn's underworld, Shade hopes it'll bring him the excitement he needs.

First, he'll have to survive the trip to Kurn. As skilled as he is, it shouldn't be much of a challenge. But on the way he must pass through a haunted ruin, a deadly swamp, and then he must enter the city in disguise because he is a hated Dark Elf. Then, finally, he must find this "Warlord Lewd" and defeat him.


I found this book on DriveThru Fiction when I was browsing there for the first time. I saw the artwork and was interested from there.

The book's afterword describes it as a labor of love, and it certainly is. Just look at the website. These two authors are very excited to put their work out. They are attempting to build their own high fantasy world along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons and Forgotten Realms. As such, there are myriads of races and lands to be explored.

Waiting Game, then, is just one story in this world.

I didn't think I would like Shade because he seemed like the typical cocky assassin character, but as he comes into different battle situations, we see that he's not always so sure of himself. He gives off the appearance of being calm, collected, and fearless because that is the reputation he's built up and must maintain, even when he is almost paralyzed by fear of a new major foe. Although he is an assassin -- and a Dark Elf -- he's not a cruel man. He doesn't agree to violence towards women, for example.

This particular volume feels like it is light on plot but big on action. Shade is an assassin, after all, so there are plenty of different peoples and creatures for him to have to fight and kill throughout the course of the story. The story seems to be meant as an introduction to the world, laying down the brickwork as a hint of things to come. I believe some of the characters mentioned may be recurring characters in the world - the Faun, for instance, since he didn't serve much of a purpose aside from some small comic relief.

We're shown snippets from Shade's past, a little of how he came to be so skilled. It was interesting to see what little we did of Dark Elf society -- I can see it growing in the series' future.

The action scenes can be rather long and fanciful, if you like that sort of thing. Some scenes are accompanied by artwork done by Thom Scott. I wish my e-reader had a bigger screen!

I admit I'm not so much a fan of D&D-style worlds - but it's certainly a promising start, to say the least. I can definitely see it going places as the lore gets fleshed out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

[Review] Everwinter

The Wrath of the Northmen series, book 1

by Elizabeth Baxter

Verdict: Great - a solid book and an enjoyable read.

A fantasy book about a never-ending winter and the start of an adventure to end it.

It's been three years since the Everwinter began, and the city of Ral Tora is starting to run out of supplies. There's a plan to survive, though. The city's greatest engineers are devising a series of pipelines to run under the city's magnificent stone walls, and these will pump in fuel to defend against the cold.

Bram is one of these engineers, and the story centers on him as events unfold around him.

The great city of Variss to the north has been out of contact ever since the Everwinter began, and every expedition to reach it has ended in failure. One day, a survivor from Variss arrives in Ral Tora, half-mad from what he's had to endure, telling wild and horrifying tales that few want to believe. The city leader asks Bram to take care of this man, and thus Bram is sent on the trail to find the truth behind this unnatural winter -- and about himself.

But before he can make any progress, the warrior princess of Chellin, Astrid, arrives suddenly to propose an alliance with the Ral Torans. Astrid wants to begin her own expedition to the north. Bram is recruited, only to be embroiled in the strange politics of Chellin when they stop there to prepare their next move.

Everwinter starts slowly as we learn Bram's routine. He's an ordinary, likable guy. He doesn't want to cause problems for his boss, the head engineer, but his friends, of course, take him to the pub and he ends up drunk more than once despite himself.

The story entails much mystery. At first, I didn't like it because there was simply too much. In fact, there is even a "mysterious nameless librarian" character who knows more than she reveals. Although this particular character's role seemed superfluous and was never fully-explained, in the end, I admit that the mysteries come together cleanly and I was satisfied by their conclusion.

The story picks up in the second half of the book when the characters arrive in Chellin. Where Ral Tora is a society of science and man's ingenuity, Chellin is religious, all about the Goddess and Her laws. Astrid may be the princess, but the politics are cut-throat. Even she could be deposed if the senate decides that it is the will of the Goddess.

Astrid has been surviving Chellin's deadly politics all her life, but she finds herself behind in the game since her trip to Ral Tora. Machinations beyond her control have been set in motion, and split loyalties mean it might be a fight just to leave the city for her northern expedition.

Astrid is an interesting character. Sometimes it's hard to tell if she's a good person or a bad person. We know she wants to end the Everwinter, but the lengths she's willing to go to secure her success can be unsettling.

As for Bram, he's such a good-natured guy that sometimes I get tired of the way he's being manipulated by the people around him. I'm sure he will come into his own as the series goes on; there's plenty of potential.

Other things of interest in this series are giant sea otters used as horses and sea serpents that help the ships navigate. I haven't seen that before!

I'd definitely like to read the next in the series.

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for a review.

Monday, May 13, 2013

[Review] March of the Cogsmen

Galvanic Century series, book 8

by Michael Coorlim

Verdict: Outstanding - I loved almost everything about it.

A steampunk adventure story that doesn't waste words.

It's Alton Bartleby's wedding day, and he's spending the morning -- and much of the afternoon -- getting thoroughly wasted. One might think from his behavior that he doesn't want to get married, and, in fact, he has a reputation as being a bachelor-for-life. So when a mystery of missing people comes around, his detective instincts are aroused (despite his inebriation) and he skips out on his responsibilities at the garden party to investigate.

Meanwhile, his fiancée Aldora Fiske just wants the day to end. The marriage is one of convenience, a match made to keep the idle tongues from wagging. She doesn't hate Alton, but doesn't love him. Likewise his thoughts for her.

But Aldora's adventuresome past causes a stir as the missing people mystery is resolved quite suddenly during the garden party.

March of the Cogsmen synthesizes the story elements previously explored in the Alton Bartleby/James Wainwright and Aldora Fiske novellas. It is part of the author's plan to branch out into writing longer stories.

Unfortunately, I had not the pleasure of reading the previous novellas, and I admit I had no idea what to expect. I knew the story was "steampunk" and my only experience with the genre is Scott Westerfield's Leviathan trilogy, which I won't talk about here as it's beyond the scope of this review.

In Coorlim's steampunk world, clockwork devices and aeroships are the pinnacle of modern technology. Alton's partner, James, is an engineer, and in fact some of the previous novellas are written from his perspective -- perhaps a nod to Holmes's Watson. March of the Cogsmen is written third person, like the Aldora novellas.

In this world there also exist what are called "the Resurrected" -- cadavers brought to life through immoral technology. Without spoiling too much, this is what stole my attention. The wedding begins as a normal wedding, and Aldora struck me as a normal noblewoman worrying over her fiancé's antics, and the story suddenly takes a turn for the macabre that, having no knowledge of Coorlim's works, took me by complete surprise.

I will say this: I'm behind on my reviews and it's partly Mr. Coorlim's fault! After reading this, I had to drop everything and read all of his other novellas. Having done that, I can now say that I highly recommend reading his Steampunk Omnibus, which combines all of the previous novellas in chronological order, before reading March of the Cogsmen.

I do want to mention Coorlim's writing style. His stories are novellas because he writes succinctly. He gets straight to the point, which is both a blessing and a curse. He doesn't waste time describing mundane things, but at times it feels as though there could have been more development. The ending to March of the Cogsmen felt abrupt, for example, and I would have liked to have seen more. I don't think fans will be disappointed, however -- March of the Cogsmen is much longer than any of the novella stories, and it's exciting to the end.

I'm looking forward to see where he goes with this series.

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for a review.