The Watergivers series by Glenda Larke

The_Last_Stormlord Stormlord-Rising Stormlord's Exile

I was inspired by my recent read of The Forsaken Lands series (The Lascar’s Dagger and The Dagger’s Path) to read the Watergivers series by the same author (The Last Stormlord, Stormlord Rising, and Stormlord’s Exile). I read them too close together to give them individual reviews, so I’m going to review the series as a whole.

The Quatern is a desert where the only reason that people can survive is that some individuals have the ability to sense and control water. Unfortunately, the last Stormlord is dying, and there is no one strong enough to replace him, and the rainlords are at a loss. Shale, a poor village boy that happens to be water-sensitive, and Terelle, a courtesan in training with her own mysterious gifts, get caught up in the politics and mayhem that ensues.

The worldbuilding in this series was great – the four quarters were all pretty unique, with their own cultures and customs, and the water based magic system had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the characters and the plot weren’t as successful.

First – the characters. I could see the outlines of the people that Larke was trying to portaray, but they never really become more than archetypes. The dialogue and the character’s thoughts were cliched at best, I didn’t get a sense of who they were and why they were doing what they were doing, and so I didn’t really care about what happened to any of them The relationships between the characters (especially romances) were pretty much narrated, we never see them actually develop. Also, there were a ridiculous number of bad guys, all with the nebulous motivation of “power”. Larke seems to have been going for a gritty feel, but it doesn’t quite work.

I should mention that some of these problems with characterization are present in the Forsaken Lands books as well, but they’re not as pronounced, and the plot isn’t as terrible, so they’re excusable. Back to the Watergivers series.

The plot – okay, so, other than the fact that the conflict is mainly motivated by villains wanting to control everything NOW, the plot also revolves around the fact that everyone’s lives in the Quartern depend on a couple of people controlling the weather. Some of the bad guys want to return to a time of “random rain”. I pretty much agreed with the bad guys – no one should be living anywhere where a couple of people that happen to born with certain talents to have to work constantly to ensure the survival of a whole country.  One, that isn’t fair to the water-sensitives, who don’t choose what they’re born with, and basically have their whole life planned out because they have magic. Two, that’s a horribly low bus factor for the whole country’s survival, and that’s just foolish. It’s not even like the whole world is a desert – in fact, all the borders seem to not be deserts.

I’d only recommend this series if you’re looking for some popcorn fantasy that you don’t really want to think about too much, but has a cool world.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #1)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #2)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

Stormlord’s Exile by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #3)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“Poison Fruit” by Jacqueline Carey

poisonfruitPoison Fruit is the last book in the Agent of Hel trilogy (my reviews of books 1 and 2 are here: Dark Currents and Autumn Bones). It’s been a couple more weeks since the traumatic events of Halloween, and Pemkowet is slowly recovering. However, as winter approaches, there’s a fresh set of troubles brewing – people are having deadly nightmares all over town, and the city is getting sued by disgruntled tourists who just happen to be represented by a hellspawn lawyer that seems to have done the unthinkable and claimed his demonic birthright.

I really like this series because it’s set in a Michigan small town, which doesn’t seem that different from an Ohio small town (where I live), and I recognize some of the archetypes of the people and the place. This book especially resonated with me because it’s set in winter, and it’s been snowy here pretty much since the beginning of January.

The last two books were mostly standalone adventures, but they were seeding a lot of plot threads that come into fruition (pun unintended) in this book. Daisy is pretty tough now, and has learned to deal with threats to Hel’s dominion, but she’s still terrified of the fact that she could release Armageddon if she gives into even a moment’s temptation (for good reason!) In Poison Fruit, the combination of a creature that feeds on nightmares and the prospect of a hellspawn that has done what she never can means that she is forced to confront it head-on, and she becomes even more badass because of it.

The characters that we love still remain incredible, we meet some new fun characters (Skrrzzzt!), and even some characters that we don’t love become somewhat awesome. I got a lot of what I wanted from the book – Daisy growing, more information about Lurine, seeing Sinclair fully assimilating into Pemkowet, more Oak King, and even the love triangle resolved in the way I wanted it to (although that was a no-brainer, there’s only one right answer there). It was heartwarming to see all of Pemkowet’s eldritch community band together in the face of an unprecedented threat, and the book’s ending was pretty much perfect.

This book itself wasn’t perfect though, there are a few parts I found mildly irritating. I know Stefan is supposed to be the epitome of a wish-fulfillment character, but come on! His courtship of Daisy was pretty ridiculous, and I felt like I never really got a sense of who he was as a person. I did like how it all came together at the end, though, and that complaint was acknowledged a little bit. Also the whole “supernatural creatures use technology” trope was both brilliant (the reason for the Night Hag’s visit) but also got a bit grating sometimes.

The most annoying thing, however, was that this was the end of the series. I really want to read more about Daisy and Pemkowet!

Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel, #3)
Roc, 2014 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

“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 Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage, #3)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

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.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #1)
Harper Voyager, 2001 | Buy the book

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #2)
Harper Voyager, 2003 | Buy the book

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #3)
Harper Voyager, 2005 | Buy the book

“The Republic of Thieves” by Scott Lynch

Republic of ThievesI just want to say “YAY, GIMME MORE!”, but I don’t think that would be a very good review, so I’ll try and extract some coherence from my general happy feelings about this book.

The Gentlemen Bastards is one of my favourite fantasy series – I love the world, I love the characters, I love the writing, I love the capers, I love the structure. Naturally, I was really excited to finally receive my pre-order of The Republic of Thieves (although I ended up not reading it for over a month because I didn’t want my life to go back to a world where I didn’t have more of the series to read). Also, naturally, the book was not just amazing. it exceeded my sky-high expectations!

With all the hype built up about Sabetha, I wasn’t sure if I should be looking forward to finally meeting her. I was fully expecting her to play a cat-and-mouse game, leading an obviously infatuated Locke on – something I wasn’t looking forward to. Happily, this wasn’t the case – Sabetha is endearing as well as being beautiful, confident and more than a match for Locke and Jean. Her reluctance to put down roots makes complete sense with her determination to be independent in the male-dominated world she lives in (something Locke and Jean have never considered). I also really enjoyed Locke and Sabetha’s relationship; it’s rare that a fictional relationship is so realistically based on good communication.

Okay, now that we have Sabetha out of the way – the rest of the book was also pretty awesome. I really enjoy that I get introduced to a new part of the world every book. Karthain, the dominion of the Bondsmagi, was a really interesting place, and of course, Locke and Jean have a new con to run – rigging an election. Except that this time, it’s not really their choice. The book had a slow start; Locke is still poisoned because of the fallout from his previous adventure, and Lynch does a good/scary job of portraying exactly how helpless he is. Once it gets going though, the plot moves at a breakneck speed.

This book also has extensive flashbacks (they occupy about half the book) about Locke and Sabetha’s time in Father Chains’ gang and how their relationship develops. There are several smaller incidents and then one large adventure, and Lynch does a great job of building a similar amount of tension in the flashbacks as the present day storyline, so I didn’t mind the alternating chapters at all. It was great to get more backstory on the dynamic of the group with Sabetha in it, as well as the awkward-adolescence phase.

I always figured that the Gentlemen Bastards series would veer in the direction of a more traditional fantasy epic (the suddenly vanished Eldren civilisation, the presence of a formal order of wizards), and we finally get our first inklings of that in this book. We find out more about where Locke came from (although nothing can be trusted in these books), and also a little more speculation about the nature of the fallen Eldren civilisation. Nothing is different yet (aside from the usual fallout accompanying Locke and Jean), but I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Okay, I can’t be articulate any more. This series is incredible, and so is this book. Read it!

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (Gentlemen Bastards, #3)
Del Rey, 2013 | Buy the book

“The Daylight War” by Peter V. Brett

daylightwarThe Daylight War is Book 3 of the Demon Cycle (I reviewed book 1, but I never reviewed book 2, which is too bad since that’s the book that got me excited about the series). I had it pre-ordered for quite a while, and so I was pretty excited when it finally arrived on Feb 12, and ended up finishing it the same day.

We pick up the story right about where we left off in The Desert Spear. Our heroes (Arlen and Jardir) are now aware of mind-demons and mimic demons thanks to the attacks they both survived independently. They also realise that there will be a massive attack when the moon is full again, so they start preparing – Jardir in the ex-Fort Rizon and Arlen in Cutter’s Hollow. The star of the book isn’t the present-day story, though, it’s the flashbacks to Inevara’s story.

The Daylight War is the best book in the series so far. I really enjoy Brett’s slow expansion of the world and the protagonists – so far, both his sequels have taken the one-dimensional antagonist from the previous book and turned them into a sympathetic protagonist. Inevara handles this treatment even better than Jardir. She ends up being my favourite character so far, maybe because she’s almost always in control of herself, even when the dice throw surprises at her (and they throw quite a few). Even when she’s consumed by doubt, she takes action and adapts as necessary – no other characters in the series do that so well. It’s a pretty classic story – poor but smart girl gets chosen, goes to “school” with a bunch of other people who are jealous, etc. The dice are very interesting – I wonder if we’ll ever find out more about how they tell the future.

The other characters have also changed and grown – some for the better. Rojer has finally acquired some self-confidence, probably helped by his newfound relationship. I’m really glad he stopped mooning over Leesha, but I still find the progression of his new relationships a bit unbelievable – especially given that most of the book takes place over a month. I mean, I’m glad it works, Rojer is way less annoying, so I guess I won’t complain too much.

Jardir and Arlen seem to have turned into zen masters, except for their very rash decision towards the end of the book. They’ve developed extremely strong powers, and a patience and understanding to match. This makes them kind of boring, since they’re always being reasonable and don’t really have any internal conflict. I don’t want to say much about the ending, but I didn’t approve of it at all – I think it belies the leadership that they’ve both seemingly accepted. But then, there’s a lot of personal history there – maybe that was the internal conflict.

The other characters – Renna is scary. She always seems like she’s one second from losing his mind, and Arlen is the only thing keeping her together. I’m glad they’re working, but I still have the feeling there’s a looming betrayal. Leesha didn’t seem to have a lot to do in this story except be sad, so I hope she gets better next book. I do like Thamos, he seems nice, but I’m afraid to think that; the next book will probably focus on how he’s all screwed up inside.

The general lasciviousness in this book seems lower than the other books, which is good. There’s still too much sex and rape for my tastes, but at least there’s a lot more fading to black, and Leesha is being described without so much focus on her body. I’m still somewhat troubled by Krasian society and the casual way in which rape is treated (at one point, a character is described as having a habit of visiting another character’s home and raping the first daughter or wife he sees – how does that even work?!) But Krasian society is changing slowly, so that’s good, I guess.

I should probably say a bit about the present-day events – they did advance the plot, and we found out a lot more about demons through some demon PoVs. It took a backseat to the growth of the characters, though, and that was totally fine with me. I’m guessing a lot more will happen next book on that front – a lot of the things that did happen seemed like setup.

One last thing: beware the cliffhanger ending. Aside from that, it was a great book and I’m eagerly waiting for The Skull Throne.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett (Demon Cycle, #3)
Del Rey, 2013 | Buy the book

Wheel of Time Reread #3: The Dragon Reborn

In anticipation of the Jan 8, 2013 release of A Memory of Light, the fourteenth and final book in the Wheel of Time series, I’m rereading the entire series. Each book gets its own spoiler-filled post.

the_dragon_reborn__frontcover_large_kVhYQJryhkOh43UThis is where the Wheel of Time finally starts getting awesome for its own sake, and not just “wow, check out all the references to later books!” Until the travesty that is Crossroads of Twilight, anyway.

Okay, first things first: Aviendha! Faile! Tel’aran’rhiod! The pieces are sliding into place.

Finally, Mat starts being totally awesome. Maybe he was awesome all along inside his head, but this is the first time we’re in his head and we see that he’s actually a pretty compassionate guy, he’s just fighting it all the time. And he’s started to realise it too. Also, his trouncing of Galad and Gawyn was awesome (and totally conceivable – I don’t think Galad and Gawyn usually fight people with quarterstaffs, and Mat’s been trained by his dad, the best in the village).

Now that I’ve brought up changes of perspective when you’re not in someone’s head all the time… Rand is totally nuts. I’m not sure if this is because he openly declared himself Dragon at the end of The Great Hunt, and so the Forsaken and Shadowspawn are harassing him a lot more, or if his channeling is driving him a bit insane. The bit where someone tries to join his camp and he kills them all (including a woman), and makes their corpses kneel to him because he’s the Dragon… uhhh… (yes, they did end up being Darkfriends and assassins, but still!) Now I understand why I dislike Rand so much – he was pretty nice, if boring, in the previous books. Do we ever get an explanation of this? Are his duties just depressing him so much, and is this a downward spiral until he ends up laughing on Dragonmount in one of the later books?

The Aes Sedai get a lot less intimidating in this book – they all have admirable composure, but it’s made clear in this book that Moiraine actually has no idea what she’s doing (although she’s still pretty awesome, balefiring Be’lal). It’s also interesting to see how people react to Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene when they’re pretending to be Aes Sedai – their intimidation causes them to take them a lot more seriously and see meanings into innocuous comments. Confidence is everything! Moiraine was somewhat  annoying, though – her continued refusal to tell Perrin anything, and her occasional needling of Lan about passing his bond on were not cool. I guess she was just stressed about what she should do and was succumbing to the pressure.

It’s hilarious how Moiraine and Siuan still think they’re in control – they see Perrin and Mat as boys that they can use in their schemes (yes, they’re well-intentioned schemes), rather than powerful people in their own right.  Their scheming does work sometimes, the way Siuan handled Elayne’s inclusion into her band of Black Ajah hunters was pretty smooth.

The whole way women treat men is irritating – I do sympathise with Jordan’s intent (I think?) of flipping gender roles/power, but he does it so blatantly. Some subtlety would’ve been nice. The way Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene treat Mat is horrible, especially after he travels all the way from Caemlyn to Tear in the fastest way possible to try and save them. I like that Jordan doesn’t take his characters too seriously, but when the women in his story don’t even take them seriously… it’s irritating. Faile does this too, but she hasn’t done it in this book very much.

Speaking of Faile, I don’t really get the Perrin/Faile relationship. How the hell do they fall in love? At least Mat/Tuon’s relationship, even if it isn’t normal, is done with full awareness.

I was glad to see the Forsaken out in full force again – Be’lal in Tear, Sammael in Illian and Rahvin in Andor, plus Lanfear and Ishmael in everyone’s dreams. I assume Mesaana is in the White Tower too. Political intrigue is always fun, and it finally begins. I’m also relieved that everyone realised that Ba’alzamon wasn’t the Shadow himself – I didn’t realise that took so long. I also finally understood why Lanfear is the “Daughter of the Night” – she is the best Dreamer.

As usual, there were a lot more clues to the future, as well – Gawyn having a thing for Egwene, Sheriam being found on the scene after a Grey Man is killed, Alanna being given some attention – even High Lord Darlin makes an appearance.

I’m glad this this is the last book where everyone ends up in the same place – that way there doesn’t have to be all these contrivances to get them there, and people have the freedom to pursue their own story. I’m not sure why Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve even had to be in Tear.

One last thing – I’ve always assumed that the Age of Legends was a really futuristic place, and there’s a lot of clues that Jordan leaves to support that – the portal stones (wormholes to alternate realities), the tower made out of metal, etc. I was wondering how the Forsaken were dealing with a more primitive society, they seemed so used to it. But then Be’lal says something to the effect of “remember when we decided to learn to sword fight, as men of old used to?” to “Lews Therin”, and that answered that question for me.

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time, #3)
Tor Books, 1991 | Buy the book

“Naamah’s Kiss”, “Naamah’s Curse” and “Naamah’s Blessing” by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss coverYes, I’ve been reading a lot of Jacqueline Carey lately. (wait until I get to my Robin Hobb backlog – I’ve got four trilogies and a book of short stories to review…)

I don’t think there’s an official name for this trilogy, just “the Moirin trilogy”, but it’s the third trilogy in the Kushiel’s Legacy world (my review of the “Imriel trilogy“, and the individual books of the Phèdre trilogy: Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar.) It’s set a hundred years after the events of the previous books and features an entirely new protagonist – Moirin mac Fainche of the Maghuin Dhonn, who happens to be half D’Angeline. I pretty much have the same cricitisms and things I love for all three books, so I won’t be reviewing them separately.

Jacqueline Carey writes beautifully, I love the lush descriptions of her world, and I was really excited to see more of it – Ch’in, Bhodistan, Vralia, the Tatar steppes – even the New World! I thought the way Raphael ended up using Caim’s gift was ingenious. I love her subtle use of words, I love her characters, I love her twist on the “love conquers all” cliché.  I can’t not enjoy a Kushiel’s Legacy book… but these books didn’t live up to the previous trilogies. Here’s why:

Naamah's Curse cover

  • Moirin’s diadh-anam: As a child of the Maghuin Dhonn, Moirin has a very convenient thing called a diadh-anam. Whenever Moirin has to make a decision, it’s simple – she consults her diadh-anam. If it’s leaping, she says yes. If it’s still, she says no. This always turns out to be the right choice, and this means Moirin never has any internal conflict and turns out to be a Mary Sue. Her diadh-anam even points her to the direction she needs to go in next – it gives the idiom “moral compass” a whole new meaning. Very occasionally, her diadh-anam is silent, but Moirin ends up making the right choice anyway, and it leaps afterwards
  • Bao:  Bao is the worst character. He’s absolutely unbelievable. In Naamah’s Kiss, he’s surly and resentful, although a good fighter and protective of his master.  Then after a few months, Moirin realises that he’s beautiful? By book 2, he’s Moirin’s one true love and his character has changed completely – he’s now stubborn and confused, trying to figure out his feelings – kind of similar to Joscelin in Kushiel’s Chosen. In the third book, despite his ordeal at the end of the second, he’s suddenly a loving and patient husband – also like Joscelin in Kushiel’s Avatar – except he’s nowhere as awesome as Joscelin, and suffers by comparision. He should’ve been his own character – instead it seems like his character serves the plot rather than developing realistically.
  • The white savior: Like I said above, Moirin is very much a Mary Sue. Wherever she goes, she ends up finding sympathetic ears and changing the face of the society. In Ch’in, Snow Tiger ends up defying her father (something that never happens) to save the realm. In Vralia, she converts a fundamentalist Yeshuite to see the power of love and inspires him to go preach about it. In Bhodistan, she persuades the Rani to abolish the castle system. In Nauhatl lands, she persuades the emperor to give up human sacrifice. Not only does this reduce the lands she visits into stereotypes,  it’s just annoyinNaamah's Blessing coverg! Phèdre and Imriel manage to save the world multiple times without falling into this trope – Phèdre visits Khebel-im-Akkad without effecting women’s emancipation and Menekhet without changing the Hellene perception towards natives. Imriel visits Caerdicci Unitas without changing the stigma against homosexuality. It’s made all the more annoying by Moirin’s observations about how she’s not as good as the legends Imriel and Phèdre.
  • Moirin herself: Okay, Moirin is not that bad – she’s just bland. She has very little internal conflict because her diadh-anam tells her what to do, she’s Naamah and Anael’s child, and that makes her desires a lot tamer than Kushiel’s chosen, so that part  isn’t as much fun either. She had a lot of promise when she was a cave dwelling half-wild girl needing to understand D’Angeline society, but she figures that all out really quickly, which is boring. She’s just nice and kind and she has a destiny.

I still enjoyed the series, and if Carey wrote other books in this world, I’d pre-order them in an heartbeat. But I’d hope fervently they were more like the Phèdre and Imriel series’ than this one.

The Moirin trilogy is  Naamah’s Kiss, Naamah’s Curse and Naamah’s Blessing.

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #1)
Tor Books, 2009 | Buy the book

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #2)
Tor Books, 2010 | Buy the book

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (Moirin Trilogy, #3)
Tor Books, 2011 | Buy the book

“Last Argument of Kings” by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings coverLast Argument of Kings is the third book of the First Law trilogy (see my reviews of book 1 and book 2.) This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books in the series.

We pick back up a couple of months after the events of the last book, Bayaz and crew have returned to the city of Adua after their failed quest, Sand dan Glokta is a Superior of Adua and carrying out his duties – both for the country and for his boss, the Arch Lector, West and the Northmen are in the North fighting against Bethod. The king is about to die, and both crown princes are dead, and the nobles are trying their best to outbid each other in both favours and blackmail so that they can seize the throne. As if the kingdom doesn’t have enough troubles, the war with the Gurkish is about to come to a head.

All the plotlines set up in the last couple of books converge and get resolved – the wars with the North and the Gurkish, the succession, Bayaz’s plans. In a way, they’re resolved neatly, but not in the way you’d expect from a work of fantasy. No one in Abercrombie’s world is particularly nice, but almost everyone turns out to be nastier than you might expect – and yes, that’s possible. Although, the character arcs are certainly plausible and realistic, it’s still sad.

This book is certainly well crafted, but it’s not one that I particularly enjoyed reading. After the negativity in Before They Are Hanged, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and the characters that Abercrombie had spent the last two books building up get some measure of redemption, for all the blood and gore to pay off, but as Abercombie keeps repeating – “no one gets what they deserve.” There are a lot of battles, every characters gets put through hell, everything in sight is destroyed, but there’s no reprieve in sight.

Writers can choose to focus on how miserable the world is, or they can try to find inspiration in unlikely sources, which is what most fantasy does. Abercrombie chose the former, and it feels like he got swept up in his desire to write a gritty and realistic world that he forgot to make it likeable – it’s merely depressing. It makes me retroactively dislike the other two books for making a promise they didn’t deliver on, but no one gets what they deserve and that includes me, apparently.

I would write about the plot and the ending of the characters, but it doesn’t seem like it matters. It hardly feels like the end of a trilogy, it just seems like a few more moves have occurred in the game of chess that Bayaz and Khalul are playing. Indeed, Abercrombie has continued to write books that will hopefully end in some sort of resolution – there are three more books set in this world and a forthcoming trilogy. I don’t think I want to be along for the ride, though.

Readers that are not bothered by futility would like this series, though (fans of George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you.)

P.S.: Here’s a great review on Amazon that puts this all better than I can.

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (First Law, #3)
Pyr, 2008 | Buy the book

“Kushiel’s Scion”, “Kushiel’s Justice” and “Kushiel’s Mercy” by Jacqueline Carey

I am once again behind on my reviews, so I’ll be reviewing the second Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy (Kushiel’s Scion, Kushiel’s Justice, and Kushiel’s Mercy) in this post. WARNING: Contains spoilers for the first (Phèdre) trilogy – Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar.

Kushiel’s Scion

Our protagonist is now Imriel de la Courcel, the son of the infamous Melisande Shahrizai, Terre D’Ange’s greatest traitor, and the foster son of our beloved Phèdre and Joscelin. The story begins with a fourteen year old Imriel, who is being raised by Phèdre and Joscelin, much to Queen Ysandre’s chagrin.

I’m a sucker for good coming of age stories, and this is definitely one of them. Imriel is a complex and sympathetic character, and his character arc is thoroughly satisfying. He starts out as a confused young man, unsure of how to deal with his parentage and the mistrust that that generates, despairing of ever living up to his foster parents – heroes of the realm, sickened by his desires (being Kushiel’s scion and having lived through the zenana of Darsanga do not mix well.) He finds friendship and attraction, maybe even love, and escapes Terre D’Ange, before realising that he can’t run away from who he is. And of course, he ends up saving a few people along the way.

As with all of Carey’s stories, the plot just flows and is beautifully written. It’s fascinating to see Phèdre viewed through third party eyes, as well as others, like Nicola L’Envers y Aragon and Queen Ysandre, who Imriel does not like, and the Shahrizais, who Phèdre has always mistrusted (but Imriel gets along with.) Phèdre and Joscelin make great parents, and it’s a joy to see them in this role.

I also enjoyed the quintessential coming-of-age experience – university. Traveling to yet another part of Carey’s Earth was terrific – especially a city as iconic as Rome. Imriel’s relationships, both friendships and romances were also very believable. And of course, there’s the Unseen Guild, which I couldn’t wait to learn more about.

The climax in Lucca – both the problem and  the resolution were not what I expected, although they were foreshadowed heavily. Carey seems to be using more and more magic as the series progresses, but that’s not a bad thing.

Overall – great characters, great world, great writing, great story. The end is especially touching.

Kushiel’s Justice

After the events of Kushiel’s Scion, Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel has realised that he must accept who he is and his position in life. In light of this, he agrees to Ysandre and Drustan’s proposal that he wed Dorelei, an Alban princess, so that his children can inherit the Alban throne and Terre D’Ange’s ties with Alba are solidified. However, he doesn’t account for his crush on Sidonie – his cousin and heir to the throne of Terre D’Ange – developing into a torrid (mutual) love which must be kept secret.

This book is a further coming of age for Imriel – he’s accepted his parentage and his personal desires, but he does not yet understand what it means to be D’Angeline, especially of Elua and Kushiel’s lines. He weds Dorelei in the name of duty, but this violates Elua’s one precept, “Love as thou wilt“. Alba’s great magicians, the Maghuin Dhonn (people of the brown bear), oppose Imriel and Dorelei’s union, and bind him magically with his desire for Sidonie. Things go downhill from there.

In the end, at great personal cost, Imriel learns that he should not defy the will of the gods (especially when it is also his own will) for the sake of duty, and also truly accepts Kushiel’s gift of merciful justice. This book is tremendously sad, but a good read – Carey is truly a skilled writer. All my compliments for Kushiel’s Scion apply here as well.

Kushiel’s Mercy

Imriel has survived the events of Kushiel’s Justice and is finally fully at peace with himself. His relationship with Sidonie has been publicly revealed, and Queen Ysandre is beside herself with anger. She cannot openly forbid their love – that would be against Elua’s precept, but she has threatened to disinherit Sidonie if she marries Imriel – unless he can track down Melisande Shahrizai and bring her to Terre D’Ange to be executed.

Imriel has no great love for his mother, but he doesn’t really want to see her executed. However, he loves Sidonie, so he resolves to fulfill Ysandre’s condition anyway. Before he can begin, however, Terre D’Ange faces a greater threat – one which could drive it to destruction.

This is probably my least favourite of the Imriel books (it’s still very very good) – I would’ve loved the straight up story of Imriel having to find his mother. I loved that portion of the story – Melisande meeting Imriel, and her redemption, and the full circle that the characters came to.

However, a large portion of the book is dedicated to magic, memory loss and effects of arcane arts, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. The thing about Carey’s magic is that it doesn’t have any rules – magic can do anything, and there’s no described system. It can be a deus ex machina or a huge obstacle.I think her strongest writing is to do with characters and their motivations and their actions – that seems to follow a logical pattern, at least. The magic does afford Imriel the chance to save Terre D’Ange and be reckoned a hero, though – the populace finally loves him.

It was heartbreaking to see Phèdre and Joscelin be deluded by magic – that’s just not done. However, deluded-Imriel and deluded-Sidonie falling in love again made for a more compelling romance than their actual romance.

A fairly good end to the trilogy.

Kushiel’s Scion by Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Legacy, #4)
Tor Books, 2006 | Buy the book

Kushiel’s Justice by Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Legacy, #5)
Tor Books, 2007 | Buy the book

Kushiel’s Mercy by Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Legacy, #6)
Tor Books, 2008 | Buy the book