Friday, May 31, 2013

The Emperor's Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

I am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, and it's a treat when one of his books is made available at the very reasonable price of $2.99 for the Kindle Download, as it was in May. I don't know how long the price break will continue, but even at $4.99 this is a great deal. The Emperor's Soul is a novella, but it is a long novella, and is a satisfying weekend read. This tale has been nominated for a Hugo Award, and for good reason.

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai's only possible ally is the emperor's most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…

In Shai, Sanderson has created a character who is compelling and completely believable. Shai is more than merely a forger, she is an artist.  She takes pride in her work, and rightfully so. The way she is portrayed is a departure for Sanderson, in that she is most definitely a woman, and she is the central figure. There is a strong sense of history to this tale, and the structure of their society is clearly drawn in only a few well-crafted words.

Shai is thief, but not just any kind of a thief. Shai has been trained to forge a replica of the original item to leave in its place. Her replicas are masterful. in many ways her replicas are better than the originals. The power of her work as she remakes her surroundings she amazes Gatona, and every day he is more confused by her. This is not a love story--Gaotona struggles to understand why an artist of her caliber, who loves the craft as much as she does prostitutes her gift by making forgeries. 

Two factions now control her fate. They have something she needs, and she has something they need, but for how long? The Emperor Ashravan's condition has opened up new possibilities for some on the council, and they are ruthless. Shai is safe for the moment, but she knows her life hangs by a thread and only a miracle will save her.

She is locked in a room, and you only leave that room through the objects and the memories she is forging. Yet Sanderson manages to convey not only who she is, but who Councillor Gaotona is, who the Emperor Ashravan is as a man, and what the current state of the political world is. He shows you the world around her and you see those who would rule and the decaying empire they would commit any atrocity to control.

I highly recommend this book. It is high fantasy at it's best, and you will not be disappointed!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

As any good fantasy fan must, I love the work of Mercedes Lackey. We share the same birthday (different years) and the same abiding love of the genre of fantasy, music and the renaissance. +Mercedes Lackey writes immersive fantasy tales that are not only well-crafted; they rise far above your standard hack-and-slash sword-and-sorcery.  In her Valdemar series, Lackey takes the genre and amps it up.

This book is a bit outside my usual genre of epic fantasy. When I bought the Kindle download, I assumed The Fire Rose was a romance with a fantasy twist, maybe a book to while away a rainy northwest afternoon. In a sense I was right, but I was also wrong. First published in Oct. 1995, this is a full-on fantasy with a good dose of romance, set in Edwardian era San Francisco. For some reason, I had never come across this book, and was thrilled to find it as a Kindle download.
The Blurb:

Beauty Meets Beast in San Francisco

Accepting employment as a governess after hard times hit her family, medieval scholar Rosalind Hawkins is surprised when she learns that her mysterious employer has no children, no wife, and she is not to meet with him face to face. Instead, her duties are to read to him, through a speaking tube, from ancient manuscripts in obscure, nearly-forgotten dialects.

A requirement for the job was skill in translating medieval French, and she now understands the reason for that requirement, and assumes her unseen employer’s interest in the descriptions of medieval spells and sorcery is that of an eccentric antiquary. What she does not realize is that his interest is anything but academic. He has a terrible secret and is desperately searching for something that can reverse the effects of the misfired spell which created his predicament.
My Review:

Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins travels by train to San Francisco and is met by Paul du Mond, her employer’s secretary. Paul is a mysterious, rather arrogant man and Rosalind doesn't really know what to make of him, but she doesn't like him. She does not physically meet her employer Jason Cameron; rather she gets to know him only through the speaking tube in her rooms. I loved that twist; it reminded me of getting to know a person via email. The mind is not distracted by what the eye sees, and the conversation becomes the driving force in the relationship.

Lackey portrays her characters well, and in keeping with the era which she has set them in. Rose is intelligent, highly educated and strong. She is a lady in every sense of the word, yet she has a sense of adventure and loves the experience of learning. She has a backbone and she is not afraid to use it.

Of course, Jason Cameron is much more than he has presented himself to be, and he has many ulterior motives for selecting Rosalind out of the list of candidates who could have filled the position. Jason Cameron is a man of vast wealth and great power in every sense of the word. He is fully aware that his own hubris caused his transformation, and to his chagrin, his personality is vastly benefiting from the dose of humility he inadvertently administered to himself. 

Paul du Mond is also more than he appears. He is also a man with nasty vices and a cruel streak a mile wide, and he knows Jason’s plans for Rose. From the outset Paul is not pleased that Rosalind has been brought in to read to Jason. This jealousy drives the plot, and fuels the mayhem that ensues. Paul du Mond is arrogant, self-centered, and a sociopath. He reaches higher than his abilities can handle and has no moral compunction against using any means to achieve the desire of the moment.

Besides being a master creator of some of the most popular sword-and-sorcery in the fantasy genre, +Mercedes Lackey also knows how to write fabulous twists on traditional fairy tales  She knocks it out of the park with this tale.

A lot of people are writing modern takes on fairy tales but they frequently fall short of the mark. They forget that there must be a great plot that goes well beyond the original or it’s just a rehashing of the tried and true. The Fire Rose goes way beyond the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast, to the point you completely forget the original tale that sparked this idea of novel.

NO ONE melds romantic tension and magic into a tale as well as Mercedes Lackey. Her romance is classy and her magic is always well crafted and sensibly depicted, making this book a great read for any day, rainy or not. The final chapters of this tale are gripping and the ending is completely satisfying, and was unexpected--the best kind of ending.

This book is a stand-alone book, but I will most definitely be reading the others in this series of books, the Elemental Masters

Friday, May 10, 2013

Everville - the First Pillar, by Roy Huff

Everville – The First Pillar by Roy Huff is a bit of a departure for me. It is a young adult fantasy, and is told in the first person. I have to admit, the cover art is wonderful and it  intrigued me me enough to buy the book.

The Blurb:
Owen Sage is the emblematic college freshman at Easton Falls University. With all the worries about his first year in college, he was not prepared for what would happen next. His way of life was flipped upside down when he mysteriously crossed into another dimension, into the beautiful land of Everville. His excitement was abruptly halted when he discovered that there was a darkness forged against both the natural world, which he knew well, and the new land which he discovered, Everville. He must devise a plan to save both worlds while joining forces with the race of Fron and The Keepers, whom both harbor hidden secrets he must learn in order to gain power over the evil that dwells in The Other In Between.

With a race against time to save both worlds, his short time at Easton Falls did not quite prepare him for the evil, dark forces he must fight in order to conquer The Other In Between.

My Review:
I will admit that I had a hard time getting into the story. The beginning a bit confusing, but I persevered and I am glad I did. Stick with it readers! After the first few pages, this shapes up into a good enjoyable novel.
Owen Sage is a rather naïve young man, and is very close to his good friends Dante and Anika. They take an art class together, and they join an art club, as well as the Echo Club. The clubs and the art class are extremely important to the tale.

In the world of Everville Owen meets the Keeper. He is a wise old man who is trying protect the Fron: a race of friendly, short, hairless, large-eared, people. The Fron are in trouble, from an aggressive, ugly race known as Them.

Huff’s characters are well drawn, and enjoyable. He takes the tale in several quite unpredictable directions, and his system of magic is well thought out and unique. Huff takes the concept of college competition to a new level and makes it fundamental to the tale.

It is a first book in a series, and I am sure the next installment will be quite well received. All in all, I give this book four solid stars, and think Mr. Huff has a fine career ahead of him as an author of young adult fantasy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modesitt Jr. First Published in 1992, it was for me a watershed book, introducing me to the world of Recluce. Though it is the second installment in the series, it is a stand alone book and is a prequel to the classic, The Magic of Recluce.  I am a huge fan of Modesitt's style. He writes with an economy of words, and yet you are drawn into his world, to the exclusion of everything else. 

The Blurb:
Okay, there is no blurb. This is one of those Big 6 published books where, in their wisdom, they quit putting blurbs on books and instead put glowing comments from Interzone, Publisher's Weekly, and the (now) late Jo Clayton on the back cover instead. I do think a blurb helps to sell a book. This is the only fault I could find with the book, but I bought it for the cover art, because, hey, it's what I always do. The cover art is awesome, and in this case it introduced me to an amazing author. (Of course the cover is awesome--it's published by Tor and they do great covers.)

My Review:
In the world of Recluce there are two different kinds of magic, White (chaos magic), and Black (order magic).  Depending on the book in this series, you find yourself on either side of the magic issue, and in this book it is the Black that is the “good-guys”.

Creslin is the unwanted son of the powerful Marshall of Westwind, an all-female military city-state. Creslin has begun to show the signs of being strong in the Black magic of Order. He is betrothed against his will to Megaera, the sister of the Tyrant of Sarronnyn. She is a powerful White Wizard, and is considered an abomination, as the female societies are very much Order based and Sarronnyn is similarly a female military-run country. Creslin flees eastward to the lands where men are free to make their own rules, but where he is captured by the White magicians, and forced to labor building the great highway.

He is aided by two Black wizards. He is finally forced into a corner and must marry his less-than-thrilled fiancée, Megaera. She has been manipulated by her sister and by magic into the marriage herself. The two are forced into exile and undertake the regency of the desolate isle of Recluce. Although it’s barren, they hope to turn it into a prosperous haven free of the White wizards. Creslin and Megaera bicker constantly, and she is downright cruel to him, but they are tied to each other magically and they must somehow learn to live together, or they will die. The wizards of Fairhaven have other plans, and Creslin must master his own powers, make the desert Recluce bloom, and defeat the Chaos magicians if he hopes to survive.

Creslin and Megaera have many ordeals to overcome, not the least of which is Megaera’s horrible treatment of him.

This is a big, sweeping epic fantasy and yet it is an intimate story of love and strong women and men learning to coexist when there may be no common ground, no middle for them to meet.  This is the real story, for me.

I absolutely love Modesitt’s magic system. It is unique, and completely believable. His social system is quite detailed and amazing too. Modesitt spends time building the worlds his characters must live in and the world of Recluce is clearly defined and easily visualized as you read any of the many books in this series.
Some people have disparaged this particular book because of the way Megaera treats Creslin, and also the way Modesitt builds the first half of the book. Some people don't like the present tense point of view. I liked it for precisely ALL those reasons, even though I am not normally a fan of this p.o.v.. If you are looking for a real fantasy adventure, with a unique world and engaging characters this is it. I am a huge fan of +L.E. Modesitt Jr., not just of his Recluce series, but of ALL his work. Nearly all of Modesitt’s science fiction works, such as the Parafaith War and the Time Diver duology  are also books that have become classics in my library.