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Phil Tucker's The Path of Flames (2016)

Path of FlamesThe Path of Flames knows how to start with a bang. Or in this case, a cavalry charge.

Thousands of knights, the finest in the land, are pelting madly up a hill. For added excitement, they're preceded by a wave of half-tame ogrish monsters, their shock troops. The defenders, dark wizards amongst them, rain black fire down on their attackers. The attacking line breaks, and the battle dissolves into chaos and slaughter.

Caught in the middle? Asho, a humble squire, who, over the course of a few (very) busy pages suddenly finds himself back-to-back with some of the most decorated knights in the realm. His heroism in the first few chapters brings him unexpected rewards - and exposes him to dangerous secrets.

Asho's is merely one point of view in this cinderblock-sized epic. He returns from the front to Kyferin Castle, to serve the widow of his fallen lord. Iskra's relationship with her belligerent (and now deceased) husband was always strained, but ruling the Castle and its lands is a hefty challenge. The other, rapacious lords are circling, and with the war in the background, Iskra is left with nowhere to turn for help.

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Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends (2013)

Senlin AscendsSenlin is the headmaster of a one-room schoolhouse in a small town. He's spent his life teaching children all the basics of the world, without ever really experiencing it himself. When, almost despite himself, he marries the capricious Marya, they agree to expand their horizons with one great big adventure. Senlin calculates his budget, buys the tickets, studies the guidebook and the two head off to the greatest wonder of the world: The Tower of Babel.

Once at the Tower, however, Senlin finds that all his learning is for naught. The guidebook seems, at best, misleading, and the Tower and its outskirts are far more chaotic and more dangerous than he ever expected. And, worst of all, Marya goes missing. One moment she's there, the next, she's gone. Senlin's too disciplined to panic, so he goes about his search in an orderly way - only to discover that the Tower of Babel is not an orderly place.

Senlin's quest takes him up through the Tower, encountering rogues and bureaucrats, petty lords and magically-enhanced assassins. There's a floor that's completely devoted to a single, mediocre one-act play. There's another overrun by giant snails and mechanical beer fountains. Yet another is devoted to Bourgeois leisure - all hot baths, fine wine and poor sea-side art, until you run out of money... Each new region of the Tower is a kingdom unto itself, with new laws, a new culture, new friends, new foes and an infinity of obstacles. 

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B.T. Narro's Kin of Kings (2015)

Kin of KingsBasen is the nephew of the dead king of Tenred, who was (whilst alive) the most hated man in the world. Despite their shared surname, however, Basen is firmly on team Good. He and his father were exiled before the last war, and have spent their last few years scrounging out a living in the (enemy) kingdom of Kyrro. No home to go to; no future ahead of them.

Basen, however, has some tricks up his sleeve.

Trained as both a swordsman and a mage (the perks of a royal upbringing), when the famed Academy opens up new students, Basen sees this as an opportunity. Although his father is insistent that Basen try out as a warrior, Basen sells the family sword and buys a wand instead. Despite the wand-seller giving him a faulty article, Basen still astounds the examiners and gets accepted.

Basen also makes the first of his many new friends - the healer Alabell. Alabell and Basen feel an immediate frisson, and bond over Alabell's Academy stories, Basen's sordid family history and the fact that Alabell too is related to royalty.

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Richard Crawford's Traitor Blade (2011)

Traitor BladeThe kingdom of Valderon is suffering through a dangerous time. The king's son and heir, Prince Arnaud, is sickly. Although married, it seems that a child is unlikely.

The next in line is the King's nephew - Charles, the eldest son of his estranged brother, Rupert. Although the King and his brother are not open enemies, they're far from friends. Rupert, and his province of Chamfort, are loyal to Valderon, so he treads carefully. He doesn't want to incite a civil war; Valderon already has enough enemies. But the King's unreasonable demands put pressure on Chamfort and Rupert's family, driving them apart.

One of the pawns in this great game is Edouard, Rupert's second son, and Charles' younger brother. Brave, impetuous and incredibly skilled with the sword, Edouard chafes at the restraints that Charles and his father have placed upon him. He wants to be a knight, a champion, a commander of men - to ride free, to smite evil, to achieve honour and glory and greatness. Edouard's talent and his courage make him a favourite at court. His cousin, the Prince, adores him, and the King's greatest general, St Andre, admires him.

If Edouard can only stay out of trouble, he may just achieve his dreams. 

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K.M. Carroll's Malevolent (2015)

9k="I met Mal the day he tried to kill my boyfriend."

And with that, Malevolent begins.

The 'I' is Libby. She's a high school senior, but not a very active one. Stricken with 'Valley Fever', she's virtually bedridden: even on the good days, she's worried about ranging too far - her mysterious ailment could strike at any time. 

Malevolent opens on one of those good days. She's feeling fairly strong, plus, the beekeepers are in town. Libby's family has an almond farm. The annual visit of the beekeepers and their pollinating bug-friends is not only important to the farm's success, but it is also a lot of fun to watch.

This year is especially fun, as there's an enigmatic stranger in the mix. This newcomer works with unnatural speed, and has a connection with his bees that seems almost magical. His strength, speed and pallor all combine to make Libby think - jokingly - that this newcomer, Mal, is a vampire. (awkward cough)

 

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Alessandra Clarke's Rider's Revenge (2015)

Rider's RevengeAnd we're off! I'm participating in this year's SPFBO - a competition that pits 300(!) self-published fantasy novels against one another in search of ULTIMATE GLORY. This site is one of the 10 sites reviewing and judging the books.

My task is to sift through 30 of the entries. I've already cut 24 of the 30 (details on those books here). This week, I'll be reviewing my final six, using a version of our DGLA criteria. Only one will go on the final round!

<cue dramatic intro music>

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K'lrsa is a Rider of the White Horse Tribe. She's young, but her skills on horseback and in combat - as well as her dauntless courage - have made her a fully fledged warrior of her tribe. Her father, the leader of the tribe, is immensely proud, even as her mother wishes she would settle down.

There are minor dramas, certainly - an overly-ardent admirer, disconcerting rumours involving trade routes - but K'lrsa loves her home and her family, even as she seeks further opportunities to prove herself... and all of this is swept away when disaster strikes.

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Friday Five: 5 Favourite Books of the Half Year

Sunlight PilgrimsSix month check-in! It has been a blissful productive year for reading, so I'm - of course - cheating this list with a lot of subcategories.

The only rule is that I've excluded rereads (which knocks out things like Neuromancer and Modesty Blaise, which, as we all know, are two of the bestest books ever).

Five Favourite 2016 Books So Far

Jenni Fagan's The Sunlight Pilgrims 

Glorious. Life and love and coming of age in a rural Scottish trailer park. While the world quietly dies. A lyrical book about apocalypses of all sizes and how people can be fragile - and strong - in so many different ways. (Tangent! Literally no one else agrees that the exquisite, brilliant, soul-shattering The Panopticon was SF. The setting of The Sunlight Pilgrims will definitely put an end to that. But, in the quest to annoy genre border-sentries of all shapes and sizes, I'm going to argue that TSP is Young Adult. Yes, that's wholly to do with one of the protagonists, Stella, being a kid, but,... it works. This is (or could be) 'issue YA', and Stella, who is mid-transition, is an inspiring, infuriating, inescapably charming character who steals the book.)

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Readers of Gor: Tarnsman of Gor

GOR - Boris Vallejo

In which Silvia Moreno-Garcia of Ka-Na-Da and Molly Tanzer of Ko-Lo-Ra-Do discuss Silvia's re-read and Molly's first read of John Norman's famous (notorious?) Tarnsman of Gor. 

Tarnsman_of_gor_vallejo_coverSilvia: Tal, Molly Tanzer of Ko-lo-ra-doh. I guess before we get into this review of both the first Gor book and the first Gor movie, I’d like to ask how you discovered these things even existed.

Molly: Tal, Silvia Moreno-Garcia of Ka-Na-Da. May your tarn never get lice.

I actually heard about Gor from John C. Wright, that now-notorious Puppy-supporter and extreme moral panic-monger of the SFF community. In a rant about the SyFy channel’s pledge to be more inclusive by having more GLBT characters on their shows, Wright mentioned Gor derisively:

“I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light---we are all looking forward to FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO GOR, I hope.”

Well, given Wright’s own (possibly former? Who can say) interest in S&M, or at least spanking teenage girls, I had to google Gor - if it was so extreme as to offend him, what could it be? I remember thinking it actually seemed strange I’d never heard of the series if it was so saucy. But the back cover copy of the first one didn’t seem particularly salacious (or LGBT-friendly?), so I sort of forgot about it, because it wasn’t a rabbit hole I felt like going down that day. Years later I learned they were famous for being about sexy slave girls or something, and became intrigued.

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Alex Marshall on "Like a Bosch"

A Blade for Black Steel00lastjuThis past spring a humble museum in a small Dutch city mounted the largest Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in history. Along with nearly half a million other acolytes, I made the pilgrimage to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, birthplace of the father of monsters. My way was snared with perils (I neglected to book tickets far enough in advance) but Providence cleared my path (the museum extended their hours, so I flew back to the Netherlands), and in the end I was given the keys to a garden of earthly delights (just not a key to the original Garden of Earthly Delights; the Prado won’t loan out Bosch’s most famous triptych, not even for an event of this magnitude). It was quite literally the event of a lifetime.

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SPFBO2: The First 24 Reviews!

Spfbo2 banner3

I've finished my first pass for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off!

I've read 3 chapters and/or 20% (whichever comes last) of 30 self-published books. I've picked six of those books for further reading and proper reviews. One of those will then go on to the FINAL ROUND in the BLOGGERDOME. It'll be awesome.

Below, you'll find a quick introduction, a not-so-quick spiel about reviewing self-published books and 24 short reviews.

Caution - this post is loooong.

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