Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: King of Thorns

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like myself a good sociopath. They make things interesting in a world of heroes and anti-heroes if well written. I found a new favorite in Jorg of Ancrath when I read Prince of Thorns and wrote this review.

In the second book of The Broken Empire series, Jorg is now King of the Renar Highlands and he's all grown up. Now eighteen, he's preparing to marry his young bride Princess Miana with an army knocking at his door. The Prince of Arrow wants to roll right over him with numbers Jorg can't hope to compete against, but if there is one thing Jorg is king of besides thorns, it's the long shot.

If you thought the first book was good, this one is better. Jorg has matured. He no longer gets all stabby-stabby if you look at him wrong, and the ghosts he created now haunt him. One ghost in particular is of a little boy that has grown over the years that Jorg has seen him. Jorg doesn't know who he is, but a little copper box holds the secret and he's tempted to open it despite the threat that he might loose his sanity.

But even with the fantastic character development Lawrence has put Jorg through, he still remains the same clever smart ass with questionable morals. Makin, Rike, and Gorgoth are still around. As are the Watch and Coddin. The new character that makes a splash is Miana. Even though she's only twelve, she has a quick mind and is capable of the same ruthless thought process as her husband. As it turns out, she was raised by a card player, and she's not afraid to make sacrifices for maximum damage... I mean gain. (That manages to sound worse.)

Like Prince, Lawrence uses the same structure. There is the present time the novel is set in - Jorg's battle against Arrow - and the past set four years ago after the events of the first book. The flashback story line deals with Jorg trying to help out Gog because the poor leucrota boy keeps exploding into pillars of flame. Jorg knows that he's mostly doing it to save himself, but you know he's attached to the kid. It's one way Lawrence shows the reader that Jorg is growing up.

The flashback also introduces us to his mother's family, who isn't trying to kill him. In fact, he rather likes them and is relieved when he doesn't need to off them for self preservation purposes. The alliance he builds with his grandfather by marrying Miana helps him out against Arrow, and gives the reader more time with his uncle who describes himself as simply "good with horses."

Lawrence does get a bit more complicated this time around by splicing in the memories from the little copper box. They flow nicely, and don't confuse, but I won't go any further for fear of ruining the story behind it.

The little descriptions of the Brothers are spliced in too, punctuated with pages from Katherine's journal. Yes, Katherine is still around, and she's learning the ways of dreams.

Then there is the Builders. In my last review of the first book, I brought up the computer that Jorg and his Brothers believed was a fairy trapped in a box. Now Jorg knows a ghost - a data echo - of a man named Fexler Brews that he met under his grandfather's castle. Fexler is made from the memories and personality ticks of a real person a thousand years gone. He wears a white lab coat and is a bit of a grouch. He bestows Jorg with a gift of Builder tech that relies on the satellites that still orbit Earth, giving Jorg an advantage over Arrow's forces.

Sure, it isn't all easy reading. The dog scene is a bit difficult to get through. I admit, it's hard reading scenes of animal cruelty as I learned when I read Chuck Wendig's Bait Dog, but it is a formative moment in Jorg's young life from before he hung in the thorns. And if you didn't think you could hate his father more, think again.

I could really go on and on about these books. They really were what medieval based fantasy needed. This genre bender is, in truth, its own thing. It can't be squeezed into the little boxes of science fiction, epic fantasy, or post-apocalyptic. If I had to define it, I'd say it's more like Game of Thrones had hot, satisfying one night stand with Fallout 3. But even then it doesn't seem right.

Just do Lawrence a favor and read his books because he is a good writer. A very good writer.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Micro Reviews #1

I know I haven't posted anything in a while, but I've been busy. Really busy. Part of that time I've spent running headlong through books without taking a breath. I got through reading binges occasionally.  Most of the time it's material that I probably wouldn't take the time to review, but since this is a book blog (half the time), I will throw down quick thoughts. Lets see if I can keep this a paragraph or two for each book.

Now, to books I will be reviewing. Starting at the bottom.

 So, shall we begin?

LEGEND by David Gemmell
5 out of 5 stars

This is the book responsible for why most heroic fantasy writers started writing. I can certainly think of more than a few who credit this man with filling their heads with visions of sword wielding heroes and epic adventures. But not the rainbow and puppy dogs kind of heroes and epic adventures.

Gemmell's debut novel deals with an old hero, Druss, who knows that the battle of Dros Delnoch will be his last hurrah, but he goes anyway. Even then, he gives it his all. There is a sad but heartwarming effect to this novel despite its themes of death and destruction. While on a technical level it isn't the best, the content more than makes up for it. Gemmell introduces the hero to take Druss' place and a slew of side characters that are more than their own people. There is a life to this book that I loved, and will now recommend it to anyone.

And to think I bought this UK copy in a California book store for a couple of bucks.

4 out of 5 stars

Verity Price wants to be a professional ballroom dancer, but the one thing getting in the way is the family business. Raised in a family of eccentric cryptozoologists, Verity spends her nights helping the things that go bump in the night, not hurting them. When a rep for the extremist Covenant of St. George rolls into town, call him Dominic, she has to find him before he finds what is rumored to be the last living dragon sleeping under New York city.

I have a soft spot for monster hunter urban fantasy, but I get sick of the unending stream of tough women that lead the way. Thankfully this book is more concerned with being funny and kind of sweet. Verity may know how to hide weapons on her body, but she loves her weird family and loves what she does even though it conflicts with her dance career. I liked her because she was spunky without me feeling like I would get stabbed if I spoke to her.

Oh, and Aeslin mice. That alone is worth the price.

ROSEMARY AND RUE by Seanan McGuire
3 out of 5 stars

Meet the first book of the series that pretty much made McGuire's career. After living as fish for fourteen years, Toby Daye has given up being a private investigator and dealing with world her mother is from. Toby is a changeling, a being who is half human and half fae. Her daughter will no longer speak to her, so she spends her days just trying to pay the rent and feed her cats. Then her close fae frenemy Evening is murdered and she is thrown back into fairyland intrigue.

If you like fae lore, these books are for you. They are well researched and well written. Two things that deserve thumbs up in my book. The reason why I gave it three out of five is that Toby is a bit mopey for my taste. I don't like characters who like to throw themselves pity parties even though they have friends who miss them and love them. She shapes up, but it takes a while.

4 out of 5 stars

Verity is back, and now she has to stop the extra Covenant agents that have come looking for her maybe boyfriend Dominic before they purge the cryptid population. (That may be a bit of a spoiler, but if you haven't noticed by now, I'm prone to those.)

This time around the book is still humorous, but has a bittersweet under tone that breaks up the humor. While the first one had its serious moments, this follow up deals with themes a bit more profound like what it means to try to act human for those that aren't. This series has more comedy than the Toby Daye books, and gets off the ground faster, but McGuire's quality is still there.

SOULLESS by Gail Carriger
3 out of 5 stars

Alexia Tarabotti is soulless, literally. Her lack of soul cancels out the supernatural in werewolves and vampires, making them human as long as she's touching them. That is the secret she keeps behind the image of a head strong spinster with a brain.

This series is really well loved. I can see why, but at the same time am not wholly enamored. You see, like Boneshaker, there seems to be a lot of style that overpowers the substance. There were chapters where her and her love interest would argue a lot and then make out, leaving me wondering when they were going to look into the disappearances of the rogue vampires and loner wereworlves. The book isn't long, and is wildly entertaining because of the characters, but I'm not going to waving it in people's faces telling them they absolutely must read it. I'll read the next one when I need to replenish my bookshelf.

SANDMAN SLIM by Richard Kadrey
4 out of 5 stars

James Stark was dragged to Hell, alive, by some creepy things his so-called friends summoned up. Now he's back after getting his ass kicked around the pits by all manner of twisted souls.

All I can say is: yes please, may I have another.

When the urban fantasy list is filled with chicks with weapons falling in love with bad boy angel/werewolf/angel/monster-thing, this book is fresh kick in the gut. Yeah, it's pulpy, but entertaining as Hell. (Well, maybe not.) While he is just another hard-ass antihero wreaking havoc, he does enjoy the simple things like clean socks and is doesn't know what a cell phone is. Sure, it drags in the middle a bit when he remembers his dead girlfriend, but if anything that should make women want to at least take a look at it. I'm going to definitely read the next one.

So there you have it. A messy throw down of the books I went through one after another. I'll probably do this again once I have another stack of books that I don't want to spend time writing full reviews on because these are a lot of work.