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Thursday, June 6, 2013

MINI-REVIEWS: The Leveling by Dan Mayland & Generation V by M. L. Brennan

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colonel's Mistake

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Leveling by Dan Mayland is the 2nd book of the Mark Sava series and the sequel to The Colonel’s Mistake that was released last year. The story is set nearly an year after the events of the first book. Mark is back in Azerbaijan trying to do a favor and teach a colleague’s son about the subjects that he will have to take a test for. He however doesn’t plan on assassins coming to kill him and while that plot goes awry. He soon finds himself termed persona non-grata in his adopted country and has to find out why and who are behind these recent turn of events.

This book is distinctly different from its predecessor, while the first one was more of a spy thriller that focused on locales that have almost never been touched upon. This one works a bit differently. It also features John Decker who had a tiny role in the first book however is in quite a tough spot due to certain events that occur. There’s also Daria but her role is much different from the last book as well. The readers also get a further bit of light shined upon Mark’s past and there are quite some revelations. The story is more of a thriller and has twin story threads that often run in tandem and keep the reader hooked into discovering as to how they are tied together.

Like the last book, the main mystery thread is well handled and keeps the readers engaged till the very end. In fact I would say with this book has a better mystery thread than the first one. It involves a whole lot of stuff that creeps up in headlines as well as the usual geopolitical alliances that are very hard to discern. I very much enjoyed how the author explores the central Asian region that is the basis of the new Great Game, I don’t think there’s quite any new books that are focusing on this vital conflict and that adds to the unique-ish USP of this series. There's also the action sequences which are a bit restrained than the last one however are no less intense as the author brngs to the fore the various torture techniques that come to the fore with regards to spies that are caught. The author doesn't really take sides in the torture debate but simply shows how viscerally disturbing it can be.

Another thing about this book is that it serves as a standalone while the past events are referred to, the readers who are new to this series will not feel left out. The standalone nature of the story is a good thing as it becomes easy for newer readers to jump in and for older readers its not difficult to pick up from wherein the story ended last. The time gap is about eight-ten months between both the books and the author provides enough clues about what has occurred since then for the current relations between characters to be so. With this book, I believe the author is marking out an ending of sorts to the various character arcs and hopefully the next book will showcase newer aspects of the characters's lives and even newer locales.

While The Leveling is a good book, there’s one factor that really didn’t gel with the overall goodness of the book. In the previous book, there was quite a bit of tension between Sava and Daria and that kept the narrative pretty interesting. In this book however due to the certain events orchestrated by the author, that tension isn’t entirely present and thus makes the book the lesser of the two in the series so far. The ending however brings and end to aan important phase in Mark Sava's life and heralds the beginning of a slightly new direction in the series which will only makes the wait for the next book that much more beguiling.

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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Generation V is a new urban fantasy debut from Ace-Roc books and was a debut that Anne Sowards had said out to watch for. The series cleverly plays on its title and features Fortitude Scott as its primary protagonist. I was intrigued enough to request a review copy and so dug in as soon as I got one. I enjoyed this book a lot for a couple of reasons first the author has given a very reasonable explanation in regards to the existence and propagation of the vampire race. Plus the addition of Japanese mythology was a cool touch and further refreshed this tale for me.

The story begins with Fortitude who has a degree in cinematic theory that is obsolete in the current market and so he works a crappy job in a coffee shop, while also having trouble with his roommate, who is refusing his rent share. He's not a slacker but lives a life, which doesn't offer him much motivation. He's had difficulties with his family because of an incident involving his elder sister Prudence and his foster parents. Fortitude also is a vampire in the making and doesn’t quite share the enthusiasm for turning into something other than human. His elder siblings Prudence and Chivalry however are at times perturbed by his behavior but react to it in completely different ways. Then there’s their mother Madeline Scott who’s the matriarch and the head vampire of the clan and the surrounding states. The trouble begins when a European vampire comes visiting and certain aspects of his life rankle Fortitude enough to potentially disobey his mother’s commands. He also acquires the help of Suzume, a kitsune who chaperones Fortitude in a way and thus begins Fort’s odyssey to reclaim his heritage.

This book while seeming full of tropes offers its own spins while delivering a very good story. Primarily what I liked about this story is the small but unique touches that the author put on the story. Beginning with the vampire mythos, the author smartly inserts a horror edge to the proceedings and makes the entire mythos a different one from what is prevalent in the urban fantasy subgenre. I thoroughly enjoyed this move and then moving onto the characterization, which is aced beginning with our protagonist, but truly comes to the fore with the secondary characters such as Suzume, Madeline Scott, Chivalry and others. I very much enjoyed the extended secondary cast and I look forward to see how the author develops them. There are also a lot of secrets that are hinted about almost all the characters and therefore I’m very excited to read the sequel to see what all is revealed.

One thing that I must point out about the book is that while Fortitude is an intriguing protagonist, during the middle chunk of the book, he becomes nigh unbearable with his attitude. For some time I felt as if he was refusing to grow up and accept what he truly was or will be and that really struck me as a bit odd. However once things began to change, I enjoyed how he accepted his destiny and how quickly the story moved along since then. Lastly the ending really brings the story full circle in terms of the plot as well as the chapter of Fortitude’s evolution. It also reveals quite a bit about what might have happened and possibly might in the future.

All in all this quite a good debut and makes very eager to get my hands on Iron Night the second book in the American Vampire series as I can’t wait to read more of Suzume, Fortitude and the rest of the characters.


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