Adrian Czajkowski, The Bear and the Serpent (2017)

The Bear and the Serpent

The second installment in the Echoes of the Fall trilogy follows the events of The Tiger and the Wolf. I promised a review a long time ago, but somehow there were always more important things to write about 😉 The long May break gave me a bit more time and an opportunity to come back to Maniye Many Tracks and her small band of outcasts from different tribes. Unable or unwilling to find her place up north after the events of The Tiger and the Wolf, Maniye decides to accompany Asmander in his return journey to the southern lands.

Asmander’s homeland curiously resembles South Americas/ancient Egypt in its undeniable higher level of civilizational and technical development, paid for with new depths of sheer brutality, political ruthlessness and sophisticated cruelty. The grand viziers of this Southern world are suitably cunning and heartless, the priests mysterious and the warriors brutal, and if I had to voice my reservations I’d say I wished for a less conventional treatment of the topic. Too many old, used tropes to my liking. Thankfully, the Northern events were in typical Czajkowski’s style – engaging, emotional, and superbly written.

Pharaoh

In the South, Maniye and her band find themselves in the middle of a highly dangerous conflict, in which the usually smooth ascension of a new ruler is broken by an accident of birth – instead of one heir there are two: twins, each fighting for the doubtful privilege of becoming a pharaoh of sorts. Asmander’s loyalty is torn, and his typical Hamletic behavior is not helped in any way by the fact that Venat leaves him to fulfill the dreams of his youth and claim the terribly uncomfortable throne of the Dragon people. Add to it mysterious and lethal invasion in the lands of the North, the grim destiny awaiting Loud Thunder as an unwilling leader of an unheard-of, all-tribes warband gathering on the shores of northern lands to protect them from an ancient danger, a risky awakening of old myths (fans of Batman, rejoice!) and a deeply dangerous, political play between different Serpent factions… One thing is certain: Czajkowski surely knows how to amp up the tension and the levels of plot convolution.

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Roger Zelazny, Doorways in the Sand (1976)

Doorways in the Sand

A fantastic romp through absurdity, surrealism, and wonder of a world where the galactic society is so much larger than just a bunch of ex-apes ready to leave the Earth, Doorways in the Sand remains one of lighter and funnier Zelazny’s works, nominated to Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards. It was also one of his five personal favorites, along with A Night in the Lonesome October, This Immortal, Lord of Light (one of my favorite SF novels) and Eye of Cat.

It’s an incredibly optimistic, fun, short novel, full of poetic remarks, absurd puns, Lewis Carroll allusions and crazy tidbits of information from almost every sphere of science: sociology, anthropology, geology, plant biology, architecture, chemistry, psychology, parapsychology, physics… the list goes on and on, and the best part is that the presence of every bit in the text is fully justified: plot-wise and otherwise.

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Adrian Czajkowski, A Time for Grief (2017)

A Time for Grief

A Time for Grief, the second Shadows of the Apt companion book, consisting of ten short stories, gives us a world of fragile peace. While Spoils of War focused on the pitfalls of war, A Time for Grief tries to convince the reader that times of peace can be nearly as dangerous, and even outright lethal to some – especially to academics. And, with Czajkowski being in a good writing form, it generally succeeds.

The stories in A Time for Grief are a diverse mix: they’ve been coming up slowly, one at a time, since 2008. The most recent stories were written in 2017, but the nine-year gap between the oldest and the newest is practically invisible. It’s pretty clear that Czajkowski never really left the world of Shadows of the Apt and, in a way reminiscent of the late sir Terry Pratchett uses his creation to form a timely commentary on universal problems of our world, from poverty to prejudice. Some of the stories have already appeared on the author’s website, some were written specifically for the new volume. Their timeline covers a span from before the Empire in Black and Gold (the first installment in the Shadows of the Apt series) to events well after The Seal of the Worm (the last, tenth part of the series). The stories cover a swath of the world, from the far deserts of Spiderlands to the farthest reaches of Commonweal, with special nods to Helleron as the center of deadly vice ;).

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Dark Angel

A special treat for Valentine’s Day 😉

A drawing inspired by my recent readings (Hyperion omnibus, anyone?) and the current social moods. Watercolor on black carton. You can enlarge it by a left-click.

dark angel - Strona 1

Dark Angel © A. Gruszczyk

Glen Cook, She Is The Darkness (1997)

returnblackcompany

She Is The Darkness is the seventh installment in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. As Bleak Seasons was all about surviving a siege from within the besieged walls of the city of Dejagore, She Is The Darkness is all about laying siege to an impenetrable enemy fortress, Longshadow’s Overlook. And once again, in She Is The Darkness Cook delivers a gritty and very realistic picture of war seen from the perspective of regular soldiers – in short, a mudslide of exhausting boredom interspersed with short, intense moments of terrifying action. Put it all in the harsh, heady limelight of well-earned paranoia, mistrust and second-guessing, schemes upon schemes, intended lack of communication between regular soldiers and the leaders, and internal divisions of the army, and you have a very accurate psychological portrait of most of the prolonged conflicts in the history of human warfare.

She Is The Darkness, fully in line with the other books in The Black Company series, deals with the Western, highly romanticized view of soldiers as impeccable, heroic and virtuous heroes of ages, geniuses of strategy and masters of killing arts. Lots of fantasy books actually ascribe to that stereotype, with increasingly unconvincing results. Cook gives us the opposite – a book which, at least on the psychological level, could be a war memoir of a Vietnam vet. His characters, nearly all of them soldiers, are human, prone to human vices and weaknesses, frequent changes of heart, emotional upheavals and displays of casual pettiness, which Cook so aptly – and ruthlessly – depicts. At the same time, however, his characters are able to rise above the routine mediocrity from time to time – especially when it matters the most – to empathize, understand and comfort each other, showing equally human kindness, loyalty and even wisdom which allows them to remember why they went with the Black Company in the first place, which is the biggest question of the whole series.

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An angry dragon

It’s this time of month again ;). I drew this dragon a long time ago, even before I heard of GRRM’s dragons with two legs instead of four… Enjoy!

Dragon

Angry dragon © A. Gruszczyk