Thursday 29 January 2015

Book Roundup #2: Fantasy with a Twist

 These are books who put a twist on the usual fantasy genre.  They often "crossover"with other genres like westerns, detective noir or pulp. If you are tired of noble heroes, impossibly beautiful princesses and mighty dragons you might try:

Red Country/The Heroes/Best Served Cold (Joe Abercrombie) Score 5 Stars
Whilst his initial trilogy is probably the best entry into his work, his standalone books are his best; each one a mimicry of a genre: war movie, a western and a revenge thriller respectively.  He takes sly digs at fantasy tropes and his characters are interesting shades of grey.  His crippled torturer antihero Sand dan Glotka is more interesting than Game of  Thrones' Tyrion.

You'd take it: The best writer of grimdark realistic fantasy going; with interesting plots, great characterization and dialogue.  A much tighter writing style than the somewhat bloated prose of GRR Martin.

You'd leave it: His somewhat dry grim tone can get wearing if you binge-read 3-4 books in a row, which you'll probably end up doing. 

Nights of Villamanjur (Mark Charon Newton) Score 3 Stars
A rumel (nonhuman, reptilian?) investigator will discover a web of corruption leading into the heart of a dying empire. 

You'd take it: Interesting ideas, themes and concepts.  Banshees, birdlike garuda and rumel share a world with humans.  Human hybrids and monsters stalk the streets. An otherworldly enemy approaches.

You'd leave it: A little on the weird side (China Melville-style).  I only read 3 of the 5 books so I wasn't that enthused.

The Black Company (Glen Cook) Score 3 Stars
A bit of a cult classic, one of the original "gritty" fantasy novels about an elite mercenary company.  Very down to earth, it is more a war documentary as told through the eyes of soldiers than a epic fantasy. Reading it is a bit like a box of chocolates - there is some dodgy flavours of chocolate but some good stuff too. Personally, I thought it was OK but not as amazing as I'd expected.

You'd read it: A weird modern classic that arguably launched the gritty fantasy genre.  It has a realistic feel as the author was a Vietnam vet. There are many shades of grey - and no true heroes or villains. 

You'd leave it:  The writing is sloppy, choppy and has inane dialogue. It adds to the "realism" I guess, but can grate at times.

The Last Wish (Andre Sapkowski) Score 3.5 Stars
Tolkien who?  This is the first collection of Witcher short stories, and in Eastern Europe Sapkowski stands above Tolkien and GRR Martin.  Based on slavic mythology, some of his stories echo traditional fairy tales - I particularly liked the alternate version of Beauty & the Beast. 

You'd take it: A unique style. The short stories are standalone, but if you enjoy the series 3 others are translated into English. A master of gritty fantasy, with a unique "voice."

You'd Leave it:  The translation work missed the mark a bit at times.The other full-length books are even worse.

The Straight Razor Cure (Daniel Polansky) Score 3.5
The 'hero' is a disgraced intelligence agent, a sort of a 40K Inquisitor/secret policeman who has quit and become a drug dealer and local criminal boss.  However when local children are found murdered, he plays a double game against his former intelligence bosses and the local underworld to find the murderer.

You'd take it: Hustlers, pimps, turf wars, corruption. Hard-boiled noir thriller, with a "twist" ending.  Reasonable length book that works as a standalone and as the first in a trilogy.

You'd leave it:  The drug-dealing antihero pushes the gritty boundaries. The book is a bit of a mishmash of ideas and is occasionally a bit sloppy.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch) Score 4
Basically a medieval-fantasy heist movie set in not-Venice. Oceans 11 with swords.  Gentleman con-artists fight to take over the local underworld. 

You'd take it: The book is clever and witty and the world is well done. You like Oceans 11 and The Godfather, and you think mixing them with sorcery and Renaissance Venice would make them even cooler. You like good dialogue and plotting.

You'd leave it:  You don't like the use of the f-word.  The book has a bit of a "soft patch"early on.

Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) Score 4.5
A glorious mish mash of tropes. Awesome airship battles, fighter planes, golems, undead, dune buggies. Six guns, sword fights and demonologists.  It has the rag-tag pirate crew lead by a captain with a heart of gold. The author had fun writing this book, and strings cliches together in a polished way. Firefly meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Stardust meets Indiana Jones meets The Last Exile meets Crimson Skies. A solidly written fantasy in an engaging world.  Will not win a Pulitzer Prize but neither did Star Wars. Good old fashioned fun, which raises the bar in the pulp genre.

You'd take it: A swashbuckling romp full of pulpy goodness. No deep concepts - pure escapism. Easy to read, and if you enjoy it you can follow more adventures in the 4-book series.

You'd leave it: If you have no sense of fun. If you hate pulp/steampunk.  If you only like serious highbrow arty books (like the stuff in high school everyone else thought was boring.)

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