Thursday, December 20, 2012

GreyFriar by Clay and Susan Griffith



Clay and Susan Griffith’s first book in a new series, Vampire Empire is now perhaps a couple of years old. I know that the third book has just come out recently and I had almost missed out on this delightful series because of my ever growing TBR pile. 

But here I make amends and stand absolved of that mistake, I tore through the first book Greyfriar. An absolutely delightful read. Been long since I read a book that is so much fun. It’s not heavy on your senses and takes us on a flight of imagination through an alternate course of world history still thriving on Steampunk technology and cleaved into two halves, the human empire and that of the vampires. 


In 1870, the year of the Great Killing, Vampires took over the Northern half of the world and laid to waste the entire human settlement who fled to the southern hemisphere. Now two great super powers exist in the human world – the Equatorial empire and the American republic. At the beginning of the story we encounter Adele, the female lead of the book and heir to the Equatorial Empire being taken on a tour of the Northern wastelands by Colonel Anhalt, the head of her home guard. A choppy narrative that gets quickly whipped into shape when all hell breaks loose with an army of vampires attacking the fleet. The book steps on the gas here and zooms forward without warning. As the narrative proceeds, we are taken deep inside the vampire territory where we meet the ambitious Cesare, prince-in-waiting of the Vampire Clans and his formidable blood thirsty chief of war, Flay. We also get introduced to the mysterious GreyFriar – the namesake who happens to be a mysterious human warrior waging a lone war in the North against the blood thirsty vampires. The fourth major character who gets to be in the thick of most of the action, is actually much of a bumble head, Senator Clarke who is Adele’s fiancĂ©e. Throw into the melee, the estranged elder brother of Cesare, Heir to the Vampire Empire, Prince Gareth, it becomes a nice delicious hotchpotch of confused loyalties and misplaced trust. How the fates of these five crash in a violent heads-on collision course that goes on to actually shape the future of the entire world forms the rest of the story.

It’s a refreshing take on the vampire angle. We are all sick of the love struck mooning pale bloodless vampires that go week in their knees when a lovely damsel in distress bats their false eyelids at them. So no, you don’t have Bella mooning over pale-faced Edward-stereotypes in this book. Instead here the vampires are cruel, reveling in their violent nature. More like a fall out of their earliest ancestor Dracula. (Grin!!) Naturally the book is peppered with adrenaline-pumping high flying action sequences throughout. A major plus point for the book which also detracts several things in the story. The excessive action plays havoc with the character and plot development. Since apart from Adele, the headstrong heir to the empire who grows up to be a formidable woman of steel by the end of the book after having gone through life altering experiences at the hands of these cruel vampires, nobody else really evolves. The large-sized support cast is colorful and adds an interesting dimension to the central conflicts, but there is little or no scope for developing these characters. I am talking about interesting side roles like that of Adele’s Samurai teacher, Mamuru or even the Colonel Anhalt. I would love to see these guys grow into their own by the next books. And yes, the understated romance that blossoms mid-way even though slightly slows things down, doesn’t take anything away from the central conflict.
But personally, I think the author duo have painted an extremely refreshing take on alternate historical fantasy powered on steampunk. I don’t generally read too much of steampunk ( I couldn’t get through the initial few chapters of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest!) but this book was a welcome change.  The setting is similar to current world, except that the worlds been ravaged and left to rot by the Great Killing.  And of course the fire power is primitive and we have flying ships! Another big plus. There is no magic but there are hints of traces left over in this world. Geomancing, lines of power etc leave us with no doubt that there is a terribly big revelation waiting to explode by book 2 or 3. This book, weighing in at around 300-pages, was a fairly fast and engrossing read. Even though a lot of the twists are predictable, I am not complaining, this was more like a comfort read for me. And I firmly believe that we need more books like this. Vampires and Steampunk make a delicious combination and top it off with a strong confident narrative voice that Clay and Susan take on, this was a page turner par excellence. 

Super satisfying read, all threads closed up and enough lingering hints of a more formidable story line opening up by next two books. Will definitely follow this up with books two and three. Solid three stars.
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest Review at VaultofBooks.com

Guess who just joined the rank of reviewers at vaultofbooks.com? Howzzzaaa!!!

So my first review copy was the conclusion to the wildly successful YA fantasy epic known as Gatekeepers by Anthony Horowitz - famous for his Alex Rider series, the fifth in the series called Oblivion. A decent read especially if you're looking to immerse yourself in a fast paced action filled adventure ride from sleepy hamlets of England to the barren wastelands of Antartica.

Personally not a big fan. Find my entire review hosted at vaultofbooks :
http://vaultofbooks.com/anthony-horowitz/review-oblivion-anthony-horowitz

So looking forward to more books now :D


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Legion by Brandon Sanderson



I am yet to join the legions who swear by Brandon Sanderson’s name when it comes to creating something new and thought-provoking in the Fantasy scene. ( sorry – couldn’t help it =, had to sound smart and use that word “Legion” – to my mind, the word brings alive a thousand troops trampling across a dusty dry earthen field marching towards their death on the battle-field. What image does the word Legion conjure up for you?)

Anyways – a lot of people agree that Legion may not be Brandon’s best work, but the sheer powerhouse of talent that this man is, is pretty evident by the time you finish this book and shake your head at the ingenuity of the ideas presented here. Way of Kings has been on my wish-list now, like forever. I got my hands on the mist-born trilogy but for some reason, never really got around to reading it. Yeah spank me.
Apparently he’s written a novella based on the game series, Infinity Blade – I’ve played the game but mind you, only after I came to know that he’s written a novella. I got my hands on the free chapters of his previous book, Alloy of Law – some sort of a steampunk western set in the same world as Mistborn. Now that was certainly something good. But incomplete as I never was inspired to go buy the entire book. So today I make amends as I finally finished a complete Brandon Sanderson work of fiction. I agree with the legion. This guy is definitely one of the most prolific writers of our age and it would be a crime not to read him. in fact,  I wager it’s going to be impossible not to read this guy. He’s got books out in most genres of speculative fiction. 

With Legion – an paranormal urban fantasy novel he is breaking new grounds and in trademark Brandon style, has stamped his unique style of writing on this one. So what makes Legion a great book?
Great characters that jump out at you? Check.
Engaging prose that keeps it lively? Check.
Tongue in cheek humor? Check.
New ground breaking ideas? Check.
Legion is about Stephen Leeds and his legion of hallucinations who all live with him. He is a veritable genius and can polish off new languages, learn how to fire a firearm, solve complex missing person cases – all this with the help of his many hallucinations. It’s amazing how in the manner of minutes he learns up a new language or the mechanics of a new machine and creates a new hallucination as the expert in that area. The story is a missing-person case –a person whose invention borders on the edge of fantastical. And being a genius, Stephen Leeds is brought in to trace him back and more importantly his invention. How Leeds goes about cracking this case forms the meat of the story. And yes, there are twists at the end of the story, so don’t you go about hmmm’ing and hawing that it sounds straight forward. It isn’t.

Having said that, novella-length truly doesn’t do justice to the ideas presented. I felt a bit cheated when the book ended. Even though the loose ends are tied up well, I craved and hungered for more. Maybe it’s a good thing. Brandon is setting the stage for something on a grander scale.
But all things considered, it was a great peekaboo into Brandon’s fertile playground. I am sold and will be closely watching the works of this genius in the future. Three stars.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mini Review: City of Dreams and Nightmares by Ian Whates


An extremely trying read - didn't like it one bit. So will keep this short.

City of Dreams and Nightmares is part-one of City of Hundred Rows trilogy and is touted to be a page-turning adventure set in a multi-tiered metropolis called Thaiburley where rats and the poor guys live at the bottom, while the rich magistrates and demons live at the top. It follows the fate of two street-kids as they discover they are cogs in the wheels, set in motion by a sinister ploy that threatens to consume the city itself. 



So much for the premise, I remember having read this premise a long while ago and having got excited over it. I usually get my hunches right in terms of books. I went for it and dug into this one. But sadly, the plot never got going for me and I was always putting it away when another interesting book presented itself to me. So yesterday forced myself to hunker down and finish it off finally.
So the positives aspects, first as always. Ian Whates has an extremely fertile imagination - to have thought of a City of Hundred Rows and all the eccentric technology/ creatures / races that live within the City is a mind boggling feat – a city with each row dedicated different kinds of people with the upper rows as usual clogged with the administrators of the city who decide the rules and the fate. It’s hard to say if this book sits within the realm of Science Fiction or Fantasy since obviously the kind of technology that is there within Thaiburley is advanced and yet I was a little disappointed because all of it kind of felt under-utilized. Another thing I loved about the book was the weapons, tons of interesting new ones. Overall, the book definitely had its entertaining moments – filled as it was with aliens, magic, blade fights and assassins.

But all along the way, I somehow thought nothing really happens in the book. The plot never got me interested, pale shadows of characters who never elicited or evoked my interest, I was never really pushed to even once think "Oh what will happen to Poor Tylus trapped in the City Below" or likewise...Ian’s writing never really rises above the stolid workman-like prose and at times gets very boring. The pacing is languid despite having set up an incredible world here that can really be explored and can definitely be laid out better. I for one didn’t stop to think about the characters. None of them held my interest and yet I did force myself to plod through this book hoping for something extraordinary to happen. Sigh. It never did, the second half possible gets even worse with all the loose threads being tightened up and we realize that all of this was being orchestrated by one sinister personality. Anyways will stop here I think. 

Giving this a two-star. Have White Noise by Ian Whates, perhaps he fares better when it comes to solid SciFi ?