Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY:  Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  

 

 

Since I started blogging in 2014 there is a huge amount of books I read, enjoyed but never had the chance to review, and I’m very happy of this Top Ten Tuesday prompt that will give me the opportunity of talking a little about them.

 

Of course the pride of place goes to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, which I often mentioned but never examined in depth – and here is a thought for the future, when I might decide to finally write down my considerations, after a thorough reread of course. So, ladies and gentlemen, here are THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT, by JRR Tolkien

 

Another constant feature of my exchanges with fellow bloggers is of course DUNE, by Frank Herbert, that for me is the SF equivalent of Tolkien’s works as far as the impact on my imagination goes.

 

Moving to a different genre, there is THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, by Frederick Forsyth, one of my “blasts from the past, the high adrenaline story (probably fictional, but who knows?) of a skilled marksman and killer-for-hire whose target is nothing else but Charles de Gaulle. The man is a shadow, and as elusive as smoke, and the story of the hunt for this man is one of the best thrillers I ever read.

 

EYE OF THE NEEDLE, by Ken Follett is another novel that took my breath away: it follows a German spy working undercover in England during WWII and collecting information on the Allies’ defenses and troops deployment. He is called The Needle because of his penchant for a stiletto as a weapon of choice.  This novel is a successful blend of thriller and historical fiction, and a compulsive read as well.

 

THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins: I read this one on the recommendation of a friend and I enjoyed the dystopian setting as well as the main character, who shortly became a sort of template for many YA heroines – not always as successful in characterization as Katniss was.

 

HEROES DIE, by Matthew Woodring Stover is a very peculiar novel, because it starts as epic fantasy, following the adventures of Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle, a fearless hero, only to reveal at some point that the fantasy setting is an alternate world in which actors like Caine are sent to playact their exploits as a form of entertainment for the viewers of our modern world. It’s a weirdly hybrid premise, but it works very well…

 

WARCHILD, by Karin Lowachee is one of the most poignant stories I ever read: young Jos is enslaved by pirates who capture the ship he was traveling on, killing all the adults. To survive in such an abusive world he will have to go to horrible extremes and suffer the anguish of torn loyalties. A highly emotional story and one that literally tore at my soul.

 

Vampires are among my favorite supernatural creatures, and the main reason I’m so fascinated by them is that SALEM’S LOT, by Stephen King, is the first book I read focusing on them, and one I still consider a fundamental story in the genre. And that scene of the young, freshly turned boy, calling to his friend from beyond the window, is one that I will never forget.

 

CHASM CITY, by Alastair Reynolds, was my introduction to the author’s Revelation Space saga: it introduced me to his rich universe and to the horrifying concept fo the Melding Plague, a virus attacking nanotechnology and from there infecting the organic material in human bodies with implants. A city so ravaged by the Plague is the background for a nightmarish search for vengeance…

 

Are there some… unsung favorites in your bookcases?

Reviews

THE TBR TAG

If there is a Taggers Anonymous association I might need to go their meetings, because I seem to be addicted to tag posts lately 😀    I recently saw this one on Bookforager’s blog and I decided to give it a spin, so here is my take in this new bookish tag…

 

How do you keep track on your TBR list?

That’s easy – sort of… I do practically all of my reading in e-book format, so the books I still have to read are stored in a folder on my computer, and from there they are copied on the e-reader when the mood strikes me to read them. After that, they are saved on a dedicated USB drive that also works as a backup for the as-yet-unread books. Neat and dust-free! 😉

I have been thinking lately about listing my TBR books in an excel file, complete with the date they were added, so I can have a better idea of their “age”, but for now it’s still an idea…

 

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

See above. Ebooks all the way!

 

 

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

Mood determines what I read next, I have no say in the decision process… 😀

Jokes aside, and unless I have a NetGalley ARC lined up (in which case I have to be mindful of the 54 days expiry date for the book), I take a virtual “stroll” through my stored files and choose the book that most appeals to me in that moment.

 

 

Name a book that has been on your TBR the longest.

Iain Banks’ CONSIDER PHLEBAS, his first Culture novel: the date of the file tells me it was saved there in 2013, the year before I started blogging. Shame on me!

 

 

Name a book that you recently added to your TBR list.

THE CITY OF BRASS, by S.A. Chakraborty: all of my fellow bloggers who have read the trilogy that starts with this volume speak highly of it, and I thought it was high time for me to see for myself. I have high expectations for this one…

 

 

Is there a book that’s on your TBR list strictly because of its beautiful cover?

Not really. A particularly intriguing cover might attract my attention, but it’s the synopsis that really closes the deal for me.

 

 

Is there a book on your TBR that you never plan on actually reading?

Well, a wise person taught me that “always” and “never” are words far too binding to be used lightly, so I will admit that, right now, I don’t feel strongly motivated to read GRR Martin’s FIRE AND BLOOD: my disappointment at the way the ASOIAF saga was wrapped up in the tv series, and my lack of faith in Martin’s willingness to conclude the book series have cooled the initial enthusiasm in a considerable way.

 

 

Name an unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for.

I have no ARCs on my TBR as I’m writing this, but I’m looking with interest at Joe Abercrombie’s THE TROUBLE WITH PEACE, the second volume in his new series The Age of Madness. I enjoyed the first book so much that it finally drove me to read The First Law trilogy.

 

 

Is there a book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?

THE WAY OF KINGS, by Brandon Sanderson: it would seem that I am the only person on Earth (and probably in the rest of the Solar System as well) who has not read a Sanderson novel. Please don’t shoot me!!!!

 

 

Is there a book on your TBR that everyone recommends you read?

Becky Chambers THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET: all of my fellow bloggers who read it are very enthusiastic about both this book and the others in the series, so I will have to start it one of these days, possibly sooner rather than later.

 

 

A book on your TBR you’re very excited to read.

James Islington’s THE SHADOW OF WHAT WAS LOST: other bloggers’ reviews hint at a very layered, very immersive story, and I’m waiting for the right moment to start it – since it’s a very hefty volume, I know I will need a distraction-free moment, so for now I’m biding my time, but still keep looking at this book with great anticipation.

 

 

The number of books on your TBR shelf.

Don’t make me count them, please! I might fall into an abyss of despair…

 

 

If you found this tag intriguing, jump in and share your TBR goodies!!!
Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Most Surprising Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic was a freebie…

 

Strange as it might sound, having to choose a topic instead of following the one listed for this week proved to be more difficult than I had imagined, until I decided to showcase books that were surprising reads, for many different reasons.

 

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, by M.R. Carey

I added this novel, my first but not the last by this author, to my TBR expecting a horror story focused on a zombie-like worldwide epidemic, but what I found was a deeply emotional coming-of-age tale centered on a compelling character balanced between childish innocence and world-wise maturity.

 

SOULLESS, by Gail Carriger

Where I enjoy Urban Fantasy and – in lesser measure – steampunk, I’m aware that these genres leave little space for humor, especially of the tongue-in-cheek kind, so I was delighted to find this element present in spades in Gail Carriger’s saga about Alexia Tarabotti, weird heroine that sat firmly in my preferences from the moment in which, attacked by a ravenous vampire, she protested about not having been “properly introduced” first…

 

SEA OF RUST, by C. Robert Cargill

A novel about robots inheriting the Earth after humanity’s downfall might sound like a very dry story, but that’s not the case of this book, chronicling the journeys of Brittle, an artificial being traveling the desolate lands left after the disappearance of mankind and trying to survive against its own predatory kind. A deeply emotional story, no matter how strange this might sound with this kind of protagonists.

 

OUTPOST,  by W. Michael Gear

Stories centered on the colonization of alien worlds are among my favorite kind of read, but the ones with a fresh approach to the theme are rare: such is the case of the Donovan series, where the intriguing – and very, very deadly – alien world offers a fascinating background to strong, engaging characters and their struggles for survival and expansion. An ongoing series that four books into its run is still able to offer many surprises.

 

EMBERS OF WAR, by Gareth Powell

Again, a strong beginning to a brilliant space opera series – but the best and more remarkable element here comes from Trouble Dog, a sentient spaceship that is not just the product of an advanced A.I., but integrates actual human neurons and a very definite personality, capable of a wide range of emotions. The interactions of Trouble Dog’s avatar with its human crew are without doubt one of the best features of this story.

 

KILL CREEK, by Scott Thomas

A haunted house; a disparate group of people settling there for a fateful night; things that go bump into the night. If this sounds like deja vu, think again, because nothing in this novel is what you might expect from the premise. Not even the house…

 

CHILDREN OF TIME, by Adrian Tchaikowsky

I hate and fear spiders – and all manners of creepy-crawlies you could name – so one would think that I would reel in horror from a story in which evolved spiders come to create a civilization that ultimately moves into space. And yet, Mr. Tchaikowsky managed to make me root for these spiders, to take active interest in their evolution and to enjoy this novel very much.

 

TRAIL OF LIGHTINING, byRebecca Roanhorse

A new concept for Urban Fantasy lies at the core of this book, because if focuses on the culture and traditions of Native Americans, and in particular of the Diné – or Navajo. It was therefore a double journey, both narrative and cultural, and it compelled me to learn more about a civilization I knew next to nothing about.

 

BROTHERHOOD OF THE WHEEL, by R.S. Belcher

There are two elements that proved surprising here: the concept that the Knight Templars of old would morph into an organization, drawn from people traveling the roads like truckers or patrolmen, dedicated to the protection of travelers; and the fact that the main character is so outwardly different from the concept of hero as humanly possible, and yet he gained my affection in no time at all.

 

HOW RORY THORNE DESTROYED THE MULTIVERSE, by K. Eason

A fairy tale retelling of Sleeping Beauty, complete with gifts – and curses – from the fairies, set on a science fiction background? It sounds quite weird and not something that would meet my tastes, but this story is quite deceptive in its premise and it turned out to be a delightful read, complete with a very unexpected, very relatable heroine.

 

 

And what are the books that surprised you? 🙂

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books that make me smile

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic is:

BOOKS THAT MAKE ME SMILE

Because we all need some lightness in our lives…

Gail Carriger: Parasol Protectorate series

Where Urban Fantasy novels, and series, tend to be dark and broody, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate sports a delightful tongue-in-cheek humor that adds value to this alternate Victorian England where vampires, werewolves and so forth walk among humans and are productive – and often respected – members of society.

 

M.L. Brennan: Generation V series

A young, still not fully developed vampire who hates the idea of becoming a blood-sucker and even flirts with vegetarianism? That certainly makes me smile, and there is the added value of his sidekick Suzume Hollis, a kitsune with a very, very mischievous sense of humor.

 

John Scalzi: Old Man’s War series (or anything by Scalzi, really…)

Scalzi’s sense of humor permeates all his works, with varying degrees of intensity: the premise for this series is that people, once they reach the age of 75 can get a new lease on life by signing up with the Colonial Defense forces: if you wonder how old geezers can be turned into alien-fighting soldiers… well, all you have to do is read the books!

 

Scott Lynch: Gentlemen Bastards series

My constant source of joy in this series is the friendship – or rather brotherhood – between Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen (and their comrades from the Gentlemen Bastards, sadly gone too soon from the scene…) and the way they are able to always present a united front against anyone who wants to hurt them, or worse.

 

Lois McMaster Bujold: Vorkosigan saga

I already bored everyone  😀  with my ramblings about the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, so I can only confirm that here you will find plenty of adventure and plenty of smiles, and laughs.

 

Patrick Weekes: Rogues of the Republic series

Daring heists, a death priestess and a bumbling apprentice magician, a shape-shifting unicorn and a talking weapon (well, “talking” might be a stretch, to say the truth…) and other intriguing and totally entertaining characters are the main reason I loved the first two books in this series and look forward to reading book 3.

 

Nicholas Eames: The Band series

More than smile, the first two books of this series made me often laugh out loud for the enjoyable silliness of the characters’ antics and their crazy adventures. There is some sadness mixed in, granted, but it only serves to balance out what is ultimately a very engaging, very unforgettable read.

 

Stephanie Burgis: The Harwood Spellbook series

This alternate vision of Regency England revolves around the concept that men are gifted with magical skills while women attend to the more practical business of ruling the country, and there are many opportunities to poke fun at gender-bound roles here…

 

Martha Wells: The Murderbot Diaries series

Is it really necessary to say why Murderbot’s adventures make me – and all who read them – smile?

 

Phil Williams: The Ordshaw series

If a few centimeters tall, gun-toting, foul-mouthed and very aggressive fairy does not make you smile, I really don’t know what will. As for me, I’m Team Letty all the way!  😉

And you? Which books make you smile?

Reviews

STORM OF LOCUSTS (The Sixth World #2), by Rebecca Roanhorse

 

Last year I encountered a new Urban Fantasy series that felt quite different from the usual format, and its first installment,Trail of Lightning, encouraged me to keep an eye out for its sequels: book two of Rebecca Roanohorse’s Sixth World Series is just as engaging as its predecessor but it also left me with mixed feelings, because while I loved what the author did with the characters – both the old and the new ones – part of the storyline felt less defined and at times too… convenient (for want of a better word) to be completely believable.  But let’s proceed with order…

The rising oceans have changed the face of the world, and one of the few places where life is still possible is Dinétah, the former Navajo reservation now walled off from the rest of the world. It’s not a totally safe place, though, since ancient gods and monsters – both old and new – share the territory alongside humans. Maggie Hoskie is a monster slayer for hire, and in recent times she also became a god slayer when she vanquished Neizghání, the lightning god who used to be her mentor and lover.  It’s now a few weeks after this happened at Black Mesa, where Maggie also had to kill her friend and love interest Kai Arviso, whose healing powers brought him back to life but not back in Maggie’s life, so she’s trying to deal with the aftermath of it all – trying being the operative word…

When she’s called in for help against the dangerous cult of the White Locusts, she learns that the “resurrected” Kai is either their prisoner or a willing adept, and to get to the core of the matter she teams up for a search and rescue mission with two of the Goodacre siblings and a young girl with clan powers, Ben, who has been entrusted to her care. Gathering human and godlike allies along the way, the group ventures from the borders of Dinétah into the Malpais – the devastated outside world – discovering that the White Locusts and their charismatic leader Gideon are planning something that might mean the destruction of all they hold dear.

The narrative elements that made the first book in this series stand out are still here: the walled-in enclave of Dinétah where humans and supernatural beings coexist in this weird world whose face was literally changed by the rising oceans; the fascinating cultural and social milieu of Native Americans that brings a new, intriguing perspective to the genre; the land itself, with its harsh, unforgiving beauty. Maggie remains a fascinating character, her hard-won independence, her self-sufficiency still there but now tempered by the realization that opening herself to other people does not threaten those qualities but rather enhances them. And here comes the biggest change in the interpersonal dynamics of the overall story, because it transforms what early on was a one-woman battle into a group effort and a delightful quest that takes us outside the borders of Dinétah and into the Big, Bad Outside World.

Much as life in the Diné enclave might look difficult, the Malpais proves to be dangerous, and deadly: in the best tradition of post-apocalyptic stories, Maggie and her team encounter an organized gang of slavers and organ traffickers whose settlement of Knifetown has a definite Mad Max quality, complete with what looks like a deranged overlord, while the mention of the neighboring Mormon Kingdom and its theocratic rule  fulfills the worst predictions of what could happen with the collapse of civilization. It’s therefore hardly surprising that in this kind of background a cult like that of the White Locusts could easily gain supporters, won over by their leader’s Gideon seductive power and his promise of a new, better world.

Storm of Locusts sees Maggie traveling through these dangers with a crew of allies – friends – that, with the exception of reformed bandit Aaron, is dominated by women: Maggie herself, who’s trying to change her ways and not resort to mindless killing as a way of solving problems, and who is acknowledging her newfound connection to humanity and somehow finding that she enjoys it; Rissa Goodacre, who begins the journey with huge moral reservations toward Maggie and then slowly changes her outlook recognizing there can ben mutual respect and friendship between them; the cat goddess Mosì, whose feline indifference offers some of the lighter moments in the story; and young Ben, the best addition to the series because of what she comes to represent for Maggie.

Ben is a teenager who just suffered a grievous loss on top of earlier childhood trauma, the one that woke her clan powers: Maggie sees much of herself there, and where at first she somehow resents being saddled with the responsibility for the teenager’s safety, she starts to see her earlier self reflected in Ben, recognizing the signs of the downward spiral she traveled in the past, and decides to spare her the same hurtful journey by giving the young woman the support she needs to come to terms with what she is.  Despite the tragedy in her recent past, Ben’s character is an engaging counterpoint to Maggie’s, thanks to her youthful enthusiasm and drive that little by little manage to erode Maggie’s hard shell and bring her closer to her forgotten humanity.

Where character exploration offers the best elements in the story, I found that the plot felt less… solid, starting with the sensation that the questing team was never truly in danger: their experience in Knifetown, where it seems Maggie and Rissa might lose their lives and Ben be sold as a slave bride, is resolved fairly quickly by what looks like a deus ex machina set of circumstances. In a similar way, the swift conversion of outlaw Aaron, or the easy help offered by a divinity appearing as a crusty old man, look a little too convenient to feel completely believable.   And I’m still not convinced by the soundness of Kai’s motivations for joining Gideon’s cult, or by the mutual bond between Kai and Maggie, which does not offer solid vibes for me…

Still, whatever doubts I might have had about this second installment in the series were vanquished by the closing paragraph of the novel and its ominous promise of more interesting darkness to come: the next book might very well compensate for my partial disappointment with this one.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE ANIMAL CROSSING NEW HORIZON BOOK TAG

I’ve become addicted to these book tags recently, so once I saw this one at Suzy’s Cozy World I decided to try my hand at it: bookish fun is the best kind of fun after all!

Let’s dive in…

 

PAST VILLAGER: Who is a character you found when you were younger that still has a place in your heart?

That might very well be the lady Jessica, from Frank Herbert’s DUNE: where I was always captivated by the concept of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, I loved how she would defy her training and the Sisterhood’s goals out of love for her mate and her son. Given the time in which the original Dune was written, Jessica represents a breakthrough in the depiction of female characters.

This art concept of Lady Jessica comes from Mindofka at Deviantart.

BLATHER’S BLATHERINGS: Recommend a historical fiction book that you think everybody should read.

For this I will need to go back several decades in my reading history and mention the amazing books from Finnish author Mika Waltari, starting with The Egyptian and moving on to The Etruscan and The Roman: although the details of those stories have become quite blurred by time, I remember them as very engrossing reads and as fascinating windows on the depicted cultures.

CELESTE’S WISH: What is a future book release you wish you could read now?

That would be, without doubt, the ninth and final book of The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey: this book has no title yet, nor a publication date, but I’m beyond curious to see how the authors will wrap up this amazing space opera series, although I will be very, very, very sad to bid my farewells to the characters I have come to appreciate and love.

TIMMY & TOMMY: What is your favorite sibling relationship in a book?

Even though they are not related by blood, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, as the only two surviving members of the thieves’ family built by Father Chains, are as close as brothers, not just in spite of their differences but because of them, given that their personalities compensate for each other’s faults. Their ties of brotherhood and the rarely expressed but very strong bond of love between them is one of the best features of their story.

THE EASTER BUNNY: A popular book character that you’re not a big fan of.

I will have to risk the ire of many of my fellow bloggers here but I have to point my finger at Mark Watney from Andy Weir’s The Martian: I found the overall tone in the chronicle of his survival on Mars to be too cheeky and frivolous to really endear the character to me, and while I could understand the need to keep his spirits up in a very dire situation, there was not enough introspection to balance out the flippancy. For once, I found out that the movie was better than the book in this respect…

NOOK’S LOANS: An author you’d give all your money to.

There are several authors on my “automatic buy” list and there are too many of them for me to choose from, so I would find it very difficult to have to play the game of favorites here…

THE SISTERS ABLE: What is your favorite fictional family (found or otherwise)?

This is an easy one: for me THE fictional family is represented by the Fellowship of the Ring – a group of people united by a common goal and becoming closer than family through shared dangers. It’s a theme I encountered often in my reading, but the Fellowship was my very first example and they will always be at the top of my preferences.

IT’S A C+: What is a book trope you don’t like that keeps popping up?

Insta-love and love triangles rate very high in my catalog of tropes that tend to make me run for the hills at high speed, but there is one that annoys me to no end: a main character who looks unassuming and is shortly revealed as gifted with incredible powers, or who transforms from wallflower to hero/heroine practically overnight. What is otherwise labeled as “Mary Sue”…

THE WANDERING CAMEL: What is your favorite book set in a land far away from yours?

I will have to mention Dune again: what could be more fascinating than a world covered in endless deserts and scoured by killer winds, where you have to wear a specially designed suit to reclaim drinking water from your body and where giant worms roam the sands? Dune fired my imagination from the first time I read it, and it still holds a special place in it.

WHAT WOULD DODOS DO?: A fictional land you wish you could fly away to at any moment?

Middle Earth, of course! And the beauty of it is that I actually could do that, since we all know that it’s located in New Zealand… 😉

Reviews

LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS (The First Law #3), by Joe Abercrombie

 

The long buildup created in the first two books of this series finds its amazing epilogue in this third volume, and in keeping with the style and overall mood of the story does not offer readers an upbeat ending – but that hardly matters as the characters’ journey is so compelling that it works just as well.

War and strife come from many fronts toward the Union and its capital Adua, where most of the action takes place: the Northmen, led by ruthless King Bethod, are moving steadily southward and the Union’s army finds it difficult to contain the barbarians’ forward momentum, despite the help from Bethod’s old enemies Dogman and Logen Ninefinger; the Gurkish are marching from the south to lay siege to Adua, where the sudden death of the king adds a further layer of trouble to a political situation in which complex machinations and back stabbing plots go on regardless of the impending danger.

Logen Ninefingers, together with the Dogman and his other comrades, has chosen to help Colonel West and the Union army in the fight against Bethod, his ultimate goal being to exact bloody revenge against the king of the Northmen, once his friend and now his bitter enemy. Jezal dan Luthar has returned to Adua a changed man, one whose greater desire is for a quiet life together with the woman he loves, but he’s unaware that a very different destiny waits for him in the city he calls home. Superior Glokta finds himself enmeshed in a many-layered web of intrigue in which the political maneuverings for the election of the new king are only the tip of the iceberg as he realizes that his very survival might be at stake. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, seems to be everywhere, his long reach leaving nothing and no one safe from his mysterious goals…

There is so much that happens in this final novel of the First Law trilogy that certainly takes great skill to keep all the narrative threads and character journeys balanced, and Abercrombie manages that with apparent lack of effort as the situation drives inexorably toward the final showdown: the way the author moves between the various points of view and situations makes for a compulsive read that at times turns into oxygen-depriving anxiety, particularly during battle scenes, or a certain very realistic, very bloody duel where the tension almost transforms into physical discomfort.  While the outcome of the various plotlines remains uncertain until the very end and is reached through a series of twists and unexpected surprises, no one truly gets what they wanted or hoped for, as the old maxim about being careful regarding one’s desires shows its accuracy in several circumstances. Truly, no one comes out of this story unscathed, because events either overwhelm them, or change them profoundly, for good or bad: there is less humor in this final installment of the trilogy, even the gallows humor Abercrombie used all throughout the story, which here touches its bleakest moments. And yet it remains just as powerful and fascinating because of the underlying reality of its premise.

As far as characters go, I realized what a sorrowful one Logen Ninefingers is: a man whose destiny seems to lie in endless fights, both because of the nature of the world he lives in and because of his own nature and that of his… alter ego the Bloody Nine, but still a man with enough powers of introspection to understand that this is not a way of life, even as he acknowledges that there could not be a different one for him, no matter how much he might wish for something different.

He could’ve gone far away, and started new, and been whoever he wanted. But he’d tried that once already, and it had done him no good. The past was always right behind him, breathing on his neck.

There is a fascinating dichotomy in Logen: on the surface he’s the epitome of the savage warrior, a man who looks like a brute and who’s able to launch into mindless killing sprees; on the inside he’s gifted with great powers of understanding, of himself and those around him, that drive the ruthless self-analysis with which he recognizes the limited choices his former life left him: either go on with the endless, brutal struggle for survival, or to give in and accept the death he has been cheating for so long with the “still alive” mantra he recites after each bloody encounter.

Jezal dan Luthar is the character who sees the greatest transformation in the course of the story: he begins as a boorish dandy, interested only in drinking, womanizing and looking fashionable and wishing for glory and recognition. Where he partially adjusts his outlook through danger and hardship, he still retains some of his old flightiness until a massive, unexpected change in life shows him that the prestige and appreciation he craved for are only the outward trappings of duty and responsibility and that he needs to grow into the role that fell on him, or be crushed by it.  Much as I despised the Jezal of old, his capriciousness and shallowness, I was compelled to pity the man he becomes toward the end, because of the price he has to pay for it, something that reminded me of a very impassioned quote from my beloved Babylon 5, where Londo Mollari says: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.” Tragic indeed…

As usual I left my very favorite individual for last – Sand dan Glokta. This potentially despicable character is instead the most relatable of them all, a man who was broken in body but not in mind and who has learned the fine art of survival in the most terrible of circumstances. Faithful to the dual nature of Abercrombie’s characters, he lives and breathes cynicism while secretly yearning for some of the joy that circumstances denied him, all the while trying to stay afloat in the poisonous atmosphere of Adua’s political circles.

The one good thing about every step being an ordeal. You soon learn how to tread carefully.

Friends are people one pretends to like in order to make life bearable. Men like us have no need of such indulgences. It is our enemies by which we are measured.

And that duality shows ever more clearly in the most dangerous circumstances, when his survival hangs by a thread and he appears ready to finally let go of the burden of his painfully crippled body, yet he welcomes any unexpected reprieve with phlegmatic relief: in a way I’ve come to believe that his continued survival, while certainly due to his ability to navigate the toxic circles he moves in, comes mostly from his apparent lack of fear for death, outwardly considered as a relief.   In a similar way, Glokta’s cynical approach is belied by his kind-hearted interest for the misfortunes of Ardee, his friend Colonel West’s sister, and the way the two of them become close by sharing a penchant for masking their deepest emotions with sarcastically delightful repartees: it’s through those interactions, and the way they affect their shared story, that the author offers the only glimmer of light and hope in the overall grimness of the story – a glimmer that feels both right and well deserved.

I’m glad I have still more books to explore in this world created by Joe Abercrombie, not to mention the upcoming ones in the new Age of Madness series, whose first volume A Little Hatred finally compelled me to read The First Law. This is a harsh, cruel world, granted, but it’s such a compelling one that making the effort to look past the blood and violence to the wonderfully crafted characters that people it becomes no effort at all.

 

My Rating:  

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Summer 2020 TBR

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic is:

BOOKS ON MY SUMMER 2020 TBR

This summer I would like to finish some of the series that have resided long on my TBR: these are all series I enjoy, but I tend to get distracted by the “new entries” I find for myself or, more often, thanks to the reviews of my fellow bloggers, so that at times long months elapse between one book in a series and the next one.

So the first part of this TTT dedicated to my summer reading plans is dedicated those series. Starting with:

 

Daniel Abraham: The Spider’s War (The Dagger and the Coin #5)

I have enjoyed this fantasy saga very much, and this is the final book, where the various narrative threads will come to their conclusion. While it’s possible to label this series as classic fantasy, there are a few interesting angles here, most notably the political influence of banks and the pressures they can exert on the power plays.

 

John Gwynne: Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #4)
John Gwynne: Wrath (The Faithful and the Fallen #5)

I discovered John Gwynne’s work when I read the first book of his new saga Of Blood and Bone, and I was immediately enthralled by his world where demonic and angelic creatures fight a long-standing, bitter conflict, so that I felt compelled to learn more about the story’s background through the previous series set some time before the current one. The titles of the two remaining books promise an engaging read, indeed…

 

Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold (First Law World #4)
Joe Abercrombie: Red Country (First Law World #5)
Joe Abercrombie: The Heroes (First Law World #6)

Another case of ex post facto back-tracking: the First Law trilogy had been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and it took the publication of his new novel, A Little Hatred, to finally drive me to read the series that brought him to fame. Now that I have finished the first three books I intend to continue with the volumes that are set in this same harsh and brutal, but totally fascinating world.  Best Served Cold will be a re-read, but it’s been so long since I discovered it, that I’m certain it will feel like something new.

 

Alongside the series that I want to finish, there are those that are still ongoing and whose new books I need to read as soon as I can because they portray engrossing stories that caught my attention from page one. And for these I’m changing genre from Fantasy to Science Fiction:

 

Gareth Powell: Light of Impossible Stars (Embers of War #3)

The adventures of sentient ship Trouble Dog and its crew should come to a close with this third novel in a series that rapidly gained a high place in my preferences. The previous book ended with a cliffhanger showing the galaxy on the brink of another devastating war, this time not between opposing factions but against a fleet of ships bent on eradicating all conflicts by extermination. To say that I’m impatient to learn what will happen would be a massive understatement…

 

W. Michael Gear: Unreconciled (Donovan #4)

This amazing series focusing on the colonization of a very hostile alien world is one of the best space operas I remember reading, and I’m very happy that the originally predicted 3 books have now gained a fourth installment and – hopefully – a few more after this one. There is so much to explore about Donovan and its colonists, not to mention the dreadful consequences of the space-translation technology that often results in ships being completely lost or facing nightmarish journeys.

 

And last but not least two new entries:

 

Harry Turtledove: Bombs Away (The Hot War #1)

I have wanted to read one of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history works for a long time, and when I saw the mention of this one I was immediately intrigued: the premise is that of the dreadful consequences of a nuclear war between the superpowers emerging at the end of World War II.  Probably not the most uplifting kind of story I could have picked, but still it’s worth taking a look at.

 

Michael Connelly: The Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)

A definite change from my usual stomping grounds…

I have been thinking for a while about exploring new territory, and mystery is indeed the genre that most appeals to me besides fantasy and SF. By happy coincidence I have discovered on Amazon Video the TV show Bosch, inspired by the long-standing series written by Michael Connelly, widely acclaimed as one of the best authors of crime fiction: my enthusiasm for the TV show – so far the best procedural I have encountered in my “travels” – compelled me to buy Connelly’s first novel portraying his character, an unconventional, headstrong detective with a dark past. I’m curious to see where this foray away from dragons and aliens will lead me 🙂

 

And what are you planning to read this summer?

Reviews

THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Rooks and Ruin #1), by Melissa Caruso

 

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Having greatly enjoyed Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy, I was quite eager to sample her new work, and also curious to see her world from the point of view of the Raverran Serene Empire’s adversaries from previous books. Where the magic present in Raverra is controlled by placing jesses – i.e. restraining bracelets – on people endowed with magical powers, in Vaskandar mages are free to exert their powers, and the strongest among them rule over the realms to which they are intimately connected, engaging in endless strife for supremacy with their neighbors.  In Swords and Fire, looking at Vaskandar through Raverran eyes, this country seemed to pose a constant threat: military aggression against diplomacy; undisciplined magic against tight control of powers; authoritarian rule against the compromise of politics.  The Obsidian Tower looks on Vaskandar from the inside, and shows us that it’s indeed all a matter of perspective…

For four thousand years, the castle of Gloaminguard stood as protection over a magically sealed black tower: the family’s lore stresses emphatically that its door must remain closed at all costs. Ryx is the latest descendant of the family holding Gloaminguard, appointed warden of the castle by her grandmother, a powerful Witch Lord called the Lady of Owls. Ryx is however burdened by the impossibility of wielding her magic: in a family of vivomancers, mages with the ability to interact with the flora and fauna of their territories, the young woman is cursed by a killing touch – every living thing that comes into close contact with her is doomed to wither and die. As Gloaminguard is getting ready to host a meeting between Raverran and Vaskandran emissaries for the peaceful solution of a controversy, one of the envoys tries to circumvent the tower’s safeguards and is accidentally killed by Ryx as she tries to stop the ill-advised attempt of her guest.

Faced with the intricate task of juggling the consequences of the accident, the volatile political situation and the survival of her grandmother’s realm, Ryx finds herself enmeshed in a progressively dangerous game in which every new discovery leads to unexpected pitfalls and impossible choices, as the old menace from the newly-awakened Tower looms closer and threatens to plunge the whole world in a maelstrom of destruction.

The Obsidian Tower is a thoroughly captivating read, where the constantly raising stakes keep increasing the pressure, which at times becomes unbearable, because we see the situation unfold from Ryx’s point of view, so that the concatenation of events and the discoveries she makes along the way put her in an untenable position better described as “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”, and make the possible outcome quite unpredictable. Ryx is a brilliantly designed character, one that makes it easy to root for her: a mysterious childhood illness caused her blossoming vivomancy powers to deteriorate, turning into a life-sucking force that prevents her from any contact with living creatures – only a powerful mage, preparing for the onslaught of her magic, can survive her touch and so Ryx grew up in physical isolation, feared by everyone and needing to be on constant alert against any kind of proximity.

The sympathy Ryx engenders in the readers does not come from compassion for her plight, but from admiration for her inner strength and for her will to still be an effective member of her family despite the lethal handicap she suffers.  As the situation in Gloaminguard becomes more and more complicated, she draws from the well of strength and wisdom she built over the years and shows her worth as a balancing element despite the opposing political plays of the two nations and the unhelpful interference from some of her family members.  The only moments when she succumbs to wistfulness are those in which she observes the interactions between the members of the Rookery – a sort of super partes agency dealing with magical phenomena – and sees the easy camaraderie, the subliminal understanding born of shared experiences, and realizes how empty and bleak her existence has been, but still she refuses to let such feelings dominate her.

As for the Rookery, they represent the lighter side of the story: a combination of magical investigators and spies wielding gadgets that would be the envy of 007, they are a team composed by disparate individuals whose peculiarities contribute to the success of the group. We have a leader who is both bookish and action-oriented; a science enthusiast saddled with a terrible past; an infiltration agent gifted by a delightfully roguish personality; and a warrior who at times needs to be told that her sword is not necessarily the only answer.  The Rookery’s easy acceptance of Ryx, despite the danger she poses, is a breath of fresh air not only for the young woman herself, but for the reader as well, because it’s painful to see how she’s feared and shunned even by people who saw her grow up and seem unable to avoid the automatic warding sign they make at her passage.  Since the series’ title mentions Rooks, it is my strong hope that I will see much more of the Rookery’s antics in the next books.

Story-wise this novel is the intriguing introduction to a further exploration of the world created by Melissa Caruso: much as I enjoyed visiting Raverra and its Venice Republic-like world of politics and compromise, this glimpse of Vaskandar is even more appealing thanks to the unruly quality of its magic, the constant warfare (declared or not) between realms and the fascinating concept of connection between mages and their territory, so that nature itself, when necessary, can intervene over humans, either helping or hindering them. Or worse – there is a scene in The Obsidian Tower, involving a mad Witch Lord and thorny bushes, that had me wincing in sympathetic pain…

On this background are set interesting issues as friendship and trust, responsibility and duty, all rolled up with enigmatic prophecies from the past which can still have impact on the present – and probably the future, since this story is only at its beginning. And with such a strong beginning, we can only predict that the best is still to come.

 
 
My Rating:

 

Reviews

The Book Character Quarantine Tag

 

With many thanks to Ola from Re-enchantment of the World for tagging me, I have decided to sprinkle some much-needed humor on the health crisis still gripping our world on the heels of the Covid-19 spread. It’s been a harrowing time for us all, and for many it’s still a heavy concern, so if these memes help bringing a little smile to brighten the darkness, they are very welcome indeed…

And here we go: the tag requires me to name 5 or more of my favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world. I chose three characters from fantasy and three from science fiction. Perfect balance 😉

 

TYRION LANNISTER (from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire)

Oh, he’s one of the people who would suffer less from being locked down at home, provided he had enough wine and enough ladies willing to share his bedchamber – at the start of the story, at least, Tyrion used to be quite the ladies’ man after all!

 

FIELD MARSHAL TAMAS (from Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage)

I think he would pace back and forth like a caged lion, perusing maps and devising strategies so as not to be caught  off-guard once the quarantine was lifted. And of course driving his aides-de-camp crazy, with the sole exception of Colonel Olem, who would observe the Field Marshal’s antics through the smoke of his endless cigarettes.

 

SAND DAN GLOKTA (from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy)

Here is another character who would enjoy being cooped up at home and therefore not having to submit himself to the daily torture of stairs: as he observed more than once, the people of power he had to visit in the course of his duties always lived far above ground, and with his crippling infirmities, poor Glokta’s hate of stairs became quite legendary.

 

   

KIVA LAGOS (from John Scalzi’s Interdependency)

No doubt: she would swear, profusely and with great richness of expletives, about home lockdown, upset at the idea of the new dastardly schemes concocted by House Nohamapetan, which would certainly find a way to circumvent the rules and broker alliances behind her back.

 

MURDERBOT (from Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries)

Probably Murderbot would be exempt from self-isolation, since its organic parts would not suffer from contact with the virus. Just as probably it would be recruited by its human not-friends for the daily errands they would not be able to perform, and be deprived of some of its series-watching time. Which would be profoundly irritating, no doubt about it.

 

MILES VORKOSIGAN (from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga)

A confined Miles is a dangerous Miles, because his hyperactive mind needs to be applied to active duties, and being unable to move around he would certainly find new and more insane ideas to relieve his boredom. Someone should find some convoluted puzzle to unravel to keep him occupied and out of mischief…

 

 

So, who would you choose to observe during lockdown? Everyone’s invited: share the fun!