Skysworn by Will Wight

I apologize for my delay in getting, well, anything up. At work I’m alone in a unit of what should be four people. It’s been exhausting to say the least. Enough of that though. Here we have another review on the Cradle series by Will Wight. This will be a continuation on my journey with book 4 Skysworn. I have to say before I get started each book is better than the last. I’m behind on writing so I have actually also got through book 5, so that still stands.

Will Wight’s magic system and character depth grows with each passing book. In book one I was pretty eh on Lindon, but the kid continues to develop into an impressive character. Yerin also goes through the mental ringer as well. Of course, the big event in this book we have been waiting on is Lindon vs. Jai Long. This does not disappoint. Interesting enough an even bigger issue that turns this story sideways is Jai Daishou, Patriarch of the Jai Clan. He seemingly is losing his mind wanting revenge against Eithan for defeating him, ok and Eithan did temporarily kill him. I mean sometimes you got to let things go Daishou!

Let’s get to the book which is called Skysworn. The military elite of the Blackflame Empire. Apparently, they do not like anyone using the actual power of Blackflame though, oops. I mean it is based on fire and destruction, what’s the problem? Sooo Lindon is imprisoned, but that doesn’t stop Eithan from breaking into every jail cell Lindon is locked in so he can keep training him. Its comically amusing to see him casually get into prisons, stay, and aggravate the Skysworn to make certain Lindon is ready to fight Jai Long. I really thought that battle was going to be the icing on the cake. The finale of the book. However, it comes faster than expected. While it is a great battle sequence and use of sacred arts by Lindon; the stakes get wilder and more dangerous at the end of their duel. In case you haven’t gotten into it this book fully the results will be left hidden here. I’m happy it went the way it did for character development reasons. That said Lindon was impressive.

As the battle ends Jai Daishou is off his rocker and tries to kill Eithan but ends up awakening a Dread God instead. Can’t be too bad right? Jai Daishou uses an artifact that could kill everyone at the site, but luckily for them Jai Chen puts an end to it. A favorite side character of mine that I’m not sure we will see ever again after this book, but way to go girl. Unfortunately, the followers of this Dread God, Redmoon Hall, are inspired to invade the Blackflame Empire. They just wholesale slaughter anyone in their path. They are pretty freaky people, definitely don’t invite to dinner parties. Their invasion is swiftly moving across the land and an Underlord of Redmoon Hall arrives to where our protagonists are working on a plan of escape. This Underlord and his army use blood madra. They can use spilled blood to create bloodspawn to fight for them. Imagine your own wounds not just being a detriment to you, but then your blood is used to attack you. That is damn horrifying. No thanks, I’m out of there.

They eventually escape battered and beaten. I mean if they didn’t the series would end. After they get safely to the flying fortress Stormrock (cool name) Eithan is sent on a mission to get help from the Akura family Monarch. The Akura are essentially the real power in the area that protects places like the Blackflame Empire from even bigger threats. The emperor is more of an overseer of the Blackflame territory because they could replace him in an instant if they so wished. That leaves Yerin and Lindon with Orthos on their own for now. What do these crazy kids and a dragon turtle do?….well the title of the book, they join the Skysworn. The Skysworn don’t trust them so unsurprisingly they are put into a special group with another character that is quite intriguing, Mercy of the Akura. She is caste out from her family to survive on her own, I guess? Honestly, she seems quite clumsy and very much the opposite of Yerin. I enjoy her character so far for very different reasons. They get sent out which causes Yerin’s Blood Shadow to gain strength. I mean she has a Blood Shadow; we have Bloodmoon Hall attacking? What could go wrong? Well, alot apparently. The Skysworn even try to toss Yerin away, pun intended! Chaos ensues, but luckily the Akura Monarch comes help one of the territories under her family’s domain. This was not guaranteed and will not be in the future. So much going on and it seems multiple Dread Gods are starting to stir on this world. That sounds a tiny bit ominous.

All in all a riveting read. Honestly because of the expected ending being in the middle, this book felt like the longest in a good way. A lot happened here that was fascinating in terms of learning more about the magic system, battling, political landscape, but also character growth all around. We get to learn more about the mysterious Eithan and his connection to Ozriel an ancestor of his. I don’t talk much about the the Abidan and what is happening there because its just so far above this one world with its own mechanizations I’m kinda just letting that story unfold, focusing more on our main group of world bound characters.

Will Wight seems to write better with more experience he gets under his belt. It is a steady thing I have noticed with each read. I’m looking forward to this steadily curving upward. Again, though Will Wight’s strength is his devotion and evolution of his magic system; it’s impressive. As Lindon levels up we learn more about the intricacies of madra, sacred arts and aura that surrounds everything. I mean honestly, living in this world sounds awesome and terrifying all at once. Besides our characters working hard to become better sacred artists, I’m never quite sure what craziness they will get into next. If I wrote this before book 5 I would never have even guessed what happens in that book. Wight’s world seems to have endless wonders and things to discover. I mean the Blackflame Empire is a second-rate territory that we are still in. Who knows what else Lindon and the gang will get up to in the future? So, stay tuned as I report my thoughts until I catch up to book 10.

See Previous Blackflame Post


5 Sci-Fi Series I Want to Read

One of my goals for 2021 was to actively seek out science fiction stories as part of my reading goal. Recently, I’ve read some incredible sci-fi stories – Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Dune by Frank Herbert and A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. If you haven’t read these stories, I highly recommend giving these books a read! This got me thinking about some of the other amazing Sci-Fi series I keep hearing about and what should move to the top of my TBR. Without further ado…. let’s find out what sci-fi stories I’m interested in reading!

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey

The Expanse has been on my radar for a long time now! I remember hearing about this series back when my wife and I started watching the Game of Thrones TV series back in 2017. This was well before I picked up reading again. We were searching for a new TV Show to watch and started watching a few episodes of The Expanse before stopping. I decided I would rather read the series before getting invested in the show. Flash forward 4 years…. I still haven’t started reading The Expanse. Why? At the time I only wanted to start series that were finished and back in 2017 the books weren’t complete. This won’t be my excuse anymore with the 9th and final book Leviathan Falls coming out November 30th. The Expanse will be the next big series I will be tackling after I finish The Wheel of Time!

The Divide series by J. S. Dewes

The first thing that made me interested in this series was the title and cover. There is something so exciting about the title The Last Watch. “They’re Humanity’s Last Chance” To me this already has epic written all over it. J. S. Dewes is a very active author on Instagram. She made a video a while back of what her inspiration for The Last Watch was. Mass Effect was a huge inspiration for the series. I personally haven’t played the Mass Effect games but this definitely makes me curious enough to want to pick up a copy and try it. The Last Watch came out early this summer and shortly after that the sequel The Exiled Fleet came out. I’m excited I won’t have to wait to read the sequel! It was also announced that the third book in the Divide is coming in 2023!

The Foundation Trilogy by Issac Asimov

Let’s take a step back into time to 1942 when Foundation was published. After enjoying Dune, I found out that Dune was inspired by Foundation. I don’t really know what to expect with this story. Issac Asimov has been on my list for a long time. A lot of people are familiar with I, Robot whether they saw the movie featuring Will Smith or read the short story. The biggest reason I have him on the list is I want to see how he inspired the sci-fi genre and what some of his futuristic ideas were. Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation make up the main trilogy. There are two prequel novels – Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation – as well as two sequels, Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. There is a lot of content to read outside the original trilogy!

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game has been on my list since High School. I was looking for sci-fi series similar to Star Wars so I picked this up because it was a popular sci-fi book. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t read this story after buying it. This is probably one of my biggest reading mistakes. In college I picked up the movie because it had Harrison Ford in it and I knew I had interest in the series… If you haven’t watched the movie do yourself a favor and read this book first. The twist at the end of the movie entirely ruins wanting to read the story. It’s quite an interesting surprise that I wish I read first. I’m not really sure if the movie was a success in the box office but I actually enjoyed. Now I’m more curious how close of an adaption the movie is to the book. There are 18 books in the Ender’s Game series and 5 in the Ender Series which is the series that Ender’s Game takes place.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

I recently was doing some digging into podcasts that tell stories and stumbled across this title. Welcome to Night Vale is a popular podcast that airs a new story twice a month. You can find this series on a multiple platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Youtube. This series has quite a lot of content! At the moment of writing this there are 195 episodes, 3 stand-alone Novels, Live Shows and music! The Episodes of the show have also been compiled into four collections for people to read. I also discovered they are going to be doing a Live Show next year in a city really close to me! If I manage to read and listen to all of the content maybe you will find me there!

I’m really excited about these five science fiction series. I’m curious what sci-fi series you are interested! Have you read or listened to any of these titles? Do any of ours align? Let me know in the comments below! Happy Reading!


Constellation: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week I took a long, loving look at Constellation, by Robert Scanlon.

In this sci-fi action thriller, we follow India “Indy” Jackson, a sassy space pirate who I simply could not not picture as Merida from Brave, only in spaaaaaace. And shit, what the fuck’s wrong with that? Nothing, that’s what. Anyway, we follow her from planet to planet as she attempts to unfold the mystery behind and avenge the death of her father, rescue her brother, put up with her unbearably saucy ex-boyfriend and basically survive in a galaxy that, as I believe young people said back in 2010 or so, be cray. And it’s great!

My immediate thought on opening this book was uggghhh, not first person present tense – but that’s a me problem. It’s fine. Once I got used to it, I found it worked nicely.

The twists and turns and revelations just keep coming. I won’t go into them too far but very little is what it seems and the simple space pirate life of space heists and space deals (and spacetoast, I had a genuine LOL at that) soon turns into a struggle on an interstellar scale as whole civilisations square up and struggle for supremacy. And in the meantime the Blood Empire, headed by the very satisfyingly space elven (dare I say, sci-fae? I do. I do dare. Did I just make up a new sub-genre? A quick google assures me I did not. But fuck it, it’s great) warlord Oberon, is looming on the space horizon.

I really enjoyed the way human and alien cultures and characteristics interwove. The aliens were nicely alien, the humans were nicely human, and the comparative alienness of both was really cleverly handled in the story and dialogue. I would not want to be an alien forced to deal with humans. I was a little puzzled (okay, more than a little) by the idea that if you save a Rykkan’s life, they need to serve you essentially forever or else kill themselves. Aktip saves Indy’s life at least twice before they even get started, and it doesn’t cancel her debt until she damn near dies saving her life for the third or fourth time. Still, it all serves the story and I’ll allow it.

The stakes are always clear and the action and scene-changes are well-outlined. We know what Indy wants, what the Scorpion wants, what Aktip wants, what Sloper wants. I do want to brag a little about figuring out the real deal between Sloper and Indy’s father, at least in the broad strokes, from Sloper’s first appearance … but suffice to say, things are more complicated than we are led to believe and it’s a lot of fun getting from start to finish.

The Constellation itself is great, by no means a McGuffin – and I would even say a character in its own right. I dig that stuff. And like I said, Oberon and the Blood Empire represent a cool and mysterious big bad alluded to just enough to not seem extraneous in this first book, but posing a legitimate and persistent threat. The politics, espionage and corporate / cultural clashes are nicely balanced with character work.

I really did hope Indy and Plexi would end up as a couple, they really seemed to have cute chemistry on the page and you don’t see that very often. But oh well.

Sex-o-meter

This is another story where there wasn’t much sex because sex wasn’t the point. The Rykkan mercenaries have a strong gang-rape and sex trafficking subculture going on but (thankfully) we don’t see much of it. Indy is sexy and confident and manages to get herself into a skin-tight black leather outfit and sci-fi high heels (dare I say, sci-heels? Did I just create another subgenre? I’m not googling it) at least once, but it’s all in service of the plot and didn’t strike me as lascivious (for better or worse). Also since I was picturing her as Merida, her Scottish accent was hot. According to the sex-o-meter this books gets a Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen out of a possible Montero by Lil Nas X.

Gore-o-meter

Not a lot of gore in this sci-fi adventure. Some alien dismemberment and some shooting, but most of the violence was ship-to-ship with a little bit of mobster beating and torture and deprivation of liberty thrown in. But the Blood Empire is coming! Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one.

WTF-o-meter

This book delivers a lot of quality WTF for your buck. Quite aside from the Blood Empire and the considerable mysteries of Indy’s father and his creations, there’s the entire Rykkan species and their ability to basically read minds but then also apparently be completely vulnerable to an extremely compelling life-debt tradition that I’m frankly stunned more humans haven’t taken advantage of. In this story alone it is a major motivation for both Aktip and the Chief. I initially wondered if there was some kind of elaborate alien joke happening, or if there was more to it like maybe the Rykkan mercenaries were being ‘hired’ by use of this system, and there may still be more here to examine in later books, but … yeah, for something that Indy didn’t even know about at the start of the story, it sure does seem like a huge part of Rykkan culture and you’d think it would be more widely known. Furthermore, their lie-detector abilities are conveniently worked-around at some point and you’d think that would also have been a priority for shitty humans to learn about. Anyway, there was plenty of good WTF in here. I’ll give Constellation a Montero by Lil Nas X out of a possible Kiss Me More by Doja Cat.

My Final Verdict

Four stars for a very cool launch into new series! The SPSFC is doing terrible things to my to-read and to-buy pile, as I read the first books of so many great stories I want to see more of. This one is no exception, and well worth a look.


FIVE STARS IN AUDIOBOOK NARRATION…

Hello Bookish Folks!

Well, it is official…I LOVE AUDIOBOOKS!

I think I now own over 50 audiobooks and even more on my Wish List! Now that might not be many to some, and I started this post a while ago so it has definitely increased. Point being, your girl hear loves audiobooks.

I HATED audiobooks at first, I couldn’t stand them at all but I persisted mainly due to the awesome David pushing me and guiding me through how to find ones I liked and tips of introducing myself to them.

Then I found maybe three narrators that didn’t make me want to pull my hair out and stuck with them, which really limited me to what I could listen to but the thing is with audiobooks once you have listened to a few then more narrators become enjoyable to you! It is 100% a transition, or at least it was for me.

Don’t get me wrong some narrators can butcher an amazing book, in my opinion, but there are also so many supremely talented voice actors. Now, I cant guarantee you will love the same people I do but here are five narrators that tick all the boxes for me as a listener.

ADAM GOLD

Adam Gold is an American voice actor, who despite only having performed one book I have read, has earned a spot in my top five narrators. Its helps that Voice of War and Stones of Light by Zack Argyle are absolutely fan-freaking-tastic reads but still Gold truly performs in his narrations of these books. Gold has a very distinctive voice, and despite this he still managed to make all the characters different and I still feel at any point like I couldn’t tell who was in the scene.

I definitely feel that Gold’s experience as an actor brings even more talent to his narrations. He embodies every character, it doesn’t come across a just a change of accent but an in depth understanding of every character, and for me that was reflected in this audiobook!

He has also narrated book two of the Threadlight series so definitely watch out for that release!

DAVID MORLEY HALE

Maybe I am biased here as a fellow Lancastrian, but Hale is a freaking phenomenal narrator. His voice has such a depth and is perfect for fantasy narration in my opinion.

His narration in Priest of Bones is pretty damned perfect, it is gravely and real and while I adore the books and own them I will likely never read them because he is who I need to read those books to me!

Hale possesses such a sense of emotion in his narrations, the rhythm and cadence of his voice made me appreciate every world the talented Peter McLean had written.

PRENTICE ONAYEMI

Prentice Onayemi was introduced to me when Twitter went crazy over Evan Winter’s epic debut, The Rage of Dragons, and I picked up the audiobook. Onayemi’s performance is outstanding, put simply, and it is no surprise considering the number of books he has under his belt.

There are several books I want to listen to that aren’t even in the Fantasy genre, he has so many books to his name. All of which I hope to listen to at some point.

JOE JAMESON

I must confess, I didn’t actually like Joe Jameson at first. Worry not though, I found the error in my ways and found a fantastic narrator with SO MANY amazing fantasy book under his belt! And I am talking about a LOT of books.

I had tried Jameson previously and found his narration not to my liking at first, it wasn’t until his narration of The Kingdom of Liars that I truly fell in love. I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t stop listening, then having had a full book of his voice I looked into his other performances and I was shocked at the sheer number of books he has narration. I then went on to listen to Snakewood and fell even deeper into his voice.

His voice is so distinctive, and again despite the number of books I have now listened to of his I don’t get mixed up or feel like it reminds me of another book. His voice is one which captures the characters, and I found he truly captures the essence of the character in his performances, be them arrogant, ignorant or young he delivers on all fronts.

COLIN MACE

Last but not least, Mr Colin Mace.

With a background in theatre, film and TV Mace brings a whole lot of skill to the table.

After listening to only the sample to Blackwing I was sold by Mace’s performance. I wanted more immediately. I then went in a search to fid more of Mace and again found another narrator with so many audiobooks to his name, and even better so many of those were on my TBR.

Performing the darker and grimmer books can sometimes trip up narrators, in my opinion, however this is not an issue for Mace. He manages to reflect the sombre nature of the world and life of the character but not to a point it is tiring listening to them. He has a voice that makes you feel like you are sat around a fire listening to him tell you a story of his life.


Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


My next SPSFC read was Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking, by Michael Lachman.

Adam is a normal teen, who likes *checks notes* failing to talk to attractive member of opposite sex, getting bullied by jock, and debating merits and continuity of extended book and movie intellectual properties big in early 21st Century popular culture with friends. But don’t worry, that window-dressing is just the set-up. Indeed, considering the ghoulish (literally) showdown in the prologue, you know some shit’s about to go down and you didn’t pick up a novelisation of Dawson’s Creek by mistake. Although you may have picked up a novelisation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t know what Dawson’s Creek is about. Don’t overthink it, it was a throw-away joke.

Anyway, from this intriguing prologue and endearingly geeky opening, the reader is thrown headlong into Teenagers Survive In World Full Of Adults Making Bad Choices, and it’s really rather fun. Forget Buffy (I mean actually don’t, Buffy is awesome, but just for now as an intellectual exercise), this story has enough elements of Hellboy and Men In Black to be highly engrossing, while at the same time retaining its originality.

C.H.E.S.S. – the Cryptid Handling and Extranormal Secret Service – is funny and the only note I would offer on the “someone really wanted our acronym to spell S.H.I.E.L.D.” cumbersomeness of it would be basically the only note I would offer for the whole story in general – Lachman should have leaned into it more. Yes, there were Blackcoats (enforcement) and Whitecoats (research), and that was a lovely little chess reference. But make the different roles within C.H.E.S.S. reflect the pieces on the board. Make the leaders of each department Kings and Queens. Make a “take rook’ here with you / he’s really more of a pawn” joke. Go on. Live a little.

Okay, maybe that only would have tickled me and Lachman made the right call by not overblowing it. I’m not here to tell you dad jokes are a substitute for a good story. Or am I?

No, what we got here was a good story, and a good setup for a promising series. We even circle back around to the school and have some solid fish out of water / 21 Jump Street style antics, which we love to see. For a while I was theorising that Holly was older than she looked, but the story kept me guessing and I was ultimately satisfied with the reveal.

Speaking of things I was attempting to predict, this story’s setting is rich with potential and I was only mildly disappointed by how it was realised in this specific book. The cryonics lab? I actually made a note here: “If those old agents don’t get thawed out sometime to do old school shit, it’s gonna be a huge waste.” I won’t spoil anything but there’s still (I think) potential there, to say nothing of the labs and the catacombs. It’s all very neat. And it’s a series, so of course you don’t want to use up all of the cool set-ups in book one.

Some of it was a little illogical but it hangs together. Frankly if you’re trying to hide a valuable super-serum and you can’t inject it into yourself because that’s too obvious, then the lone solitary other person in your life at that time is also too obvious and – yeah, that could have been plotted a bit better? On the other hand, there are still things we don’t know about this origin story. It’s all fine.

Sex-o-meter

It’s a teenage high school setting with an undercurrent of paranormal secret agents (only science instead of spooky). So there’s a certain amount of hormones and awkwardness, but no sex. I’ll award it a warm, dry handshake with eye contact out of a possible just the word ‘moist’.

Gore-o-meter

Blackcoats has a nice little showcase of violence but nothing very harrowing. A lot of its grosser moments are conceptual rather than visual. Nature is awful, and I appreciate this more science-oriented look at a lot of classic fantasy and horror staples. Nevertheless, two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one.

WTF-o-meter

Like I was saying, there could have been more embracing of the things that distinguished this story from others in the sub-genre (the worms were amazing, never let anyone tell you they weren’t). I understand the desire to play it safe, but a vampire and werewolf odd couple buddy cop trope really needs to play up its differences. Personally I loved the bat-hybrid concept, and hope there will be more development of the echolocation and other things in later stories. Hollow bones for lightness was a nice idea but it felt like it was ignored when convenient. Adam should have been fast yet fragile, and perhaps his knowledge of pop culture and things could have been used as a strength, leaving martial arts and brute force to Holly to create a perfect symbiosis. Albino bat boy and gothy wolf girl could also have been played a lot more visually and to greater effect, and an aversion to sunlight being dealt with using sunscreen is just – nah, that’s a lot of work. And vampire bats don’t burn in sunlight so why would that be a thing? In any case, these aren’t so much WTFs as missed opportunities to be WTFs, y’know? I’ll give Blackcoats a templar knights’ tentacle monster dungeon in Hobo With A Shotgun out of a possible elven royal court in an alley in Hellboy: The Golden Army.

My Final Verdict

I’ll give Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking a good solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, for the very cool protagonist and villain concepts, the cute ending and lead-in to the series, and the enjoyable misfit-kids nerd-talk. Only thing standing in the way of more stars is … I don’t know, just something indefinable about how all those things could have been amplified more, and tied together better. Still, thanks for a good story!


THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD | THE WITCHWOOD CROWN & EMPIRE OF GRASS (Spoiler Free)

New York Times-bestselling Tad Williams’ ground-breaking epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! • Volume One of The Last King of Osten Ard

The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was published in hardcover in October, 1988, launching the series that was to become one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. Many of today’s top-selling fantasy authors, from Patrick Rothfuss to George R. R. Martin to Christopher Paolini credit Tad with being the inspiration for their own series.

Now, twenty-four years after the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad returns to his beloved universe and characters with The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the long-awaited sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.

Thirty years have passed since the events of the earlier novels, and the world has reached a critical turning point once again. The realm is threatened by divisive forces, even as old allies are lost, and others are lured down darker paths. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the Norns—the long-vanquished elvish foe—are stirring once again, preparing to reclaim the mortal-ruled lands that once were theirs….

Review

Many of you will have read MST some time ago so this is really more of ‘why you should read’ post, more than it is a straight review. I felt that i would cover some of the questions that think you may have and try and inspire you to pick up this series after such a lengthy break.

Should you return to this Osten Ard after all this time ?

Absolutely yes !!! Many of you may be apprehensive about the follow up to such a hugely successful series such as this, but this instalment delivers and will likely exceed you’re expectations !! I can tell you that i was totally overwhelmed when i began these books and i was so drunk on being back in this world and re-joining the cast of beloved characters, that i just couldn’t put these books down. As you would expect from Tad Williams, the prose was as sharp and as flawless as MST, the world building was even more immersive and the characterization was just phenomenal. Every aspect of this book felt polished and sharper and I can definitely say that this Duology does not suffer with middle book syndrome at all. What i really like about reading the middle books essentially is that the world is obviously very much established and means that you can just absorb the parts of this world that were formerly unseen and just makes you appreciate the scope of the world that Williams has created. I was hugely captivated by new cast of characters and I was totally engaged from the moment that i picked it up The Witchwood Crown. Williams is so consistent in every aspect of his story telling and the pacing for a Duology of this size is amazing.

The Cast new and old…..

Williams characterization always has a huge impact on me as its always to the point of being as close to perfect as you’re gonna get! I love the meticulous attention to detail with the development of the characters and the way he describes them, they’re always so stylized and totally vivid in there description that they really burst into life within your imagination. The character development of the original cast is portrayed incredibly well and the progression of their characters felt natural and provoked a feeling nostalgia in that it was almost just like seeing old friends again. But as they didn’t over shadow the new characters it really put the focus on the new cast and it was really balanced. The multiple character POVs served as well as they did in MST and provided intimate insights into these complex characters and by the end of the duology, the new characters were as engaging as the original cast. The new cast members that we’re introduced to are Morgan, Nezaru, Jarnulf, Tanahaya, Tzoja, Viyeki and Unver and we spend most of our time with these characters. I felt that each of their POVs had hugely emotive themes which really helped me to connect with them and the tone changed when we shifted from one to the other. This was something that i felt really kept me engaged and something that i feel is so important with books of this size. At no point did feel that the pace drag at all and as always the intrigue surrounding these characters was hugely captivating. I’d say my favourite characters were Unver and Nezaru. The majority of the characters development was a slow burn, each having a cliff hanger towards the EOG. But I liked the above characters more as I felt that there PoVs definitely had the most impact, especially Unver, with one of his scenes being amongst my favourite scenes of any novel that I’ve ever read. I definitely gravitate towards the darker more tortured characters.Some people might find some very common character tropes in these novels, but I found all the characters to be quite nuanced in so many ways.

How does the History/Lore of this world progress in this Duology?

The Lore and the history of this world is as spellbinding as its always been and over the course of these books it unfolds perfectly. I’m more engaged in this series now more than ever and this is mainly because we find out so much more about the garden born and their origin story. After reading MST i was so eager for the expansion on the history and the lore of this world and these books delivered and it was so worth the wait. But in general terms all of the different races of Osten Ard bloom in this part of the story, especially the Norns, the Thrithings men and the Nabbanai. This duology clearly defines the cultural identities of all the of the races within Osten Ard with much more depth. This is very much the build up to the concluding part of the series and the wealth of history and Lore that comes with it. The deeper dive into the Nabbanai culture really brought a new level of political intrigue which really made the the Italian, Roman catholic, almost Machiavellian influences on the politics abundantly clear. In MST we did nt spend that much time with the Thrithings clans, but in this Trilogy we see a much broader picture of their Nomadic culture and with it and there place within this worlds history and their major role in the story going forward. So as you can imagine by far the biggest focus is with the Norns and by the end of this duology you’re fully immersed in there complex culture, which really ushers in a much darker atmosphere to these books. Their culture is the polar opposite to the Sithi culture and so we see a very brutal, dark and unforgiving nature to their world, that is completely structured in a way that serves there queen Uttuk’ku. They really represent a large portion of the magic users of this world and really turn these books into a high magic fantasy compared to its MST. It does have that traditional feel to the magic system as it did before and the mystery surrounding it really suits the series so well. Towards the end of the book we’re guided towards the history of the Tinukeda’ya which grows in importance the further we go into the series. You will have known them from MST as the Niskies and the Dwarrows. In this duology you understand that they too have a huge part in what’s to come in the final conclusion of this story. So despite finishing everything that has been released thus far, there is still so much more to know about this world. I can’t wait to find out more in The Navigators Children, which will be realeased in 2022.

Its a huge Duology. Is there a big pay off ?

Heading towards the ending I didn’t expect that it was going to be as impactful as it was given that these are the middle books of a huge series and it’s not something I expected. I can tell you that the intrigue leading up to the dramatic conclusion was earth shattering. The pacing and the general execution a series of this size really has meant that in no way was it a slog to read. The way that Williams has sets up the final leg of this series is perfect. It leaves you with the impression that what’s to come is going to be magnificent! I just think that after all this time and given that Tad Williams is better than he’s ever been, I cannot even imagine how amazing The Navigators Children will be !! I’m more than confident that we will get an equally satisfying ending as we did with Green Angel Tower, perhaps better… Much better, which totally melts my mind.

My final thoughts….

This was quoted as being one of the seminal works of modern Epic Fantasy and in my opinion this installment is another glowing example of why Tad Williams is one of the most respected Epic fantasy writers working today. I was so excited to return to Osten Ard after becoming obsessed with Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and i cannot emphasize how satisfied i was with The Last King of Osten Ard. I think fans that have read MST will not regret returning Osten Ard and will be as excited as I am for what’s to come. Everything that has come before has convinced me that this series when completed will be revered as one of the definitive works of epic fantasy ever to hit the shelves. It is totally captivating and I consider it to be a stand out series that towers over most epic fantasy from that era . Tad Williams is without doubt amongst my favourite authors within the fantasy genre and has managed to improve on something that I all ready considered to be near perfect.



A Star Named Vega: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up on the SPSFC list was A Star Named Vega, by Benjamin J Roberts.

What a fun story! It somehow managed to take a pair of teenage protagonists, and an interstellar-scale bit of worldbuilding and future history on a par with the prehistory of Dune, and make it work in an entertaining and very readable way.

Now, when I talk the big talk comparing the Vegaverse to Dune, I know that’s going to raise some eyebrows. Dune is one of the Sacred Texts, how dare I?

Well, fuck it. Come at me, nerds.

Besides, what I’m mostly talking about here is the Dune prequels, which I really quite liked and an awful lot of purist fusspots didn’t – specifically the Butlerian Jihad phase and the AI overlordship of the old human diaspora. Also, look, Dune is amazing but I don’t hold it in such reverence that I can’t say so when another book deserves to stand on the same shelf as it and not get beaten up by the Culture books and have its wallet stolen by the Foundation series.

Where the main Dune series is gothic and the Dune prequel series is Tim Burton gothic, however, A Star Named Vega is as colourful as a Paul Verhoeven adaptation of a Heinlein story. You know the one I mean. From that Alice in Wonderland meets Maleficent cover to the joyous post-scarcity utopian opening – that’s a lot of spiders! – to the slow but creepingly inevitable revelation of the big, dark questions underpinning paradise to the explosive ending, this book delivers. It’s fast and bright and full of cool science-fiction shit, and it’s just plain fucking entertaining.

Also it has a character named Brännström who likes semlor. So we have a little Swedish nod to go along with the Finnish nod I enjoyed in Shepherds. It made this little Australian exile in the Nordics very happy.

Compared to the easy interactions between the main protagonists, the ‘villains’ of the story seem a little stilted and one-dimensional – but that seems to be by design, as we learn more about the tragic history and the complex webs of propaganda and ignorance surrounding everybody. And while there was a certain amount of needless drama-add by the admittedly thirteen-year-old protagonist and her failure to divulge certain information … ehh, we’ll let it slide. It was earned, and it all turned out nicely. Or did it? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The old philosophical dilemma of hardship vs. freedom; to remain primitive and in constant danger or to live safe as cattle; the idea that anyone who trades liberty for safety deserves neither … these are always timely questions for a global civilisation wading through the dark ages of social media and information technology and emergent ‘benevolent AI’ style advancement. While too much care and safety can be stifling – and in that, the glorious little seeds of chaos and the overall concept of the Arpex itself are very effective in dispelling such stasis – there is a lot to be said about well-meaning guidance and a nurturing, overruling vision. I don’t know, all I know is that humans are a savage species and something needs to domesticate us. We’re not going to domesticate ourselves.

Roberts does a good job walking the line between storytelling and soapbox-yelling, between drawing parallels to today’s news cycle and perpetual commercially-driven wars and making it all too much of an allegory. All the threads escalate and tie together, each character gets an arc of sorts, and you wind up caring about them all. Great job, and I want to read more stories from the Thirteen Suns.

Sex-o-meter

The main characters were kids, and not particularly horny kids. The story didn’t lose anything for not having sex in it, because everyone had slightly more important things to be getting on with at the time. I’ll give A Star Named Vega a dreidel out of a possible horga’hn.

Gore-o-meter

There was some fighting, some outright brutality, and one dude totally got cut just about in half by a femtoblade. Which frankly is what we like to see when Chekhov’s Femtoblade is introduced in the first act. Overall though, there’s not a huge amount of gore – just a suitable amount. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

I really enjoyed the slow reveal of the AI seeds and the interstellar civilisation they had created and now watched over and enabled. It wasn’t so much WTF as a dawning realisation that there was some shit going on. Lots of fun to watch it all unfold. Oh, there were some references to human digital transcription and posthumanism that made me think there could be more to talk about … but there are always other stories. At least I certainly hope there will be!

My Final Verdict

A well-earned four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale for A Star Named Vega. I really enjoyed this and I want to see more stories from the Thirteen Suns as soon as possible. Thanks for an entertaining and enjoyable read!


Outpost by W. Michael Gear

Today I bring you some Science Fiction; Outpost by W. Michael Gear is book 1 of the Donovan Trilogy. I have some mixed feelings as I read/listened to it and as I write this. I’m glad I don’t rate books because this one would be tough. Let’s just jump into A rundown of the synopsis. In the future humans live in a corporate run solar system, but this book takes place on a colonized far-off alien world named Donovan. Unfortunately, after around 23 years after humans set foot here, starships have been vanishing after going there. This left colonists alone to create their own society where our main protagonist Talina Perez is one of the leaders. Seven years after the first ship vanished A corporate vessel has finally made it there again; only to find a colony that is supposed to have their rigid rules and regulations along with the corporate supervisor all gone. This vessel is led by corporate Supervisor Kalico Aguila, a up and comer in the corporate world. The ship also has a Captain of the Marines Max Taggert. There’s another major player too, but we will get there. I will however quote the final paragraph of the synopsis that hooked me into giving this one a try along with the cool cover you see above.

“Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez’s very blood.”

So, here I go to do my best in dissecting how I feel about this book. What Gear does brilliantly is create a new alien planet with its own unique biome. This planet is very predatory. Humans are not at the top of this world even being there for around thirty years already. They still have much to learn even by the end of this book. Gear makes this planet feel alien and unique. We also get a great sense of how the main earth solar system operates as well even though we never go there. It’s kind of like a corporate run resource-based economy, but people do earn credits. Though people have no understanding of property ownership outside of Donovan now. No poverty or hunger, but a corporation decides on work contracts and how resources are dispersed. World/universe building is top notch.

Long range space travel is also quite fascinating. In Gear’s universe long range vessels must rely on artificial intelligence to invert space. The issue is that no one knows where the vessel actually goes when this happens and there’s a 20% chance the ship may never be heard from again. The fact this dropped to 100% chance going to Donovan for 7 years until Kalico’s ship arrives is of great concern. It was assumed the ships would be at Donovan taken over by a hostile colony force, but alas that is not the case. Those ships are just missing. The colonists welcome Kalico and Max with no violence.

There are two big mysteries that are the most interesting throughout and unfortunately didn’t give me enough in this book. There’s an alien creature on the planet that seems animal like but displays higher cognitive functions. It also seems to be able to bond with humans in a way and they decide what humans they kill or leave alone; mysterious. We also have a ship that was only missing for 6 months show up with a crew that died long ago of old age and created a death cult on board. These mysteries are why I stuck through this story until the end but left unsatisfied. I need more investigation into these mysteries if you wish to sink the hooks into me, so I pick up book 2 right away. I may someday, but not anytime soon.

The characters have interesting and strong personalities. I think Kalico and Talina were the best from start to finish. Max has quite the journey that felt pretty straightforward but made sense. Now my least favorite character PoV is Dan Wirth. This guy is a textbook archetype psychopath. He is a boring character who talks crudely of women. He’s a misogynist looking to manipulate people to become powerful on this new frontier. Dan is also not good at even hiding this for long stretches of time. He will tell you how great he is, but it is not shown. He exposes himself quite easily. Dan brings frustration to the story, but nothing interesting. What he does bring is a lot of obnoxious language and crude thoughts. He works hard to makes manipulative plans others can see through, but that no one tries hard to stop. Couldn’t stand his PoVs. There are other characters in the series that are interesting which does help deal with having Dan round, but he gets far too much page time.

This brings me to another huge distraction in the book. Grown adults on a hostile planet trying to kill them and a ghost ship above the planet, but there’s constant reminder of how sexual attractive other characters are to them. Men and women alike need to take some cold showers in this book. I don’t need a constant reminder of sexually desirable characteristics all the time. I don’t have an issue with sex and hormones in books, but it sometimes felt like it was written from the perspective of a horny high schooler. Show sexual interest through flirtation and actions instead of constant thoughts of sexual appeal of others. Gear does this at other times as well; tells instead of shows. His prose is way above average for a science fiction book, just not always used to enhance the readers experience. I do want to give a shout out to the Audible narrator, Alyssa Bresnahan . She was brilliant.

Overall, the world building, science, and mysteries are captivating. Seeing humans work hard to survive on the frontier of space travel is always interesting. The story just gets bogged down with less interesting nonsense and PoV. I just want to know more about this planet Donovan and what is happening when ships invert space in this system. What we have is a quintessential mixed bag of a story in my opinion.