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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Mini Reviews: His Own Good Sword, Black Scars and The Skeleton King (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

It’s that time again when I’m a bit behind on my TBR pile and since I am unable to fully review all the books, which I read. Hence I’m taking a page from Liviu's book reviews and will be doing three ‘mini-reviews’. The common factor uniting these three titles is that all of them are Indie/small press titles and showcase different genres of the fantasy spectrum.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I received a review request for this book from the author and was instantly hooked on to it by its blurb. Focusing the story in an alternate Roman empire-like world wherein the Vareno people have conquered the Cesino tribes and built a massive empire. Their occupation hasn’t been a smooth one and the outlands have always been troublesome a la Scotland for the Roman Empire. In this exciting setup the story promptly opens up with Tyren Risto, a Vareno noble who has to explain to his family as to why he has gotten his posting orders in the Cesino Outlands. His explanation aside, his family doesn’t quite understand his actions on behalf of a slave and is quite unhappy with the situation.

Tyren however is intent upon doing right by his country and his military orders. Setting out on his journey to the outlands, his family drops a Cesino slave on him and the slave’s behavior is a bit strange and gives Tyren doubts about his intentions. Tyren on reaching the outpost discovers that there’s much more to doing than just holding it. He has to contend with his difficult subjects, the indifference of his men and also the worry of doing the right thing by everyone. 

Amanda McCrina’s debut shows quite some flair to her writing style, her prose while far from being economical is a bit reminiscent of K.J. Parker in its inquisitive style. The story begins slowly however there are many secrets and observations packed along the way for the reader to grasp and if they do, they will be rewarded in the latter half of the story. The pace is on the slower side in the first half of the book however it does pick up quite nicely during the second half to give the readers a good climax. The best part of the story is the characterization from Tyren to its other characters; the author gives us a well-rounded view into their thought process and viewpoints. This helps in understanding the conflict quite precisely and also gives us an insightful look into the main character. 

The only drawbacks for me in this story were the spartan world-building and its pace, the world building is something which leaves a lot to be deserved as the author while focusing on the characters and the plot keeps the world building to a tad minimum, and this perhaps is the big factor going against the story. The pacing while on the slower side does pick up and only might be a niggling factor if the readers expect action from the first few pages. 

His Own Good Sword is a quiet debut but it’s a significant one, Amanda McCrina is an author with a lot of potential and with her understated but smooth writing style marks herself out as a writer to look out for. Book one of the Cymeria series is a good historical fantasy and I’m eagerly waiting to see where the author takes the story next in The Sword Unsheathed.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After reading Blood Skies, Steven Montano’s debut, I was very much intrigued by his post-apocalyptic, horror tinged, thriller style. The first book titled the same as the series was definitely something that I enjoyed and so I was very much looking forward to Black Scars and the continuation of Eric Cross's story. The story begins is its usual confusing fashion where a myriad series of events occur and seem to have no connection with each other. The story opens with a creature escaping from its prison not knowing entirely where it is and what it’s supposed to do. 

We find Eric Cross along with a new team trying to fit in after the events of the past and still trying to gel with his new magical spirit. Eric is a young veteran who has faced horrors beyond the human imagination in the preceding title, he also has become the first mage to lose his spirit but also gain a new one as well. These events however cannot prepare the reader for the mayhem that is yet to come and the author does his absolute best to outdo the first book in the gore factor as well as the plot twists. 

The book’s biggest strength is the author’s prose, it is stylistic like John Connolly when it comes to descriptions of the world and its inhabitants, however while John does it in a bit of a restrained manner, Steven Montano goes out blazing on all his cylinders. His prose and descriptions paint a bleak and brutal picture but its beauty is no less stark. The pace and plot twists are ratcheted up further if that was even possible. The author’s imagination has to be lauded for the world he has created as well as the horrors that inhabit it. This is his trademark, his vivid imagination and to use it to fuel his high-octane stories that mix more genres than possible as well give the readers a story unlike they have read before. 

There are a few niggles to this tale as well, firstly the action sequences sometimes overwhelm the storyline. The action events are definitely long drawn out and sometimes detract from the happenings of the story. This might not be such a big point for the action lovers among the readers however for those looking for a little less action, this might not be the book for you. Secondly the world is still not revealed in its entirety, the events called the Black are explained to a certain extent but not to its entirety. I’m hoping we get more reveals in the next book. 

Black Scars is a visible improvement on its predecessor and sets up the next book SoulRazor quite emphatically. Black Scars is an eclectic mix of horror, SF, Military fantasy as well as dark fantasy genres. With such a mix, it becomes more than the sum of its components, it’s a Steven Montano book that manages to give the readers a read that will surprise, thrill and scare them. Dive into the world of the Black and be prepared to read a tale quite unlike you have read anything so far.

Read an extract here (Includes spoilers for the first & second book) 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This is the third book in the Silk and Steel saga by Karen Azinger, The first two books showcased a high fantasy world and a large cast of characters that have filled the pages so far. At the end of the second book, unrest and evil have spread to almost every corner of the lands of Erdhe. This book opens with war threatening to erupt in several kingdoms of Erdhe. The action now focuses on the northern part of the country shown on the map, and is symbolic as the start of the saga originated from there as well. 

In this book, Kath the Imp and her group are travelling to a region, which is not only dangerous but also has been known to be quite morbid. The Mordant has taken a new soul for his entertainment and his plans to bring pain and suffering further bear fruition. The plot features Kath, the Knight Marshal and the Mordant for a majority of the tale and this pretty much gives the reader an indication of the events in the book. 

The book again showcases Karen Azinger’s strengths, which is a fast paced storyline, plot twists and characterization. The story of course is a grim one and the author doesn’t shy away from the violence or dark nature of the events. The author has been hinting at certain things in the past two books and it’s in this middle volume of the series that many character and plot arcs are finally being revealed to the reader. This highlights some serious plotting on the author’s part and kudos to her on it. The characterization is top notch as ever as this time we get more than an intense look into the mind of the Mordant who is as evil as they come but fascinating and equally gruesome to read about. The author has to be lauded for not making him a two-dimensional villain. 

The Skeleton King’s biggest fallacy is its predictability and its inability to separate itself from its genre setting. The predictability factor comes in the direction of the story, which for most fantasy fans is not hard to guess and therefore does not hold anything new for them. Most fantasy stories always have some of the genre’s underpinnings but every author tries their best to give the plot his/her own twist. This however doesn't work quite so well in this case as the storyline while exciting doesn't gain much points for originality. 

The Skeleton King is a good book and it’s a good continuation of the Silk and Steel saga. For fans of the previous two books, this is a terrific third volume and they will definitely enjoy its plot and scope. For general fantasy fans, this might not be the place to start, begin with the Steel Queen to enjoy a high classical fantasy quest book.



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