More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city--from one of America's most acclaimed young fantasy writers.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.

You can also download Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 14th)

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up four spots, finishing the week at number 2 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down five positions, ending the week at number 6 (trade paperback).

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology is down three spots, finishing the week at number 14 (trade paperback)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download Justin Cronin's international bestseller, The Passage, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's a blurb:

'It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.'

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear - of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey - spanning miles and decades - towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

Only Human

With Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel came up with two interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining novels. Waking Gods ended up on my Top 10 of 2017 and I firmly believed that Only Human would be one of my favorite reads of 2018.

Imagine my shock when I realized that this final installment was a world away from its predecessors in terms of quality and originality. I'm extremely sad to report that Only Human is, thus far at least, my biggest disappointment of the year. And due to the fact that it's such a lackluster effort, to a certain extent it killed the entire series and will make it hard for me to recommend The Themis Files in the future.

Here's the blurb:

Brilliant scientist Rose Franklin has devoted her adult life to solving the mystery she accidentally stumbled upon as a child: a huge metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. The discovery set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events with geopolitical ramifications. Rose and the Earth Defense Corps raced to master the enigmatic technology, as giant robots suddenly descended on Earth’s most populous cities, killing one hundred million people in the process. Though Rose and her team were able to fend off the attack, their victory was short-lived. The mysterious invaders retreated, disappearing from the shattered planet . . . but they took the scientist and her crew with them.

Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find a devastating new war—this time between humans. America and Russia are locked in combat, fighting to fill the power vacuum left behind after the invasion. Families are torn apart, friends become bitter enemies, and countries collapse in the wake of the battling superpowers. It appears the aliens left behind their titanic death machines so humankind will obliterate itself. Rose is determined to find a solution, whatever it takes. But will she become a pawn in a doomsday game no one can win?

As I mentioned in my previous reviews, Neuvel's The Themis Files is reminiscent of Andy Weir's The Martian and Max Brooks' World War Z, but only as far as the format is concerned. Once again in Only Human, the tale is told through a variety of recorded interviews, mission logs, and journal entries. I had doubts regarding such a dossier-like format at the beginning of Sleeping Giants, yet one soon got used to the unconventional narrative structure. True, it remains an unorthodox way to convey the story, but it sort of gives this series its unique flavor. For some reason, though it did work well in the first two volumes, it was often off-putting in this final installment. Then again, so many facets of this books were irritating, and even exasperating, that it had to take its toll on the narrative structure as well.

Thankfully, Waking Gods did not suffer from the middle book syndrome. Sleeping Giants was released without much fanfare, with no lofty expectations. But with the critical and commercial success of his scifi debut, the second volume had to deliver in order to satisfy fans. Which it did, with the sequel living up to the potential generated by Sleeping Giants and then some! Understandably, expectations were high for the third installment and I wonder if the pressure got to Sylvain Neuvel and had a negative influence on his writing process. For, in the end, other than in a few scenes, Only Human features nothing that made the first two volumes such compelling reads.

The characterization, which was the heart and soul of both Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods, was by far the weakest aspect of this novel. Surprisingly, it was so poor and occasionally insipid that it made this book a failure to launch from the get-go. In the past, the interviews and journal entries allowed readers to delve into the psyche of every character and to get to know them on a deeper level. The debriefings and interviews used to be conducted by a shadowy figure of power whose identity was finally revealed in Waking Gods. For the most part, in Only Human he was replaced by Major Katherine Lebedev. A member of the Russian Main Intelligence Agency, it looks as though she was taken straight out of a Glee episode. Vapid in every sense of the word, she has absolutely no credibility. And as the main pillar of the entire narrative structure, she almost single-handedly killed this novel. Neuvel's gag-a-minute attempts made for some dumb and weak humor. A far cry from the brilliance and the wit which he demonstrated in the first two installments. The mission logs from Captain Bodie Hough and Lieutenant Barbara Ball are even more stupid, if you can believe that. How an author who has shown how intelligent and thought-provoking he could be fall so low as to come up with something this half-assed, I'll never know. Indeed, it often felt as though this was written by a totally different person. Dr. Rose Franklin and Vincent Couture are back, of course, but the supporting cast is vastly inferior to those featured in the prequels. The absence of the powerful, high-placed, and cold-blooded man in charge of the interviews is a game-changer as far as the narrative is concerned. Kara Resnik's death was also deeply felt in sequences that have to do with Vincent and Eva. The mysterious Mr. Burns makes a few appearances and is always as fascinating as he used to be. But overall, the characterization was a disaster.

Both Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods were strange sorts of hybrids. The books were science fiction works that explored larger-than-life concepts and their impacts on the protagonists themselves and the world at large. In addition, they were political novels that explored the geopolitical conflicts caused by the shocking appearance of numerous robots similar to Themis all across the globe. Although science played a major role in both, I don't consider them to be hard scifi books. There were just enough scientific details to satisfy purists, yet the narrative was imbued with a sense of wonder that elevated these novels to another dimension. The realization that we are not alone in the universe and that an ancient civilization is light-years ahead of us technologically had dramatic repercussions all over the world, and now Earth seems threatened by that vastly superior foe. I feel that Sylvain Neuvel did a good job portraying just how arrogant and stupid mankind can be during times of crisis. And the way Waking Gods ended set the stage for what could only be a gripping finale. Why the author decided to dumb it all down, so to speak, in Only Human, I'll never know. The Themis Files were undoubtedly one of the most captivating and engaging science fiction series of recent years and it had all the ingredients required for a grand endgame that would close the show with style and aplomb. Alas, it was not to be. . .

Unfortunately, by turning his back on everything that made the first two volumes such enthralling and entertaining reads, even though things get better closer to the end, this novel can be nothing but a major disappointment. There are a few scenes that recapture the brilliance and intelligence of the prequels, but these are few and far between. All in all, Only Human was an uninspired effort in which poor characterization and a weak plot were replaced by lame attempts at humor. All filler and no killer for most of the novel, I'm afraid. It often felt as though Sylvain Neuvel knew exactly how he wanted to end this trilogy, but he had no idea how to get readers from the moment the robot showed up on another planet to the endgame between Russia and the USA back on Earth.

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

You can also download Jim Butcher's Proven Guilty for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

There's no love lost between Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and the White Council of Wizards, who find him brash and undisciplined. But war with the vampires has thinned their ranks, so the Council has drafted Harry as a Warden and assigned him to look into rumors of black magic in the Windy City.

As Harry adjusts to his new role, another problem arrives in the form of the tattooed and pierced daughter of an old friend, all grown-up and already in trouble. Her boyfriend is the only suspect in what looks like a supernatural assault straight out of a horror film. Malevolent entities that feed on fear are loose in Chicago, but it's all in a day's work for a wizard, his faithful dog, and a talking skull named Bob...

Finally, you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Guy Gavriel Kay's The Summer Tree for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Summer Tree is the first novel of Guy Gavriel Kay’s critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry. Five university students embark on a journey of self-discovery when they enter a realm of wizards and warriors, gods and mythical creatures--and good and evil…

It all began with a lecture that introduced five university students to a man who would change their lives, a wizard who would take them from Earth to the heart of the first of all worlds--Fionavar. And take them Loren Silvercloak did, for his need--the need of Fionavar and all the worlds--was great indeed.

And in a marvelous land of men and dwarves, of wizards and gods, five young people discovered who they were truly meant to be. For they are a long-awaited part of the pattern known as the Fionavar Tapestry, and only if they accepted their destiny would the armies of the Light stand any chance of surviving the wrath the Unraveller and his minions of darkness intend to unleash upon the world…

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky for only 5.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Bradley Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya: The Complete Trilogy for only 2.99$ here. That's 1931 pages of awesome for not even 3$! =)

Here's the blurb:

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…

This omnibus edition of The Lays of Anuskaya is comprised of the following novels:
The Winds of Khalakovo
The Straits of Galahesh
The Flames of Shadam Khoreh

Also included are the following two Lays of Anuskaya novellas:
“To the Towers of Tulandan”

You can now download M. R. Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

Quote of the Day

Religion can inspire some pretty strange things.

C. S. FRIEDMAN, The Madness Season (Canada, USA, Europe)

Though it's almost three decades old, this book is pretty damned good! =)

The Hunger

Alma Katsu's The Hunger is billed as a tense and gripping reimagining of one of America's most haunting human disasters: the Donner Party with a supernatural turn. Rave reviews abound and I was expecting something akin to Dan Simmons' The Terror. Considering how much I loved that book, I had lofty expectations for this one.

Sadly, the paranormal element is minimal and decidedly half-assed. It could have been replaced by a simple disease and that would have been it. In the end, this novel is a quick and utterly forgettable read. If you're looking for an extremely light read for your upcoming summer vacation, The Hunger could be for you. Otherwise, though it is well-written, the weak plot and subpar characterization made this one a failure to launch.

Here's the blurb:

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy…or the feelings that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it’s a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

As mentioned in the blurb, the historical backdrop for this novel is the Donner Party tragedy. It's evident that Alma Katsu did a lot of reasearch to get the details right. She embarked on a 700-mile roadtrip that followed the wagon party's route as closely as possible. This allowed the author to experience the terrain, the elevation changes, the weather, the oppressive openness, the loneliness, and the brutal indifference of nature to the needs of man. All of which helped her write an atmospheric narrative that captured the setting almost perfectly. Katsu also managed to convey the isolation, the anxiety, and the tension that plagued the Donner Party. In that regard, the author did a brilliant job.

What rapidly killed The Hunger was the poor characterization. Collectively, almost everyone involved is so dumb they make the crew of the starship in Alien: Covenant look like geniuses. It's not that bad at the beginning, but you quickly realize that most of the protagonists are not very well-drawn. Other than Charles Stanton, Tamsen Donner, and Edwin Bryant, the entire cast of characters was decidedly lackluster. Another problem is that for the most part, the protagonists' backstories are almost always more interesting than what is occurring in the present. This makes you long for the flashback sequences and care even less for what is transpiring as the Donner Party continues on its trek to California. And when mutilated corpses begin to appear, the fact that you haven't connected with most of the characters means that you can bring yourself to care about what is happening to them.

Little by little, I lost interest until I reached the point where I was just going through the motions of reading this novel. The pace is atrocious for about two thirds of the book. The Hunger is a relatively short work of fiction, but sometimes it felt as though I was wading through War and Peace. It gets better toward the end, as we finally get some answers. And yet, it was a case of too little, too late. Indeed, by then I couldn't care much for how Alma Katsu would close the show on this tale. Once again, revelations regarding the backstory of Charles Stanton turned out to be more engrossing than all the storylines that make up the book.

Given that we were promised an eerie supernatural reimagining of the Donner Party's fight for survival along the lines of what we saw in Dan Simmons' The Terror, the fact that the paranormal element was so uninspired and a bit contrived was a veritable deal-breaker for me. I'm not necessarily a big fan of historical fiction, so the mystical angle is what drew me to this novel. I would never have read The Hunger otherwise. Hence, this was a major disappointment for me and the main reason why I had a hard time getting onto it.

Still, I can appreciate how well-written and well-researched this book was. Fans of atmospheric historical fiction works who can overlook the weak characterization might enjoy it a lot more than I did. Personally, coming in expecting something similar to Simmons' The Terror in style, I felt definitely short-changed.

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 7th)

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up five spots, finishing the week at number 6 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology returns at number 11 (trade paperback)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Mercedes Lackey's Winds of Fate for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey has enchanted readers since the publication of her first novel, Arrows of the Queen. Now she takes readers on another thrilling journey with the first novel in her Mage Winds series...

High magic had been lost to Valdemar when he gave his life to save his kingdom from destruction by the dark sorceries. Now it falls to Elspeth Herald, heir to the throne, to take up the challenge and seek a mentor who will awaken her mage abilities.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Anthony Ryan's THE EMPIRE OF ASHES

I'm giving away my ARC of Anthony Ryan's The Empire of Ashes to one lucky winner, compliments of the folks at Ace. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The third book of epic conflicts and arcane intrigue in New York Times bestselling author Anthony Ryan’s Draconis Memoria series.

For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it.

A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "ASHES." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Outcasts of Order

Modesitt fans got spoiled in 2017 with two different Recluce books published; Recluce Tales and The Mongrel Mage. And although the 19th installment in the saga, this one also the opening chapter in a much bigger tale, was a good read, it felt as though the novel was not as self-contained as other similar Recluce offerings. Back then, I believed that The Mongrel Mage was the beginning of a brand new story arc, the first book in what would likely be another two-volume sequence. But it turns out that Beltur has a big story to tell. L. E. Modesitt, jr. tried to write this story arc in his habitual two-book format, yet the manuscripts soon reached a size that made it impossible for Tor Books to release them as a pair of novels.

Hence, the decision was made to split Beltur's tale into three separate installments. Which explained why The Mongrel Mage did not stand as well on its own as I expected. And now my fear was that Outcasts of Order would suffer from the middle book syndrome. Given the fact that there was never meant to be a second volume, I was afraid that all the good stuff and resolution would take place in the final chapter of the cycle and that this new Recluce offering would act as some sort of interlude. And now that I've read it, it did feel a bit incongruous compared to its predecessors.

Here's the blurb:

Modesitt continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with his 20th book in the long-running series. Beltur began his journey in The Mongrel Mage and continues with Outcasts of Order, the next book of his story arc in the Saga of Recluce.

Beltur, an Order mage, discovers he possesses frightening powers not seen for hundreds of years. With his new abilities, he survives the war in Elparta and saves the lives of all. However, victory comes with a price. His fellow mages now see him as a threat to be destroyed, and the local merchants want to exploit his power.

There’s only one way he can remain free and survive—he’s going to have to run.

Personally, I've always felt that the worldbuilding was one of the most fascinating aspects of these new Recluce books. It's too early to tell how Beltur's story will fit in the greater scheme of things, yet I'm looking forward to discovering how he'll leave his own indelible mark upon the Recluce timeline. In The Mongrel Mage, we did learn a lot about Elparta. This continues in Outcasts of Order and we discover more about Axalt and Montgren. And while Beltur trains as a healer and as he trains both Jessyla and young Taelya, we do learn a lot about Chaos, Order, and the manner in which they can both be used for healing.

As a matter of course, Modesitt continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this series. In Cyador's Heirs and Heritage of Cyador, being able to manipulate both Order and Chaos forced Lerial to test the limits of what he could do, often with unanticipated results. The same goes for Beltur. Although trained as a White Mage, he soon finds out that he's more Black than he ever thought possible. This strange dichotomy doesn't sit well with some of his newfound allies, hence the nickname of mongrel mage. The unexpected discovery that Taelya, daughter of a Black Mage, has the potential of becoming a very powerful White Mage forces Beltur to teach her what he knows before she can hurt herself.

As was the case in The Mongrel Mage, the characterization would have benefited from more POV protagonists. In the last Recluce story arc, Lerial, a teenager with an inquisitive mind, was a sympathetic protagonist which was easy to root for. Although his heart is always in the right place, Beltur can be dense at times and he's not as endearing as Lerial turned out to be. Still, having grown on me over the course of a novel already, Beltur is easier to root for in this sequel. Once again, the supporting cast is particularly engaging, chief among them the baker mage Meldryn, the Healers Margrena and her daughter Jessyla, Jorhan the smith, as well as Lhadoraak and his wife and daughter.

Modesitt's novels are never fast-paced affairs and The Mongrel Mage was no exception to that rule. As was the case in every Recluce installment, the author needed time to establish the various plotlines. Once done, you then follow the main character as he or she must learn, experiment, and puzzle out ways to escape a number of predicaments before the endgame can take place. In that respect, The Mongrel Mage followed the classic Recluce recipe and long-time fans end up with another compelling read. Problem is, Outcasts of Order is a middle book and offers nothing in the way of resolution. So yes, the pace can be an issue at times. Its predecessor was an introduction, and this second installment builds on those plotlines to bridge the gap between the events chronicled within the pages of The Mongrel Mage and the finale to come in the final volume. To a certain extent, Outcasts of Order was only meant to give Beltur the opportunity to train more and get more powerful, and to ultimately get the characters to Montgren, where it's now evident Beltur and company will leave their mark upon the history of Recluce.

And though it suffered from middle book syndrome, Outcasts of Order nevertheless sets the stage for what should be an interesting endgame. I'm curious to see how Beltur will make history and what obstacles he'll have to overcome in order to do so.

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Tad Williams' Shadowmarch for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For generations the misty Shadowline has marked the boundary between the lands of men and the lost northern lands that are the lair of their inhuman enemies, the ageless Qar. but now that boundary line is moving outward, threatening to engulf the northernmost land in which humans still live--the kingdom of Southmarch.

For centuries, the Eddon family has ruled in ancient, forbidding Southmarch Castle, guarding the border against the Qar's return, but now this powerful royal line has been dealt a devestating blow. The monarch, King Olin, is being held captive in a distant land, and it falls to his inexperienced heirs to lead their people in a time of growing danger and dread.

It is on the two youngest Eddons that the heaviest burdens fall. The twins Barrick and Briony, who in such evil times have only each other, may lose even that bond as darkness closes over them. As the Qar's power reaches out across their land, will Southmarch Castle, the only home they've ever known, become in fact what it has long been called--Shadowmarch?

Quote of the Day

Self-accusation is a cold bedmate.

C. S. FRIEDMAN, The Madness Season (Canada, USA, Europe)

I've owned this novel for over two decades. The time has come to finally read it. . .

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Today only, You can get your hands on the digital edition of Wild Cards I, the book that started it all, for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The first volume of George R. R. Martin's WILD CARDS shared-world series, back in print after a decade―and expanded with new, original material.

There is a secret history of the world―a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces―those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers―cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

Now in development for TV!

Rights to develop Wild Cards for TV have been acquired by Universal Cable Productions, the team that brought you The Magicians and Mr. Robot, with the co-editor of Wild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass as executive producer.

You can now download Chuck Wendig Under the Empyrean Sky for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Fear the Corn.

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow—and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. When Cael and his crew discover a secret, illegal garden, he knows it’s time to make his own luck...even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Brian McClellan's Sins of Empire for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A new epic fantasy series from highly acclaimed fantasy author, Brian McClellan, set in the same world as The Powder Mage trilogy.

A world on the cusp of a new age...
The young nation of Fatrasta is a turbulent place -- a frontier destination for criminals, fortune-hunters, brave settlers, and sorcerers seeking relics of the past. Only the iron will of the lady chancellor and her secret police holds the capital city of Landfall together against the unrest of an oppressed population and the machinations of powerful empires.

Sedition is a dangerous word...
The insurrection that threatens Landfall must be purged with guile and force, a task which falls on the shoulders of a spy named Michel Bravis, convicted war hero Mad Ben Styke, and Lady Vlora Flint, a mercenary general with a past as turbulent as Landfall's present.

The past haunts us all...
As loyalties are tested, revealed, and destroyed, a grim specter as old as time has been unearthed in this wild land, and the people of Landfall will soon discover that rebellion is the least of their worries.

The Coincidence Makers

Yoav Blum's The Coincidence Makers was a bestseller in Israel when it was first published in 2011. Not sure why it took so long, but the novel is now being translated and released in eleven countries. Reading the cover blurb for the first time, I was immediately intrigued by the premise of the story.

Advance praise raised my expectations, which is seldom a good thing. In the end, though the book is a fun tale about fate and free will, The Coincidence Makers never came close to living up to the hype. It's an entertaining novel, no question. Something light, good for the morning commute or a long weekend vacation. But it's not a story that makes an impression, or something that stays with you afterward.

Here's the blurb:

In this genre-bending novel, there is no such thing as chance and every action is carefully executed by highly trained agents. You’ll never looks at coincidences the same way again.

What if the drink you just spilled, the train you just missed, or the lottery ticket you just found was not just a random occurrence? What if it’s all part of a bigger plan? What if there’s no such thing as a chance encounter? What if there are people we don’t know determining our destiny? And what if they are even planning the fate of the world?

Enter the Coincidence Makers—Guy, Emily, and Eric—three seemingly ordinary people who work for a secret organization devoted to creating and carrying out coincidences. What the rest of the world sees as random occurrences, are, in fact, carefully orchestrated events designed to spark significant changes in the lives of their targets—scientists on the brink of breakthroughs, struggling artists starved for inspiration, loves to be, or just plain people like you and me…

When an assignment of the highest level is slipped under Guy’s door one night, he knows it will be the most difficult and dangerous coincidence he’s ever had to fulfill. But not even a coincidence maker can see how this assignment is about to change all their lives and teach them the true nature of fate, free will, and the real meaning of love.

As I mentioned, the premise hooked me up from the get-go. Yoav Blum weaves a clever and imaginative story in which seemingly random coincidences turn out to be carefully orchestrated series of events meant to engender specific outcomes. In the beginning, those inventive threads make for an enjoyable read. Even though you have no idea what this novel is supposed to be about, it's fun to follow Guy and Emily as they must create coincidences to alter the lives of their targets.

Although Blum's tale is unique and quite original, the apparent lack of direction makes you gradually lose interest as the chapters come and go. The Coincidence Makers weighs in at only 291 pages, yet it often feels as though you're reading a doorstopper. The pace can be extremely slow and the plot drags along at a snail's pace. The structure of the book probably doesn't help. Indeed, some chapters occur in "real time", while others are flashbacks scenes focusing on the characters' training as coincidence makers, and some feature extracts from coincidence making manuals.

For some reason, I found it hard to connect with the protagonists. Guy and Emily take center stage and are fully-developed characters. Still, for some reason, I found it hard to root for them. Both of them are broken and flawed and genuine. But there was something missing. Something I can't quite put my finger on.

Having said that, Yoav Blum's debut is an extremely well-written and multilayered work of fiction. Had I connected with the protagonists, I reckon I would have enjoyed it a lot more. And yet, there is no denying that the ending was amazing and saved The Coincidence Makers for me. A bit more foreshadowing in the early parts would have helped the plot not feel so muddled, methinks. And it would have made the ending even more powerful.

Given the fact that Blum's The Coincidence Makers is unlike anything else on the market today, your mileage may vary. A quick perusal of online reviews shows that most people have enjoyed it more than I did. If you can overlook a somewhat drab characterization, and if you usually like a cute story with a fully satisfying ending, this one might be for you.

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Quote of the Day

Shame, child, is for those who fail to live up to the ideal of what they believe they should be.

- JIM BUTCHER, Changes (Canada, USA, Europe)

Just finished this novel and it's the best one yet! Holy fucking shit!!! =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 30th)

In hardcover:

Daniel José Older's Star Wars: Last Shot debuts at number 15.

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale returns at number 11 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

If you live within driving distance of Montréal. . .

Hey guys,

I have 6 cases of speculative fiction books to give away.

These are comprised mostly of review copies I received in the last 12 months or so, as well as some novels that spent too much time in my "Maybe" pile. They include advance reading copies, hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and mass market paperbacks of fantasy and science fiction titles (in all subgenres). All told, I figure we're talking about close to a hundred books.

I usually donate them to local libraries, but I've also given them away to fellow SFF fans in the past and they were always happy to fill the trunk of their cars with boxes full of books! =)

Spring cleaning means that I need to get rid of them in a hurry, so let me know if you are interested and could get them off my hands in the near future.

Just send me an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "BOOKS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.



More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A dark lord will rise. Such is the prophecy that dogs Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a washed-up mercenary and onetime war hero whose cynicism is surpassed only by the speed of his sword. Gil is estranged from his aristocratic family, but when his mother enlists his help in freeing a cousin sold into slavery, Gil sets out to track her down. But it soon becomes apparent that more is at stake than the fate of one young woman. Grim sorceries are awakening in the land. Some speak in whispers of the return of the Aldrain, a race of widely feared, cruel yet beautiful demons. Now Gil and two old comrades are all that stand in the way of a prophecy whose fulfillment will drown an entire world in blood. But with heroes like these, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, there is a huge Recluce ebook sale! You can get your hands on the digital edition of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s The Magic of Recluce and eighteen of its sequels for only 2.99$ each here! There is a price match in Canada.

And here's the blurb for The Magic of Recluce:

With The Magic of Recluce, L.E. Modesitt made his impressive hardcover debut, breaking out in wide scope and grand scale with a novel in the great tradition of the war between good and evil in a wonderful fantasy world. Modesitt had been producing fast-paced, slickly-written novels of SF adventure, often compared to the work of Keith Laumer and Gordon R. Dickson. Then, in his biggest and best book yet, he broadened his canvas and turned to fantasy and magic, stepping immediately into the front rank of contemporary fantasy writers.

The Magic of Recluce is a carefully-plotted fantasy novel of character about the growth and education of a young magician. In it, Modesitt confronts real moral issues with gripping force, builds atmosphere slowly and convincingly and gives his central character, Lerris, real intellectual challenges. This is the kind of highly-rationalized fantasy that Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson write when they write fantasy, colorful and detailed.

He is given the standard two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond Recluce with the aim of learning how the world works and what his place in it might be. Many do not survive. He chooses dangergeld.

Though magic is rarely discussed openly in Recluce, it becomes clear, when Lerris is sent into intensive training for his quest, that he has a natural talent for it during his weapons lessons. And he will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked. He must learn to use his powers in an orderly way or fall prey to Chaos.

Lerris may resent order, but he has no difficulty choosing good over evil. As he begins his lonely journey, he falls into the company of a gray magician, once of Recluce, who tutors him in the use of magic and shows him some of the devastation caused by the Chaos Wizards in the great wars between Chaos and Order of past times.

Lerris pursues a quest for knowledge and power that leads him across strange lands, through the ghostly ruins of the old capitol of Chaos, down the white roads of the Chaos Wizards to a final battle with the archenemy of Order, discovering in the end true control of magic, true love, and the beginning of true wisdom. An epic adventure, The Magic of Recluce0, is a triumph of fantasy.

The Magic of Recluce is the first book of the saga of Recluce.

You can now download Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist, and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy- from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he's confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him.

Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turnedsingularity lights the night. What Mieli offers is the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self-in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.

As Jean undertakes a series of capers on behalf of Mieli and her mysterious masters, elsewhere in the Oubliette investigator Isidore Beautrelet is called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur....

The Quantum Thief is a crazy joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people communicating by sharing memories, and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as MMORPG guild members. But for all its wonders, it is also a story powered by very human motives of betrayal, revenge, and jealousy. It is a stunning debut.

The Quantum Thief is a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 Science Fiction & Fantasy title.

One of Library Journal's Best SF/Fantasy Books of 2011.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Mark Lawrence contest winners!

Our lucky winners will get their hands on a copy of the mass market paperback edition of Mark Lawrence's Red Sister, courtesy of the folks at Ace. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Shawn Mansouri, from Riverside, California, USA

- Matt McAbee, from Connelly Springs, North Carolina, USA

- Matt Heppe, from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart, which could well be the very best fantasy debut ever, for only 2.99$ here! Considering that it's the opening chapter of one of my favorite fantasy series, this one comes with the highest possible recommendation!

Here's the blurb:

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

You can also download Alastair Reynolds' Elysium Fire for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Elysium Fire is a smoldering tale of murderers, secret cultists, tampered memories, and unthinkable power, of bottomless corruption and overpowering idealism from the king of modern space opera.

Ten thousand city-state habitats orbit the planet Yellowstone, forming a near-perfect democratic human paradise.

But even utopia needs a police force. For the citizens of the Glitter Band that organization is Panoply, and the prefects are its operatives.

Prefect Tom Dreyfus has a new emergency on his hands. Across the habitats and their hundred million citizens, people are dying suddenly and randomly, victims of a bizarre and unprecedented malfunction of their neural implants. And these "melters" leave no clues behind as to the cause of their deaths...

As panic rises in the populace, a charismatic figure is sowing insurrection, convincing a small but growing number of habitats to break away from the Glitter Band and form their own independent colonies.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Gene Wolfe's Shadow and Claw for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe's most remarkable work, hailed as "a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis" by Publishers Weekly, and "one of the most ambitious works of speculative fiction in the twentieth century" by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Shadow and Claw brings together the first two books of the tetralogy in one volume:

The Shadow of the Torturer is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession -- showing mercy toward his victim.

Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Magic stuff . . . a masterpiece . . . the best science fiction I've read in years!"

The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic, and learn the truth about his hidden destiny.

"Arguably the finest piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced [is] the four-volume Book of the New Sun."--Chicago Sun-Times

"The Book of the New Sun establishes his preeminence, pure and simple. . . . The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within . . . once into it, there is no stopping."--The New York Times Book Review

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Quote of the Day

It is the province of youth to dream of battle and glory. May you live a long and rich life, and one day in truth be grateful that those wishes were not granted.

- JACQUELINE CAREY, Starless (Canada, USA, Europe).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of The Eon Series omnibus by Greg Bear for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

This saga of parallel universes from a Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author “may be the best constructed hard SF epic yet” (The Washington Post).

One of the world’s preeminent New York Times–bestselling authors of hard science fiction mesmerizes readers with a mind-expanding, three-volume masterwork about the creation of an alternate universe that breaks down all barriers of time and space, and its consequences for future and past generations.

Legacy: In the stunning prequel to Eon and Eternity, an agent of the masters of the Way—a man-made tunnel through countless dimensions—follows a renegade fanatic and his four thousand acolytes to a remarkable world of flora/fauna hybrids, where he is plunged into the terrible chaos of a raging civil war.

Eon: As nuclear tensions rapidly reach a breaking point in a volatile twenty-first century, a hollowed-out asteroid appears, mysteriously hovering above the Earth’s surface. The asteroid contains the remains of Thistledown, an abandoned city that was once home to survivors of a nuclear holocaust. Scientists must race to unravel its secrets before the human race is annihilated in the impending apocalypse.

Eternity: A devastating war has left Earth a nuclear wasteland. Orbiting the planet is an asteroid-starship containing the civilization of Thistledown, humanity’s future descendants. For decades, they have worked to heal their world and its survivors, but their resources are finite. They need to reopen the Way, a gate that would not only benefit Earth but also help the asteroid’s residents return home.

Greg Bear’s classic Eon trilogy is an astonishing feat of the imagination that combines humanism, cutting-edge science, and brilliant extrapolation. This masterful science fiction saga has no equal in contemporary speculative fiction.

You can also download Jo Walton's award-winning Among Others for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England-a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off...

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 23rd)

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven for only 3.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

As featured on Slate, for the first time in eBook edition comes a science fiction classic that is at once eerie and prescient, wildly entertaining and ferociously intelligent.

Winner of the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and one of the most acclaimed writers in science fiction, Ursula Le Guin’s classic novel The Lathe of Heaven imagines a world in which one man’s dreams can change all of our realities.

In a world beset by climate instability and overpopulation, George Orr discovers that his dreams have the power to alter reality. Upon waking, the world he knew has become a strange, barely recognizable place, where only George has the clear memory of how it was before. He seeks counseling from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately understands how powerful a weapon George wields. Soon, George is a pawn in Haber’s dangerous game, where the fate of humanity grows more imperiled with every waking hour.

As relevant to our current world as it was when it won the Locus Award, Ursula Le Guin’s novel is a true classic, at once eerie and prescient, wildly entertaining and ferociously intelligent.

Musical Interlude

Most of you have heard this sick beat in the new iPhone 8 commercial.

Been listening to this track in loop in my car on my way to/from work for the last couple of days.

King of Ashes

You may recall that I used to be a huge Raymond E. Feist fan. Like many fantasy readers from my generation, my teenage years and early adulthood were spent reading the author's popular Riftwar, Serpentwar, and Empire series. I have so many fond memories from those books and their characters. The same goes for the Riftwar Legacy and Krondor's Songs sequences. These novels showcased a Raymond E. Feist writing at the top of his game and each new installment was an immediate bestseller.

And then, SFF authors such as Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, and George R. R. Martin burst on the market and changed the face of epic fantasy forever. These bigger, more ambitious, and more convoluted works of fiction made books by Eddings, Salvatore, Brooks, Weis and Hickman, and Feist feel somewhat inferior in comparison. These bestselling writers retained the better part of their fan bases for a long time, yet it seemed evident that their best years were behind them.

My last forays into Feist's body of work was in 2007-2008 when I read and reviewed his then latest trilogies, Conclave of Shadows and the Darkwar Saga. Sadly, I found little to like about either and was in no hurry to read whatever came next. A part of me regrets not finding out how storylines which were born in Magician: Apprentice ultimately ended in the Demonwar and the Chaoswar sagas. But those two series turned out to be such lackluster efforts that I never did pick up the sequels.

King of Ashes marked the beginning of a brand new series and I knew I wanted to give it a shot. Needless to say, I wanted nothing more than to see Feist return to form and produce the sort of ripping yarn on which his fame and success were based. Something awesome akin to titles such as Prince of the Blood, The King's Buccaneer, or Shards of a Broken Crown. Alas, I'm sad to report that this new novel is pretty much a failure to launch. Based on my last experiences with the author, my expectations were relatively low. And still, the first installment of the Firemane Saga was a major disappointment. Had this been written by anyone else, I would have quit after a few chapters. This being a Feist book, I persevered till the very end, only to discover that there was no payoff and nothing that made me want to read the next volume.

Here's the blurb:

The first volume in legendary master and New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist’s epic heroic fantasy series, The Firemane Saga—an electrifying tale of two young men whose choices will determine a world’s destiny.

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as "the Firemane" for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.

As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the "Hidden Warriors," legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended . . . and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

I was curious about the worldbuilding. The Midkemia-related plotlines were built over the course of ten series spanning twenty-nine novels. Of course, there was no way Raymond E. Feist could create something that could resound with as much depth for King of Ashes. And yet, I expected more than this rehashing of several fantasy tropes and themes. Sadly, there is nothing new within the pages of this book. If anything, the worldbuilding felt bland and déjà vu. I found it hard to believe that Coaltachin managed to gain control of crime over the entire world, and it's never properly explained how the Kingdom of Night was able to maintain its stranglehold on every single country's underworld. Other than showing off his knowledge of both navigation and blacksmithing, King of Ashes featured nothing special. To all ends and purposes, this Firemane universe is a decidedly generic fantasy environment made up of a panoply of elements that we've seen before. The discovery that there are more power players out there towards the end of the novel hints at a more ambitious overall story arc. And yet, there is no denying that this first installment has little to show for it. I'm well aware that opening chapters in SFF series usually work as introductions meant to establish the protagonists, their world, and principal storylines. However, even seen from that angle, King of Ashes felt decidedly uninspired.

Characterization, an aspect in which Feist habitually excels, is subpar throughout the book. Shockingly, I couldn't connect with any of the characters. Hard to believe that the man behind Hatu, Donte, Hava, and Baron Daylon Dumarch is the same author who created such memorable protagonists such as Pug, Nakor, Miranda, and a slew of others. Hatu and Donte are the most emo characters I've encountered in a long while. Always thinking about sex, love, and the feelings they engender. I have a feeling that Feist wanted to grimdark this tale to a certain extent, but the results are probably not what he had in mind. The darkness, the blood, the gore, the violence, and the sex more or less occur off stage, so to speak, and there are no true shades of gray to speak of. Hava, who will undoubtedly gain a lot of importance in subsequent installments, is little more than a token female protagonist. The rest of the supporting cast is comprised of equally mundane and uninteresting men and women.

Feist has often demonstrated that he doesn't fear killing major characters like Jimmy the Hand and Arutha. Perhaps we'll get lucky and the author will get rid of Hatu and Donte. But I have a feeling that they're in for the long haul. Considering the number of unforgettable characters Feist created over the years, one has to wonder how he could settle for such an unoriginal trio to take center stage in this novel. Other than their thoughts on sex, Hatu, Donte, and Hava's storylines felt like something straight out of 1992.

In addition, King of Ashes suffers from numerous pacing issues. The rhythm can be atrocious in certain portions of the book and rushed in others. For the most part, as I mentioned it reads like something from the early 90s. Problem is, the fantasy genre has evolved quite a bit in the last few decades and I'm not sure this new series can truly satisfy genre readers in 2018.

In the end, uneven pacing, clichéd fantasy elements, and poor execution sunk this plot before it ever had a chance to lift off. Things pick up near the end of the book, but it's a case of too little, too late. It's obvious that there is more to Hatu's tale than meets the eye, and more players involved than we expected, but it remains to be seen if readers will be willing to fork out their hard-earned money to read the next volume. Myself, I'm ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, it's Feist and he has shown in the past just how good he could be. On the other hand, King of Ashes shows so little potential that I doubt the author can somehow elevate his game and save this series. Time will tell. . .

As was the case with Stephen R. Donaldson's Seventh Decimate last year, King of Ashes was supposed to be Raymond E. Feist's big return with brand new material. And like the Donaldson, this novel was nothing but a big disappointment. . .

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe