James Lovegrove, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon (2019)

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Author: James Lovegrove

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 384

Series: Sherlock Holmes (Titan Books)

Right on time for the fast-approaching Christmas season, a new Sherlock Holmes novel hit the shelves this October. It is quite an eye-candy: a wonderfully bright and festive cover draws the eye and at the first glance invokes the spirit of Yuletide, and the interior is equally lovingly arranged. A nice gift for any bookworm, and especially for all those Sherlock Holmes fans out there 🙂

As for the content, well… 🙂 I must admit, I am always a bit wary of books utilizing characters created by someone else – especially characters like Sherlock Holmes, arguably the world’s most famous detective, whose existence is irrevocably and undeniably bound with that of his creator, sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Books about such renowned characters, written by other authors, always seem to me slightly too close to fan fiction for my liking. In that context, Gaiman’s and Albuquerque’s A Study in Emerald is a notable exception here, offering a very welcome and impeccably executed twist on the Holmesian (or should it rather be Sherlockian?) lore, masterfully intertwined with Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos. But in case of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, I didn’t mind the fanfic associations in the slightest: the author was respectful but not overly fawning over its source material, managing to strike a nice balance between the spirit of original Sherlock Holmes novels and his own voice and delivering a pleasant new storyline to the ever-growing Holmesian. Plus, the book came with recommendation from Aaron at Swords and Spectres, and I learned to trust his tastes (…well, in most cases! :D).

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Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons (2013)

A Natural History of Dragons

Author: Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 335

Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent, 1

An American folklorist and anthropologist turned writer, Marie Brennan aka Bryn Neuenschwander is an author known to many in the blogosphere for her entertaining and quite educational – if in the tongue in cheek style – series titled Memoirs of Lady Trent. For example, you can read the enthusiastic review by Bookforager here 🙂 Written from a first person perspective it grants us a rather unique narrative; for Lady Trent is an elderly and eccentric personage, whose old age coupled with enormous experience, accomplishments in the field of natural science, considerable wealth and status as well as an aristocratic background, free her entirely from fears of the sanctimonious outrage and possible sanctions of her society. This perspective lends the novels an air of unforced entertainment; a light, gossipy feel to what otherwise might have been a bit too heavy imitation of travel chronicles and taxonomy efforts of the nineteenth century naturalists and anthropologists. But most importantly – and incidentally it is where Brennan truly excels – the series is in essence a long, superbly meandering and convoluted love letter to dragons, envisioned as a family of species not unlike dolphins or apes: possessed of intelligence and – possibly – sentience, with their own rituals and traditions, and what at a first glance resembles the beginnings of a culture.

How it will all pan out, I don’t rightly know – yet, I might add – as I’ve only read two books so far. But I can already say with certainty that Brennan’s treatment of dragons, while fully indebted to Darwin, owes an equally great deal to Jane Goodall. The overwhelming sense of kinship with a family of species so different to ours is something I truly treasure here, particularly because Isabella Trent’s feisty and inquisitive nature easily lends herself to seeing the world around as a whole, all life irrevocably intertwined and interdependent.

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Jonathan French, The Grey Bastards (2015)

The Grey Bastards

Author: Jonathan French

Title: A The Grey Bastards

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 386

The Grey Bastards, French’s first installment in the Lot Lands series and the winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016, has been steadily making its rounds around the blogosphere for a while, and became especially popular after the publication of the second installment, The True Bastards, earlier this year. The covers of both installments are really neat (I’d say “pretty” but somehow that word doesn’t seem to really fit fanged half-orcs) and give the reader a fair taste of the content. Which is, contrary to the expectations of some, less a story about nasty old pensioners, and more a curious mix of biker gang lore, bastardized Tolkien setting (well, I couldn’t resist) in a RPG-derived form, and some solid wordlbuilding.

The Lot Lands, previously called Ul-wundulas, are a domain ravaged and scarred by a war. The terrible orc Incursion into the greener and more fertile lands of the Hispartha kingdom a generation back had several unintended consequences: a swath of land between the kingdoms of humans and the domains of the orcs had been razed and destroyed, leaving it all but empty – a no-man’s land, vulnerable to another incursion and liable to start another war. In the wake of Incursion, the half-human, half-orc slaves of Hispartha had been freed and allotted a part of the empty lands, under the condition of protecting the border. Divided into several “hoofs”, a cross between a tribe, a warrior-group and a gang, they share the Lot Lands with insular and dangerous elves, unlucky and demoralized soldiers banished from Hispartha to the ungrateful task of manning the castilles along the border, religiously-minded Halflings defended by the world’s Tartars(!), called Unyars, blood-crazy centaurs, and Sludge Man – a dangerous demon inhabiting a fetid marsh and controlling moving masses of black, sticky goo.

Grey Bastards are one such hoof, consisting of several seasoned riders tasked with a double duty of patrolling the lands in the vicinity on the backs of great war hogs and with protecting a village of women and orphans which had symbiotically grown under their fortress. In this world, another conflict seems inevitable – and the protagonists of The Grey Bastards are in the middle of it all. Intrigued yet?

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Ed McDonald, Crowfall (2019)

crowfall-uk

Author: Ed McDonald

Title: Crowfall

Format: Paperback

Pages: 454

Crowfall is the final installment in Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy – though, to be fair, the ending does seem to imply a return to the broken world of Deep Kings, Nameless, and Misery. Where Blackwing was a powerful, riveting debut, and Ravencry even upped the ante, delivering one of the best middle books I’ve read, Crowfall concludes the story of Ryhalt Galharrow in a deeply satisfying way. That is not to say it is without its flaws, and you can count on me for detailing them all 😀

But first things first. Six years after the events of Ravencry we find Galharrow changed in more ways than one. Living alone out in the Misery, ruthlessly self-sufficient and accompanied by ghosts, Ryhalt is a man driven by a single purpose: to free the love of his life, Ezabeth Tanza, from the light she had been imprisoned in for the last decade – at all costs. At least that’s what he thinks – his friends and the patchwork family he’d created over the years seem to have a bit different conceptions of Galharrow’s impeding fate. And it is impeding indeed, for as Galharrow changed, the world around him was transformed even more. From the time of an event known as Crowfall, when thousands of carrion birds fell down the sky with burned out eyes, Dortmark became an even less pleasant place to live. Plagued by magical nastiness in various forms – from bloodthirsty, carnivorous geese to black rains bringing madness, to disappearance of color orange, and to Saplers – little mandrake-like creatures sapping the life-force from their hosts and slowly acquiring their hosts’ characteristics.

mandrake

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Ed McDonald, Blackwing (2017)

Blackwing

Author: Ed McDonald

Title: Blackwing

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 378

First, an admission. I read a lot of books when my mental plate’s full, as they provide a bit of comfort and take off some strain from my overworked brain – when they’re good, of course, because bad books don’t help at all 🙂 However, by the same logic, I write no reviews when I’m stressed out, because writing demands a lot more from my already  overworked brain 😛 No surprise, then, that lately there are less reviews on our blog, even though the amount of books I’ve recently read has noticeably grown.

I’ve spent the last couple of months checking out some of the books our fellow bloggers recommended, and Ed MacDonald’s Blackwing had been favorably reviewed by many. A special shout out to Aaron at Swords & Spectres for persuading me to finally try it out, because it was definitely worth it :).

Blackwing follows the story of Ryhalt Galharrow (it’s a mouthful, I know – try to say it out loud a few times!), a former pampered noble and an ex-Army officer who now serves as a Captain of Blackwing: a private military unit in employ of a Nameless sorcerer called Crowfoot. Galharrow as we meet him is a down-on-his-luck cutthroat – a glorified spy/bounty hunter/enforcer to a ruthless, ancient being, who had not been seen in the world for a long, long time. Yet, as the war between the Nameless sorcerers of the republic with powerful Deep Kings of the Eastern Empire still brews on, centuries in the making, Galharrow soon finds himself in the thick of the bloody action.

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Patricia Briggs, Silence Fallen (2017)

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It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.

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Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

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This year, before American Gods hit the TVs as probably one of the most anticipated series of the year, the readers were treated to a new Gaiman’s book. At least things look like this if you judge the book by the cover 😉 But Gaiman’s name on the front page is more than a bit misleading – because he’s in no way the author of the collected myths; he himself presents his role in the introduction as that of a humble narrator, a storyteller refreshing ancient and beloved tales. I guess that his name on the cover serves as a selling device – and probably serves quite well. But even though I can understand this approach from a mercantile point of view, it still smacks of hubris to me. How can one present oneself as an author of mythology? That is a minor point, though – if this way more people will learn of Norse myths, I will only applaud and cheer.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with the cover. The English version of the cover, presented above, is IMO simply beautiful. A detailed rendering of Thor’s hammer, gold and grey on dark background, accompanied by simple, elegant lettering that in no way distracts from the graphics – what’s not to admire? It’s just perfect. I only wish Polish version were the same… Alas, you can’t always get what you wish for, and in most cases that’s a good thing 😉

As for what’s inside – it’s Norse mythology and no mistake. Gaiman openly states in the introduction that he’s just retelling the old myths, giving them simpler, more digestible form suitable for modern readers who are not necessarily mythology buffs. There is nothing new or unusual in there – for those who know Norse mythology. Those who got acquainted with Nordic myths through Marvel comics or movies might be in for a surprise ;).

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