Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

Rom Hardy is no Indiana Jones, but what he lacks in terms of whip-cracking and wisecracks, he makes up in determination and unexpected bravery. Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor is best described as Indiana Jones meets The Mummy, and it’s fast-paced, pulpy and fun, taking readers from the sands of Egypt to the desolation of the Arizona desert.

Okay, okay, I was sold on this book when I saw the cover. I mean, look at this glorious beast. How could I even resist?

If you like a novel filled with action, impossibilities (malicious mummies, hopping vampires, serenading ghouls and monstrous worms) as well as a nerdy archaeologist, a hardbitten bounty hunter, occult librarian and a resourceful young orphan, then look no further. Fury from the Tomb was exactly what the doctor ordered, blending elements of westerns with tomb-raiding adventure.

If you’re looking for a novel that indulges in protracted navel gazing, this is probably not going to be for you, although there are moments when Sidor’s narrator – a much-older Hardy who frames the narrative – makes poignant observations about the human condition. So yet, despite the somewhat frantic pacing of the main body of the story, you do step back a bit with a degree of nostalgia. And, perhaps, also, the retelling itself is through the lens of an unreliable narrator; it’s never clear how much of the story is coloured by Hardy’s own perspective – something that I like immensely.

All in all, Fury from the Tomb is a solid read, that gets a great big thumbs up from this not-so-humble reader.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Finally … It only took me a few years to finish reading the final book in Christopher Paolini’s four-book Inheritance Cycle, aptly named Inheritance. Now I have many thoughts and feelings on the series, and they are…complicated.

And perhaps here I must add that it is telling that Paolini hasn’t published anything since 2011, according to his Wiki page, though apparently the books have sold well and he is apparently still writing.

My overall opinion of Paolini’s writing is that it’s adequate. He carries a story, but the prose is workmanlike and doesn’t sing off the pages. The setting itself is stock-standard Tolkien, while the overarching narrative arcs across the four novels follows a rather Star Wars-esque, farmboy-turned-godlike-hero fighting the Evil Big Bad. With a side order of Dragonriders of Pern, of course. To be quite honest, not much in the four books really stands out for me beyond the ever-escalating conflict with the evil king Galbatorix that culminates in the big battle at the end. Granted, I had gaps of years between reading the books, so I’m hard pressed to recall anything that knocked my socks off. Okay, I lie. I love dragons. Any interaction with Saphira was sufficient to make me happy.

I don’t feel a particular connection with Eragon, however – he’s very much an everyman thrust into extraordinary circumstances. I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel an awesome bond with a dragon? (There’s a reason why I’ve reread all Anne McCaffrey’s DRoP books at least three times.) The first half of Inheritance plodded along, and judging by how long I took to actually read this book, it’s an indication that I struggled to remain engaged. Though I’m OCD enough to actually finish, despite my lukewarm assessment.

Things eventually picked up during the second half, but to be quite honest, I think I mainly soldiered on because the book was a review copy that landed on my desk a long while back, and I’m laden with an additional burden of guilt that my copy has an author-signed bookplate.

Okay, okay, the cycle isn’t unreadably bad. But in terms of fantasy, the books don’t cover fresh ground, and are essentially a remix of the tropes that initially gained popularity in Tolkien. Not that I have an issue with standard, D&D-style fantasy. Hells, I’m a huge fan. But I need a bit more oomph, a touch of an author’s identity creeping through, breathing life into a setting beyond the elves, dwarves, and dragons.

The Inheritance Cycle could have benefited immensely from having its sprawling narrative pared down and streamlined. Three books instead of four, perhaps. That might’ve gone a long way to sort out the pacing issues. Something else I fear hampers the story is the sin of Too Much Awesome – in other words, characters who are so super-powerful, so soon in the story and with so little apparent effort, that they are akin to gods. It’s incredibly difficult to build tension with decent try-fail cycles if your main characters can almost literally move mountains with a mere thought.

I think if the Inheritance Cycle is your introduction to fantasy as a genre, you’re probably going to lap it up and it’ll act as a gateway to other authors (it can be hoped). So in terms of it being so immensely successful and possibly getting so many folks reading fantasy, it’s not such a bad thing (hey, any successful book that gets folks reading is awesome, in my mind, even the FSoG phenomenon, as much as I love to put the hate on it). But the writing for the Inheritance Cycle could have been stronger, more nuanced in my opinion. Therein lies the rub. Paolini was in his mid-teens when he wrote Eragon, and it was also very much a case of being in the right place at the right time in terms of his parents’ involvement in the publishing industry and the immense support he received from them. He had the kind of head start most authors can only envy, and while this sort of good start is no guarantee of success, Paolini hit that magical sweet spot many can only dream of. Whether he’ll ever be able to follow up on these books, remains to be seen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

Every once in a while a review book that ticks all my boxes lands on my desk. The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston is just that. Smart-mouthed protagonist, check. An ancient, degenerate city filled with awful people, check. Mages and dark magic, check. Plenty of backstabbing, skullduggery and less-than-savoury, morally ambiguous characters, check.

Edrin Walker has been on the run for a decade, part of his mind locked away from him so that crucial parts of his memories of one fateful night in the city of Setharis are locked away. He’s done something terrible – he knows that – but as for what exactly, we’ll find out once he does. Not only is he a wanted man, but he’s also a practitioner of a rare kind of magic – of being able to manipulate people’s minds that labels him as a tyrant. Which is another black mark against his name.

When his bestie, Lynas, dies, Edrin (who happens to have a pack of bloodthirsty demons on his trail) is compelled to return to Setharis to solve Lynas’s murder and save the lives of the people he loves, whom he left behind all those years before.

Part murder mystery, part noir(ish) fantasy thriller, The Traitor God had everything I look for in a fantasy epic – in gory bucket loads. I can only describe my level of enjoyment as on par with all the reasons why I love games like Dragon Age so much. Johnston has nearly as much lore that he feeds into the story, trickle by trickle, so you feel as if you’re stepping into an ancient world oozing history. All the excitement. All the nail-biting boss battles and well thought-out magical systems.

His pacing is also on the mark; not once does he allow Edrin a moment’s respite, as he gets embedded into one untenable situation after the other – leaving me asking, “This can’t get worse, can it?” And then it does. Of course it does. And I found myself compelled to read (yet another) chapter. I especially loved the fact that he cleverly foreshadows many outcomes early on – so everything that happens early on in the story, has consequences later. He doesn’t shy away from violence either, and just a warning to squeamish readers – things do get rather messy near the end.

My question now is, when do we get the next instalment? I haven’t had this much fun with a fantasy novel in ages – this is most certainly one of my highlights for 2018. Johnston’s done a fantastic job, and if you enjoy the likes of Mark Lawrence, you’ll be right at home here.