“The Autumn Republic” by Brian McClellan

The Autumn Republic is the third book in the Powder Mage trilogy, following Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. Since I didn’t review the first two books (although I did interview Brian McClellan), I’ll talk a little bit about the series before going on to the actual review.

Promise of Blood starts off with a coup – the corrupt and decadent king of Adro has been overthrown, and the man who engineered it, the brilliant field marshal Tamas, now finds himself with the much harder task of trying to rebuild his country. And to add to his problems, it seems that the monarchy held secrets that kept the country together, but everyone who knows them is dead.

Most fantasy books are about overturning the status quo in some way, so it’s a pleasure to read a series set in the messy aftermath, and it shines in other ways too. The intricate politics – factions vying for power to fill the newly vacant hole, neighbouring countries looking to invade during a time of weakness. The magic systems – this series has often been described “flintlock fantasy” (as opposed to “sword and sorcery”, I suppose?) but it doesn’t just have guns, it has a whole magic system built on gunpowder. The characters, of course – Tamas, who does the right thing no matter how much it costs him, his son Taniel, who has a lot of issues from Tamas’ perfection, the detective Adamat who hasn’t met a mystery he didn’t immediately investigate, and a lot more. And then there’s the overarching plot about how unwise it is to attract the attention of the gods.


autumnrepublicAnyway, onto The Autumn Republic, I’m never sure what to write about when I review sequels to books I already like a lot, because I expect that it’s going to be good, and then it is, and all that needs to be said is “Yes, it’s as good as you think it will be, and I can’t talk about anything specific that happens because spoilers.”

I was satisfied with how the series ended – all the plot threads are wrapped up nicely. Not everyone makes it out unscathed, but I didn’t expect them to – in fact, it went about how I predicted it would go. There are a lot of awesome scenes, and a few incredibly sad moments. The characters were pretty much how you’d expect them to be – I groaned/was delighted at Tamas’ nobility, was exasperated at Bo’s …Bo-ness, I guess, and sympathized with everything that continues to befall poor Adamat.

I’m pretty excited for the next trilogy – I’m not sure what it’s going to be about, but I definitely want to explore lands that haven’t been under the influence of the Nine Gods (that’s not a spoiler, it’s conjecture) and I’m looking forward to Vlora’s viewpoint – she’s placed in a pretty cool position at the end of this book.

“The Martian” by Andy Weir

The_Martian_2014Everyone has been raving about The Martian by Andy Weir, and as a total sucker for any space exploration related story, I had to read it.

The Martian is about Mark Watney, a member of one of the first human Mars exploration teams. When the mission is aborted due to a dust storm, he has an accident and is presumed dead while the rest of the team evacuates. But Mark is not dead, and as the mission’s mechanical engineer, he’s uniquely qualified to survive in a place where his continued life depends on machines working.

When I started this book, I was a bit skeptical about all the praise it had been getting – how could one guy all alone on a planet be that interesting? Weir does an admirable job, though – Mark is determined, optimistic, has a great (and sometimes very immature) sense of humour, and he’s everything you dreamed you’d be when you dreamed of being an astronaut when you were younger (if you didn’t want to be an astronaut, what the hell?) He’s also the quintessential engineer, he doesn’t mope when there are problems unsolved. It’s brilliant to hear all the scientific issues he faces from his voice; his enthusiasm is infectious, and what could have been easily tedious instead becomes thrilling.

Mark isn’t the only character though, we also follow the action back on Earth, and Mark’s mission crew that are back on their way from Mars trying to live with the guilt of leaving a man behind. The point of view jumps around a lot, but I think that’s only fitting in a story about humanity banding together and trying to save one man. There are a couple of scenes on Mars that are told in an omniscient narrative style, and those do stick out a bit, but they’re rare.

So yes, I loved this book as much as everyone else. It seems like everything these days talks about humanity’s flaws, but this book makes me really proud to be a human.

Also… the pacing of the book was very much like that of a movie, and I really wanted it to see a movie version (Gravity and Apollo 13 are both really great movies of this type, although those take place over a few days at most). Apparently Ridley Scott feels the same way, because The Martian is coming out this November! And what a great cast, too – Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña – all people I like. I’m a bit puzzled by Chiwetel Ejiofor playing an Indian person, but he’s a great actor, so I’m not actually complaining.

The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors. I read the Vorkosigan saga last January and I can’t really find words to describe how much I enjoyed it (here are Jo Walton’s thoughts, though). I wanted to read her other books immediately, but I didn’t really want to ever run out of new Bujold books to read, so I ended up putting off reading the Chalion series until now. (I still have The Spirit Ring and The Sharing Knife series to read). I’m still not sure that I can find adequate words to describe why I loved these books, but I will try anyway.

curse of chalionThe Curse of Chalion follows Cazaril, a former soldier who just wants to settle into a quiet life after he returns from being a prisoner of war. However, he ends up finding a place as the secretary-tutor to the royal princess, and with it come all the expected dangers of court, and some unexpected supernatural dangers.

Cazaril is a delightful protagonist – he’s self-effacing yet witty, noble without being foolish and he sees the world as it is, but doesn’t want or expect it to be more. He’s no Mary Sue, though – he’s just a good person. The rest of the characters also leap off the page – Bujold’s skill at characterization is unsurpassed. The theology of the world is fascinating – five gods that actually listen to prayers and do what they can to help.


Paladin-of-SoulsPaladin of Souls follows Ista, a secondary character from The Curse of Chalion. Ista, the dowager queen of Chalion, has been freed from the terrible curse placed on her, but everyone around her still believes she needs to protected from herself. In order to relieve herself of her utter boredom, she sets out on a pilgrimage, but it turns out that the gods are not quite done with her.

This was probably my favourite of the Chalion books. Ista is an unusual fantasy protagonist – she is a middle-aged woman that is utterly indifferent towards her life and weighed down with guilt about her past. She does find some purpose and joy in her life, yes, but as usual with Bujold, the journey is much more important than the destination. The characters are spectacular, as always (the review of this book by Booklist that I found on Amazon says “Bujold couldn’t characterize badly if threatened with a firing squad”), and I was glad to see Ferda and Foix back. The theology gets further advanced with more detail into how demons work, but it all fits together nicely.


hallowed huntThe Hallowed Hunt is not set in the same time period (I believe it’s hundreds of years earlier), or even in Chalion. We follow Ingrey, a noble of the Weald, who has been entrusted to accompany the mad prince Boleso’s murderer, Lady Ijada, to the capital for trial and probable death. However, Ingrey discovers that he has far more in common with Ijada than he thought, and in fact, she might be the only person he can trust.

Ingrey is an entirely different protagonist from Cazaril and Ista – he does not have their uncertainty or wry sense of humour or ruminations on theology. He’s a soldier first, and this book’s presiding deity (if one exists) is the Son. The gods’ influence and limitations are explored further, and a new magic system is introduced within the same framework of souls/spirits, demons, and free will. I liked this book a lot, but not as much as the other two.

“Autumn Bones” by Jacqueline Carey

autumnbonesDaisy Johanssen, Agent of Hel and unlikely daughter of a devil is back again in Autumn Bones. It’s been a few weeks since the events of Dark Currents, and Daisy’s life is at a level of normalcy that she’s never had before – she’s even dating the cute Pemkowet tour bus operator, Sinclair Palmer. But Sinclair isn’t as normal as he looks – he’s actually a Jamaican obeah sorcerer, and his family wants him back really badly – badly enough to release a vengeful spirit on Pemkowet, which as Hel’s liaison, it’s Daisy’s job to deal with.

Autumn Bones is lighter fare than the first book and it’s also a great Halloween story. Daisy continues to grow in her role as Hel’s liaison, and it’s nice to see all her friends band together to help her again. The undercurrent (no pun intended) of steaminess in Dark Currents turns into a lot more, and since it’s a Jacqueline Carey book, it’s really well done. It’s a shame that there are only three books planned in this series – this is one urban fantasy that I’d happily keep reading.

“Firefight” by Brandon Sanderson

firefightShorter review again. I’m going to be doing lots of these so I can review a higher percentage of the books I read.

Steelheart wasn’t my favourite Sanderson book – not because it wasn’t good, but I don’t find superheroes or YA or endless action that compelling, especially given Sanderson’s skill for elaborate worldbuilding and cool magic systems. But he’s pretty much my favourite author, so I’ll read anything by him and like it. That being said, Firefight was pretty darn awesome.

David has achieved his goal of killing the Epic that murdered his father, but in the process, he’s also realized that Megan, the girl he’s kind of in love with, is actually Firefight, a High Epic with the same innate evil as every other Epic. David is never one to give up on the impossible, though, and armed with his infectious enthusiasm and groan-worthy metaphors, he sets out to rid Babilar (once New York City) of its ruling Epic, Regalia – while also searching for Firefight, who has already murdered one member of his team.

We get (some) answers to what’s going on with the Epics and their powers and weaknesses, and it all makes sense in the way that only Brandon Sanderson can do magic systems. The action is fantastic, and David’s eagerness and self-assurance are irresistible (and slightly horrifying, I was convinced he was going to get himself killed every other chapter). I know I pretty much end every book series review with “I want the next book”, but dammit, I want Calamity now, not Spring 2016!

Edited to add: Here’s a preview of Firefight on audio.

“The Dagger’s Path” by Glenda Larke

daggers-path-coverI read The Dagger’s Path immediately after finishing the first book of this series, The Lascar’s Dagger. I enjoyed the first book, but this one really made me want to read other books by Glenda Larke.

I love fantasy books with non-traditional settings (Throne of the Crescent Moon, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy), and this book includes a lot of that. The first book is set in a fairly standard European-inspired fantasy setting (albeit with a secondary character that’s most definitely not European), but in this book, the secondary character becomes one of the main protagonists, and we visit his home and see it through both foreign and native eyes. The Chendarwasi islands and the Spicerie are inspired by Indonesia and Malaysia, and there are quite a few literal references to their language and culture (I read in an interview that the author’s husband is Malay and his culture inspired this book).

I also liked the characters quite a bit. The three main protagonists are Saker, the rakish priest/spy who usually has the best of intentions but ends up in pickles regularly, Ardhi, the titular “lascar” who is atoning for the terrible consequences brought upon his people by his naivete, and Sorrel, the woman that accidentally murdered her abusive husband and is finding that she is an incredibly tough and resourceful person. The secondary characters also feel like people I’ve gotten to know pretty well, despite the shorter page time – Mathilda, the princess that will do anything to gain power in a world that refuses to recognise that women can be trusted to hold it, Ryce, the prince that struggles with feeling weak for doing the right thing, Gerelda, the unflappable lawyer and her charge Peregrine, who has a burden beyond his years, Fritillary Reeding, the tough religious head who is determined to keep darkness from claiming her lands, Lord Juster the flamboyant privateer who is pragmatic until someone threatens his beloved ship.

I was worried about some elements of the plot in The Lascar’s Dagger – the generic evil seemed a bit too derivative,  and some characters that we were supposed to like made some questionable decisions. After this book, though, I’m no longer worried – Larke uses the “generic evil” tropes rather cleverly, and the characters in question either realized that their decisions were suspect or fully committed to the dubious path. The book moved pretty quickly, and most of the outstanding questions from the first book were answered (something I always appreciate in a middle book of a trilogy), but of course, they raised a whole bunch of new ones.

The Dagger’s Path isn’t flawless – some of the characters flip-flop between attitudes too often (Sorrel’s emotions regarding Ardhi and Ardhi’s conviction regarding his ultimate fate, for example), everyone likes Saker way too much and too quickly, but it’s compelling and fun. This book isn’t even officially out, but I’d really like the third book now, please.

“The Lascar’s Dagger” by Glenda Larke

the_lascars_daggerAnother mini-review. The Lascar’s Dagger was my first book by Glenda Larke, and I liked it. A religious spy investigating the politics of the discovery of a new spice route realises that there’s a larger darkness brewing. This didn’t seem like a particularly innovative fantasy (see “larger darkness brewing”), but the characters are good, the intrigue is intriguing, and I started the second book despite having a new Brandon Sanderson book to read, so it’s pretty darn good.

I have more to say, but most of it applies to the second book too, so I’ll save it for my full-size review of the second book (I’ll update this post with a link when it’s ready).

Update: here’s my review of Book 2 with more about the setting and characters.

“Dark Currents” by Jacqueline Carey

darkcurrentsA mini-review – I don’t usually read urban fantasy, but I really like Jacqueline Carey, and I recently read and loved Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, so I decided to give Dark Currents a shot. (It’s not really urban fantasy anyway, it’s Midwest small town fantasy, and I love the small Ohio town I live in, plus it’s supposed to end after three books.) I was not disappointed – there are definitely some genre tropes (the umpteen hot guys, the female protagonist with unique powers that doesn’t quite think she’s capable yet) but it was much darker than I expected, while still having moments of levity. And Carey is a master at steaminess (although the book was surprisingly devoid of actual action). The hot guys were all actually decent not-quite-humans, too – usually I can’t stand the people that the heroine finds attractive.

“The Providence of Fire” by Brian Staveley

providence-of-fireThe Providence of Fire is the sequel to Brian Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, which came out last year to a lot of acclaim. I read The Emperor’s Blades when it came out, but didn’t review it – I liked it enough to want to read the sequel pretty much immediately when I got it, but I had forgotten who most of the characters were.

In The Providence of Fire, we’re following the three children of the murdered Emperor of Annur as they try to save their empire from forces that are trying to tear it apart. Adare is in the capital, still reeling from the shocks she has just received, and Kaden and Valyn have barely escaped with their lives, and are fleeing from the forces that continue to pursue them.

First, the good things: I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had to take breaks from it. The worldbuilding in this series is excellent – it has a long mythology/history, distinct cultures and empires, and the way magic and gods work is pretty cool. The plot moves along quickly, and revelations come in quick succession. There are some awesome action scenes too – I love the concept of the Kettral (which the author has described as a fantasy version of special forces strike teams).

However, I was irritated by a number of things, mostly to do with the characters. All three protagonists – Valyn, Adare, and Kaden – were incredibly reactionary and kept making major decisions about their future every time they were presented with new information, regardless of the source’s trustworthiness. I wasn’t ever sure what motivated them and what their ultimate goals were. To be fair, I think some of that was intentional – all three of them are very young and inexperienced, and think they have to save the world single-handedly, but it sometimes came off like an utter lack of conviction, which made it hard to root for or care about the outcome. Adare especially seemed like she just went with whichever way the wind was blowing, and felt vaguely guilty after it, but never grew from it.

I wasn’t too enthused about the gratuitous violence either – while I’m not the biggest fan of violence, it’s not a dealbreaker. The thing that bothered me was that all the protagonists killed innocent people, or allowed the murder of innocent people to be acceptable collateral in their plans. This is not inherently a bad thing, but all three siblings are convinced that they’re being nobler than the Csestriim they’re fighting, whose chief failing is that they do not value human life, and just see them as pawns.

I’m not sure if these are flaws, or intentional on the part of the author, though – the next book will tell me that. The series is otherwise pretty great, and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out.

“Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

DoomsdayBook(1stEd)I’ve heard a lot about Connie Willis, but my first exposure to her was her story in the Rogues anthology, which I absolutely loved. I bought this book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog immediately.

Doomsday Book is one of Willis’ shared universe books about a 2050-era Oxford University that sends historians back in time to study the past. Kivrin, an enthusiastic medieval scholar, is the first person to visit the Middle Ages (a few years before the Black Death), but her extensive research and carefully planned identity falls apart the moment she gets there. Meanwhile, back in 2048 Oxford, Kivrin’s professor is convinced that something is wrong with her time travel drop, but he can’t do much about it since an epidemic is breaking out.

Kivrin’s sections in the Middle Ages are definitely the most interesting part of the book – the people she meets are pretty ordinary, but they’re ordinary for their time, which still makes them a wealth of historical information. The portrayal of everyday life is fascinating, and the characters seem utterly real. The sections in 2048 are slightly less fun – the characters are the best part, but it got a bit repetitive and there were some overdone gags. (Plus, landline phones being common!)

Overall, this was a good book, just much more depressing than I had anticipated. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.