“The Rose and the Thorn” by Michael J. Sullivan

After I reviewed The Crown Tower, I immediately started reading The Rose and the Thorn. Based on past experience I’m forcing myself to review each book before I read the next one in the series, otherwise the stories start to blur together and I can’t separate the books enough to review each one individually.

The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in the Riyria Chronicles series of standalones. Whereas the first book, The Crown Tower, told the story of how Royce and Hadrian became partners, this book tells the story of how they came to form Riyria and ended up in the arrangement we see them in at the beginning of Theft of Swords. A year after the events of The Crown Tower, Royce and Hadrian are back in Medford and stop by at Gwen’s – only she won’t see them because she’s been beaten up, and she’s trying to protect them from getting themselves killed trying to help her. Of course, this is Royce and Hadrian, and they can take care of themselves. We also get some additional viewpoints at Castle Essendon, the seat of the royal family of Melengar, as a plot against them unfolds.

This was a fun story, it was nice to see Royce and Hadrian settle into their element. Plus, we are introduced to early versions of more of the Riyria Revelations cast. I always think of these books as cozy, but there’s actually a fair amount of death and destruction and darkness, exemplified by Royce’s actions. Royce is terrifying, and I don’t know why I think of him as lovable.

The last chapter of this book (The Visitor) really frustrated me, though – its only purpose seemed to be to set up Theft of Swords with all the subtlety of a hammer. Foreshadowing is great, but the most fun thing about it is putting things together from what seem like inconsequential details upon first glance. I already thought the references to an unrevealed co-conspirator were fairly obvious, but to tack on a whole chapter laying it all out in the open felt like overkill. And reading this chapter also made me figure out the feeling I have when reading Sullivan’s books that I haven’t been able to articulate in my previous reviews – the dialogue in his books is always a little bit too on-the-nose for his characters to feel completely real. Especially the villains – they often explain their plans concisely and articulately at some point.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoy these books, and I’m hurriedly reviewing this book so that I can get to The Death of Dulgath. I’m particularly excited about that one because it feels like it’ll be more of a standalone adventure and not so much of the origin story that the first two books have been. And after that, I’m also contemplating a reread of the Riyria Revelations.


The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #2)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 15-21, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Disillusioned with the standard American lifestyle, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie have made the unusual choice of moving to the middle of the woods and homeschooling their six children, teaching them survivalism and critical thinking in addition to the usual curriculum. The kids end up being ridiculously smart and athletic, but know very little about the world. When Leslie (who has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder) kills herself, the rest of her family is forced to reintegrate into society in order to attend her funeral.

This is very much a quirky comedy drama (think Little Miss Sunshine) about a “weird” family that is still very close to each other. It reminded me of the movie The Mosquito Coast, except that unlike Harrison Ford’s character, Ben Cash isn’t a raging egomaniac and so it didn’t all end in tragedy.

Captain Fantastic is a great movie, but it is very much constrained by the genre that it aspires to be. The first half of the movie explores the uniqueness of the Cash family, but it soon hits some predictable notes of emotional drama that’s clearly just an impetus for the character growth it’s trying to get to, and it doesn’t quite ring true. It devolves into a more formulaic movie after that, culminating in a disappointingly conformist and saccharine ending. The ending also felt inconsistent – earlier scenes in the movie emphasized the good things about Ben and Leslie’s decisions on how to raise their kids (the scene where Zaja talks about the Bill of Rights, for example), but the ending seems to imply that they would have better off being normal all along. If it wasn’t trying so hard to be a feel-good inoffensive movie, Captain Fantastic might have actually had something unique to say.

That being said, I think this movie was very good – I’m only complaining about it because it was so close to being extraordinary. The acting in particular is amazing – the child actors help carry the film just as much as Viggo Mortensen does, which is saying a lot.

Other Movies Watched

The Revenant (2015)

I was really not looking forward to watching this movie (despite it winning so many awards) because it just looked so bleak. A faithful look at the things that humans had to do to survive in the wilderness in the 1820s seemed like it wouldn’t be very pleasant to watch, either.  And both of those things are true – the movie is excruciating to watch at times, and it is indeed unrelentingly bleak. But it’s also very good, and it’s a satisfying revenge story. Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal as the protagonist Hugh Glass, who is abandoned by his companions far from civilization after being mauled by a bear. It’s based loosely on a real life story, but the grimmest elements are all completely fictional. Tom Hardy is terrifying as the villainous Fitzgerald, he made me physically uncomfortable sometimes. It’s definitely worth watching, especially for the cinematography – it has some incredibly stunning shots of landscapes.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

I don’t usually enjoy musicals very much, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching The Phantom of the Opera. I saw it on Broadway a few years ago, so I’m familiar with the story. It was actually a pretty good movie, though. The music is probably the best part – it’s haunting and beautifully sung. Emmy Rossum (who I like from other things) does a great job as the wide-eyed and innocent Christine Daae, and Patrick Wilson (as Raoul) has a great singing voice as well. I didn’t really like Gerard Butler as the Phantom, though. I thought he had the weakest voice, and he didn’t come across as very sympathetic.

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I didn’t know much about Deepwater Horizon except that there was an oil spill, I had no idea that it was an oil rig that exploded and people lost their lives. This was a pretty standard “real life disaster” movie, starting off with things being normal, showing the main character’s loving wife and cute kid, and then recreating the day of the disaster. I enjoyed it because I didn’t know much about the world of oil drilling so I learned a few things, plus I like Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell.

Æon Flux (2005)

In 2415, most of humanity has been wiped out by a plague, and all of the survivors live in the futuristic city of Bregna, ruled by the Goodchild dynasty. The Monicans are the resistance against the Goodchilds, and Æon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the most deadly of them. When she is assigned to kill Chairman Trevor Goodchild, in the course of completing her mission, she realizes that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about the world and now she has to figure out what the right thing to do is. I really wanted to like this movie – it’s stylized and slick sci-fi and the set design is gorgeous. It lacked something, though – it either didn’t succeed at being stylized enough to be good, or maybe it’s just that the world seemed implausible and not lived-in, and the characters were fairly emotionless and it was hard to relate to them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

We weren’t really looking forward to this movie because it doesn’t have any of the usual The Fast and the Furious characters, but we committed to watching the series in order, so we had to get to it. Going into it with absolutely zero expectations, it wasn’t that bad. It follows American teenager Sean who gets into trouble for racing cars and causing property damage a little too often, so instead of going to jail, he gets sent to Tokyo to live with his dad (not sure how that works.) Of course, he ends up racing cars again, but he’s taken under the wing of Han, a garage owner who apparently doesn’t care about how much damage Sean does in his quest to actually learn how to race well. Eventually Sean figures out how to race well, beat his Yakuza-connected rival, and get his girlfriend. Because this movie is about teenagers, it’s a little bit less fun than the other movies, but exactly what you’d expect otherwise. There is a Vin Diesel cameo, which was nice.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

We enjoyed the first Jack Reacher movie so I was looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it was a disappointment. Tom Cruise reprises his role as former Army military policeman and lone wolf Jack Reacher, this time unraveling a conspiracy that has his military contact Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) accused of espionage. Jack Reacher is an unusual protagonist, but his uniqueness is neutered by having to partner with a love interest and an annoying teenager for the entire movie. The acting, especially by the actress who plays his potential daughter, wasn’t that great either. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “monotonously formulaic”, and that’s a great way of putting it.

“The Crown Tower” by Michael J. Sullivan

Reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan made me want to go back (to the future!) and read some more Riyria. I’ve read the entirety of the Riyria Revelations series, but I hadn’t read any of the standalone Riyria Chronicles yet – starting with this book, The Crown Tower. I don’t have any of the Riyria Revelations books reviewed because I raced through them so fast, so I’m forcing myself to go slower with this series.

The Crown Tower is the origin story of Riyria – it tells the story of how Royce and Hadrian first met and their first adventure together – robbing the Patriarch of the Nyphron church. Gwen is also a viewpoint character, and the book covers how she met Royce and Hadrian as well. I don’t remember the minor details of the Riyria Revelations books enough to comment on how much of this story is referenced in them (if at all), but some of the major plot points are definitely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed this book. More Royce and Hadrian is never a bad thing, and it was interesting meeting them when they aren’t quite the people I was used to. There isn’t really much of an antagonist – the conflict is just Royce and Hadrian’s intense dislike of each other. There are people after them, but it’s not personal.

I was a little disappointed at how little control Royce and Hadrian had over their meeting – they are literally forced together by Arcadius. Gwen displays a little more initiative, but she is also bound by prophecy. I would have been much less sympathetic to how everything happened if I hadn’t read the Riyria Revelations series, so I would definitely recommend reading that series first, starting with Theft of Swords.

Now that I’ve reviewed this, I can go ahead and read The Rose and the Thorn!


The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Empire Games” by Charles Stross

I’ve never read any Charles Stross before, but he’s been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I was excited to read this book. It’s set in the world of his Merchant Princes (also known as Family Trade) books, but it’s the start of a new series. I had high hopes, but I ended up being a little underwhelmed.

After terrorist “world walkers” from an alternate timeline nuked the White House, the U.S. has become a paranoid surveillance state. Rita Douglas is the adopted daughter of a family that knows how to keep their head down and out of trouble – her grandparents escaped from the GDR and outwitted the Stasi. Unknown to her, the U.S. government has been keeping tabs on her since she was eight – her birth mother was a known world walker and she has the gene as well. She’s recruited to become the first American world walker spy. Meanwhile, her birth mother is trying to rebuild modern technology in an alternate timeline while waiting for the inevitable U.S. first contact.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t love this book, the biggest one being that I just didn’t believe the picture that Stross painted of the timeline closest to our world. It was the same until 2003 when the nuclear attack on the White House happened, but since then, the Bill of Rights has become a farce, conservative values have taken root (Roe vs. Wade was overturned), society is more overtly racist and homophobic, and India and Pakistan have had a nuclear war. Surveillance is everywhere – every street corner has a camera, and there are advanced algorithms to identify suspicious people.

The danger of setting up an alternate reality that diverged only a few years ago is that it will inevitably ring false to many people. Everyone has opinions about the times they live in. I just couldn’t believe that Americans would give up privacy or civil liberties to such an extent, or that our increasingly liberal world would suddenly descend into a moral panic about race or homosexuality. And India and Pakistan having a nuclear war struck me as exceedingly unlikely – there’s no political gain to either country going to war (much less nuclear war), and I don’t think there would be popular support for war at all (from having grown up in India.) References to “President Rumsfield” implementing draconian surveillance measures, and far too many references to the “Defense of Marriage Act” made me suspicious that the author was using the story as kind of a dumping ground for his politics.

The story and characters were fine, but they were inseparable from the world, so it made me hard to get invested in them. The tone of the book is an old school spy/tradecraft story, with much lamenting about skills lost after the Cold War ended. Without the world being what it is, I have no idea who Rita would be. Miriam and her timeline are much more interesting – the problem of introducing modern technology rapidly to a society with old fashioned values is fascinating, and I liked seeing the glimpses of how that was being implemented.

The book uses omniscient narration, including things like behind-the-scenes transcripts from Rita’s handlers, and that meant there was very little tension in the story. There was no real anxiety about Rita’s mission to the other timeline because we’ve been following the other timeline through Miriam and we know they’re fairly nice people. Rita’s contentious relationship with her handlers could have been a lot more ominous, but we’re reading their transcripts and we know they’re well-intentioned even if they occasionally misjudge her. There are hints of a larger threat established, but since they haven’t been encountered at all so far, that doesn’t add much excitement either.

I’m not saying this was a bad book – it was well written and well executed for what it wanted to be. What it wanted to be just wasn’t for me.


Empire Games by Charles Stross (Empire Games, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Dear Samsor” by Ahmad Zia Wahdat

Dear Samsor is a novella written by a friend of mine from college. I was very interested in reading it since it’s set in a time and place I don’t know very much about – Afghanistan in the 1980s – and since he’s Afghan, it seemed like it would be very authentic.

We follow Samsor, a young boy from the small Afghan village of Gogar, whose father is accidentally killed in a period of civil unrest. Being fatherless and poor means that he is forced to grow up too quickly, and he has a hard life with many difficult choices.

The writing style of this book is fairly simple, almost like someone is right there with you telling a story. It does a good job of setting – you really get a sense of war-torn Afghanistan where life is uncertain all the time, no matter where you are. There are a few glimpses of the past before things got so bad, and that makes it even more heartbreaking. Samsor’s life is not easy, and even when he’s trying to do the right thing, it often doesn’t end well. His life is not unrelentingly bleak, though – he’s young, and he sees the bright side of things and has fun where he can. And the book is a coming of age story, and ends on a note of hope.

This book has a few flaws that first books often have, and it could use a little editing – there’s a little more telling than showing I would like, and some awkward phrasing at times. I still enjoyed the read, though, and I hope the author keeps writing!


Dear Samsor by Ahmad Zia Wahdat
Self-published, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Obelisk Gate” by N.K. Jemisin

I absolutely loved The Fifth Season when I read it a couple of weeks ago – it made my top five books of 2016 despite reading it in late December. I immediately requested a review copy of The Obelisk Gate, and the fantastic Ellen Wright of Orbit (who also happen to be thanked profusely in the acknowledgements of this book) got it to me very quickly.

I’m avoiding spoilers for both The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate in this review, which is going to be a little tricky. At the end of The Fifth Season, we (and Essun) find out a little about what exactly is wrong with the world of the Stillness. The Obelisk Gate picks up pretty much exactly at that ending. We get a couple of new viewpoints – Schaffa, Syenite’s former guardian, and Nassun, Essun’s missing daughter who has been through more in a year that a person should have to bear in a lifetime.

We delve more into the world of the Stillness into this book, Essun isn’t as focused on her grief since she’s had some time to process things, and she’s lost Nassun’s trail. Her purpose changes, and she finds a community and starts paying attention to the wider world again. It turns into a more conventional (but still excellent) fantasy story – politics, alliances, defending your home from a threat, figuring out how to save the world. Nassun and Schaffa’s stories explore other plans for the world that are being made in parallel to Essun’s story, but have the potential to establish even more conflict.

This world is utterly brutal, and it’s shaped the people who live in it to be pretty monstrous as well. I’m not usually a fan of protagonists who commit heinous acts, but even though all three protagonists do this multiple times, N.K. Jemisin writes so well that I ended up feeling (almost) nothing but sympathy for them. Broken as they are, they’re the only people with the power to change things, and they’re reasonably well-intentioned. Some of the events makes it easier to understand why people are scared of orogenes, though, and I hope there are going to be some consequences in the third book for them. Right now the main consequences seem to be that the protagonists feel bad about themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from not being in control of themselves later.

Even though this was an outstanding book, it’s still very much a middle book, and by the end, the pieces are in place for what seems like it’s going to be an explosive (in multiple ways) finale. Only about six more months to wait for The Stone Sky!


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #2)
Orbit Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” by Nathaniel Philbrick

I’m continuing on my quest to read more about world history this year, since I enjoyed India After Gandhi and A World At Arms so much last year. I bought a couple of books about American history – since I didn’t grow up here, I don’t know a lot of basic history that people learn about in school. I decided to start with Mayflower because the Pilgrims and their story are so embedded in the cultural consciousness of America, but I really don’t know much about what actually happened.

Mayflower is well-written and well-researched, but it isn’t the definitive history of the Mayflower voyage that I was hoping it would be. The first third of the book talks about the Pilgrims and their preparations for the voyage, the voyage itself, and the first year of their life in the colonies. This was the most fascinating part of the book. It covers things like why the Pilgrims chose to settle at the site of Plymouth, how their first contact with the Native Americans went (not well), what they did to survive (steal corn, for example), what they planned and how their plans went awry, how they finally established good relationships with the Native Americans, and things like that. Unfortunately this level of detail stops right after the “First Thanksgiving”, and the book skips ahead about fifty years to the story of how Native-British relations soured and led to King Philip’s War.

The rest of the book is a history of King Philip’s War, which was interesting as well since I didn’t know anything about that time period, but I find socio-political and economic histories much more interesting than histories of war, so I was a little let down. The author mentions that in the intervening time, New England was settled much more extensively and infrastructure developed (for example, a judicial system), but doesn’t go into any of the interesting details – how the governments were formed, how the settlers spread outside Plymoth, what kind of political relationships they had with the new settlers, how they managed to become self-sufficient and developed trade relationships – none of that is explored.

Instead, Philbrick goes into a thorough history of the war – the various battles, the actions of the Native American leaders (with special attention paid to the infamous King Philip), and the troop movements of the British settlers. There are some interesting tidbits in there (I found the formation of Rhode Island interesting, for example), but the focus is definitely on war. I was a little bored by all the details. Philbrick compares the devastation of the war to the Civil War and World War II in terms of the percentage of population killed, but the fact remains that most of the battles involved a dozen to a hundred men. There were a few bigger battles, and it’s clear that the impact on the Native American population was significant, but with most of the sources available to reconstruct what happened being on the British side, it makes the telling very one-sided.

I think this is a book still worth reading, but I wish it had been called King Philip’s War instead of Mayflower – but the lack of name recognition means it probably wouldn’t have done so well.


Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Viking Adult, 2006 | Buy the book


Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 8-14, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Interstellar (2014)

I’ve seen this movie before (when it was in theaters), but I’m still counting it as a favorite movie of the week because I love it so much. I’ve loved space ever since I first read A Brief History of Time when I was fourteen, and this is a movie that celebrates loving space and exploration and pioneering and charting the unknown. I can’t think of any other movie that does that so well, except Contact (which I also love) and that’s not really about space.

In the near future, humanity is dying because our crops are affected with an incurable blight. Former NASA pilot Coop takes an offer to pilot a new spaceship to help humanity find a new world – even though that means he won’t be able to see his daughter Murphy grow up because of time dilation. Coop’s idealism about the role of humanity and his love for his family don’t seem compatible, but he ends up needing both to succeed at his mission.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means – some character motivations (Michael Caine’s character, particularly) don’t make sense sometimes, and there’s some handwaving around how problems finally resolve themselves. But it does a great job of conveying a sense of how much people don’t know yet about the universe and the awe and wonder of discovery. It’s sincerely hopeful about humanity’s ability to do great things despite massive setbacks, and I think there’s not enough of that sentiment these days. The score (by Hans Zimmer, but admittedly inspired by the Koyaanisqatsi score by Philip Glass) is beautiful as well. And Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as the protagonist, as are all three actors playing Murph.

Other Movies Watched

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

If I hadn’t watched Interstellar this week, this would’ve probably been my favorite movie of the week. April and the Extraordinary World is a French-Belgian-Canadian animated film that follows April, a young scientist in an alternate history/steampunk world. Most scientists are either disappearing mysteriously or being forcibly recruited to the war effort, and April must avoid both these fates as she tries to recreate her parents’ invulnerability serum. The animation style of the movie is beautiful (and very different from the Disney and Japanese animation styles I’m used to.) It’s also a heartening story with a fascinating world, a stubborn and brave heroine, and a feisty talking cat. Highly recommended.

Gandhi (1982)

This was a re-watch for us, although we didn’t remember the movie very well since we watched it a few years ago. As the name implies, it’s a biopic of Mahatma Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley playing the title role. It follows Gandhi’s life starting with his fight for civil rights in South Africa all the way to his assassination. It’s a really good movie, and Ben Kingsley deserves the Oscar for Best Actor that he won for it. As with many biopics, the movie shows an extremely rosy perspective of the subject, and Gandhi is portrayed as almost flawless. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, it’s a deliberate choice, and the movie acknowledges that you can’t capture a person’s life in a single telling.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Another re-watch of a movie I barely remembered, other than the fact that I loved it. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Jack Slater, a cop in L.A. in a franchise of ridiculous action films (basically a parody of his usual roles.) When Danny, a teenage movie buff, is magically transported into a Jack Slater movie, he has to help his hero foil the bad guys, who have discovered the magical transportation technology and threaten the real world too. I think of this movie as The Princess Bride of action movies, it’s a very loving parody, and a great action movie itself (it’s made by John McTiernan, who did Die Hard – arguably the best action movie of all time.) It also manages to be heartwarming.

The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Yet another re-watch. We’re watching our way through the Lord of the Rings somewhat slowly (mainly because we’re watching the extended versions, and they’re about four hours long each.) I wish there were more fantasy movies like these movies, they’re beautiful and epic and complex. The Two Towers is mostly about Rohan, while introducing us to Gondor through Frodo and Sam’s journey. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is probably what people remember most about this movie, and that’s because it’s very well done. The fall of Isengard (long overdue!) also happens in this movie. I don’t think I paid enough attention to Gollum’s internal struggles previously, and how they change after he’s captured by Faramir – it made me much more sympathetic to Gollum.

Thunderball (1965)

We’re slowly watching our way through all the Bond movies (although not necessarily in chronological order, we’re already done with the Brosnan and Craig movies.) Sean Connery made James Bond a classic, and he continues to be great in this movie, which is the fourth in the franchise. I think this is my least favorite of the Connery movies so far, though, just because it fit the Bond template so well that I was a little bored by it. There is a lot of underwater action in this movie, which seems like a cool technical accomplishment, but made the fight scenes somewhat ponderous. The henchmen, the villain and the Bond girls were fine too, but didn’t stand out.

Spectral (2016)

This movie was recommended to me on Reddit as being similar to Aliens, Starship Troopers, and Pitch Black, with the caveat of “it’s not as good as those movies”. I think that’s a great description of this movie. In the middle of a warzone in Moldova, U.S. soldiers start encountering ghostly forms that kill them instantly. A DARPA engineer (James Badge Dale) is sent to investigate and has to work with a CIA agent (Emily Mortimer) and a Delta team to figure out what’s going on and stop it. I was worried that this would have significant horror tones (given the name and comparison to Aliens and Pitch Black), but it’s pretty much just a sci-fi action movie. It’s not subtle, some of the dialogue is way too on the nose, the technobabble is pretty implausible, but it’s fun. Spectral is a Netflix original, and I hope this does well and they make more sci-fi movies!

“The Heart of What Was Lost” by Tad Williams

I read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series back in 2012, and while I didn’t absolutely love it (see my review here), I still have pretty good memories of it. I was excited to hear that the author was finally going to be returning to the world of Osten Ard with a whole bunch of new books, beginning with this short novel – The Heart of What Was Lost.

At the end of To Green Angel Tower, the Norns have been defeated at Hayholt, but wars are not generally over with a single decisive battle. As the Norns retreat, they pillage and destroy villages, and the new king sends his armies to make sure the Norns don’t bother his kingdom again. This novel tells the story of the actual end of the war from different perspectives – the commander of the human army Duke Isgrimnur (who was pretty prominent in the original trilogy), human soldier Porto, who is far from home, and Norn engineer Viyeki, who is with the force retreating from Hayholt.

This is very much a grim war book, and it made for more intense reading than I expected. It was very interesting to see a Norn viewpoint – they were faceless implacable enemies previously, and now we know a lot more about their culture and motivations. They’re the ones we end up rooting for (despite some horrible acts they commit), because the alternative seems to be genocide, and now that we know they’re not just evil killing machines, they don’t deserve that.

I think this book would work perfectly well as a standalone and as an introduction to the world of Osten Ard. I didn’t remember much of the events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and I thought it was a complete story. Having said that, I liked the complexity that it added to the ending of the original series, one of my biggest complaints was that everything was tied up far too neatly in To Green Angel Tower. And the ending of The Heart of What Was Lost is most definitely not “happily ever after” – it makes me look forward to reading The Witchwood Crown (the first book of the new trilogy) when it comes out later this year. I’m especially excited that Viyeki is confirmed to be in it.


Also, this is completely unrelated, but fantasy books need more original names. I recently read The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, this one is The Heart of What Was Lost. To make things even more confusing, the second James Islington book is going to be titled An Echo of Things To Come, and Tad Williams is writing another Osten Ard book called The Shadow of Things To Come


The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
DAW Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Unfettered II” edited by Shawn Speakman

I’ve been waiting for my pre-order of Unfettered II to arrive for weeks, so I was pretty excited when it finally got here last week. Unfettered II is an anthology of mostly fantasy stories, with no underlying theme at all. Editor Shawn Speakman created the first Unfettered to help with his medical debt, and I originally bought it because it contained a story that was deleted from the final book of Wheel of Time. Unfettered II was created to help other authors get out of medical debt, and contains stories from many authors that I like – Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and of course, Brandon Sanderson (the impetus for me ordering this collection – a chance to read a little bit of Oathbringer ahead of its release in November.)

Overall, I thought it was a solid collection of stories. There aren’t really any total clunkers, which was surprising, I usually at least dislike two or three stories in any anthology I read. Since there’s no theme, there are a wide variety of tones and themes, and I thought that helped keep the book from getting too repetitive or boring.

Some of my favorite stories:

And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire: This is a lyrical and tragic story about the last stand of dragons who know they are about to be destroyed by humans and can’t do anything about it. The imagery in this story is just stunning.

Day One by Jim Butcher: A Dresden Files story featuring a side character. I’ve only read the first Dresden Files book, but I’ve read a handful of stories set in the world in various anthologies, and they’re all great and just make me want to read the series. Considering I own the first eight or so books, I should really get around to it. Anyway, back to the story – it’s a nice story about a nerdy medical examiner going on his first mission as a knight and building his confidence, and it was fun and heartwarming.

Magic Beans by Django Wexler: This story was originally written for a coffee shop erotica anthology, and so it has lots of sex in a coffee shop. It’s fun and weird and has a ton of heart. I don’t have much else to say about it.

The Hedgewitch by Sarah Beth Durst: I thought the world of this story was really cool – the people live in huge trees and are constantly under threat of attack by sprites. The protagonist, Hanna, has the magic to control the sprites, but is terrified of them after they killed her family, and has to learn to accept her place in the world. There’s nothing better than a well done coming of age story! Based on this story, I think I’m going to read the author’s novel set in the same world (bonus: it also features Hanna in some capacity.)

A Duel of Evils by Anthony Ryan: This is another story that made me want to go out and get the author’s work set in the same world (although in this case, Blood Song has been on my wishlist forever.) It’s written in the form of a historical document, and I love in-universe writing. The author of the document is chronicling the fall of a city, and he’s trying to be objective and academic about an event that clearly had crazy magical stuff happening. That kind of writing can fail horribly, but in this case, it works really well.

The Raven by Erin Lindsey: I love a villain that you can empathize with, and that’s the intent of this story. We follow Tom, a prince who is trying to do the right thing for his kingdom, but is blocked at every turn by the king (his brother), who has the best of intentions. You understand and agree with every single choice he makes, even though you can see why it’s wrong. Apparently Tom is the antagonist of Lindsey’s novel The Bloodbound, and I’m definitely going to seek it out.

The Gunnie by Charlaine Harris: I liked this alternate history gritty western type story featuring young mercenary Lizbeth. Lizbeth works as part of a crew that protects traveling families from bandits. When her latest job goes horribly wrong, she has to singlehandedly complete her mission. I liked that this story wasn’t just about Lizbeth being a hero, it also follows what happens to her and how she feels once she’s back home.

I would have expected The Thrill by Brandon Sanderson to be on my favorites too, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. We don’t learn much about the world or any secrets about Dalinar’s life (unlike Edgedancer, the awesome Stormlight novella that was in Arcanum Unbounded.) The bigger disappointment was that I felt like Dalinar’s voice was too generic – he’s young and quippy like a lot of other Sanderson characters, and he didn’t have any of the gravitas that characterizes present day Dalinar. I know part of the point is that Dalinar is very different than he used to be, but he didn’t even seem like the same person. I still enjoyed reading it though, and I have enough faith in Brandon Sanderson that the complete story will make more sense – I just didn’t love the excerpt as its own story.


Unfettered II by Shawn Speakman
Grim Oak Press, 2016 | Buy the book