Friday, September 27, 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Okay—I had to do it.  I love manga and anime, and while this book has no illustrations, any book that involves an ordinary Joe taking on superheroes gone bad, in an anime-style post-apocalyptic setting was bound to interest me.

The Blurb:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

My review.
Wow!  Action from page one, right to the end.  Sanderson is back to writing in a way that is fresh and out-there.  You feel like he has fallen in love with writing all over again, and it is awesome.
The protagonist, David is young, hotheaded and naïve. He is smart and too bold for his own good.  He meets people who are justifiably wary of him, and that is when his adventures really begin. David gets put through the wringer and keeps coming back for more.

The Epics are nothing more than common thugs, street-criminals with no class and no conscience.  They abuse their super-powers as much as they can, and they flaunt their power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more powerful an Epic, the higher they rise within their own ranks. Like most street-gangs they are always jostling within their own ranks for power.

This is not a two dimensional tale of good versus evil. The Reckoners are not without flaws of their own, and that gray area is what make this tale interesting.  There are layers here, and yes, it is a setup for the rest of the series, but I don’t care. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and can’t wait for the next installment!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The One-Eyed Man, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The Blurb:
In The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue With Winds and Accompaniment,  by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., the colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements.

Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.

My Review:
One thing you can always count on L.E. Modesitt Jr. to give you is a real morality tale.  He asks the tough questions about how far we are willing to go to and what we are willing to sacrifice, pointing out as always, that there WILL be sacrifices. Deciding what the sacrifices will be is never easy, but that tension makes for a great tale.

In a move that is a bit unusual, L.E. Modesitt Jr. begins this sci-fi fantasy in a divorce court. Dr. Paulo Verano is left wondering what to do with his share of the nothing, wondering if he will even be able to keep his business alive.  Also, most unusually, one of the supporting characters speak in cryptic rhymes.  The subtle use of short snippets of poetry at the beginning of some chapters serves to create an image of a wealth of culture in the mind of the reader, building the world without resorting a boring infodump.

Paulo, as a protagonist, is a real departure for Modesitt, in that he is not the naïve likeable young man usually found at the beginning of a Modesitt tale. Instead we meet a bitter, cynical and paranoid man. Paulo jumps at the opportunity his job offers him, glad to leave his selfish, ungrateful daughter and exwife behind, both in terms of distance and time. His reasoning is, during the short (to him) time he is gone,  145 years will have passed on his home world. They will have grown old and forgotten him, and his financial holdings will have recouped his losses.

Paulo’s cynicism and inability to trust affects each of his relationships. Of the passengers he travels with on the ship, none are what or who they appear to be. Several are lying as to their identities. Once on Stittara, he can’t be sure who is lying, and he is not sure who will harm him. He is not sure what his investigation will uncover, or how far those affected will go to protect their empires.

The world is vividly drawn in small strokes, emerging gradually as the tale progresses. The plot never stalls, and the action is both believable and engrossing. As always in Modesitt's work, music and the quest for love are a large part of the tale.The events that unfold, taking Paulo to the final crisis had me obsessively clicking to the next page, unable to put my Kindle down.  A wonderful read for true sci-fi lovers.

My only issue with this book is the incredibly high price the publisher set for the Kindle download. $10.99 in today’s market is highway robbery and may well keep the eBook sales down, which may be the publisher’s misguided intention.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Arthur: Grail Quest 1 by J.R. Rain

I stumbled across Arthur: Grail Quest 1, by J.R. Rain when I was cruising the top one-hundred Arthurian tales on Amazon (doesn't everyone?) and wondered what sort of a twist J.R. Rain would bring to the old grail-tale. The cover is quite misleading in that this book is an urban fantasy, and very little of it is truly Arthurian, although there are some references. But that is okay--the story itself it what is important, not the historical antecedents.

The Blurb:

Hidden deep within the ancient, mist-covered hills of Glastonbury, England is a secret that could forever change the world. A secret that could help usher in a new age of enlightenment for all mankind.

Or so the legend goes....Plagued by months of persistent dreams of King Arthur, Merlin and the Holy Grail, mystery novelist James Dupree finally sets out to England to understand the meaning behind his nightly visions. 

Upon arriving in Glastonbury, a locale deeply connected to stories of Camelot, Avalon and the Knights of the Round Table, James quickly discovers that not all is as it seems in this quaint little town. There's a raven-haired girl dying of a rare lung disease, knights with swords, and perhaps strangest of all is the man who emerges from the forest...a man who just might be the greatest king Britain has ever seen.

Something is happening in Glastonbury, something mysterious and powerful and not-of-this world, and somehow James Dupree is in the thick of it. Mankind is ready for the next great spiritual shift. But to do that, one man, one simple writer, must journey deep into the heart of a mystical land in search of a legendary relic.

But there are others who seek the treasure...dark forces who will stop at nothing to keep it for themselves, and end Dupree's quest for good.

At once inspiring and pulse-pounding, ARTHUR is for anyone who dares to dream—and dares to slay dragons.

My Review:

Well...this is certainly not a serious, knights-in-sweaty-armor kind of a book. It is a modern urban fantasy where the past intrudes upon the present and things quickly spiral out of control. It is, however, a window into the human condition, and done with humor and a light-hearted flair that makes for an enjoyable diversion.

I remained engaged though the book, although there were some moments of hmmm.... James is a bit of a wimp to start out with, Arthur is more like Thor on steroids, and Marion is an enigma. Rain does get a bit preachy when it comes to Arthur discussing new-age philosophy and God, but hey, it's his forum and I enjoyed the book over all.

There are dragons, there are knights and there is an evil-bad-dude--Merlin. He is definitely not your mama's Merlin. There is a lot of action and the book is fairly well paced. It is definitely a set up for a trilogy, and while it doesn't really have a satisfying end I felt that overall, it was an entertaining tale.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

I am not sure how I happened to come across The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, but it is a book that kept me reading all weekend. I was looking for a little steampunk or maybe an urban fantasy, and instead I found this morsel of exquisite beauty.

The Blurb:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

My Review:

This is an unusual book. It is most certainly not written in the dumbed-down 60-second sound-bites current wisdom tells us we must write all fantasy in. The beautiful, dreamlike prose is written with an Edwardian flair and care for the crafting of the words, yet it is written in modern English.

The magic is completely unexplainable, and is meant to be that way. No believable explanations are given for how each of the protagonists create their magic. It is a performance, solely for the amazement of the reader and is completely in keeping with the mood and ambiance of the tale. I know I am a stickler for realistic magic systems but in this case I am letting that criteria slide, because the magic is not the point of the plot.

The contest, the minor characters who are unaware they are caught up in the contest, and how Celia and Marco counter each other's moves is the central facet of the tale.

The characters are not fully fleshed when they are set before you. Instead they are revealed slowly, with each revelation enticing you to stay riveted to the book.

What IS fully fleshed is the dreamlike environment of Le Cirque des Rêves, the amazing, mysterious Circus of Dreams.

This is a beautiful, dark and moody book. The characters and the Cirque des Rêves stay with you, long into your own dreams.