Three Short Reviews (NOS4A2, The Tyrant’s Law, Mockingjay)

I’ve decided to bundle three reviews. Not because these books aren’t deserving of their own reviews. I just don’t have anything profound to add to the discussion. So here’s the rundown of my recently read books.

15729539

NOS4A2 (short for Nosferatu, the famous 1922 horror flick) is Joe Hill’s third novel. I’ve read his previous two novels, his short story collection, and his wonderful comic series, Locke & Key. This novel is a clear progression in his writing career, expanding into a more epic story line that spans decades rather than days like in Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. There are more characters, a more complex plot, and overall a more gratifying novel.

Joe Hill took a pen name, desiring to make a name for himself on his own accord. His previous novels shied away from his father’s (Stephen King) horror themes. In NOS4A2, Hill embraces his father’s legacy, paying tribute to some of his older novels including Christine and The Dead Zone.

The story follows the life of Vic McQueen, a young brat growing up in a broken home. She has the magical ability of finding lost things and encounters a soul-stealing pedophile of sorts by the name of Charlie Manx. She escapes from his grasp, but his interest in her continues into her troubled adult life. Her son is captured and brought to his child prison known as Christmasland. Vic must enter Manx’s world to save her son from Manx’s grasp.

NOS4A2 is everything Joe Hill fans can want and expect. Recommended.

screen-capture-1

15790816The Tyrant’s Law is Daniel Abraham’s third novel in his The Dagger and the Coin epic fantasy series. This is one of the top five epic fantasies out there and perhaps the only really good one that is being written with any regularity (although, I expect Brandon Sanderson to get right back on track with his The Stormlight Archive).

This series is smaller in scale that George R. R. Martin’s series, but similar in a couple of ways. Like A Song of Ice and FireThe Dagger and the Coin is a battle for the throne. Abraham also employs Martin’s technique of naming each chapter with the viewpoint character. The Tyrant’s Law follows four — an exiled widow named Clara, a young cutthroat banker named Cithrin, a bodyguard/captain named Marcus, and a scholar-turned-tyrant named Geder Palliako.

I will admit that I thought the series got slightly bogged down in this volume, but as I said, if you are into epic fantasy, this is one of the best things going right now.

screen-capture-1

7260188Mockingjay is the third book and final book in Suzanne Collins’ mega-blockbuster series, The Hunger Games.  I read the first book a few years ago and then finally picked up the second book on audible a couple of months ago. I had a short-notice trip to Toronto last week and was able to pick up the third volume on Overdrive through my library.

The series was entertaining and perfect to listen to on commutes where my attention can be somewhat divided. Given the popularity of this book, there is no point in me discussing the plot. While I enjoyed the thrill of the Battle Royale-style survival, the series fell victim to common tropes (a three-way romance and a classic dystopian militaristic society). It was well worth my read, but I doubt it will have a lasting impression on me.

Advertisements

Review: The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

Title: The King’s Blood

Author: Daniel Abraham

Rating:

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

There’s no denying Daniel Abraham’s versatility. He has been successful in writing epic fantasies, space operas, urban fantasies, and most recently, graphic novels, with an adaptation of GRRM’s Game of Thrones.

The King’s Blood is Daniel Abraham’s second novel in The Dagger and the Coin series. The appropriately titled series tells of various factions competing for power by shrewd monetary deals and ruthless swordplay. Cithrin is an ambitious young banker who has her eyes set on establishing her own bank. As she travels north, she unknowingly sets herself on a path with Geder, the puppet king of a cunning priest. Geder is clueless to the priest’s intentions and heeds his advice with rote obedience.

Dawson is aware of the priest’s hold on Geder and plans a coup. Meanwhile his wife, Clara, maintains their social rank by building relationships with others of the court. Finally we have Marcus, Cithrin’s trusted bodyguard, who desires to travel north to protect her from danger only to find himself in his own set of troubles.

There’s no denying that Abraham is a good writer and this series exemplifies it well. The world building is vast, yet the story moves at a quick pace, keeping the reader glued to the always-changing events. Dawson, who was somewhat of a dull character in the first novel, becomes one of the highlights of the second novel as his discerning eye sees through the priests intentions and he devises a plan to kill the king.

Geder remains complex. He is a scholar of the written word, but appears foolish by worldly standards. He is emotionally unstable and is prone to violent outbursts, but in quiet solitude, he has a forgiving spirit. His interactions with the priest leave the reader wondering if he is over-trusting, clueless, or really just uncaring for others.

The best part of Abraham’s writing is balance. It’s not pretentious, nor does it dwell on details. His writing is able to provide a descriptive setting, good dialog, and an appropriate depth of character. The chapters are short and there is never a point where I feel that the novel drags.

The novel is far from perfect, however. First of all, one cannot help but notice the strong likeness to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Like Martin, each chapter is titled with the point of view character’s name. Each character has a unique plot, none of which are either good or evil. There are elements of magic, but the use of it is slight. The stories take place in a fictional locale, but the culture resembles medieval Europe. The books appendices provide character descriptions. I’m not saying that the formula is bad, but it is hard not to draw comparisons and Abraham’s novel does not achieve the same epic scale as Martin’s massive novels.

I was also disappointed in Cithrin’s character arc in this novel. The first novel was a coming of age story for her as she bravely endeavored into banking by making illicit deals. In The King’s Blood, her ambition remains the same, but she purposefully side tracks herself by helping Geder for unknown reasons. I see Cithrin as a woman of power, which she demonstrates by assisting the king, but she is also a woman of purpose. This was forsaken for the second half of the novel.

In any case, reading The King’s Blood is an enjoyable experience and for those looking for an epic fantasy in the style of George R. R. Martin, you will find yourself at home here. There is plenty of adventure and character depth to hold the reader’s interest on many levels. I wait with anticipation for the next book in the series.

Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Dragon’s Path

Author: Daniel Abraham

Rating:

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

I was recently introduced to Daniel Abraham after reading Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War (co-written with Ty Franck under the pseudonym of James S.A. Corey). Considering my positive experience with their space opera, I was eager to try Abraham’s ongoing epic fantasy series.

The Dragon’s Path is the first book in The Dagger and the Coin series. The series title is appropriate, for the viewpoint characters are known either for their deftness with a blade or their shrewdness with their purse. Geder (the first viewpoint character) is one of the sword-bearers, a literary scholar of sorts, whose hobby of scribbling speculative essays poses little advantage in Abraham’s violent, medieval world. He becomes a political pawn when he is suddenly thrust from low social ranks into a position of power.

Cithrin (the second viewpoint character) is a sixteen-year-old orphan, living and working in a branch of the Medean Bank. Her home city of Vanai comes under attack, threatening the bank’s reserves, and in desperation, Cithrin is sent to lead a caravan of riches to safety. An able swordsman named Marcus (the third viewpoint character) serves to protect her with his band of actors who are dressed to look the part of soldiers. Perhaps the most moral of the viewpoint characters, Marcus serves as a protector and father-like adviser to the cunning Cithrin whose coming-of-age passes in the blink of an eye.

Baron Dawson Killiam (the fourth viewpoint character) is an upper-class nobleman and childhood friend of the king. He is the marionette of Geder’s political career and serves as a defender of the current social order. His stubbornness is balanced by his wife’s soft and kind influences as he schemes against others to gain political advantage.

What makes The Dragon’s Path an enjoyable read is the characters and each views Abraham’s world through a different lens. To Cithrin, economics rule and she begins to pave a way to financial prominence through ingenuity and deceit. To Geder, the world is cruel and misguided. He is uncertain in his aim, but will make bold decisions to avoid becoming a victim. To Dawson, the world is political. Every relationship is either to forge alliances or hinder enemies. The different worldviews of the characters help paint a rich tapestry of the society in which they live.

The style follows in a form similar to George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — the chapters are titled with the viewpoint character, none of which are clear protagonists or antagonists. The morally ambiguous antiheroes all serve to advance their own purposes (with a possible exception to Marcus) in a diverse, war-ridden world. But unlike Martin, there is very little in terms of fantastical elements. There are thirteen species of humans, but little is provided to the reader to differentiate them other than sparsely-added physical descriptions (such as tusks or long ears). The concept of multiple species is a great idea, but I am really hoping that subsequent books will explore them in greater detail, integrating them into the plot.

One of the challenges with developing an epic fantasy without a hero’s journey is developing a character the reader can identify with. Geder, at first glance, appears to be an unlikely hero — he’s a medieval geek, never fitting in with his expositions are seen as frivolous diversions. When he is put in a position that destines him to failure, he overcomes his circumstances in such a savage and detestable way that he commits treason on the reader. Despite draining the empathy out of me, Geder remains complex and interesting, leaving me completely uncertain of where his character will go.

Cithrin is probably the most interesting character. She is wise beyond her years, but her craftiness is limited, even when she uses her every advantage. Like Geder, our first impression of her changes quickly when we find out that she is not as innocent as we originally thought. But in her case, the character change is intriguing and through her struggles, she becomes more real to the reader.

I really enjoyed the first novel in The Daggar and the Coin series and I am very excited to read the already published second book. The characters are complex and are beautifully interwoven, the political and socio-economic environment are intricately designed, and the prose flows nicely. I recommend Abraham’s latest epic fantasy series and put it right on par with his space opera series, The Expanse.