Wednesday 28 January 2015

Reading Roundup #1 - Recent Fantasy Books

I love reading. I love wargaming. I love rulebooks.  However, my collection of hundreds of rulebooks are dwarfed by my thousands of normal novels. A lot of the readers on this blog share similar opinions in wargames, so I thought I might expand into short book reviews in hopes something might "catch the eye." I'm going to keep the summaries short, so these will be compendiums of "suggested reading you might enjoy" rather than full-length  reviews. 

For future reference:
5 star = amazing, must have
4 star = a very good read - get this for your collection
3 star = generally sound, with some provisos
2 stars = significant flaws - only if you really like the topic
1 star = useful for toilet paper or starting fires

Here's the last month's round-up:

The Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix)  Score 3.5 Stars
At a glance:  a medieval fantasy kingdom and a WW1-era industrial nation are separated by a sort of Hadrians Wall.  North of the wall, controlled "Charter" magic is opposed by chaotic wild magic and the restless undead.  A hereditary line of necromancers called Abhorsen are at the forefront of this fight.  It's a coming-of-age story, aimed at teens, but totally free of teeny-stuff and romance.  It's no more kiddie than the Hobbit.

Why you'd read it: Easy reading, unpredictable, and interesting world. Although focussed on the traditional fantasy kingdom north of the wall, I like it those times the undead head into the south.  Lewis guns vs undead for the win!

Why you'd leave it: It largely has female protagonists.  It also has a simpler layout than most adult fiction.

Gardens of the Moon (Steven Eriksen) Score 3 Stars
At a glance: A sprawling and complex epic fantasy, with the grit of Black Company and plenty of gods and terrifying magic. I think it was based on a RPG world and although the author claims he "does not baby his readers" sometimes I think it's just poor exposition. It mixes the grit of Saving Private Ryan with floating castles and dragon-elves with soul-taking weapons.

Why you'd take it: 
Complex, realistic worlds. Involved plots.  Solid writing.  If you like your epic fantasy with a dash of the mundane, you'll enjoy it.

Why you'd leave it: Hard to "get into." Lots of stuff unexplained.  Can be frustrating.  Quite wordy - there's a 9-book series that follows it.  Definitely not for the casual reader.

The Free (Brian Ruckley) Score 3.5 Stars
At a glance:  This would be fun to wargame - follows a mercenary company called "The Free"- about 60 guys with their own sorcerers, archers and cavalry. Has a bit of a Hundred-Years-War feel.  Interesting magic system where magicians ("clevers") have to give of their own life to power their magic - so magic can be powerful but is sparingly used.  His best book to date, with good action. (His other books had an interesting dark age vikings-v-indians vibe but could drag on a bit).

Why you'd take it:  You could totally wargame this, and you'll want to.  A good blend of interesting magic and bloody war movie.  It's a standalone book, a good quick read in a genre dominated by trilogies and long series. A bit of a spaghetti western vibe.

Why you'd leave it: Mr Ruckley is not as polished as some of the top-tier fantasy authors and not all passages of the book are as strong as others.  I didn't feel the ending delivered as well as I hoped.

The Thousand Names (Django Wexler) Score 3 Stars
At a glance: Napoleon-in-Egypt-with-magic.  I initially struggled to get into this book but it improved as it went.  If you like the idea of black-powder Napoleonics clashing with rebels lead by powerful cult leaders.  Has a bit of a Sharpe-with-magic meets Foreign Legion feel.  The story hints at a wider plot in which this story is just the tip of the iceberg. I also think I read on the dust jacket that Mr Wexler is a fellow wargamer.

Why you'd take it: Sharpe with magic anyone?  Seems "researched" despite fantasy setting. The not-Egyptian background is well done. Improved as it went.

Why you'd leave it: I think this is a debut novel and it shows at times. A bit slow to start. Tends to follow predictable tropes/cliches.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Patrick Rothfuss) Score 1 Star
At a glance:  The author (who did the brilliant Name of the Wind 4.5 stars) warns readers this isn't for everyone, as it "doesn't do the normal things a book does." I wish I'd listened. Nothing happens.  It's kinda a literacy wank-off vanity project. I'm sure arty folk will love it, but they also call it art when people spew on a canvas. Basically, a weird girl wanders around, and does a bunch of feng shui in the sewers all day. I'm not kidding. He claims his publisher told him to do it, but I prefer this quote: "....Patrick Rothfuss may be getting lost in the echo chamber of his fanboys' squeeing adulation..."

Why you'd take it: If you'd like to encourage an otherwise excellent author to do more pointless vanity projects, when he is 5 years overdue for the next book in his trilogy - which he said was ready for editing in 2010...

Why you'd leave it: Because you prefer to read actual stories, where there's a plot.

City of Stairs (Robert Jackson Bennett) Score 4 Stars
At a glance:  A city that once used the powers of god to enslave the world, is now occupied by an Eastern power.  The gods are dead, but their miraculous works and architecture remain.  A spy (and her very lethal norse secretary) are dispatched to investigate. But things are not as they seem.  I found this book original and interesting - part fantasy, part spy story. An interesting crossover genre.

Why you'd take it: Dead gods, a mysterious city, and hidden histories and agendas. A great sidekick.  A spy story and a fantasy in one. A really interesting and original book, by a talented author I'm sure will grow in prominence. Again, a standalone book which doesn't require you to read a 10-book series.

Why you'd leave it:  It kinda crosses genres so much it might be a bit jarring. Unusual in style. An "indie" hit that might not appeal to everyone. 

That's the last fortnight or so - I get through quite a few books (I like to practice what I preach - library is my other subject area).  If there's interest, I can do more (perhaps a "top 10"), and while gaming time can be limited (i.e. shed renovations) overall reading time seldom is.


  1. A top 10 would be great! DO you have any recommendations for books similar to City of Stairs? After powering through the Garrett PI books by Glenn Cook, I've been hungry for more Fantasy-meets-X style crossovers.

    1. I'll have a look through my collection. Bear in mind some would be read 6-12 months ago so I may not be as accurate...

  2. You'd leave a book because 'It largely has female protagonists'? That's a strange idea. I mean, most of the books you talk about have sorcerers and warriors and I'm neither and still would read them.

    1. Perhaps I should have said "teenage female protagonists".