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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Mini-reviews: Pale Kings, Between Two Fires and Soulrazor (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Written 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Pale Kings continues the story that began in The Written and is the second part on the Emaneska series. The book begins events in a Malazan like fashion by focusing on events nearly two and half millennia ago. The readers get to witness a birth which seems inconsequential however later on as they learn was of much consequence. Things then begin only a few weeks after the events of the first book.

Unlike the first book wherein the action was centered around Farden, in this book the story’s focus is extended to certain intriguing characters of the story. We get to see Farden again and he is trying to find out more of his past which apparently holds the key to his problems in a desert land called Paraia. The other characters who get a spotlight are Durnus, Farden’s vampyre mentor-cum-friend, Modren, another Written mage who is introduced in this story, and Towerdawn, Old Dragon and lord of the Sirens who we got to meet in the preceding volume. There are a lot more characters especially older ones who return from their previous roles and further intrigue the readers. There’s a lot more backstory that is revealed in this story and we finally get a clue to the amount of world building that has been developed for this series.

The best part about this book can be said that it is the LOTR to the preceding book, while some history and character background was hinted at. This book lays bare the screen on almost all spectrums of the story beginning with his history that is now forgotten mythology, to its characters as newer facets and older secrets are revealed. There’s also the multi-character POV approach that gives the story a wider panoramic feel. The characterization done is much better than its predecessor and while it’s still not the best but we do get to see Farden in a much more stronger and dangerous image as fostered in book one.

There’s also the action which is amped up insanely, be it with Farden or the sirens or the other parts of the book, the action sequences become a particular highlight of the story as the readers is constantly harried from one sequence to another with some rather startlingly plot twists and revelations in between. The reader hardly gets any time to breathe and there’s also the issue of character deaths which is rather surprising as the author keeps the story on an even keel by surprising us by dealing death cards at unexpected moments. Lastly I felt that this book had a much better ending than that of The Written, as compared to the first book there are various plot threads in this story however the author competently handles them to bring the story to a resounding and a bit tragic climax.

I was very much impressed by the difference between books one & two. Author Ben Galley showcased talent in his debut effort, in his sophomore offering he builds on that promise and gives the readers an action-packed epic fantasy tale that surprised me nicely. Count me in for this series and I look forward to the books three and four that promise an epic if not proper conclusion to this surprising series.

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman is his second book and it’s a sum of many parts. Part parable, part historical fantasy, part horror and part literary story, these parts combine to make a tragic story that is haunting and horrific. The story begins with a fallen knight called Thomas who is truly on hard times and now sees himself as a worthless individual that is barely managing to scrap by. An orphaned girl who seems to be much more than Thomas can presume and lastly a priest who is perhaps theologically and sexually confused, soon join him. They journey upon to Paris and further destinations as per the girl’s wishes for the final war is coming and strange things walk the face of the Earth which is perhaps breathing its last gasping breaths.

These individuals will make a journey that will not change their lives but potentially change the lives of the thousands of folk in and around the world. These characters face evil that is deceptive, horrific and perhaps cunning in a way that they rarely expect. They do not know what awaits them but to not chance the journey means to fall further into despair and that’s something Thomas cannot afford. The story then takes some twisted turns as the characters are trying to reach an ultimate destination however none know the sacrifices that they will have to make.

The overall plot follows a linear structure however has a very meandering storyline. The twists are inserted into the story and they make the story very difficult to predict. I as a reader had no idea as to where the story was headed and what type of ending the story would have, so kudos to the author for writing such an unpredictable storyline. The plot has a very emotional side to it as we are shown how far humanity and Thomas have fallen and the author does not hesitate to show some truly horrific imagery. The writing is elegant, as the author never dwells in gore but more of a bleak atmospheric horror. There’s a lot of symbolism prevalent to the story and often it gives a clue to the trials ahead for the characters.

The trials faced by the characters are of all kinds and of course help in strengthening the plot and character relationships. Redemption, faith, free will and love are among the key themes of the story. The characters often grapple with these themes and the author often showcases these themes by means of plot twists as well detours from the main story however all of it feels completely in line with the overall author plan. The battle between good and evil, free will and subjugation is the main focus and we get to see many battles about these issues littered through out the story.

The storyline is epic in scope, emotionally draining for the characters and definitely exhilarating. I would recommend Between Two Fires for readers who are curious about Christopher Beuhlman’s writing style and prose skills. It is a maelstrom of surprises however not all are the kind that the reader and characters might enjoy.

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Steven Montano’s Guest Post on Cross genre writing

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Soulrazor is the third book in the Blood Skies series and after reading the first two books in the series, I was very excited to see where the author was taking the story as in the ending of Black Scars, the protagonist had come at a crossroads of sorts and found new company. His struggles have not lessened though but he has more shoulders to share the burdens.

The book story begins twenty-five years after the events of the Black and Eric Cross now has his own mercenary team to handle. They are going after certain targets and getting good at their work when they unwittingly discover something more horrifying than the vampire overlords. Eric manages to save his team however learns that he might have over-extended his abilities. Things take a topsy-turvy turn as he’s forced to search for the answers on his own. This gives rise to another POV character and Danica Black gets a chance to showcase her leadership skills and the readers get to know her thoughts while she lead the team into a maelstrom unlike they have ever faced in their lives.

Soulrazor is the book I was waiting to read since a long time as it deals primarily with the reason the world is the way it is now. It gives us the raison d'ĂȘtre for the occurrence of the event known as the Black. The author has hinted at certain things in the past two books however the revelations in this book come entirely out of the left field. Previously we had Eric Cross as the sole narrative driver however this time around he shares the focus of the story with Danica who’s as different from Cross as chalk is to cheese. I very much enjoyed this change of POV as Cross can be thought of a goody two-shoes but Danica is an anti-hero and one whose cruelty can only off set by her bravery. This was a sharp move by the author and does create an interesting dynamic to the plot. On reading the book it becomes very clear as to why this move was precipitated by the author, which bring me to the main plot thread of the story.

The book deals with a lot of the why of the occurrence of the Black and I can’t say I’m thoroughly elated with all that was revealed. I think that it might work for certain readers but many might be disappointed by the happenings in the story. I’ll clarify that the story is not different from its predecessors in regards to the action, pace and plot twists however the revelation and the main twist of the story is something that didn’t work for me because I’m not a fan of deus ex machina resolutions and this twist has a partial DEM feel to it. The ending then further sets up the story that is to come but at this point one of the biggest mysteries of this series has been revealed and that kinda takes precedence over the end twist of the story. The book however is still evenly paced and in regards to the action sequences continues on from the preceding titles. The character cast is also suitably widened as we get to know newer members of the team however I must warn the readers that the author is a ruthless one and so be prepared for unexpected character deaths.

It was a book that I anticipated a lot from but it didn’t exactly deliver on the promise. I think that was more due to personal reasons and I’m still excited for this series though. I will review the fourth book soon to find out what Steven Montano has planned next with Cross, Black and his darkly alluring and dangerous world.


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