Reviews by Nickolas
The Burning Isle
Last week I travelled to Savannah on a business trip and while packing my bag the night before I left I made sure to include the latest ARC I’ve received, THE BURNING ISLE by Will Panzo. My flights were supposed to be short jaunts and I didn’t suspect I’d have much free time to spend reading, but if I’ve learned anything in my 24 years of life it’s this: take a book with you wherever you go because you never know when you’ll be stuck wishing you had one. This maxim came in handy when Delta Airline’s servers went down, sending the whole system into chaos and I spent the next 24 hours in airport limbo. The good news is that I had THE BURNING ISLE on hand and an unexpected surplus of free time to read so that’s what I did. I wound up finishing all 417 pages before I boarded the flight to my final destination.
As bored as a day at the airport has the potential to be any halfway decent book would have been better than nothing at all but fortunately THE BURNING ISLE isn’t just halfway decent — it’s quite good. Like, early contender for debut fantasy of the year good and likely to become a new favorite amongst the grimdark fantasy crowd. Expect to see THE BURNING ISLE on the short list for the Gemmell Morningstar Awards next year.
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Alliance of Shadows
Disclaimer: Anyone familiar with my reviews will likely know that Larry Correia is my favorite author.
Once or twice a year a new Larry Correia title hits the shelves and for a brief, shimmering moment everything is right in the world. In this case the title is ALLIANCE OF SHADOWS, Book 3 in Larry’s Dead Six collaboration with Mike Kupari. I wasn’t overly fond of DEAD SIX, the first book in the series, but SWORDS OF EXODUS won me over and I’ve been waiting three excruciating years for the conclusion to the trilogy. In typical Correia fashion ALLIANCE OF SHADOWS does not disappoint.
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Angels of Caliban
A long, long time ago in a galaxy… here… I read ANGELS OF DARKNESS by Gav Thorpe. I’d been reading Warhammer 40,000 tie-in fiction for a short while but this was my first exposure to the Dark Angels. It was more thoughtful and considerate than I was accustomed to for a 40k novel. Don’t get me wrong, ANGELS OF DARKNESS stills packs the heavy hitting action the war-game is known for, but it also delves deeply into the history of one of 40k’s most mysterious factions. It’s been a long time since I read that book but it remains one of my all time favorites set in the grim darkness of the future. ANGELS OF CALIBAN takes place 10,000 years before ANGELS OF DARKNESS, during the Horus Heresy, and fills in more of the details of the I legion’s shameful past. It is also the third novel in the Imperium Secundus subplot of the larger Horus Heresy series, following Dan Abnett’s THE UNREMEMBERED EMPIRE and Guy Haley’s PHAROS.
If you’ve read my PHAROS review you’re aware that I’m a big fan of the Imperium Secundus subplot and ANGELS OF CALIBAN is (probably) the end of that specific era of the Horus Heresy. Unfortunately I feel as though the concept wasn’t explored nearly as fully as it deserved but it’s still a satisfying diversion from the main conflict of the galactic-spanning civil war and ANGELS OF CALIBAN is a powerful (likely) finale to the arc.
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Continuing my Horus Heresy binge I have another review for you! This time we have PHAROS by Guy Haley, Book 34 in Black Library’s massively successful tie-in series. It’s a bit of a leap from my last review given that ANGEL EXTERMINATUS is Book 23, is set in an entirely different theatre of the galaxy spanning civil war, features a completely different cast of characters, and even delves into different themes. There exists some Horus Heresy novels that can be read out of their numerical publishing order but if you haven’t been following along with the series I would not recommend starting with PHAROS. It’s essentially a sequel within a sequel within a series. It’s sequel-ception! That said, I’ll try not to reveal too much about the book in case you’re intrigued by the Horus Heresy but uncertain about jumping into a series that is currently 38 books long.
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I’ve been on somewhat of a Warhammer 40,000 reading binge of late. Or, more accurately, a Warhammer 30,000 reading binge as each of the five titles I’ve devoured in the past month has been set in the Horus Heresy event series. I’m a Warhammer 40k fanboy (I have the Imperial Aquila tattooed on my chest), but I’d taken a few year hiatus from the universe. Now I’m back with a vengeance and there is a surplus of new material to gorge on. The most recent Horus Heresy novel I’ve read, ANGEL EXTERMINATUS by Graham McNeill, is the 23rd book in a series that is currently on its 37th installment. The books are penned by multiple authors, and all of the books are connected by larger events and characters but not all are necessarily sequential. It’s a truly impressive collaboration. It’s been ten years since Black Library began publishing the Horus Heresy and a lot has happened since the opening trilogy. ANGEL EXTERMINATUS is perhaps most closely tied to the fifth book in the series, FULGRIM, also written by Graham McNeill. ANGEL EXTERMINATUS is also a prequel of sorts to several of Graham McNeill’s books set 10,000 years after the Horus Heresy two of my favorite 40k books: STORM OF IRON, DEAD SKY BLACK SUN; one of my least favorite: CHAPTER’S DUE. In any case, ANGEL EXTERMINATUS is not the place for newbies to start.
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Son of the Black Sword
As Larry Correia’s biggest fan I’ve been looking forward to his fantasy debut for a while now. If I remember properly he’s been teasing fans, talking about it on his blog for a couple years now at least. Judging by how incredibly large scale Larry’s urban fantasy and alternate history novels have been I’ve been eager to see what he could do with straight up fantasy. I can happily say that SON OF THE BLACK SWORD will not disappoint the Monster Hunter Nation and it will also likely earn Larry a lot of new fans from the fantasy genre.
Here’s the plot synopsis: After the War of the Gods, the demons were cast out and fell to the world. Mankind was nearly eradicated by the seemingly unstoppable beasts, until the gods sent the great hero, Ramrowan, to save them. He united the tribes, gave them magic, and drove the demons into the sea. Yet as centuries passed, Gods and demons became myth and legend, and the people no longer believed. The Age of Law began.
Ashok Vadal has been chosen by a powerful ancient weapon to be its bearer. He is a Protector, the elite militant order of roving law enforcers. No one is more merciless in rooting out those who secretly practice the old ways. Everything is black or white, good or evil, until he discovers his entire life is a fraud. Ashok isn’t who he thinks he is, and when he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, the consequences lead to rebellion, war—and destruction.Read the rest of this review »
The Grace of Kings
THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu was a pure pleasure to read. Dubbed the “Wuxia GAME OF THRONES” by Wesley Chu, this debut novel is a grand adventure that speaks of Liu’s considerable talent. It’s the type of novel capable of bridging the gap between “pulp” and “literature,” a story that is equal parts fun and cerebral. THE GRACE OF KINGS is an early contender for best fantasy of 2015 and when awards season rolls around again I anticipate it garnering plenty of nominations.
For those unaware of Wuxia, it is a broad genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. Some notable examples of the tradition include films such as CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO, and games such as Bioware’s JADE EMPIRE (one of my favorite RPGs of all time). I suspect/hope that THE GRACE OF KINGS will further raise awareness of the genre.
Here’s Amazon’s synopsis: Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.
Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.
Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.Read the rest of this review »
Blog-off Entry Commentary: First Impressions
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a tired, old saying that should be put to rest in regards to actual books. It’s a fine sentiment when applied to people but taken literally it’s damaging to the practice of publishing. Call me superficial but I believe it’s only natural to judge a book by its cover. I also believe you should factor in title and plot synopsis (if you get that far). Browsing the aisles of a book store or scrolling through Amazon there are countless titles vying for attention. Great covers get lost in the midst of this sensory overload, it’s true, but bad covers are even more likely to be skimmed over. If your book reaches out to someone through all the clutter it better catch their eye for all the right reasons.
Self-published books carry a stigma for many reasons; but before a critic can even dismiss them for horrible grammar, typos, thin plots, thinner characters, wonky POV, or any number of errors the critic first has to first be enticed to even pick up and open the book. It’s all about first impressions and this is one area where self-published authors have a notoriously hard time. I get requests in my inbox to read and review self-published books frequently.Read the rest of this post »
The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids
THE THIEF WHO PULLED ON TROUBLE’S BRAIDS, by Michael McClung, is what Mark Lawrence’s Great Self-published Fantasy Author Blog-off is all about. This is the third book I read of the batch I was assigned. I saved it for last because I found the cover appealing, the title enticing, and the synopsis intriguing. The overall package is professional and marketable and because of that it stands out amongst the competition.
THE THIEF WHO PULLED ON TROUBLE’S BRAIDS is a little more than 200 pages long but it’s a satisfying sword & sorcery adventure that will appeal to fans of Ari Marmell, David Dalglish, Douglas Hulick, Brent Weeks, and Kelly McCullough.
Here’s the synopsis: Amra Thetys lives by two simple rules—take care of business, and never let it get personal. Thieves don’t last long in Lucernis otherwise. But when a fellow rogue and good friend is butchered on the street in a deal gone wrong, she turns her back on burglary and goes after something more precious than treasure: Revenge. Revenge, however, might be hard to come by. A nightmare assortment of enemies, including an immortal assassin and a mad sorcerer, believe Amra is in possession of The Blade That Whispers Hate—the legendary, powerful artifact her friend was murdered for—and they’ll do anything to take it from her. Trouble is, Amra hasn’t got the least clue where the Blade might be. She needs to find the Blade, and soon, or she’ll be joining her colleague in a cold grave instead of avenging his death. Time is running out for the small, scarred thief.Read the rest of this review »
I originally dismissed RED RISING by Pierce Brown because of the immense level of hype behind the debut. RED RISING was being touted as the next THE HUNGER GAMES, as it seems the majority of Young Adult novels are marketed these days. Being that I consider THE HUNGER GAMES a vastly overrated and underwhelming novel I gave RED RISING a pass. I purchased a copy several months ago on a whim, unwilling to leave the bookstore empty handed. It sat untouched and unloved near the bottom of my To Read Pile until the recent release of GOLDEN SON, book two of the trilogy. News of the sequel drew my attention back to the series and I decided to give it a shot.
I should have jumped aboard the first car of the RED RISING bandwagon when I had a chance. I absolutely devoured Pierce Brown’s debut — reading for hours at a time, even skipping dinner in order to finish the book during a frenzied four-hour reading binge. I’ve read a lot of good books lately nothing on the level of RED RISING in a long, long time.Read the rest of this review »
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