Book Review: Snakewood by Adrian Selby

Who here is tired of me reviewing books yet? Yeah, I’m not tired of it either. I was really intrigued by the synopsis of Snakewood.

Mercenaries who gave no quarter, they shook the pillars of the world through cunning, chemical brews, and cold steel.

Whoever met their price won.
Now, their glory days are behind them. Scattered to the wind and their genius leader in hiding, they are being hunted down and eliminated.
One by one.
I  did read through to the end, but there was a lot that this debut novel suffered from. It also did several things passably. Let’s start with the good. The world building is interesting. If you pay attention to the small details there is a rich a vibrant world hidden in the prose. The initial mystery of what happened was also enough to keep me reading through to the end, even if some of the reveals about specific characters felt terribly telegraphed. On the flip side, maybe those reveals were just foreshadowed really well. If I ever re-read, I’ll have to look closer to determine. Whelp, that’s enough praise.
The book itself is too long for the story it’s trying to tell. There were several portions that just felt extraneous and I felt like the story could’ve improved from some precise trimming. Losing about 10% might have helped speed up the pacing so that it didn’t feel like so much of a slog to get through. My other major complaint was the characters. You can call them realistic characters, but none of them were likable characters. The protagonists that the novel works with don’t really redeem themselves in any way by the end of the tale. It’s hard to care about them when they’re all equally as bad as the antagonist that’s hunting them down. Finally, a minor complaint: the voice of the different characters didn’t really differentiate themselves enough for my liking. Different points of view told in the first person narrative all ended up blending together a bit.
So who should read this novel? Someone who has patience for a long winding narrative and unsympathetic characters presented in a novel and fairly interesting manor would probably enjoy this novel. Fans of low fantasy and novels that are presented as found text may also enjoy this novel.
Who shouldn’t read this novel? If you’re looking for a straightforward narrative with lots of magic, you should probably steer clear from Snakewood. I would also avoid the novel if you’re looking for something with a quick pace that leaves you wanting more after each chapter.
And now, just some final thoughts. This wasn’t a terrible book. I feel like it set up a lot of promise for a future novel with a subplot that wasn’t resolved in the current novel. The world is interesting, and I think Adrian Selby is going to offer some good quality in the future.
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Book Review: The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A. Hunt

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is the first book in the Outlaw King series by S.A. Hunt. It follows the main character, Ross as returns from deployment abroad and eventually ends up in the world that his father wrote some cult classics about before dying at the start of the book. So where do I begin with this? I read it fast. Not the fastest I’ve ever read a novel, but faster than most novels usually take me. This only took me about a week from start to finish. While I was reading it before bed, I would consistently find myself saying, “I have time for just one more chapter…” In other words, the pacing on this is amazing. There was only one portion where it flagged a bit about midway through the book, but it immediately picked back up.

Ross as a character is fully realized. He’s likable. We start off seeing him at a low point. Then it gets a little bit lower. Then he gets sucked into the world of his father’s fantasy novel and he begins his slow upward climb. The first portion of the book reads almost like a modern day thriller while the last portion reads like a fantasy with some elements of New Weird. Interspersing the chapters are little one page excerpts of the fictional novels that Ross’s father wrote that give you a bit of back story on the world. S.A. Hunt manages to avoid massive info dumps like this, which is something I can appreciate.

It’s like a less rambling The Dark Tower with a supporting cast that you root for. Not all of the imagery was spectacular, but none of it was mediocre, and the descriptions contained in the climax of the novel served the book well. So now we’re getting to the point where I give the bottom line.

Who should read this book? If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, you’ll probably enjoy this book. They share enough in common without The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree feeling derivative. If you like portal fantasies you should definitely read this book, as it fulfills that type of narrative in spades. If you’re a fan of imaginative fantasy with a slight surreal tint, read this book. Hell, if you trust my judgment in books- Read. This. Book.

Who shouldn’t read this book? If you’re looking for a weird west or fantasy wild west, this probably won’t fit your need exactly.  Sure, it’s got elements of it, but it’s like putting a circle peg in an octagonal slot, it’ll fit inside, but it’s going to rattle around annoying without the proper edges. But you should probably still read this book. I mean, it is good.

Television Review Two-Fer: Lucifer and 11/22/63.

Part 1: NBC’s Lucifer

I’m not going to lie. I had reservations going in to this adaptation of Lucifer. My brother had purchased the entire Vertigo comics Mike Carey run when we had made a biweekly habit of hitting up our local comic shop and then hitting up the Thai restaurant nearby. For a spin-off of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman it was a great read. So when I heard it was being adapted into a police procedural I cringed. I withheld judgment, however, as I have enjoyed several police procedural shows before. “This could work,” I told myself. “It’s not outside the realm of possibilities.”

I was wrong. I made it through the first episode without developing any strong feelings one way or the other. Tom Ellis didn’t do a terrible job the first episode. It showed potential. There were plot threads that were hinted at. It was enough to get me to watch the second episode. This was a terrible mistake on my part.

By the end of the second episode I was done with the series. Tom Ellis’s portrayal of Lucifer started to feel more smarmy British used car salesman and less Fallen Angel. The interpersonal drama between Lucifer and the female police officer, Lucifer and his angel brother, Lucifer and his demon bartender assistant Mazikeen, it all just felt so…dull. This is the body of a great show being pulled by marionette’s strings in a lifeless dance.

Ellis either lacks the charisma to play Lucifer or the director stunted the performance. The rest of the cast just seems to be along for the ride. There’s no stand out in personality among any of the performances. The hinted at threads of subplots just don’t offer enough pull to continue on with the mummer’s show of a comic book adaptation. If you were on the fence with this one, you’re safe in passing it by.

 

Part 2: Hulu’s 11/22/63

So I’ve seen Stephen King’s 11/22/63 at my local bookstores on several occasions, and each time, despite being intrigued by the blurb and premise, I left it sitting on the store shelf rather than taking it home. The Hulu miniseries was a low cost point for me to enter into the narrative. It made me immediately regret my recalcitrance in purchasing the novel.

I’ve found James Franco to be somewhat hit or miss in his performances, but he is immediately likeable as Jake, the lead role for the series. The supporting cast all has immediate presence. The narrative and its various subplots are gripping. I watched the first two episodes back to back in one sitting. The end of the second episode left me eagerly awaiting episode three.

In some respect, I may be lucky that I haven’t read the book. I don’t know where the story is going and get to be eagerly surprised with each new turn. I do know for certain that I’m probably not going to be able to continue a week in between installments, and will probably be picking up King’s novel as soon as I finish the current novel I’m reading. Seriously, give this miniseries a shot.

Book Review: Glorious: A Novel of the American West by Jeff Guinn

When I was younger, my favorite Back to the Future movie was the third one. Some of my favorite memories with my father are weekends where there would be one of the many spaghetti westerns on television. High Plain DrifterThe Good The Bad & The UglyTwo Mules for Sister SaraSupport Your Local Gunfighter/Sheriff. I enjoyed watching them with him. When I was really young, I would sit and listen as my mom read The Little House on the Prairie and the following novels to my sister.  So it’s really kind of perplexing to me why I never fell into western novels as I got older.

Originally I was going to read something that was considered a western classic, Riders of the Purple Sage or something along those lines. And then I found Glorious sitting on the shelf. Having spent a decent portion of my life living a short drive away from Saint Louis, the fact that the novel started there and followed its main character Cash McLendon as he made mistakes in Saint Louis that drove him out to the frontier territory in Arizona made me decide to pick it up instead.  McLendon isn’t really a sympathetic character. Throughout the novel, he’s greedy, selfish, and ignorant. He’s probably one of the most realistic and fleshed out characters I’ve read in a novel. He easily could have been part of the cast of villains had the novel been written from Sheriff Joe Saint’s point of view in place of McLendon’s.

Spoilers follow:

McLendon, however, does become a better person by the end of the novel. Not by much, but just enough that you don’t hate him, even though he’s still naive for all his social skill. It’s this character growth that makes me at least interested in the followup novel, Buffalo Trail.

The plot is mostly about McLendon trying to escape the trouble he found in Saint Louis and his attempts to pick up from where he left off with a girl he had known and spurned. He doesn’t end up getting the girl in the end, and actually manages to find a proxy for the rich man in Saint Louis that he pissed off, and manages to equal piss off the rich owner who’s trying to push all the town founders out of Glorious so that he can become rich when the town booms because of a silver find. Most of the events throughout the novel seem to revolve around Cash alternately endearing himself to and pissing off different people. All of the actual action comes through in the final act.

In the last fifty some odd pages, it seems like there is no hope for our protagonist and his friends. Right up to the last few pages, in fact, things feel hopeless for them. Then Guinn sets off the loaded gun from the first act of the play. The god descends from the machine. Everyone is saved. Except for Cash McLendon. He has to flee again.

It’s not exactly what I was expecting from a western novel. There were no extended gun fights. The Apache threat in the novel is a product of the main antagonist’s plot. The protagonist doesn’t even know how to ride a horse or shoot a gun. He rides off into the sunset, technically, but not with the girl on his horse. It was an entertaining read, and the pages flew by. I just had different expectations from what the story told. Eventually, I’ll probably pick up Buffalo Trail. But I’m not eagerly awaiting its release later this year.

-Crouse

Book Review: Killing Floor by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #1)

So I’d been thinking about my book reviews recently, and how really they’re just meandering diatribes about my thoughts and feelings about the particular book that I happened to have finished reading. I thought briefly about changing that, and then remember I don’t necessarily want to be a professional book reviewer. I remember reading a book review of some book or another and think, man, this looks like a book report with some complex star rating algorithm attached. So yeah, I’ll keep doing it my way until someone complains. That being said, today you get to read-think my word-thoughts about a book that’s nearly two decades old- Killing Floor by Lee Child.

I remember seeing the Jack Reacher movie in theaters nearly 3 years ago, and to be honest it was a fun action romp. It’s part of the reason I grabbed Killing Floor on a recent outing to a local bookstore. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and I’m not sure you could really accuse this novel of being either of those. It’s outside of my normal milieu as it were, which was my other goal with picking up the book. On the plus side, I also know it’s fairly successful, so maybe I could learn something from it.

For those of you who need a brief rundown of the plot, Jack Reacher is an ex-military policeman who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and dragged into a murder investigation. The rest of the book is pretty much just how he: A) Gets himself out of being a suspect and B) Helps Deal with the murderers in question. You’d think that this franchise having been turned into an action movie that there would be a lot of fight scenes throughout. That’s not really so much the case with it though. Honestly there are three or four fight scenes over the course of the novel that take place. Not to much, but just enough to keep it from being talking heads throughout.

Lee Child does a great job with first person narration. If I ever want to point out an example of first person narration done well, this will definitely be one of my go-to’s. Another thing that he does well that I’m going to keep in mind with my own writing is that he kept raising questions.  Even when he answered an initially raised question, he would have the answer lead to more questions, and also, more actions, as Jack Reacher is attempting to figure out the answers to these questions just the same as the reader.

That being said, I’m not rushing off to grab the next in the long line of Jack Reacher novels. While I did enjoy the book, I just didn’t get super invested in Jack Reacher as a character. There’s no emotional investment in his success, especially after the way a subplot fell flat on its face in the last pages of the novel. I think the other problem was that it all got wrapped up too neatly at the end. So it didn’t really leave me wanting more. There’s another lesson there. A trite, hackneyed lesson.

I’ll probably grab another Jack Reacher novel eventually. Killing Floor was well written and worth the ride, but I’m not clamoring for more or anxiously anticipating new novels like I am with some of my favorite authors from Science Fiction & Fantasy.

-Crouse

Book Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

I guess I’ll start off this review by saying that I’m a filthy savage who still haven’t gotten on board with e-readers. Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy first popped up on my radar at the start of 2014. I fruitlessly attempted to track down a physical copy of the book for a few months. When I finally did manage to pick it up, I got about halfway through before I set it down again for other reads. I’ve finally finished the last half of the first novel in the Powder Mage trilogy.  Based off of this opening paragraph, you might think that I did not care for Promise of Blood.

That would be a huge mistake. First of all, I love the premise of the world. Two out of the four point of view characters are a refreshing change from all the prophesied farm boys saving the world and grumpy anti-heroes. Secondly, the brief hiatus during my read was mostly due to the pacing. McClellan alternates between bouts of tension building and action like an amusement park ride. McClellan just had the bad luck that I had stopped reading for a time on a chapter that was more rising and less action.

The action and the twists that take place in the book are fairly compelling. The two viewpoint characters that I was most invested in were Tamas, the leader of the coup that fells a monarchy, and Adamat, an investigator with an eidetic memory who Tamas contracts to solve something at the beginning of the novel.  By far, my favorite viewpoint character was Adamat. Adamat filled a sort of Columbo or Inspector Poirot type role in the novel, and it felt like his chapters did the most to move the plot towards its real action.

Tamas’s son Taniel is the third main viewpoint character, but unfortunately he felt the most like a generic fantasy type character in contrast with the creative world that McClellan has created for his characters. Despite being a veteran of conflict in a foreign conflict, Taniel Two-Shot, as he’s known, just didn’t do much to grab my attention, and it seems that most of his chapters were the ones that built up toward the climax of the novel. And then there was Nila. I kept waiting for something to culminate from her viewpoints, but mostly it feels like her story line and plot thread are just bridging into the future volumes.

So now for the paragraph that pretty much everyone skips to for any review ever, thus ensuring that the final opinion of a reviewer always appears at the end and never the beginning. Promise of Blood is a fine first entry in a trilogy. It provides a fresh premise, and the final action in the last few chapters kept me turning the pages until the very end. I had been on the fence about grabbing the next book in the series until I got to the final act, now, I’ll just be along for the ride.

-Crouse

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’ve decided to switch up from afflicting the web with my fiction for a change and write something that’s a little bit easier. An opinion piece. Since I’m assuming you read the title, we all know that this is a review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. I’m late to the party on this one. It’s the first book in the first trilogy set in his Broken Empire world.

Firstly, Lawrence’s work is a pleasure to read from the very first paragraph of the book. He had recently waxed philosophic about the nature of language, and I’m going to quote Lawrence  to explain what I think of his own words. “It’s poetry diluted to taste.”  As an author, he strings together phrases that have a lyrical quality to them but are muted down to avoid becoming overly flowery or rambling.

Lawrence has also managed to keep a fairly steady pacing with his opening salvo of the trilogy. There wasn’t a single point where I felt he was lingering too long on a particular scene or where I wished he would just get on with the plot. The only points where I ever felt my interest beginning to flag where the expository flashback chapters that pepper the book and offer the reader insight into exactly why the Jorg, the protagonist, is the way he is. The novel does an good job of switching back to the current action to avoid these flashes of exposition from bogging down the reader’s interest while still providing us with a coherent reason for Jorg’s actions from page 1.

The pacing and language throughout the book are wonderful, but despite having the next two books in the trilogy on my shelf waiting to be cracked open, I still decided to take a break from the world of the Broken Empire. Why is that? The characters. While the story moves at a steady trot from start to finish and the words are excellently chosen, I just never became emotionally invested with the characters.

Jorg is a standard anti-hero. He’s not nice about things and part of that is because of Reasons Outside of His Control. Unfortunately, any sympathy I would have had with him because of his tragic backstory is completely negated by his arrogant, and at times, petulant, attitude. Because of the first person perspective that is used as the form of delivery throughout the novel we never really get to know enough about the supporting characters to truly appreciate them either. The supporting cast deaths that do happen along the way lack any real impact because most of the characters just seem to act as set dressing surrounding Jorg.

Despite my inability to really care about the characters and the outcomes of their actions, the novel was still an enjoyable read, and I am interested to see how Lawrence fleshes out the promises of plot foreshadowed in the first volume; as well as how he continues to build the world which is definitely not an off the shelf variety for Fantasy. I would recommend this book to someone who is already a fan of the Fantasy genre and looking for something faster pased than most fantasy epics, but also offering a different world than we’ve come to expect from fantasy as well.