The Stolen Child by Peter Brunton – A Review

A Copy of this book was provided to me by the Author in exchange for an honest review.

The blurb: “There are roads that are not on any map. There are worlds beyond our own, where cities hang between the clouds and Guildships sail on steam and lightning.

There is a girl living on the streets of London, hunted by ruthless mercenaries and a boy made of shadows and smoke.

There is a place beyond the furthest edge of the Dreaming, where the Lady of The Falling Leaves is calling her home.

And there is a secret, buried in the heart of Rachael’s city, that will change our world forever.

The Stolen Child is a breathtaking young adult adventure that takes the reader from industrial chaos of modern London to the vast and impossible world of the Borderlands, a world of flying ships, floating cities, magical automata, and ancient wonders. Drawn together from across distant worlds by events that were set in motion before either of them was born, two young women discover a strange connection, and a friendship that will change their lives.”

This is a hard one to pin down for me. And there is a funny story to how I got a hold of this book. I use Reddit a lot both at home and work. I browse tons of subreddits on various topics. One of those was Star Citizen, and I ended up mentioning in a thread that I had started reviewing books. Then the author of this one contacted me, and here we are.

Strange places to get review copies. But I digress.

This is the story of two girls: Rachel, a homeless runaway living in London and Arsha, a girl living in the Borderlands, outside of our known reality and connected to a multitude of places via the Ways. You could get all that from the blurb, but the story is really hard to define, genre-wise. It has elements of Urban Fantasy, regular Fantasy, and a dash of what I can only call Steampunk, although its more like A Vanishing Glow as its magical tech not steam based (They use caged Lightning to power their airships, and the only magic they wield has to do with Fate).

First lets discuss the good aspects of the story. Firstly, it ENDS. That’s right, no cliffhanger, no poor ending. There is a solid ending that ties up everything about the primary conflict and story, and then leaves a door open for the inevitable sequel. Considering he calls this Book 1 its safe to assume there will be more adventures with Arsha and Rachel. Secondly, the world building is solid and the author is actually pretty solid at “show don’t tell”. He doesn’t drown you in exposition but instead focuses on the characters and story, letting the world build itself in your mind based on what is going on around everyone. And he does it well. Not perfectly, by any stretch. But well enough that it kept me turning pages and wanting to see where things went.

Also the world of the Borderlands is interesting to say the least. I want to know more about the Borderlands and how its structured, who the Guild really is and the various peoples of the world.

Now for a bit of the bad. And this is a personal issue rather then a technical one.

I cannot, for the life of me, stand Teen Angst. This book is a Young Adult novel. And its a solidly written one. But Rachel is a ball of angst and rage and issues. And it makes her, for me at least, unlikable. Arsha also frequently gets into fits of angst and “my life is terrible!”

Thing is, they have legitimate reasons FOR this angst. It makes sense in the context of the story. But I am not a huge fan of it, on a personal level. For Arsha, its not too frequent, but for Rachel? That girl is broken. She has had a terrible life and it shows. She has massive issues involving trust, and constantly tries to be strong and run from her problems. Every time someone tries to help she basically bites the hand that feeds, and it gets frustrating at times for me because I start to scream in my head “YOU IDIOT CHILD STOP BEING A NARDMUFFIN!”

Oh and there were a couple of grammar and spelling issues, but sadly I forgot to mark them down in order to send em to the author. Nothing major, and not really frequent. In a 400 page book I can recall 3 errors roughly.

Overall, this is a solid debut from a new author, and if you are interesting in a strange blend of Urban Fantasy and Magical Tech/Steampunk, you should give this a read. I rate this a 3/5. For me, it was pretty average at the end, but it was still a good story. And I am curious to see where it goes.

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Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games by Matt Barton – A Review

I grew up in the early 80’s.  I was born in 82.  And I grew up gaming on the PC.

One thing I love now, and I have loved since the day I played Betrayal at Krondor, are Computer RPGs.  I cut my teeth on the likes of Baldurs Gate, Lands of Lore, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights.  Curious about the games I might have missed growing up, I found this book and picked it up.

The early parts pre 2000 were very well done but after that the book shows its age very obviously.  It goes over in great detail the Ultima series, Wizardry, Might and Magic, and the other Pre 2000 RPGs.  However, he makes mention at one point of PC Gaming dying (Which has been proven wrong) as well as having very little real info on anything in the last 6 years or so.  The book is great for the history of the old pre 2000 games, but anything more recent is rather sparse.  But I can understand that.

I would pick this up and read it ONLY for the early information.  He also frequently dives into Adventure games rather then sticking to RPGs, as he feels that is necessary to understand.  I disagree, but I understand the usage of it.

I would have also liked to see more interviews with the game developers.

This is a solid 3/5.  Good for gaming history buffs but anyone else should not really bother.

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The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny – A Review

Oh dear where can I begin with this monster. Normally its easy for me to really get a grasp on how to start, but this tome is 10 books in one. Thats right, 10 bloody books in one volume. So I am going to do my best to give it the treatment it deserves.

If you want the short answer: GO READ THESE BOOKS. Find the Anthology, and go.

Now then, I suppose the best place would be a rough description of the tome. And make no mistake, it is a TOME. You see, the Book of Amber is the collected works of Roger Zelazny, and houses his Chronicles of Amber. It goes under a few different names, but seeing as how I read the Omnibus edition titled The Great Book of Amber, I figured I would discuss that here.

Firstly, this houses 10 total novels, split into two “cycles”

The first 5 are the Corwin cycle, and are:

– Nine Princes in Amber
– The Guns of Avalon
– Sign of the Unicorn
– The Hand of Oberon
– The Courts of Chaos

These five detail the story of Corwin, a Prince of Amber. What is Amber I can hear you asking? Well! Amber is no less then the center AND the only real point in the known universe.

The basica idea behind the world is that Amber is the center of the Universe, and everything beyond Amber is nothing more then a Shadow cast by Amber. Our universe is one such Shadow, and its where Corwin begins his journey. From there he deals with other members of his family as well as a great black Road, trying to determine what happened to his father Oberon, and a few other insane mysteries as well as the forces of Chaos.

Its very much a product of its time. Written in 1970, it has the trappings of detective noir, lots of smoking and drinking and instrospective moments. The world building is fantastic as well. You get a real sense of Amber, and its environs, and Corwin’s family. The one that sticks out in my mind are Brand and Ran, and Benedict. Corwin’s family are basically superhumans. Almost all of them are tougher then a normal man, faster, and devious to a fault. Corwin remarks requently that the family is not a very “close” one. Lots of backstabbing here.

Without spoiling too much, the series starts with Corwin awakening in a mental hospital in upstate New York with no memory of who he is. He manages to escape, find the person who had put him there, and from there begins the process of unrvaelling his memories as well as the intricate plots and politics of being a Prince of Amber.

Another thing that is very prominent in the series is the Pattern. At the very center of everything lies the Pattern in Amber. This is basically a huge pattern that houses the very Stuff of Reality. To show you are a Prince or Princess of Amber, to gain the ability to Walk the Shadows (which is how they access the various realities of the Multiverse) you must survive walking the Pattern. Corwin does it to prove he is who he says he is at one point.

The Corwin Quintet is a great read but can be a bit hard to get through. The prose is dense and you can miss things if you read too quickly. Further, there are layers and layers of interaction. But its a page turner make no mistake. And by the end you will have things ending in a satisfactory way.

The second 5 books are the Merlin Cycle, and are:

– Trumps of Doom
– Blood of Amber
– Signs of Chaos
– Knight of Shadows
– Prince of Chaos

The first of these books was wrriten in 85, and shows a very different style and tone when compared to the first five. While the first five came off as a Noir / Detective styled story, this came off more action oriented, almost like a Hacker novel. Merlin is the son of Corwin, and a Prince of both Chaos and Amber.

He has walked both the Pattern in Amber, and the opposite, the Logrus, in Chaos. He is a being of both worlds, and strives in the books to try to save both from destroying themselves as well as the very fabric of the universe. He also creates his own AI in the form of Ghost, a machine who thinks of him as its father and tries to help him out.

I found this group of stories to be…less interesting then the first. Perhaps it was fatigue that got to me here. I am not sure. But I can promise you they are still worth your time and by the end of the 10 books the whole world felt nice and complete, and the story done.

I would rate this Omnibus a solid 4.5/5. I urge you, if you are interested in a different sort of Fantasy, to give this a read. Yes, its going to take you a LONG time, but its worth it all the way till the end.

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The Way of Kings, The Stormlight Archives Book 1 by Brandon Sanderson – A Review

This review was previously posted on Goodreads.

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SOME MINOR SPOILERS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

The Way of Kings is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s challenger to the Wheel of Time series. Brandon Sanderson himself is the man who finished the Wheel of Time series with the last two books at the behest of the Estate of Robert Jordan, so he has the chops to write. Further, Sanderson has written quite a few books that I personally have enjoyed, including the Mistborn Saga and Steelheart, and the Rithmatist. It’s safe to say, I enjoy this man’s writing.

In the Way of Kings, the world is constantly ravaged by “highstorms” which basically appear to be Hurricanes. The world has adapted to it, and there is some sort of magical quality to these storms as the currency, these gemstones, absorb “Stormlight”. The gems act as both a lightsource frequently, and the currency as well.

The book follows three primary storylines using point of view styled storytelling, along with interludes using tertiary characters. The primary characters are Kaladin (an ex soldier turned slave turned bridgeman), Shallan (the sheltered daughter of a dead nobleman trying to save her house), and Dalinar (a Highprince and uncle to the king). Each character has their own goals and wants, and the storylines are all interesting in their own rights.

The book is LONG, at just over 1000 pages. But I found myself reading it nonstop as its very character focused. Each character was interesting and while seperate, eventually their stories start to intersect.

The story starts with an assassin, called The Man in White, killing the King of the Aleshi, on the night of their treaty signing with this group called the Parshendi. The Parshendi take credit for the killing, and a war breaks out. It has been 6 years since the war had started when our story begins.

Kaladin’s story focuses on his trials as a slave turned bridgeman, a person who has to run large wooden bridges for a highprinces army. The bridgemen as expected to die as they are basically bait for the Parshendi archers. Kaladin is basically a broken man but eventually starts to overcome his own issues and tries his best to rally his fellow Bridgemen and keep them alive.

Shallan however, is the daughter of a noble who has died, and his family has decided to hide his death in an attempt to avoid creditors. She goes chasing after the kings sister, Jasnah, to steal an item called a Soulcaster. She eventually learns several amazing things about herself and discovers a love of learning, as Jasnah is primarily a scholar. A lot of her story is focused on learning about the world and the history of the world.

And finally, Dalinar is the uncle to the King and a Highprince, basically a leader of a country. He is a very honorable man who dislikes the games his fellow highprinces play with the war, and follows a very strict “Code” and forces his children to follow it as well. He bodyguards his nephew against assassins as well. Dalinar is plagued by visions throughout the book and a great deal of his story is him trying to figure out if he is going mad or not, along with dealing with the politics of war.

By the end of the story all three plot lines begin to tie together, and the ending was satisfying while also making me want to read the next book to see how things turn out.

Some things that are truly fascinating to me is the usage of racism as a way of life. The characters in Aleshi, the main country, are divided by the Lighteyes, and the Darkeyes. Your eye color determines your station and if you are a noble or not. A Darkeyes cannot be a noble and generally must obey the orders of the Lighteyes. Kaladin is a Darkeyes, as an example, while Dalinar and Shallan are lighteyes.

Further, woman are the scholars in Aleshi, while men deal with war and the like. In fact, Men do not learn to read or write, having their wives handle such things. Its quite interesting as beyond there, the gender’s are basically equal.

The Parshendi are, at least for now, an Enigma. Not much is known about them from the character’s point of view beyond the fact that they sing nearly constantly, and they hold their dead with the highest reverence. Whats really interesting is that there is a race of people who are totally subservient to the Aleshi called Parshman, which appear to be cousins of the Parshendi.

The last thing I want to touch on is the magic system. As with all Sanderson novels, there is a magic system here, but there seem to be only a few practitioners. First there is Soulcasting, which is something Jasnah and others like her can do. It basically lets them transmute any one thing into anything else. Like turning stone into bread for example. This is something that people do with the aid of Soulcasters.

There is also Surgebinding, of which the only one the reader knows about at the start is the Assassin in White. Surgebinding lets him defy gravity, push or pull objects, and stick objects together. Surgebinding requires Stormlight to use, and a Surgebinder absorbs the Stormlight that is stored in the various gems.

Finally, there are the Shardblades and the Shardplate. These are more magical artifacts, left over from a time when a group of beings called Radiants walked the world. These weapons are bound to a person. Shardplate is basically power armor in fantasy form, increasing its wearers strength, speed, and defense. Shadeblades are almost like plasma swords. They can cut nonliving material likes it nothing, and living matter they “kill” without actually damaging it. Get hit by a Shardblade in the arm, the arm itself dies and can never be used. Shardblades also must be summoned, and if the carrier is disarmed of one it vanishes into mist.

The Way of Kings is an interesting book and looks like a great intro to a new series. My only real issue is with its length, as some people may put off from its sheer size. But if you enjoyed Sandersons previous works or want a fantasy novel that is not the same old same old, give Way of Kings a try.

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Kill the Dead, Sandman Slim Book 2 by Richard Kadrey – A Review

imageSo I snagged this up after reading the first book, Sandman Slim. I was fascinated by the idea of a book where the protagonist is such a, well, asshole. That’s the only way to really describe James Stark. A giant asshole who cares for no one but his dead girlfriend Alice and his obsession with revenge on the man who sent him to Hell.

This was basically more of the same from the first novel. Lots of action, wit, and violence. Lots of Stark being a combination asshole and badass. He teams up with a Porn Star to actually hunt down Drifters, aka Zombies or Zeds as the book calls em, while at the same time having to bodyguard Lucifer himself.

Its a wild ride from start to finish and a whole lot of fun.

I do have a few complaints. Mainly, with Slim himself. He comes off frequently as one note. He pretty much has only 2 settings: Rage and Snark. Thats it. Its fun, and enjoyable, but after 2 novels he shows very little actual growth. Here he does exhibit more human traits, such as caring for a few people around him. But again, his general outlook is “everything is shit and humans are shit”.

Do not read this if you want to have faith in humanity restored. This book is not pleasant in that regard, and frequently discuss sex, drugs, and violence against people in the very plainest of terms.

Overall its another popcorn book and more of the same of the first.  Again I would give this a 4/5 and suggest it to folks who enjoyed the first book and want more of the same.  For me, I may wait to read the later novels as I can only take so much grit at once.

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You have got to be kidding me!

Can I just mention how I just realized that BOTH The Sword of Summer AND Shadows of Self come out on October 6th?

This seems unfair to me. Why would the two biggest books I want right now BOTH release on the same freaking day?!

I cannot justify buying both at the same time! I just can’t! Unless they show up at Walmart…my wife works there meaning I could get a 10% discount….HRMMM

This might work out. Maybe. I dunno. Gotta plan for this now. I want both. And then in January Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley comes out and of course the sequel to Shadows of Self’s sequel The Bands of Mourning comes out on the same day, January 26th!

COME ON AUTHORS CAN YOU STAGGER YOUR RELEAES PLEASE?!

At least its finally getting here haha.

Sandman Slim Book 1 by Richard Kadrey – A Review

imageI grabbed this book up in an attempt to find something to fill the hole that the Dresden Files had left in my soul.

What I got was not more Dresden.

I instead got what can only be described as a Punk Rock Asshole Monster Hunter, with the name James “Sandman Slim” Stark. A man sent to Hell by his so called friends, he spends 11 years in the depths becoming the Monster who Kills Monsters. He manages to escape after killing his owner, and goes about planning vengeance on the man who sent him Downtown. Along the way he meets a cast of colorful characters who are all broken in their own way.  A personal favorite being Kasabian.  I won’t ruin the surprise that comes from dealing with this guy.

NOTHING deters him in his quest for vengeance. It doesn’t help that the man he hunts also apparently murdered the one girl Stark loved, which is what prompted him to escape Hell in the first place.

Stark comes off as a very violent, driven, and somewhat insane man who lives only to exact his revenge.

Along the way, he may just save the world. But hey, that’s just a side effect really.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and the world that Stark inhabits.  You get a real good look at a darker grittier LA, from the perspective of someone who has clearly seem some shit.

I would call this a Popcorn book, aka a book that is a quick read, and nothing too earth shattering.  Just a fun enjoyable ride and I would rate this a 3.5/5.

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