Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams



I just finished reading Tad William's latest book. Wow! Told from three points of view, Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard, a Norn leader, Viyeki, and Porto, a Perdruinese mercenary, The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams is a gripping, worthy return to the world of Osten Ard.

But first, THE BLURB:
At the end of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Ineluki the Storm King, an undead spirit of horrifying, demonic power, came within moments of stopping Time itself and obliterating humankind. He was defeated by a coalition of mortal men and women joined by his own deathless descendants, the Sithi.

In the wake of the Storm King’s fall, Ineluki’s loyal minions, the Norns, dark cousins to the Sithi, choose to flee the lands of men and retreat north to Nakkiga, their ancient citadel within the hollow heart of the mountain called Stormspike. But as the defeated Norns make their way to this last haven, the mortal Rimmersman Duke Isgrimnur leads an army in pursuit, determined to end the Norns’ attacks and defeat their ageless Queen Utuk’ku for all time.

Two southern soldiers, Porto and Endri, joined the mortal army to help achieve this ambitious goal—though as they venture farther and farther into the frozen north, braving the fierce resistance and deadly magics of the retreating Norns, they cannot help but wonder what they are doing so very far from home. Meanwhile, the Norns must now confront the prospect of extinction at the hands of Isgrimnur and his mortal army.
Viyeki, a leader of the Norns’ military engineers, the Order of Builders, desperately seeks a way to help his people reach their mountain—and then stave off the destruction of their race. For the two armies will finally clash in a battle to be remembered as the Siege of Nakkiga; a battle so strange and deadly, so wracked with dark enchantment, that it threatens to destroy not just one side but quite possibly all.

Trapped inside the mountain as the mortals batter at Nakkiga’s gates, Viyeki the Builder will discover disturbing secrets about his own people, mysteries both present and past, represented by the priceless gem known as The Heart of What Was Lost

MY REVIEW:
I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a truth about the real world. When The Heart of What Was Lost was launched, I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to.

This is not a long novel, only 224 pages. It is well-written, with the harsh, beautiful prose I have come to expect from Tad Williams. Most importantly, an entire world is encapsulated in those pages. I found the pacing excellent, and at times, heart stopping. There is no place where it slows or becomes pedestrian.

Osten Ard is created from both good and evil, with all the many grey places between those two absolutes clearly defined. For each misery, some small glimmer of hope is introduced, offering a reason for the characters to keep struggling. The unlikely friendship between Porto and Endri is deep despite their rivalry. Through their eyes we see the truth of the conflict and what it means in terms of human suffering.

Duke Isgrimnur is strong and resolute, driven on every level. He is faced with hard decisions, an impossible task, and does what he has to. A many-layered character, Isgrimnur is one of my favorite people in the series, as is Sludig. I had wondered about them at the end of To Green Angel Tower. This ties up their threads well.

Opposite Isgrimnur is Viyeki,  a Norn who has risen high in the Order of Builders. He has also been given an impossible task. It is through him we feel some compassion for the Cloud Children, the immortal Norns, and what they have lost. His thoughts and the way he deals with the constraints he is under illustrate the alien society he lives in and loves, making their reasoning more clear to us. He sees many things that worry him, but as a Host Foreman, his position is somewhat perilous. His world is at stake, but faced with conquering the terrors of the deeps or being crushed by the enemy, he is beset on all sides, caught in the middle. He has questions, doubts, and the answers offer him no comfort.

I give this book five full stars. In the watershed series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams originally created the world of Osten Ard masterfully, exploring it through the diverse people’s thoughts and conversations. This novel is a brilliant continuation of that tale. He uses his characters’ impressions to show the setting, the history, and the core of the conflict. Through their eyes, we know this amazing world.

You can find  The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams  in paper, as an audiobook, or a Kindle download at Amazon. It is also available at other eBook retailers, and in paper at all brick and mortar stores.

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(originally posted 20 Jan 2017 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, by Connie J. Jasperson)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Darkness Rising 6: Redemption, by Ross M. Kitson





Ross M. Kitson has finally completed his Darkness Rising series with Darkness Rising Book 6: Redemption, and I have to say, I couldn't have imagined a better, more thrilling conclusion to the story. I was fortunate enough  to be asked to edit the novel, which was a real pleasure. Then when I read the final book, and saw what Kitson had done with what was already a great story, I was knocked out. But you be the judge!

But first, the BLURB:

There's no change without loss. No gain without sacrifice. Redemption is rarely painless.'

War has ripped apart Artoria as the dark forces of Vildor prepare for the final battle. Flying north to battle, Lady Orla forms an uneasy alliance with the Artorians. Yet her heart remains heavy with the guilt of recent betrayal.

In the wilderness of the Wastes, Emelia has succumbed to Vildor's black charm and watches helplessly as his schemes come to their terrible conclusion. Separated from his partner, Hunor, the Wild-Mage Jem races across Artoria to save Emelia. But more than just Vildor stands in his way as the terrors of the past seek to steal the might of the crystals from his grasp, and with them all hope of salvation.

The final book in the epic fantasy series, Darkness Rising- Redemption brings the incredible journey to its thrilling conclusion.


My Review:

All I can say is wow. This final book in the series is absolutely engrossing. Once I had my Kindle version in my hot little hands, I was unable to put the book down for fear I would miss something, even falling asleep reading it! All the threads are wrapped up, and done so in brilliant and unexpected ways.

Hunor is still and will always be my favorite character, but I grew to have a deep affection for Kervin, which surprised me because I was so angered by him previously. Each character brings their best (and sometime worst) nature to the battle, which is definitely weighted against them. Vildor has the upper hand, but his arrogance and disdain eventually get out of hand.

Each character's nature is explored through their actions, and each choice they make for good or ill has repercussions. Emelia finally grows up, but is it too late? Lady Orla also does some maturing, as does Marthir, who ultimately has the most intriguing part to play.

If you haven't read the previous 5 volumes, I do recommend them, but even a person new to the series will find this book impossible to put down. The action is non-stop, and there are some rather graphic scenes of violence.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fellside, M.R. Carey

It’s been a while since I had the chance to just sit down and read—sometimes my working life interferes with my reading life. So I was finally able to begin looking at my pile of new books and on the very top was Fellside, by M.R.Carey.

But first, THE BLURB:
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?

MY REVIEW:
Wow! Where to start…From the first line, this book reaches out and grabs you. Quote: It’s a strange thing to wake up not knowing who you are. The first line hooked me, and the book completely lives up to that first line.

Jess Moulson is an intriguing character. Her life has gone to hell, and she has no idea why.  She is charged with a horrific crime, and while she knows she is innocent, she is unable to prove it. Young, a drug-addict, and na├»ve, she is the perfect fall guy when a person in a position of power need one.

She lives in a bad part of town, and one of the neighbors has a son, neglected and abused. Alex touches Jess’s heart, and she does what she can to alleviate his life. She is accused of setting the fire that results in his death.

She also believes she can hear him speaking from beyond the grave.

It is when we get to Fellside Prison that things really kick into high-gear.

M.R. Carey has a gift for creating atmosphere. Fellside is dark, dangerous, and ultimately the domain of the male guard known within those walls as “Devil” Devlin.

Grace makes hell intolerable, and Devil Devlin enforces the pain. Still, Jess finds women like Liz, and Sophie—women as broken as she is, and finds compassion is as sweet and precious as water in the desert. She treasures it when she finds it.

The truths Jess discovers while behind those walls come to a shocking, violent conclusion. The ending is not what I expected, but is more powerful because of that.

This is not a light read. This is very much a psychological thriller. I found this book difficult to put down, and hard to forget.

I give Fellside by M.R. Carey five stars.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Girl Called Wolf, Stephen Swartz


The book I am discussing today, A Girl Called Wolf, by indie author, Stephen Swartz, is a biographical fantasy, that is it is a fantasy based on the true story of Anna Good.

BUT FIRST, THE BLURB:

Ice and snow are all 12 year old Anuka knows outside the hut in Greenland where she was born. When her mama dies, Anuka struggles to survive. The harsh winter forces her to finally journey across the frozen island to the village her mama always feared. But the people of the village don’t know what to do with this girl. They try to educate and bring her into the modern world, but Anuka won't make it easy for them. She sees dangers at every turn and every day hears her fate echoing in her mama’s voice. Her mama gave her that name for a reason. She is A GIRL CALLED WOLF who searches for the place where she belongs, a destination always just out of reach, on a path she will always make her own.


MY REVIEW:

In the opening chapters, Swartz’s Greenland has a harsh, ethereal quality. The environment is shown as unearthly, beautiful, and deadly, as are the people. The story of his protagonist Anuka (later called Anna) and her early life stands out sharply against the nearly cinematic backdrop, yet Swartz shows it with an economy of words.


Anuka's life is very hard, and she knows it in some small way. But it is all she knows, and she loves her mother, her life, and the abusive man who comes in and out of her life with some regularity.

Later, when Anuka is forcibly taken to civilization, that village and its poverty, as compared to her prior life, is clear in the reader’s head. It is seen through her eyes, although the villagers themselves don’t see themselves as poor in comparison–just the opposite. Swartz manages to get that across without overstating it: it simply is. Anna's life, and her discovery of who she is and her place in the world is a gripping story.

Conveying the mood of a piece and evoking a real sense of place is where artistry and skill on the part of the author comes into play. A book can be a simple recounting of events, or it can be an immersive experience. Swartz makes this a beautiful, harsh, immersive experience.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Toy Wars, Thomas Gondolfi



Toy Wars, by Thomas Gondolfi was a bit of a departure for me. It is hard sci-fi, so despite the name, it is not a warm and fuzzy sort of book.

But first, THE BLURB:

Don wakes from a normal manufacturing process as a two-meter, sentient teddy bear sporting purple fur. He learns he is the result of a desperate gamble by an autonomous factory with hashed programming. To protect his home, his way of life, and his creator, Don must lead other killer toys across a harsh alien landscape to battle the native fauna of Rigel-3 and even his own kind.

His discoveries change not only his view of the wars, but his own Human gods. In spite of these trials, Don’s harshest test may be getting his own brethren to believe his adventures and the soul-churning changes needed to survive.

MY REVIEW:

This is an intriguing book, with an unusual storyline. The idea of sentient toys battling for supremacy seems at first glance, cartoonish. But it is not, and there is a deep story here.

First, I caution you that there is a large info dump at the beginning. Don't put the book down--stick with it, and you'll find that the story that follows is immersive and well written.

Teddy-1499's journey to self-awareness as 'Don Quixote' is the core of this tale. He is born pre-programmed for certain tasks in the ongoing galactic war, but somewhere along the line, Teddy develops a desire to live, affection, guilt, compassion, and a need to understand the meaning of his life.

Teddy-1499 reads widely, and in Cervantes' 'Don Quixote,' he finds a kindred spirit. He begins finding many parallels in his own situation to that of the mad knight, and when he finds himself in opposition to his creator factories, he takes that as his name.

This novel is techno-based, with a lot of military jargon, which I found daunting but which will appeal to adults who read hard sci-fi with a military-centric plot.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Black Numbers, Dean Frank Lappi





One of my all-time favorite books by indie author Dean Frank Lappi, is his first one, a little thing called Black Numbers. 


But first the blurb:

In a land where true magic is based on the rare ability to use advanced mathematics to affect the physical world, those who can control such powers are part of a secret organization known as the Oblate. Over the millennia, they have directed the Korpor, a violent and sexual creature, to roam the land and search for the Aleph Null, the one prophesied to control the mysterious Black Numbers, a power beyond anything ever seen in the land.
Sid’s awakening sexuality and genius-level mastery of mathematics puts him on a collision course with the Korpor and the Oblate, and he soon finds himself on the run from powerful and mysterious forces intent on controlling him and his powers. His journey propels him to the center of an ancient struggle that he cannot understand and wants no part of.
But he is not alone, for the friendships that he forges along the way help him to navigate the dark and chaotic road he must travel.
Can Sid overcome the seductive darkness known as Black Numbers?

MY REVIEW:

This book is in many ways a traditional fantasy, but Lappi crosses the line into horror without losing the qualities that I love in an epic fantasy. We have a true Good vs Evil plot, a completely believable system of magic, incredibly frightening creatures and a plot that would make Clive Barker proud.

In Black Numbers, Lappi has created a character-driven plot with all the elements of the Hero's Journey that true fantasy incorporates, along with the atmosphere of fear that great horror evokes.

Magic is expressed both sexually and through mathematics. The central protagonist, Sid (Sidoro) is a young boy growing up with a hard, uncaring father. Sid's father teaches him how to use mathematics, believing with all his heart that Sid is the Aleph Null - a prophesied wielder of the Black Numbers who will rule The Oblate. However, the dreadful creature called the Korpor must test him, and sexually awaken his numbers.

This is not a story for the weak of heart. Sid's violent and frightening encounters with the Korpor are the stuff of nightmares. Many people want to see Sid dead, because of what he is. Fortunately for Sid, he attracts friends who are willing to protect him, one of whom is Crowdal, a giant of a man who is a member of a race called the Trith.

Lappi has created a tale that makes you both afraid to turn the page, and terrified not to. You want to see what will happen to Sid and Crowdal, and at the end, you are left wanting to read more: Lappi set it up beautifully for the sequel, Blood Numbers. I loved this book!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Magic, Mystery, and Mirth: Lindsay Schopfer


Today, I have the always-delightful work of indie author Lindsay Schopfer on deck in the form of a short volume, Magic Mystery and Mirth. This collection of short stories is a great read. The cover is one of the colorful and creative covers of the year.

But First, The Blurb:
Join fantasy author Lindsay Schopfer as he shares eight short tales of adventure and imagination, including…

A genie taken to court for giving bad wishes
A Strange Tales-inspired look at technology in modern society
A reimagining of the banshee myth
A steampunk tale of dirigibles and magic
A sword and sorcery spoof staring a burly wizard, a tall skinny dwarf, a toy dragon breeder, and a tailor
… and more.

Also included is a special sneak peak of Into the North, the upcoming sequel to the steampunk adventure novel The Beast Hunter.

My Review:
Let's face it--I love short story collections. Some of the best, most enduring works of fiction arrive in the form of the short story, and there are a couple of real jewels in this book.

The book opens with Sharp Sword Dull Sword. This particular tale was inspired by being told a contest he was thinking about entering did NOT want any tales involving talking swords.  What emerged from his rebellion is a witty little send-up of every D&D game ever played. If you are looking for snark, this tale is just what you ordered!

My personal favorite in this volume is Disconnected. In this tale, Schopfer voyages into literary, cerebral science fiction, and does it well. This is a thinking person's tale, and was rightfully selected as a finalist in PNWA's annual literary contest. In this tale he explores the place where modern technology and modern society merge.

As a bonus, he gives us a preview of Into the North, the sequel to The Beast Hunter. All the common sense and cold perserverance that Kelton Moore displayed in The Beast Hunter is back in full force in this snippet.