Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Ok, so this isn't a novel. It's not even a novella.

Darth Vader and Son is a simple picture/comic book with many different scenarios of, if Darth Vader was raising a 4 year old Luke Skywalker.
Mostly this book reminds me of Farside calendars, they are silly little scenarios with puns etc. except this one is mostly with Star Wars scenarios. Not all of them hit the mark but overall it's a good cheap book with laughs and will keep many a guest that comes to your house entertained. The pictures are well drawn and the book itself is well made and sturdy (you can let kids rifle through it).
My only gripe is that I wish every scene was something to do with Star Wars rather than a generic father raising a son scenario.
So if you are looking for a nice present for someone who likes Star Wars, I think you've got your ticket here.

Here are a couple of pages from the book.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Dark, gritty and full of death. That's pretty much sums up this book. From the first moment you read, you are thrust into a world of destruction and nothing seems to be fair game. Mark Lawrence's first book Prince of Thorns is set in an alternate reality of our Earth. He references Plato and Sun Tzu but none of the countries he uses are of the same name. "Technology" is part of this book but it's masked by using spirits/ghosts and alchemy to disguise it.

Lawrence's story is in first person, told by Prince Jorg Ancrath a 14 year old boy who witnesses the murder of his mother and little brother. Pain, anger and confusion leads him to run away from home with a band of wandering brigands. Jorg's main goal is to kill Count Renar whose men were the ones that killed his beloved mother and brother. Yet after years on the road, Jorg is no closer to killing Renar. Something draws him back to his homeland, back to his father but there are other forces at work, danger is afoot.

What Lawrence does really well in this book is the pace. There is something happening all the time, there is no down time. No chapter is filler; if he wants to say 3 months have past, well he'll say just that and we're off again. The book is dark and gritty. Others have said that's what they like about Abercrombie's writing, but Lawrence would put him to shame. Jorg's character is an anti-hero. He is sometimes confused but mostly he is just angry, and who wouldn't be after watching their mother and brother die, without having the ability to help. Jorg has no moral's and often does things on a whim, and just when you think he's going to do something that protagonists usually do, he dashes your brains all over the wall.

What I also really liked about Prince of Thorns are the little quotes or paragraphs before a new chapter. It gives us insight to the characters and also a little bit more information about Jorg.

There were a couple of things that Lawrence didn't sell me on. Perhaps it is really subjective but when I was reading, I didn't feel like it was a 14 year old boy talking to me. The voice inside my head said older, more grizzly man. The book mentions his tutoring at a young age, but academic learning doesn't translate to articulate speaking or the things he does in the book. Also for the whole time until about two thirds, three quarters of the book, I actually thought Jorg was a normal sized 14 Year old boy and not 6 foot in stature.

These things certainly do not make a bad book. As I said, those last two points are very subjective. This book isn't ground breaking fantasy but great books don't have to be. Prince of Thorns is essentially what every fantasy reader loves. Magic, check. Lots of fighting, check. Betrayal, check. Impossible odds, check. Likable but flawed characters, check. Trilogy (all the rave these days), check.
If you haven't read this book or heard of Mark Lawrence, well now you have. The second book to this trilogy the King of Thorns was released earlier this year and have had rave reviews from our forum members and Ben the owner of BFB himself. Emperor of Thorns the last of the trilogy will be out approx 1st of August 2013.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Most Anticipated Books of 2013

2012 was a decent read. There was King of Thorns and Red Country. However, I think 2013 is a much better year. Lots of conclusions to trilogies and perhaps the biggest closer of them all, A Memory of Light. With the help of Ben from, we've compiled this list. Enjoy 

Memory of Light by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson will most likely be the most anticipated book (by the masses anyways) of 2013 and it comes out in January! This is the last and final book of the Wheel of Time series. It has been a long time coming. At first there was only going to be one book after Jordan's death but Sanderson is a genius writer and knew it couldn't be finished in one. Those that groaned about this needed not to worry as Sanderson worked on it furiously and was able to get them out speedily and now the final tome will be out soon.
The Prologue is now out if you want a sample taste of what's to come. WHEEL of Time took a bit of a hit in recent years due to Jordan losing control of the plot threads, but Sanderson has done a great job at bringing it back to heel.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett. When I read the Painted Man, I was really skeptical because it is portrayed as one of those boys gains super power and is all powerful. I was quickly thrown off my perch of presumption and landed solidly on my backside. I loved The Painted Man (also known as the Warded Man in US) and quickly finished off The Desert Spear. The Desert Spear was quite a disappointment because the story just seemed to go off in a tangent. Things did not add up to me, however, it is a series and sometimes things don't seem right because you don't have full information. I'm looking forward to The Daylight War and will pre-order it right after Christmas!
Ben: I'm looking forward to this one. I hope Brett learned from the mistakes he made with The Desert Spear. My hopes are up though and I will be looking forward to this one. I'd even go as far as to say it may be my most anticipated book of 2013 (assuming the big hitters like Martin and Rothfuss don't release their books).

Emperor of Thorns is the conclusion to a very good debut trilogy by Mark Lawerence. King of Thorns was perhaps one of the best reads of 2012 from owner Ben. So if you haven't given this new author a go yet, perhaps now is the time just before the trilogy ends!
Ben: Prince of Thorns was a great debut with a lot of promise to the future books. King of Thorns was outstanding. This man knows how to write sharp prose. My favorite read of 2012 by far. Dark, brooking, intelligent, with a likeable unlikeable hero. Lots of sharp insights by Lawrence on the nature of man through the soliloquies of Jorg Ancraft, the hero or villain, depicting on your view.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Ben: Well, when Sanderson is not finishing off the Wheel of Time or cooking up about a zillion other writing projects, he finds time to release yet another book. And here’s my bet he’s going to have another novel and interesting magic system. Just a guess.
Enchante: Don't shoot me but I kind of wished The Rithmatist wasn't coming out this year. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'll pre-order this baby and read it in a few days but...I really wish it was a Mistborn book or even better yet a Stormlight Archive book.

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham
The Tyrant's Law is the third book in the Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham. Best known for his Long Price Quartet and collaborating with none other than George R.R. Martin for some things. The Dagger and Coin series is fast shaping up to be one of the better fantasy trilogies out there – take some of Martin and add some of Abercrombie then filter it through Abraham’s perspective and wit and you have something grand. The series is a more intelligent take on the the Wheel of Time with more realistic characters who flaws and an interesting world with a deep back-story to it.
Keep an eye or two on this one folks. Abraham is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers in the genre and he has yet to publish anything that's not A quality. And if you haven't read The Dragon's Path (first in the series), your crazy!

The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan
Ben: Book three in Morgan’s outstanding fantasy series. Dark, gritty, genre bending and breaking. This is fantasy gone wrong but so right. It's not a series for "everyone" and Morgan shatters the typical heroic stereotypes by featuring a gay protagonist. But it all works. If you like vicious action, flawed characters, a dark world, this series delivers. Morgan took a look at standard epic fantasy and then wrote his version of it in a way to subvert some of the norms. I'd say fans of Abercrombie and Martin would love this series.
Enchante: The Dark Defiles is the third book in The Land Fit for Heroes series by Richard Morgan. The first of this series The Steel Remains was read by a good friend of mine and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Sigh...wish I had more time to read.
(this isn't up for pre-order yet)

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
Set in the same alternate historical china as his outstanding Under Heaven, but several centuries later. If this is anything like his Under Heaven, this is a must read for any fantasy fan that likes superbly written prose, well-crafted characters, and an exotic Asian landscape.

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
Hobb’s new entry in the Dragon Keeper series, a series so far that has more in common with her Liveship Traders series in tone and feel than with her Fritz Chivalry series. Typical Hobb with complex characters with plenty of conflict between them. Fans of dragons will love this series as Hobb adds the Dragons as living breathing characters with motivations (and speech!) of their own. If you liked the simplistic dragon-human relations in say a book like Eragon, you'll be stunned by Hobb's ability to create dragon characters that are real personalities.

The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker
Ben: I’m looking forward to this one, the concluding novel in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy. This trilogy didn’t have the same bite as the original one, but it’s still very good.
(Not available for pre-order, no pictures!)

The Crown Tower (The Riyria Chronicles #1) by Michael J. Sullivan
Ben: Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of the Riyria series as of yet. I've read the first in the series (The Crown Conspiracy) and didn't find it very well written and the characters were clunky; I can definitely see the self-publishing history behind this series as it seemed more like a fan fic production than a real book. However, having said that I haven’t read the sequel novels and word on the street is the author finds his stride later on in the series.
Despite my ambivalence,  the series seems to have hit a chord with fantasy readers who want a more light-hearted, less witty version of Lies of Locke Lamora. Just don't expect anything too complex plot wise or deftly, witty prose.

I haven't read anything by Gaiman that I've disliked. American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere are all brilliant books. Coraline is a favourite of mine to read to the kids in class. You also know you've made it when you've made a cameo on The Simpsons.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie stormed into the fantasy like no other. His debut book 'The Blade Itself' was an instant hit and his trilogy is now pretty much a staple to everyone's recommended reads. His strength is his characterizations. He is able draw the reader into the heart and soul of the characters, any flaws or bad character traits are accepted and any that provoke anger are soon to be dispelled in consequent chapters. All of his characters go through hardship and because of this, is why we are so drawn to the characters.

Red Country was probably the most anticipated book of 2012. Yes there were some other fantastic books, but after 'The Heroes', everyone wanted more.

Red Country is about a small family who owns a farm. Shy South, the protective big sister of Ro and Pit, is a woman bent on forgetting past mistakes and living her new life to the letter of the law. Her past has made her an angry person, often verbally abusing Lamb her "father", who she deems as a coward. However, she also regards him as a father figure as he looks after Ro and Pit as if they were his own (He's kind to her as well). Perhaps giving them the childhood that she never got.

Lamb is a hulking brute of a man. He has seen many winters and through them has lost a finger but traded it for many scars. Yet, for someone who is such a hulk, he avoids confrontation at every avenue, he can't barter or haggle, he doesn't want to fight and just bobs his head when Shy yells at him. What happened in his past that has totally paralyzed him now?

After a day of bartering and selling her crops, Shy and Lamb head back to their farm. As the last hill was crested, they find only the smoking ruins of their farm. Gully, one of their workers is hanging from a tree; Ro and Pit gone.

The corner of Lamb's mouth twitched but he didn't look at her. "We'll follow." Like it was a fact agreed on. "Might be we can talk this out. Buy'em back." 
"Buy'em back? They burn your farm, and they hang your friend, and they steal your children and you want to pay'em for the privilege? You're such a fucking coward!"
Still he didn't look at her. "Sometimes a coward's what you need." His voice was rough. Clicking in his throat. "No shed bloods going to unburn this farm now, nor unhang Gully neither. That's done. Best we can do is get back the little ones, any way we can. Get'em back safe." This time the twitch started at his mouth and scurried all the way up his scarred cheek to the corner of his eye.
"Then we'll see." 

I think you can safely assume what this kind of book will entail. What Abercrombie does well in this book, like all his others, is the characterization of his POVs (point of view). You really get to know the characters of this book, you feel their strengths, their weaknesses and their desires.

There are other main POVs in the story. A man named Temple who is the Lawyer to Nicomo Cosca, infamous leader of the mercenary band called The Gracious Hand. Through him we get reintroduced to Nicomo Cosca (who made his first introduction in Best Served Cold) and other recurring characters. With that said, like all stand-alones you don't have to read the previous books, but the book contains more depth when the other books have been read (especially this one, compared to Best Served Cold and The Heroes).
Ro the sister of Shy also gets a few pages from her POV. Through her thoughts and feelings, we gain even more understanding of Shy and the woman she is.

Now, to the nitty gritty. Red Country is perhaps the most anticipated book by Abercrombie, but after reading it, I felt it was very weak compared to the other 5 books he has written. Yes, he does stay true to his style and perhaps he has gotten better at writing scenery and describing locations. The town called Crease was a good example of this, but then again, when comparing to Crease, Ashranc another town was severely lacking.

There were lots of little semantics throughout the story that irked me.  Stories that were left untold. I'm not sure whether or not Abercrombie was afraid to make this book a tome. It sits at 451 pages, but I thought it could have been a 600-700 page book if he flesh out more parts of it. In this modern age of fantasy, we are blessed with many good books; my friend often says that is has 'spoiled me', after I critique a book to him. I've read lots and lots of good books over the last 10 years and I like the little details that add up. You can't pan away from a difficult situation and then moments later have that situation solved 'off screen', even if that said character is awesome at what they do.

I thought Ro should have had many more chapters in her POV. Her captors are interesting, I wanted to know more but I was left with a feeling of wanting. You can argue that this is a sign of a good writer (I don't dispute) but with the way this book ends, I thought Abercrombie should have elaborated more. If you look at the series The Daylight War, you get many chapters and character background of both 'the good guys' and the 'bad guys'. It makes for better reading in my opinion.

With all that said, Red Country is still a good book. It is well written and I guess my biggest critique is that it needed to be longer. As an Abercrombie fan, I can see that he has grown as a writer and this bodes well for his next trilogy.

If you haven't read any of his books. I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point, just because I feel you would get more out of this book once you have read his first four books. Either read The Heroes first or go straight into the deep end with The Blade Itself.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Magician by Raymond E. Feist

Everyone once in a while I feel obligated to read one of the old classics. I'm usually hesitant (unless it is sci-fi) to read older fantasy books because most of them just aren't up to the standard of modern fantasy books. Too often they are about the world that's been built, rather than the story line or characterization which I look for when reading a fantasy book. As I said though, once in a while I dabble to increase my fantasy knowledge.

Magician is a typical fantasy book (Farm boy with a sword) written in the time after Tolkien and before George R.R. Martin. The story begins in the city of Crydee where a boy named Pug, who is nothing more than ordinary is spotted by the Duke's Magician, who detected something 'special' about the boy. When it was time for their time of choosing (apprenticeship), Kulgan the Duke's Magician chooses Pug. While Pug's boyhood friend Tomas gets his chosen path of Swordsmanship. After a few years, Pug is struggling with his magic. He's learnt all the theories but when it comes down to executing them, there is something that is blocking his magic from flowing. Yet, one day when escorting the Princess Carline (the Duke's daughter) they are set upon by trolls. When all looked lost and our protagonist about to die, Pug unleashes some pure magic which caused the trolls to strangle themselves to death. Yet, after this ordeal, Pug is still unable to use his magic naturally.

One day a mysterious ship is beached upon the shores of Crydee. Pug and Tomas are first to the scene and rescue a strange looking man who speaks an alien language. While in the infirmary, using magic, The Duke is informed that this dying man is not of this world. He is from an alien world who used a portal to gain access to Midkemia and are set for an all out invasion. With this distressing news, the Duke and a small band, including Pug and Tomas venture to Krondor, the Capital of Midkemia, to warn King Rodric of the upcoming invasion.

Nothing at the beginning of this book surprised me. I mean, the book is called Magician. So it sets me up for what is to come. However, what I didn't expect was the different perspectives the book was written in. I had assumed that the book would focus mostly on Pug and his adventures, but there are many protagonists in this story. This isn't a critique, just a bit of misdirection from the title is all.
What I liked about the book was the overall world Feist set up. He introduced a lot of history throughout the book without slowing the pace down. Feist sets up new races on top of old ones like goblins, elves and dwarves. He has little twists on what we readers would deem classic fantasy, which kept me interested. A pity that is all I liked.

What I disliked about the book was the little amount of characterization there was. I was exposed to many different characters views which is a good thing, but Feist doesn't spend nearly enough time fleshing out each character. I wanted to know each one a bit more intimately but in the end there was no character I favoured or disfavoured. Plot devices which aren't integrated smoothly really annoy me, and there were plenty in this book. Typical example from this book is stumbling upon a dragon's cave. The dragon decides he likes these intruders and decides to give them some magic weapons and armour, not before dying from natural old age I might add. Perhaps this kind of writing was acceptable in 1982, but modern writing would get lambasted. Another thing I didn't like about the book was that the book spanned too many years. Sometimes this can help the story move along or help sequels, but the book is primarily about a 9 year war and things happen in between which should be explored and not ignored. The worst thing about this book however, is the deus ex machina ending. Never an excuse for me. There was a very tenuous link near the beginning of the book, but to me it is all but a blatant deus ex machina.

"Resolution of a plot must arise internally, following from previous action of the play." - Aristotle 

It wasn't a terrible book by all means. It was well written, it has lots of good elements that could have been much better if this book was say two 600 page books (Yes I know there are sequels, but this was meant to be self containing). It needed more detail and more information for my liking. In this day and age, there are many quality books to satiate your needs. I don't think you are missing out on anything if you don't read this book.

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