Sunday, 29 November 2015

Book Round Up #7: Fantasy, Pulp

With a 4-month-old in the family, my gaming has curtailed over the same tine period, but I have plenty of opportunity to read in the wee hours.  Accordingly, you'll have to be content with a round up of the latest novels in place of the gaming articles you actually visit this blog for....

Black Guard (AJ Smith) 1.5 Stars
Billed as "GRR Martin meets Lovecraft" with the Game of Thrones-esque "what is dead will rise again" ....I admit I was sucked in by the cover.

You'd read it:
The world building is decent.  As a role playing game world it'd be fine.  It's just the attempt to turn it into a novel that fails. A world of races aligned to elemental giants who have left the mortal plane is interesting, though the plot of manipulative Spider enchantresses trying to bring back the Dead God is a tad cliche, but all-in-all, it's good points are overshadowed by....

Why you'd leave it:
....the writing is abysmal. The author is a master of tell-don't-show, with clunky, adjective-laden dialogues acting as exposition, and he overuses adjectives and adverbs without even seeming to know what they mean:
After being hit in the face "...he spat rancid blood out of his mouth..."  Why being hit in the face would make his blood become "fat or oil tasting unpleasant as a result of being stale or old" I do not know.   He adds unnecessary speech or descriptive detail that makes the dialogue faintly ridiculous.  I.e.  In the middle of a battle, someone asks "where is the witch?" and a friend responds  "She ran off, cackling.  The author is listed as a secondary teacher so I sincerely hope he teaches a subject other than English.  The book certainly needed a bit of red pen treatment.  I couldn't finish it - it was too painful a slog.

Not quite at the level of "My Immortal: The Vampires of Berlin" for awfulness, but close.

Lyonnesse (Jack Vance) 2.5 Stars*
Old school fantasy with a distinct 70s vibe.  A well developed Dark Ages-Middle Ages-Arthurian mishmash with its own coherent politics and nations. 

You'd read it: You like reading pseudo history books, and old school fairy tales.  You liked the style of Lord of the Rings.  Nostalgia?  Like LoTR, it's "world" is well fleshed out. It's how it's presented that is the problem.  It reminds me of the old Arthurian legends a bit in its tone. It's good for what it is.  If you like the style, you'll be outraged at the 2.5 stars. If you don't, you'll think it was was very generous.

You'd leave it:  Long pages of exposition and world building is detailed but very dry.  I put it aside to read later - I found A Short History of Byzantium by J.J. Norwich more gripping reading (I'm not making this up - the history book was way more interesting)  Whilst it is "good for what it is", what it is, compared to other fantasy works, is dry and dull. 

Queen of Fire (Anthony Ryan) 3 Stars
Solid but unspectacular. The final book in the Blood Song trilogy about... some heroic hero who has amazing martial skills.  Occasionally I came across passages or ideas that showed potential, but they are offset by equally clumsy passages and dialogue. Mr Ryan is not the finished article, and whilst not bad, is still solidly a "B lister" despite the glowing reviews.  I can't remember the first two books, that's how memorable they were.   

You'd read it: You are looking for a solid new fantasy series, in the modern gritty tone - and you've read Abercrombie, Rothfuss, etc.  It's a solid "C".  (I've also been writing report cards of late)

You'd leave it: A bit meh.  Rather forgettable.  Writing is only average with the occasional good patch. I read it in fits and starts - I certainly wasn't enthralled the whole way through - coming back to it only after I finished the better books on this list. 

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (GRR Martin) 4 Stars
A collection of all the "Dunk and Egg" stories, which are set about 90 years before the Game of Thrones. I contend that GRR Martin is vastly overrrated, but hes also vastly better than the other authors so far, and the short story collection limits his waffling.   

You'd read it:  If you'd like to try GRR Martin, but would prefer not to embark on a 700 page epic.  If you want gritty, but a bit less grim than Game of Thrones.

You'd leave it:  No real complaints. It feels a bit lacking compared to some other fantasy books, but it is, after all, a collection of short stories.    

 Johannes Cabal: Necromancer (Jonathan Howard) 4 Stars
 Maybe it was after some of the dodgy books I had read, but I really enjoyed the wordmanship in the Johannes Cabal series.  Following the story of the necromancer through three distinctly different novels (book #1 is aboard a circus train where he has to collect souls, book #2 is a locked room mystery aboard an airship, and #4 is set in the "Dreamlands") the wry and witty style had me smirking for the right reasons.  A bit less silly, but has a Terry Pratchett/Tom Holt/Tom Green vibe to it. 

“Cats, as any rational person knows, are solitary, opportunistic, ambush predators, much like spiders, but with fewer legs and a better fan club.”

 “There had been no possibility that he had survived. His body had not tumbled into a foaming sea or into a clouded abyss from which he might later make an unexpected return through the good offices of kindly dolphins or giant eagles. Cabal had himself checked that all life was extinguished by searching for a pulse, looking for clouding on a mirror held to the corpse’s mouth, and by kicking repeatedly.”

You'd read it: If you like pulp-era stories with a dash of black comedy.

You'd leave it:  If you don't enjoy British-style dry humour and need a laugh soundtrack to find comedies funny.



  1. "Not quite at the level of "My Immortal: The Vampires of Berlin" for awfulness, but close. "

    That really was quite a horridly written tale, but there aren't many Weird WW2 stories out there either.

    I'll look out for the Johannes Cabal series, thanks

  2. Johannes Cabal: Necromancer just shot to the top of my Amazon wish list - thanks!

  3. I think you'd definitely like the Cabal series, Paul.

    There's no defence for My Immortal though, I'm sorry. I don't care if it's the only Weird War III novel ever written..... A delicious, rare dodo pie is still inedible if covered in dog poop..... :-/