Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

The book is called A Wizard of Earthsea and that’s exactly what it is about, no more and no less. It introduces Duny, a young boy who displays power that leads him to study with a local witch, draws the attention of a great mage, and then proceeds on to study to be a true wizard, but not before awakening a dark evil that will haunt him for many years.

This is the first book in Le Guin’s Earthsea saga. I’ve read other books that serve as an introduction to a main character and their world, but some of them have tried too hard to throw in extra details and events and characters to build that character and world. Le Guin skillfully weaves Duny’s life through a series of important moments and people in under 200 pages. I try to use the word “pithy” at least once a week, and it definitely suits the way Le Guin tells Duny’s story. Every character and plot device has a purpose in shaping the boy who will become one of the greatest mages known.

The dialogue is a bit unusual, but it works for the flow of the story. In fact, “flow” is another word I willuse to describe the book because everything moves smoothly, like a river flowing out to sea. Perhaps the title and the many journeys that Duny takes by boat have influenced that feeling, but that’s exactly what I imagined as I read through it. There were quiet, slow moving moments, like his time with the mage Ogion, or the more rushing moments of his battles with dragons and shadows. But everything stayed the course.

Duny himself is an interesting character. He begins as a typical young teenager full of curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, but we also see his strong sense of pride develop as his knowledge increases and we see the horrible results of that pride and how it all is integral to the wizard he’s meant to become.

A lot of fantasy books that exist within their own unique worlds preface with a map. This book doesn’t need one. There are a lot of places mentioned and visited in Duny’s travels, but I felt like I could create the map myself based on how clearly and concisely Le Guin took us from place to place. I also love the way magic works, with so much power placed on words – on names specifically.

4 of 5 stars

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Book Review: Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test by Mark D. White

Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test edited by Mark D. White

This is my first venture into the Philosophy and Pop Culture series. I wasn’t disappointed with most of what I’d read. I was a little hesitant to read this at first because I thought these essays might’ve been just slapped together to appeal to an audience, but it was much more than that.

The topics span a range of ideas in philosophical context including feminism, virtue, homosexuality. As with any book that has multiple writers, the essays themselves were hit or miss.I enjoyed most of the essays on Rorschach and Ozymandias. There was a great essay about The Comedian and Nite Owl. The essays centering around Mr. Manhattan were a little bland, though.

These essays posed great questions for discussion such as: Would superheroes work in a real life setting? Could we really trust them to be objective creatures who didn’t give into personal biases? Or would they be whim to changing the rules to suit them since no ordinary man could challenge them and win?

I probably would’ve given it 4 stars, but I deducted for a couple of reasons.

First, the guy who wrote about homosexuality in Watchmen seemed like a poor candidate to touch on the subject. His view was very biased as a man who admitted that he was “sickened” by homosexuality and nothing about his argument was compelling. But he did manage to come off like that one guy who can’t be racist because he has “black friends.” Just replace “black friends” with “gay friends,” and you have this guy. He tried to be objective, but it came off very forced.

Secondly, while I enjoyed the essays on Ozymandias and Rorschach–and not so much Dr. Manhattan, I wished it’d touched more on some of the other characters. Most of the book was dominated by those three with Rorschach being a character who had roused Kant in the writers. It would’ve been nice to read other ideas about the other characters and their actions beside what virtue Nite Owl’s potbelly represents and a rambling essay about feminism that seemed to lose the plot.

Overall, a nice collection of essays. If you like Kant, you’ll probably love this. He comes up fairly often. If you’re looking for a well-rounded book that pays equal tribute to the characters, then you’re not going to find it here.

Final Verdict:
3 of 5 stars

Interview with Jason M. Hough, Author of "The Darwin Elevator"

Hello all, today we have a very exciting interview with Jason M. Hough, author of the highly anticipated science fiction novel The Darwin Elevator, which comes out today!

Jason’s excellent debut features a thrilling adventure set in a savage world decimated by an alien plague. Survivors have found refuge in Darwin, Australia, where a massive space elevator has become humanity’s last hope. Be sure to check out out the book, available in bookstores now! Fellow co-blogger Wendy and I thoroughly enjoyed it (Mogsy’s review; Wendy’s review) and we hope you will too.

As a special treat, Jason and I opted for a more casual style for this interview, and we were able to have a nice chat about a great many things. Jason was kind enough to answer questions about his book, his experience with writing, NaNoWriMo, and thoughts on being an author. Couldn’t have been a nicer guy, and I had a lot of fun! So it is with great honor and pleasure that I present to you, The BiblioSanctum’s interview with Jason M. Hough, after the jump. Enjoy!


Mogsy: Good morning, Jason! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. If you can’t tell already, I’m really psyched to be talking to you right now. I have to say “The Darwin Elevator” was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read this year and that it was an incredibly strong debut. I hope it’s okay to jump right into questions about it.

Jason M. Hough: Fire away!

The Darwin Elevator, available now

M: Great! Okay, you’ve probably been asked this a million times already, but I’ve been curious and dying to ask ever since I picked up the book: What made you choose Darwin as the setting?

J: The reason is kind of embarrassingly shallow. For a space elevator to work it needs to be near the equator. So with that in mind I was spinning around a globe trying to find a place that jumped out at me as interesting, and my eye was immediately drawn to Darwin because of the name.

“The Darwin Elevator” – the title just hit me instantly. I loved the extra connotation the name brings, so I set my sights on that place and started to research it. The more I learned, the more I loved it.

M: Speaking of research, did you have to do a lot for this book?

J: A fair amount. Mostly related to space elevator physics, which are generally pretty solid in the book (I fudged a few things), and Darwin itself. There was a bunch of other random things, but probably 90% went into those two areas.

I still don’t consider myself an expert in either topic. I’d say my research was enough to make me dangerous.

M: So have you ever been to Darwin? Or any plans to now? 😀

J: Never been! But I definitely want to go now. We’re waiting for the kids to get a bit older before we make a trek that far, but we’ll get there at some point.

M: Yeah, now you totally have to go! But while we’re on the topic of the technological aspects, those were some of the things I enjoyed most about the book. There’s the elevator, this huge structure stretching into the sky. Then there’s the world in crumbles, overrun with sub-humans. It’s a very rich setting. What were some of the things that inspired it?

J: Well, the space elevator is definitely something that captures the imagination. There’s been a number of times now where I’ve found myself explaining the concept to someone unfamiliar with it, and they all get the same wondrous look on their face.

At some point early on I was looking for a way to force humanity to use the thing, rather than it just being there for them to ogle. That sparked the idea for the disease, and I think it really worked out well. The combination of these two worlds tied together by a strand really appealed to me.

M: How about the characters? Can you give us some insights into your main protagonist Skyler? What went into developing his character?

J: Skyler is a character I came up with about ten years ago, originally for a different story.  Like many characters in the book, he’s inspired by different facets of people I know.

As I started to come around to the idea of trapping humanity around the base of the Elevator, the idea that there should be some small subset that can go out and scavenge came to me. A pilot makes perfect sense for that role, and once I started to think through that more he quickly became the main character.

M: Is science fiction your favorite genre? What about it draws you in?

J: I don’t really play favorites with genre, it’s just one of the many that I enjoy. I think I read science fiction and fantasy in almost equal proportion, along with espionage thrillers, horror, non-fiction, and random other things.

What draws me in about sci-fi – Often it’s simply the “what if?” scenarios, or the examinations of where technology will take us. Beyond that, it’s mostly just the fantastic stories that take place in a world different from, but clearly connected, to ours (as opposed to fantasy).

M: As you know, I was really excited when I found out that “The Darwin Elevator” actually started out life as a project for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the event in November that challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel. If you don’t mind, I’m really interested in how all that came together for you, as it’s always fantastic to see NaNo success stories. First of all, what motivated you to participate?

J: Well, somewhere around 2003 I got it in my head that should write. Over the next four years I’d written a grand total of eight pages, because on the rare occasions I’d sit down to write I would spend all my time hemming and hawing over those pages.

By 2007 I’d about given up, but then I heard about NaNoWriMo and decided to give it a try. It sounded like the kick in the pants I needed. So I did it in 2007, finished with a complete 50,200 word novel, and I was hooked. The technique of writing TONS every day and then editing it into something decent later really worked for me.

But that novel was crap. It fell apart at the halfway mark and so the second half was terrible. In 2008 I went in with a solid idea and a very detailed outline for “DARWIN”, and after NaNo ended I just kept going. First NaNo: 2007 with a romantic comedy that I had no game plan for. 2008, “The Darwin Elevator”, with a solid outline. That’s how I learned I’m not a “pantser”.

M: What were some of your challenges you came across when it came to NaNoWriMo? And how did you overcome them?

J: Well, the biggest challenge is just to keep up. The daily word count is crazy. So in 2008 I kept this elaborate spreadsheet that tracked my progress. Each day I’d enter my total word count, and the spreadsheet would tell me how far ahead or behind I was. That made it much easier to stay on target.

I also started to burn out about halfway through the month, only to have my energy renewed by one of those inspirational emails they send out — one by Neil Gaiman. It really clicked for me and drove me to finish. These days I go at what’s basically a half-NaNo pace, about 800 words a day is my average.

Book 2, available Aug. 27, 2013

M: So “The Darwin Elevator” is part of the Dire Earth Trilogy. When you first started out writing it, did you have an idea that it was going to be a series already, or did the ideas grow from that first book?

J: I really only knew that it would be more than one book. But beyond book one, all I had was the overall conclusion to the mystery of what the aliens in the story are up to. How many books it would take to get there, and what would happen along the way, I had only a few vague ideas.

When the book went out on submission to publishers, I was terrified that they’d all come back and want to see a detailed plan for the series. To my surprise, for the most part they didn’t even ask. Not where it was going, not how many books it would be, nothing. It was more like “Hey, this is great. We’d like three books.”

It worked out in the end, though, because I was able to collaborate very closely with my editor on books 2 and 3, and get his thumbs-up on the outline before I started writing. Given the breakneck schedule, that was important for me.

M: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

J: Well, the first thing I’d remind aspiring writers is that when it comes to writing advice, repeat this mantra: “There’s no rules, only tools.” Take any writing advice with a grain of salt. Be willing to try stuff suggested to you (like outlining versus pantsing), but also have the confidence to know when something doesn’t work for you. Even if your favorite author of all time does it doesn’t mean it has to be the way you do it.

Bearing that in mind, one thing that’s helped me but I’ve never heard given as advice is this: listen to audiobooks.

M: Wow! Can you go more into that? All my co-reviewers and I on the blog love audiobooks. That definitely is new but interesting advice.

J: I really think audiobooks have made me a better writer. There’s something about hearing the words spoken aloud, by talented narrators, that really makes the language come alive.

The big difference between audiobooks and print, for me, is that you can’t skim. It’s natural when you hit a big paragraph to skip down to the next bit of dialog or action. But in an audiobook you really have no choice but to get swept into the entire text. For me I think it’s really helped me pace my action scenes, and know when I’m rambling on about something.

In other words, I think it just helps you to hear your own writing in your head, and compels you to make it sound good. They always say you should read your own stuff aloud to help spot awkward phrasings, and I think the more you can do that internally as you write, the better.

M: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background? Growing up, did you ever see yourself becoming a writer?

J: Well, I’ve always had a creative itch. When I was a kid I was always sketching. I did take a stab at writing when I was in junior high (in fact I just did a “Dear Readers” post on SUVUDU about that), but my passion back then was really art. Specifically 3D modeling and animation, which I put all my energy into and eventually landed a job at a game studio.

Eventually I started doing game design, which covers a lot of skills including world-building, character development, and story aspects. Write the word baccarat on my Facebook page the day this interview goes live and I’ll pick someone at random for a signed copy of the book. When I left that for a more stable job, my life had a creative void, and I decided to try writing again. My reasoning was it was something I could do entirely on my own, which appealed to me after a decade of doing big projects with a large team.

M: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do to wind down/relax when you’re not writing?

J: For a long time writing was my hobby, and I guess I haven’t had a chance to replace it with something else yet. These days…”Relax” isn’t in my vocabulary! While writing these books my wife and I also welcomed two babies into our family, and so virtually all my time when I’m not writing is devoted to them.

Once the kids are in school I hope to get into something like building replica movie props, and also go back and play through all the games I’ve missed in the last few years.

M: Grats! That sounds busy. How do you feel now balancing family, life, etc. with writing?

J: It may sound clichéd to say these books wouldn’t have been possible without my wife’s support, but that’s the truth. She lets me escape the house every morning before dawn so I can go write before the kids wake up. I’d get my writing in from 5am to 7am, then go to work, then home by 4:30 or so to take over with the kids.

It’s fine now because I’m writing full time, but for a few years there it was rough. My wife’s a trooper.

M: That’s fantastic! And about writing full time, I know before we talked about how as readers, the authors we love are celebrities in our eyes. How does it feel now as a published author to be on the other side of that? 🙂

J: It’s really weird. Last year I met my editor for the first time at ComicCon. I remember I was walking up to the Del Rey booth, and before I could get there this stranger steps in front of me and says something like, “I just wanted to say I loved your book”.

It was the first time someone I didn’t know had commented on the book, and it really freaked me out. Turned out it was the editor-in-chief at Del Rey.  But still… it’s a strange thing when your work is suddenly out there in the world. I thought publishing a bunch of games would prepare me for that, but those were all big team efforts. This feels much more personal.

Book 3, available Sept. 24, 2013

M: What are your future plans or projects?

J: Right now I’m just enjoying doing interviews like this, and writing some short stories that help flesh out the backstory of “The Darwin Elevator”. One of those is up on Tor.com, by the way. Beyond that, I’ve got a fantasy idea I’ve been itching to write for a few years now, so I’ll probably start on that until I know if Del Rey wants more Dire Earth books.

M: Ooh, so there is a possibility we’ll see more Dire Earth books? 😀

J: I hope so! I’ve got plans for more, but sales will dictate what happens and I think it takes about six months to know one way or the other. So, until then I’m going to work on new ideas and keep my fingers crossed.

M: Keeping my fingers crossed too! It really is an exciting trilogy. Thanks so much for talking with me today, this has been fun!

J: No worries at all, and you were great. It’s been a lot of fun chatting with you.

Comic Review: Princeless vol.2: Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and Emily C. Martin

Princeless Book Two: Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

Self-rescuing princess Adrienne continues her adventures with companions Bedelia, the half dwarf blacksmith and Sparky the dragon. Unable to rescue her youngest sister, Adrienne goes after the beautiful Angelica instead, only to find that Angelica may not want to be rescued. Meanwhile, their father has found the most deadly and unique bounty hunters in the land and tasks them with finding the knight whom he believes killed Adrienne.

As promised in our interview, this volume of Princeless is less preachy than the previous one. Where volume one struck out at the comic industry and sexism and prejudice as a whole, this one tones down that commentary a bit to focus on Adrienne’s adventures. It also takes an interesting turn with Adrienne discovering that her book learning and headstrong confidence has not prepared her for the world. She’s confronted with the fact that she might not be aware of everything she ought to be, and that just because she believes strongly in something, does not mean everyone else does.

Emily C. Martin takes over the artistic reigns on Princeless and does a great job at making everything just as bright and fun as the first volume.

I read this to my daughters, aged seven and five, who loved the first volume and laughed out loud with this one, too. The mysterious Black Knight plucked at their curiosity and the showdown with the various characters were exciting and funny. They especially liked the sisterly hugs that came with Angelica and Adrienne’s resolution and are eager to read more after that creepy cliffhanger ending! Our only complaint was that there was not enough Sparky!

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Expected Date of Publication: August 6, 2013

This was a book I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, so thank you to Ace books and Penguin for this most excellent reading opportunity. The cover of Emperor of Thorns proclaims, “All reigns must end…” and I have to say, the prospect of getting my hands on this third installment of The Broken Empire series and finding out what will become of Jorg Ancrath made this one of my most highly anticipated fantasy novels of 2013.

I was not disappointed at all. A caveat for this review, though: this being the final book of the trilogy, the following summary and my subsequent thoughts may contain possible minor spoilers for the two books that came before. In any case, Emperor of Thorns would not serve as a good starting point for someone new to this series; best to start with book one, Prince of Thorns, in order to watch the main character grow and develop throughout the course of these books. 

Indeed, Jorg Ancrath is twenty now; the boy prince has become a king, the ruler of seven nations. But where there is more, Jorg will always want it. He has set his eyes on becoming the emperor, a position decided only by vote during a truce period which comes every four years, when the rulers of a hundred fragmented kingdoms of the empire convene for an event called Congression. In the hundred years of the interregnum, however, no one candidate has managed to secure a majority of the vote. 

But Jorg has plans to change all that. On his journeys across the broken land, he has made even more discoveries about the mysterious Builders of their past, and he will use their secrets and technology to suit his purposes. And yet, equally as ambitious and bloodthirsty as Jorg is The Dead King, watching events unfold from beyond the veil. Jorg may take care to guard his fears and weaknesses, but the Dead King and his necromancers and army of lichkin are waiting, ready to strike at Jorg where he is most vulnerable.

As with the previous book King of Thorns, this one also takes us through different timelines in Jorg’s life, with one thread following Jorg on his journey to Congression and the other focusing on events “Five Years Earlier.” There are time-jumps aplenty, which makes rereading the first two novels a fine idea, but the author also includes a handy little refresher crash course before the prologue. Or you might be like me: whenever I came to a memory or flashback sequence in this book, I found it easy to figure out when and where in time I am using clues like which one of Jorg’s companions or acquaintances are still alive! Those familiar with Jorg’s character likely won’t be surprised to hear you can form a rather complete history using the impressive trail of death and destruction he leaves behind, but more on that later.

Let me just say now that it has been a pleasure following Jorg on his anti-hero’s journey, watching him mature from a boy to a man. But Jorg has never truly been young in the first place, not really; he’s seen way too much death, betrayal, cruelty and brutality for that. Yes, he is a selfish, violent, deeply disturbed and deplorable character, but above all, he’s also honest and unashamed of everything he is. That and the fact the only predictable thing about him is his unpredictability made him a very interesting character to follow.

Still, I suppose you could say I’ve never really felt connected to Jorg, because believe it or not, I actually find it very hard to relate to someone I honestly think is quite insane. And the years since the first book have in no way cooled his temper or impudence. However, in spite of it all, I still like him. I can’t help but be drawn to this refreshingly original protagonist who calls himself a “broken boy” and wraps himself up in his anger to escape his past. So, can I really find it in myself to fault Jorg for going all Kill Bill Medieval-style on his enemies or anyone who even looks at him wrong? Not really, no.

The thing I love best about this series, though, is that nothing is as it seems. I’ve mentioned before in the past that the first two books contain relatively familiar fantasy ideas, except Mark Lawrence takes them all and spins them on their head. The third book is no different at all, and pretty much every chapter past the midway point contained something that made me stop reading, shake my head and go, “Whoa.” There are just so many unexpected surprises, and even the setting itself is a twist, which I remember was a huge mind-blowing moment for me when I read the first book. Emperor of Thorns explores that setting a lot more, and we’re seriously treading into genre-bending territory here.

And finally, WHAT AN ENDING. Needless to say, readers who have been following The Broken Empire up to this point will have no excuse to miss this. Even though Mark Lawrence wrote in his Afterthought that this will be the last book in this series, I don’t find myself overly upset. I’m actually quite satisfied with how everything wrapped up. I am just grateful there is an ending, and to me, it was perfect.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Wounded Prey by Sean Lynch

Wounded Prey: Introducing Detectives Farrell and Kearns by Sean Lynch

With thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Vietnam War provided the perfect opportunity for Vernon Slocum to unleash all of his twisted, murderous rage on the world, a product of his abusive childhood. His skills as a Marine earned him many medals and his commanders and squadmates recognized him as a man who got the job done – and who could easily end them if they questioned his more depraved actions. But when Slocum returns to the real world 20 years later, his kidnapping and brutal murder of a young girl isn’t going to go unnoticed.

The story jumps right in with Slocum’s depravity – and the valiant, but ultimately failed attempt by rookie deputy Kevin Kearns to save the girl. The FBI turns their attention on Kearns, as does the small town, whose thirst for vengeance will see Kearns burned at the stake for daring to survive where a little girl didn’t. Meanwhile, retired cop Bob Farrell recognizes Slocum’s MO and is not going to let him slip away again.

This is an introduction to Kearns and Farrell’s partnership and Lynch puts a unique spin on the old cop/green cop team up by binding them both so strongly together through the guilt of the little girl’s death. Kearns isn’t too happy with Farrell’s methods, but considering his new scapegoat status and his desire to catch the bad guy, he hesitantly goes along with Farrell’s less than legal methods.

Essentially, the two become vigilantes and I really liked the liberation it gives them – knowing the law and being able to slip over and under it without the use of a cape and tights. It also means that the two are as much criminals themselves, adding to the intensity of the hunt.

I really appreciated the authenticity of the characters and the situations. Lynch is clearly drawing on his career to pull together a dynamic and often gruesome story.

3.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant

As you know, every once in a while I will find myself veering from my usual pattern of reading mostly sci-fi and fantasy and venture into the realm of historical fiction. I admittedly will do this for any interesting looking books about European royals or powerful families, especially those related to either the Tudors or the Borgias. Hence, this book.

Blood & Beauty focuses the Borgia family roughly between the years of 1492 when patriarch Rodrigo Borgia first began his papacy as Pope Alexander VI, and 1502 when his daughter Lucrezia Borgia married her third husband Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. With scandals and rumors aplenty, this was an eventful decade for the notorious family, but also for the rest of Europe as well with their wars and ruthless politics.

First of all, I think that the author made a very brave choice when it came to using the third person omniscient point of view to narrate the story, even though there were both positive and negative sides to this. In getting to know the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in this novel, Sarah Dunant managed to convey the sweeping influence of the Borgias and acquaint us with practically everyone in the family. On the downside, because we don’t get to focus on any one POV for long, the connections the reader has with the characters also feel impersonal and distant.

This last point wasn’t much helped by the long sections of historical context and fact-dumping that were pervasive throughout the chapters, bogging down many parts of this book. This also made the novel feel more emphatic towards historical events rather than the characters, when I usually prefer it to be the other way around. On the other hand, this allowed us to see the bigger picture outside the personal dramas of the family, shedding light upon the political turmoil in other parts of Europe.

However, at times I felt like I was reading a dramatized history textbook. I would have preferred more emphasis on the characters; though, of all of them, Lucrezia did come across to me as the most well-rounded and fleshed-out Borgia. Still, Sarah Dunant pretty much played it safe with the rest when it comes to the exploration and interpretation of their personalities, and I wouldn’t have minded if she’d pushed it a bit further. I’m usually okay when historical fiction writers take liberties, as long as those liberties aren’t completely outlandish and are mentioned in an author’s note.

Anyway, no doubt this period of time was very interesting when it came to the Borgias, but history does show us that the fun doesn’t end there. It’s why I was glad to hear that Sarah Dunant’s already preparing a follow-up novel to this one. This is the first time I’ve read anything by her, and despite some minor issues I had with Blood & Beauty, I did enjoy it. I would be absolutely open to picking up the next book.

 
3 of 5 stars

Book Review: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

I recently read Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion which teased me with the romance between Cazaril and the young Beatriz. Beguilement, part one of the Sharing Knife series, served almost as a sequel to that romance for me, giving me all the sexual tension and adoration that were only hinted at in Chalion. The romance spawns from the unfortunate adventures of Fawn when she becomes entangled with a deadly Malice and works with the Lakewalker, Dag, to save the world from the blight of evil.

I love the whole concept of the Malices, creatures that feed on life and cannot be killed but by the Lakewalkers and their very special ground magic, bound to the bone sharing knives they carry for just such a purpose. I love the lore of the Malice and of the Lakewalkers and Dag’s history, much of which we learn through Fawn’s naïveté and her endless curiosity. The world Bujold created is fascinating and I really wanted more of it. But all I really got was the courtship of Dag and Fawn.

The romance and the questions end up taking up 80% of the story, with all the excitement and danger of the Malice more or less wrapped up in the first part. I don’t mind a story that focuses on a prolonged romance, and I enjoyed the character development that went along with it. But when they finally get it on, I expected the overlying plot of Malices and bandits to rear their ugly heads again.

Nope. We get to meet the parents! And plan weddings! Oh and deal with ex-boyfriends too!

I haven’t checked the blurb for Legacy, the sequel, but I half expect the plot to cover the honeymoon, birth of children, marital counselling, the messy divorce, custody battles…

2 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

The Crown Tower byMichael J. Sullivan

Expected Date of Publication: August 6, 2013
 
A team, a partnership, working together…the Elves have word for it in the world of these books — they call it “Riyria”. If you’ve read Michael J. Sullivan’s excellent Riyria Revelations series already, you’ll know that Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn weren’t always the dynamic duo we know and love, and that they certainly didn’t start off as friends. Now finally, with the story of The Crown Tower, we get to see how it all began.

I was honored to be able to read a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Orbit and NetGalley! Being quite the fan of Mr. Sullivan’s Riyria books and given the fact that Hadrian and Royce’s “origin story” was one that was hinted at throughout that entire series, being able to read this was one hell of a real treat. 

The great thing is, even though The Crown Tower can be considered a prequel of sorts, it can also be read as a one-shot. We are introduced to Hadrian, a jaded and young directionless soldier returning home from the wilds of Calis after hearing about his father’s death. He agrees to meet with Arcadius, an old friend at the university who claims to have a message from Hadrian’s father before he died. Arcadius, however, inexplicably pairs Hadrian up with Royce, a depraved thief whose mistrust of everything and everyone is akin to that of a dog that has been kicked too often. The two men are sent on an incomprehensible task to steal a book…which sounds simple enough, if only they can learn to work together without killing each other first.

For newcomers to the world and characters of Riyria, this book will be a great starting point. Returning fans will probably be even more thrilled, as it basically has all the details about Hadrian and Royce’s first ever job together, and answers questions about how these two men — who arguably are complete polar opposites of each other — became a team. As an added bonus, we even get chapters focusing on Gwen, who ranks up there among my list of strongest female characters I’ve ever come across in fantasy fiction. 

These are characters I’ve come to know well, and it’s just so great to be able to return to them again, even if it’s going back in time. My only regret is that Gwen’s sections feel a bit rushed and a little glossed over, though rationally I can kind of see why I found this to be the case. Her presence in this book is definitely required, but at the same time the main focus must remain on Hadrian and Royce’s quest. My excitement levels and hopes are lifted, however, for The Rose and the Thorn which is the follow-up to this, and it looks like it’ll have a lot more Gwen and maybe it’ll mean a deeper and more prominent role for her to play.

The thing I love about The Crown Tower is that it continues to read like all of the other Riyria novels in that they are fun, action-filled adventurous fantasy stories that have a traditional, straightforward and down-to-earth feel-good vibe. Hadrian and Royce are ever the source of good banter, even at this point where they still hate each other. 

The book also has a feel of a puzzle piece that simply “fits”, falling into place and filling out the timeline of the Riyria books without feeling forced or tacked on, unlike certain prequels of certain franchises I won’t deign to mention here. You can tell with The Crown Tower as with all the books in the Riyria Revelations that the author has a grand plan, that everything happens for a reason and the presentation of it all is smooth and logical. The point is, I think this book would be great for any fan of fantasy, but if you’ve also read and loved the Riyria Revelations, this is a MUST-read.

Final verdict:
4 of 5 stars