Category Archives: Reviews

Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

As I’m powering through the final book, I thought it best to get onto the review of King of Thornsbook two in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Second books are tricky beasts, and on more than one occasion I’ve been burned by slow pacing, plot meandering, and character veering, so I tend to enter into that second book with a little trepidation (please be good, oh *please* be good).

But… Ah, King Jorg, such a gloriously grey character. Such defiance, such cunning, such dark fun.

Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of this book, there’s some housekeeping that needs doing. So in keeping with the grimdark and me writing reviews any way I please, let’s make this bloody:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING YOUR BACK, A SPOILER WILL SNEAK UP BEHIND YOU AND SLIT YOUR THROAT EASY AS YOU PLEASE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

King of Thorns

I’m usually a little wary when beginning the read of the second book in a trilogy, especially when I’ve so enjoyed the first. What I tend to find is a rebuilding of the world, a rehashing of previous events and mansplaining the crap out of everything (totally unnecessary – give your reader credit, they have a surprising tendency to remember what happened, with like memory and stuff), not so with King of Thorns. Can I get a hallelujah? No? Too much?

We’re thrown right back into the mix; into the words of Katherine, to be precise – the woman/aunt with whom Jorg is obsessed before making our way to his wedding to child-bride Miana. But with the Prince of Arrow’s legion now marshalled at the castle gate, this isn’t a happy day by any stretch of the imagination. Happy isn’t something Jorg is at all familiar with – happiness would be a weakness, and weakness is something King Jorg will not tolerate.

jorg

A hasty marriage ceremony is on the cards, and given Jorg’s distaste for bedding someone who is essentially a child, an even hastier ruse is contrived to show Jorg’s subjects the deed has been done. This is also where we get the first glimpse of Miana’s mind and strength, and with each of her appearances throughout the book, Lawrence unveils a little more of that intellect and crafty perception she holds – she’s quite the tactician. Something Jorg will soon come to value.

This book also keeps to the format of moving from past to present and back again in its storytelling. While it took me a wee bit to get into the gist of this with the first book, I slipped seamlessly into the rhythm this time round. This type of storytelling is difficult to pull-off, let alone successfully, but Lawrence manages it remarkably well – it forces (allows?) the reader to think, to wonder why Jorg does the things he does in the present before taking you back to give you clues and scenes to decipher. It’s something I value when reading. I don’t want to be hand-held down a garden path with the writer pointing out all I need to know and why – let me do some lifting as well, it creates the connection with characters I’m wanting.

Connection is something I’ve noticed some readers find difficult when it comes to Jorg. Not me. I have about as much empathy for Jorg as he has for himself, but I like the way he forges ahead with his goals, how he sacrifices much to achieve them. There’s something to be said for writer who creates a character that has little with which to empathise but with whom I find myself cheering on. Yes, even when committing deeds that seem totally sociopathic. Is Jorg a sociopath? There’s definitely evidence to suggest as much. Doesn’t make me like him less.

jorg 1

Jorg is again joined by Sir Makin and his Brothers (who are slowly and violently dwindling) and the monsters he’s collected along his travels – Gog and Gorgoth. Gog, ever the fire-child, does hold a special place with Jorg, but would you call it love? No. Gog is a kindred, while I believe Gorgoth is the conscious Jorg struggles to find. Both will suffer because of this, Gog more so, but that demise powerfully links the two, and Jorg will always have that puckered reminder staring back at him.

One of my favourite scenes is that within the marshes – the rising of the dead, all of them, and the confrontation with the necromancer, Chella. Here Jorg and the Brothers fight those they’ve killed, those who died with the Builder’s sun and even fellow brothers in various states of decomposition – it’s hard, brutal and unforgiving. I loved it!

(Psst! You gotta love a review where I get to use the words: monster, necromancer, decomposition and sociopath.) Here’s where we find out a little more of the Dead King, and that’s a showdown I’m very much looking forward to.

But Jorg is first moving steadily toward a showdown with the Prince of Arrow – the light to Jorg’s darkness. We’re taken back to their first meeting, and we’re shown the allure the Prince has; so much so that even Jorg questions his motivations to take on a man who even he would follow. The Prince of Arrow is a man of the people, looking to unite the empire and bring peace and bounty to all within. He’s a forward-thinker, and also the one who will marry Katherine. The two set up for a mighty future battle (yes, the one that take place on Jorg’s wedding day), but first, Jorg makes for the family he knows little about – his mother’s.

It’s here, upon meeting his uncle and grandparents (and ghost Fexler), that plans for this upcoming battle really do start to fall into place (while creating a new foe). And that’s one thing a reader cannot doubt – Jorg’s ability and determination to see things through, no matter the outcome, no matter the cost. Jorg gets the information and [redacted for spoilery moment] that will have him win this war. It’s also where we learn more about the Jorg’s world and the Builders that makes Lawrence’s Broken Empire so damn awesome (this is a revelation future readers need to make, and something I won’t spoil for them).

bloody handprint

We see the return of Jorg’s memory from that copper box he carries with him, and how madness really does ride side-saddle with him. But through it all, Jorg is a tactician’s tactician. And despite the shenanigans of dream-witch Sageous, Jorg remains true to his path to the throne, albeit sometimes wandering off-path to deal with those who threaten his rise or to find… stuff… that will aid him in that battle.

Katherine plays a far greater part in this book, although most of what we discover about her is told through journal entries. We see her develop some interesting yet dangerous talents with regard to accessing her dreams and moving through them. We’re given greater understanding of the Prince of Arrow (Orrin) and his sullen brother Egan, and slowly, slowly the layers are peeled away and all are shown the truth.

It’s this final scene, this final battle between King Jorg and the Prince of Arrow (will not spoil this revelation either) and Jorg’s ensuing internal battle where Lawrence really delivers some killer blows. While I saw that spoilery bit coming just moments prior, it didn’t lesson the appreciation of the delivery; same with the big burn baby burn!

Lawrence didn’t take the easy way out here with this second book and use it to solely set up the final book. There are twists and turns; a subtle leading and plot punches to the face; there’s death on the tiniest but most powerful of scales (that’s a hint, not a real spoiler) and deaths bordering genocide. All of it woven with a delicate hand that drags you in and makes you see life in this world for what it is – not at all pretty. That this is told from Jorg’s point-of-view, one who doesn’t pretty-up the world, its people and their action, only makes this a more compelling read.

We’re introduced to new characters and we watch others die, usually violently, but anyone who says that’s a surprise is kidding themselves. This is as dark a book as was the first, which makes me a happy reader and more eager than ever to get stuck into the final book.

On a Goodreads scale, I give King of Thorns 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

 

Review: Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

I should be writing, I should, but I’m starting to get ridiculously behind on my book reviews, which isn’t a bad thing really – it means I’m reading faster than I can write reviews… or someone’s seriously messing with time (if so – STOP IT!).

Aaaanyway… it’s book review time! Today we’re venturing into the fantastical world of Rowena Cory Daniells’ Outcast Chronicles. While I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, here I’ll be chatting about the first in the series – Besieged. (Oh, and a special shout out to Ashely Capes for putting me onto this trilogy, too! Thanks, buddy!)

Now before we go any further, I have a marching band mustering stage right with the requisite spoiler alert, and they’re getting antsy…

<Enter marching band to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Master Blaster’ – because Stevie>

EVERYONE’S SEEING SPOILERS! IT’S A SPOILER IN JUNE! THOUGH THE WORLD’S FULL OF SPOILERS, THEY COULDN’T SPOIL US EVEN IF THEY TRIED!

Well technically you could be spoiled if you continue reading. So as the marching band exits stage left, either take your seat and continue reading (ignoring my dancing) or follow the band out to the parking lot…

Besieged

Alrighty, let’s get to this, shall we?

Imagine a world split definitively between those with differing physical attributes. Daniells’ world is ruled by ‘True-Men’, perfectly-formed and pure of blood, they believe themselves better than those unlike them. On the other side is the T’En, white-haired, blue-eyed, six-fingered people with mind-bending abilities that strike fear (and superstition) into the hearts of True-Men everywhere. Caught somewhat between are the Malajune (Wyrds), copper-haired, purple-eyed, six fingered men and women born into the service of the T’En – honoured they believe themselves to be, this indoctrination is hard-wired into them through history.

But the above is just the main structure, the loom if you will, of a rich tapestry of lives and loves, culture and magic that hold this world together. Daniells weaves her world with care and precision, but one tug at those threads and it all unravels, as we will come to see.

At times the precision of Daniells’ world-building worked against the forwarding of the story, especially within the first one-hundred and fifty or so pages. I understand the need for this world-building at the beginning of a trilogy, but there was a lot of information I felt could have been drip-fed through the story, not spelled out so completely with those early chapters.

It’s all about balance, and that Daniells’ storylines for the characters were so compelling, it was sometimes frustrating to feel bogged down in some of her descriptions when I wanted to follow the characters through their stories.

Besieged is told from several points of view, and works well to give us a taste of the different people that make up this world. While Imoshen takes somewhat centre stage for the trilogy, it’s the character of Sorne, the disavowed son of the mad king, Charald, to whom we are first introduced as a babe – I’m talking straight from the womb and (almost) directly to his father’s blade.

It’s with Sorne we spend the beginning of the book; saved (and raised) by former High Priest Oskane – for purely selfish reasons, mind – he is an experiment in the abilities of the Malanjune to find a way to defeat them. Tortured and indoctrinated into subservience, Sorne’s is a pitiful, yet strangely happy childhood, until he becomes aware of who he really is. Things really go from bad to worse when he delves into the higher planes where monsters dwell, and becomes an even greater pawn in Oskane’s plans for revenge.

besieged banner

Running concurrently with Sorne’s story is that of Imoshen. The T’En’s are also a divided race – the Sisterhood and Brotherhoods (yes, men and women split with power-plays happening all the time). History has the Sisterhoods raising all children, with the boys moving to a Brotherhood when they come of age. It’s an interesting dynamic Daniells plays out here – each Brother and Sisterhood has its own standing, but each also vies for greater standing and power with the T’En. Each T’En also has their own gift, which can range from being a Warrior, Healer, and taster of truth to communing with animals (which is so low on the scale, it’s considered tainted).

Those within the Brotherhood usually have children with Malanjune, and Imoshen was not handed over to the Sisterhood as per law but raised by men. Though loved by her father, she too, is a pawn in bringing prestige to the Brotherhood but the pact was broken and… well, all hell breaks loose when Imoshen arrives at the Sisterhood after escaping a murder-plot.

Besieged is the set-up book for Daniells’ created world, characters and the story arcs of said characters. It’s a bloody, in-your-face world that doesn’t shy from the harsh reality of a world that is bound by rules and laws that at times seem unfair, but so far have worked to keep the peace. Of course you know that the peace is going to be broken, that there are those within the book who will set out alone to make their own destinies, even when they are tied so tightly to the people they’re meant to be guiding and protecting.

It’s no secret that the Mad King Charald wants the city the T’En occupy – beautiful and bountiful that it is. He’s determined, ruthless and uses the magic and history of the gods to further his cause while taking wife after wife in an attempt to sire the perfect True-Man son.

There are parts of the book I’d like to mention here, but they’re also parts as a reader you should discover yourself. Daniells has woven an intricate world and characters that are wholly likeable and unlikeable, but there’s an honesty to this world that I really enjoyed.

While it sits squarely within the fantasy genre, there’s a darkness and brutality to it that won’t appeal to all fans of fantasy. For me, though, I liked that unashamed storytelling. Lives aren’t all pristine and happy unicorns, that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the cracks in those veneers and the dirt that hides beneath.

As I said earlier, there were times where I felt the story suffered a little under the weight of the world-building, but that’s a personal preference. Daniells’ world is extremely well constructed, the magic systems and culture, though unique to each race, they’re cleverly entwined and deftly delivered. There’s political and religious power-plays, revenge, betrayal, love and horror all finding their place here — a little something for everyone.

It’s difficult to express within a thousand-or-so words how good this book is (without it turning into a dissertation), but I’d highly, highly recommend this series. Daniells said she wanted to write a trilogy that had the reader wanting more, and she definitely delivered with Besieged. I finished the book (which is 672 pages) in about five days because I wanted to spend more time with the characters in this beautifully fucked-up world.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this 3.5 stars

stars

 

Feeding the Soul

Saturday night I ventured into the heart of the best city in the world for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which was set to the backdrop of the festival of lights – Vivid. It was a fantastic night that all started with a forty-five minute walk, and what a walk it was!

Streets were closed from the middle of the city all the way to Circular Quay and around The Rocks, and I can’t explain how much I enjoyed walking down the middle of George Street, surrounded by so many but revelling in the solitary exploration of my home town lit up like magic. Those forty-five minutes, free to walk and explore and indulge on my lonesome was food for the soul.

opera house

Sydney Opera House under lights

I’m not sure how many writers’ festivals have a light, music and ideas festival running concurrently, but more need to. The Sydney foreshore, which is always beautiful, was transformed into a city of the fantastique. There were so many things that drew my attention… and probably why I made it to the auditorium by the skin of my teeth.

I was in the audience for the ‘5 x 15’ – five speakers chat for 15 minutes a piece. No scripts allowed! It was an eclectic lineup, too. A cook, crime writer, investigative journalist, rapper/poet/novelist, and violinist. Something for everyone, I thought, but not everything for all.

I’m happy to say I was wrong.

We began with cook (and MasterChef winner) Adam Liaw. Now I’m not a cook, not by any stretch of the imagination, so I wasn’t quite sure how Adam’s words would apply to me, but… he was great! Sure, a lot of what he spoke about was food related, about breaking food down to its main elements and drawing from there. Pretty much like you do for fiction. Adam was engaging, amusing and more insightful than I imagined.

baking

Next up was US crime writer Michael Connelly. Aah, fiction writer! I admit I haven’t read any of Michael’s books, but that will soon be rectified. He told us about his first novels (ones that will never see the light of day, which is always great to have in common), but I was most impressed with the research he undertook that turned his “crappy” novels into best-sellers. It’s the little things that count, the nuances of character, the attention to detail (no matter how small), that make a story. It’s this kind of information that’s invaluable to a writer, and I thank him for it.

Then came Kate McClymont. I’ve read a lot of her investigative pieces, especially with regard to the political shenanigans of our government – she’s very, very good, but I had no idea how funny she was. I’m sure she ran over time, but it didn’t matter. She had the auditorium in fits of laughter and entertained like a true show-woman. She was definitely going to be a hard act to follow.

Enter Omar Musa. Another Australian novelist/poet/rapper not on my radar. Now Omar had cheat cards, of which he readily confessed (but rarely looked at). Against the rules? Maybe. Did any of us care? Nah-ah. Omar is a finalist for the Miles Franklin Award for his novel Here Come The Dogs, and what he gave us was amazing. Part poetry slam, part biography, it was a feast of rhythm and verse and lyrical beauty told with an honesty that had me buy his book (and have it signed – he’s humble and happily chatted to all who came to him). It was brilliant. Just brilliant.

Here Come the Dogs

When the last speaker, concert violinist Richard Tognetti took the stage, he told us his 12-year-old son told him he’d better be funny as the previous speakers were amazing. Pressure much? Richard is one of the top violinists in Australia, and boy can he talk a million miles a minute! Nerves were definitely there, and at times, so fast did he speak it was difficult to keep track of where he was taking us. He had with him an extremely rare violin that was hundreds of years old – the history behind it (rapid though it was), was interesting, but when he put that instrument to his chin and played for us all… magic. He was transposed from this almost manic dialogue into a virtuoso of calm and beauty as he seemed to romance music from the violin. Such a fitting end to an incredible panel of speakers.

A special shout-out to the always lovely and quick-witted Diana Jenkins who emceed the event – amazing job!

After having my newly-purchased book signed by Omar Musa, it was off for drinks until there was only two of us left – me and my mate, Deb. We had a great (if not cold) stroll around the harbour foreshore, taking in the sights of Vivid, discussing the speakers and just generally laughing our arses off (as we tend to do when together).

peacock feathersfaces

The Argyle Cut and Martin Place Faces

For those of you who haven’t attended The Sydney Writers’ Festival, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a week-long event, with days and nights chock-full of panels and discussions, book launches, culture and heritage… there really is something for everyone. If you’re a reader, it’s a chance to connect with favourite authors and discover new. For writers, who really do tend to be solitary creatures, it’s a place to revel in your passion, to talk about stories and the realness of your characters (without those strange looks you sometimes get from non-writerly peeps), and connect with those who love what they do as much as you do.

For me? Well I got all of the above, and so much more. I’m inspired, determined and I learned – something a writer never stops doing. And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

pyschedelic building

Now get thee to a writers’ festival!

Review: Innocence by Dean Koontz

Aah, smell that? That’s the intoxicating scent of another book finished and the percolating of a review… Mmmmm, percolating… just hold that thought – coffee run; be right back. <insert Muzak here>

All right, that other tantalising scent is a triple-shot long black (don’t judge me), but back to why we’re here: it’s review time! This is the ninth book I’ve read this year, which means I’m averaging two novels a month – not bad, considering the amount of work-related reading I do. Now, I know I have a couple of other reviews to get to, but I’m writing this one while it’s still very fresh in my mind.

Right then, onto Innocence. I was an avid reader of Dean Koontz as a teenager and through my twenties, but I hadn’t picked up a book of his for a long time. I’d bought this copy about six months ago – it was an impulse purchase; I’d gone looking for two specific books but couldn’t find them, and grabbed Innocence as, like I said, it had been a while since I’d read his stories.

The last four books I’d read had been fantasy and grimdark, so while Innocence wasn’t the next on my ‘to read’ mountain, I grabbed it for some straight out horror. Koontz’s work has always been a little hit and miss – there have been stories of his that I’ve loved (Watchers, Strangers) and some I’ve been most disappointed in (The Mask, Phantoms), so I was a little unsure what to expect.

Oh, incoming spoiler alert:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. BIG SPOILERS. LITTLE SPOILERS. SPOILERS THAT MAY NOT APPEAR TO BE SPOILERS BUT MOST CERTAINLY ARE… ‘CAUSE I SAID SO, ‘KAY? READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Innocence

Innocence is the story of Addison Goodheart, a monster whose visage evokes terror and incites violence against him. From birth, others have wished to destroy Addison. His mother had saved him from the midwives but even she found it difficult to look at and be around her son – five times she’d tried to kill him as a child, but hadn’t followed through. At eight years, she packed him a bag and sent him on his way in the world – a child with no experience but that of the remote bushland in which he’d spent his early years.

The story is told from the tight point of view of Addison, and the reader is immediately transported in the “under” world of the city the now man (at 26) has found a haven. Addison had made his way here as a child and was saved by another man – who Addison refers to as Father – with the same affliction. Alone now, after the murder of Father, Addison’s is a life lived at night and away from the prying eyes of those who live and suffer above. For Addison, despite a life lived in darkness and without human contact, is happy, content. His is an outlook that really is out of place when taking into account the horrors with which he’s been saddled. Lonely, though he is, his quiet acceptance of his affliction and his understanding of not wanting to upset others by his face, eyes and hands, is one of a gentle soul.

Addison finds escape in books (which only endeared me to him), and it’s on a post-midnight trip to the library that he encounters the socially-phobic Gwyneth. While Addison doesn’t wish to be looked upon, for Gwyneth it is touch that brokers fear. The scene in the library where they set their boundaries has some beautiful prose, and one of the best lines in the book: ‘We hold each other hostage to our eccentricities.’

And that’s the thing with this book; there’s beautiful prose all the way through, evocative imagery set within a tale of woe and hope. Addison is the star here; his childlike wonder at the world and his easy manner despite all he’s endured means you can’t help but root for him.

innocence quote

I will say that at times I wanted to shake Koontz for not giving me a better description of Addison and Father – when Addison sees his reflection he can’t see the affliction that creates the horror in those who do see his face. It was frustrating, but I kept on because it had to be at the end of the book… and if it wasn’t… grr!

The storytelling moves from past to present and does so seamlessly – each trip into the past tells of Addison’s road to where he is now, of Father and how the two (and now him alone) survived and continue to survive. Little pieces of the puzzle, and puzzle-pieces they were.

Gwyneth is an enigma; a wealthy enigma who is bent on exposing her father’s killer – Ryan Telford (and what a nasty piece of work he is). She introduces Addison to her world, one of which he could never envision. He falls hard and fast for her, and it’s not until the end that we realise she’s also fallen for him – but as Addison says, with their respective ‘issues’, theirs can be a love only of the mind and heart.

There’s a lot going on in this book, many different players that while, when reading, seem characters set to only move the plot forward. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fleshed out well, but it’s not until the end that we see how everything’s connected. Not just the main and secondary characters, but the worlds that all the players live.

There’s supernatural here, too, and the ‘Clears’ and ‘Fogs’ (as Addison calls them), are interesting in the sudden appearances throughout the story. Again, it’s all tied up in the end, but I’d figured out what they were a little earlier than when it was explained.

quote innocence

Koontz does well in leading the reader through the story, leaving breadcrumbs here and there – snatches of news broadcasts; a character knowing of Addison’s ‘rules’ regarding his affliction when they shouldn’t; Gwyneth’s social-phobia not always present. And yes, while reading I was frustrated by the author’s holding back, but the denouement was well worth it.  When the revelation comes, it all falls nicely into place.

There’s a lot going on in this story, but the threads are woven very well by Koontz. It’s also a difficult book to shove into one particular genre: there are religious overtones, apocalyptic tones, supernatural, horror… there’s even creepy marionettes (don’t like puppets) a whole lot of different sub-genres, but I don’t think any of that matters. What you have here is a great story that holds you hostage as it drip feeds you what you need to flesh-out the story a little more, to give that little extra insight into Addison and Gwyneth, and makes you wonder how it’s all going to work out. If you’re struggling a little with this read, stick it out to the end, it’ll be well worth it.

While reading a book, I tend to have a star rating in my head, and while reading Innocence, I was looking at a three-star rating, but that denouement bumped it up to a four… or maybe four-and-a-half.  Yeah, four-and-half, because even a day on, I’m still making the small connections within the book, and that’s good storytelling right there.

 

Four and half stars

 

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Without incurring the wrath of the Jinx Faerie *invokes sign*, my reading for pleasure is going well this year, and it really has been pleasurable reading. While I have a few other reviews to write, I’m jumping ahead here with Prince of Thorns as the book is still very fresh in my mind.

This is the first of Mark Lawrence’s work that I’ve read, and I want to thank my pal, Tracy, for nudging me toward it. Prince of Thorns is the first book in the Broken Empire Trilogy and sits well within the ‘grim-dark’ of fantasy, and it’s a sub-genre in which I’m happy to spend a lot of time. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grim-dark’ is, as it sounds, a story that is grim and dark in tone and doesn’t shy away from the realities and brutality of such themes. Lawrence hits the ‘grim-dark’ mark with Prince of Thorns.

prince-of-thorns

Now before we get into this, it’s spoiler-alert time, now while I haven’t gone into too great detail with the plot (this really is something you need to experience in all its awful glory), I’m warning you all the same:

SPOILER ALERT: *clanging of bells; blaring of sirens* READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. REPRISALS WILL OCCUR TO ANYONE BITCHING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT READING SPOILERS. (I have an angry cat and I’m not afraid to use him. Grim is his name, and he lives up to his moniker.)

Prince of Thorns is told from the first-person point-of-view of main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath, we begin in the aftermath of a village plunder. Right from the outset the reader is plunged into the blood and death that surrounds Jorg, and it’s unapologetic in its telling – as it should be. The first surprise for me, which came at the end of the first chapter, was Jorg’s age – just shy of his fourteenth birthday, his savagery is something a reader would expect in one much older.

Jorg has been on the road with his outlaw ‘brothers’ since he fled from his father after an ambush that killed his mother and younger brother. Jorg, held firm within the thorns of a hook-briar, could do nothing to help his mother and brother, nothing except watch. The betrayal by his father to not seek vengeance on the man who orchestrated the ambush, pushes Jorg to seek vengeance on the mastermind on his own.

Slowly, the story unravels, but just when you think you have a hand on what’s at play, Lawrence manages to turn it on its head, and does so adeptly. There are connections with everything, foreshadowing done so well that it’s not until a revelation appears that those connections shine through.

The cast of support characters, especially Jorg’s band of brothers, are a motley crew, and by ‘standard’ fantasy tropes, not a good one amongst them (apart from Sir Makin and the Nuban – both favourites of mine), but in keeping with the grim-darkness of the book, they’re a perfect fit for not only Jorg, but the story as well. These are interesting, quirky, yet disturbing characters that I was more than happy to get to know better.

But it’s Jorg who commands the story here, and while he embraces the doing of evil deeds with much gusto and little-to-no conscience, there’s an honesty about him I liked. Hell, I was rooting for the kid the whole way. With Jorg, there’s no half-measures, and in a story such as Lawrence’s, there can be no half-measures, for those who lack commitment live very short lives and tend to die horribly.

bloody handprint

Jorg is driven by the murders of his mother and brother, but there’s more at play in Jorg’s choices and ‘non-choices’ than meets the eye – another revelation that sat well with me. Magic – there is much of it – and yes, dark magic it is. You expected different? And the monsters, aaah, the monsters, they’re plentiful and unique – the scenes that take beneath Castle Red are some of my favourite. Gog, you scamp!

There’s a revelation in this section (no spoilers – it’s well worth the wait) that puts a lot of Jorg’s… learning into perspective – at times I was pulled toward the alternate-universe theory, but this revelation was punched right out of me and I was glad for it.

Right from the beginning you know, Jorg is bound for home, for a confrontation with his remarried father. Another queen sits on the throne, one who bears the king’s preferred heir. Jorg, torn between present and past, finds himself vulnerable in ways he hasn’t been for four years – a dangerous place for him. He’s a wily fellow, Jorg, resourceful and ruthless, and the more I read the more I liked this ‘wholly unlikeable’ character. That’s the thing, I can see why some would find him unsympathetic, soulless, reaping of all that befalls him, but for me… well I liked him. Is he a sociopath? Odds kinda head that way. Is he a monster? To those who get in the way of his goals, yes. Or, is he a product of his environment and history? Aren’t we all. And it’s that honesty, the not shying away from the darkness that lives inside Jorg that makes him wholly likeable for me.

The structure of the storytelling took a little getting used to as Lawrence jumps from present to past and back again often during the storytelling – but this is clearly marked by the different fonts (and the fact it’s signposted: Four years earlier). It’s also how Lawrence gives you the breadcrumbs to Jorg’s story, his history, and the why of his nature.

I have the next instalment of The Broken Empire Trilogy – King of Thorns, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lawrence takes Jorg and his ever-dwindling band of brothers.

For those who are looking for more standard fantasy fare, this might not be for you. And for those who don’t like the blood, gore, death and torture that comes with war, then this probably isn’t the book for you either. But if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t shy from the vulgarities of conquering lands and kingdoms, that is as dark as it is twisted, and has characters who have less redeeming qualities than those you find in most fantasy epics, then this is definitely the book for you.

On a goodreads scale, I give it 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

Review: Bloody Waters by Jason Franks

I’m a wee bit behind on my reviews as I read like a fiend through January… then life laughed and laughed and laughed at me (I also believe it gave me the finger) when I wanted to keep the pace through February.  Sooo, without further ado…

*taps microphone* Check, one, two… One, two.

Welcome to the stage… Bloody Waters!    *crowd goes wild as Clarice Marnier strides on stage with Motherfucker*

Bloody Waters is Jason Franks’ debut novel released through Possible Press, and a damn fine debut it is. This is the first of Franks’ work I’ve read, and as with any book, you go into it with excitement and a little trepidation: ‘please be good, please be good…’

Well it wasn’t good – it was fan-freakin’-tastic.  Now before we go any further, I’d better put the requisite spoiler warning in…

SPOILER WARNING! THAT’S RIGHT. SPOILERS. LIKELY LOTS OF THEM.  SPOILERS I MEAN. SO READ AHEAD AT YOUR OWN RISK, ‘CAUSE, YOU KNOW, SPOILERS.

Bloody Waters

The story begins with the a chat between an old bluesman and the devil at a crossroads (think Robert Johnson folklore) and the horny dude’s warning of ‘rock and roll badness’ on the horizon. The devil is worried, you see, and the bluesman tells him ‘rock and roll boys ain’t nothin’ to concern himself with.’ The devil agrees, ‘but this one’s a girl.’

It’s the … quirk in the supernatural I really found enjoyable. Satan? He’s a character who holds his own here, and the interactions between him, Clarice, and Clarice’s boyfriend, Johnny, were some of the highlights of the book for me. Kudos to Franks on the great dialogue. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bloody Waters follows the life and times of guitar virtuoso, Clarice Marnier.  There’s nothing Clarice wants more than to be a rock guitarist, and when Clarice sets her mind to something, nothing (and I mean nothing) will stand in her way.  She’s focused, forthright, stubborn and proud – she’s a pretty kick-arse character who can actually kick your arse. And seriously, anyone who names one of their guitars ‘Motherfucker’ is alright by me.

You see, no one knows guitars like Clarice, and no plays guitar like Clarice. She has a single-mindedness that sometimes comes across as arrogant, but it didn’t take me long to realise that her no-nonsense attitude is what makes her… Clarice. Oh, and keep an eye out for her one-liners and terrifically and sometimes groan-worthy puns – they’ll put a smile on your face.

After being blacklisted by the music industry, Clarice seeks out band members to form ‘Bloody Waters’, a band she knows is the best out there, but no one will touch them. So Clarice, with the help of boyfriend and frontman, Johnny Chernow, make a deal with the devil for a second chance at taking the world by storm.

And storm the world they do. No band is bigger; no guitarist is better, and no one wants to bring them down more than the music industry that spurned her.  Ensuing battles with demons, wraiths, witches and all other manner of supernatural nasties, then throw in some gangsters, other rock bands, crazy fans and you’ve got one hell of tale taking place on the pages. Most of the supernatural takes place toward the second-half of the book, but there’s no end to the magic that rips through the story.

While Clarice is the star of the book (and the band), frontman Johnny Chernow really does hold his own in this book, and holds his own against the force of nature that is Clarice. He’s also one of the most easy-going warlocks about – nothing much rattles his cage. Without Johnny, a lot of what Clarice can achieve on the supernatural level would be impossible, and while I would have liked to have seen some more…tenderness toward Johnny on Clarice’s part, the final revelation makes you understand why she is the way she is.

pentagram

There’s a lot at play in the novel, but Franks’ works well to not only keep the reader hooked but also guessing as to what’s really going on. The interactions with the Devil always hint at some ulterior motive (no real surprise there, he’s the Devil, Father of Lies and Deceit), and he has an almost soft spot for Clarice, but always at the back of my mind was the crossroads talk with the bluesman at the beginning of the book.

But it’s the revelation at the end of the book I didn’t see coming, and one that was so brilliantly thought out and delivered, it had me reflecting on it for quite a long time afterward.

The only negative I found with my copy of the book was that it could have been edited and proofread with a more expert eye. There were more than a few typos and grammar issues that should not have slipped through. However, the standard of the story and the storytelling itself made this (almost) easy to overlook.

Franks takes the reader on a fast-paced ride filled with black-humour, bloody battles, and a look at ideology from an altogether different standpoint.  His characters are well-fleshed out, engaging, and were perfectly suited to the parts they played. I flew through this book, so engaged was I with the story and the characters. I sat up ‘til 3am to finish it, and if that isn’t the sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars. And no, the devil didn’t make me do it.

five stars

 PS. Check out Jason’s comics/graphic novels — they’re well worth the look.

Review: Dying Embers by M.R. Cosby

It’s review time again!! And in light of my previous post, I’ll write it any damn way I please! Huzzah! So let’s try doing this one a little differently. Why? Well… why not?

Imagine if you will that I’m a rather portly town crier who loves the sound of my own mead-thickened voice. Gold brocade hangs by a thread from my dirty red coat and wilted plumage sprouts from my tricorne hat. *burps* S’cuse me. My breeches are more grey than white, and my scuffed boots are in desperate need of a shoemaker and some elves.

The bell tolls… “Hear ye, hear ye! The first book review for 2015 is that of Dying Embers by MR Cosby!”

As I duck the throw of rotten fruit and sidestep the splash from chamber pots being emptied from second-storey windows, I remove the heavily-stained parchment from my back pocket… Where’d I put my bell?

“Disclaimer! Said reviewer has met Martin Cosby once at his book signing. She arrived late and all the wine had been guzzled! She’ll know better next time. She and Martin interact on Facebook, usually in the form of deriding their cock-up of a prime minister and the embarrassment that is their government! Onwards to review!”

Dying Embers

Dying Embers is the debut collection from MR Cosby, published through Australian small press, Satalyte Publishing. Comprised of ten short stories, Dying Embers is the first I’ve read of Cosby’s work and it is fine storytelling indeed.

The horror genre encompasses such a diverse range, and more often than not Cosby’s stories sit well on the side of psychological horror. And he delivers this well.

We begin with The Next Terrace, and this sets the tone for most of the stories within. Here we meet the very staid Robert and his friend, Terry the risk-taker. It’s on a visit to Robert’s grandparent’s home that things take a weird little turn. As with most young boys, a hole in the wall that leads to the adjacent terrace is too difficult an adventure to refuse. That night, Terry cajoles Robert into following him through, but Robert takes a step or two then freezes. It’s what happens afterwards to the two boys that has the reader wondering. Cosby doesn’t quite come right out and tell you what’s going on, but rather leads you through a maze of clues to the denouement (spoiler-free!). I quite liked this story, and it set me up to the style of storytelling Cosby employs.

It’s the use of denouement through Cosby’s stories that work well… but I’m not a fan of it for every story. I, too, have used it, and it’s a great storytelling tool, but it doesn’t work for all stories, and I believe (note: my opinion) that it shouldn’t be for all stories within a collection.

The thing is, the storytelling is bloody good. Cosby either tempts you into the story, or drags you in, but either way you’re living the world of those of his characters. I found this to be especially the case with La Tarasque and Abraham’s Bosom, both of which paint the landscape and surrounds of the story beautifully and works wonderfully as a juxtaposition to the horror.

Both of those stories were in my favourites of the collection, as was In Transit. This story, about a businessman who values his travelling time and expenses as not only a deserved luxury, but a way to spend some time away from his family; not that he dislikes them, mind, it’s just… hey, we all need a break, right? But things, just small things really, start to seem a little off to Pendleton. The demeanour of other passengers, travelling ‘economy’, and a gate that doesn’t exist… but does it? It’s this slow build of tension via the reveal of these little anomalies that had me list this as a fave.

Another favourite was Building Bridges, but this was also tinged with a bit of disappointment. It would have been my pick of the collection had it not been for the denouement. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brentwood is a man trying to connect with his family (especially his children) after suffering a debilitating illness. A trip to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibit seems a good place to start, but after losing track of his family, or rather being accosted by an odd homeless man, he spends his time chasing after them. But Brentwood finds himself in an altogether different place; there are dinosaurs sure, but not quite like he expected. Cosby works the off-page building of tension here very well, and I was racing along the darkened corridors with Brentwood. And even I knew (like Brentwood) that the “dinosaur expert” he encountered was a little… off. As was the “dinosaur” the expert was waxing lyrical about.

It’s the chase though, toward the end of the story that really had me racing through the words – a sure-fire sign that the tension is done extremely well. And as the monster closes in… ZAP! We’re in denouement. Noooo! I wanted to see that final confrontation, to feel the fear, the terror as it closed in and got all nasty on Brentwood’s arse. Now don’t get me wrong, the denouement works to finalise the story, it just didn’t work for me. Especially after the terrific build.

noooo

And that’s where, for me, the collection didn’t quite pack the punch I was after. As a friend of mine said: “It didn’t hit you in the feels.” Thing is, the stories are extremely well told, and the tension and horror of the situation is conveyed with a lot more skill than others I’ve read. Cosby knows how to tell a tale. For me, though, it’s the visceral side of the horror genre that has its claws sunk into my heart.  Again, this is personal taste, and mine runs to the bloody side of things.

So, overall, this is a very well-written collection of psychological horror that sits well within its genre. If you’re looking to tease someone into the wonders of horror without the splatterpunk most associate with horror, then this is the collection to get them started on their journey of horror-love. For those who like some blood and gore with their horror, this probably isn’t the collection for you, HOWEVER, there are some damn fine tales within that are well worth the look.

On a Goodreads scale I give this a four-star for the art of storytelling.   

4 stars