Avery Cates: The City Lord

As mentioned in my previous reviews of all these Shattered Gears short stories/novellas, in the original series Jeff Somers introduced readers to Avery Cates, a not very likeable gunner you can't help but root for. Constantly down on his luck and not always the sharpest tool in the shed, Cates' first person narrative has been a highlight since the very beginning and it continues to be the case in these short fiction pieces!

The Final Evolution, last volume in the original series, seemed to bring the overall story arc to an end and no further misadventures appeared to be forthcoming for everyone's favorite gunner. But now, everybody who is somebody seems to be looking for Cates. Some to recruit him, some to capture him. The novella The Iron Island revealed the reason why. Problem is, Cates is no longer in possession of what everybody wants, so he has no choice but to go searching for it, hoping to find it before anyone else does. This was the premise for the last novella, The Bey.

The Iron Island and The Pale were novella-length installments chronicling the events which began in "The Shattered Gears" and "The Walled City." The Bey and The City Lord, two additional novellas, closed the show of that particular story arc. Jeff Somers had no idea that this tale would grow in the telling when he initially set out to write the first short story. Which is why he elected to self-publish them. Now that they have all been released, the author grouped them all into a single novel. If all goes as planned, this omnibus will act as the first volume in what Somers plans to be a new trilogy. Whether or not there is enough interest from Orbit (the imprint which published the original series) or other publishers will determine if this new series will be published the old-fashioned way, or if it will continue to be self-published. Time will tell, but it is now obvious that Somers has enough material for another compelling series featuring an endearing group of disparate misfits. And I for one am excited about discovering what happens next!

Here's the blurb:

As Cates follows the trail to the fortified city of Castelvecchio, he finds The System hasn't completely died yet, and he acquires something he hasn't had in a long time: A target.

The post-apocalyptic worldbuilding remains the facet which gives this series its distinctive flavor. However, the novella format forces this aspect to remain in the background and it doesn't intrude on the tale much. Just enough to convey to the reader what needs to be understood and little else. Now that the entire world order has collapsed, powerful individuals are manoeuvering to carve up small kingdoms and city-states for themselves. With most technology no longer working, psionics are gradually coming into power around the world. And one of the most powerful psionics alive, a mysterious person known as the Archangel, is looking for Cates. Following his narrow escape from a military platform in the Atlantic, Cates and his fellow escapees ended up on the shore of Italy. Trying to evade a strong psionic who is somehow always a step ahead or right behind him, Cates must make his way to Castelvecchio. Where, rumor has it, a remnant of the System and its technology still exists.

And since everything Cates touches has a tendency to turn to shit, the gunner always finds ways to find himself up to his neck into trouble. With former Stormers from the System as unwilling companions and what might be the strongest psionic left in the world attempting to capture him, it's evident that fate is not through with Avery Cates yet. There are rumors that an old-school Techie rules a city to the north and he has set himself against the Archangel. If true, that Techie could be Cates' only hope.

As is Somers' wont, the first person narrative filled with wise cracks and dark humor makes for a fun reading experience. As I always say, Avery Cates is a despicable, manipulative, immoral, lousy, and sick fuck. Yet for all his faults and shortcomings, it's well nigh impossible not to root for the poor fool. He's in over his head yet again, but that's business as usual for Cates. The supporting cast comes together a bit more as a whole and finally takes its rightful place in The City Lord. Moreau, Munkhbold, and Renque, especially.

In The Iron Island we discovered that the SFF built a failsafe installation designed as a fallback base in case the war went badly, as a final repository of armament, equipment, ammunition, and data. Its location is classified, but it's a place where the remnant of the SFF could remake the world anew. And the last existing field reports all name Avery Cates as the final possessor of the details: The location, the access codes, the authorization sequence. Trouble is, the gunner no longer has the piece of hardware in question. And he must now evade capture and death to try to get his hands back on it. Avery Cates can only hope that in Castelvecchio he'll find all the answers he's searching for.

The City Lord closes the show in satisfying fashion and leaves the door open for plenty more. Here's to hoping that a publisher will pick up this new Avery Cates trilogy, or that Jeff Somers made enough with this self-publishing experiment to give it another shot.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

You can download this novella for only 0.99$: Canada, USA, Europe.

You can also buy the omnibus edition, The Shattered Gears, which is comprised of all six Avery Cates short fiction pieces: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal--including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other. . .

You can also download the sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, for the same price. =)

Robin Hobb contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive my extra copy of Robin Hobb's excellent Assassin's Fate! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Nelcy Basson, from Strasbourg, France

Many thanks to all the participants!

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

In hardcover:

Robin Hobb's Assassin's Fate debuts at number 15. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Win a copy of Daryl Gregory's SPOONBENDERS

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Knopf, I have five copies of Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders for you to win. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Teddy Telemachus is a charming con man with a gift for sleight of hand and some shady underground associates. In need of cash, he tricks his way into a classified government study about telekinesis and its possible role in intelligence gathering. There he meets Maureen McKinnon, and it’s not just her piercing blue eyes that leave Teddy forever charmed, but her mind—Maureen is a genuine psychic of immense and mysterious power. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry, have three gifted children, and become the Amazing Telemachus Family, performing astounding feats across the country. Irene is a human lie detector. Frankie can move objects with his mind. And Buddy, the youngest, can see the future. Then one night tragedy leaves the family shattered.

Decades later, the Telemachuses are not so amazing. Irene is a single mom whose ear for truth makes it hard to hold down a job, much less hold together a relationship. Frankie’s in serious debt to his dad’s old mob associates. Buddy has completely withdrawn into himself and inexplicably begun digging a hole in the backyard. To make matters worse, the CIA has come knocking, looking to see if there’s any magic left in the Telemachus clan. And there is: Irene’s son Matty has just had his first out-of-body experience. But he hasn’t told anyone, even though his newfound talent might just be what his family needs to save themselves—if it doesn’t tear them apart in the process.

Harnessing the imaginative powers that have made him a master storyteller, Daryl Gregory delivers a stunning, laugh-out-loud new novel about a family of gifted dreamers and the invisible forces that bind us all.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "SPOONBENDERS." 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!

The Witchwood Crown

If you have read my review of The Heart of What Was Lost, you probably recall just how great it was for me to finally return to the world of Osten Ard. I read To Green Angel Tower when it originally came out, so I've been waiting for a very long to discover what happens next. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn turned out to be a seminal work of fantasy, one of the very best of its era. Like countless Tad Williams fans, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into The Witchwood Crown.

In the end, The Heart of What Was Lost was the perfect companion book for anyone who loved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, as well as the perfect setup book for The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy. Still, the novel was nothing more than a vignette, a brief episode focusing on the Siege of Nakkiga. The Witchwood Crown takes place three decades later and is the opening chapter in a brand new series featuring protagonists that we have learned to love and a huge cast of new characters. Understandably, expectations are extremely high for this new trilogy. Given how long it took for the author to finally elect to write this sequel, we could expect nothing less. Not since the Dune sequels were announced has a new SFF series been so eagerly anticipated.

Lofty expectations can be tricky things, however. And considering how beloved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has continued to be over the years, let's just say that The Last King of Osten Ard has very big shoes to fill. If you've been hanging around these parts for a while, you should know by now that I've always been a big Tad Williams fan. Regardless of the shortcomings that certain readers find so annoying and/or off-putting, I've always managed to overlook them and enjoy Williams' books/series. I mean, I'm aware of these perceived weaknesses, but Tad Williams has always found a way to scratch my itch, no matter if it's epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, or everything else in between. I was so excited about The Witchwood Crown that I once claimed that if George R. R. Martin's The Winds of Winter and Williams' latest came out on the same day (not going to happen, of course, but just for the sake of argument), I'd probably read the latter first.

Thanks to the author, his wife Deborah, and the good folks at Daw Books, I was one of the first reviewers to receive an advance reading copy. I wanted to get a review up as soon as possible, so I started reading it right away. By the second evening, I knew something was wrong. Quite wrong. I wasn't feeling it. At all. This book was a veritable chore to go through. The slog of slogs. I persevered, hoping that it would get better as the story progressed. Alas, to no avail. I actually put the novel down twice, each time for a couple of weeks, because I didn't want the first review online to be luke-warm at best. Had it been written by anyone but Tad Williams, I would have stopped reading before reaching the halfway point. Yet the author has wowed me so often in the past that I simply couldn't quit. Eventually, I did pick it up again and reached the end. And it does get a little better. But the sad truth remains that, in my humble opinion (and that's worth what it's worth) The Witchwood Crown is Tad Williams' weakest work to date. In many ways, it is to the author what Crossroads of Twilight was to Robert Jordan. And the Jordan may have been better. I kid you not. . .

Here's the blurb:

The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was published in hardcover in October, 1988, launching the series that was to become one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. Many of today’s top-selling fantasy authors, from Patrick Rothfuss to George R. R. Martin to Christopher Paolini credit Tad with being the inspiration for their own series.

Now, twenty-four years after the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad returns to his beloved universe and characters with The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the long-awaited sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.

Thirty years have passed since the events of the earlier novels, and the world has reached a critical turning point once again. The realm is threatened by divisive forces, even as old allies are lost, and others are lured down darker paths. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the Norns—the long-vanquished elvish foe—are stirring once again, preparing to reclaim the mortal-ruled lands that once were theirs…

Not surprisingly, the worldbuilding is head and shoulders above what is the norm in today's speculative fiction market. In that regard, The Witchwood Crown showcases a Tad Williams writing at the top of his game. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was vast in scope and vision and this new series builds on storylines that already echoed with depth. Several new dimensions are added to what has always been a multilayered work of fiction, and on this front at least the first volume of The Last King of Osten Ard delivers. The Sithi and the Norns are not your typical elf-like race, and for some reason Williams is the only fantasy author who can bring out the darker nature of the fairy folk in such a fashion. To finally get the chance to discover more about the inner workings of the Norn society was undoubtedly the most fascinating aspect of The Heart of What Was Lost. Thirty years later, the plans that were put in motion in the heart of Nakkiga are bearing fruit and we learn even more about them. And now that Queen Utuk'ku has awakened, the world is about to find out that the Hikeda'ya are not the vanquished foe so many people believed them to be. Those hoping to find out more about the Sithi are bound to be disappointed. Sadly, we see very little of them, and most of the scenes involving the Sithi occur near the very end of the book. As far as geography is concerned, the tale occurs in various locales all over Osten Ard. Indeed, certain plotlines take place in the far north, in Nakkiga, Rimmersgard, the Frostmarch, and Hernystir. Others occur in Erkynland, mostly focusing on the Hayholt. Nabban and the Thrithing lands are also the stage for what appear to be major storylines. Finally, the Aldheorte forest is another locale we return to. As you can see, The Witchwood Crown is a far-reaching novel that covers a lot of ground, which is something that doesn't necessarily always work in the book's favor.

One of the principal shortcomings of this book is the decidedly weak political intrigue. As I mentioned in my review of Shadowmarch way back when, Tad Williams excels in many different aspects when it comes to writing novels, but politicking is definitely not one of them. This was true then, and sadly it's true now. Instead of playing to his strengths, likely to have more appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and other politically-involved fantasy series, Williams put political intrigue at the heart of a number of important plot threads. Which, due to the clumsiness of such intrigues, puts the Hernystir, the Nabban, and the Thrithing plotlines on very shaky ground. Add to that the fact that Simon makes for a particularly inept and occasionally dumb High King who has surrounded himself with not necessarily the brightest of people at court, and you have an incompetent government so totally unprepared to deal with any sort of crisis that it is second only to the Donald Trump administration in that regard. All in all, since a large part of the novel hinges precisely on political intrigue, it can be quite a setback at times. As I've said before, not everyone can be a politicking master like Martin, Katherine Kurtz, or Jacqueline Carey. Tad Williams took quite a risk when he chose to go down that path. Time will tell if he can pull it off. But based on The Witchwood Crown, it will be an uphill battle and the odds are stacked against him.

The novel's biggest flaw is the characterization, which is habitually one of the aspects in which Williams truly shines. This facet leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, The Witchwood Crown is a veritable mess of points of view. Sometimes, less is more. I'm convinced that this book would have benefited from a lesser number of perspectives. Do you recall how George R. R. Martin took some heat when A Feast For Crows was released due to the fact that many readers opined that there were simply too many POV protagonists in the series? And then A Dance With Dragons added even more. Well, I've lost track of exactly how many perspectives there are, but The Witchwood Crown features about as many points of view as GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire taken as a whole. And that is way too much for a single novel. It can be confusing, at times downright boring, and it bogs down the narrative with pointless scenes that go nowhere. Why Tad Williams elected to introduce readers to so many disparate characters and give them their own POV in the very first volume of the series, I'll never know. But it does kill momentum, time and time again, as you skip from an interesting plotline to an unnecessary conversation or info-dump that brings little or nothing to the tale. Introducing the cast is all well and good. But like Martin and other SFF authors, Williams could have waited and shared their perspectives in subsequent installments. As things stand, there are way too many cooks in the kitchen. This precludes any kind of tight focus on any of the storylines, and in the long run this hurts the book in a myriad of ways.

The Witchwood Crown also suffers from a manifestly poor cast. Simon and Miriamele are only shadows of who they once were in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Middle age has enfeebled and made them fearful. Especially Miriamele, which was such a strong female lead in the first series, has become a somewhat weak woman who's terrified if Simon has a bad dream. How such a couple with a deficient court held on to power for so long defies comprehension. How they could remain so unaware of what goes on in and around their kingdom was definitely shocking. Prince Morgan, heir to the High Throne, is another great disappointment. I'm acutely aware that Williams is setting him up as a complete dumbass so that we can experience his transformation and root for him when he finally has his coming-of-age moment. Problem is, as the heir, Morgan should have been exposed to life at court and all that it encompasses from a young age. Simon and Miriamele, who go on and on and on about how much of a disappointment the youth turned out to, do absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. POV protagonists include familiar faces like Tiamak, Eolair, Viyeki (now High Magister of the Order of the Builders), and Pasevalles. There are plenty of newcomers, chief among them Tzoja, mortal slave wife to Viyeki, their daughter Nezeru (now one of the Queen's Talons), Jarnulf the White Hand (by far the most interesting character of the bunch), Unver of the Thrithring-folks, and Jesa (nurse to Duke Saluceris of Nabban's infant daughter). Simply put, that's just too many POVs. Another thing that might irk some readers is that a lot of female characters, at least as far as this novel is concerned, are somewhat vapid dead-ends.

Tad Williams is a notorious slow starter. Always has been and probably always will be. All of his series have suffered from long bouts of sluggish rhythm, and The Witchwood Crown could well be his slowest-paced work to date. I kept wondering when the tale would finally kick into high gear, yet the vast number of points of view prevented that from ever taking place. With the Bobby Dollar books, Williams proved that he could keep the rhythm more or less fluid. Urban fantasy is a different genre, but I was hoping that he had learned from his past errors and would apply those lessons when pacing the new series. Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to be. Those who were frustrated by the snail's pace of novels like The Dragonbone Chair will likely find little to love about this new book. It is a tedious read, every step of the way.

There are some good scenes and storylines, mind you. And yet, it's a chore to get through to them because very little actually happens in most chapters and all the good stuff is buried so deeply under extraneous and superfluous scenes that it robs them of most of the desired impact. I've always been a big fan, but I've never had such a hard time reading anything by Tad Williams. Honestly, so many sequences could have been truncated or excised altogether. A trimmed down version of The Witchwood Crown, let's say minus 150 pages or so, would probably have been a much better read.

Another problem is that The Witchwood Crown is little more than a vast introduction to an even bigger and more complex tale. As such, it introduces a panoply of characters, concepts, and plot threads. Yet it offers very little in terms of resolution. Though they were part of a trilogy, I always felt that all three installments that comprised Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn stood well on their own. Not so for the first volume of The Last King of Osten Ard. I expected something gripping and exciting to close the show. After all, a review from someone involved in the production of The Witchwood Crown promised a showdown as awesome as the grand finale of George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords. Hence, I kept hoping, turning those pages, slogging through more and more lackluster scenes that go nowhere, waiting for that big payoff at the end. Only to reach the final sentence and shake my head in wonder and disappointment. There is absolutely no showdown. No big payoff. I'm so sad that this turned out to be such an underwhelming novel. This was supposed to be the BIG return to Osten Ard, one of the fantasy highlights of 2017. Instead, it was a work I could barely finish. True, things do pick up in the last hundred pages or so. But it's a case of too little, too late.

In a recent interview, Tad Williams mentioned that he had never worked on something as intricately plotted as The Last King of Osten Ard. I wonder if that robbed The Witchwood Crown of some of the magic that permeated past Tad Williams works. Detractors have often complained that the author doesn't always seem to know where he's going with his storylines/characters, that he makes everything up as he goes along, etc. But there was a magic to that and Williams always came out on top in the end. I wonder if having so many details plotted out that far in advance has robbed Williams of the freedom that allowed him to follow his muse the way he used to do. Perhaps this is the reason why his latest novel failed to capture my imagination the way Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn or the Otherland series grabbed hold of me and never let go?

One can only hope that the second volume, Empire of Grass, will be a return to form for the author.

The final verdict: 5.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Naomi Novik's Uprooted for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:


Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help--the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It's time to get the band back together.

You can also download Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history....Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of-a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known-and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed-and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends?

The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler's dark reign-and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions-and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad's ancient powers-one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.

Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful-and utterly unforgettable.

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

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is down five positions, ending the week at number 14. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The Unholy Consult

As I mentioned in my review of The Great Ordeal, it's been a long time coming. Honestly, it's been a very long time coming. More than six long years, to be exact. Like many fans, I wasn't happy to learn that the book which was meant to become The Unholy Consult would have to be split into two installments. My biggest fear was that The Great Ordeal would simply be part 1 of 2, and not a work of fiction that would stand well on its own. It's no secret that recent examples of fantasy novels split up unnecessarily (Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light, and Robin Hobb's City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons come to mind) ended up being disappointments. My main concern was that turning what was originally meant to be one novel into two separate books would hurt them both in the long run.

Ultimately, The Great Ordeal was indeed just part 1 of 2. Considering how long Bakker fans had to wait to finally get their hands on that novel, it was a bit disappointing. The Great Ordeal definitely set up what would be an unforgettable finale in The Unholy Consult. But as part 1 of 2, it did not stand that well on its own. In my humble opinion, had it been released as planned, The Unholy Consult would have been to Bakker what A Storm of Swords was to George R. R. Martin. It would have been the author's crowning achievement, his best work to date.

Which brings us here. The Unholy Consult, the grand culmination of the Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor series, will be released in a few short weeks. In many ways, it's everything fans have always wanted. It answers lots of questions that have been plaguing us for years. Some dating all the way back to The Darkness That Comes Before. It is also an end, but not the end. Indeed, it brings the Great Ordeal story arc to a close. Trouble is, The Unholy Consult ends with the mother of all cliffhangers and it leaves a panoply of things up in the air. As such, this final volume doesn't offer as much resolution as people expected, which some fans will find off-putting.

Although the author and the publishers never had problems with my reviews in the past, some Bakker fans were irked by what they considered to be spoilers, minor though they were. So if you are one of those people, please refrain from reading on. For everybody else, here are my thoughts on The Unholy Consult.

Here's the blurb:

In this shattering conclusion to The Aspect-Emperor books, praised for their “sweeping epic scale and detailed historical world building” (Grimdark Magazine), R. Scott Bakker delivers the series’ feverishly harrowing and long-awaited finish.

The Men of the Great Ordeal have been abandoned by Aspect-Emperor Anasurimbor Kellhus, and the formerly epic crusade has devolved into cannibalism and chaos. When Exalt-General Proyas, with the Imperial-Prince Kayutas at his side, attempts to control the lost Men and continue their march to Golgotterath, it rapidly becomes clear that the lost Lord-and-Profit is not so easily shaken from the mission.

When Sorweel, Believer-King of Sakarpus, and Serwa, daughter of the Aspect-Emperor, join the Great Ordeal they discover that the Shortest Path is not always the most obvious, or the safest. Souls, morals, and relationships are called into question when no one can be trusted, and the price for their sins is greater than they imagined.

As I said before, when it originally came out, The Judging Eye had all the hallmarks which made the first trilogy such a great reading experience, minus what many considered its shortcomings. Personally, I felt that it featured R. Scott Bakker writing at the top of his game. On the other hand, a lot of fans believed that the philosophical aspects and the inner musings were what essentially made the Prince of Nothing stand out from the rest of the speculative fiction pack, and were thus somewhat disappointed by the first volume in The Aspect-Emperor series. In terms of style and tone, The White-Luck Warrior was something in between the Prince of Nothing and The Judging Eye. Stylistically, The Great Ordeal was more akin to the second volume than the first installment. The first portion of The Unholy Consult is similar to its predecessor, as the book begins right where The Great Ordeal ended. To all ends and purposes, it focuses on the aftermath of the New Empire, Ishterebinth, the Great Ordeal, and Ishuäl storylines, before the strike on Golgotterath can begin. The second part of the book is more akin to Steven Erikson's epic convergences in The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and it makes for an exciting and gripping finale.

Not surprisingly, the worldbuilding is top notch. Bakker's richly detailed narrative continues to create an imagery that virtually leaps off the page. The Middle Eastern setting of the western Three Seas remains a welcome change from the habitual generic medieval environments found in most fantasy sagas. As he did in The Judging Eye, The White-Luck Warrior, and The Great Ordeal, the author takes us to new unexplored locales. After his evocative depictions of the wastes of the Istyuli Plains, the primeval forest known as the Mop, and the ruined remains of Kûniüri, the Erengaw Plains, the Urokkas range, Dagliash, the mysteries of Ishuäl, and the Nonmen capital of Ishterebinth, this time around we journey across the Fields of Woe of Agongorea, the Occlusion, the Black Furnace Plain of Shigogli, the vast complex that is Golgotterath, and the Ark-of-the-Skies itself. The universe of Eärwa continues to resound with depth and Bakker's creations remains head and shoulder above all other SFF settings on the market today, second only to Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont's Malazan universe.

Structurally, The Unholy Consult is quite different from its predecessors. With a good third of the book from the beginning focusing on the aftermath of The Great Ordeal, it does take a while for the story to get going. I fully understand that Bakker needed to close the show and tie up the loose ends associated with the New Empire, Ishterebinth, and Ishuäl arcs. Before everything could converge on Golgotterath, this needed to be done. Having said that, I feel that way too many pages were "wasted" on the Great Ordeal following the scalding at Dagliash. True, Bakker needed to paint a very grim picture as the surviving Ordealmen deal with the psychological repercussions of having consumed Sranc and how it messed with their minds. But I do feel that the author spent too much time dealing with these issues. With Golgotterath in sight, at times it felt as though it was taking forever for the attack to finally begin. For that reason, the pace for the first third of the novel is extremely slow. Unnecessarily slow, to be honest. Of course, when the proverbial shit finally hits the fan, there are fireworks in every chapter and The Unholy Consult becomes well nigh impossible to put down! God knows I'm not always a fan of long-drawn (more than 150 pages) battles, but the battle for Golgotterath was probably better than any of Erikson's great convergences! If you thought that the finale that ended The Thousandfold Thought was exciting, buckle up because this one is even more awesome! Especially the displays of offensive sorcery, which can be pretty amazing. As a matter of course, such a strike on Golgotterath will not be without casualties. The bodycount among major characters is quite high, which came as a bit of a surprise. Somewhere, George R. R. Martin is nodding his head in approval.

The New Empire arc once again features the POVs of Esmenet and Kelmomas. This storyline pretty much went nowhere until its last chapter in The Great Ordeal. Then all hells broke loose and Bakker closed the show of that particular plotline with a bang. It did end with a huge cliffhanger and I thought that it would make for a bigger chunk of The Unholy Consult. But no, as resolution comes rather quickly and then the action moves away from the Western Three Seas and never go back. This arc also features a new point of view, one that must remain a secret for now. This POV also appears in the Great Ordeal arc and offers insight that wouldn't otherwise be available. Unanticipated, to be sure, but at times quite fascinating.

The Ishterebinth storyline once more features the POVs of Varalt Sorweel and Serwa, Grandmistress of the Swayal Sisterhood. But we also get the perspective of Moënghus, which was quite interesting. All three flee Ishterebinth altered in some ways, but none are more scarred than Moënghus. Having him as a point of view protagonist changed the dynamics of that arc, and his personal storyline leads to unexpected and even shocking paths. Serwa also comes into her own in this one, especially in the latter part of The Unholy Consult.

The Ishuäl storyline features the POVs of both Achamian and Mimara. High on Qirri, they are desperately trying to escape from the Scylvendi and make their way to join the Great Ordeal so that Mimara can look upon the Aspect-Emperor with the Judging Eye.

The Great Ordeal mostly features the POV of Nersei Proyas, at least for about half of the book. The relationship between Kellhus and Proyas took an startling turn in The Great Ordeal, one that will have dramatic repercussions down the line. As the interminable march draws to an end and as the battle of Golgotterath gets underway, a panoply of points of view comprise most chapters and the conflict unfolds through the eyes of various Ordealmen.

Given the structure of The Aspect-Emperor series, it should come as no surprise that these four story arcs come together in the shadow of Golgotterath. Exactly how it comes to pass, I will let you read and find out. But amidst all that brutality, depredations, despair, the blood and the gore, R. Scott Bakker offers some extremely poignant moments that really contrast with all the savagery. A pregnant Mimara being reunited with an Esmenet that has lost so much makes for a number of emotional scenes. The same goes for Achamian and Proyas' long-awaited reunion. Although not heartbreaking per se, the encounter between Achamian and Kellhus was also quite special.

Unfortunately, I'm disappointed to report that, tough we were promised otherwise, we don't get much as far as the perspective of the Consult is concerned. We do get a bit, and we do find out later on why there is so little in terms of their point of view, yet I would have liked more. Much more. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Mind you, we do find out a lot about them and what's been going on for the last few centuries. There are quite a lot of revelations that will make long-time fans squee in delight, such as exactly what is the No-God. But do not expect a Perry Mason scene in which everything is explained. Indeed, though Bakker provides a lot of answers throughout The Unholy Consult, many questions remain unanswered and the book raises its own fair share of new ones. Fair warning to those crackpot fanatics who have been discussing the metaphysical principles underpinning the Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor series for more than a decade, you are bound to be disappointed. Some of this stuff is addressed either in the narrative or the glossary at the end of the novel, but most of it isn't.

I claimed that The Unholy Consult was everything that Bakker fans have been hoping for and I stand by that. As the culmination of the vast tapestry of storylines that form the Second Apocalypse, the novel is a great and fitting finale that closes the show with a massive exclamation point! And yet, though it is an ending, sadly it is not the ending. The Great Ordeal story arc is indeed over, with satisfying resolution. The last sentence of the book is quite clear on the matter. But as mentioned above, so much is left up in the air that this mother of all cliffhangers might cause riots among Bakker fans. And since the author is not yet under contract for the next series, the one that cannot be named, well that may not sit well with some readers.

The book also contain an expanded encyclopaedic glossary that should not be read before The Unholy Consult, for it could spoil certain plot elements. It also contains two short fiction pieces available on Bakker's blog, "The False Sun" and "Four Revelations". The first short story is about the early days of the Holy Consult, while the second one deals with a Nonman Erratic. All in all, they represent a nice bonus for fans of both series.

Ultimately, even though the major cliffhanger ending might displease some readers, The Unholy Consult caps off The Aspect-Emperor series with style and aplomb. The strike on Golgotterath was every bit as rousing and captivating as we could have hoped for. And though there is no book deal in sight, whatever comes next will have Bakker fans foaming at the mouth, for it will be impossible for readers not to pick it up to discover what happens next. The slog of slogs has come to an end with a thrilling finale. Expectations were incredibly high, yet R. Scott Bakker managed to live up to them and then some!

The final verdict: 9/10

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

Tad Williams Interview, part 2

Tad Williams kindly accepted my invitation to do an interview to help promote the forthcoming The Witchwood Crown (Canada, USA, Europe) a while back. But renovations, writing the second volume in the new trilogy, and other vagaries of life have gotten in the way.

Hence, considering how busy he's been these last few weeks, we've decided to split the interview into two parts. Here are his answers to the second batch of questions.


- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

Simply that — I’m a storyteller. My work may not be for every single reader, but I think I’m good at telling stories, plain and simple. I think I do a good job of creating characters that people care about (positively or negatively) and I think I have a pretty busy imagination, which certainly helps when creating fantasy worlds. But I also spend a lot of time reading about science and history, so I like to think my created worlds feel more real than many. And I love language, so I’m always trying to do more than simply tell a tale, I’m trying to make the words sing, to open up new ways of thinking for the reader.

Also, I’m cute as a button. Albeit a very old button.

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

If I really knew I’d have fixed them already.

Like all writers I have my own tropes, things that effect me deeply and make their way into my work time and again. That doesn’t always guarantee they’ll have the same effect on readers. Also, I like to take my time with pacing, especially with big stories, and I’m sure that some readers just find me exhausting and too slow. But every time I start to bend in that direction, to be more accessible to those raised on Twitter and internet memes, I also have other readers saying things like, “I could only have loved this more if it were twice as many books.” I guess my compromise is in trying to write in a more compact way without reducing the amount of information — without harming the breadth of the story or the depths of the characters, because I’m convinced those are things my readers like about my books.

- With your wife Deborah, you have an in-house editor perusing everything you write. Then, at Daw Books you have Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert editing your novels. With that many editors having you under the microscope (and I reckon that your British editor also has something to say before anything goes into print), some would think that it could become a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. And yet, this approach obviously works well for you. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, I’m stubborn. As much as I love and respect all those folks, including my overseas editors, ultimately the complaints and/or suggestions have to make sense to me before I’ll make any large changes. I’ve been doing this writing gig for quite a while now and I don’t think you get to the point I have — making a living at it for decades — without trusting your own instincts. So if one person says they don’t like something, I’ll look at it and consider it but won’t necessarily change it unless the complaint strikes a chord for me. However, if all or at least several of them say that such and such a section is boring or confusing or whatever — well, I’m not stupid.

On the other hand, because I have intelligent, skilled readers and editors like the three you mentioned, I also feel I can try new and unusual things and they are all clever enough to understand what I’m trying to do, which gives me a certain sense of freedom combined with the reassuring feeling that if I screw up too badly, they have my back and will help me fix it.

- There are a number of different perspectives as to the function secondary-world or epic fantasy carries out for readers. Le Guin once wrote that such fantasy deepened and intensified the mysteries of life, while R. Scott Bakker has put forward that humanity is neurologically ill-equipped for a modern, rationalist world and this leads some to seek access to a pre-modern worldview (or the fiction of one) where reality conforms to the mind's irrational, evolutionarily hardwired expectations. Others have denigrated it as mere escapism, an alternative opiate for the masses.

What is your view as to fantasy's function?

I have long thought that the appeal of fantasy fiction is fundamentally escapist, although I don’t think it has so much to do with our brain wiring, as Bakker says, as with the simple fact of living in an unheard-of age of entanglement, surrounded by instant information and a thousand distractions designed to grab our attention. I believe we love to dive deeply into another world not just because it’s fantasy and seems “simpler” — “simple” books don’t generally have long appendices and guides to pronunciation or cover multiple volumes — but because it allows us to escape from the war zone ambience of modernity for a little while and mono-focus on a place that seems almost as real but is less exhausting. (This is also true, though not as strongly, for fiction in general, where — unlike the apparently real world we all live in — all of us know for certain there is a controlling intelligence behind our experience, that we are in someone’s hands and that everything that happens is not simply random and inexplicable.)

- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects, who write novels based on detailed outlines, or gardeners, who have a general idea of where the storylines are going but prefer to watch things grow as they go along. Which type of writer are you and why do you prefer that approach?

Some of both, but mostly an architect. I design and build my books first in broad strokes, but still in quite a bit of detail, and my plots are usually at least mostly imagined before I begin because I like to know the shape of what I’m working on. I leave some things unimagined until I get to them because you can’t think of everything at once, especially with a million-word story, but I like to think carefully about the engineering of my books before I write them, so that I have some sense of the rhythms and the themes from the very first. That said, I don’t want to limit myself to only what I can think of while writing a preliminary outline, so I leave lots of bits open to discovery, including plotlines I haven’t foreseen, characters who just pop up, and twists in the story I hadn’t envisioned when I started. A big, sprawling story is always a bit of a swaying bridge between planning and serendipity, so there’s no complete separation between architect and gardener even for me, but I definitely lean toward the planning-ahead style.

- How has your interaction with fans and critics colored your choices in terms of characterization and plot? Has there ever been anything that you've changed due to such interaction in any of your novels?

Oh, yeah, of course. As I mentioned above, when enough of my readers say something didn’t work for them, I take that seriously. I’ve taken things out for several reasons — needlessly violent, distracting from the main story, not tied in to the plot sufficiently, even occasionally because they were artifacts of an earlier idea that went nowhere. But I probably have done less rewriting during my career than most writers simply because I always used to assemble my first drafts so painstakingly.

We writers all have blind spots, or at least nearsighted spots. Sometimes people have completely different reactions to things than I expect. Even that is only a problem when those responses are overwhelmingly negative for the wrong reasons (in other words, an effect I want to achieve that hasn’t worked). Then I have to fix it, because I don’t want to get in my own way, and sticking to doggedly to something that doesn’t work is exactly that kind of mistake.

- Have you ever written a scene, only to be stunned by your own reaction after reading it?

Not really, although sometimes I’m inordinately pleased with how something turns out. I’m a very conscious writer, so I’ve mostly thought through how and why I want any given scene to work. I will occasionally be favorably surprised by how it’s come out, but I wouldn’t say stunned. I will admit that once or twice I have teared up a bit at my own prose, but truly it’s always at the situation not my prose, and it’s because I have lived with the characters for so long. I felt very affected when Simon finally saw met his pseudo-mother Rachel the Dragon again in the first Osten Ard books. I’m sure there were elements of my own life in that scene, of my close relationships with my mother and grandmothers: I had lived with Simon so long he felt like a part of me, and so that unexpected reunion felt very moving.

- Some writers admit having a favorite book among those they've written previously, others say that their favorite is their current work in progress, and others still say it's always the next book that hasn't been written yet. How about you?

It’s a combination of “current book is the one I care about” and the Parent Syndrome — I love all my books in different ways, regardless of how “successful” they’ve been. I think the most interesting work I’ve done are the Otherland books, for instance, but I am most emotionally attached to the Osten Ard books, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. But Tailchaser’s Song feels more…heroic, almost, because it was my first and because I wrote it in my kitchen late at night (I was working at least two jobs at the time) with no particular expectation of selling it or any knowledge of the industry or the market, just wanting to make something. Other of my books have strong autobiographical elements that make them special, or other features that make them dear to me. But it’s always the book that’s alive in my mind right now that has precedence. One of the reasons I never really thought much about writing sequels is that whatever my current idea has been, it burned so brightly that it threw everything else, especially books I’d already written, into shade.

- Neil Gaiman said of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If THE WITCHWOOD CROWN was a drink, which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly…?

I imagine The Witchwood Crown would be a hearty, complicated, spicy and very alcoholic punch, like the kind served during the holiday season. So much goes into a story like this, so much thought, so many ideas, literally thousands of possibilities that don’t make it into print, that I can’t imagine comparing it to anything less complicated — and, I hope, to anything less convivial and satisfying. Yes, that’s probably it. Build a fire and get it roaring, sing a few songs with your near and dear ones, and have a long draught of the Witchwood Crown. Then go back and fill up your cup again, because there’s plenty.

- Anything else you wish to share with us?

Just my thanks for good questions and years of kind words and support. Thanks, Patrick.

Mark Lawrence contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on a copy of Mark Lawrence's Red Sister, courtesy of the folks at Ace! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Richard Slobod, Tuxedo, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download the digital omnibus edition of The Song of Albion Collection by Stephen Lawhead, which includes The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot, for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Bestselling author Stephen R. Lawhead's Song of Albion Trilogy now available in one volume!

The Paradise War

Lewis Gillies is an American graduate student in Oxford who should be getting on with his life. Yet for some reason, he finds himself speeding north with his roommate Simon on a larkùhalf-heartedly searching for a long-extinct creature allegedly spotted in a misty glen in Scotland. Expecting little more than a weekend diversion, Lewis accidently crosses through a mystical gateway where two worlds meet: into the time-between-times, as the ancient Celts called it. And into the heart of a collision between good and evil that's been raging since long before Lewis was born.

The Silver Hand

The great king is dead and his kingdom lies in ruins. Treachery and brutality rule the land, and Albion is the scene of an epic struggle for the throne.

Lewis is now known as Llew in this Otherworld and has become a threat to the usurper Meldron. Exiled and driven from the clan, he must seek the meaning behind a mysterious prophecyùthe making of a true king and the revealing of a long-awaited champion: Silver Hand.

The Endless Knot

Fires rage in Albion: strange, hidden, dark-flamed, invisible to the eye. In the midst of it, Llew must journey to the Foul Land to redeem his greatest treasure. As the last battle begins, the myths, passions, and heroism of an ancient people come to life . . . and Llew Silver Hand will face a challenge that will test his very soul.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 8th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is down three positions, ending the week at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Timothy Zahn's Thrawn is down eight spots, finishing the week at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up three positions, ending the week at number 1 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ian McDonald contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive my extra ARC of Ian McDonald's Luna: Wolf Moon! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Brad Stevenson, from Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Cover art and blurb for Myke Cole's SIEGE LINE

The folks at The Qwillery just unveiled the cover art for Myke Cole's upcoming Siege Line (Canada, USA, Europe). I'm really looking forward to the concluding volume of the Gemini Cell series!

Here's the blurb:

In Myke Cole’s latest high-octane, action-packed military fantasy, the fate of undead Navy SEAL James Schweitzer will be decided—one way or another…

The Gemini Cell took everything from Jim Schweitzer: his family, his career as a Navy SEAL, even his life. Hounded across the country, Schweitzer knows the only way he can ever stop running, the only way his son can ever be safe, is to take the fight to the enemy and annihilate the Cell once and for all.

But the Cell won’t be easily destroyed. Out of control and fighting a secret war with the government it once served, it has dispatched its shadowy Director to the far reaches of the subarctic in search of a secret magic that could tip the balance of power in its favor. Schweitzer must join with the elite warriors of both America and Canada in a desperate bid to get there first—and avert a disaster that could put the Cell in control.

Luna: Wolf Moon

Every single Ian McDonald adult book I've read since creating the Hotlist has ended up in my Top 10 reads for that year. I'm sure you can understand my excitement when I learned that he was taking a break from his foray into the YA market to return to the more hardcore science fiction works that made him an award-winning author. But though Luna: New Moon turned out to be another quality read, it wasn't quite as good as novels such as River of Gods, Brasyl, or The Dervish House.

Understandably, as the first installment in a promising two-book cycle, Luna: New Moon wasn't as self-contained and satisfying as those aforementioned stand-alone novels. I was thus looking forward to discovering just how McDonald would close the show in Luna: Wolf Moon. Imagine my surprise, not to say disappointment, when I learned--after finishing reading the book, mind you--that this series was now a trilogy. Having the carpet pulled from under me in such a fashion has probably influenced my review, for I was expecting an exciting endgame and a great finale. Not a middle book. . .

Here's the blurb:

A Dragon is dead.

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed.

The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward--virtually a hostage-- of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon.

Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point—that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey--to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts.

Luna: Wolf Moon continues Ian McDonald's saga of the Five Dragons.

Not surprisingly, Tor Books has been marketing this series as Game of Thrones on the moon. With rivalries between families/corporations at the heart of the story, it is indeed an apt description. But it is much more than that. Truth to tell, it has more to do with rival mafia families than competing corporate entities, so it is more The Godfather than Game of Thrones. Like George R. R. Martin's bestselling saga, it's an extremely devious and cutthroat environment where anything can happen. For you see, there is no law on the moon. Everything can be negotiated.

Regarding the moon as the backdrop for this tale, once again McDonald's worldbuilding is nothing short of superb. As was the case with Luna: New Moon, the author managed to capture the essence of what living and thriving in such harsh conditions entail. And he even turned it up a notch in this sequel. As is habitually his wont, the author's prose brought the moon and its inhabiants to life in vivid fashion. His incredible eye for details creates an imagery and an atmosphere that never ceases to amaze readers. Whatever the premise, McDonald's narrative always makes you feel as though you're part of the action. I particularly enjoyed how he portrayed making war on the moon and how it all works, as well as the physical requirements needed for someone who has never experienced Earth's gravity to even be able to consider traveling to the planet's surface.

The multi-perspective narrative usually works well for Ian McDonald, yet one had to wonder if there was need for so many POV characters in Luna: New Moon. Too often, it felt as though some scenes and/or points of view were extraneous material that brought little or nothing to the story. Idem for Luna: Wolf Moon. The cast of characters is comprised of disparate protagonists and you can never tell how those multilayered plotlines will come together at the end. As a matter of course, there is the usual confusion of not really understanding where the author is taking the plot. If you are an Ian McDonald fan, that comes with the territory. And yet, when the various threads come together and you finally understand what Lucas Corta has orchestrated during his exile on Earth, it is awesome! Trouble is, the book is a veritable mess of POVs. And since most of the names sound the same, too often was I forced to go to the back of the book to peruse the Dramatis Personae. I mean, I'm a big Malazan fan, so a huge number of protagonists/plotlines has never been a problem for me. But when it's hard to differentiate them, regardless of what family they're from, then it becomes a bit of an issue. In the end, as was the case with its predecessor, I felt that Luna: Wolf Moon would have benefited from a more limited amount of perspectives.

In terms of rhythm, it appears that Ian McDonald followed the exact same blueprint he used for Luna: New Moon. The pace is relatively slow for the first 2/3 of the book. And then, when Lucas Corta's plan has been put into motion and the endgame is in sight, things really pick up and the proverbial shit hits the fan. Thankfully, the endgame did not feel as rushed as the one that brought the first installment to a close. Still, a more balanced rhythm may have made the novel more enjoyable.

As mentioned, given my belief that this was the final volume, I had certain expectations regarding this novel. I realized that this wasn't the conclusion of this series when I reached the last page, which was a bit shocking. Nevertheless, McDonald truly upped the ante and Luna: Wolf Moon sets the stage for what should be a memorable finale.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

Quote of the Day

It was a sight unlike any seen. Slaughter become beauty and light.

- R. SCOTT BAKKER, The Unholy Consult (Canada, USA, Europe)

You can pre-order this one without any worries! It is one grand finale! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Since it made little sense just to have volumes 2 and 3 on sale and not the first installment, you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

The Island Deception (reviewed by Kay Kenyon)

Kay Kenyon recently got in touch with me to inquire if I'd be interested in a guest review for the sequel to Dan Koboldt's The Rogue Retrieval, this one titled The Island Deception. Of course, I was happy to oblige.

Here's the blurb:

Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval, The Island Deception blends fun and mystery into a brilliant new portal fantasy from Dan Koboldt.

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…

For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.

He misses it.

Luckily—or not—CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:

Help take Richard Holt down.

It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds—a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia—if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

He also might learn how to use real magic himself.

Oh, the hopes and hurdles in reading second books in a series! On the plus side, you've met most of the characters and are looking forward to spending more time with them. You've got the milieu and want a return engagement. You can relax and enjoy the ride. But in the back of your mind sits a cynical, snarky, read-spoiling hunch that the second book will falter because the author will save too much stuff for book three, leaving book two in a holding pattern.

I'm pleased to report that is not the case with Dan Koboldt's The Island Deception, book two of the Gateways to Alissia novels. In this wry, caper-style series, the story arc continues: Quinn Bradley, an ambitious, cheerfully self-centered Las Vegas magician joins a corporate team to pursue their proprietary goals in Alissia, a magic-wielding realm accessed through a secret portal. The mission this time is to stop "by any means necessary" Richard Holt, CASE Global's former key employee. Holt went native in Alissia and may soon control it from the inside, preventing CASE Global from exploiting the world they discovered. It's not yet clear what the company wants in Alissia. Is CASE the usual corporate villain or will they attempt to protect backward Alissia from ruinous attention? I suspect it's the former, but I enjoy not being sure.

And therein lies one of the pleasures of this magical adventure series. With book two, the story deepens the mysteries, ambiguities, and reversals, leaving us suspicious of most everyone. As the book's title suggests, everyone appears to be lying, sometimes even to themselves.

Koboldt has a deft touch with unanswered questions, a tricky skill that in a lesser author's hands can be so annoying. Is Richard Holt really the power-hungry rogue portrayed by CASE Global? Is CASE merely a soul-sucking corporation on a ruinous mission to subdue the magic land or do they have a redeeming plan? What are the hidden agendas of CASE team members Kiara, Logan, and Veena? By now we know they have some, but no one is showing their cards. And just how far can we trust Bradley Quinn as a narrator? He was always self-serving, but now with more power-tricks at his disposal, will our hero decide he's just in it for himself?

My impatience with the world building, which began with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, remains: What is the nature of the portal? Where else does it lead to? If nowhere else, why? What do CASE and Quinn make of this surprising doorway and why it would lead to an alternate world populated by humans? I'm ready to believe that all will be revealed in the final book of the trilogy, but it's hard to believe that no one so far wonders about these things.

Despite the gloss over the portal and the alternate world, I'm still engaged with this story for the strongest possible reason: the major character. Bradley Quinn provides a beguiling, witty, and ironic point of view that lifts every scene he's in. Quinn's fascination with magic carries him merrily through the plot, dodging other people's agendas while falling in love, wriggling out of every attempt to control him, and blissfully pursuing the ultimate magic show.

His droll internal asides (I guess we bonded over that whole fleeing-reptilian-predators thing) and his shoot-from-the-hip repartee make for a lively, even compulsive, read. More Bradley Quinn, please.

The next rabbit-out-of-the-hat from Koboldt materializes in February of next year, tentatively titled The World Awakening.

--Kay Kenyon

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Kay Kenyon is the author of thirteen science fiction and fantasy novels. Her latest work is At the Table of Wolves, an historical fantasy of dark powers, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage set in 1936 England (Saga Press, July 2017.) The Dark Talents novels will continue in spring 2018 with Serpent in the Heather.