Book Review: After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard

20171027_102836.jpg

After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard

This is the second book in the Carter & Lovecraft Series, and so there are going to be massive, earth-shattering spoilers for the first book in this review. Go ahead and read the first book, then . This review will still be here when you’re ready.

 

___________________________________________________________________________________

I’m a huge fan of Jonathan L. Howard’s books. In his Johannes Cabal series, you found yourself cheering on a cold, calculating sociopathic necromancer (you can read my review of The Fall of the House of Cabal here). The Carter & Lovecraft series introduces us to Emily Lovecraft (descendant of H.P. Lovecraft) and Daniel Carter (descendant of Randolph Carter). After the events of the last book, Carter and Lovecraft have found themselves in the “unfolded” world, where H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t so much a writer of weird fiction as a historian. Rather than Providence, Rhode Island, they now live in Arkham, Massachusetts, and Innsmouth, Kingsport, and Dunwich are right down the road.

Weird deaths and disappearances, machinations of the elder gods, and fraught archaeology are the leas of their problems however. It seems in this world, the Third Reich developed nuclear weapons in 1941, wiped out Russia in a single blow, and ended the second world war before it had really begun. As a result, the United States finds itself an ally of the Nazis, Britain is an inconsequential former power, France is in ruins, and much of Europe and Asia are ruled by Axis powers. Oh, and there are Nazis. No matter how picturesque Arkham may be compared to Providence, Lovecraft and Carter are determined to “fold” reality back into proper place and ensure that the Nazis don’t rise to become a modern global power.

The first book in the series was a bit long an meandering, but it did have a wonderfully brilliant character in Emily Lovecraft. Most books that use H.P. Lovecraft’s writings as inspiration tend to overlook the author’s racism and his discomfort with women. I’m a fan of Lovecraft’s work, but he is certainly problematic as a person. Yes, yes, he was writing in the ’20s and ’30s when racism was the norm, but he did express admiration for parts of the Nazi agenda prior to his death. And there’s more than one of his stories that reveals his dread of thinking of the “pure” white race being diluted and corrupted with “lesser” races/species.

Howard takes a full on look at this aspect of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. He doesn’t dismiss or excuse it, and through the character of Emily Lovecraft, he points out these issues, and brings them front and center into the plot.

This is on full display in After the End of the World, where Emily (who is black) finds herself in a world where calling someone a Nazi is unconscionably rude (they prefer to call it the N-word), but where calling her a very degrading world for a black person, which I will not write in this blog, is completely acceptable. More than once, she makes a comment about finding a way back to the real world, so she no longer has “to be nice to Nazis.” If you’ve been watching the news at all in the past year, I’m sure a great many of you share that sentiment.

This book is quite a bit more fun than the previous one. In addition, the parallels to the current political climate in the US and abroad (which I do believe to be intentional on Mr. Howard’s part) make for grim, but fascinating reading. What would it look like if the Nazi’s had remained a world power? If Hitler hadn’t killed himself in his bunker but had lived on to shape the future of the Third Reich? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think it may look similar to America under the Trump administration.

Jonathan L. Howard fans, especially those who read Carter & Lovecraft, should absolutely read this book. Even if you weren’t the biggest fan of the first book, I find this one to be much more entertaining, and the series deserves anther try. If this book sounds intriguing to you and you haven’t read the previous one, I really do encourage you to read that first, to get to know the main characters a bit better.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso


The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

Amalia Cornaro is heir to a great family name, wealth, and untold political influence within the Raverran Empire. However, she has been content to leave most of the political machinations to her brilliant and ruthless mother, and concentrate on her studies of arcane magic. However, when a powerful fire warlock threatens the city of Raverra, Amalia finds herself drafted into containing the warlock’s magic, and in so doing inadvertently becomes a “Falconer”, tethered to the fire warlock and responsible for controlling her powers. Thrown into the middle of a political firestorm (couldn’t help myself), Amalia must use everything her mother ever taught her to prevent a civil war within the empire she loves.

This was an enormously fun fantasy novel, and is the first in the new series. Surprisingly, this is also Melissa Caruso’s debut novel. The story, while ostensibly YA, manages to avoid the pitfalls so common in the genre, and delivers an entertaining and suspenseful read. Caruso has built up an interesting and complex world, and her characters are lovingly crafted and more complex than one usually sees in the Young Adult genre. The book reminded me very much of Dragon Age, the Bioware RPG game (which from me is a huge compliment). I especially enjoyed the way magic is dealt with in Caruso’s world, and the push and pull between Amalia, and her “Falcon”, Zaira.

Fans of YA or the fantasy genre looking for a bright new talent should definitely pick up this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The Six Kingdoms have existed in tentative harmony for generations, each country kept safe by a “kenning” or magical ability, each one specific to a certain kingdom. The peace is shattered when an invading fleet of pale, nine foot tall warriors, called Bone Giants, run rampant over the coastal cities, slaughtering everyone they come across. The kingdoms, reeling from the attack, must race against time to ensure their survival. But surely the world will never be the same again.

I really enjoyed his book, but I have to say that it probably would have been a dud if written by a different author. This book is, in essence, a 600 page flashback. A novel-length world building tome. Yet it works. It’s crazy, but it works.

When the story opens, the invasion is months in the past. The book follows Dervan, a scholar set the task of writing down the tale of Fintan, a bard. It is the bard’s duty to tell the story of the invasion and the subsequent retaliation by the Six Kingdoms. Every night, Fintan stands on the wall of the refugee city and tells another part of the tale. His bardic gifts let us hear the story from devious politicians, poor hunters, forest dwellers, scholars, and soldiers. Intermixed in all this are the gifted, the lucky (cursed?) few able to control one of the kennings.

The book is huge, the story is epic in scope, and the world beautiful and terrible in all its detail. Hearne has created something incredibly ambitious, and he does it well. As I said, the format of telling the story in a series of flashbacks is odd, and it took me a bit to get into it, but I was hooked soon enough (though I have to say I do hope we get some more direct action in the next book). The plot would tend towards Game of Thrones-level darkness at times if it weren’t for Hearne’s sardonic sense of humor shining through. The brief moments of levity are enough to offset the horror of invasion, betrayal, and mass slaughter.

Any one looking for a new epic fantasy series to dive into (I’m looking to you, Game of Thrones folks!) should invest some time into this book. Fans of Hearne’s Iron Druid series will also likely enjoy this book, though it is certainly a different creature from that fantastic urban fantasy series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

children of the shaman

Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

Thirteen year old Annat is a shaman by birth. Within her own people, the Wanderers, shamans can heal, protect, and enter bodily into other realms. Outside her people, however, shamans are looked upon with suspicion and mistrust. Annat is largely untrained in her powers, but when her aunt falls sick, she and her brother are sent to live with the father they barely know.

Annat is finally able to train as a shaman under the tutelage of her father, Yuda, but the family soon turns down a dangerous path. Yuda has been assigned to investigate strange occurrences and brutal murders in a small northern town. Strange, old magic seems to be at play in the area, and soon after arriving, Annat’s brother Malchik disappears. Annat and Yuda’s search for Malchik will take them on a strange journey through a mystical land of winter, where they must find Malchik and stop the evil being responsible for the town’s troubles.

This was an interesting and well-crafted fantasy. The story exists in a slightly offset historical Russia/Eastern Europe, with a good dose of Judaism and Jewish mysticism. The Russian fairy-tale setting is in vogue at the moment, with books such as The Bear and the Nighingale by Katherine Arden, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo creating well-deserved buzz. Rydill’s inclusion of Jewish history, religion, and folklore set her book apart and add a touch of realism and historical grounding in a fantasy tale.

In all, the book is well written. The character of Annat is well-realized, sometimes to the detriment of the other characters, who can feel a bit flat. The journey through the fairy-tale realm borrows from Eastern European and Russian folklore, and is for the most part exciting and fun reading. I did find that the book began to drag a bit towards the end, but overall I found Children of the Shaman a diverting fantasy.

Fans of the fantasy genre, especially those who enjoyed The Bear and the Nnightingale or Shadow and Bone will likely enjoy this book. Anyone looking for a fantasy featuring a strong female lead (Children of the Shaman reminds me a lot of The Green Rider by Kristen Britain) shoudl also consider this book for their TBR.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Can you believe I’ve never read any of the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King? I picked up The Gunslinger in high school (back in the stone ages), and got about halfway through before being distracted by something or another. The poor book has languished on my TBR ever since. Now, though, with The Dark Tower movie coming out, What better motivation to read through the series at long last?

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland, last of the gunslingers. Roland is pursuing the mysterious and sinister Man in Black across a blighted land. The land is at once alien and hostile, but strangely familiar. Ragtime versions of “Hey Jude” ring out from western-style taverns, and remnants of an all-too-familiar society blight the landscape.

This is one of the first major things Stephen King ever wrote, and you can feel the rawness of it. Reading The Gunslinger, you can see glimmers of King’s talent for allowing the horror of his story to creep off the page and run down your spine. Still, as the first book in the series, there is always some awkwardness in balancing setting the scene and introducing the characters without sacrificing pacing and plot. King sets us down in the middle of the chase and provides background information in small morsels.

 In all, I have to say that this isn’t the best of King’s books. But, as it’s the first of the series and one of his first works, I feel like he gets plenty of leeway. I’m excited to read the next book in the series, and see not only how Roland and the others evolve, but also how King’s writing grows over the course of the story.

P.S. – Thank you to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for the gorgeous Dark Tower series themed bandana (from the June “All Hail the King” box)!

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

This is the second book in The Great Library Series, and so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book below.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Now that the requisite spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Jess finds himself as a lowly grunt in the Library’s Garda. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a Library scholar, and very aware of the dark underside of the Library’s rule, Jess uses his smuggling past to try to find more information of the imprisoned Morgan and murdered Thomas. When Jess uncovers a bombshell: Thomas is alive and held captive by the Library at a secret prison, Jess must reunite his old friends (and frenemies) in a desperate rescue attempt. Little does he know that this act of rebellion will spark a violent chain of events which could threaten the world as he knows it.

Paper and Fire is a good sequel to Ink and Bone. The characters seem to have grown up quite a bit since we first met them, and the danger from the Library and its minions seems more devious and omnipresent than ever. We are given more information about the inner workings of the Library, and learn more about its past. I always enjoy the second book in the series, we’ve gotten over the awkward introduction phase and the characters can really stretch their legs. Caine lets Jess and his friends grow, but avoids the simple and comfortable and keeps things on a more realistic and complicated plane.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you will almost certainly like this one. If you haven’t read Ink and Bone yet, then you really shouldn’t be reading this review, should you? But either way, fans of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series will enjoy these books, which manage to be both about teenagers and very adult at the same time.

Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

bedlam stacks.jpg

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

The book is a slightly less-than-direct prequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Though you do not have to read that book before you read this one, I would highly recommend doing so.

Merrick Tremayne is a shadow of his former self. Formerly employed by the East India Company as a smuggler, an accident has left him with a crippled leg and no prospects for the future. But when an expedition is planned to seek out quinine in the mountainous jungles of Peru, Merrick’s knowledge and family history make him indispensable for the success of the mission.

However, once he arrives at New Bethlehem, the village founded by his grandfather, Merrick finds that the fairy tales and stories he grew up with may hew closer to the truth than he ever could have guessed. Merrick must discover the secrets of this strange village–and Raphael, the mysterious local priest–in order to continue his mission.

Natasha Pulley has a real talent for incorporating magical and fantastical elements into a thoroughly believable historical setting. Her melding of history and fantasy is organic and subtle, and a fine example of how magical the genre can be. I also enjoy how Pulley steps out of the usual tropes of this type of fiction–exploring the Japanese Civil War in Watchmaker, and taking us into the mountains of Peru (and the shelling of Canton) in The Bedlam Stacks. Pulley explores colonization, international intrigue, and imperialism in this new book, and amidst the magic of her location, she reminds us of the ever-increasing consequences of invasion and interference.

Some aspects of the plot are similar to those in Watchmaker. We are again confronted with a man we are unsure if we can trust, even as Merrick grows closer to him. The mystery of the danger lurking in the forest outside of New Bethlehem, and the questions surrounding Raphael are well written. The book moves slowly in parts, but the climax of the book is actually quite creepy. While the magic here is more fantastical than that on display in Watchmaker, I feel that Pulley did a wonderful job of integrating it into the story.

If you enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s first book, you should certainly check out The Bedlam Stacks. Any fan of historical fantasy should look into the series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

ink and bone.jpg

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

The Great Library was started to ensure that the wisdom of mankind was safeguarded. However, since its advent during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Library has stagnated, hoarding its knowledge, and stifling any dissent.

Jess is the son of a book smuggler. Printed books outside the Library’s control are contraband, and the penalty for owning these forbidden tomes is death. Though he has lived his life defying the Library’s hold on the printed word, he understands the value of protecting knowledge. When his family is able to get him a coveted position to train as a Library Scholar, he is secretly excited for the opportunity. Once his training starts, however, he discovers he may have been safer as a smuggler.

First of all, I can’t believe I waited this long to read this book, it has been filling up my feed for ages now, and the third book in the series is due out soon.

The world building in this book is fantastic. Caine manages to combine steampunk with dystopian near-future, and it works. This is a world built on steam, alchemy, and high technology. It manages to feel both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. The characters that inhabit the book are similarly complex and well-crafted.

As Jess starts out his training with the Library, we begin to hope that we can stay with the “Hogwarts with Books” aspect. Alas, soon any illusions about the Library are tugged away and we find ourselves in a dystopian world where knowledge is a coveted resource, and this supreme entity will go to any lengths to keep their monopoly.

Honestly, it’s a bit like Amazon took over the world. The Library is a repository of knowledge, and the information deemed “acceptable” to be released to the public is done via “blanks,” electronic books to which the texts can be sent via alchemy. In a world where increasing digitization has vastly changed the concept of ownership, Ink and Bone feels like a cautionary tale. It certainly made me look at my kindle in a new light.

This book is a great adventure story, and fans of books like the Hunger Games will enjoy this series. Though I’m sure this book is considered YA, the subjects being dealt with are mature and complex, and there is a lot here for older readers (like me). Now I’m off to get the next book in the series (hard copy, not in kindle format).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

watchmaker of filigree street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

 

Thaniel Steepleton is a low-level telegraphist with the British Home Office. One morning, after a long night shift, he finds a mysterious package sitting on his bed. Inside is a watch he is unable to open, though he can hear the clockwork moving inside. Forgetting about the mysterious watch as the months go by, Thaniel is drawn with the rest of the government into investigating bomb threats being made by Irish Nationalists. When the watch saves him from such a blast, Thaniel is determined to get to the bottom of the timepiece’s mystery. Seeking out the maker of the piece, a Japanese Baron turned watchmaker, Thaniel finds a quiet, unassuming man. As events continue, it appears more and more that Keita Mori is hiding something. Thaniel must weigh his growing regard for the kindly Mori with his increasing suspicion that he may be at the center of the bombings in London.

This is a neat little book, and took me down unexpected paths. In the interests of keeping my reviews spoiler free, I won’t elaborate any more on the plot here, but suffice to say that having started the book, I could not have predicted where it would wind up. There are elements of fantasy and steampunk in this story, but these aspects don’t seem intrusive, which is a fairly easy trap to fall into in this genre. Rather, the book felt like a historical mystery, with the more fantastical elements providing a gilding along the edges.

The characters of Thaniel Steepleton and Keita Mori are richly drawn. Mori, especially, is well done. As the plot weaves on, we come to regard both he and Thaniel as sympathetic characters, yet we are left guessing until the very end of the book whether or not Mori is a villain.

Fans of historical mystery, steampunk, or historical fantasy will find a great deal to like in this book. The book lies somewhere between the historical-with-a-bit-of-supernatural Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and the vividly steampunk Magnificent Devices series by Shelly Adina.

 

Book Review: The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

Wrath of a Shipless Pirate.jpg

The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

This book is the second in the Godlander Series by Aaron Pogue. If I have to tell you by now that there are spoilers ahead, I’ll be very disappointed. (My review of the first book in the series, The Dreams of a Dying God, was written pre-blog, but you can read it here, if you like.)

______________________________________________________________________________

I read the first book in the series several years ago, started this book, and promptly became distracted by something shiny. The poor thing has been sitting on my shelf ever since, and as I’m trying to be good about getting through long-timers on my TBR, I thought it was high time to give the book another try.

Corin Hugh has returned from the ancient city of Jezeeli and emerged in the present day with the favor of a God. Tasked by Oberon himself to kill usurper god Epithel, Corin first sets his sight on some satisfying revenge. Corin sets his sights on killing Ethan Blake, his mutinous first mate who left him to die in the ashes of the great city’s ruins. Unfortunately, it seems that Blake may actually be one of the Vestossis, powerful politicians and rulers who enjoy the favor of Ephithel himself. With the help of a druid ally, Corin must learn to use the magics given to him by Oberon to exact his revenge.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: time travel makes for messy book keeping. While an interesting concept, Corin’s traveling 1000 years in the past in the first book can only complicate the plot from here on out. Fortunately, Pogue seems to sidestep most of those issues by placing Corin’s first adventures in something analogous to a dream, as envisioned by the God Oberon (kind of a literal deus ex machina).

The story itself is engaging. However, it does take about 70-ish pages before you start to feel like you’re having fun. Once the book settles into its rhythm though, it becomes a rather entertaining swashbuckling, monster-fighting, ship-exploding, revenge-seeking, pirate-killing extravaganza. I would recommend reading the first book prior to this one, but, as I didn’t reread it prior to reading this book, you may be able to get by reading this book as a stand alone.

I would recommend this book to fans of straight-up fantasy. It does take some work, but once you muddle through the first few chapters, it really does become quite a bit of fun.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.