Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all!

May 2024 be everything you want it to be!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Josiah Bancroft's The Hexologists for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

The Hexologists, Iz and Warren Wilby, are quite accustomed to helping desperate clients with the bugbears of city life. Aided by hexes and a bag of charmed relics, the Wilbies have recovered children abducted by chimney-wraiths, removed infestations of barb-nosed incubi, and ventured into the Gray Plains of the Unmade to soothe a troubled ghost. Well-acquainted with the weird, they never shy away from a challenging case.

But when they are approached by the royal secretary and told the king pleads to be baked into a cake—going so far as to wedge himself inside a lit oven—the Wilbies soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that could very well see the nation turned on its head. Their effort to expose a royal secret buried under forty years of lies brings them nose to nose with a violent anti-royalist gang, avaricious ghouls, alchemists who draw their power from a hell-like dimension, and a bookish dragon who only occasionally eats people.

Armed with a love toughened by adversity and a stick of chalk that can conjure light from the darkness, hope from the hopeless, Iz and Warren Wilby are ready for a case that will test every spell, skill, and odd magical artifact in their considerable bag of tricks.

Quote of the Day

Lies are a currency. The truth buys nothing save sorrow.

- MARK LAWRENCE, The Book That Broke the World

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

About a third into this one and it's even more convoluted than the first volume. More characters, more POVs, a new race, and storylines scattered across time and space.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 3rd)

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing is up one position, ending the week at number 1.

Rebecca Yarros' Iron Flame is down one spot, finishing the week at number 2.

Patrick Rothfuss' The Narrow Road Between Desires debuts at number 6.

Martha Wells' System Collapse debuts at number 12.

Stephen King's Holly is down six positions, ending the week at number 14.


You may recall that I was concerned about how well this book would stand on its own. Indeed, since Firstborn is essentially the first half of War, which grew too big to be published as a single novel, my fears seemed justified. This is a recurring problem for Michelle West, for The Sun Sword was also split into two installments and The Hidden City was turned into no less than three books. I was hoping that this one would be akin to The Riven Shield and thus a worthy addition to the series.

Alas, it was not to be. Although Firstborn features some of the best stuff in the House War sequence thus far, it also features some of the worse cases of West totally losing herself into pointless extraneous storylines. Given how bad the author has been in that regard in the previous volumes, that's really saying something. I figure that a good fourth, if not a third, of this novel could have been excised without the reader losing anything important as far as the plot is concerned.

Here's the blurb:

Jewel ATerafin has never wanted to be a power. What she truly wants, she built in the streets of the poorer holdings. To protect what she built, to protect what she values above all else, she has accepted that power is necessary.

But with power comes responsibility.

Jewel has forced herself to do what would have once been unthinkable: She has surrendered her den-kin, Carver, to the wilderness, because she must if she is to have any hope of saving the rest of her family, and the city in which they dwell.

But she cannot leave him with nothing. Into his hands, she has placed the single, blue leaf that came from the wilderness and the dreaming combined. She doesn't know what it does or what it was meant to do--but it is the most powerful item on her person, and it is the only thing she can leave him.

That leaf, however, was created to serve a purpose that Jewel does not understand. Nor does Carver, who now possesses it. With Ellerson by his side, Carver intends to traverse the wild Winter in an attempt to reach home--and the people who are waiting for him.

There are those who do understand the significance of Carver's gift, and the disaster that will prevail if it remains in his hands. But time is of the essence. These lands are not unclaimed, and the Lord of these lands is waking from his ancient slumber.

Nor is the Lord the only threat. Firstborn, demons, and wild elementals are swirling around two mortal men in a storm that threatens to end the only chance the city of Averalaan has of surviving what is to follow.

As is the author's wont, the worldbuilding remains the most amazing aspect of these books. And in my humble opinion, it's the only thing holding the story together at the moment. It's obvious that there is a depth to Michelle West's universe that rivals those of Tolkien, Erikson, and Bakker, and it's a depth that keeps growing with each new installment. The previous volume, Oracle, raised the bar in a way we hadn't seen since Sea of Sorrows. New revelations about the firstborn, the Ariani, the Sleepers, the gods and goddesses, the cats, Meralonne, the Oracle, the Winter Court, the Sen, the Cities of Man, and more added yet new layers to what is already one of the most convoluted fantasy series of all time. Firstborn continues to shine in that regard, which is great.

Unfortunately, the characterization is severely lacking. To claim that it leaves something to be desired would be a gross understatement. As fascinating as some worldbuilding elements are, the poor characterization that leads to bad execution often undermines what should have been key and emotionally charged moments in this grand saga. As mentioned in my past reviews, I believe that your mileage will vary regarding this. Readers who love Jewel will likely enjoy them as much as the others. Perhaps more. For those for whom, like me, Jewel is just one of the protagonists and not their favorite by far, it remains quite tricky. I claimed that I doubted that Jewel could carry this series on her own, ever, and I will stand by those words until proven wrong. With a single volume to go, I doubt it's going to happen. More's the pity. I continue to bemoan the absence of thoughtful perspectives of such flawed protagonists as Diora, Teresa, Kallandras, Margret, Valedan, Alina, Ser Anton, and others. With each new installment, West continues to give more importance to Finch and Teller, yet both den members can't seem to come into their own. House business and commercial ventures and unending conversations meant for the younger ATerafin to be brought up to speed by more experienced people make me want to throw the book across the room. I've officially add it with both characters and dearly hope they die as soon as possible. Sadly, West appears to suffer from the Robert Jordan syndrome. Even with the looming apocalypse, it's evident that the vast majority of the main protagonists will live through it. Like its predecessor, the addition of new important POVs, the perspectives of both Carver and Ellerson, was a welcome change. Once more, as Jewel walks the path of the Oracle, we see events unfold through the eyes of her companions nearly as much as her own, which helps a lot if you've grown to dislike Jewel as much as I do. What hurts the characterization aspect to such a degree in Firstborn is the fact that every single den member suffers from bouts of nostalgia throughout the book. They all reminisce about Duster and the others, for some reason, and these inner monologues go on for page after page after page, killing the momentum of every scene in which they are involved. One after the other, they regurgitate their feelings about Duster's sacrifice and the death of the others, which are things we've known since the Sun Sword series. Why Michelle West felt it was important to go through all this again as we approach the end of the House War sequence, I'll never know. But all that waxing philosophical made me want to open my veins.

There is no way to sugarcoat this. The pace throughout Firstborn is awful. Which is too bad, for the plot was quite fluid to begin with. The first few chapters dealing with Carver and Ellerson, as well as the ones featuring Jewel's companions while she was unconscious moved at a good clip. Alas, Jewel had to regain conciousness at some point and it goes downhill from there. As was the case with the previous entries in the series, everything that has to do with the greater scheme of things is interesting and the implications for the future quite engrossing. New secrets are revealed and I can't wait for the ending. And yet, dealing with the minutiae of House business continues to make for long and boring chapters. As mentioned before, the rationale behind spending so many pages (in both series) elaborating on House Terafin business/members/what not is that Jewel will need something she loves and cannot stand to lose to stand up against the forces of evil that will try to destroy the capital and the rest of the world. We've known this since the very start, so I'm wondering why West feels the need to "waste" hundreds and hundreds of pages over the course of numerous books just to hammer this into readers' minds. We get it. Seriously, we got it many books ago. Another thing that I can't stand anymore is the cats. They were fun to begin with, but they've got to go. And the mystery hanging over them is just annoying. Every elder being knows who/what they are. But when Jewel asks them to tell her, they just reply that she must work it out on her own. Stupid and boring, the cats keep repeating. Well, that's what they have become over time. But what totally kills the rhythm of this novel is the sequence occurring in the Tangle. As good as some of the scenes turned out to be, there's no denying that it was overdone and overwritten.

Unlike The Riven Shield, which featured a rousing endgame and a thrilling finale, as the first half of what was meant to be one novel Firstborn doesn't benefit from the same sort of ending. Nevertheless, it is more exciting than the rest of the book and sets the stage for the final installment in the House War series. One has to wonder why so much focus was put on seemingly irrelevant scenes and plotlines when the end of it all is so near.

So there's only one volume to go. I'll be bringing War with me on my month-long trip to Asia in January. Hopefully Michelle West can close the show the way she did with The Sun Sword. But the fact that many fans gradually lost interest with this series and that most of those who started it never finished it (until West announced that she was being dropped by Daw and that the numbers were dwindling for each new House War installment, I had never encountered a fantasy series that lost popularity as time went by. Usually, it's the other way around.), I'm wondering if the author can knock it out of the park again. All the ingredients are there, no question. If she could just let the story unfold instead of focusing so much on the den and their past, this series could swing with the best of them. We'll have to wait and see. . .

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Katherine Kurtz's In the King's Service for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

In this first book of an all-new Deryni trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Kurtz takes readers back in time--before King Kelson's bride...before King Kelson's birth... when the magical Deryni blood was sought by the most powerful men and women in the kingdom of Gwynedd. Back when a man named Donal ruled over all.

Inside the Kingdom

As the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues, I found myself more and more interested in reading about the Middle East. After finishing David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace, I bought a number of related works focusing on various countries and events. The first one I tackled was Robert Lacey's Inside the Kingdom and it was a great read.

The author's first work on the topic, The Kingdom, was banned in Saudi Arabia. This one wasn't, so I was concerned that it might be a "state-approved" work. It doesn't appear to be the case, as Lacey doesn't shy away from elaborating on the country's many contradictions and sensitive subjects.

This book is an essential read for anyone interested in Saudi Arabian history, politics, and culture, or anyone interested in understanding the modern Middle East.

Here's the blurb:

What happened in the Middle East's oil-rich powerhouse while we weren't looking? Saudi Arabia is a country defined by paradox. It's a modern state driven by contemporary technology and possessed of vast oil deposits, yet its powerful religious establishment would have its customs and practices rolled back 1000 years to match those of the prophet Muhammad.

With Inside the Kingdom, journalist and bestselling author Robert Lacey has given us one of the most penetrating and insightful looks at Saudi Arabia ever produced. While living for years among the nation's princes and paupers, its clerics and progressives, Lacey endeavored to find out how the consequences of the 1970s oil boom produced a society at war with itself.

Filled with stories that trace a path thru the Persian Gulf War and the events of 9/11 to the oilmarket convulsions of today, Inside the Kingdom gives a modern history of the Saudis in their own words, revealing a people attempting to reconcile life under religious law with the demands of a rapidly changing world. Their struggle will have powerful reverberations around the globe. This rich work provides a penetrating look at a country no one can afford to ignore.

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

Merry Christmas!!


Merry Christmas to everyone! =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 26th)

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Iron Flame debuts at number 1.

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing is up one position, ending the week at number 2.

Stephen King's Holly is down two positions, ending the week at number 8.

Jim Butcher's The Olympian Affair debuts at number 15.

In paperback:

Travis Baldree's Bookshops and Bonedust debuts at number 1.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Martha Wells' Witch King for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

From the breakout SFF superstar author of Murderbot comes a remarkable story of power and friendship, of trust and betrayal, and of the families we choose.

"I didn't know you were a... demon."
"You idiot. I'm the demon."

Kai's having a long day in Martha Wells' WITCH KING....

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

He’s not going to like the answers.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Andy Weir's The Martian for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Like Thunder

As a big fan Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death and The Book of Phoenix, when I contacted the folks at Daw Books to request a review copy of Shadow Speaker, in my excitement I somehow forgot that the bulk of the author's early career years were spent writing YA material. Hence my disappointment when I realized that her latest was definitely YA.

Indeed, other than the Africanfuturism setting and some Africanjujuism elements, Shadow Speaker was more akin to Binti than the aforementioned novels. Likewise, Like Thunder, its sequel, is YA through and through. Nothing wrong with that, as I mentioned in my previous review. But your mileage will vary based on your expectations. Those looking for adult science fiction will need to look elsewhere, for the Desert Magician's duology is a black and white YA series which offers very little in terms of shades of gray.

Here's the blurb:

Niger, West Africa, 2077

Welcome back. This second volume is a breathtaking story that sweeps across the sands of the Sahara, flies up to the peaks of the Aïr Mountains, cartwheels into a wild megacity—you get the idea.

I am the Desert Magician; I bring water where there is none.

This book begins with Dikéogu Obidimkpa slowly losing his mind. Yes, that boy who can bring rain just by thinking about it is having some…issues. Years ago, Dikéogu went on an epic journey to save Earth with the shadow speaker girl, Ejii Ubaid, who became his best friend. When it was all over, they went their separate ways, but now he’s learned their quest never really ended at all.

So Dikéogu, more powerful than ever, reunites with Ejii. He records this story as an audiofile, hoping it will help him keep his sanity or at least give him something to leave behind. Smart kid, but it won’t work—or will it?

I can tell you this: it won’t be like before. Our rainmaker and shadow speaker have changed. And after this, nothing will ever be the same again.

As they say, ‘Onye amaro ebe nmili si bido mabaya ama ama onye nyelu ya akwa oji welu ficha aru.’

Or, ‘If you do not remember where the rain started to beat you, you will not remember who gave you the towel with which to dry your body.’

If you look at the date, you'll realize that 3 years have passed since the events chronicled in Shadow Speaker. Which means that the truce agreed upon at the end of the first volume is about to expire. I was expecting Okorafor to be less parsimonious in this sequel, but the worldbuilding continues to be subpar. As was the case in its predecessor, the cool concepts and ideas found throughout Like Thunder are seldom developped adequately. If at all, truth be told. Once again, this impacts the overall reading experience in negative fashion.

I wasn't sure how much work the author put into the revised edition of Shadow Speaker. I felt that it was the work of a much less mature Nnedi Okorafor and it showed. She explored many of the themes that would be at the heart of her future novels and short fiction, and the post-apocalyptic African environment was another fixture she would learn to refine and end up calling Africanfuturism. Unfortunately, though you could clearly catch glimpses of the talented writer she would become, I opined that Shadow Speaker was a YA offering that didn't resound with much depth. Oddly enough, though it was written recently, it feels as though Like Thunder is another older and out-of-print title that Okorafor decided to bring back to life. Not a new work written by an experienced pro writing at the top of her game.

Once more, the characterization leaves a lot to be desired. As the title implies, this book is told through the perspective of Dikéogu Obidimkpa, Ejii's companion from the first installment. He is the son of a famous and wealthy Nigerian family that rejected him because he is a metahuman who can control rain, lightning, and thunder. The structure of this novel can be a bit weird, for a good chunk of Dikéogu's tale is told through a series of transcripts of audio recordings he made. This plot device works well at times, but it can occasionally be clunky and I wonder why Okorafor thought that this would be a good way to go. As much as I disliked him in Shadow Speaker and with so little character development and growth over the course of two separate volumes, discovering the extent of Dikéogu's back story was my favorite part of Like Thunder. Another highlight was what happened to him in the aftermath of his return from Ginen. Which is probably why I didn't enjoy how that storyline got cut off, simply so he could be reunited with Ejii. From that point on, the rest of the book is a somewhat uninteresting continuation of the events from Shadow Speaker. With everything being so black and white, I struggled to maintain interest. Had I been younger, perhaps I would have loved this series. Alas, at my age I often found it hard to keep turning those pages.

Like its predecessor, Like Thunder is another relatively short novel that suffers from pacing issues. The narrative flows well at first, then becomes sluggish when Dikéogu and Ejii are reunited. The same goes for the travelogue portion before the endgame, as is usually Okorafor's wont.

Speaking of endgames, this one was more exciting than the one that brought the previous volume to a close. Still, although the ending offered enough closure, its execution was more or less satisfying. As such, it failed to bring the Desert Magician's duology up to par with Nnedi Okorafor's best works. Hence, I only recommend that you read this series if you are a YA fan. Otherwise, you are bound to be disappointed.

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Miles Cameron's The Red Knight for only 0.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale. Please note that all 4 installments in the Aspect-Emperor series are on sale.

Here's the blurb:

This is a world dominated by The Wild.

Man lives in pockets of civilisation claimed from The Wild. Within men's walls life is civilised, the peace punctuated by tournaments, politicking, courtly love and canny business. Beyond those walls men are prey - vulnerable to the exceptionally powerful and dangerous creatures which populate the land, and even more vulnerable to those creatures schemes.

So when one of those creatures breaks out of The Wild and begins preying on people in their homes, it takes a specialist to hunt it down or drive it out . . . and even then, it's a long, difficult and extremely dangerous job.

The Black Captain and his men are one such group of specialists.

They have no idea what they're about to face . . .

Forget George and the Dragon. Forget Sir Lancelot and tales of Knightly exploits. This is dirty, bloody work. This is violent, visceral action. This is a mercenary knight as you've never seen one before.

Quote of the Day

Success and failure have one thing in common. They're made of smaller details. There are exceptions, but they're rare. That's why discipline, especially self-discipline, is so important. You do everything right all the time, you're not going to make many mistakes. Quick and careless, on the other hand. . .

- L. E. MODESITT, JR., From the Forest

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

Another Recluce novel! Yay! =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 19th)

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing maintains its position at number 3.

Stephen King's Holly maintains its position at number 6.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Mickey Zucker Reichert's The Last of the Renshai for 0.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale. Please note that all 4 installments in the Aspect-Emperor series are on sale.

Here's the blurb:

THE WIZARDS: Down through the centuries, these four masters of magic have struggled to maintain the delicate balance of power in the troubled Northlands.

But now the mortal world teeters on the brink of the long-foretold Great War, and not even the eternally conflicting sorceries of the Wizards may be enough to stave off the start of a battle which could—so legends say—herald the beginning of the dreaded final age for mortals, Wizards, and even the gods themselves.

THE RENSHAI: They are the mightiest, most hated and feared of all warrior races. When their enemies band together in a surprise attack on their homeland, one Renshai will escape the genocidal ambush.

He is fighter destined to walk the pathways of prophecy, a lone warrior determined to keep the memory of his people alive and to claim his vengeance on the slayers of his race. He is a master of destruction who—if he can survive in a world where the very name Renshai is guaranteed sentence of death—may be doomed to become the Champion of the Great War.

Quote of the Day

The strongest of people can be broken by the smallest of things--if you understand them.

- MICHELLE WEST, Firstborn

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

Warrior of the Altaii

I've always been curious about Robert Jordan's Warrior of the Altaii, yet I could never bring myself to fork out my hard-earned money for a never published novel and what I knew could only be a much inferior work from the author. Then I saw it in a clearance sale and with my plum points it only cost me 3$ for the hardcover edition. Which, if I'm totally honest, is about what this book is worth.

In the foreword, Jordan's wife claims that Warrior of the Altaii is like a fine wine that has reached perfect maturity. Well, I beg to differ. I'm not sure how much Harriet knows about wine, but this book is simple generic 80s fantasy fare. It's no wonder it never got published, even if it came close twice. True, you can see a lot of foreshadowing regarding themes and events from The Wheel of Time. But in the end, this novel has more to do with Jordan's Conan titles than his signature series. Given that this is an unedited draft, you should definitely lower your expectations if you're interested in giving this one a shot.

Here's the blurb:

Epic fantasy legend, and author of #1 New York Times bestselling series The Wheel of Time®, Robert Jordan's never-before published novel, Warrior of the Altaii:

Draw near and listen, or else time is at an end.

The watering holes of the Plain are drying up, the fearsome fanghorn grow more numerous, and bad omens abound. Wulfgar, a leader of the Altaii people, must contend with twin queens, warlords, prophets and magic in hopes of protecting his people and securing their future. Elspeth, a visitor from another world, holds the answers, but first Wulfgar must learn to ask the right questions.

But what if the knowledge that saves the Altaii will also destroy them?

Worldbuilding is one of the aspects that Robert Jordan truly excels at. The universe of The Wheel of Time echoes with depth, and the scope and vision of the author's magnum opus had never been seen before when The Eye of the World originally came out. Truth be told, I only wanted to read Warrior of the Altaii to witness the genesis of those aforementioned WoT themes. And yes, there are plenty of them and they're impossible to miss if you're a fan of the series. Problem is, with this being an unedited draft, Jordan seldom elaborates on any of the concepts and ideas he introduces as the tale is told. The Most High and the Travelers who can move between worlds are probably the biggest missed opportunities, in my humble opinion. Hence, lots of things make little sense throughout the book. The execution is lacking in various portions of the plot, but again this is due to the fact that it's just a draft and not a thoroughly edited work.

As far as WoT themes and elements go, as I said they're all fairly obvious for discerning readers. The Plain is a slightly less deadly Aiel Waste, though the Altaii are not that similar to the Aiel. The forbidding mountain range the Backbone of the World is the Spine of the World. Lanta, the city that has never fallen, is akin to the Stone of Tear. Only women can use magic and the Sisters of Wisdom are a blend of Aes Sedai and Wise Ones. As punishment for something done in the past, men can no longer travel between worlds. Visions of the future show that Wulfgar is the only one who can somehow safeguard his people, but he could also be the doom of the Altaii. Discovering the first iteration of such WoT plot points sure is interesting, yet it cannot turn what is essentially a somewhat lackluster tale into a pageturner.

Wulfgar has more in common with Conan the Barbarian than any WoT protagonists. Like the Cimmerian Robert Jordan would write about prior to working on his bestselling series, there is more to Wulfgar than meets the eye. And yet, Wulfgar's perspective can't really carry the story on its own. Additional POVs would have provided more layers to what is often a straightforward plot. True, even this early in his career, the author has a few surprises up his sleeve. But it's not enough. The supporting cast is made up of a few characters that stand out, chief among them Mayra, the Sister of Wisdom, and Elspeth, the Traveler. Had the novel been published, I'm persuaded that the characterization would have been improved. Alas, with this draft it leaves a lot to be desired.

You wouldn't expect a 352-page work to suffer from any pacing issues, yet Warrior of the Altaii does get sluggish around the middle when Wulfar is captured in Lanta. Other than that, Robert Jordan keeps the story moving at a good clip. And though this book is a far cry from The Wheel of Time, thankfully it's not just a hack-and-slash fantasy adventure tale. The author did add some layers with the inclusion of lots of seemingly interesting concepts, but we'll never know just how good it could have been because they are almost never elaborated on.

When all is said and done, Warrior of the Altaii can be an intriguing read for big WoT fans. But for casual SFF readers? Not a chance. As mentioned, for anyone not familiar with The Wheel of Time, this will read like subpar generic 80s fantasy fare. There are so many quality reads out there, so there's no reason to read an unpublished novel that should likely have remained unreleased.

The final verdict: 5.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on all three installments of Brian Lee Durfee's The Five Warrior Angels series 1.99$ each by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

Welcome to the Five Isles, where war has come in the name of the invading army of Sør Sevier, a merciless host driven by the prophetic fervor of the Angel Prince, Aeros, toward the last unconquered kingdom of Gul Kana. Yet Gault, one of the elite Knights Archaic of Sør Sevier, is growing disillusioned by the crusade he is at the vanguard of just as it embarks on his Lord Aeros’ greatest triumph.

While the eldest son of the fallen king of Gul Kana now reigns in ever increasing paranoid isolationism, his two sisters seek their own paths. Jondralyn, the older sister, renowned for her beauty, only desires to prove her worth as a warrior, while Tala, the younger sister, has uncovered a secret that may not only destroy her family but the entire kingdom. Then there’s Hawkwood, the assassin sent to kill Jondralyn who has instead fallen in love with her and trains her in his deadly art. All are led further into dangerous conspiracies within the court.

And hidden at the edge of Gul Kana is Nail, the orphan taken by the enigmatic Shawcroft to the remote whaling village of Gallows Haven, a young man who may hold the link to the salvation of the entire Five Isles.

You may think you know this story, but everyone is not who they seem, nor do they fit the roles you expect. Durfee has created an epic fantasy full of hope in a world based on lies.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris' The Temple and the Stone for only 1.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

During the fight for Scotland’s independence, the mystical Order of the Knights Templar battles ancient evil and a treacherous king in this gripping alternate history.

A powerful order of warrior monks forged in the fires of the Crusades during the twelfth century, the legendary Knights Templar did not vanish entirely following their failed campaigns in the Holy Land. Having attained great power and arcane skill, they withdrew from the public eye but remained hidden in the shadows, prepared to do battle against the enemies of Christianity and the adherents of the old malevolent gods. Now, these noble defenders of the faith recognize Scotland as the next battleground, foretold in dreams and visions, as legendary Scottish heroes William “Braveheart” Wallace and Robert the Bruce take up arms against the forces of the English King Edward I in the terrible Anglo-Scottish War.

Charged with establishing their holy fellowship’s temple in the disputed land, loyal knights Arnault de Saint Clair, the French cleric, and Torquil Lennox of Scottish birth arrive in the midst of the bloody conflict to help prevent the conquest of Scotland and assure the ascension of its rightful liege. But the magical stone upon which every Scottish king must be crowned has been drained of its mystical power, and only an extreme sacrifice can revive the magic. A perilous endeavor must be undertaken to stem the supernatural evil that is growing amidst the chaos in the land as a powerful Pictish shaman attempts to raise the ancient pagan gods from the darkness to feed on blood and terror.

Coauthors of the acclaimed Adept historical fantasy series, Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris imagine an alternate history that will appeal to fans of the occult, Scottish history, and the fabled Knights Templar.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 12th)

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing is down one position, ending the week at number 3.

Stephen King's Holly is down one spot, finishing the week at number 6.

Cassandra Clare's Sword Catcher is down five positions, ending the week at number 15.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download R. Scott Bakker's The Judging Eye for only 3.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link . This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale. Please note that all 4 installments in the Aspect-Emperor series are on sale.

Here's the blurb:

The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet, and The Thousandfold Thought --collectively the Prince of Nothing Saga-were R. Scott Bakker's magnificent debut into the upper echelon of epic fantasy. In those three books, Bakker created a world that was at once a triumph of the fantastic and an historical epic as real as any that came before.

Widely praised by reviewers and a growing body of fans, Bakker has already established the reputation as one of the smartest writers in the fantasy genre-a writer in the line stretching from Homer to Peake to Tolkein. Now he returns to The Prince of Nothing with the long awaited The Judging Eye, the first book in an all-new series. Set twenty years after the end of The Thousandfold Thought, Bakker reintroduces us to a world that is at once familiar but also very different than the one readers thought they knew. Delving even further into his richly imagined universe of myth, violence, and sorcery, and fully remolding the fantasy genre to broaden the scope of intricacy and meaning, R. Scott Bakker has once again written a fantasy novel that defies all expectations and rewards the reader with an experience unlike any to be had in the canon of today's literature.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Orbit is having its New Voices 2023 ebook sale for 2.99$ each until December 14th. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's what they say about it:

From epic space opera and gritty cyberpunk to witchy dark fantasy and more, these books are a perfect introduction to the authors you’ll be reading for years to come.

Sale ends December 14, so act now!

Here are the titles on sale:

- The Lost War
- The Combat Codes
- The Jasad Heir
- The Sun and the Void
- The Phoenix King
- No Coincidence
- Shield Maiden
- These Burning Stars
- Tonight, I Burn

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Stephen King's If It Bleeds for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

Readers adore Stephen King’s novels, and his novellas are their own dark treat, briefer but just as impactful and enduring as his longer fiction. Many of his novellas have been made into iconic films, including “The Body” (Stand by Me) and “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (Shawshank Redemption).

The four brilliant tales in If It Bleeds prove as iconic as their predecessors. In the title story, reader favorite Holly Gibney (from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy and The Outsider) must face her fears, and possibly another outsider—this time on her own. In “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” an intergenerational friendship has a disturbing afterlife. “The Life of Chuck” explores, beautifully, how each of us contains multitudes. And in “Rat,” a struggling writer must contend with the darker side of ambition.

If these novellas show King’s range, they also prove that certain themes endure. One of King’s great concerns is evil, and in If It Bleeds, there’s plenty of it. There is also evil’s opposite, which in King’s fiction often manifests as friendship. Holly is reminded that friendship is not only life-affirming but can be life-saving. Young Craig befriends Mr. Harrigan, and the sweetness of this late-in-life connection is its own reward.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sebastien de Castell's Spellslinger for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

A would-be mage with no magic of his own has to defeat powerful enemies with only cunning and deception in the first book of an exciting adventure fantasy series from Sebastien de Castell.

Kellen is moments away from facing his first duel and proving his worth as a spellcaster. There's just one problem: his magic is fading.

Facing exile unless he can pass the mage trials, Kellen is willing to risk everything - even his own life - in search of a way to restore his magic. But when the enigmatic Ferius Parfax arrives in town, she challenges him to take a different path.

One of the elusive Argosi, Ferius is a traveller who lives by her wits and the cards she carries. Daring, unpredictable, and wielding magic Kellen has never seen before, she may be his only hope.

The first novel in a compelling six-book series, bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic.

Quote of the Day

Silences were hard to read, but sometimes they said more than words could.

- MICHELLE WEST, Firstborn

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

About 300 pages into this one and it's the best House War book thus far! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download all three volumes of Katherine Kurtz's The Legends of Camber of Culdi for only 8.83$ if you buy them as a set by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale. It's the perfect starting point for anyone interested in discovering the Deryni saga! For my money, even though it was a bestselling series in the 70s and the 80s, it's one of the most underrated fantasy sagas out there.

Here's the blurb:

Three fantasy novels of intrigue, betrayal, and magic in medieval Gwynedd by the New York Times–bestselling author of the Deryni series—bonus story also included.

Camber of Culdi: Long before Camber was revered as a saint, he was a Deryni noble, one of the most respected of the magical race whose arcane skills set them apart from ordinary humans in the kingdom of Gwynedd. Now, the land suffers under the tyranny of King Imre, whose savage oppression of the human population weighs heavily on Camber’s heart—a heart that is about to be shattered by a tragic loss that will lead him to confront the usurpers whose dark magic haunts the realm.

Saint Camber: The yoke of tyranny has finally been lifted in Gwynedd, but Camber’s job remains unfinished. The dangerous remnants of a conquered enemy still mass at the borders, and the new ruler is desperately unhappy wearing the crown. With the stability of a fragile kingdom at stake, its greatest champion must make the ultimate sacrifice: Camber of Culdi must cease to exist.

Camber the Heretic: The king’s heir is a mere boy of twelve, and the malevolent regents who will rule until young Alroy comes of age are determined to eliminate all Deryni. Suddenly, the future of Gwynedd hangs in the balance, and Camber—once adored as a saint, but now reviled as a heretic—must find a way to protect his people before everything and everyone he loves is destroyed in the all-consuming flames of intolerance and hate.

Filled with mysticism and magic, these sagas reminds us that “Kurtz’s love of history lets her do things with her characters and their world that no non-historian could hope to do” (Chicago Sun-Times).

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 5th)

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing is down one position, ending the week at number 2.

Stephen King's Holly is down 2 spots, finishing the week at number 5.

Cassandra Clare's Sword Catcher is down six positions, ending the week at number 10.

In paperback:

Rachel Gillig's Two Twisted Crowns debuts at number 3.

Dead Things

I discovered the Eric Carter series in a Daw Books Facebook post announcing new relases a few weeks back. Not sure how this could happen, but I had never heard of Stephen Blackmoore prior to seeing that post. Even worse, I was kind of shocked to find out that Cult Classic was the 9th volume in a series which debuted in 2013. Read the blurb for the first installment and got in touch with the folks at Daw to see if they could hook me up with a copy. They were happy to oblige and I'm glad I gave this book a shot.

As always with urban fantasy series featuring a male lead, I was afraid that it could be a Dresden clone. Yet though there are similarities between Butcher's Dresden Files and this one, such as a powerful mostly self-taught young magic-user with ex-girlfriend issues, with few friends and plenty of enemies, and with untapped power levels that he is unaware of, who has come to the attention of higher beings who may seek to recruit or kill him, Eric Carter is no Harry Dresden. Even though Dead Things may read like the episodic early Dresden Files installments, the novel is more of a paranormal and gritty noir murder mystery work than anything else. Expect more blood and gore and a somewhat engaging protagonist, but not as endearing as Harry Dresden turned out to be. I have a feeling that this is intentional and that Eric Carter will grow on the audience as the story unfolds through the sequels.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen Blackmoore's dark urban fantasy series follows necromancer Eric Carter through a world of vengeful gods and goddesses, mysterious murders, and restless ghosts.

Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it's a title Eric Carter is stuck with.

He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He's turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.

When he left LA fifteen years ago, he thought he'd never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.

But now his sister's been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.

Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it's the patron saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who's taken an unusually keen interest in him.

Carter's going to find out who did it, and he's going to make them pay.

As long as they don't kill him first.

What I probably hate the most about urban fantasy works is that the market demands that they be short and relatively fast-paced reads. As a result, the opening chapter of any series in this subgenre is always parsimonious on the worldbuilding front. That aspect is built upon with each subsequent novel, sometimes reaching amazing and unanticipated heights. It's too early to tell whether or not this aspect of the Eric Carter series will echo with the sort of depth that has come to characterize urban fantasy series by authors such as Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green, or if worldbuilding elements will always remain in the background, with the author providing just enough information for the reader to understand what's going on and little else. Blackmoore does a good job explaining how necromancy works and how Carter can use his powers. The same goes for his surprisingly powerful magical toys, which give him a few aces up his sleeve. However, very little is said about how the magical world at large actually works. The same goes for the theology behind said world. Sure, there are gods, goddesses, monsters, etc, but exactly where they fit in the greater scheme of things remains to be seen. Making the death goddess Santa Muerte, patron saint of the Narcos, part of the story gave it a new flavor and will likely have important repercussions down the line. In the end, though the worldbuilding needs a lot of fleshing out, the ideas and concepts introduced by Stephen Blackmoore are intriguing enough to make me want to discover more. As with any other first volume in urban fantasy series, that's all that matters.

As a do-gooder at heart but with a knack to see most of what he touches turn to shit, Eric Carter is an easy protagonist to root for. True, he's a foul-mouthed smartass who gets beaten to a pulp way too many times in the span of such a short book, but there is something about him that makes you care for the poor sod. Imagine if Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad was a badass necromancer. Again, Dead Things doesn't allow for any character development and he's mostly an idiot because he's trying to protect those he loves without realizing that he's alienating them in the process. But as is usually the case for any urban fantasy main character, there seems to be much more to him than meets the eye. Time will tell if that's the case or not. Carter has been running from his past for a long time and now it's catching up to him. The supporting cast is made up of an interesting bunch and like everything else they would benefit from some fleshing out as well. Still, Vivian, Alex, Tabitha, and the immortal bartender Darius all add layers to this story.

Blackmoore captures the LA noir setting extremely well and he keeps the tale moving at a good clip. Pace is never an issue from cover to cover, and it's quite entertaining to follow Carter's first person narrative as every stupid decision he makes forces him to find new ways to get out of the mess he made again and again. Such a structure might get old fast if the main protagonist doesn't wise up at some point. And yet, for the duration of the revenge plot that is Dead Things, it made for a fun ride.

If you are looking for a gritty urban fantasy novel featuring a deeply flawed male lead, Dead Things is for you. There is definitely potential for bigger and better things to come. It remains to be seen whether or not Stephen Blackmoore can up his game and elevate this series to another level.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download RJ Barker's Age of Assassins for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

A young apprentice to an assassin becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that could destroy a kingdom in a brilliant epic fantasy debut by David Gemmell Award-nominated author RJ Barker.

To catch an assassin, use an assassin...

Girton Club-foot has no family, a crippled leg, and is apprenticed to the best assassin in the land. He's learning the art of taking lives, but his latest mission tasks him with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life.

Someone is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince's murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies, Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom.

You can also download K. J. Parker's Devices and Desires for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance -- one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others. . .

In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker's embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion -- his devices and desires.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

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

In hardcover:

Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing maintains its position at number 1.

Stephen King's Holly maintains its position at number 3.

Cassandra Clare's Sword Catcher debuts at number 4.

Alix E. Harrow's Starling House is down four spots, finishing the week at number 12.

In paperback:

Sarah J. Maas' House of Earth and Blood maintains its position at number 15.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

There are a lot of Black Friday deals on Amazon, but here are 3 that are great buys! =)

You can now 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$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

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.

You can also download Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

A major new work from "a writer to make readers rejoice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)— a moving story of memory, magic, and survival.

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

If you can't afford a physical copy of the gorgeous Assassin's Apprentice: The Illustrated Edition by Robin Hobb, you can now get your hands on the digital edition for only 2.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

A gorgeously illustrated anniversary edition of the book that launched the epic Farseer Trilogy, praised by George R. R. Martin as “fantasy as it ought to be written” and Lin-Manuel Miranda as “an incredible series,” featuring a new foreword by Robin Hobb and ten illustrations.

Twenty-five years ago, Robin Hobb’s first novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Thus began a beloved saga spanning multiple series, full of adventure, magic, and sinister plots. To celebrate a quarter-century of wonder, this special edition of Assassin’s Apprentice presents a modern classic as it’s never been seen before, with ten beautiful illustrations by Magali Villeneuve.

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated as an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill—and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family.

As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

System Collapse

You probably recall that I enjoyed the first four Murderbot Diaries novellas, but I felt that too much of the plot always involved Murderbot saving a bunch of clueless and often stupid people. As fun and entertaining as these novellas turned out to be, it was all becoming a little redundant. In the future, I was hoping that Wells would elevate her game and bring this series to another level.

Which she did in Network Effect, the first novel-length project featuring Murderbot. At first, it felt a little like more of the same. But when the author kicked the story into high gear, the book became a thrilling ride that made you want to beg for more.

Then came Fugitive Telemetry, which takes place before Network Effect. This was a little disappointing because the new novella couldn't move the story forward. Moreover, Martha Wells went for more or less the same recipe and this is getting a old. It still was as fun to read as the original novellas, but the novel proved that the author could push the envelope further and add layers to this tale and its characters. In that regard, I felt that Fugitive Telemetry was a backward step, relying on the same ingredients that made the past installments a commercial success instead of trying to move toward bigger and better things.

As the direct sequel of Network Effect, I was hoping that this new Murderbot story would raise the bar higher than ever. Alas, it's becoming clear that the Murderbot Diaries are a cash cow for Tordotcom and that they have no intention of making this series reach new heights. Unless it's by small and relatively expensive increments, that is. Indeed, System Collapse reads like the second part of Network Effect, and it's evident that these two books should have been a single novel. Like its predecessors, System Collapse is an engaging read. But the magic has worn off. It feels like Wells is microwaving leftovers and rehashing the exact same plotlines over and over again.

Here's the blurb:

Everyone's favorite lethal SecUnit is back in the next installment in Martha Wells's New York Times bestselling Murderbot Diaries series.

Am I making it worse? I think I'm making it worse.

Following the events in Network Effect, the Barish-Estranza corporation has sent rescue ships to a newly-colonized planet in peril, as well as additional SecUnits. But if there’s an ethical corporation out there, Murderbot has yet to find it, and if Barish-Estranza can’t have the planet, they’re sure as hell not leaving without something. If that something just happens to be an entire colony of humans, well, a free workforce is a decent runner-up prize.

But there’s something wrong with Murderbot; it isn’t running within normal operational parameters. ART’s crew and the humans from Preservation are doing everything they can to protect the colonists, but with Barish-Estranza’s SecUnit-heavy persuasion teams, they’re going to have to hope Murderbot figures out what’s wrong with itself, and fast!

Yeah, this plan is... not going to work.

For the most part, System Collapse deals with the aftermath of the events covered in Network Effect. As such, the worldbuilding aspect is once more kept to a bare minimum. There's very little in terms of revelations or new concepts/ideas and this newest work maintains the episodic format of the Murderbot Diaries. As always, there seems to be more than meets the eye. As mentioned in my previous reviews, as limited in scope and vision as all these novels/novellas/short stories appear to be, numerous signs hint that there is a depth to the storylines that will be explored in the future. Network Effect was definitely a step in the right direction. Still, just how ambitious and multilayered the Murderbot Diaries will turn out to be remains to be seen. Problem is, Martha Wells and Tordotcom appear to be in no hurry whatsoever. As I've said before, I'm well aware that this is more about Murderbot's perspective and its interactions with humans and non-humans. But at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, the overall story arc will have to gain definition and substance. Unfortunately, System Collapse did nothing to push the series in that direction. If anything, it's another step backward.

First-person narratives are always tricky, but Martha Wells created an extremely endearing main character. Murderbot's POV definitely gives these works their unique flavor and makes this antisocial SecUnit one of the most interesting protagonists in science fiction today. Murderbot's perspective, full of sarcasm and social awkwardness, is as fun to read as it's always been. The return of ART, whatever form it takes, is also a pleasure. The supporting cast in this one seemed to be a little better than before, though I still have a hard time differentiating one character from the next. So much focus is put on Murderbot's point of view that the human characters, with a few exceptions, sort of feel interchangeable and it's difficult to keep track of them all.

Once again, Murderbot is called upon to save people. Yes, that's pretty much all it does in every story thus far. As long as each new novella/novel/short story builds on the groundwork laid by its predecessor, I would have no problem with that. Problem is, it's not the case and this is beginning to be quite frustrating. As was the case with Fugitive Telemetry, System Collapse doesn't cover a lot of ground and seems to be yet another a example of same old, same old. As my expectations have grown with each new title, and as Network Effect sent them soaring, the last two Murderbot releases can be nothing but disappointments. No matter how charitable one tries to be, it sure looks as though they're trying to milk this series as much as humanly possible. And given the size of these books, even if you can mathematically call System Collapse a novel-length project, charging nearly as much for what is essentially little more than a novella as you'd pay for doorstoppers by Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, or Neal Stephenson, it makes for poor value. Especially in this economy.

Given its small size, System Collapse doesn't suffer from pacing issues. I went through it in just a couple of sittings. Though I enjoyed it, there's no denying that something's missing. Network Effect raised the bar higher than it's ever been before and I'm now looking forward to more ambitous and complex storylines. Time will tell if Martha Wells can step up to the plate and follow through with bigger and better Murderbot adventures.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Jim Butcher's Warriorborn: A Cinder Spires Novella for only 4.99$ by following this Amazon Associate link. This OneLink will take you to the nearest Amazon site serving your country and you'll see if you can take advantage of this sale.

Here's the blurb:

From the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of the Dresden Files comes an all-new, action-packed fantasy adventure set in the Cinder Spires universe.

Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster hasn’t even broken in his lieutenant’s insignia when he’s summoned to meet with the Spirearch of Spire Albion himself for a very special—and very secret—purpose. The Spirearch needs Benedict to retrieve a bag he’s “misplaced” on the Colony Spire known as Dependence, which has strangely cut off all contact with the outside world. It’s a delicate mission at best, a potential bloodbath at worst.

To this end, the Spirearch has supplied Benedict with backup in the form of three Warriorborn. But unlike the courageous lieutenant, this trio has formerly used its special gifts for crime, carnage, and outright bloody murder. And all of them were caught and imprisoned because of Benedict. Now, if they behave—and make it back alive—they’ll go free.

But when the odd squad reaches Dependence, they soon discover something waiting for them: a horrific weapon that could shatter the balance of power among the Spires. And Benedict will have to bring his own Warriorborn skills to bear if he, his team, and Spire Albion are to have any hope of survival . . .