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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

SPFBO: Nolander by Becca Mills, The Moonlight War by S.K.S. Perry, & The Dungeoneers by Jeffrey Russell (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Nolander is an interesting book with an even more interesting title. It seems to play of the word “land” in a similar fashion as Waylander by David Gemmell. The main story is about Beth Ryder, a young woman living in a small town called Dorf in Wisconsin (possibly).

She’s never been able to hold on to any job due to her panic disorder. She wins a camera in a local contest and while taking pictures of her town, discovers that there’s something off about them. She often finds weird folks appearing in her pictures when no one was there in reality. Mightily confused, and bereft of familial ties (her only blood relation is her brother  but whose wife hates Beth and limits her contact with her nieces). Trying to decipher the cause of these weird photographic occurrences and the people in them leads her to find out about the shadow world and its denizens who cross over.

From there onward, the story goes deeper and deeper in to the paranormal and we discover more about Beth’s past, her family and other town characters. The story begins on a slow pace and does take its own time to reveal all, but once all the cards are on the table. There’s some big revelations handed down in this story and also there’s some big hints about the future. Also this book doesn’t shy away from some dark stuff, to begin with our protagonist is shown to be suffering from panic disorder and while it isn’t classically described. Beth shows enough signs and symptoms for the readers to be sympathetic towards her fight for normality. Also there are couple of other characters who are shown to straddle the boundaries of morality with their acts.

Overall this story is a slow build, the author steadily unveils the story, the characters and the world within. For many readers this might be a turn off, but I thought it was an interesting way to showcase the story and especially present the story from a person who’s suffering from a mental health issue. This was a big plus from the author and given how well she presents Beth. I enjoyed this urban fantasy focusing on two different worlds and how certain characters tried their best to fit in. There were a few negatives to go along with the plus points namely the pace of the story stays sedate throughout and that can take a toll on many a reader. Secondly there’s a lot of things that are left unexplained which can hamper the reading experience. But given that it’s the first novel in a series, this factor is to be expected to some degree.

I thought this was an interesting storyline with a protagonist who is very sympathetic. The execution of the story and sedate pace however detract a bit and thus impaired my enjoyment to the fullest extent.


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Moonlight War by S. K. S. Perry caught my eye with its blurb and intrigued me enough with its easy prose and characterization. The blurb describes a quest being undertaken by a group of slightly infamous individuals and the people of two separate nations. The blurb doesn’t give us more details other than it is a sword and sorcery novel and might feature quintessential fantasy tropes. Basically it's a heroic quest fantasy in the vein of David Gemmell but less refined than what the big man would have written.

The story begins with several different POV characters being introduced. First we get to met Tasha O’Brienne, an Omai master swordsman and an outcast who has earned the sobriquet of Hasa-Ni-Do due to an event in his past. There’s Roclyn MacNaramara  who moonlights as a highway robber self-titled "The Dark Gent" as the love of his life ruined his life and name. Princess Setanna, niece to the Kel-tii king, and who thirsts for affection & attention from her uncle but is deprived of it for reasons she has no clue about. There’s Conner of Lanford, an old master-at-arms  just two months away from retirement and who’s forced to undergo a journey at his lord’s bequest, shepherding his lord's son Brenn Shaunsie along the way. Lady Malaki is a seer who happens to be on the same mission for needs beyond her own. Lastly there’s the Ashai group and their lord Myobi who is as mysterious as they come and has an agenda which no one knows about. There are a few other characters (Kieran Brannigan, Mikhy) who seem minor at the start but come into their own as the story progresses and are sure to have major roles in the sequels.  

The story focusses on a nameless land which has two people come together, the Kel-tii and the Ashai who are facsimiles for the Irish & Japanese people. They have been previously been at war but now have an uneasy truce and have come together for the prosperity of both. The story begins when an expedition is planned for Kildonan with travel along the Cowcheanne Way to discover what happened to the three missing caravans and the fighting platoon who have disappeared around there. They will however to overcome mutual distrust and find out what exactly happened to the previous expeditions while also trying to stay alive.

The story while seemingly a sword and sorcery quest novel is a bit more than that. Think of it as a cross between Raymond Fiest and David Gemmell, epic fantasy plot meets heroic fantasy characters. The author makes each character distinct with separate background stories before eventually kickstarting the main plot. Also the plot takes a while to get going for the aforementioned reason of the author setting up each character. However from then  the story pretty much goes into an action overdrive as our protagonists meet with various challenges during the journey. Some are created by the mutual distrust between both cultures, others are created by whatever or whoever has been haunting the Cowcheanne Way.

The main plus point of this book is the characterization, the author really goes out of his way to give us a big character cast and makes them three-dimensional folks. The plot line also hints at quite a few epic things that might have occurred in the past and might lead to bigger things in the future.  While some might accuse the author of utilizing this book as set-up for the sequels and eventual saga. They would be partially correct in that thought, but it's not entirely so. I thought the author tried his best to find a suitable balance between the action and story setup. Lastly the action and plot pace are directly proportional to each other, as soon as the action begins, the pace picks up and then the readers will be racing to its explosive climax. The action sequences quite reminded me of the claustrophobic scenes in Aliens if they were occurring above the ground.

Lastly a major drawback of the book is that author very conveniently tries to make different characters couple up romantically, while one or two would be understandable, but when it occurred more than three times, it just felt incredulous. However for some readers, it might be easy to go with the flow. For me it all seemed rather too convenient happenings than occurring organically.  Another drawback was that there's not much of world-building showcased and for those readers wondering about the Kel-tii & Ashai people/cultures, will have to wait for the sequels to learn more about the dual cultures as well as the reason of their animosity. The world-building definitely takes a backseat to the characterization and action and that detracts quite a bit from the story.

Think of this book as the Drenai series meets Predator if written by Raymond Fiest. For me I very much enjoyed the read in spite of the drawbacks that were present. I will certainly look forward to the sequel whenever it gets published to find out what happens next to the surviving character cast.
  

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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Dungeoneers by Jeffery Russell is a story that I was instantly attracted to on its blurb and the overall image it was projecting. Here was a comedic fantasy book that wanted to take aim at the genre and perhaps shake a finger or two at most of its overused tropes while keeping the reader thoroughly entertained. This was one of the first books I read simply based on the blurb details.

The main plot begins with our protagonist hero Durham, a guard who has almost no future and is currently content with his role in the city. On being given a chance to accompany a group of dwarves on a fortuitous expedition, he jumps at it. The Dwarves however view him with a much different viewpoint. The main plot then hilariously unspools as the band slowly tries to integrate Durham into their ways, while viewing him with distaste and as a bad portent. Durham however fails to see things from that perspective and does his best to be considered part of the Dungeoneers.

The main plot which follows is a mixture of intentional comedy, genre spoofs and just plain hijinks. The story is a wild mix of Pratchett-esque comedy and some plain-old D&D fantasy, while for most readers this will be a fun combination. I didn’t quite enjoy the story as it was meant to be. One of my key distractions was the writing and characterization, which seems a tad amateurish. None of the characters including the protagonist stand out and that can be a drag with any book. What I mean by that is that them seem too caricaturish without having any real persona to them. This made almost interchangeable in my mind and it was hard to connect with them. Also with the plot which is a simple quest littered with insanity, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh along every time as some of the events just seemed repetetive.

Overall I very much wanted to like and enjoy this title but perhaps this book needs a further rewrite and some strong editing. I’m sure there will be readers who must have enjoyed this book tremendously and that is good. However for me, this book just didn’t click and was one of the few that I finished but didn’t care for much of its plot happenings and characters.

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