Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Bone-Weary Tired of the Hype.

I wanted to name this post “Why Samantha Shannon is no JK Rowling”.

But then I realized there’s been enough and more outcry on this topic that I would just be adding some more broken twigs to be carried away in this gale storm. Don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the publishing houses get their marketing siege machines all wrong. Bombarding the wrong message. About that 7-book deal and more. It’s been an injustice.

So yes I finally got around to reading The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. And hell, am I disappointed or what. The book at best is an overly ambitious, highly confusing imbroglio – And yes I concur to everything that the detractors have thrown at Samantha’s face. Info-dumping, non-existent plot, wafer-thin characters and extremely confusing action bordering between mind/dream warfare and knuckle fighting.

So the reason I decided to bite the bullet was part-two of the hype-product, Mime-Order is coming out early next year and I’ve got an ARC for the same. Wanted to test the waters and get behind the hyperbole. And man, am I sinking.

So futuristic London – 2059 – is a world teeming with dangers. The world order is controlled by an entity called Scion intended to protect the normal people (“Amaurotics” – Couldn’t you keep it simple? Like Muggles. See. Muggles. Ordinary people without the gift of sight. Sigh!) from clairvoyants (“Voyants” Ha. Clever play on words huh). Who’ve set up an underground London rife with crime and mafia bosses called Mime-Lords. The author goes to extraordinary lengths to get us the picture of a well-laid out syndicate of crime – Mime-Lords controlling areas and sections and having an order of close crime-partners, all of them gifted or “sighted” to be able to touch the “aether”.

Now – Question One. Why are these “voyants” dangerous? Not sure if there’s reason enough to call this dystopian London. For the gargantuan amount of info-dumps on order of clairvoyants, there is no clue given as to why London in the future is a dangerous place and what crimes do the mime-lords really commit so to attract the attention of the law/Scion?

Question Two – Aether? I get it that souls depart bodies on death and withdraw into the aether. Some kind of an afterworld where spirits await the call of the voyants. Coz yes, that’s what Voyants are best at doing. Spooling spirits and using them as sandbags – whipping them to collide into one’s minds. Welcome to bizarre imagery. It’s just starting.

So back to the plot – Paige Mahoney, our fearless kick-ass heroine, all of nineteen years, is the rarest of the voyants. An ability to dream-walk – meaning able to spy on other’s “dreamscapes” – makes her a “Wanted” criminal by just breathing. Just breathing? Really? And yeah this is where you should dive to get the rambling glossary.

Glossary? Double-take huh. Yeah, there is one that goes on and on. A lot of nineteenth century underground English mafia terms have been liberally wrangled with. Barking Irons = Guns. Broads = Tarot Cards. Flimp = Pickpocket. And such.

Paige however, gets into a hot mess. She inadvertently kills off a couple of cops and gets captured. ( oh. Cops. The info-spool reels off about Night Vigiles Department NVD and SVD – assumed to be the Sun guys I think. About Voyants who have given themselves over to the Scion so to catch other voyant criminals. )

And from here, I thought Samatha just completely lost it.

The Voyant prison is in the destroyed city of Oxford. (Now called Sheol I. I wonder why it rhymes with Seoul?) Ruled by aliens from the Netherworld called Rephaims who claim to protect the humans from otherworldly beasts called Emims. Blood thirsty demons who don’t distinguish between Rephs, Voyants or Amaurotics.  

And this is where Paige meets the mysterious dark stranger who will change her life. Whoa! I didn’t see that coming now? Nope I didn’t. Urban Paranormal Fantasy. Set in future London. Featuring kick-ass fearless heroine. With the hots for that dark stranger. Ring a Bell?

The name of the book is derived from this act of reaping “human” souls into Sheol I – Bone Season refers to this act that happens every ten years. Why you ask? For the purpose of sustaining these aliens. For these aliens are nothing but Vampires. That feed on the voyants blood. This pretty much killed the book for me, frankly. It was going the way of a typical paranormal romantic fantasy.
So Paige and her keeper, the stranger who turns out to be none other than the betrothed to the psychotic megalomanical queen bee of Sheol I – they decide to turn the tables on the tyrannical rulers. How this rebellion transpires forms the rest of the narrative.

Now the worldbuilding aspects. It is fucking colossal. Hats off to the author’s boundless imagination – she definitely puts her heart and soul into creating this world of the Bone Season. And yet there are aspects that are super vague and leaves you scratching your head. The action and pacing is relentless though. There is something always happening. Smoothly glossing over a non-existent plot. Samantha’s writing is not bad at all. She keeps the narrative tense – but her only flaw is the frequent sidetrips – like flashbacks on part of Paige to try and build out her character. I wasn’t really buying it though. Too late in the game.

Well the Characters – they are dime-a-dozen. I didn’t keep track of the names. They keep flitting in and out of the narrative at will. The only tour-de-force that demanded attention was Paige herself. And yet even her character is mostly one-dimensional and not very complex. Frankly through the story there doesn’t seem to be much development. With all the troubles thrown at her, Paige handles herself adroitly well. Too well, in fact. Not a problem, she bulldozes through pretty much everything because of her special skill. Of dream-walking. The Warden, her keeper at Sheol I seemed pretty interesting but sigh, in the explosive action that takes over from just before the climax, all of it gets lost.

Magic system. I admit this one stumped me. I had trouble keeping track. And I thought Brandon Sanderson made extremely complicated ones. Not even close no.

So J K Rowling then? Yow! That was a howl of indignation. I clearly remember my first experience reading Harry Porter and the Philosopher’s stone. There was a sense of wonder and unbridled joy as I set out exploring and discovering the magic of Pottermania. With Bone Season, there is only a discrete sense of bone-weary tiredness. Of having had to clomp through enormous sludge of info-dump. I clearly didn’t enjoy the book. But to give it due, the pacing is pretty well done and my curiosity to see where Paige and Warden end up got me through the book pretty fast.

The ending is a massive cliff-hanger. On a speeding train, no less. I am really not sure I want to get on to that train again and get my brain clobbered. Mime-Order? I will skip that order sir.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens Teaser TRAILER #1

Are you among the many who get excited by that familiar music and those lines "a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...." - Well! Rejoice. Sir George Lucas has been busy and the seventh installment comes to us - next  year !! Woohooooo....May the Force Be with You !!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Free by Brian Ruckley. Return to form. Long Live Heroic Fantasy

I have always maintained that Brian Ruckley is a terribly underrated talent in Fantasy writing. His Godless trilogy was a blend of unique world-building, some intense magical systems topped off by frenetic action throughout. Agreed the trilogy ending was a little weaker than the start, but a lot of readers wrote him off as a wannabe-GRRM. Heck, if you are writing epic fantasy, there is not much room to manoeuvre around, especially with knights and castles being the centre of that universe. Brian definitely brought his own stamp of gritty dark feel to the Godless World and I certainly enjoyed the books.

The Free marks a return to epic fantasy for Brian and I definitely was among the frontlines of cheering. The last company of honourable mercenaries in a world gone to the dogs making a last stand against everyone else. Heroic. Bloody. And Brutal. I was in for the ride.

And once I started reading The Free, the sheer fun element trumped everything else. Yes it is medieval fantasy with a mercenary company led by the enigmatic soldier with a haunted past. Yes it has standard villains; evil royal prince with ego-issues. Probably standard fantasy tropes done to death and yes this book probably doesn’t cut new corners in a genre that is bursting with new talent. But once I got reading, the story was unstoppable.

So Brian cleverly drapes the story through the lens of a newcomer. A farm-boy who unwittingly finds himself to be a contract-holder for the most fearsome mercenary company – the last of such – known simply as the Free – on their last ever contract before they disband and go their separate ways. Reminds you of Scourge of the Betrayer – by Jeff Salyards? Where Arki gets to witness the deeds of the famous Syldoon troops led by Braylar Killcoin? Actually maybe the similarities end there. While Arki initially comes across as a na├»ve scribe out to be witness the fell deeds of the Syldoon troops, Drann is a soldier by choice and decides to rough it out – in the dull hopes that one day the songs in the beer taverns might feature his name, fighting alongside the Free. 

Yulan, the Captain of the Free is the easily the best etched out character in this whole book. Fully realized and in terrific form, as Captain, Yulan feels of the burden of leading his company into a last stand – he has only lost two soldiers in his whole time as Captain. And now has to lead his company in a last stand on the edges of the Kingdom. A man burdened by the haunting past and a hopeless future, Yulan perfectly embodies the brooding captain torn by his choices and makes for the perfect man to root for and die.

Drann is a good choice of a cipher. A lot of the back-story and worldbuilding happens because of Drann. However the focus is not on the world, fascinating as it is or even the characters like Drann or Yulan, the Captain of the Free. It stays firmly on the last contract that Yulan has to fulfil. To bring back an old enemy and wash off the stains of a mistake in the past. And the story rumbles on towards that spectacular set-piece climax without taking on any baggage. A pity that Ruckley doesn’t build on the hints dropped. Who are the Orphans of the Empire? How did The Bereaved come into this world? Such questions may or may not be answered. 

Anyways Ruckley claims to be no Shakespeare ; his prose is light and doesn’t burden the reader with much of philosophical navel-gazing that bloats the fantasy stories into trilogies. Written in a warm style that never gets too clever with the reader, Brian just presses hard on that gas pedal and doesn’t let go until the end. The magic – a Brian Ruckley staple - as usual is pretty intriguing stuff. Clevers, are people endowed with powers to manipulate nature (Here referred to broadly as entelech) and thus fashion and shape physical beings that are deadly and destructive. The catch is, the theme of balance in nature. It saps out something from the user as well. (“It’s a river that flows both ways. For us to put more pattern into the world, some has to be lost. Something has to go back. More often than not, is us. Our bodies, our minds, our souls.”) 

Overall, I would heartily recommend The Free as a standalone read - heroic fantasy bursting with all the goodness you come to expect from this genre. A rich tribute to the Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven in fantasy vein, The Free deserves to be remembered and revered. Magnificent battles – vivid and visceral, a full-on well realized magic system that is almost hauntingly real and memorable heroic characters that live well beyond the last pages. It’s a juicy treat packing in so much into just one slim standalone book. I know for sure, this will definitely have fans clamouring for more stories set in this world. Mr. Ruckley, are you listening?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Release Day Blitz: Brandon Sanderson's Legion: Skin Deep

Courtesy the wonderful folks at Audible ( An Amazon Company ) - I've got a free audiobook clip from Brandon Sanderson's latest, Legion: Skin Deep for you folks!! Say whaaat !!

Legion was the first novella that introduced me to Brandon's genius - while it didnt really blow me away - it being an novella - and brandon's writing style doesnt allow him to do that heavy-lifting of world building and detailed magic systems in the confines of a novella - it still convinced of his GENIUS. And then I read The Way of Kings. And now I'm convinced he is indeed the most profilic and talented epic fantasy writer out there.
If you haven't read Brandon Sanderson - the Mistborn trilogy would be a great place to start. But heck, take a listen to Legion:  Skin Deep. And come back and tell me :)

Click Here to listen.

Does that sound interesting ? ( Pun intended) If yes - you can actually check out/buy/listen to the entire book here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

Interstellar was mostly everything it promised to be. Stunning spectacular visions – be it the rundown truck barrelling through cornfield stalks in a sunny dustbowl or the glorious transversable wormhole or a space-craft exploding across the rings of Saturn or the empty huge dead ice-fields of desolate planets. Like the movie, they were mindboggling. And my mind still boggles at the futility of such without meaning. A plot that was at best bizarre and at worst, just plain underwhelming.

Somewhere in pursuit of making that epic vision a reality and paying tribute to his favourite movie, 2001: A space Odyssey, Christopher Nolan forgot to add in one factor that’s been trademark for all his movies. Fun. I came out of the theatre, a lot disappointed and little than just befuddled.
Since it’s been playing on every fan’s mind and the theatres for more than a couple of weeks, going into the plot is meaningless. I agree to the fact that perhaps, this was Nolan’s most personal film yet. 

A heady intense drama of close to 3 hours, Nolan tries to juxtapose sci-fi melodrama with some sappy father-daughter bonding that the movie centres around. About love transcending dimensions. And the moment he brings in dimensions beyond the three that define our world, I was floating. In that ether-space “What the Heck is Happening here now”. I am sorry Nolan but while am gratified by your mind-numbing trust in the audience to just up and get at the whole gist of a five-dimensional world where super beings “climb up the time dimension like canyons up and down” – it is truly and spectacularly misplaced.

Mathew McConaughey is the conflict-ridden father fighting against physics to get back to his daughter whom he promised he would get back ( in the classic time-paradox where he would be the same age as his daughter when he gets back!) – but stuck in space without a way to get back to the dying earth. This forms the crux of the plot. Ann Hathaway plays McConaughey’s co-passenger in this space exploration entrusted with finding that “inhabitable” planet across the worm-hole that would be the secret for earth’s salvation. Do they find it? Does McConaughey honor his promise to his daughter?

By the three-quarters of this slow movie, It all unravels like threads from a worn out carpet and then in the last few minutes, it whizzes past you – like the gravity of Gargantia pulling you past that ending – where it comes together like a magic carpet. Slam dunk and poof! A three-hour whooper comes to a spectacular stunning conclusion leaving you breathless and reaching for that dark void between stars, all the time intoning Dylan thomas’ lines of “Do not go gentle into that night”. You rage and rage against that dying of the light inside you trying to come to terms with this gigantic spectacularama. And sadly you fail. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate by Richard Parks.

I confess I’d no idea what I was getting into when I opened this book. Just that the cover looked, ah so inviting – the Bushi( Or Samurai) with his straw-hat pulled down and katana flashing standing beside the flowing rice-fields and the ominous darkness staining the sky behind him – trust me, any well-written book on Medieval Japan is irresistible. And the writing looked good and fresh. And I plunged in.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate by Richard Parks

On the whole, Yamada Monogatari: To Break the demon gate is a pretty well-written fictional account based on the Medieval Japanese settings. Filled with sinister court-intrigue, supernatural beings from the Japanese mythology and a whole lot of politicking, featuring Yamada Na Goji; A minor noble-lord now disgraced from the courts, relegated to being a supernatural detective owing to his excellent knowledge of the Japanese demons with a drinking problem.

Further digging revealed that Richard Parks has already done a book that introduces the reader to Yamada Goji-san in a series of ten short stories, a sort of novelization of his adventures that feature him and his best friend, Kenji – a Buddhist priest with again a predilection for sake and other sorts of wine. So Richard actually does a pretty fantastic job of selling the settings of pre-samurai Japan – complete with its tanka (short poems), the ghostly spirits of Onis and Reis that roam the streets after dark, the Emperor who is nothing short of God, the noblemen and princesses in love and of course the power-hungry players of the court who would willingly sell their soul to the devil.

Lord Yamada-san is actually like a Japanese Holmes without the eccentricities and quirks that make him lovable. As the central character who drives the narrative, Yamada-san is just a bit off-color. Maybe it is a personal choice but those nervous bouts of energy that lead Holmes and his faith accomplice’ Watson on chases across grey drab London – Nail biting stuff, ultimately rewarding and extremely satisfying in the final reveal of the mystery. That is sorely missing. The author’s treatment of the mystery is satisfactory and well couched in these settings that he brings alive. But after racing through the book, you are left with this feeling that this book clearly is more of starter in a series. Setting the reader up with Goji-san whose intellectual capabilities and the ability to drown in sake are unmatched. Matched only perhaps by the extremely unreliable Kenji-san.  Did someone mention Katana? Or a Tachi? Nope. Didn’t see that in action here.

Richard’s characters are all well-etched out with their own grey motives that start and end with the crown-emperor but somehow, they failed to connect. It isn’t anything to do with the prose either. I am a sucker for anything Japanese. Shogun is the single-most impactful book of my childhood. But then reading such leaves you with the distinct impression that the tales are all shot with some kinds of impending gloomy disaster. You know the love is doomed. Extremely beautiful noble-woman will be promised to the Emperor. So why does the hero even try? He should know it is doomed.

It’s probably a classic example of a bang-up setting (pre-samurai Japan) mixed with fantastic supernatural beings ( Onis, Reis) suffering from a plot that’s been done a thousand times before. I would probably go back and revisit Yamada Goji-san’s adventures but It isn’t going to jump to the top of my queue. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

ReleaseDay Blitz: Arcadia (The Wonderlust Chronicles #1) by Hope Christine

Ever since Sky Captain Lemise Holdif was a boy, he’s been faced with the End of Days. For decades an unknown enemy has been systematically wiping out life in the galaxy, starting with the most advanced societies. Now Arcadia, a world built from the trash of an entire galaxy, is the only planet left capable of distant space travel, and the next target. Lemise is desperate to save his home world, but his plans are interrupted when an alien visitor transports onto his ship. Lead Specialist Paelae Madison is the last of her kind. The only survivor of the First Attack, and bent on revenge for the destruction of her people. In desperation, she teleports onto an Arcadian ship and offers aid in the coming war. Arcadia sees her as a hero, but Lemise is weary to trust a stranger who’s survived over five hundred previous battles. Together the two fight to defeat an enemy far more advanced, and far more cunning than Arcadia has ever known. But extinction lurks around every corner, and The Enemy isn’t the only one threatening to destroy the world.

Today mark's the happy release of "Arcadia" by Hope Christine. Hooray! Here's where you can buy the book from:

Smashwords   ||     Amazon

And to get you guys hooked on - go on and read an excerpt:


Despite the cramped space, the other women gave her a reasonable berth, some eying her while checking their weapons.
Had she screamed in her sleep? The nights had grown increasingly rare when she didn’t have a nightmare.
“Hey.” Paelae sat up and tugged the clothes out of her trunk. She ran a hand over the purple and black jumpsuit provided for her; it felt wrong, wearing the colors of another people. It was the first time anyone offered her a uniform. She preferred the Imladian one; it was familiar.
“Hey.” This time she looked up, noticing that the one-word sentence had been directed to her.
A woman stood at the end of her bed, arms crossed and legs apart as if at ease. “Name’s Benni. I’m your guard.”
Of course, the woman from the ship.
Benni was a head shorter than Paelae and bore the markings of a low rank.
“I’m Paelae,” she said and stood to greet Benni with a hard stare. “I’m your…” She searched for an appropriate word.
“Ally,” Benni finished for her. “Sky cap’s waiting outside for you.”
Paelae took the cue and began her attempt to navigate out of the barracks, jumping over beds and weaving around people until she reached the metal door. Outside, the world was tainted purple as the sun filtered through Arcadia’s atmospheric shielding, a product of too many chemical bombs. What had once been a rushed patch job to keep air on the planet had since evolved into a last line of defense worthy of acknowledgment. It was one of few things Arcadians boasted about among the planets—when the planets still existed.
Captain Lemise stood just outside the barrack doors, looking across the miles of asphalt designated for intergalactic travel. Bordering the west side of the airfield and encroaching fast upon the north, were piles of rejected technology and broken spaceships tossed out by hundreds of different races.
That’s how Arcadia had started, as a junkyard, but then lost voyagers found a home on it, attracting others—from those shunned by their own people to travelers broken down with no funds to continue on their journey. Eventually, it became a home for those who had nowhere else to go, and scavenging became more than an act of survival; it became a trade.
Most of the north and east were surrounded by low-class, brick apartment buildings, meant for the soldiers and their families.
“You’re not in uniform.” Lemise deduced upon seeing her. “If you want on my Chasers, you wear my uniform.”
Paelae shrugged. “Bathroom line was too long to change.”
Lemise began to walk away. “Then wake up earlier.”
Paelae walked close behind with Benni in tow as the sky captain began to explain. “Miss Demitri is our chief innovation and engineering specialist; with a screwdriver and a handful of computer chips, she could change a toaster into an engine. You will work beside her under close supervision. I want a particle shield by the end of the week.”
She almost laughed. Particle shields were difficult with the right materials, but with makeshift metals and roundabout wiring, he would be lucky if it turned on in three weeks.
“In exchange, you will work beside me in the evenings,” he continued.
Lemise didn’t expand any further on her evening expectations, but Paelae suspected they would be dull at best until Lemise began to trust her better.
“Unless there are complications. Then I will jettison you out of an airlock in EWAN territory. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. Centuries of military training had drilled the habit into her.
He led them to a jeep, and another soldier drove them east to a warehouse that stood ten stories tall. Behind it, a mesh, wire gate separated civilian from soldiers. Paelae watched as a group of young boys tossed a ball back and forth to each other, running down a deserted street to throw it in a trash can.
They used to play a similar game on the cityship as trainees. It was one of the few bits and pieces they had smuggled from the Earthen culture, played in secret when the officers had left.
Once, General Amir had caught them midgame when he came to get Paelae for sparring lessons. Anything Earthen was not to be spoken of or remembered in any way, but she had been rebellious as all teenagers were those days. Everyone had frozen in place. The terror coursing through their bodies made them forget to even salute. Trying to run would have been devastating.
Amir had walked between them, assessing the trainees. He had been furious, but his anger hadn’t been displayed in shouting or beating; it had filled the silence that spread between moments in time.

“Madison,” he addressed with a calm, collected demeanor, turning to look at her. “Why do we not register Earth as a planet in our systems?”
She didn’t reply.

“Madison!” This time the words were forceful, bringing her back from the past. Lemise and Benni had already departed from the vehicle and waited for her.
With a sigh, she shook the memory away, letting it dissipate into the morning air and jumped out of the jeep.
Lemise led them through an open garage door. Inside, the warehouse resembled a miniature junkyard. As Paelae looked closer, she could tell that the piles had been organized to some degree. One had wire, another had chips, and a third was weaponry.
“Demitri!” Lemise called. A clatter of metal followed, and the sky captain took that as a cue. They wove in and out of large piles and then climbed over smaller ones until the ground could be seen again. A giant square of cleared floor sat under an open roof, and near the opposite end, a young woman drew up schematics on a metalwork table.
“Demitri,” Lemise called again as they walked up to her.
Demitri glanced up through layers of grease stains and smudges of dirt. Bright red hair fell in a tangled mess past her shoulders, held back by a set of goggles. Deep, blue crescents were visible beneath her eyes, as if the woman had been bruised.
“Did you sleep here last night?” He didn’t address her as a soldier, nor did she wear a uniform. Instead, brown overalls adorned her skeletal frame, and a belt of odd tools kept it hanging up.
Demitri gave him a confused look. “No. I’ve only just arrived.”
“You were supposed to be in an hour ago,” Lemise said as the military eased back into his speech.
“I was delayed,” she said and threw her arms open. “It’s not like I don’t stay past midnight anyway. Every genius needs sleep. Is this the Imladian?”
Lemise pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “This is Madison.”
Demitri stepped around the table and snatched Paelae’s arm up, pushing back the black leather sleeve. After a moment, Demitri let out a whistle. “That’s a particle shield all right. I’ll need the big guns for those supplies.”
“One week,” Lemise said.
Demitri laughed before realizing he was serious. “Two weeks, sleep, free meals, and you throw in that glass plating I need to fix the Mirage.”
“One week, no sleep, free breakfast, and you fix the Mirage because it’s your job, not a bargaining chip.”
“Two weeks, no sleep, and lunches.”
“A week and a half, sleep, and no food.”
Demitri was about to throw in another bargain when a little girl ran out from behind a pile of piping. She held up a colored picture with evident pride, tugging on Demitri’s pants and grunting to get her attention.
“A week and a half, no sleep, and forget this happened,” Demitri said as she placed a hand on her daughter’s head. “The daycare was filled, and Pops is working cross-continent. I wouldn’t bring her unless it was my only option, I swear.”
Lemise knelt down to the girl’s level. “Hello, Demi.” He smiled.
Demi held up her picture of colorful stick figures, grunting as she pointed in stunted movements at each one.
“I see.” Lemise took her picture and gave it a further inspection. “It is a beautiful picture. Will you draw me one?”
Paelae watched in mild horror. Demi was broken. On the cityship, they considered it a mercy to chloroform such children at birth, if they made it that far without detection; and it shocked her that all those years she never thought twice about it. Never before had she encountered one on other planets, though she’d heard stories.
Lemise stood, turning back to Demitri. “Will she be okay around new faces?”
“Yeah, she’s better with it now.” Demitri cracked her knuckles in anticipation.
“A week and a half, no sleep, and lunches,” he offered.
They shook on it.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” Lemise said and left, disappearing behind piles of trash.
Demitri pulled a chair up for her daughter to continue drawing, and then lounged back in one of her own.
“You named her after yourself,” Paelae stated when the silence had extended beyond comfort.
“Of course I did. She’s a Devonian.” Demitri fiddled with the lenses on her goggles.
Paelae nodded, though she didn’t know what that meant. “Should we get started, then?”
Demitri tossed her a pencil. “Copy your arm, please.”
She looked at the writing instrument with amusement. Once, this had been the only way to transcribe thoughts, but it had been centuries since she used one. “I don’t know how to use this.”
That caught Demitri’s attention. “You don’t know how to use a pencil?”
“Not anymore, no.”
Demitri laughed. “Aliens, sometimes you get too advanced for your own good. Come here. I’ll do it.” Another pencil was pulled from the depths of her ponytail. “Please tell me you can at least use a welder.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell ( GraveDigger Chronicles #1)

I wont be exaggerating that I have been “wanting” to read this book ever since I saw the hardbound glorious version of the cover – the deep-sea diver, complete with the round foggy helm with that axe and spear strapped to his back standing with the rising sea and toxic fumes rising all around him. This was way back in 2011 when the book first came out. I finally bought this book in an Amazon sale last week. Needless to say then that as soon as I cracked open the first few pages with trembling fingers, I was sucked into this stunning vortex of epic fantasy laced with steam-punk, science-fiction and dark fantasy elements.

A little more context now. Alan Campbell is a wildly exciting writing talent – it’s a fact that got cemented into my head after I read the first few pages – sampler – of the Scar Night. Deep-Gate codex series that brought this erstwhile video-game designer turned writer/photographer to international acclaim. And what is wild and exciting is the bold and vividly imagined worlds he creates.

The first in the Gravedigger Chronicles, Sea of Ghosts brings to us another gloriously created world – where the sea-levels are rising and waters have turned toxic – “brine” a substance left over by the last inhabitants of this world before humans. A race called Unmer who were defeated by the human slaves with their psychic telepathic Haurstaf witches – who now keep the Unmer under control. But the brine is not the only legacy that Unmer have left behind. Unmer Artefacts are littered on the sea-bed – valued as “troves” and collectibles. Dragons that were once humans, void-flies that can eat and drill holes through a dragon or metallic ship-hulls in seconds, spectacles that show you the past, Knives that let the blind soldiers see, Replicating Swords that create holographic soldiers of the wielder….the list of Alan’s inventive worldbuilding goes on and on. This book is full of them and you would be left agape with wonder at the marvellous levels of ingenuity that Alan spins around you.

So a bit about the plot then. This is the story of Thomas Granger, once the leader of the best infiltration units of the Empire – now enemy of the state who has fled the mainlands to a faraway island called Ethugra masquerading as a Jailor. His fugitive life however gets blown once he takes charge of this new prisoner – his own daughter Ianthe – a petulant teenager with unexplained prowess that could even challenge the Haurstaff witches. Naturally everyone is interested in Ianthe. Starting with this mad, genius-scientist Maskelyne – who calls himself a metaphysicist and an Unmer artefact collector – And of course the Sisterhood of Haurstaff headed by this “cruelly unsubtle but clever” sister Briana Marks “who finds deep enjoyment in the power games between her own organization and the empire . How Granger rescues his daughter back from the clutches of these power-hungry insane bunch who want to use Ianthe for their own malevolent schemes forms the rest of the heady plot.

It takes time to get things going. Trapped as we are in this glorious world of brine-filled seas and “Drowned” people who continue their lives normally under the water – without their minds – the plot is the last thing on our minds for sometime. But once the search-and-rescue mission for his daughter starts, Granger is a possessed man. And the pace is breakneck. The author takes Granger to the jails of the Emperor Hu – a man fuelled by ego and power and hell-bent of making an example out of Granger’s trial – then onto wild frothing seas on a maritime adventure with booming ship cannons warfare – and then to the unknown frozen wastes of the North – where Granger discovers the secrets of the Unmer.

The novel starts off as a low-fantasy then high-tails to become a little more epic with more of the backstory of this world being revealed – then completely flips to become science-fictional as more of the Unmer legacy and secrets are exposed. Yeah. The ride is wildly exciting punctuated with non-stop thrills on the way – guaranteed to suck you in.
The story unfolds from 3-4 third party POV – Granger, his daughter Ianthe, Maskelyne and Sister Briana Marks. Sadly for me – not one of the characters were remotely likable. Apart from Granger, the secondary characters were a little too stereotypical and lacked depth. Maskelyne who starts off as the mad genius, actually did grow on me – a scientist out to crack the secrets of this bubbling world on the brink of violence. Even Granger by the time we hit the end of the book – transforms into “man clad in metal from head to toe – brine burns covered his naked face. Eyes red and wild as a berserker dragon.”

Overall, I enjoyed this book. But felt cheated and disappointed by the ending – a mighty cliff-hanger. It seems like a vast preparatory novel for the next books in the series. The world is set now. A fantastic phenomenally well-imagined world ripe with possibilities, waiting to explode. Drop in characters just about getting their groove right. Ianthe coming to terms with her prowess. Granger – an embittered father out to rescue his daughter who discovers the Unmer. Maskelyne still struggling to comprehend his world. But by the end, I felt Alan played with his cards just a little too close to his heart. A terrifying world with characters ready to get on with their acts now – Sure but this book reveals nothing and leaves you with more questions than when you started. In a good way, actually. And so it just makes the wait for part-2, The Art of Hunting – that much more unbearable.

Sea of Ghosts is another towering testimony to the vast troves of talent that Alan Campbell brings to the Fantasy writing scene.