Sunday 17 January 2016

Book Round Up #8: Promise of Blood + Thousand Names + Iron Elves (Flintlock Fantasy)

My only previous "Flintlock Fantasy" was the rather forgettable A Darkness Forged in Fire (which had elves, dwarves etc) so it was with trepidation I dipped my toes into the waters with some more recent releases in the genre.   The new entrants are very much Revolutionary France with the numbers filed off, plus magic.  

Thousand Names (Django Wexler) 3
This was "Napoleon in Egypt" meets "Indiana Jones hunts occult relics" but was more the former than the latter.   Most of the book had no magic at all - definitely more "flintlock" than fantasy.   Magic is more low key and plays no part in battles.  When the fantasy bit came along it lifted the book from a rather boring B-grade historical fiction which compares unfavourably to Sharpe et al to something unique.

You'd leave it:   Had the historical-fiction tendency to overly detailed exposition.    More for the Napoleonic fans than fantasy buffs.  Slow-paced - drags in the middle of the book.  He's OK, but not a great writer.  Strictly B list. A bit unclear at times where the book was going.

You'd read it:   Definitely a "first novel" and the writing improved in the second book. The main characters seemed walking cliches but actually improved beyond 2D cardboard cut-outs. The "big picture" is slowly revealed, and points to interesting sequels.   An interesting world building and concept.  A lot of people loved this book - perhaps I'm overly fussy.

A Darkness Forged in Fire (Chris Evans) 2.5
This was read a while back but I'm including it for completeness - but it isn't as fresh in my mind as the others. It's mostly about an elf trying to rebuild his regiment in the face of evil bureaucracy. 

You'd leave it:  I found the plot confusing and lacking in interest, and the attempt to overturn cliches was a bit too obvious and "try hard" i.e. elf who hates forests, dwarf with no metalworking skills etc, but the actual plot was pretty dull and ordinary. It was an obvious "book #1 of a big series" with no real ending, and it wasn't good enough to make it worth while to be worth seeking out book #2.  I think I recall only one battle in the book.

You'd read it:   If you really want more elves, dwarves, evil witches etc in your flintlock fantasy and you're read the other two books on this list. It's not that badly written, just a "meh."

Promise of Blood (Bruce McClellan) 3.5
Warmachine warcasters and gun mages meets the French Revolution.  Magic is more common and established - "Privileged" standard sorcerers, "gun mages" who snort gunpowder for increased abilities and "Wardens" twisted creatures mutated by magic.  The characters include the revolutionary leader - a war hero who is avenging his wife, and his son - a gun mage; and a dedicated private investigator.

You'd leave it:  The writing is obviously a first book and lacks polish.  It can be a bit heavy handed at times and the characters are predictable.  The magic system is a bit arbitrary (that's probably the wargamer in me).  The "dead wife motivation" and "debauched church" are rather tired tropes.  The characters were a bit flat, and the female characters are insignificant/non-existent which may bother the feminazis.

You'd read it:  Unlike Thousand Names, you don't have to read 2/3rds the book before you get the "big picture" - the plot moves along more briskly.  More actual plot and story than battle descriptions.  If you like the Warmachine universe, you'll love the gun mages.  Magic, whilst not overly prevalent, is an established part of the setting, so it avoids Cornwall comparisons.  Dark but without Abercrombie or Martin levels of grimness and pessimism.  Highly readable, and a very decent debut novel.


  1. I think I'll give all those a miss, not that I would have looked at them had I not seen your appraisals. BTW, I'm not clear as to what you mean by "Cornwall comparisons" with regard to the last book. If you're alluding to Bernard CornwEll, he doesn't do magic, does he? (It's in the Warlord (Arthur) books, and in Stonehenge, which I've just read, but only as part of the characters' belief systems, rather than something which objectively works.) To that degree, the book you review actually sounds quite similar in its treatment, if I understand your comment correctly (which I probably don't).

    Incidentally, I recently picked up (free, from a book swap) a book by another author I'd never heard of, Will Elliott, who turns out to be Australian. The trouble is, it's volume two of a trilogy (Pendulum), and the comments I've dug up on Amazon suggest it's no masterpiece. Is it worth shelling out for the first book (The Pilgrims)?

    Coincidentally, from the same source I've also obtained another antipodean fantasy, this time a complete tetralogy, and far too hefty to carry around. The author's called David Hair, and is from the other side of the Tasman Sea (New Zealand, in case my geographical knowledge is askew). I started reading it, but it was slow going, and appeared quite generic. I put it aside for something with more zing - ie. Bernard CornwEll and Tom Wolfe - but may return to it if anyone who happens to have completed it thinks it worth the effort.

    Speaking of zing, I still have the final volume of Abercrombie's recent trilogy to read, as well as more Harry Sidebottom (you should, you know).

  2. "If you're alluding to Bernard CornwEll, he doesn't do magic, does he?"
    -Not really. That's the point. Without enough magic, the flintlock fantasy books compare unfavourably to conventional Napoleonic historical fiction.
    (Sorry I didn't know his last name - I usually call him Bernie.)

    The Mages Blood(?) by Mr Hair I did read, on 2nd attempt (was not initially impressed either) and it actually improved through the book, to the extent I'd probably read a 2nd if I picked it up for cheap. It wouldn't be high on my list, but serves OK as a book for reading on the toilet (the only place of peace in my house).

    If Sidebottom is the guy with the gay hero, I'll pass. I'm bombarded with enough of that on TV and I personally find the topic somewhat unpleasant.

    Don't recall Will Elliott books, sounds familiar though. If it's urban fantasy like I think it is I'd suggest the Ben Aaronovitch books starting with the Rivers of London. (I'll review them sometime, but they didn't fit within the genre of this post)

  3. Of course - you had the Sharpe books in mind, none of which I've read, though I think I'd figured out magic doesn't feature much in them. I don't really get the fantasy Napoleonic schtick, BTW, though, as you may know, there is a game on that theme - Warploque, complete with orcs and elves in shakos and epaulettes, for those who need it.

    Hair's back on the agenda, then, eventually (though I'd forgotten I've still got the second half of a Daniel Abraham monster (actually 2 in 1) to get through; that was slow too, but eventually gripping, even though I couldn't avoid the feeling I'd missed something. Even the title evades me at present).

    Sidebottom's second series, The Throne of the Caesars, involves one gay male character, as was apparently par for the course in antiquity, but also a good many who aren't. I haven't encountered any gay sex in the two books that have been published, which is more than can be said for the Richard Morgan fantasy novel I read a few years ago (titles just aren't coming at the moment). The first series, Warrior of Rome, which is set slightly later than Throne of the Caesars (though may well turn out to overlap with it as the latter progresses) has a very macho lead character, if that helps you to give it a try, and the military detail and action are outstanding. It's this series I need to get back to, having read only the first volume.

    Off-topic, I haven't done anything with Dreadball yet, but have just noticed a medieval fantasy football game called Guild Ball. Do you know anything of this?

    1. The Abraham books are VERY slow burning. For example, his latest fantasy series (Dagger & the Coin) really pays off.... at about book #3 (i.e. about 1500 pages in). Excellent.... ...but worth the wait? How long is a piece of string (actually, if Mr Abraham owns said string, it'd be several km long)

      Abraham's Expanse sci fi has been made into an allegedly good TV series which I can't see (Australia is held hostage by a paytv monopoly - no wonder we are the world's most prolific pirates of TV shows) but that series is also slow but pays off by book #2... ...i.e. a mere 1000 or so pages in.

      That said, Mr Abraham is one of the most talented of the Arizona mafia (or whatever the hoemstate of GRR Martin) who supply 90% of the fantasy books published today, their bloated books seemingly immune from editors pens.

      Guild Ball - I recall a Kickstarter and nice concept art but I wanted a game I actually have a chance of playing against live opponents....

  4. As chance would have it, I just came back to fill in the name of the Abraham book, which I happened to stumble upon in an old email - The Long Price, though my fat volume contains half of the entire tetralogy. I hate those unwieldy paperback doorstops, but it's not available in any other format here.

    I didn't know he'd written an SF series as well, though I'm aware of a single volume collaboration with GRRM (a native of New Jersey, but long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and avid consumer of Mexican food).

    I don't know much about Australian TV, other that it is in somewhat of a bad odour over here thanks to Neighbours & Home & Away (though millions love them, or are at least addicted to them.) Is everything owned by Murdoch? (And whatever happened to Kerry Packer, the man who almost destroyed test cricket? Nothing pleasant I trust?)

    I did some reading up on Guild Ball on BGG. Its reception thus far has been somewhat muted, mainly I think because of the plethora of such games (I am vaguely aware that fantasy / SF sports games constitute a sizable genre now - can a cricket variant be far away?). One feature of it which has been warmly welcomed is that almost all of it is available free, including printable standee figures. I've downloaded everything, but printing it is the problem

    Oh dear, if I worried about actually playing a game I'd never buy anything, and might even have room to move around in, but what would be the point of existence?

    1. The Long Price isn't as long winded as the others, but I didn't find it interesting besides the world building.

      I think Abraham does sci fi with another New Mexico(?) mate under another name - James SA Corey or something. Leviathan Wakes is the first novel.

      You have Home & Away and Neighbours there? Agh, what a show to export. My 10c = Australian ACTORS are usually above average (well they are if they have better than soapie material), but the homegrown shows themselves are poor. All the good ones move to Hollywood.

      Mr Murdoch has a monopoly on cable which means we pay 400% more than other countries. Hence the rampant piracy.

      Guild Ball - I think they use all "named" characters which I think was why I instantly dismissed it. I mean, the point of campaign sports game is so some unnamed mook can become the star of the team.

  5. I couldn't grasp the big shock that turned everything upside down in the first volume of The Long Price. It happened when the woman from the islands had her abortion, but everyone knew it was going to happen; they called it 'the sad trade' (how true) and had been preparing a ceremony for it. What did I miss?

    From memory - I haven't checked - the SF book I'm thinking of was a three-way collaboration between Abraham, Martin, and some other dude. It may have been called Hunter's Run, but then again it may not.

    To my shame, I've watched Neighbours, and even got addicted to it for a while, knowing it was madness. At one stage I was watching it at lunch time and then the evening repeat, in zombie-like stupor. I was only saved by my TV breaking down before I did. This was over 20 years ago. I've never replaced it.

    If you think that shows my age, wait till you hear I remember Skippy and Spy Force. How is Skippy these days? I had a good-natured argument once with an Australian on a ferry from Sweden, in which I argued the merits of Spy Force as, if not classic, then at least a bonzer show, as well as Jack Thompson's surely unimpeachable credentials as an actor. He seemed to think me strange. On the other hand, he didn't drink beer, even the weak Swedish variety, so I perceive a pot/kettle scenario.

    You may know that Prisoner Cell Block H was a cult favourite here, though I've no idea why, as it was on in the middle of the night and I never saw it (though I was quite probably up.) This is the extent of my knowledge, and I'm happy to keep it that way.

    I do remember a few mini-series, of which Anzacs - with Paul Hogan - stands out. It was on in the daytime, and I can't quite remember my excuse for being in a position to watch (most of) it.

    Our impression of Australian (and NZ) actors - and singers, for that matter - is that it's compulsory to begin in a soap. Probably not true, but there's a very long if not precisely honourable list of those who have (before graduating to panto in the UK if they can't make the immediate transition to global stardom). Cate Blanchett is the only notable exception who springs to mind, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised to learn she'd done her stint on Ramsay Street. It's not exactly shameful, it's just...unconventional.

    1. All those shows are before my time, though it is traditional to ironically say "whaddya say, Skip" whenever we drive past a dead kangaroo roadkill.

  6. Gulp...RIP, Skippy.

    I should point out I can only just remember the show from tea time TV when I was a child, though the theme tune lingers annoyingly in my head. There was a dolphin programme as well, though that was presumably American.

  7. This genre isn't really my thing but I'd give it a go if I didn't have a 'to read' list that was already over 200 novels long :-)

  8. I can't remember if I got it the suggestion from you or not, but wouldn't Thieftaker Chronicles fall into Flintlock Fantasy? Magical American Revolution, REALLY well written. A solid A- series in my book.

    1. Oh, I HADN'T read those, as I heard they were a bit sub-par. I'll have a hunt at the local library then.