This week's New York Times Bestsellers (June 29th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's If It Bleeds is up one position, ending the week at number 6. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Max Brooks' Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre debuts at number 10.

The Diamond Age

Oh boy, The Diamond Age was a veritable chore to get through. The forced isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed me into depression and I needed something that would allow me to regain a more positive outlook on life. Neal Stephenson has always managed to entertain me, so I elected to finally give The Diamond Age a shot. It had been sitting on my shelf for years and it felt like the perfect opportunity to read it.

Alas, after a fun and interesting start, the author loses control of his story and the second half of this novel is an awful mess. So much so that it took everything I had to simply finish the book. This works weighs in at 499 pages and it took me six weeks to read it. You do the math. . .

Here's the blurb:

Vividly imagined, stunningly prophetic, and epic in scope, The Diamond Age is a major novel from one of the most visionary writers of our time.

Decades into our future, a stone’s throw from the ancient city of Shanghai, a brilliant nanotechnologist named John Percival Hackworth has just broken the rigorous moral code of his tribe, the powerful neo-Victorians. He’s made an illicit copy of a state-of-the-art interactive device called A Young Ladys Illustrated Primer Commissioned by an eccentric duke for his grandchild, stolen for Hackworth’s own daughter, the Primer’s purpose is to educate and raise a girl capable of thinking for herself. It performs its function superbly. Unfortunately for Hackworth, his smuggled copy has fallen into the wrong hands.

Young Nell and her brother Harv are thetes—members of the poor, tribeless class. Neglected by their mother, Harv looks after Nell. When he and his gang waylay a certain neo-Victorian—John Percival Hackworth—in the seamy streets of their neighborhood, Harv brings Nell something special: the Primer.

Following the discovery of his crime, Hackworth begins an odyssey of his own. Expelled from the neo-Victorian paradise, squeezed by agents of Protocol Enforcement on one side and a Mandarin underworld crime lord on the other, he searches for an elusive figure known as the Alchemist. His quest and Nell’s will ultimately lead them to another seeker whose fate is bound up with the Primer—a woman who holds the key to a vast, subversive information network that is destined to decode and reprogram the future of humanity.

As is usually his wont, Neal Stephenson came up with another innovative book, whose backdrop is a meticulously researched premise on the potential utilizations of nanotechnology and the eventual social ramifications they would have on the world as we know it. How would society at large react and evolve if the economic and political underpinnings holding our countries together began to unravel and governments became obsolete? The author also explores themes such as education, sexism, social standing, and ethnicity. All of which made for a somewhat grand and fascinating beginning.

Unfortunately, for some reason everything goes down the crapper around the midway point and the author is never able to bring the train back on track. Never tries, really, if truth be told.

The characterization is quite uneven. Some protagonists are fleshed out and genuine, while others are cardboard cutouts that could have used a bit more work. John Percival Hackworth, the creator of the primer, was an interesting man to follow until his quest brought him in contact with the Drummers. Everything that followed that plotline was quite ridiculous and killed the novel to a certain extent. Miranda, the ractive actress who narrates most of the primer's stories, was by far the most compelling character, but she disappears at some point on a quest of her own and her reappearance does nothing to improve the tale. Nell, the little girl at the heart of this book, was also interesting in the first half, but the narratives within the narratives used to recount the stories from the primer gradually become a bit redundant and I lost interest. The same goes for Judge Fang and Dr. X. It's a major disappointment, because this cast had great potential.

The Diamond Age suffers from pacing issues, especially in the second half of the novel. While Stephenson kept things moving at a very good clip in the first part, the rest of the book gets bogged down by weird and often boring scenes featuring the Drummers, the many stories from the primer, the Fists of Righteous Harmony's revolt, and that over-the-top and ludicrous interactive boat theater play.

The second portion is such a chore to go through that whatever resolution results from the endgame and the finale is almost completely lost on the reader. Basically, I was just happy it was finally over. Everything about the ending was forgettable.

Very disappointing.

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (June 22nd)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's If It Bleeds is up one position, ending the week at number 7. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Swan Song

Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song is often compared to Stephen King's The Stand. And though both novels bear similarities, they're also quite different in several ways. They are both post-apocalyptic reads with huge page counts, though this particular apocalypse is nuclear in nature instead of viral.

Both books recount the tales of those unlucky souls struggling to survive in a world where civilization has been brought on the brink of extinction. Both novels also feature a devil-figure antagonist bent on destroying what little is left of mankind. As a matter of course, factions will be created and a good vs evil showdown will be the culmination of each title.

And yet, though their premises are similar, Swan Song and The Stand have very little in common as far as their storylines are concerned. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but I felt that The Stand has aged a lot better than McCammon's bestseller.

Here's the blurb:

Swan is a nine-year-old Idaho girl following her struggling mother from one trailer park to the next when she receives visions of doom—something far wider than the narrow scope of her own beleaguered life. In a blinding flash, nuclear bombs annihilate civilization, leaving only a few buried survivors to crawl onto a scorched landscape that was once America.

In Manhattan, a homeless woman stumbles from the sewers, guided by the prophecies of a mysterious amulet, and pursued by something wicked; on Idaho’s Blue Dome Mountain, an orphaned boy falls under the influence of depraved survivalists and discovers the value of a killer instinct; and amid the devastating dust storms on the Great Plains of Nebraska, Swan forms a heart-and-soul bond with an unlikely new companion. Soon they will cross paths. But only Swan knows that they must endure more than just a trek across an irradiated country of mutated animals, starvation, madmen, and wasteland warriors.

Swan’s visions tell of a coming malevolent force. It’s a shape-shifting embodiment of the apocalypse, and of all that is evil and despairing. And it’s hell-bent on destroying the last hope of goodness and purity in the world. Swan is that hope. Now, she must fight not only for her own survival, but for that of all mankind.

A winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a finalist for the World Fantasy Award, Swan Song has become a modern classic, called “a chilling vision that keeps you turning pages to the shocking end” by John Saul and “a long, satisfying look at hell and salvation” by Publishers Weekly.

Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song was published in 1987 and is a product of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear warfare between the USA and the USSR was a constant premise in various works of fiction, movies, games, etc, throughout the 70s and the 80s. The world's socio-political landscape has changed a lot since then, and I'm not sure if someone who didn't live through those times will get as much out of Swan Song as someone who did. As mentioned, this novel hasn't aged as well as Stephen King's classic and it might appeal less to a younger crowd for whom the Cold War is just something they read about in their history class back in high school.

Although there are quite a few fantasy elements that allow McCammon to push the envelope, there are a couple of plot holes as well, mainly how most of the protagonists are not much affected by radiations and fallout. Still, these are minor nitpicking issues that don't take anything away from the overall reading experience.

Characterization is where the author truly shines, especially where the forces of good are concerned. A more likable yet disparate trio you can never hope to find. Swan is a little girl who has the power to make plants grow. Running away with her mom from an abusive boyfriend when the bombs start to fall, little does she know what destiny holds in store for her. Josh Hutchins, a down-on-his-luck professional wrestler on his way to his next gig, will be given the task of keeping the child safe. And Sister, a crazy homeless woman from NYC, who has found a gorgeous glass ring filled with jewels which seems to possess magical powers. Wandering across the country and looking for fellow survivors, they will cross paths with the Army of Excellence. Sadly, the forces of evil are not as well-drawn. Though they started off as more genuine protagonists, Colonel Macklin, a deranged Vietnam war veteran, and Roland Croninger, a teenage RPG enthusiast, grow into more caricaturesque characters.

Weighing in at more than 900 pages, Swan Song is a doorstopper of a novel. As such, it does indeed suffer from occasional pacing issues. Some portions drag more than others, and I have a feeling that certain scenes could have been removed completely without the book losing much. Having said that, the author keeps the tale moving at a relatively good clip and those rough areas are few and far between for the most part.

Even if it hasn't aged as well as I would have hoped and even if it's not exactly the classic that King's The Stand is, Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song remains one of the very best post-apocalyptic novels ever written. Compelling, vast in scope, and featuring an unforgettable trio of protagonists, I commend this one to your attention.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associates links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Kameron Hurley's The Stars Are Legion for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre's most celebrated new writers.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

If you missed it last time, you can once again download Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (June 15th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's If It Bleeds is down three positions, ending the week at number 8. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Peter F. Hamilton's Salvation for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Humanity's complex relationship with technology spirals out of control in this first book of an all-new trilogy from "the owner of the most powerful imagination in science fiction" (Ken Follett).

In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. A new technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transporation--including starships--virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet mankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful...until a crashed alien spaceship is found on a newly-located world 89 light years from Earth, harboring seventeen human victims. And of the high-powered team dispatched to investigate the mystery, one is an alien spy...

Bursting with tension and big ideas, this standalone series highlights the inventiveness of an author at the top of his game, as the interweaving story lines tell us not only how humanity arrived at this moment, but also the far-future consequences that spin off from it.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers

In hardcover:

Stephen King's If It Bleeds is down two positions, ending the week at number 5. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Marlon James' Black Leopard, Red Wolf for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

In this epic, internationally bestselling novel from Marlon James, the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, myth, fantasy and history merge in the stunning story of a mercenary's quest to find a missing child.

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: "He has a nose," people say. Hired to find a mysterious boy who has disappeared, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group assembled to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as the Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy's scent, he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he fights for survival, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep the boy from being found? And perhaps most important of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a saga of breathtaking adventure that's also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.

US cover art for Joe Abercrombie's THE TROUBLE WITH PEACE

Joe Abercrombie just unveiled the US cover art for his forthcoming The Trouble With Peace.

Here's the blurb:

Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.

For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.

The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.

The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.

For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Mark Lawrence's One Word Kill for only 1.99$ through the following Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA.

Here's the blurb:

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (June 1st)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's If It Bleeds maintains its position at number 3. For more info about this title, follow these Amazon Associate links: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Just realized that you can download Peter McLean's Drake, which I reviewed recently, for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Hitman Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Don unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself.

Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Don and his magical accomplice The Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself whilst battling a powerful evil magician.

Now Don must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Neal Stephenson's excellent Quicksilver for only 4.49$ by following this Amazon Associate link.

Here's the blurb:

Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.

It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox.

And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance.

A gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive novel that brings a remarkable age and its momentous events to vivid life, Quicksilver is an extraordinary achievement from one of the most original and important literary talents of our time.

And it's just the beginning ...