söndag 30 september 2012

Scourge of the Betrayer

Jeff Salyards with his Scourge of the Betrayer has been touted as a future star in the gritty fantasy genre, even mentioned as an heir to Glen Cook. I'm beginning to feel a bit trite with whoever's making these comparisons, but I guess the joke's on me since I keep falling for it.
I'm not saying Scourge of the Betrayer is a bad book, and I'm not saying Jeff Salyards is a bad writer, but to me the style and story feel pretty far off from Glen Cook and his work. Apart from having a narrator and a first person narrative but I'm sure there are others out there like it.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it irritates me some because I expect high paced, direct and brutal fantasy and get a well-planned story-telling approach to the whole ordeal. It's not really a negative side but I'll warn people to take the Glen Cook with a healthy dose of salt.
This is Jeff Salyards debut novel in the fantasy field though, and a fine one it is. The worldbuilding hasn't picked up full steam yet, but you get bits and pieces to show you forward and there's plenty of groundwork made for book two.

Salyards' story is a traditional build-up with the main character, Arkamondos, a wide-eyed youngster bored with his life as a quiet scribe who signs on with a troop of Syldoon mercenaries to see the world and get out of his mundane life. As the mercenaries' mission slowly unfolds Arki, as he is called, gradually feels more and more out of his depth. In a way it feels like a classic farm-boy story, the difference being I can't see Arkamondos finding a magic sword to whisk him out of trouble.

Most of my previous patrons could hardly stop their mouths - they regaled me with mundane minutia and inane stories, most of which involved the glories of mercantile conquest. Hardly riveting, but it was why they hired me. Pollus the apothecary, old wheezy Winnozin the priest, Nullo the foul-mouthed (and foul-smelling) tanner, Lektin the pinched-faced banker. Dull and duller, the whole lot. Even the Lady Anzella, who inherited her husband's shipping business after the plague took him, and managed not only to keep it afloat, but to make it thrive... beyond the novelty that she was a woman entrepreneur and a scuccesful one at that, she was just as mannish in her ability to bore a person to tears.

Captain Braylar Killcoin is an intriguing character slowly unfolded before Arki, and the reader, and we slowly learn more about his legendary Bloodsounder and it's impact on his life. It's a great concept, and a good read that's slightly reminiscent of Elric and his Stormbringer. The Syldoon that he command are a great lot of elite warriors being used as mercenaries in the neighbouring kingdoms, and their relations and dialogue within the group makes for a great read. The Syldoon are a feared people hired for their ruthlessness and effectiveness in battle but as the story goes on it's more and more apparent that the Syldoon have an agenda of their own, dragging young Arkamondos into the middle of mysterious plots and counter-plots leaving him scrabbling for firm ground.
The characters aren't really developed that much since this, the first novel, only stretches for a brief period of time. Salyards shares the trait of many of his contemporary writers in his, if not eagerness, then at least willingness to kill off many of the more central characters without much apparent sentimentality.

Being touted as the re-inventer and new poster-boy for the gritty realistic string of fantasy and being compared to great writers like Glen Cook, Richard K. Morgan and Joe Abercrombie lends to understandably high expectations. I'm not sure Jeff Salyards is quite there yet, he's not quite the finished product and he is still working on the world-building and development of his characters. He's got a fair bit left before I think he'd motivate comparisons to the above mentioned as his general style feels more like traditional fantasy. The combat-scenes are gritty and realistic but I think Salyards story suffers a bit from using young Arkamondos as the focal point. He's not a strong enough character to shape the writing, and his convictions colour too much of the story, at least to me, if he is to be compared to the likes of Abercrombie, Cook and Morgan whose writing is defined by a prominent touch of moral ambiguity, which in itself leads to a darker and bleaker world.

That's not entirely Jeff Salyards' fault though, it's not him drawing comparisons to great writers, but his writing is quite capable of standing on it's own though and it's a fine debut indeed. I just think he comes off lacking when you compare him to writers as direct and focused as the above. He is doing very well in setting up events for book two in the Bloodsounder Arc, and with the world-building on it's way as well I think he can continue to build on this in the way Daniel Abraham has with his Dragon's Path. It will be interesting to see where Salyards will take the still innocent and wide-eyed Arkamondos as the pace picks up and more pressure is applied to the Syldoon.


REMINDS ME OF: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham in what feels like a more traditional fantasy set up with a lot of groundwork being made in the world-building and setting of style and mannerisms of characters and settings. Some strong points in the action sequences but a need to show more to justify a higher RMS. It's still a good read.

fredag 28 september 2012

Steven Erikson, my personal hero

I'm a couple of hundred pages into Forge of Darkness now, and I have to say it's definitely restored my faith in personal hero and inspiration extraordinaire Steven Erikson. What he can do with his characters, his worldbuilding and his turn of phrase I have yet to come across from any other author. China Miéville is very close.
After a bit of a letdown towards the end of his Malazan Book of the Fallen I can say he has fully restored my opinion of him as the foremost now living author in the genre. It's intriguing and demanding at the same time, never just a comfortable read but, I would say, almost entirely always a more than satisfying experience.

I can see why some consider his writing a 'heavy' read, but I don't think you would get as fulfilling a ride if it wasn't for great vistas, philosophical interior/exterior debates and believable characters.

I am not psyched about nearing the end of this, the first of his Kharkanas trilogy. Hope he can keep up with his usual high-pace writing!

fredag 21 september 2012

Friday musings at the office

Seeing as A Memory of Light, the final installment in Robert Jordan's epic tale of the T'averen, is to be released january 8 in 2013 do you think it'd be worthwhile to pick up the old tomes again?
I had an idea that I would collect the entire series in hard cover way back when. That was fresh out of authors like David Eddings (Belgariad, Malloreon and Sparhawk), Tad Williams (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, which I incidentally never finished) and some Star Wars extended universe.

Can't say I've ever found that the Wheel of Time holds a candle to Tolkien but I found the beginning books quite interesting but seeing as to what I'm reading now, will it feel like a step back?
I might have to put it on my list of series to finish. Makes it easier knowing that the entire collection will soon be complete.

As an aside, can't describe how good it feels to immerse yourself in Erikson again. Forge of Darkness, it's begun. Awesome.

onsdag 19 september 2012

Orb, Sceptre, Throne

I will try again with a review for this, the fourteenth novel of the Malazan series (including Night of Knives but excluding Erikson's novellas and the newly released Forge of Darkness), written by the ever over-shadowed Ian Cameron Esslemont. I say over-shadowed because as part of the dynamic duo putting out novels, novellas and stories in the Malazan world Esslemont will always be second best behind longtime friend and perennial speculative fiction powerhouse Steven Erikson. Esslemont is a fair few books into his own Malazan stories, this being his fourth with a further two contracted.
Together with Steven Erikson he has created the world and the legends of the Malazan world while roleplaying during off-hours in their daily work as archeologists. It's a work that winds back and forth between the two authors and their respective stories and timelines, something that might feel a bit daunting taking on if you haven't tried either of the two out yet.

Esslemont is a writer who has grown with the task for every previous novel, and it is true in parts for this book as well. He takes up the torch following Erikson's massively climactic Toll the Hounds, Erikson's eighth book, and the events leading up to its close. The book sets up in the familiar city of Darujhistan and its surroundings picking up on the loose threads of a storyline from the very first of Erikson's books, the mythic return of a great tyrant from the city's past.

He set the tips of his fingers on the two-handed grip of his longsword and walked out to the middle of the amphitheatre sands. Over the years he had lost count of the many Thirds who had come and gone beneath him. The ranks of the Agatii, the top thousand were like a geyser in this manner - ever throwing up new challengers. And this one was an impatient example of a notoriously impatient ranking.
We see a host of old acquaintances as Esslemont gives his account of Kruppe the Magnificent, as well as the surviving Bridgeburners and hangers on; Picker, Blend, Spindle, Duiker and Fisher. Further in the Darujhistan crowd we see Torvald and Rallick Nom, Lady Envy among others. And finally, after much foreshadowing and building up, we see a more in depth characterization of the supremely skilled Seguleh and their history. It's an action-packed book that doesn't quite reach the level of Stonewielder which I would consider Esslemont's finest hour so far but it does well in removing - or closing if you will - some of the loose threads that have been left hanging by Erikson and Esslemont both.

A side-story sees Antsy travel to the crashed and sunken Moon's Spawn where he comes across several new introductions as well as some old ones thrown in for good measure. The two storylines are interlined with Antsy being confronted by Seguleh, Tiste Andii and notorious mages and necromancers which end in the climactic end to the Seguleh vs Moranth conflict. In a way.

As is the case with most of the Malazan books the first third/half of the book deals with a lot of stage-setting and plot-building which, at times, gets a bit tedious. Esslemont does have a more direct style than Erikson though, even as he can draw on the great sweeps of canvas that they've both prepared for these latter parts in the series. The concept of the Tyrant was a great one, with an awesome ominous feel to it, even if the Council chapters and the inevitable ending seemed a bit anti-climactic. You felt a bit cheated with this whole trying to tie together every loose end when you've seen some, at times, great character building that kind of fizz out due to what feels like Esslemont ran out of words. It is very likely that this puts the Darujhistan-storyline to a rest, and focus will now turn towards the mythical continent of Jacuruku with the Crimson Guard and the rifts therein.

I wouldn't say it's the finest work of the novels and novellas in the Malaz world but it's apparent that Esslemont has kicked on and upped his standard a fair bit since the first novel, Night of Knives. Malazan fans won't be let down; with thunderous battles between the Moranth and the Seguleh, legends from the Seguleh as well as great build-up on the Tyrant and his concept. Brief cameos from everyone's favorite necromancers in the Moon's Spawn was a nice touch as well. But in general the book suffers a great deal from it's rushed ending sequences. I can't really motivate a re-read value, I will most likely do it myself but that's because I'm entirely sold already on the Malazan way of life. Others though, I'll excuse you if you go through the catalogue at least once.


REMINDS ME OF: Acacia by David Anthony Durham. I would say David Anthony Durham has a lot more in common with Ian Cameron Esslemont than he has with Steven Erikson, and their works share a lot of similarities in that they have a decent enough ground to build upon but then, at least in my opinon, they rush through everything towards the end which lends an unfinished air to the whole. It's still good reading though.

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan because in a way they share, to an extent, the same direct writing style. Esslemont has the benefit of a fully developed world beforehand but Morgan is the more technically gifted writer, and slightly darker in tone.

tisdag 18 september 2012

Getting my read on..

Just a short update to say I forgot to mention I also got K. J. Parker's Sharps in the latest batch. A novel that comes highly recommended and widely critically acclaimed. I'm intrigued by what I've learned so far, will be a good read definitely. Once I get there I suppose, which might take some time what with the current reading list and workload.

I've also started up on the Orb, Sceptre, Throne review once again and am a fair bit into the author presentation so far. Hope to get it up again soon as I feel I'm dropping behind now that Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards has been finished for some time along with the Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas which I just finished the other night.

Good read, the Adamantine Palace. Stephen Deas has done a great job of combining likeable characters with utterly loathsome ones in a court intrigue that by chance is leading up to a great grasp for power.

måndag 10 september 2012

New acquisitions, G&S and Stephen Deas

I picked up my most recent purchases yesterday. No thundering rains or hurricane-like winds this time around which was a nice change, and as usual I can't wait to get into the lot of them! Sadly, it means my pile is growing at a faster pace than which I can read.
I've been toying with the idea of not visiting as many review blogs and what not for a while, so I won't be seduced into going after more books! I'm also way behind in my reviewing. I need to finish up a new version of the Orb, Sceptre, Throne review that I/blogspot managed to erase as well as get going with the Scourge of the Betrayer notes that I haven't really looked through.

A friend got me started on the Geek and Sundry youtube cast, and while I've only gotten through the first episode; The Story Board, Episode 1: Urban Fantasy, Threat or Menace? I'm positively surprised. Good to see some insightful discussion on plot and settings from working writers and a couple of good shout outs/recommendations. Check them out if you haven't.

I'm now about 130-something pages into The Adamantine Palace and Sollos and Kemir is growing on me. They're a pair reminiscent of many of Steven Erikson's dynamic duos with witty dialogue and good stagesetting.  I'm expecting a lot from Deas now, feel his style is somewhat reminiscent of Erikson's as a whole as well, much more so than other touted heirs Durham and Kearney. You're pretty much thrust into the setting and plot without much background, and I think (as long as you're not overwhelmed) it's something that works for him.

torsdag 6 september 2012

Good days are coming

On september 3rd Richard Morgan released a new excerpt from his upcoming novel the Dark Defiles, the last of his trilogy A Land Fit For Heroes. I still haven't managed to read through it yet, we're moving our office for a couple of months so I've had a couple of busy days.

But there's no reason you shouldn't have a look see. You can find it on Morgan's own blog, here, it's the entry called Visitation Rites.

I'm also expecting a new shipment, fingers crossed for tomorrow, in the next few days. I've got the Forge of Darkness, Sharps, King's Blood, Shadow and Betrayal, Seasons of War and finally a new graphic novel. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Awesome stuff. And the pile grows again.

måndag 3 september 2012

No reads today.

Adamantine Palace
It's been ages since I last had a read, work as well as tons of other obligations have kept me busy lately. I'm a few pages into Stephen Deas' The Adamantine Palace, and it's been a good read so far.

What I did notice today on Twitter though, was the mention that there's a free read from Gollancz for Joe Abercrombie's greatly anticipated Red Country. Find the extract here, I'm reading it almost as I'm writing this!