Audiobook Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

80628-emperorofthornsEmperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Series: The Broken Empire #3

Publisher: Harper Voyager (August 2013)

Author Info:  marklawrence.buzz

Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

​​Though common sense will occasionally bind me,
I’ll be fucked if fear will.

Emperor of Thorns is unique in the trilogy because it is the first time where we jump out of Jorg’s head and into the third person as Chella the necromancer’s story comes into play. She has been dogging Jorg this entire time, and now, returned to living flesh, she serves the will of the Dead King who is out to break the broken empire — unless Jorg can stop him. Jorg is no hero. He might regret the ghosts that haunt him, but even Jorg isn’t going to let the Dead King spread his plague of corruption. Meanwhile, the Builders’ secrets are slowly being revealed … though there is no one left to understand them.

Jorg always seems to be going somewhere in these books, and I always find myself at a loss as to the reason for the journey. I have a vague idea that the journey relates to his next ascension and a definitive enemy, and he conveniently walks paths that lead him to new powers and knowledge that help in his end game.

This ambiguity could be considered a flaw in Lawrence’s story telling. Or maybe it’s just me not paying close enough attention as I listen to James Clamp’s incredible narration. But I am here for Jorg and these journeys give me ample opportunity to spend time with him, inside his mind.

To assume Jorg has no conscience is wrong. He has one. He just doesn’t allow time wasted on the decision making process because of it. His number one priority is survival–ironic since he has little fear of death. But with the coming of his son in this book, his ruthlessness takes on new meaning.

I always fear that Lawrence will cop out and soften Jorg by seeking his redemption. He hasn’t failed me yet. Jorg’s son does soften him, in that special way newborns have on new fathers, but it simply gives Jorg a new edge; a new purpose to add to the calculations he makes when determining his next move.

And I do so enjoy those calculations. There’s an element of the recent Sherlock Holmes films at play, where Jorg has an inkling of what his opponent might do. But his calculations aren’t about artful point and counterpoint. It’s about Jorg’s unpredictability, in spite of those calculations. Especially against opponents who can see the future or mathemagically plot their course. Some might have issue with how easily Jorg can pull his ass out of the fire each time because of this. I enjoy the creativity behind it and how Jorg’s decisions and actions are always new, keen, and interesting.

I have found, of late, that authors seem to write trilogies because it’s the trendy thing to do. Lots of extraneous words and scenes are added to stretch the story into three books. But, as I have said in previous reviews, Lawrence’s words are precise and never wasted. This is a trilogy because it needs to be a trilogy. And though I get a bit lost with the journeys Jorg takes, I never get the feeling that Lawrence writes them without purpose. He knows exactly where the story needs to go and chooses the most pithy path to get there.

39dec-5stars

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Tough Traveling: Elves

3bfd8-toughtraveling

The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan ofReview Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information. Compulsive list-maker that I am, I’m very excited to take part!

This week’s tour topic is: Elves

ELVES claims to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

Mogsy’s Picks:

When it comes to elves in fantasy, I imagine quite a few minds will jump immediately to Tolkien’s elves, which have pretty much set the standard for the taller, slimmer, more beautiful, graceful and intelligent elf archetype you see often in pop culture — and don’t forget, they’re usually more environmentally conscious, at one with nature, and immortal and magical too! On the other end of the spectrum, however, we also have the popular image of the short, tiny and cute elf, with a tendency to be workers or servants. Think Christmas elves or the house elf Dobby from Harry Potter.

To cut to the chase, elves seem to show up a lot in fantasy fiction, but I want to talk about some of the ones I’ve encountered while reading that I feel are a bit different from more conventional portrayals.

f57e3-ironnightIron Night by M.L. Brennan

Talk about unconventional, Brennan’s series features a very unique and different portrayal of elves. First of all, they’re not beautiful and they don’t even look remotely human, their faces more resembling lizards. They are also a warmongering race, and are so bloodthirsty and love to kill each other so much that they’ve virtually decimated their own population. With low fertility rates and the problem of inbreeding, now the elves  (they call themselves the Ad-hene) struggle to find ways to procreate and increase their numbers again, resorting to some pretty heinous methods.

Monster Hunter InternationalMonster Hunter International by Larry Correia

From what I’ve seen of the first couple books, the MHI series seems to be a pretty run-of-the-mill, testosterone-injected action- urban fantasy, but it’s got some pretty interesting elves. Protagonist and super geek Owen Pitt was excited when he realized he’d be meeting the elves of the Enchanted Forest, only to find out that it’s Enchanted Forest Trailer Park and the elves that live in it are trailer trash rednecks.

dragon age stolen throneDragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider

Rather than being regarded as the fairer folk and the “higher” race, elves in the Dragon Age universe used to be an advanced and immortal society until humans showed up and conquered them. They were enslaved until Andraste freed the majority of them, though now slaves are still discriminated against and many of them are forced to work as servants and live in designated slum-like areas for them in cities, called alienages. The remaining free elves are closer to the original glorious and noble elf archetype, living deep in the woods trying to retain whatever’s left of their once great culture.

s-typeopts13The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan

Another series where elves — or at least those humans with elf-blood — are considered at the bottom of the societal hierarchy or have been enslaved. Full-blooded elves are actually pretty powerful, magical and practically immortal creatures, but because they have such a low birth rate, humans pretty much came along and zerged them into submission. All elves living among the humans now are actually half-breeds, while the full-blooded elves mainly keep to themselves and want very little to do with the rest of the world.

80d7c-jheregJhereg by Steven Brust

In these books, the elves called the Dragaerans are better and more amazing and more powerful than humans, which is why they actually have taken over the world. They’re also arrogant, unbelievable assholes who think that their race and everything they do is perfect. Strangely enough, despite their tall slender frames, pointed ears, longevity and magical abilities, Dragaerans actually consider and call themselves “humans”, while the REAL humans, the Easterners, call them “elves” or sometimes “faeries”.

Wendy’s Picks

elves of cintra by terry brooksThe Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks

Well of course the Shanarra books have elves, but, in my younger days, I found the Shannara books pretty darn boring. Fortunately, my brother introduced me to the Genesis of Shannara series, which takes an interesting post-apocalyptic twist, explaining that the fantasy world that many of us grew up with, is actually the, well, the actual world we grew up with and ended up making a mess of. Now, the elves, who have been hiding out all this time, are making an epic come back and bringing the wishstones back into play.

the last wish the witcherThe Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Another series that turns the usually holier than thou elves into outcasts, shunned by the human world. In the Witcher series of video games, elves are the downtrodden, and the motto is that “the only good elf is a dead elf.” But the elves aren’t down for the count just yet…

everquest next the arch mage by Robert LassenThe Arch Mage: An EverQuest Next Novella by Robert Lassen

Elves are back on top in the revamped world of EverQuest, but that just means they have further to fall. Especially when they start messing with dragons.

banewreakerBanewreaker by Jacqueline Carey

The typical fantasy races appear in Carey’s Sundering series, but the bittersweet love story is told mainly from the point of view of the bad guys, including the warlord who kidnaps the elvish princess, Cerelinde

From A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Images from the Star Wars: Imperial Handbook

I make it no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Star Wars. That’s why I was pretty thrilled when Wunderkind PR provided me some gorgeous images and artwork to share from the Star Wars: Imperial Handbook, published by Becker&Mayer and available now.

Hope you’ll enjoy these as much as I did. Get a load of that Aquatic Stormtrooper, is that full of awesome or what?

Imperial Handbook

The Empire has taken hold of the galaxy. Soon, with the completion of the Death Star, its control will be absolute. To prepare for the influx of military personnel required to complete this phase of the Emperor’s plan, elite Imperial officers have outlined the processes, protocols, and hierarchy each newly-promoted Imperial Commander must carry out to fulfill the Emperor’s vision.

We Fight We Win

Star Wars®: Imperial Handbook: A Commander’s Guide is written by top Imperial officers from the Imperial Army, Navy, and Stormtrooper Corps. It provides a comprehensive overview of the Imperial war machine—from coordination between the various military branches to Imperial battle tactics, mission reports, and equipment supply chains—and its role within the Emperor’s long-term plan for galactic domination.

Following the Battle of Endor, this copy of Imperial Handbook fell into the hands of the Rebel Alliance. Through handwritten notes left in margins, leaders for the Rebel Alliance, such as Princess Leia, General Madine, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker provide a running counter-commentary to the official Imperial propaganda.

Tie Aggressor

Aquatic Stormtrooper

Incinerator Stormtrooper

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Waiting on Wednesday 10/22/14

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick:

Black Heart by Mark SmylieAugust 5, 2015 (Pyr)

You’re probably thinking August 2015 sounds so far away right now, aren’t you? And I say DAMN RIGHT it does, especially when I want to read this book so badly my heart actually skipped a beat when I saw the cover and a description. It’s the follow up to the dark, brutal and explicit adventure-fantasy The Barrow which totally rocked my world earlier this year.

Black Heart“The last survivors of the raid on the Barrow of Azharad have scattered to the four winds, each walking a separate path. For some, it is the path of noble service, as the households of great kings and warlords beckon, offering a chance to enter the fray of politics with the fate of nations on the line. For others, it is the path of secrets and magic, as the veil of the world parts to reveal the hidden truths that dwell in shadow and spirit.

And for Stjepan Black-Heart, royal cartographer and suspected murderer, it is the path of battle and sacrifice, as he is summoned to attend the household of the Grand Duke Owen Lis Red, the Earl Marshal to the High King of the Middle Kingdoms, on his latest campaign to find and kill Porloss, the Rebel Earl: an elusive quarry lurking behind an army of ruthless renegade knights in the wild hills of the Manon Mole, a land where every step could be your last, and where lie secrets best left undisturbed.”

Book Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Sword of the Bright LadySword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of World of Prime

Publisher: Pyr (September 9, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Many will probably read Sword of the Bright Lady and think what a peculiar world our protagonist Christopher Sinclair has landed in, with all these funny magical rules and strange way of doing things. On the other hand, if you’re a gamer, then you just might see things a bit differently, and a lot of the elements will have that persistent, familiar ring.

As already pointed out by many reviewers, the world of this book feels reminiscent of a video game. For example, gaining ranks and becoming more powerful by defeating your enemies, then plundering their bodies for loot is like the foundation of any role-playing game. Fortifying your base, allocating your resources, and delegating responsibilities to your minions while arming your fighters and supplying your crafters to make sure they churn out raw materials and products for the war effort also happens to be essential for strategy games. And the golden rule of battles and duels in Sword of the Bright Lady – that is, fight and deplete your opponent’s tael before they deplete yours – sounds extraordinary like the tongue-in-cheek “advice” I used to tell my raid group back when I was leading 25-mans in World of Warcraft: “Let’s all try and get the boss’ hit points to zero before he gets our hit points to zero, please.”

There are many more examples like this, and as the author had confirmed in a comment on another blogger’s review that he had intended to write a book exploring what it would feel like to be an actual person in the games we play, I had a lot of fun spotting the similarities and wondering what aspects might actually be subtle references to gaming. The concept itself is REALLY cool. The book begins with Christopher waking up in a strange, new world with no memory of how he got there. How many game narrative start off just like that? He gets drafted into an eternal war (as an online gamer, a war that goes on forever was one of those “AHA!” moments for me, because we all know in an MMO you can never truly “win”) by serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, joining the ranks of her followers who can heal wounds by using their magic and, for the right price, resurrect the dead (another “AHA!”) But then, drawn by the opportunity to return home to his own world, Christopher goes and pledges himself to the god of war, which sets off a series of unpredictable and violent events.

By all rights, I should have fallen in love with Sword of the Bright Lady. After all, I usually find myself drawn to any story with a gaming angle, no matter how tenuous the link. However, in the end “love” might be too powerful a word to describe how I felt about the book, though I did have fun and enjoyed reading it quite a bit. There were just a few things that added up to keep me from embracing this one completely.

Firstly, something about Christopher just doesn’t sit right with me. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on how a person would react when waking up to an unfamiliar world surrounded by strangers, still, Christopher’s behavior and many of his decisions and actions just didn’t seem realistic or normal to me. And while he clearly didn’t know about all the ways of this new place, he did seem to know quite a lot – perhaps too much to be believable. And though I was aware of the nature of this fantasy world, the people took to Christopher’s new ideas and projects much too easily, with not much fuss or resistance at all, which also didn’t feel very believable to me.

This segues perfectly into my second point, which is that the whole premise of this novel feeling like it’s hovering in this awkward place between trying to convey the realism and authenticity of this world but at the same time negating a lot of that by throwing in some pretty outlandish situations that make the story feel almost satirical. The book feels like it wants it both ways, which is a difficult balance to strike. I’m not sure I liked this “in between” feeling, and in fact if Christopher’s experience is meant to be a parody of sorts of what it might feel like to be a person in a video game – which is quite an ingenious and unique idea – I’d actually have liked to see the author carry that premise even further.

To sum it all up, I think there are a couple of missed opportunities to make this book stand out more, which for me is the only factor holding it back from being a truly excellent read. But I can’t deny there are some fascinating ideas in here, and overall it’s a very strong novel from author M.C. Planck.

679d6-new3stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Pyr Books!

Book Review: The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

The Falcon ThroneThe Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Tarnished Crown Quintet

Publisher: Orbit (September 9, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Falcon Throne introduces readers to a kingdom torn apart by a centuries-long feud between two neighboring duchies, Harcia and Clemen – all because of a conflict that happened long ago. In the distant past, two stubborn and power-hungry royal brothers fought for rule, and the resulting rift caused the land to split into the two dukedoms. Now Harcia and Clemen are on the brink of war again with the tensions threatening to boil over, fueled by the lofty ambitions of men on both sides.

Okay, so follow along with me here: in Clemen, the tyrant Duke Harald is feared and hated by his nobles, and inevitably a rebellion led by his bastard-born cousin Ederic and backed by Ederic’s foster lord Humbert swiftly puts an end to Harald’s reign of terror. Believed to be among the casualties is Harald’s infant son and heir Liam, but in fact the child was whisked away to safety by his nursemaid, who intends to raise the boy until he is old enough to take back his stolen throne. Meanwhile over in Harcia, Duke Aimery has two living sons, his hot-tempered heir Balfre as well as the younger and more level-headed Grefin. Balfre has dreams of being the supreme ruler of a reunited kingdom, which would require bringing Clemen back into Harcia’s fold by brute force if necessary. Aimery, recognizing his heir’s dangerous ambitions, would like nothing more than to have his favorite son Grefin succeed him, but you can also be sure Balfre isn’t going to let anything – not even his own father and brother – stand in his way.

First I just want to put it out there that The Falcon Throne is my first book by Karen Miller, but from what I’ve heard about her previous work, I can’t say this is what I expected. I’ve seen reviews of her other books, especially her Godspeaker Trilogy, that have intrigued me with their discussion of controversial characters and bold subject matters. Readers seemed to either love or hate those books, but at least they sounded very different and intriguing. I think I’d expected The Falcon Throne to go in a similar direction, but that didn’t quite happen. Despite the twisty plotlines involving court intrigue, lordly politics, and the unpredictable consequence of shenanigans by pathological schemers, the story and themes aren’t really groundbreaking or anything to write home about.

And yet, I really enjoyed this book in spite of myself. Looking at the fantasy genre, I’ve noticed that in recent years the classic elves and dwarves seem to have been largely replaced by squabbling noble houses and psychopathic royalty. With Game of Thrones fever taking the world by storm, I suppose it’s really not that surprising to see writers hoping to ride on the coattails of its success by emulating its style or concepts. I don’t know if this was Miller’s intent, but I definitely sensed some of those vibes while reading this. Nothing wrong with that, though! Not especially with her obvious talent for writing fully-realized characters and intense sequences.

However, as much enjoyment as I got out of this book, Miller doesn’t quite push things over to mind-blowing territory. Don’t get me wrong, the story was certainly addictive – enough to make getting through 670-ish pages of this ARC not feel like a chore at all. I am still surprised at the speed I gobbled up this book. But like any lengthy epic, it has its ups and downs. The characters are great, but I was largely unaffected by any significant events that happened to them, and even unexpected character deaths didn’t always have the desired impact. Here and there were also several patches with borderline information overload that I was tempted to skim, but I have to make it clear that for the most part, these rare hiccups in the story were made up for by the wonderfully executed dialogue between characters and action-filled fight scenes.

In case you’re still wondering about the validity of the comparisons of this book to Game of Thrones, I would say those descriptions are pretty apt. It’s certainly in the same vein. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I always hesitate to compare anything to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire…simply because nothing out there is like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Certain series like that or Harry Potter are just so big they defy comparison. But quite honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to The Falcon Throne to make that comparison either. Without a doubt, this book can stand on its own. Some of its themes might ring familiar to avid readers of epic fantasy, but I’ll be the first in line to admit I can’t resist these kinds of stories, and Karen Miller brings her own unique and elegant touch to The Falcon Throne.

4 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Orbit Books!

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