Reviews

Review: 13 MINUTES, by Sarah Pinborough

 

My previous experience with Sarah Pinborough’s work through her novels Mayhem and Murder led me to expect only the best from this author, but I have to say that with 13 Minutes those expectations were more than exceeded: from start to finish this story kept me glued to the book in an adrenaline-rich rollercoaster that gave the label of ‘unputdownable’ a whole new level of meaning.

16-year old Natasha is rescued from the icy river in which she fell, and literally brought back to life by the paramedics, since she was clinically dead for 13 minutes. No one knows how she ended in the freezing waters, least of all Natasha herself who suffers from retrograde amnesia, so the investigators are looking both at attempted suicide – although nothing in Natasha’s life appears to lead in this direction – and at foul play.

This latter option seems to gain some substance when Natasha notices the strange behavior of her two best friends, Jenny and Hayley, who seem to be hiding something: the three of them, dubbed “the Barbies” by their school mates because of their looks and popularity, used to be a close knit group standing at the top of their peers’ social standing, equally admired and envied by everyone, but now there seems to be an insincere overtone in Jenny’s and Hayley’s demeanor, something that alarms and arouses Tasha’s suspicions.  For this reason she places some distance between herself and the other two Barbies, and reconnects with Rebecca, who used to be her best friend when they were younger and was mercilessly discarded when Tasha opted to move in more glamorous circles.

For her own part Becca, despite the devil-may-care attitude developed after being shunned by Tasha, is all too eager to resume the friendship and is able to silence her qualms about ditching her new friend Hannah, a plain but steadfast girl with whom she’s become close, in her turn adopting the same heartless approach exhibited by Tasha in the past: she’s aware of the profound injustice of the whole situation, but at the same time she is consumed by the need to get to the bottom of the mystery and in that way regain her place by Tasha’s side.

From this point on, the hints and clues about what might really have happened in that fateful night are laid out in a breadcrumb trail that offers misdirections and red herrings rather than answers, until the final revelation that comes as a shock and a surprise – at least that’s what it turned out to be for me since I could never have figured out that this was the intention of the author all along.

The first consideration that came to my mind once I closed the book was that I’m glad to have gone through my teenage years without major troubles, never having had to face the kind of peer pressures that Sarah Pinborough describes in this novel: granted, when I was a teenager (which was a very, very long time ago…) there was none of the aggressive viciousness described here, none of the sick thrill of ganging up on a victim for the simple pleasure of seeing to their moral and social destruction – of course there were closed groups and cliques even back then, but those who were not part of them were simply left to their own devices, not targeted as the victims of choice in the guise of Stephen King’s Carrie, for example.

Here though, physical looks and social standing seem to be the parameters by which people are measured, with those at the top (in this case the Barbies) laying down the laws ruling the microcosm represented by the school environment. Such a volatile mix is also compounded by the presence of social media and their swift diffusion of news, comments and judgements which can make or break one’s image with a viral swiftness of propagation.  When considering the ease with which the mere perception of an individual can be changed on the sole basis of a post or a comment that’s shared almost instantly across the web, it’s uncomfortably evident that this is nothing short of a lethal weapon that’s being wielded by people who seem ignorant of its inherent danger – or are they?  While it’s clear that teenage years are the most difficult transition time in the growth of a human being, it’s also evident that what used to be unthinking childish malice ends up becoming a well-honed knife these young people know how to wield with unerring, cruel precision.

On this disturbing background, the main characters all come across as quite unlikable, a mix of shallowness and immaturity that does not spare even Becca, who on the surface prides herself in not caring for the Barbies’ less… grounded interests, but deep down feels the need to belong, to be accepted, and for the sake of this acceptance does not think twice about adopting the other girls’ mean standards of behavior.  What’s interesting here is that the story changes its point of view every time the author switches from one character to another, and after a while it becomes clear that many of them – if not all – are unreliable narrators, some of them because they don’t have all the clues to move forward, and some of them because they are lying outright, as the reader discovers at some point.

And this is indeed the major strength of 13 Minutes: Sarah Pinborough leads her readers through a merry chase in which she keeps offering ambiguous leads that take them toward dead ends, each time building what seems like a sure development only to pull the rug from under their feet at the last minute, and leaving them clueless and disoriented and back to square one. Manipulation is indeed the code word here: of emotions, needs and desires visited by characters on each other, and of expectations and perceptions offered by the author to her readers and then dismantled with a snap of her fingers.

I am unable to recall a story that both baffled and impressed me in such a way, but one thing is certain, that my admiration for Ms. Pinborough’s skills reached new heights and confirmed her in the “must read everything she writes” position she already enjoyed.

Very highly recommended…

 

My Rating: 

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Reviews

Review: THE CONSUMING FIRE (The Interdependency #2), by John Scalzi

 

A new Scalzi novel is always a treat for me: since I discovered this author with the first volume of his Old Man’s War series, each new book he published has been a source for intriguing stories, remarkable characters and some well-placed humor.  Book 1 of The Interdependency series, The Collapsing Empire, was no exception: it depicted a sprawling galactic empire whose means of travel and communication depend on the Flow, a mix between a sea current and a wormhole that allows ships to travel huge distances in a relatively shorter time than they would if they moved through normal space.

The Flow, however, is not immutable, and a few scientists have discovered that the routes of communication toward the various colonized systems are on the verge of collapse: once that happens, each system will find itself isolated from the rest of the Interdependency, risking chaos and the fall of civilization. In Book 1 we saw how newly elected Emperox Cardenia Wu-Patrick, who took the name of Grayland II, was trying to deal with this disturbing news while finding her way as the supreme ruler of the Interdependency (a role that was thrust on her unexpectedly) and fending off the assassination attempts carried out by some of the ruling families, bent on seizing the ultimate power before civilization’s end.

With The Consuming Fire the stakes get higher and even more dangerous: House Nohamapetan still stands at the heart of every evil scheme, despite the crippling blow sustained after the latest failed attempt on the Emperox’s life, and here we get to know better the House’s true ruler, the callous Countess who does not balk even at using her own offspring as pawns in the complicated game she’s playing.  Kiva Lagos, the young CEO of House Lagos who has been tasked with uncovering the Nohamapetans’ closeted skeletons, is often in danger of losing her life as her adversaries attempt to remove the nuisance she represents, with no regard for any collateral damage.  And Cardenia/Greyland knows she must find new ways to rule that can be applied to the extremely volatile and uncertain situation none of her predecessors ever faced.

Meanwhile, Marce Claremont, the scientist whose work has brought to light the precariousness of the Flow, learns that his data is incomplete and that there might be a possibility to establish new pathways once the old ones collapse, just as he discovers that the shutdown of a Flow does not necessarily mean the end of civilization: a journey toward the recently re-opened path toward doomed Dalasysla – an older colony that was cut off from the Interdependency when a few centuries before its arm of the Flow collapsed – shows that there is still life in that system – harsh, precarious life, granted, but still a healthy form of society that gives hope for the future.

With all of the above (and much more) going on, The Consuming Fire is indeed a swift and entertaining read, which is what I have come to expect from a Scalzi novel, but I’m sorry to say that it also proved to be something of a disappointment: in part I can place the blame for that on my expectations, which were quite high after the first book set down the playing field and then ended on a cliffhanger, leaving me wanting to know right there and then what would happen next.  In part, however, my dissatisfaction with this book comes from an uneven pace that alternates moments of adrenalin-infused narrative, especially where the plots-within-plots of the Nohamapetans are concerned, and others of extreme slowness where one or more characters indulge in long, drawn-out conversations that offer some necessary context but at the same time sound pedantic and artificial.  Now, this kind of wordy exchange is at times typical of Scalzi’s writing, but until now it never went on at such length and especially not as the dull counterpoint to more energetic segments: here it gives the story a start-and-stop quality that in the end I found frustrating and what’s worse it gave me the impression that the author has in part given up on his previous habit of just hinting at deeper issues, so that his readers can think about them on their own, in favor of a more open and sadly heavier lecturing. 

And so, probably in an attempt to even out the scales, there is an excessive emphasis on a certain individual’s foul-mouthed tendencies, so that if at first I found Kiva Lagos’ characterization an amusingly irreverent portrayal, here she has become a caricature of herself, and a badly overstated one at that.  In the first book, Kiva used to drop the f-word at every opportunity, with no thought for circumstance or company, and she offered a refreshing contrast to the stuffy courtliness or the razor-thin false politeness of other characters.  Sadly, in The Consuming Fire, Kiva’s cussing is all out of proportion to many of the situations she finds herself in, and what’s worse her profanities are not simply uttered in direct dialogue as would be expected, but also employed when the author relays her thoughts, which I found unnecessary and redundant, more in the spirit of a child who has just learned a four-letter word and enjoys the shocking impact of it, rather than the representation of an adult who does not care overmuch about social graces.

These issues, minor as they are, coupled with the shortness of the novel and my perceived lack of any substantial advancement in characterization or story, managed to spoil some of my enjoyment, and that’s the reason I find myself unable to give The Consuming Fire a higher rating. Still, I have not given up either on this series or this author, and can look forward to the final chapter in this adventure with the hope of seeing all my expectations realized.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Novella Review: SUFFER A SEA CHANGE (October Daye #12.1), by Seanan McGuire

 

At the end of October Daye’s latest novel, Night and Silence, there was a welcome surprise, the novella Suffer a Sea Change which explores at some length (and promises more for the future, hopefully) one of the most poignant narrative elements of its parent novel.

A synopsis is out of the question, since it would spoil both the main book and the enjoyment of this novella, so what I can share is that it deals with a very interesting point of view character: Gillian, October’s daughter, the daughter that for so many years felt abandoned and betrayed by her mother, not knowing the real reason for Toby’s prolonged absence and her choice not to be part of Gillian’s life anymore.

One of the details I immediately noticed was how Gillian’s inner ‘voice’ is similar to Toby’s: finding herself in a scary, unusual situation, she often resorts to that form of dry sarcasm that is her mother’s way of dealing with fear and helplessness.

Gillian’s nature might be closer to her mother’s than she suspects, and this might be one of the elements that could bring them together – and considering what a weak, contemptible person Cliff turned out to be in Night and Silence, or in light of the discovery of step mother Miranda’s not-so-crystalline motivations, I believe that an intelligent young woman like Gillian might be able to see the whole picture once she’s been given all the elements she needs.

My hope for a reconciliation lies mostly in some considerations from Gillian, like this one:

 

I hadn’t quite been able to work up the energy to hate her. When I thought about her, it made me sad, not angry […]

 

or this one:

 

I had spent so much of my life hating my biological mother that it was like a physical pain in my gut to realize that she might not be the villain of the piece after all.

 

It’s clear that Gillian needs to come to terms with her confused feelings about her mother, but first she will have to work through her own problems, and adapt to a different outlook on life, and that is the promise that comes across in this short story: that she will not be alone in doing so and that the greatest help might come from the Luidaeg brings me to hope for some very interesting developments where the Sea Witch is concerned, especially in relation to Toby and the people she cares about.

There is a great deal of emotion and character development in this short story, but I can safely say it’s one of the best I read among the companion tales to October’s main journey: the promise is there, all we have to do is for it to be fulfilled – in time.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: NIGHT AND SILENCE (October Daye #12), by Seanan McGuire

 

Even risking to sound like a broken record, I need to stress once more how this series keeps raising the stakes from one book to the next, how far it is from generating any kind of “reader fatigue” and how much I keep feeling invested, as a reader and a huge fan, in the ongoing story of October and friends.

More than in previous instances, this will be a difficult book to review because talking about it without giving away any spoilers is going to be a monumental feat, but I will try anyway, focusing rather on the character development and the emotional responses engendered by this twelfth installment in what I consider one of the best Urban Fantasy series of these years.

Since the blurb on GoodReads or other sites already mentions it, I feel safe in reporting that the main focus of Night and Silence is the kidnapping of Gillian, Toby’s estranged daughter, who disappeared from the Berkley campus leaving only an empty car and some traces of blood.  After the events of the previous book, Toby and her extended family are not in the best of shape: Tybalt and Jazz are dealing with their own version of PTSD, the King of Cats more than Jazz, and the distance he’s put between himself and Toby is hurting them both, leaving them unbalanced and vulnerable.  The appearance of Cliff, Toby’s former lover and Gillian’s father, and of Miranda, Cliff’s new wife, at Toby’s door, accusing her of the girl’s disappearance, launches a breakneck chase all over San Francisco, both in the mundane parts of the city and in the fae encroaching realms – a chase that will bring to light many unexpected revelations and a couple of actual narrative bombshells.  Not to mention a lot of shed blood – and I mean a lot: this might very well be the book in which October bleeds more than in any previous installment of the series…

 

“You lost a great deal of blood.”
“I didn’t lose it,” I said. “I know exactly where it is.”

I will freely admit that at first I was not completely sold on the kidnapping angle, since this particular story-line had already been explored in a previous book, but I should not have worried – as I soon became aware – because Seanan McGuire had no intention to retread old paths and managed to lead both her characters and her readers on a breathless adventure that paves the way for a number of unpredictable scenarios that will be the fuel for the next volumes.

What Night and Silence does very well is make us think about the meaning of family, and family ties, and the detail that comes to the fore with dramatic intensity is the contrast between what I might call Toby’s ‘original’, human-oriented family, made of Cliff and Gillian, and the one she built around herself with May, Tybalt, Quentin and all the other friends she’s made along the way.  Once more we are reminded of the fact that when October came back from her involuntary 14-year stint as a fish in a pond, Cliff did not even give her the chance to explain (hard as that might have been without revealing the existence of Faerie), and literally slammed the door in her face. He does not come across as a very nice or considerate person, and here he appears as completely subjected to his wife Miranda’s will: together they have done their best (or rather, their worst) to fuel Gillian’s pain and lack of understanding for Toby’s disappearance into a full-fledged hate of the girl’s natural mother.  And once a huge revelation about Miranda’s history and motivations becomes clear, the extent of their combined efforts takes on a sinister light that made me despise them even more, particularly when I kept witnessing Toby’s resigned acceptance of Gillian’s rejection: she can fight like an enraged lioness for the sake of her child, but she will not try to change the young woman’s point of view, and that’s quite painful to see.  On the other hand, there is a very intense conversation with Cliff, at some point, where finally October makes him face his responsibilities, and it’s a welcome exchange. Much welcome.

The only bright lights in this quite bleak panorama come from Tybalt and the Luidaeg: the King of Cats might be still recovering (and it looks like it’s going to be a long, long road) from his ordeal at the hands of Amandine, he might feel diminished in his ability to be an effective ruler, but when October is in dire need of his help he does not hesitate and shows that the strength of old is still there, ready to be deployed for the sake of the woman he loves.   I make no mystery that I’m not exactly partial to romance in my reading material, but in the case of October and Tybalt I’m always ready to make an exception, and I believe that’s because their relationship feels very real, with no need for the usual frills of a romantic entanglement: they are not simply lovers, they are friends and comrades who have learned their mutual strengths and weaknesses and know how to support each other when need arises.  The combination of Toby’s cynical approach to life and Tybalt’s old-world manner of expression makes for many delightful exchanges that always bring a smile to my face.

As for the Luidaeg… well, my favorite character after October truly shines here in Night and Silence: she is her usual gruff and abrasive self of course, and that’s to be expected, but she also shows her deep capacity for love and affection that the brusque manner she uses as a cover does not mask very well. Among the many revelations offered by this book, there are some concerning the Luidaeg that shine a new light on her character and, most important, on her past and the circumstances that made her who she is, that is, besides what we already knew about her…     What the Luidaeg does here for October and her own is the proof (as if we needed one…) of her deep affection for this changeling and also of the feeling of responsibility she harbors for Toby – I would be tempted to say that she is more of a mother than Amandine could ever be, even though I can almost hear her vehement denial of this conclusion…

If The Brightest Fell ended with many unresolved question and a dark pall hanging over the characters, Night and Silence offers a slight glimmer of hope for the future: it might not look much, at face value, but the potential for the righting of some wrongs in there, even though we already know that October and her friends’ path will never be smooth or easy.  But we would not want it any other way…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

#RRSciFiMonth Short Story Review: THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED, by James S. A. Corey

 

A Short Story from Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection # 2018

Edited by Gardner Dozois

 

Short stories’ collections always offer a mixed bag, at least according to individual tastes, and this eclectic anthology proved to be no exception: there were stories that did not speak to me, others that were nice but did not compel me toward a review, and then there were those that gave me that something extra that made all the difference.  Here is one of them…

THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED

Seeing the name of James S.A. Corey listed among the authors of this anthology gave me a jolt of surprise and wonder, since it pointed to the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, creators of one of the best space opera series presently on the market, The Expanse. My hope that this would be a short story based in that universe was dashed immediately, although this Earth-based tale starts from one of the premises at the core of The Expanse, that the unemployed on our home planet need not worry about survival, since they are all allotted a monthly basic allowance, which insures they don’t starve.

As the protagonist of the story has learned the hard way, surviving might not be enough because human nature always requires something more, be it a deeper meaning or a more prosaic need to emerge from the crowd, to feel the worth of one’s individuality. As the man reflects at some point:  “When I was young, we were afraid to starve […] now we fear being less important than our neighbors.  All the vapid things that the wealthy did […] we are doing all the same things, but not as well, because we have less and we’re still new at it.”

So this man is risking everything on a search that seems both difficult and futile: discover the identity of radical writer Hector Prima, an author with a huge online following and an even bigger mystery surrounding his identity.  Like many others before him, the character in this story has gambled his entire savings on his quest, as if his life depended on such a discovery, as if this were the meaning he needs to give substance to his life.

Apart from the interesting – if slightly depressing – peek into this sliver of Earth society, the story offers the chance of pondering the consequences of a society where basic needs might be fulfilled, but something more vital is sorely missed, something whose absence creates an “overpowering emptiness that most people didn’t recognize”.

It’s a bleak, somewhat disheartening consideration that comes from a facet of the overall story we tend to forget while focusing on the conflicts developing in outer space, but still I don’t regret reading it.

 

My Rating: 

 

Reviews

Review: THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC (Powder Mage #3), by Brian McClellan

 

My long and meandering way through this series has come to an end, and it was a very satisfying one, both story- and emotion-wise.  I used the words ‘long and meandering’ because I read the first volume Promise of Blood not long after it was published, and although I did like it, I did not feel strongly compelled to move forward with the series, since I had some slight issues with the book, mostly concerning the pacing and some characterizations.  Then some time ago I had the lucky opportunity of reading the ARC for the first volume of the sequel trilogy, Gods of Blood and Power, and I found there a more mature, more masterful control of story and characters, so that I decided to go back to… the origins so to speak, and discovered that hindsight helped me through the little ‘hiccups’ of the first book, so that once I reached the second, The Crimson Campaign, and this third installment, I could enjoy the tighter narrative and far more engaging storytelling. By now, Brian McClellan has become one of my favorite fantasy authors, one whose books I can always look forward to.

This final segment of the trilogy brings to a conclusion many of the threads that have been developing until now, bringing to a cusp the aftermath of Tamas’ revolution, the renewed conflict with the Kez and the resurgence of the ancient gods, and it does so with a sustained pace that never knows a moment of dullness. As enthralling as the events are, I would prefer to focus my review on the characters that move through them, because in The Autumn Republic they are explored in greater depth, and from new angles.  The only one I’m still unable, after three books, to really warm up to is Inspector Adamat: if I can sympathize with his past and present troubles and his ardent desire to keep his family safe, his segments are the ones that elicit the least interest in me as a reader, since I have been constantly incapable of forming any kind of attachment to this character.

It’s quite a different song for all the others, some of which we get to know better in this book, particularly Nila, the young laundress who recently discovered her Privileged powers: if at the beginning I wondered what part she was destined to play in the overall arc, here she fits wonderfully as the foil for Borbador, the only surviving member of the Adran cabal and Taniel’s long-time friend. Bo’s sometimes cavalier attitude toward his Privileged status and abilities might be tempered by what is basically a good nature and his affection for Taniel, but in the end he comes across as something of a spoiled child, and it falls on Nila, who he has taken on as an apprentice, to remind him of his duties as a human being and to cut him down to size when necessary.  I enjoyed quite a bit the interactions between the two of them and the way they end up supporting each other: what becomes clear at some point is Bo’s loneliness, and his yearning for the carefree days when he was part of Tamas’ family, so that I want to see this developing relationship between Bo and Nila as a way to re-create that sense of family he so clearly misses.

Vlora’s character enjoys some defining scenes in The Autumn Republic, and knowing the direction of her narrative arc in the following trilogy made me appreciate the hints of the more assertive personality she will develop later: here she is still trying to make amends for her past mistakes, and not for the first time I wondered at some of the comments I read about her not coming across as a very likable person, since I felt great sympathy for her since day one. Granted, she acted improperly and caused a great deal of grief, but almost no one (either readers or other characters) seemed to take into account her sense of loneliness and neglect that others manipulated for their own purposes, and that’s the reason I always felt more inclined to forgive her lapse.  Here she is able to mend her fences with both Tamas and Taniel, and at the same time starts on the road toward becoming her own woman instead of someone else’s protégée or betrothed, the beginning of a newfound independence that I can only approve of.    

Taniel, for his part, looks far more human than in previous instances: maybe being separated from Ka-poel (whose absence through most of the book is my only real complaint concerning this third volume) and his final admission about his feelings for her managed to shed a better light on him from my perspective. The whiny boy seems to be gone at last, and even though I still see some shadows in his character, he looks like a more grounded person, one who can recognize his failings and start to work on them. This becomes clear in his exchanges with Tamas, where for the first time in the series they actually speak to each other like father and son and not like two estranged acquaintances: their reciprocal admission of love, and the unspoken forgiveness for their past mistakes, is one of the more emotional passages in The Autumn Republic, one I realize I had been waiting for since book 1 and one that the author was able to convey with admirable deftness, down to a wonderful shared laugh that melts all the old misunderstandings and brings them together more than any words could.

Which finally brings me to Tamas, who has remained my favorite character throughout the story – faults included.  Here he sees his years-long planning nearing its conclusion, even though he’s aware that this does not mark the end of the struggle or that things did not turn out exactly as he envisioned them. There is a definite sense of needing to finally pass the reins to someone else, to give in to the weight of the years and the big and small injuries sustained during a long, hard career and the tight focus on his goal.  Tamas started taking stock of his past since the previous book, where he was assailed by some doubts about his ability to lead, so now that he sees himself at a crossroads and understands he left many things unsaid and undone, he feels compelled to correct any mistake he made along the way. Much as I enjoyed reading about his brilliant military strategy and his unwavering faith in the mission he set for himself, this softer side of Tamas complements wonderfully what was shown of the man until now, making him a more rounded and even more likable character – the true star of the narrative arc.

If I had read this trilogy when it came out, I would now be feeling quite bereft because I developed a deep fondness for this new fantasy genre and even more for the world Brian McClellan created, but as luck would have it, there is now more to be discovered in the next trio of books – and hopefully in many more that could follow.  The conclusion to the Powder Mage trilogy felt perfect in its promise for what is yet to come, but even more in the deeply touching feelings it engendered, even though they were tinged with sorrow: unfortunately this end is a bittersweet one, and if I understand the need for some of the author’s choices, I’m still in mourning for some of them – Brian McClellan has shown time and again he never pulls his punches, but when he sacrifices his characters he does so in a way that’s so balanced, in description and emotions, that I can forgive him for the pain we have to deal with…

The Powder Mage trilogy has now taken its place among my favorite stories, and it’s a world I will always enjoy visiting, in any form the author chooses.

 

My Rating:  

Reviews

Novella Review: GHOSTS OF THE TRISTAN BASIN (Powder Mage #0.8), by Brian McClellan

In my first search for short stories that complemented Brian McClellan’s epic about powder mages, I must have missed a few, and only a recent search unearthed other works I knew nothing about: it goes without saying that I would not think twice about reading them as well…

 

 

Set a few months before the events in Promise of Blood, this novella offers a double bonus: one that allows us to see more of Taniel’s deeds during the Fatrastan war for independence from the Kez, and one where we are introduced to a beloved character from Gods of Blood and Powder, none other than Mad Ben Styke.   As the story begins, the Tristan Basin Irregulars – the Fatrastan militia Taniel and Ka-poel have attached themselves to – have been harassing the Kez in the inhospitable swamps that cover the Basin, keeping them quite occupied with guerrilla warfare.

Returning to their base camp, they learn about new orders: the city of Planth, where Governor Lindet has retreated to regroup her forces, is threatened by a Kez army, and the Irregulars must get there quickly to shore up the city’s defenses. As grim as the situation appears, since the rebels are vastly outnumbered, a slim ray of hope is represented by the arrival of Colonel Ben Styke and his Mad Lancers, an elite troop that seems to be made out of warriors as berserker as their leader – and Planth will need their madness if the citizens want to survive…

As I said, there were two main points of interest in this story: for starters, I enjoyed seeing a very different Taniel from the one I met in the Powder Mage books. Much as he’s still trying to get out of the shadow of his very famous father, Taniel here appears like a more sympathetic character, a young man driven by the ideal of helping the region’s inhabitants gain their freedom from the Kez, whom he hates deeply since they were responsible for the execution of his mother.   He’s honing his skills in the conflict, and he’s also strengthening the ties with his local guide Ka-poel, the young mute woman whose weird abilities he’s just starting to know.  The only trait he shares with the older Taniel is his aversion to authority, especially when Lindet’s orders concerning the fate of Planth clash against his sense of duty.

That’s probably the main reason he seems to form a sort of bond with Ben Styke, the mountain of a man leading the Mad Lancers: the Ben Styke we meet here is also a very different person from the one appearing in Sins of Empire, since he has yet to endure the physical and psychological abuse of his long years in the prison camp, so that it’s a pleasure to witness the depths of joyful abandon as he launches himself in the activity he loves most – fight.  And fight he must, together with his Lancers and the Irregulars, if he wants to save the city, against almost insurmountable odds, yet there is more to him than just a practically invincible warrior, because here he exhibits humor, and cunning and courage, all wrapped into a carefree attitude that makes it impossible not to like him, and enjoy the pages that focus on him.

Losing myself in this story was a wonderful experience, and I strongly recommend it both to all McClellan fans and to those who still don’t know this author and series: you will not be disappointed…

 

My Rating: