Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

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The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand. The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

 What I liked…

I’ll admit it, I just didn’t like this book. I found the plot, the dialogue and the fearless wielding of a million fantasy tropes clunky. But as this is the part where I’m positive, I’ll have to dig deep… There is a danger that I’ve really misunderstood this book, and that it is deliberately aimed at an audience I am not part of. Young Adult, perhaps? If so, I can find positives in the pacing and simplicity of the style. It’s a coming-of-age story, the blurb sums it up well enough, and the protagonist suffers from doubt and is filled with righteous vengeance, and if you love that sort of thing, then this is the book for you. The next bit will be longer…

What I didn’t like…

I knew the time would come when I’d have to review something I didn’t like, and I have fretted long and hard about what I should say. I respect Joe Abercrombie, whose First Law books are among my favourite examples of the genre, but I can only say how it feels. I may or may not be right on a lot of this, but it’s how I feel, and if you’re going to review something, then you have to be true to your opinions, right?

The characters seemed very two-dimensional, and the dialogue between them lacked any fizz whatsoever. It was almost like the author was parodying a younger person in prose as much as style, and not enjoying himself when he did so. Joe Abercrombie is a great writer, but this seemed to me to be un-polished and un-cared for. I found it very frustrating to read, and I found myself having to force myself to get to it. The last half took an age to finish. It felt like a bad movie, like those you might catch on the sci-fi channel. Trope-heavy and pedestrian with it, it lacked any punch at all. I think I have definitely misunderstood the point of this book. I am clearly not the intended audience, which is strange, because I don’t mind young-adult stuff, so long as it’s done convincingly. If it’s not young-adult, why does it feel like it’s trying to be? I am confused!

The world built to encompass this book starts off being intriguing, but ends up fading into a mish-mash of  blah, and all of it feels as though the author simply did not give it his all. It all felt formulaic and derivative. I know there are plenty of reviews of this that love it, but there is no way I can be one of them. Apologies feel necessary…!

So…

I prefer to think that Joe Abercrombie is trying out something particular I just don’t get. I am going to re-read the Three Laws now, as I know full well they feature everything lacking in Half a King. I am very disappointed.

Rating…

Can’t believe I’m doing this to a Joe Abercrombie book! 2.5/5

Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

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The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

The path to the throne is broken – only the broken may walk it.

To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.

This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Don’t think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

 What I liked…

As with other reviews I have re-read Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns preceding what I shall heretofore dub Emperor, so this review is about the whole trilogy. First up, what I liked most about this book was the way the author took a good – nay a great – character, set him to his task and, when it was all over and the flames had died down, there was a good solid resolution. This is a trilogy and was never going to be more than three books. Proper story-telling, and it was a joy to read. I think I read somewhere that Mr Lawrence based the central POV, Jorg Ancrath, on Anthony Burgess’s Alex, from A Clockwork Orange, and it showed in every extreme. It is all the more enjoyable because of the deft way in which the author makes you care for such a creature, which I guess is a given in redemption stories. There is always a crumb of hope, no matter how many times the author says there isn’t. The first-person POV was the kicker, and what really dragged you in. A lot of the success of these books owe their existence to the central character’s ability to keep you enthralled.

I really liked the setting too. Distantly enough post-apocalypse for it not to have the grubby history weighing it down, and recognisable enough for you to adequately picture everything described. Jorg’s rampage across a devastated Europe and Africa would not be so interesting if it were set in, uh, Mythrilshire. You get my point… And the rationale behind magic and necromancy was more evidence of deftness at work. I appreciate it when a book makes logical sense. I’m sensitive that way!

What I didn’t like…

It was sometimes a bit confusing. Perhaps it was little ol’ me with my little ol’ brain, but sometimes I found myself having to go back and check stuff, and every-so-often there’s a big chunk of text that just wafts on past, unheeded. These instances are rare, and I am not confident that they aren’t all the product of reading too much too late into the night. But these books’ll do that to ya. Some of the characters need some girth to them (it that be the correct term…which it isn’t), and I’m thinking of Miana, Chella and Makin, for some reason. This is probably all explained by the POV, but I prefer things just so, sometimes.

So…

The problem with reviewing in general – more especially as I’ve only just begun to do this – is that I rarely finish a book that isn’t good, which lends itself to a lack of bad reviews. A statistical bias toward the good book. I know that I’m going to have to put a bad review on here some day, if only for balance. Thankfully, Mark Lawrence has saved me the bother of finding flaws today, at least ones that should stop you reading this very accomplished trilogy.

Rating

I gave it 5/5 on Goodreads, can’t see why it can’t be my first 5/5 here!

The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks

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The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe. But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley. Worse, Gavin no longer has the one thing that defined him — the ability to draft.

Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.

What I liked…

I suppose I had better state that this review is more for the series –Lightbringer – than just The Broken Eye, as I read all three books in vast orgy of perusal. But as for what I liked, there was much… It flies at a pace, yet has the richness that makes it easily categorised as Epic Fantasy. The writing is tight as a car bonnet. That seems like a strange thing to say, but there is so much vibrancy and depth to these books, that it’s hard to know where to start. The magic system, obviously, is what I liked most of all. Light and colour are the background shades (?) of the series so far, although I struggled throughout to visualise the luxin, which might not just have been a fault of the author so much as a fault in the mind of the reviewer. Still, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. As far as the magic goes I am much reminded of Brandon Sanderson, if only that Brent Weeks shares the same capacity to forge wilder and wilder sorceries, full of imagination and verve. And the magic system has shaped the world to such an extent that I imagine when the author had the idea he probably spent the next week in a fever of excitement as he began to examine how life would be under such…metaphysics? Probably not the right word, but this entire series has messed with my head, man!

And Mr Weeks handles the theme with such deftness; by turns, comic and epic in his phrasing. The main characters are brilliant. Well let me qualify that; most of the main characters are brilliant (some not so much – see later). They all have their peculiarities, their particular weaknesses and strengths, their vulnerabilities. Kip’s balance between doubt, weakness, arrogance and the heroic was palpable throughout, and he grew in the book so convincingly. And Andross positively oozed menace. Gavin Guile was every bit the dashing hero with secretive flaws, and the author handles the immense power he has without allowing it to seem unrealistic (as far as fantasy goes!). The dialogue is sharp and clever too, and Kip the Lip was entertaining throughout. The emotional scenes were shudderingly good.

There is much to like with these books, and I, for one, will be back for more. Brent Weeks is good!

What I didn’t like…

I have the feeling that the female characters were left somewhat in the shade this time, and seemed shoe-horned in at times. I am led to believe this is a tetralogy (4 books), and I suspect the female characters will drive much of the finale, which will be interesting (I think it will be at least a year away). It may have been because I was reading quickly, but they felt less convincing than their male counterparts in this book.

I didn’t much like the Blackguards, which fell into the same ninja warrior trope of such fantasy with too much convenience. I could have done with a little more twisting, or examples of them in contention with the authorities. It was somewhat redeemed by the twist at the end, which was good, if not entirely unexpected. Still, not many flaws (if they are truly that) to change my mind overall…

So…

The first book  of Lightbringer is a slow-burner. By book two you will forge ahead willingly, then by this book – The Broken Eye – you are treated to a tour-de-force that will leave you, as it did me, cursing the long, looong wait for the next in the series. But I will be buying it. And so should you!

Rating…

4.5 out of 5

The Crimson Campaign, by Brian McClellan

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The book’s blurb… from Goodreads

The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions’ Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god. In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chef Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir’s advancing army. Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye.

What I liked…

Promise of Blood was a good book – different enough to rouse my interest. If a series opener makes you curse the fact that you will have to wait for the sequel then it is a good book, in my opinion. The Crimson Campaign takes the good parts of the previous book and builds upon them with significant aplomb, revealing a greater richness to the characters that I think was definitely needed.

It has the same gritty style, the same almost pulp-like narrative – terse and oh-so-noir occasionally – but it is so much greater in scope than the first. This world, if I can generalise, is a mix of 18th/19th century Europe/France, early 19th/20th century Germany, and the wild west, with a dash of gunpowder, magic and the divine to spice it all up. It is a great relief to linger in such a world after too much Sword n Sorcery (confession, I’ve just finished the Wheel of Time…) and it has a richness and diversity that is intriguingly appealing. It is a thoroughly believable world, of industry, gunpowder, gods, armies and unions, politics and intrigue. An effective canvas for a gripping tale.

The characters are good without being exceptional. Tamas is Napoleonic in his search for vengeance, and bleak enough to bleach, but is tempered by a good heart and a  loyalty to his country and people. Taniel’s blossoming love interest with mute Ka-Poel – the mystery of mysteries in the book – is touchingly crafted.  I particularly enjoyed Adam Ant, ahem, sorry, Adamat (can’t help it) as he lurches from disaster to disaster, striving to save his family. Even the gods are interestingly human.

I would have to say the main strength of the book is the sense of drama that was kept ramped up all the way through. This is not surprising – it didn’t seem to be that long of a book to me. But this is a good thing. The action was ceaseless and the set up for the next part in the series has left me cursing the fact I will not be able to read it right now.

What I didn’t like…

I am new at reviewing – this is my first proper attempt – and it is this part that I knew I would hate! I am too forgiving…

I would have liked to have seen more of Bo – the Privileged – who is an intriguing character that barely gets a look in, save for on the fringes of Adamat’s story. I would have liked more back-story to Ka-Poel (I love this character, btw). Some of the prose was clunky, or perhaps the style was just becoming a distraction. I would not normally notice these things, but the short paragraphs and terse sentences seemed so obviously just an attempt to reinforce the style.

So…

As I say, these flaws are tiny, and only bear mention because a review has to have a format, right? Overall I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who loves the genre. As for what that genre is, I would describe it as steam-punk meets urban gritty fantasy, which is too inelegant a phrase to be using, I suspect. Regardless, it’s a great read.

Rating…

4 out of 5