24 Following
antonakis

Nightgate Inn

A blog about fantasy and science-fiction books, new and old, popular and obscure. Stay a while and listen...

Currently reading

The Books of Skyrim
Nate Ellis, Matt Daniels, William Shen, Alan Nanes, Shane Liesegang, Jon Paul Duvall, Brian Chapin

Typical Calvino, but not his best...

Οι δύσκολοι έρωτες -  Ανταίος Χρυσοστομίδης, Italo Calvino

3.5 / 5

A typical Calvino book, characterized by his excellent descriptive style and unique eye for all those cultural and behavioral details that make his writing so unique. Most of the stories are very interesting and varied. There are some that were not such big hits with me but I feel that they don't affect the whole quality of the book negatively in any way. In short, if you're a fan of Calvino then this is another must-read. If not, you might still find it very interesting and easy to read. Recommended!

The Reapers Are the Angels - Alden Bell 4,5 / 5

The Reapers Are The Angels, by Alden Bell, is a book about Temple, a young girl who is forced to travel through an post-apocalyptic, de-civilized and zombified America. As usual, I will avoid going into too much detail describing what this book is about, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review. Quick summary?: This is an amazing book, with an unusual writing style, exceptional setting and a unique protagonist!

Format:
In my e-book version, the book had 190 pages. It contained 3 parts divided in 16 chapters of relatively medium length (~20 pages). The narration is in 3rd person perspective and almost entirely in the present tense apart from some memories.

Characters:
The main character in this novel is of course Temple (or Sarah Mary Williams). She is a young girl living alone in a hostile environment. She is fierce, a true warrior and survival is her forte.
“Amid the hot stench of fresh offal, she rises to her feet like the dreadful ghost of a fallen battlefield soldier, her hands tacky with the thick pulpy dregs of death splayed wide.“

She is a real pragmatist but at the same time she’s looking for beauty wherever it can be found, she likes to dream and wonder and hope; after all she’s still a kid. We always know what Temple thinks and feels and we quickly get attached to a seemingly cold and thorny character.
There are many recurring secondary characters, and Bell has them really fleshed out well. We come to understand them, like them and accept them as part of Temple’s social environment, which admittedly is a very scarce one.
Needless to say Bell’s characterization is superb and spotless. The whole novel depends and builds on it and it is part of the reason why this book provokes such an intense feeling throughout.

World building:
This novel’s other major strong point is Bell’s world building, or rather his depiction of a post-apocalyptic America, plagued with “zombies” or something of the like. You see, we learn that slugs (the novel’s “zombies”) have overrun the states and are everywhere from the first pages. But these are not your ordinary scary threatening zombies. On the contrary, they are hardly “living”, moving slowly and relatively harmless in most cases. Still, they are the reason that the typical western civilization has completely collapsed and there’s hardly any form of society anywhere. The setting is desolate, empty and harsh but there are constantly overtones of nostalgia and beauty in the descriptions of each corner and sight.
“A country of foolishness and wonderment and capital and perversity. Feeling like God at supper in the sky, horizons pink and blue, a frontier blasted through with breath and industry, like God himself could suffocate on the beauty of the place, could curl up and die at beholdin his own creation, all the razor reds of the West and the broke-down South always on a lean, elegantlike, the coyote howl and the cannibal kudzu and the dusty windows that ain’t seen a rag of cleaning since.”


Plot, story & pacing:
The plot is the novel’s first hurdle, demanding of the reader to keep reading at its absence. There’s not really a grand mystery here, neither an ultimate goal. The story is more like a road-trip, an adventure that might or might not have an end or a purpose. But this is not the main strength of the book and was probably never intended to be as that spotlight is shared already by characters and setting. Still though, after a while we want to know things such as who is Maury and where does his story lead? What’s the deal with Moses? And of course, what’s going to happen to such a restless spirit if and when she deals with the problems she has consciously adopted for her own?
“It just comes from thinkin too much. That’s why you can’t slow down for long. You gotta keep your brain tired out so it don’t start searching for things to dwell on.”

As for the pacing, truth be told, the book starts slow, bluntly requiring of the reader to just keep on turning pages purely on blind faith, and honestly, maybe it takes up to the half-point until I was attached to the characters so much that I got hooked up and couldn’t stop reading. But maybe that’s too much of a request or too late, and I won’t blame people for dropping this one before they realize they have a true gem in their hands.
As a sidenote, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of allegory and symbolism in this story... but unfortunately it was lost on me. I know it’s there, I can feel it but I can’t connect the dots and make the connection. Regardless of this, I still enjoyed the book immensely and think that it didn’t subtract from my satisfaction.

Writing:
Bell’s writing was the first thing that really stuck out to me. Initially I found it jarring and needed quite some time to get used to it. Also the use of present tense is something that I haven’t been used to and felt strange at the beginning. It didn’t take long however for me to change my opinion and accept it as part of what gives this book such a strong atmosphere and tone. In a way, it’s blunt, rough and direct, kinda like the world depicted therein and the protagonist’s personality. But while the language may intentionally be imperfect, the imagery conveyed by it is beautiful, showcasing Bell’s imagination and perspective. Make no mistake, this is a dark and cruel novel full of griminess which Bell often shoves in your face.
“And when it was finished, her clothes soaked through in blood and bile and crusted with graying tissue, she wiped from her face the gore she had ripped from the bodies of the dead—the issue of her own feral cannibalism—and only then was she able to open her eyes full to the stinging, punishing orange light of the failing day.”

But it is often in the contrast and antithesis of the elements presented that one can understand where the beauty is and feel the emotions that Bell intended.
“See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.”


Conclusion:
In conclusion, this is a book that surprised me in ways I was not expecting. With such an amazing setting, so attachable characters and unique language and writing style, I can recommend this novel to anybody who would like to read something different and captivating. This was one of those books that made me feel sad when I realized I was nearing its ending because I wanted more! Alden Bell is an author who now has my full attention and I will be looking forward to reading more of his works in the future.

4,5 / 5
The Player of Games  - Iain M. Banks 3 / 5

The Player of Games , by Iain M. Banks, is a book about a very well-known and successful Culture player called Gurgeh and his effort to participate in a complex and all-encompassing game that defines and controls a whole cilivization. This is in a few words what the book is about. As always, I will avoid going into extreme details describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review. Quick summary?: This is an interesting science fiction novel that deals a lot with adaptation and exploration of cultures and characters.

Format:
In my e-book version, the book had 295 pages. It contained 4 parts which (excluding the last one) were rather long. It is almost entirely in 3rd person perspective apart from some introductory snippets at the start of each part related in first person by an unknown narrator. I felt that the lack of shorter and more frequent chapters was not agreeing with my reading style.

Characters:
There are many characters throughout the novel but I felt that the main characters were two: Gurgeh and the drone. Which drone? Well, any one of them as Banks actually does an amazing job of giving each of them a distinct and easily recognizable personality! I can safely say that the drone characters were my favourite ones. Gurgeh, on the other hand, did not really appeal much to me. He was properly and carefully fleshed out but I still feel that some of his decisions and actions were not really justified or explained and he came off a bit of boring or annoying in a few circumstances. Still, maybe I’m just nitpicking here as Banks’ characters (both main and secondary ones) were generally well written, mostly interesting and felt diverse and realistic enough.


Plot & pacing:
Well, the main reason this book gets 3 stars and not more is the plot, which is not to say that it is bad or has faults. It’s just that I was expecting a bit more, some more mystery or more action or a grander epic scale or I don’t know, something to wow me. But it was about Gurgeh and about that complex super-game and its reciprocal effects on the structure and workings of a newly found civilization. There are some interactions among various characters and some subplots and other seemingly important happenings but it almost feels as if those are there just to break the monotony and the tedium.
The pace is ok considering the plot subject. Banks avoid wasting too much time on subsequent games after the first one is explained to grasp the ideas needed. I would actually argue that the pace is above-par and very well done for this subject and helps the novel move along at a quite nice rhythm.


Writing:
What I especially liked about Banks’ writing was that it was mostly clear and precise, easy to read, without creating confusion or misunderstandings. At the beginning there were of course many moments where the reader is left wondering whether he should be aware of certain things or ideas mentioned often but not long afterwards almost everything clears up. At the same time, the style is not one to amaze or give birth to buckets of quote-worthy material. Plain and functional would probably be the aptest way to describe it.

Science:
Since this is science fiction, I decided to spend a paragraph dedicated to comments about scientific concepts. Now, I’m not a physicist or astronomer, even though I have dabbled in both in the past, so I won’t comment on concepts about star travel, speeds, distances, communications and robotic artificial intelligence. I felt that Banks had an idea of what he was talking about and even if something was a bit too far-fetched maybe that’s just his vision of the far future.
What I will comment on though, as a molecular biologist who has studied ecology and astrobiology among others, is his biological concepts. The first one, the Culture’s and the Empire’s sexual divisions and workings didn’t bother me too much. Even though I thought it was roughly drawn and badly thought out I still believe it’s an interesting thought that gets some credit. What really bothered me enough to the extent of taking away half a star from the rating though, was the fireplanet’s (can’t remember its name right now) ecology system. I don’t even know where to start so I just won’t. Suffice to say it all felt totally bogus and ridiculous. Even the global fire and the world weather effects are completely unreasonable and difficult to accept. Ugh!!!
I know I should not be so critical since this is fiction but I can’t help it. Maybe that’s why I don’t read as much science fictions as I’d like!

Conclusion:
In short, I think this is an interesting SF book with a rather original subject that contains several novel concepts and ideas; some of them done really well, and some not so. If you are a passionate board-game player, you will find something you like. If you are an avid SF-reader, there are also things to enjoy here. If you are a literary aficionado that enjoys stunning wordcraft, I think you should pass this one. And if you’re a hardcore scientist, tread carefully and read at your own risk. It’s good enough, and I will probably read Banks’ 3rd Culture book, [b:Use of Weapons|12007|Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)|Iain M. Banks|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347522037s/12007.jpg|1494156], but it’s not great.

3 / 5

Where Virtue Lives (included in Engraved on the Eye Anthology)

Where Virtue Lives (included in Engraved on the Eye Anthology) - Saladin Ahmed This is a free short prequel story set in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms setting where Ahmed's novel Throne of the Crescent Moon also takes place. It was interesting as Ahmed doesn't waste any pages or time to get the action going. The characters were introduced rather fast for my liking and there was not growth or attachment but I can attribute that to the story's short length. Also, I kind of got the feeling that they were a bit cheesy and maybe cliched though one can't really realize that from such a small sample. The setting was marvelous though, being originally and truly arabesque and mid-eastern. In summary, this was good enough to make me want to give a chance to the full novel. Recommended for a quick half-hour read!

Fast Zombies Suck

Fast Zombies Suck - Brian Keene This was a very short story about a guy and his obsession about anything zombie related. I don't think it was anything special, even the twist at the end was nothing spectacular. It's funny, it's short and it's free. I won't advice against reading it but you won't really be missing anything if you don't.
Emperor of Thorns  - Mark  Lawrence 4 / 5

As always, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review. Since this is the 3rd book of a trilogy, I will assume that whoever reads this has already read the previous 2 books. Quick summary?: If you liked the first 2 books, then you know that you need to read the last one!! There are of course some changes compared to the previous two as both Lawrence and his main character grow and mature but it is definitely a very good finale of an amazing trilogy and well worth reading!

Format:
In my e-book version, the book had 392 pages. It contained 54 chapter (+prologue) which were rather short (ranging from 5 to 20 pages long) and easy to read, usually ending in some short of tiny cliff-hanger that made this book a page-turner. There was no map included but that seems reasonable considering the actual localization of the whole series. Lawrence also decided to include a “the story so far” chapter at the beginning to help readers’ memories with important events and an “afterthought” chapter at the end with some comments on the series. I found both of those extremely interesting and useful and I wish more authors did the same.

Characters:
Characterization is starting to become one of Lawrence’s strong points. The main character of the book, Jorg, continues to grow and mature and this is depicted clearly both on Jorg’s thoughts and his actions. Contrary to his actions as a child and later as teen, Jorg now thinks more, considers actions and effects and acts more effectively. There’s more control and more sense of direction That is not to say that he is becoming blunt; on the opposite Jorg is sharper, more decisive and definitely more resourceful than ever before.
There are many secondary characters as well, some of whom we already know from previous book and some new, that feature quite prominently from start to finish. However, none of them ever take the central stage from Jorg, not even Chella who has her own chapters now and then. This is clearly a Jorg-centric book but considering the plot I find this totally justifiable and expected.

Plot & pacing:
It’s always hard to talk about the plot when reviewing the ending of a trilogy without any spoilers so I will refrain as usual to go into much detail about it. As in previous books, there are two main time points: the current time and one five years ago. Initially there’s no urgency but not before long the pace picks up and there’s a lot of tension in every chapter. Suffice to say that a lot of unexpected things happen as is wont mostly due to Jorg’s totally unpredictable character. One could say that there are plot twists if there was a standard plot to be expected, but this book manages to surprise the reader often, sometimes with happenings and events in the present and sometimes with fascinating revelations in the “past”-chapters.
One minor complain I have is with the ending that it felt a little less than what I was hoping for. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that I was expecting an ending with much grander scope and encompassing effects that would ripple in the future. Also, in my opinion the ending was a bit short and felt rather rushed.

Writing:
Lawrence is a very competent writer and it shows easily! Before you raise an eyebrow let me explain. He is not Gene Wolfe or Mervyn Peake or like some nobel-level writer. What I mean is that his writing does exactly what it’s supposed to do in the best of ways; to tell a genre-fiction fantasy story that is easy to follow and makes the reader eager to read. I like how Lawrence’s descriptions are never too long or too short, how his dialogues flow smoothly, are easy to understand and always feel realistic (and if you’ve been following my reviews, then you know I’m very particular about written dialogue!).
In my review of the second book (click here if you want to read it), I had a minor complain about some quite graphical scenes which were a bit jolting to me. I’m happy to admit that even though there are strong scenes in this book as well, they didn’t feel as nasty as I was worried about.

Conclusion:
In conclusion, this is a worthy finale of an amazing trilogy. A very interesting and intense book with all the characteristics that made the first 2 books so interesting but without being one of the same and tweaked in a new light with a much higher page-turning factor! As a trilogy, this is surely an amazing one and I highly recommend it to fans of gritty fantasy!

4 / 5
Gormenghast  - Quentin Crisp, Mervyn Peake Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is a unique book. It is an incomparable masterpiece by one of the most amazing and interesting authors I have ever had the chance to read. And I say “amazing” with the true meaning of the word as this is a book that will amaze you constantly while reading it. See, Peake’s writing is not like anything one might have read. I’m can safely say that Peake must have been a very bold and perceptive man. He sees things that are obvious but always stay out of sight, he explores thoughts that everybody has but nobody admits or realizes. But I think I’m getting carried away, let’s do this in my usual organized way.

Characters:
To say that Peake’s characters are simply real-like and multidimensional is to underestimate him. To mention that his characters are different, strange and interesting is just scratching the surface. His characters truly live, they are everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere because the reader understands them so well, feels their every thought and sensation in a way. They are so unique and real that it feels as if you’ve known them forever. But they are also nowhere, as they so strange and unique that one can not imagine them existing outside of the encompassing setting of Gormenghast, There can not really be copies anywhere.
Even through the third-person perspective, Peake presents them in a very personal level. The reader can feel what they feel, know what they perceive and read most of their thoughts. This very subjective and personal way of coming in contact with each character makes each one of them a protagonist. Nobody is just good or bad, there’s no such thing as black and white in Gormenghast. Each reader loves and hates everybody on various degrees according to their own psyche.

Plot:
To actually try to create a paragraph talking about plot in a Mervyn Peake book feels like an exercise in futility, not to say a downright silly notion. This book is about progression & turmoil but mostly it’s about change; change in all ways and levels imaginable. In this book, everything changes, and I’m not talking just about the characters.

Pacing:
As with Peake’s first book, pacing here is also slow. Actually it’s very slow, sometimes sluggishly slow but in an unhurried and deliberate way. But this is exactly what Peake is. There’s no way that this book would be what it is if it was a fast page-turner. Everything needs time here: the reader must take time to absorb the magic and all the details from Peake’s wonderful writing, events need time to happen, characters need time to change, the whole Gormenghast needs time to adjust and evolve. This is not a book for fast consumption and quick satisfaction. This is a grand and exquisite gourmet that must be savored slowly and carefully lest one miss something great!

Writing:
Let me say that upfront. There’s no writer like Mervyn Peake and you haven’t read anything like it. Peake, while verbose and eloquent, writes with clarity and lucidity, with an obvious purpose and aim, with each word flowing effortlessly into sentences and then into paragraphs that reading this book is like magic. He describes things that are in front of our eyes but we never actually see, he dares dive deep into the human psyche, into feelings we know exist but we avoid facing and brings them up in front of our eyes. Exactly like an experienced photographer who can see things with a different eye and then present that to us in a way we’ve never seen it before. Or like a skilled psychologist who knows which questions to ask to make you realize things about yourself you always knew were there but you never recognized. Well, this is exactly how Peake writes.
But enough of my own words, let me give you some quotes! :)

To say that the frozen silence contracted itself into a yet higher globe of ice were to under-rate the exquisite tension and to shroud it in words. The atmosphere had become a physical sensation. As when, before a masterpiece, the acid throat contracts, and words are millstones, so when the supernaturally outlandish happens and a masterpiece is launched through the medium of human gesture, then all human volition is withered at the source and the heart of action stops beating.
Such a moment was this. Irma, a stalagmite of crimson stone, knew, for all the riot of her veins that a page had turned over. At chapter forty? O no! At chapter one, for she had never lived before save in a pulseless preface.
How long did they remain thus? How many times had the earth moved round the sun? How many times had the great blue whales of the northern waters risen to spurt their fountains at the sky? How many reed-bucks had fallen to the claws of how many leopards, while that sublime unit of two-figure statuary remained motionless? It is fruitless to ask. The clocks of the world stood still or should have done.

Indeed he had worn that piece of furniture - or symbol of bone-laziness - into such a shape as made the descent of any other body than his own into that crater of undulating horsehair a hazardous enterprise

Meanwhile Bellgrove had been savouring love's rare aperitif, the ageless language of the eyes.

Noon, ripe as thunder and silent as thought, had fled unfingered.

He knew that he was caught up in one of those stretches of time when for anything to happen normally would be abnormal. The dawn was too tense and highly charged for any common happening to survive.

He had emptied the bright goblet of romance; at a single gulp he had emptied it. The glass of it lay scattered on the floor.

His mother stood before him like a monument. He saw her great outline through the blur of his weakness and his passion. She made no movement at all.


Ok I will stop now, I have pages of these quotes and they lose their magic when read out of context. But they are so powerful, oh some of them they truly are!

Conclusion:
There’s not much more to say at this point. This is not an easy book to read, and I’m afraid many might be left disappointed. But to those who read this with an open mind and do so properly so that they can really enjoy it for what it is, it will be a exceptional experience. Ultimately, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast is a unique book, a wonderful book, a celebration to writing and literature! Read it!

5 stars out of 5 !!
Jesse James - Morris, René Goscinny I love Lucky Luke's comics and I have read most of them (if not all of them). This one was one of the weakest though and I rate it compared to the other of this series. I think the story development was a bit rushed and very incredulous while at the same time the humor was not as good as I expected.
2.5 / 5
Pyramids - Terry Pratchett 3.5 / 5

As always, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Though, as is usual the case with Pratchett's books, the blurb won't really help you much. Instead, I will go straight into my review.
Quick summary?: If you generally like Terry Pratchett's style and books you will enjoy this one!! If you're not familiar with his work or you don't really like it that much, then this is maybe not the best starting point to get into his books.

Characters:
Characters always play a huge role on Pratchett's books, since almost half of the humor is based on them, their characteristics and their deeds or words. In Pyramids we have completely new characters introduced that have not appeared before in any other book. As such, it takes some time to warm to them. They are not extremely funny though, not as old favorites (each reader has their own, I myself prefer the night-watch more than anybody else!)

Plot:
I'm afraid this book suffers a bit from a rather weak plot, even compared to Pratchett standards. There's not really a hook in the story, something that the reader really really wants to find out by the end. It's more like "ok let's see what happens next" kind of thing. There are some parts that are more interesting than others, I personally really enjoyed the parts at Ephebe as it was a funny take on the ancient Greeks but other than that there's not a real plot in there. Whatever it is mostly acts as a background for situational comedy.

Pacing:
Pacing was also not very smooth. To be honest, there are no slow parts as both the action (as in "funny and/or crazy things happening") and the humor flows along steadily. What is a bit problematic is the general interest that ebbs and rises depending on the point of view and general happenings. In this case, I think pacing is evidently quite depended on the plot and that's why when one suffers the other does too.


Conclusion:
In conclusion, I think this is a rather interesting and typical "independent" Pratchett book. Pratchett introduces new characters and settings/countries (humorously based on ancient Egypt and ancient Greece). There are a lot of clever jokes about religion, belief and tradition which work mostly very well. There is also a lot of humor based on the classical ancient sciences and especially geometry and mathematics. All in all, maybe not the best Pratchett book but one that is certainly worth reading! Recommended!

3,5 stars out of 5 !!

Dragonkin: A Tor.Com Original

Dragonkin: A Tor.Com Original - Lavie Tidhar This was an interesting short story that can be read for free at tor.com, here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/07/dragonkin. Initially I thought it was going to be simple fantasy but it proved to be a mix of urban fantasy, classic fantasy and a bit of SF. I think it will have a special appeal to more "geeky" readers as there are several references to many things of the geeky fantasy culture. I understood some of them but not all. The main character was well detailed for such a short work but I can't say the same for the plot with felt rushed and rather indifferent and without special tension. It didn't blow my mind or amaze me enough to get a recommendation but it's short and it's free so give it a try yourselves and see if you like it more!

The Penitent Damned (The Shadow Campaigns #0)

The Penitent Damned (The Shadow Campaigns #0) - Django Wexler This short story can be found and read for free at:
http://io9.com/the-coolest-fantasy-story-youll-read-this-week-514117561

Great short story with a lot of tension and interesting twists that while a bit expected are still very enjoyable! A good appetizer for Wexler's full length novel in the same universe. I can't really say more as due to its short length I won't be able to avoid spoilers. But it's short and it's free so there's nothing holding you from reading it and enjoying it yourselves!
A storm of wings: Being the second volume of the "Viriconium" sequence, in which Benedict Paucemanly returns from his long frozen dream in the far ... of the locust (Doubleday science fiction) - M. John Harrison Chaos, madness, insanity. These are words that feel apt to describe this second book of the [b:Viriconium|304217|Viriconium|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347891771s/304217.jpg|295248] series by [a:M. John Harrison|10765|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1277603037p2/10765.jpg]. And how could it not be so, as half of the book's main characters are either mad or insane and its protagonist is more chaotic than a air-bubble under boil. As usual, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review.

Characters
I've read in other reviews that this novel's characters are deep and intense but allow me to disagree. I felt as if the characters were really thin, only displaying one major personality aspect most of the time and nothing more. Maybe I've been pampered with [a:Joe Abercrombie|276660|Joe Abercrombie|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207149426p2/276660.jpg]'s multi-layered and ultra-realistic characters from his books that I've recently finished but Harrison's characters were rather one-dimensional, flat and rather boring for me.

Plot & Pacing
Now here is where things get really messed up with this book. Apparently there is a plot... somewhere! The problem is that it is buried under mountains of endless and rambling monologues that hardly make any sense or long and bewildering descriptions that often get so verbose and complicated that they become confusing. The pace is very fragmented, swinging from incredibly slug-like slow (where the might be dozen pages of just hardly comprehensible dialogue) to hectic fast when so many things might happen in a single page that it becomes hard to follow.

Thoughts & comments
Now, of course, I read that "Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism" and in a way this shows clearly through his writing in his novel but I just don't buy it so simply. To me it feels more as if Harrison was on some kind of drugs while writing this and his vision was so high that it got clouded.
On another note, in the introduction of the omnibus [b:Viriconium|304217|Viriconium|M. John Harrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347891771s/304217.jpg|295248], Neil Gaiman, after comparing the tone of the first book to the likes of [a:Michael Moorcock|16939|Michael Moorcock|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1222901251p2/16939.jpg] and [a:Jack Vance|5376|Jack Vance|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207604643p2/5376.jpg] (which I agree with in a way), then states:
A Storm of Wings takes a phrase from the first book as its title and is both a sequel to the first novel and a bridge to the stories and novel that follow and surround it. The voice of this book is, I suspect, less accessible than the first book, the prose rich and baroque. It reminds me at times of Mervyn Peake, but it also feels like it is the novel of someone who is stretching and testing what he can do with words, with sentences, with story.

First of all, I don't think reading the first book makes any difference at all since A Storm of Wings is so detached and separated from what happens in the first book that it doesn't really matter. Not to mention that it's too convoluted to make any sense anyway... (I've said that already, didn't I?).
Secondly, while I agree that it's obvious that Harrison is testing and experimenting with his wordcraft (and make no mistake, he's good!), I can in no way compare him nor find any similarities with [a:Mervyn Peake|22018|Mervyn Peake|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1341040504p2/22018.jpg]!! I just so happen to be reading Peake's second book [b:Gormenghast|258392|Gormenghast (Gormenghast, #2)|Mervyn Peake|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328001220s/258392.jpg|3599885] after being totally amazed and blown-out by his first and the similarities I spot are only superficial. Peake, while verbose and eloquent, writes with clarity and lucidity, with an obvious purpose and aim, with each word flowing effortlessly into sentences and then into paragraphs that reading his books is like magic. While with Harrison's wordcraft the reader feels (intentionally) alienated and uncomfortable, with Peake's in stark contrast the reader feels completely submerged and attached to any subject, even the most mundane.

Quoted Reviews
I would also like to quote a couple of paragraphs from a few reviews that I find I agree with very much.
Kat Hooper says this in her review:
I like weird tales, but I had trouble with A Storm of Wings because the pace was so sluggish. M. John Harrison spends so much of his effort building an eerie atmosphere and a dreamy mood and not enough time with real action. The atmosphere is successful but that wasn’t enough to completely satisfy me because very little actually happens in this story. I often wished that Harrison would quit with the mood and move onto the story.
Tim also adds this to his review:
Clever notions are introduced that demand slow and patient development, but are let down by hurried and garbled text. The prose becomes painfully overwritten: everything has to be "hideous" or "terrible" or "alien". The plot mirrors this. Abandoning the beauty of the half-explained, Harrison tries to shock with detailed visual imagery that just isn't that impressive.

Conclusion
So what is my conclusion? Well, it's novel that feels a bit abnormal and strange compared with today's releases and standards. Harrison is obviously a very skilled writer but I personally feel that he let his ambition (and drugs? haha) out of control and he fell out with this one. It is a very demanding and tiring text that I don't feel it's as rewarding as it should be. So, approach with caution as I can't really recommend it.

2.5 stars out of 5
Last Argument of Kings  - Joe Abercrombie As always, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review. Since this is the 3rd book of a trilogy, I will assume that whoever reads this has already read the previous 2 books. Quick summary?: If you liked the first 2 books, you really need to read the last one!! As it is the conclusion of the story, it is probably the best of the three!

Review of book 2 and 1

Characters:
This time I will not go into much detail or analyze every facet of the book as most of the improvements of the 2nd book continue into the 3rd. The characters are still as intense, interesting and deep as in the previous books but this time there is slightly more focus on the story and the various plot threads. Abercrombie proves once again that he can handle those as finely and well as the best... well maybe he's one of them already!

Plot:
The plot turns out to be more complicated and deep than what initially appeared with a lot of unexpected twists every few chapters. What is really impressive is that Abercrombie manages to untangle a huge amount of smaller plot-threads and lead them all to some conclusion or resolution very smoothly and without even feeling rushed or forced. At the same time, due to Abercrombie's grittiness and realism and the unpredictability of several of his characters, one can not really make predictions and out-guess where each plot is heading which makes for a intense page-turner of a book!

Pacing:
The pacing is definitely on par with the second book, maybe at some points even faster. There are a lot of battles and fighting in this book and those scenes usually tend to drag down the pace usually but Abercrombie keeps things intense, hectic and flowing around so the reader never feels bored or dull.

Magic:
Also, worth mentioning is the increased appearance of "magic" in this third book! I'm hesitant to say more so as not so spoil anything but if anybody felt a little disappointed from any absence of weird, metaphysical or magical things, that reader need fear no more!

Conclusion:
All in all, this is a worthy conclusion of an amazing trilogy. A very interesting and intense book with everything that made the first 2 books so great and even more! As a trilogy, this is surely one of the best I have read in the last few years and I highly recommend it to any reader of fantasy!

4,5 stars out of 5 !!
Before They Are Hanged  - Joe Abercrombie Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he writes amazing characters!
I'm sure some of you might cringe when you read the above first line of my review as it has been done again and again but is there a more appropriate way of actually starting a review of such a book? As always, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my critique of it. Since this is the 2nd book of a trilogy, I will assume that whoever reads this has already read the 1st book. Let me say this up front: If you liked the 1st book, you will love the 2nd! It is at least as good and probably even better! So what's different and what is not compared to the 1st book ?

Here's my review of book 1:
Positives:
- Abercrombie's characters... well what can I say about them!!! This is certainly the novel's strongest point! His characters are truly amazing, gritty and totally realistic, at the same time heroic and shameful each in his own little and special way. Often, I found myself thinking of them as a mix between Peake's Gormenghast protagonists and Dragonlance heroes! Abercrombie makes you care for all of them in the same way GRR Martin does!
- Also, people that follow my reviews know that I have a sensitive spot for dialogues as I value them highly. This novel excels at that point! Both the dialogues as well as the internal monologues have excellent pacing, style and content which add to the general appeal and believability of the plot and characters.
- The structure is also a positive point. I generally don't prefer multiple points of view but Abercrombie pulls this out quite well and competently. You never get lost or confused and it's easy to remember where each thread is at. Also, a detail which I really liked and helps make this work is that Abercrombie alters his style a bit depending on the point of view. So from one POV you get longer and more detailed descriptions, from another you might get deeper internal monologues and from a third you might get a "lighter" language.

Not so positives:
Not really a lot of them ...
- While not bad, the pacing of the story was sometimes a bit uneven. There were parts where I felt that it dragged a little bit, as if Abercrombie was uncertain of how exactly to proceed or where to go from there.
- The above leads me to my second minor gripe which is that sometimes plot-wise the novel felt a bit aimless, as if the characters and their personal lives were left in the driving seat to take the story wherever it took them. While I understand that this was Abercrombie's intention from the beginning as he wanted this to be a character-driven novel while maintaining an atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty, I think that maybe he overdid this just a bit too much. This is more of a personal and subjective gripe however as I usually prefer a more plot-driven narrative.
- My final complaint has to do with the ending... or the lack of resolution. In my mind there are two types of trilogies, one that has 3 stories closely related and interconnected together usually in a temporal manner (i.e. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy Boxed Set) and one that has 1 long story divided into three books (i.e. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). The Blade Itself is the first part of The First Law trilogy which apparently falls into the second category, and thus it has no resolution at the end, no ending. I'm not sure I can blame a book for what it is but... I had to find some negatives!! :p


So what is different or new then? What are my comments?

Characters:
As mentioned many times already, characterization is Abercrombie's strongest point. Book 2 excels in this as well though not exactly in the same way as book 1. In book one, we were introduced to this amazing and diverse cast of characters, learning about them and getting to love them all along with all of their shortcomings. In book 2, it feels we already know them well enough so this fascination fades a little bit but instead of taking the easy way and continuing with the exact same setup of personalities, Abercrombie introduces important and unexpected changes in most of them in different ways. The characters are forced to change by necessity, their behaviors enter unfamiliar paths for each of them and their lives are altered. As with book 1, this is still a book about characters and what happens to them and not the world.

Plot:
The story picks up in book 2. While in book one, the plot sometimes felt lost and aimless, there is no such thing happening here. From the beginning we know what we expect to learn by the end; we have a semblance of quests in a more typical fantasy style. But this is Joe Abercrombie we're talking about. He takes these tropes and expectations and fulfills some of them and some others he turns them up on their heads and changes the game entirely. An intriguing plot to say the least, much much improved from book 1 in my opinion.

Pacing:
The pacing was definitely improved from the first book. There was always tension and anticipation for something. Even in slower and characteristically static parts, like the Dagoska chapters for example, there was a sense of urgency and anxiety that kept the pages turning.

Resolution:
As with book 1, there's no real resolution in this book either. Sure there are micro-resolutions, but not a larger encompassing one. One can say that all of the "quests" I mentioned earlier come to some kind of ending by the end of the book, but it's not a real closure of the plot threads but rather more like a re-configuration. This is not a book that can be read on its own or without intention of reading book 3 as it is obviously part of a unified and interconnected larger trilogy that works as a single work or story in three parts.

Conclusion:
As I said at the beginning, if you liked book 1 then you will surely like book 2. It's more of the same good stuff though slightly better and improved in most ways! I still can't give max points as it lacks a bit in the ending and resolution but it definitely gets high marks and sure recommendation from me to any fans of fantasy!!

4,5 stars out of 5 !!
The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie As always, I will avoid going into describing a synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^^. After I finished the book, I was really surprised when I found out that this was Abercrombie's debut novel as it didn't feel like a debut at all. Sure, there were the occasional rough spots but they were so minor that they didn't matter. Anyway, I like to do my reviews with positive and negative points so let's start with that.

Positives:
- Abercrombie's characters... well what can I say about them!!! This is certainly the novel's strongest point! His characters are truly amazing, gritty and totally realistic, at the same time heroic and shameful each in his own little and special way. Often, I found myself thinking of them as a mix between Peake's Gormenghast protagonists and Dragonlance heroes! Abercrombie makes you care for all of them in the same way GRR Martin does!
- Also, people that follow my reviews know that I have a sensitive spot for dialogues as I value them highly. This novel excels at that point! Both the dialogues as well as the internal monologues have excellent pacing, style and content which add to the general appeal and believability of the plot and characters.
- The structure is also a positive point. I generally don't prefer multiple points of view but Abercrombie pulls this out quite well and competently. You never get lost or confused and it's easy to remember where each thread is at. Also, a detail which I really liked and helps make this work is that Abercrombie alters his style a bit depending on the point of view. So from one POV you get longer and more detailed descriptions, from another you might get deeper internal monologues and from a third you might get a "lighter" language.

Not so positives:
Not really a lot of them ...
- While not bad, the pacing of the story was sometimes a bit uneven. There were parts where I felt that it dragged a little bit, as if Abercrombie was uncertain of how exactly to proceed or where to go from there.
- The above leads me to my second minor gripe which is that sometimes plot-wise the novel felt a bit aimless, as if the characters and their personal lives were left in the driving seat to take the story wherever it took them. While I understand that this was Abercrombie's intention from the beginning as he wanted this to be a character-driven novel while maintaining an atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty, I think that maybe he overdid this just a bit too much. This is more of a personal and subjective gripe however as I usually prefer a more plot-driven narrative.
- My final complaint has to do with the ending... or the lack of resolution. In my mind there are two types of trilogies, one that has 3 stories closely related and interconnected together usually in a temporal manner (i.e. [a:Brandon Sanderson|38550|Brandon Sanderson|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1201547425p2/38550.jpg]'s [b:Mistborn Trilogy Boxed Set|6604209|Mistborn Trilogy Boxed Set (Mistborn, #1-3)|Brandon Sanderson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1257442247s/6604209.jpg|6798109]) and one that has 1 long story divided into three books (i.e. [a:J.R.R. Tolkien|656983|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1329870573p2/656983.jpg]'s [b:The Lord of the Rings|33|The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347257199s/33.jpg|3462456]). The Blade Itself is the first part of The First Law trilogy which apparently falls into the second category, and thus it has no resolution at the end, no ending. I'm not sure I can blame a book for what it is but... I had to find some negatives!! :p

All in all, this is an impressive debut and an amazing first part of a trilogy that I intend to read as soon as possible. I'm going to subtract half to one point from a perfect score for those personal gripes I described above but still, this is definitely a highly recommended read for anyone who enjoys reading fantasy of any kind!
4 - 4,5 stars out of 5 !!
No Return - Zachary Jernigan No Return by Zachary Jernigan is a tough novel to review. It is a work that has many good things mixed with several that I personally didn't enjoy very much. Make no mistake, Zachary Jernigan is a very very skilled author and it shows early. He knows how to write beautifully. His characterization is deep and very interesting. His imagination is top-notch, full of novel ideas and aspects and feels very fresh on a field that brims with stagnancy and repetition of the same old tropes and ideas. No Return has nothing of those! But on the other hand, I felt as if some things were maybe a bit too much, as if they were taken all the way up to eleven when I was really not completely ready for it. So, I suppose most of my critique comes from a clearly subjective point of view but I think some points are a bit more general and objective. So what are my gripes?

I think the grittiness level was a little too high for my liking. I've read a lot of gritty books but there were scenes in here (graphically containing and describing violence, sex, etc) that caught me totally unprepared and pulled me out of it.

Another thing that bothered me occasionally were some rather dry info-dump passages. I'm sure Jernigan had a huge world and history behind this novel and was feeling eager to share it with us at any opportunity but it came out rather unnaturally and not as if it was part of the story. Those info-dumps often felt as a foreign body to the rest of the text, always making me feel provoked to skip them.

Finally, I have a personal gripe with the chapter structure. I've had problems in the past with books containing multiple viewpoints but in No Return the forced chapter order (same character viewpoint order in each part) came out too stiff and artificial.

Other than that, the plot is a bit on the slow side, without any real urgency or (sometimes) aim but it always feels multilayered and rich.
In general, I think Jernigan took a risk and made a bold move with this novel. It offers a lot of new and fresh ideas, often pushing the boundaries of what is expected and acceptable in fantasy literature today and I feel that the points I deducted from the final rating are more due to my own unpreparedness and inability to adapt to what is offered in No Return rather than from its problems. Did I enjoy it as much as I expected? No, not really. Do I regret reading it? Of course not, as it is a unique book that is not easily categorized or reviewed. Do I recommend it? Well it depends on what you want and expect but I'd say it's definitely worth a try!
I enjoyed it for 3 stars but it's probably worth at least 4!