The Poppy War

Back when I originally received the email from the folks at Harper Voyager inquiring if I'd be interested in a digital galley of R. F. Kuang's The Poppy War, I elected not to request a copy. The cover blurb did not really catch my fancy and there seemed to be little about this book which was special and made me want to give it a shot.

Later, the novel started to garner rave reviews from trusted sources that were heralding The Poppy War as the fantasy debut of the year. At that point, it was too late for me to get my hands on a review copy. But soon afterward, the ebook was put on sale and I immediately purchased a copy. Not long after that, I was reading it.

It's no secret that 2018 has not been a banner year for the genre, and R. F. Kuang's The Poppy War might well be the debut of the year. Having said that, although I found the story compelling, the book suffered from too many shortcomings for me to rave about it like several of my peers. It is a good novel, mind you. Just not the great and wonderful read that many people made it out to be.

Here's the blurb:

A "Best of May" Science Fiction and Fantasy pick by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, The Verge, SyFy Wire, and Kirkus.

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The worldbuilding was inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War from mid-20th century. The plot makes reference to real life events such as the Nanjing massacre and the appalling human experiments which took place within Unit 731. Drawing from actual historical facts, Kuang pulled no punches in portraying the scope of the horrific atrocities committed by the Federation of Mugen's forces against the people of the Empire of Nikara. One of my biggest disappointments was that, though it features some decidedly bleak and disturbing scenes, The Poppy War was definitely YA in style and tone. Most of the plot was decidedly black and white, with very little in terms of shades of gray. A little less so once we reach the third and final part of the novel, but the first two read more or less like a YA title. I also expected a lot more from the Sinegard plotline. Sadly, it read like every other clichéd combat and magic training school storyline out there. I understand that Rin's education is an important component of the woman she'll become, but I just feel that this trope has been done ad nauseam. In addition, though this will undoubtedly continue to be an ongoing plotline that will be explored in the sequels, I wish we would have learned more about the shamanistic magical system that is at the heart of this tale.

The characterization was a bit uneven, with the badass main protagonist often hard to relate to and root for. Like many teenage girls, Rin is ruled by her emotions and this puts her in problematic situations at every turn. Extremely temperamental, she fails to learn from her mistakes and is often an accident waiting to happen. I mean, she makes Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad look like the absolute soul of wisdom and the voice of reason. There are times when you want Rin to get bitchslapped or spanked for her juvenile and inane behavior. Thankfully, it does get better toward the end. But the readers needs to sail through choppy waters in order to get there. Constantly railing against the world and the unfairness of everything throughout the novel, Rin is a difficult character to come to like. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is made up of unappealing or uninteresting characters, some of them, like Altan, as over-the-top as Rin herself. The only exception was Jiang, a mix of Yoda and Mr. Miyagi, but who also sometimes can be as dumb and silly as the bald old man always getting head-slapped on the Benny Hill TV show.

There are pacing issues that plague this book, especially at the beginning. The first part of The Poppy War moves at a slow crawl and can be a chore to go through at times. The second part takes a turn for the better, with the story progressing at a better clip, and with everything coming together in the final portion. I just wish the rhythm could have been better balanced between the three different parts of the tale.

R. F. Kuang came up with an unexpected ending, one that opens the door for plenty of things to come in the subsequent volumes. She had a few surprises up her sleeve, which made for good reading toward the end. Although it doesn't offer as much resolution as I would have liked, there is no denying that the ending is the culmination of a lot of plotlines that were finally brought together.

In the end, Kuang's The Poppy War simply may not be for everyone. Personally, I felt that the YA style and tone didn't quite work for the story the author was trying to tell. This debut can be dark and brutal, but the black and white juvenile outlook was often discordant with what Kuang was trying to convey to her readers. As a young teenager caught between childhood and adulthood, Rin must face sexism, racism, and discrimination due to her class. While training to become an elite warrior, she must deal with betrayal and death. The Poppy War is a manifestly angry novel featuring a main protagonist who seldom manage to control her emotions. That can get old real fast and it often gets in the way of the plot.

As I mentioned, it nevertheless turned out to be a compelling read. But it suffers from too many flaws, chief among them the lack of engaging characters, to be a truly captivating book.

Love it or hate it, I feel that Kuang's debut remains one of the fantasy novels to read in 2018. Perusing online reviews shows that the majority of readers enjoyed The Poppy War, so you should give it a go to discover what the noise is all about. I will definitely give the second installment a shot, if only to see if the author can up her game and make Rin a more endearing protagonist. I'm all for angst and anger, but this was a bit too much and it ended up being detrimental to the storytelling.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Wow! Blast from the past! You can now download Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Forging the Darksword, first volume in the Darksword trilogy, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From the bestselling authors of The Rose of the Prophet and The Death Gate Cycle, the first in a majestic saga of magic, fantasy, and adventure.

In the enchanted realm of Merilon, magic is life.

Born without magical abilities and denied his birthright, Joram is left for dead. Yet he grows to manhood in a remote country village, hiding his lack of powers only through constant vigilance and ever more skillful sleight-of-hand.

Forced to kill a man in self-defense, Joram can keep his secret from the townspeople no longer: he has no magic, no life. Fleeing to the Outlands, Joram joins the outlawed Technologists, who practice the long forbidden arts of science. Here he meets the scholarly catalyst Saryon, who has been sent on a special mission to hunt down a mysterious “dead man” and instead finds himself in a battle of wits and power with a renegade warlock of the dark Duuk-tsarith caste.

Together, Joram and Saryon begin their quest toward a greater destiny—a destiny that begins with the discovery of the secret books that will enable them to overthrow the evil usurper Blachloch . . . and forge the powerful magic-absorbing Darksword.

Kings of the Wyld

I've been meaning to read Nicholas Eames' King of the Wyld for quite a while. Given all the rave reviews and the fact that it's supposed to be the kind of book Terry Pratchett and Joe Abercrombie would have written if they had ever collaborated on a project, my curiosity was piqued in earnest.

Based on all the praise it has garnered, some readers might have lofty expectations that this novel simply cannot live up to. Kings of the Wyld is not a work akin to George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, or Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, or any other work of speculative fiction that turned out to be a game-changer. However, it is the most fun you'll have reading this year. And that's worth a whole lot!

So just buckle up and enjoy the ride, for Kings of the Wyld is a real treat!

Here's the blurb:

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best -- the meanest, dirtiest, most feared 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. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is 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 for one last tour across the Wyld.

The worldbuilding is nothing special and can be decidedly generic at times. Most of the elements have been seen and done before, over and over again. Pretty much all the tropes are present. In essence, the plot often felt like an Advance Dungeons and Dragons campaign being played out. But à la Abercrombie, the author enjoys subverting said tropes and play with readers' expectations. Hence, he has a number of surprises up his sleeve. Nicholas Eames doesn't take himself too seriously, which is why Kings of the Wyld is so much fun to read. For example, the meanest badass antagonist has bunny ears. And the fact that mercenary bands are idolized like rockstars gave this novel its unique flavor. As is the case with music today, with so many people complaining that it's not as good and authentic as music from the 70s, 80s, or 90s, the new mercenary companies of Eames' universe are competing against one another to live up to and ultimately outshine the bands from the past. I believe that if you grew up listening to heavy metal and hard rock, this book might speak to you even more. It sure did for me! It's hard to put a label on such a work, for one minute it's moody grimdark and the other it's laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The characterization was by far my favorite facet of this novel. Nicholas Eames truly knocked it out of the park in that regard. Like the members of Twister Sister and Judas Priest, the men who comprised the legendary mercenary band Saga are way past their prime and are only poor shadows of the powerful figures they once were. Other than Ganelon, who spent the last decades frozen in time, Clay Cooper, Mattrick Skulldrummer, Arcandius Moog, and “Golden Gabe” Gabriel have seen better days. All are flawed, yet extremely endearing characters. And when Gabe's daughter finds herself in a siege and her life is in danger, the man somehow manages to get the band together for one last quest. The only perspective of Kings of the Wyld is that of Clay Cooper, and a more entertaining narrator I haven't encountered since Abercrombie's Sand dan Glokta. The most even-keeled member of Saga, I just loved his cynical and the-glass-is-half-empty kind of outlook on life. He definitely was the best choice of POV for this novel. Every band member has his moments, which makes for a nearly perfect balance between the protagonists. Furthermore, the supporting cast is made up of a panoply of engaging men and women, from Clay's wife Ginny, to badass Larkspur, to super villain Lastleaf, to Jain and the Silk Arrows.

If realism is important to you as a reader, then perhaps Nicholas Eames' debut may not be for you. This is a fantasy story that hearkens back to the popular quest books from the 80s and early 90s. True, there are grimdark elements meant to spice things up and the dialogue is more contemporary, but essentially the characters surmount seemingly impossible odds without getting killed and somehow find a way to come out on top at the end. It doesn't always make sense, but it is a hell of a ride nonetheless.

In terms of rhythm, there are a few rough patches in the middle portion of the book. Indeed, certain chapters serve little purpose other than having the proverbial shit go down the crapper and send our cast on another misadventure where they'll have to pull through and survive another ordeal to get them one step closer to their objective. But for the most part, the pace is fluid and I definitely ended up breezing through this book.

Truth be told, I haven't had this much fun reading in many a year. Eames' Kings of the Wyld really scratched an itch I wasn't even aware I had, and I went through this novel in record time. Trouble is, I doubt that this same recipe can work a second time around. It will be interesting to see if the author can do it again in the sequel, Bloody Rose. But if he can, this is an auspicious beginning that could see Nicholas Eames ultimately rank right up there with Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie.

If you are looking for a lighter and hilarious read, look no further. Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld is just what the doctor ordered.

Fun, entertaining, action-packed, and at times touching; that's Kings of the Wyld in a nutshell.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An instant #1 New York Times Bestseller, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the remarkable story of a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. Here Haruki Murakami—one of the most revered voices in literature today—gives us a story of love, friend­ship, and heartbreak for the ages.

Cover art for Guy Gavriel Kay's A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO

We now have a cover!

Cover blurb for Guy Gavriel Kay's A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO

We now have a title and a blurb for Guy Gavriel Kay's forthcoming novel: A Brightness Long Ago.

Here's the blurb:

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count–and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.

Danio’s fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one autumn night–intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger–and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune’s wheel.

Can't wait! =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 20th)

In hardcover:

Laurell K. Hamilton's Serpentine debuts at number 3.

Stephen King's The Outsider is down one position, ending the week at number 4.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down one spot, finishing the week at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The Three-Body Problem

A lot has been said about Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem and I've owned the novel since Tor Books first sent out review copies. So why wait this long to finally read it? Well, although this book has garnered lots of rave reviews and was even pimped by President Obama himself, the fact that it was a translation sort of put me off for a while. And yet, I always knew that I'd give it a shot.

As is usually the case when I wait for a few years to finally read a book, I felt like an idiot for not reading the opening chapter of the Remembrance of Earth's Past series when it first came out. The Three-Body Problem may not be perfect, but it is indeed a superior read.

Here's the blurb:

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience the Hugo Award-winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Cixin Liu became the most popular science fiction author in China, but most wondered if the English translation could do justice to this series. Ken Liu's translation worked well for the most part. There are a few clunky portions here and there, and I have a feeling that some things got lost along the way because they could not be translated properly. In addition, the dialogue did not always ring true. I'm glad Ken Liu elected to go for footnotes to provide additional information, as there are already too many massive info-dumps throughout the novel. All in all, I have a feeling that the English translation is as good as it could be and that certain elements simply couldn't be translated perfectly. True, some readers might find that off-putting. Then again, The Three-Body Problem is a novel of big ideas and one soon forgets about these little things. What's a little clunky dialogue when there are mind-blowing themes being thrown around?

I loved the fact that the backdrop of the beginning of this novel was the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The vast majority of the science fiction I've read over the years was produced by American and British authors. To get the Chinese point of view regarding world events and witness how the country would react to first contact with an alien civilization was interesting. Non-Western views were indeed quite refreshing. There are a lot of hard scifi concepts involved in the plot of The Three-Body Problem, and the author did a great job "dumbing" down most of them so that virtually any genre readers can enjoy the story. Though it was probably impossible, I just wish that massive info-dumping could have been avoided. Still, for a novel of relatively short size, The Three-Body Problem is extremely vast in scope and vision. Imagine something that can rival with Peter F. Hamilton's imaginiation but with a third of the pagecount.

The characterization can be a bit uneven, especially early on. It takes a long time to get to know the protagonists, but it does get better as the plot moves forward and secrets are unveiled. There are two main characters who take center stage. The Three-Body Problem starts during the Cultural Revolution, when a young Ye Wenjie is forced to watch as her scientist father is beaten to death by revolutionaries. The girl is then sent to do hard labor at a re-education camp, where she somehow manage to find herself working, unbeknownst to her at first, on a top secret government project seeking out extraterrestrial life. In the present, nanotech scientist Wang Miao gets arrested by cops, only to be brought to a secret meeting comprised of international military officials who are fighting an unknown threat. Some unnamed force is seeking to destroy human science and technology by killing brilliant scientists or driving them to suicide. Fearing that he might well be the next one to die, Wang must go undercover and begin playing a virtual reality game called The Three-Body Problem; a game only the greatest scientific minds can hope to beat. The supporting cast is not particularly memorable, with the sole exception being Captain Shi Qiang. It's hard to like the policeman early on, but he definitely grows on you as the story progresses.

The Three-Body Problem suffers from pacing issues from time to time, especially in the first third of the book. Yet the more you learn about the project Ye Wenjie is working on, and the further Wang Miao advances into the virtual reality game, you gradually begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and the more fascinating the novel becomes. It's no surprise that it won the Hugo Award for best novel.

The Three-Body Problem is science fiction as it ought to be! If, like me, you have yet to read Cixin Liu's bestselling award-winner, you should give it a shot ASAP!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Michelle West's The Broken Crown for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The first novel of the acclaimed Sun Sword series introduces readers to a war-torn world of noble houses divided and demon lords unleashed...

Tor Leonne—the heart of the Dominion of Annagar, where the games of state are about to become a matter of life and death—and where those who seek to seize the crown will be forced to league with a treacherously cunning ally....

Tor Leonne, ancestral seat of power, where Serra Diora Maria di’Marano—the most sought-after beauty in the land, a woman betrayed by all she holds dear—may strike the first blow to change the future of the Dominion and Empire alike....

Averalaan Aramarelas—that most ancient of civilized cities, the home of the Essalieyan Imperial court, has long been a center of magics both dark and bright. And though the Empire won its last war with the Dominion, and survived a devastating, magic-fueled battle with a far deadlier foe, both those victories were not without their cost....

But now the realm is on the brink of a far greater confrontation, faced with an unholy alliance that could spell the end of freedom for all mortalkind.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The groundbreaking novel that launched Cherryh's eponymous space opera series of first contact and its consequences...

It had been nearly five centuries since the starship Phoenix, lost in space and desperately searching for the nearest G5 star, had encountered the planet of the atevi. On this alien world, law was kept by the use of registered assassination, alliances were defined by individual loyalties not geographical borders, and war became inevitable once humans and one faction of atevi established a working relationship. It was a war that humans had no chance of winning on this planet so many light-years from home.

Now, nearly two hundred years after that conflict, humanity has traded its advanced technology for peace and an island refuge that no atevi will ever visit. Then the sole human the treaty allows into atevi society is marked for an assassin's bullet. THe work of an isolated lunatic? The interests of a particular faction? Or the consequence of one human's fondness for a species which has fourteen words for betrayal and not a single word for love?

You can also download David Weber's bestselling Off Armageddon Reef for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Humanity pushed its way to the stars - and encountered the Gbaba, a ruthless alien race that nearly wiped us out.

Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they've built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.

800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This "rebirth" was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, "Nimue" - or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban - is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.

Nothing about this will be easy. To better deal with a medieval society, "Nimue" takes a new gender and a new name, "Merlin." His formidable powers and access to caches of hidden high technology will need to be carefully concealed. And he'll need to find a base of operations, a Safeholdian country that's just a little more freewheeling, a little less orthodox, a little more open to the new.

And thus Merlin comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare. He plans to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. Which is bound to draw the attention of the Church...and, inevitably, lead to war.

It's going to be a long, long process. And David Weber's epic Off Armageddon Reef is can't-miss sci-fi.

You can get your hands on Bradley P. Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Finally, you can also get your hands on the digital edition of Paul Kearney's excellent A Different Kingdom for only 3.03$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods—once thought safe and well-explored—there are wolves; and other, stranger things. He keeps them from his family, even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend, until the day he finds himself in the Other Place. There are wild people, and terrible monsters, and a girl called Cat.

When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away—or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place. He will become a man, and a warrior, and confront the Devil himself: the terrible Dark Horseman...

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 13th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's The Outsider is up one position, ending the week at number 3.

Timothy Zahn's Thrawn: Alliances is down five spots, finishing the week at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

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

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One returns at number 12 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Robert Jackson Bennett's The Divine Cities trilogy omnibus for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A special omnibus edition, collecting all three books of Robert Jackson Bennett’s acclaimed Divine Cities trilogy in a single volume.

In a world where terrifying, capricious gods once walked the earth, enslaving and brutalizing millions, three unforgettable protagonists struggle to come to terms with the mysteries these divinities left behind— and to make sure these cruel masters do not rise again.

In City of Stairs, an unassuming young woman named Shara Thivani arrives in Bulikov, the city that once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world. Officially, she is just another junior diplomat, dispatched by the city’s new colonial masters; unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, on a mission to solve a murder. As she pursues the killer, she begins to suspect that the gods who once guarded Bulikov are not as dead as they seem, and that the city’s cruel reign may begin anew.

In City of Blades, General Turin Mulaghesh—foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled prime minister—is pressed into service one last time, investigating a terrifying discovery in the city of Voortyashtan, once the stronghold of the god of war and death. Voortyashtan’s god is most certainly dead, but something is awakening in the city. And someone is determined to make the world tremble at the city’s awful power once again.

In City of Miracles, the formidable, seemingly unkillable Sigrud je Harkvaldsson returns from self-imposed exile on a mission of revenge, only to find himself embroiled in a battle that may be beyond even his abilities to win—a secret, decades-long war that will force him to confront the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts' Daughter of the Empire, first installment in the excellent Empire trilogy, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An epic tale of adventure and intrigue, Daughter of the Empire is fantasy of the highest order by two of the most talented writers in the field today.

Magic and murder engulf the realm of Kelewan. Fierce warlords ignite a bitter blood feud to enslave the empire of Tsuranuanni. While in the opulent Imperial courts, assassins and spy-master plot cunning and devious intrigues against the rightful heir. Now Mara, a young, untested Ruling lady, is called upon to lead her people in a heroic struggle for survival. But first she must rally an army of rebel warriors, form a pact with the alien cho-ja, and marry the son of a hated enemy. Only then can Mara face her most dangerous foe of all—in his own impregnable stronghold.

Quote of the Day

“We’re being robbed,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Evidently.” Clay rubbed at his eyes to clear them. He looked at Matrick, who was leaning sullenly against a nearby tree. “Weren’t you supposed to be keeping watch?”

“Sure was,” said Matty. “I watched them appear out of nowhere with bows.”

Clay frowned. “Fair enough.”

- NICHOLAS EAMES, Kings of the Wyld (Canada, USA, Europe)

This book is so much fun!

Musical Interlude

This was the first album my brother and I bought with our own pocket money. I don't think there's ever been another record I listened to from start to finish as many times as I've listened to this one. Didn't understand much English back then, but I knew every song by heart.

And this track is by far Prince's best creation ever. So turn up the volume and blast this classic so everyone can sing along! =)

Three Parts Dead

I'm not exactly sure why it took me so long to give Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead a shot. I bought the digital edition a few years back when Patrick Rothfuss raved about the series. But even though I was keen to read it, for some reason something always got in the way. Couldn't bring a whole lot of reading material with me on my roadtrip around the Gaspésie peninsula, so it turned out to be the perfect opportunity to dive into some ebooks on my tablet.

As many readers have opined over the years, Three Parts Dead is unlike anything else I ever read. To a certain extent, that the best thing you can say about the novel. However, at times it's also its biggest shortcoming. Gladstone came up with a work that truly defies all labels.

Here's the blurb:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

As I mentioned, it's impossible to put Three Parts Dead in a nutshell. Yes, it is an urban fantasy book set in a fictional universe. But in style and format, it's more of a police procedural/courtroom drama/mystery novel than anything else. To put it simply, it's hip, fresh, and original. And yet, it was also sometimes difficult for me to get my bearings. Especially at the beginning, when few things make sense. It did get better as the plot moved forward, so trust the author for he knows what he's doing.

The worldbuilding was rich in details. The world and everything about it came alive in spectacular fashion. Max Gladstone's prose creates an imagery that can be quite arresting. This facet of Three Parts Dead was by far my favorite. Magic is known as the Craft and it has to do with harnessing soulstuff. Trouble is, à la Erikson, the author doesn't elaborate a whole lot on the Craft and how magic works. You do learn bits and pieces as the story progresses, mind you, but I wish we would have discovered more by the time I reached the last page.

The characterization is made up of the perspectives of a number of disparate protagonists. Two main characters take center stage, though. Abelard, chainsmoking Novice Technician of Holy Kos Everburning, is undergoing a crisis of faith now that his god is dead. Tara Abernathy is a new lawyer investigating the circumstances surrounding Kos' apparent murder. There are other POVs, the most interesting of the bunch being that of Elayne Kevarian, Tara's boss and savior.

Pacing can be a little off in certain portions of the tale, especially in the first couple of chapters. Three Parts Dead is never boring, but there are a few bumps here and there until Abelard and Tara manage to unveil the mystery regarding the god's death and things begin to make more sense. The deeper they dig, the more engrossing the story becomes.

Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead is unique. Featuring a clever plot set in an inventive and fully-realized world populated by genuine protagonists, it's a refreshing read to be sure. À la Malazan, the reader is dropped in the middle of a story and the author doesn't waste time spoon-feeding you information. In order to really appreciate such a novel, one has to be able to just buckle up and you'll be rewarded with something unlike anything you can find on the market today.

For any jaded speculative fiction readers out there, Gladstone's Craft Sequence could be just what the doctor ordered!

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

Quote of the Day

Kallorek replaced the helm and ran a hand over the coat of red mail beneath it. “The Warskin,” he said reverently. “The impenetrable armour of Jack the Reaver. No sword or spear can pierce it, they say, but syphilis got through all right. Poor Jack.”

- NICHOLAS EAMES, Kings of the Wyld (Canada, USA, Europe)

Haven't had this much fun reading in a long time!!! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of David Anthony Durham's Acacia: The War with the Mein for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

“David Anthony Durham has serious chops. I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next."
—George R. R. Martin

Welcome to Acacia . . .

Born into generations of prosperity, the four royal children of the Akaran dynasty know little of the world outside their opulent island paradise. But when an assassin strikes at the heart of their power, their lives are changed forever.

Forced to flee to distant corners and separated against their will, the children must navigate a web of hidden allegiances, ancient magic, foreign invaders, and illicit trade that will challenge their very notion of who they are. As they come to understand their true purpose in life, the fate of the world lies in their hands.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Now a major motion picture.

A great modern classic and the prelude to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

A glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible . . . All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take The Hobbit to their hearts. -New York Times Book Review

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 6th)

In hardcover:

Timothy Zahn's Thrawn: Alliances debuts at number 1. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's The Outsider maintains its position at number 4.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up one spot, finishing the week at number 5 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Win a set of Kay Kenyon's Dark Talents series

Thanks to the generosity of the author, I have a set of Kay Kenyon's Dark Talents installments up for grabs! The prize pack includes:

- At the Table of Wolves (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Serpent in the Heather (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets X-Men in a classic British espionage story. A young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England.

In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall.

Kim Tavistock, a woman with the talent of the spill—drawing out truths that people most wish to hide—is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.

As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England. No one believes an invasion of the island nation is possible, not Whitehall, not even England’s Secret Intelligence Service. Unfortunately, they are wrong, and only one woman, without connections or training, wielding her talent of the spill and her gift for espionage, can stop it.

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

C. S. Friedman made a name for herself with the amazing Coldfire trilogy. Indeed, these books established the author as a master of dark fantasy during the 90s. Sadly, the Magisters trilogy, although awesome, flew so low under the radar that very few people seem to have read it. If more and more people actually gave these books a shot, we might soon refer to the Coldfire trilogy as the Friedman's other fantasy series. Yes, it's that damn good!

And you can once again get your hands on the digital edition of the first volume, Feast of Souls, for only 2.99$ here. This trilogy deserves the highest possible recommendation!

Here's the blurb:

At the end of her bestselling Coldfire trilogy, C.S. Friedman challenged readers to imagine what a world would be like if sorcery required the ultimate sacrifice-that of life itself. Now, in Feast of Souls, she introduces us to a terrifying world in which the cost of magic is just which the fuel for sorcery is the very fire of the human spirit, and those who hunger for magical power must pay for it with their lives. In this epic tale of nightmarish shadows and desperate hope, the greatest threat of all may not be that of ancient enemies returned, or ancient wars resumed, but of the darkness that lies within the hearts of men.

Here's a link to my review from 2007.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . .

Street Freaks

Although I used to be a big Terry Brooks fan back in the day, it's been over a decade since I last read anything by the author. I'm too far behind in the Shannara saga to give new installments a shot, so I've been waiting for him to write something new that I could sink my teeth into. When I received an advance reading copy of the forthcoming Street Freaks, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with Brooks. I was excited to be bringing the book with me on my roadtrip around Gaspésie. Unfortunately, it proved to be quite a chore to read and I finished it at a coffee shop in St-Jean-Port-Joli, glad to have finally gone through it. Indeed, there were times when I considered just giving up. But I was still on vacation with limited reading material and I elected to persevere.

Alas, nowhere in the cover blurb, the press release, and all the related online material was there any indication that this was a YA novel. Because make no mistake. Terry Brooks went into full YA mode for this one. Even worse, he went into young adolescent mode regarding certain aspects of the story. As you guys know, I'm not too keen on YA as a rule, and I wish I would have known beforehand. Because now my review would be decidedly lukewarm at best. If I'd known, I would have thanked them for the opportunity, but I would have passed on this one. Now, I like Shawn Speakman and I got in touch with him when I finished Street Freaks, wondering why this work wasn't billed as Young Adult material. I was afraid that this book could suffer from the same sort of backlash that really hurt the sales of C. S. Friedman's The Dreamwalker Chronicles.

You may recall that Dreamwalker was billed as a crossover novel. Something which included elements targetted to a teen audience, but also hopefully enough content and complexity that would please Friedman's adult audience. What I immediately realized when I started the book was that in style and tone it was a world away from the dark science fiction and fantasy series/novels Friedman has become renowned for. And no matter from which angle you looked at the plot, it was YA through and through. When I mentioned this, both Friedman and her editor requested that I kindly refrain from using the terms YA or young adult in my review of the book. The rationale was, understandably, that such a label could potentially alienate a good chunk of Friedman's readership. The problem with this strategy is that, if the online customers/readers' reviews are any indication, a vast number of people believing that they would experience more of Friedman's awesomeness felt cheated to have forked out their hard-earned money for what turned out to be a YA novel. In the end, Dreamwalker didn't perform as well as they had hoped for. Here was a YA title whose target audience was the extremely lucrative YA market. Yet there was no mention of it being a YA work, it was released by a non-YA publisher, and it wouldn't even appear in the YA section of bookstores around North America. Moreover, it received basically no coverage from YA resources. Hence, not only did the bulk of Friedman's long-time fans felt short-changed by this strategy, but the book's target audience was more or less never reached.

Speakman opine that at its heart, every single Terry Brooks book is YA. They all feature young main characters going against the big bad guy. According to him, the same was true regarding Street Freaks. I wholeheartedly disagreed with him, claiming that though the main characters are often young, the Shannara novels mostly dealt with adult themes. In Speakman's opinion, Street Freaks is probably the most adult thing Brooks has ever written. Well, it appears that we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. And I can't help but feel that hiding the fact that the novel is definitely YA is a little disingenuous.

Here's the blurb:

"Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks." his father directs Ashton Collins before the vid feed goes suddenly silent. The Red Zone is the dangerous heart of mega-city Los Angeles; it is a world Ash is forbidden from and one he knows little about. But if he can find Street Freaks, the strangest of aid awaits―human and barely human alike. As Ash is hunted, he must unravel the mystery left behind by his father and discover his role in this new world.

Brooks has long been the grandmaster of fantasy. Now he turns his hand to science fiction filled with what his readers love best: complex characters, extraordinary settings, exciting action, and a page-turning story. Through it, Brooks reimagines his bestselling career yet again.

I a nutshell, Street Freaks is a teenage version of The Fast and the Furious franchise meets Divergent meets The Goonies. The main plot revolves around an evil corporate empire illegally experimenting on children to produce means to help control the world's population. How someone who became a worldwide bestselling author by capturing the imagination of millions of readers came up with something so unoriginal and uninteresting, I'll never know. Basically all the concepts and ideas in this book have been recycled and reheated in the microwave. The finished product is bland and uninspired, by far the most lackluster book by Brooks that I have ever read. While it's true that adult themes such as corporate greed and sex (to a certain extent) are explored, Street Freaks is more about juvenile themes like friendship, the desire to fit in, first love, etc. The plotlines, the way characters act and talk, the way the main protagonist thinks and acts and reacts, the way everything is kind of black and white. Everything is YA. Through and through. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Yet I felt that Street Freaks should be billed as such.

If young readers are not necessarily the target audience, one has to wonder why Terry Brooks felt the need to dumb down and simplify everything. Why did the author feel the need to overexplain every idea and concept, why all the repetitions, why all the info-dumps?

The characterization was incredibly subpar. Ashton Collins doesn't have the appeal necessary to carry a novel on his shoulders. There is not a whole lot of character growth as far as he is concerned. Problem is, Ash spends the better part of the book hopelessly infatuated by a girl and the rest of it being worried about who he can trust and what he can do. Brooks keeps rehashing the same feelings and worries throughout Street Freaks, which makes Ash more annoying with each new chapter. Instead of caring for him and rooting for the guy, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed and one soon forgets his plight and wishes that there were other points of view through whose lenses we could see the tale unfold. Sadly, the rest of the cast is mostly comprised of two-dimensional teenage boys and girls that are little more than cardboard cutouts. The sole exceptions being Cay and Jenny, and I wish we could have learned more about them. When all is said and done, Ash taking center stage pretty much killed it for me.

The pace was decidedly uneven. Street Freaks started with a bang, but the plot quickly petered out. It took way too long for the truth about the Street Freak crew to be unveiled, methinks. And then there are action sequences and car races that were more or less unnecessary. Things finally pick up in the last third of the novel, heading toward a predictible endgame and a finale that you see coming from a mile away. With a villain that is happy to reveal the whole evil entreprise before being outfoxed by a bunch of kids, of course. Seriously, for readers aged between 12 and 15, Terry Brooks' Street Freaks would likely be a killer read.

In the end, as other reviews have pointed out, while Street Freaks is perfectly appropriate for a younger audience, I believe that it is a complete waste of time for a more mature one. Consider yourselves warned. . .

The final verdict: 4/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life, winner of the World Fantasy and the Bram Stoker Awards, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An Alabama boy’s innocence is shaken by murder and madness in the 1960s South in this novel by the New York Times–bestselling author of Swan Song.

It’s 1964 in idyllic Zephyr, Alabama. People either work for the paper mill up the Tecumseh River, or for the local dairy. It’s a simple life, but it stirs the impressionable imagination of twelve-year-old aspiring writer Cory Mackenson. He’s certain he’s sensed spirits whispering in the churchyard. He’s heard of the weird bootleggers who lurk in the dark outside of town. He’s seen a flood leave Main Street crawling with snakes. Cory thrills to all of it as only a young boy can.

Then one morning, while accompanying his father on his milk route, he sees a car careen off the road and slowly sink into fathomless Saxon’s Lake. His father dives into the icy water to rescue the driver, and finds a beaten corpse, naked and handcuffed to the steering wheel—a copper wire tightened around the stranger’s neck. In time, the townsfolk seem to forget all about the unsolved murder. But Cory and his father can’t.

Their search for the truth is a journey into a world where innocence and evil collide. What lies before them is the stuff of fear and awe, magic and madness, fantasy and reality. As Cory wades into the deep end of Zephyr and all its mysteries, he’ll discover that while the pleasures of childish things fade away, growing up can be a strange and beautiful ride.

You can also download Octavia E. Butler's Seed to Harvest for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The complete Patternist series—the acclaimed science fiction epic of a world transformed by a secret race of telepaths and their devastating rise to power.

In the late seventeenth century, two immortals meet in an African forest. Anyanwu is a healer, a three-hundred-year-old woman who uses her wisdom to help those around her. The other is Doro, a malevolent despot who has mastered the power of stealing the bodies of others when his wears out. Together they will change the world.

Over the next three centuries, Doro mounts a colossal selective breeding project, attempting to create a master race of telepaths. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, splitting the human race down the middle and establishing a new world order dominated by the most manipulative minds on Earth.

In these four novels, award-winning author Octavia E. Butler tells the classic story that began her legendary career: a mythic tale of the transformation of civilization.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

You can also download Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood: The Complete Xenogenesis trilogy for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Three novels in one volume: the acclaimed science fiction trilogy about an alien species that could save humanity after nuclear apocalypse—or destroy it.

The newest stage in human evolution begins in outer space. Survivors of a cataclysmic nuclear war awake to find themselves being studied by the Oankali, tentacle-covered galactic travelers whose benevolent appearance hides their surprising plan for the future of mankind. The Oankali arrive not just to save humanity, but to bond with it—crossbreeding to form a hybrid species that can survive in the place of its human forebears, who were so intent on self-destruction. Some people resist, forming pocket communities of purebred rebellion, but many realize they have no choice. The human species inevitably expands into something stranger, stronger, and undeniably alien.

From Hugo and Nebula award–winning author Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood is both a thrilling, epic adventure of man’s struggle to survive after Earth’s destruction, and a provocative meditation on what it means to be human.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

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

In hardcover:

Stephen King's The Outsider maintains its position at number 4.

In paperback:

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