Posts Tagged ‘Angry Robot Publishing’

Heartwood by Freya Robertson reminded me of a train. Not a smooth, lightening bullet, train, but a heavy duty, gnarly freight train. It started out slowly, chugging and plugging along, and then little by little it built up speed until it was barreling along, all power and there was no stopping it until it came to its final screeching halt. I didn’t want to put this book down once it got its speed up.

As the image on the cover suggests, Heartwood is all about noble knights on a quest. The knights set out to save their beloved Arbor, a tree that is the magical holy symbol of their religion and has kept the land of Anguis united for hundreds of years. The Arbor grows in Heartwood, a military base and religious enclave that has been erected surrounding the tree. After an attack on the tree by mysterious warriors, the Militis of Heartwood (holy knights raised to protect the tree) and other leaders must find ways to energize and heal the tree, and bring peace back to Anguis.

There are quite a few main characters that battle in this exciting romp, and it’s refreshing that there’s a nice balance of tough, seasoned females, rather than a preponderance of hardened male lead characters. Chonrad, the Lord of Barle, represents the calm, fair-minded aristocracy. A widowed father, Chonrad struggles with his deeply buried bitterness over not having been chosen to serve as a Militis as a child. Procella is a high ranking Militis knight, fanatically loyal to her religion and her duty to serve. Beata is a young dean of Heartwood, brilliant fighter who finds love and her ability to lead as she participates in the quest. Then there are the knight twins, Gavius and Gravis. Identical in appearance, they emerge as light and dark, confidence and uncertainty, gaiety and gravity. (Were the names chosen to represent these attributes?) Dolosus was chosen late in life to serve with the Militis and has lost an arm due to a wild, negligent streak. Can he triumph even with being disadvantaged in battle? All the characters must face a challenge, overcome it, and then rejoin the fight to repair the Arbor.

The main foes in Heartwood are water warriors. These guys are pretty sweet. Watery, green glowing eyes, they emerge from the water to attack the Arbor and ruthlessly slaughter those in Heartwood. Their armor, city are cool and Robertson has come up with some inventive baddies here; they are quite a bit more interesting than the good guys. Which leads to a bit of the problem with Robertson’s female lead characters, they all cave in to their emotions. Oh, they put up a bit a struggle with their feelings, but all of them eventually succumb to a male character’s advances. It was somewhat of a letdown each time when you were so hoping for a much stronger character to emerge. Robertson relied quite a bit on the romance novel formula for these characters.

Also, although the story was exciting, leading to the major climax at the end, the many intervals switching back and forth from character to character were so similar to each other that it became somewhat predictable rather quickly. Character travels a short distance. Some supernatural or psychic occurrence shakes him or her up, causing them to question their integrity. Then each character had to overcome their lack of confidence or faults. What I enjoyed and was surprising were the number of characters Robertson surprisingly kills off. She certainly kept us off guard in that respect.

Despite these couple of disappointing glitches in Heartwood, I really liked the book as a whole. The characters were enjoyable, the world felt rich and its history well built, and the ending was really full and satisfying. It’s so rare lately when a book gets wrapped up and doesn’t leave you hanging for the sequel.

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Impending doom. Certain war after a devastating catastrophe. The rights of passage of a young man into adulthood. All these and more are left up for grabs at the end of Seven Forges by James A. Moore. The end of this book was a freight train rocketing full speed, straight towards a ruined bridge. You hung on for dear life and as the last paragraph ended you were still hanging on, white knuckled.

Moore does a fantastic job of building worlds and characters in Seven Forges as we hop on board the train that is about to meet its doom. Merros Dulver, leader of a team of explorers and mercenaries hired to map out the mysterious lands known as the Seven Forges, is likeable and honorable. An ex-soldier now looking for the highest bounties, Merros is respected by his comrades and his new allies alike. Along the way his team discovers the Sa’ba Taalor a warrior race who has been isolated from the rest of civilization. Merros befriends Drask Silverhand, a representative of the Sa’ba Taalor. Drask is a satisfying brutish character with a silver, mechanical hand that has been magically attached in place of his original hand. Merros and Drask lead their respective groups back to Merros’ home land to meet the emperor. Throughout the book, we are always on the fence whether the Sa’ba Taalor is really an ally or are they a new menace to the empire.

Desh Krohan is a sorcerer, advisor to the emperor. He is delightful as a mysterious Merlin-like character as he manipulates, aids, and abets the major players in this story. Even at the end of the story, we’re never quite sure if his intentions are good or evil, self-serving or selfless – what exactly is his agenda? Another major player, our young man on his way to manhood, is Andover Lashk. Also another likeable character, Andover is the underdog young adult beset by horrendous obstacles that he must overcome on his search to find and prove himself.

There are a lot of slamming fighting scenes about conquering frightening monsters and soldier warfare. The Sa’ba Taalor’s entire culture is based on weaponry and battle. Very Spartan.

Moore spends a good deal of time on a somewhat trivial challenge scenario between Drask and a young royal of the empire. The plot seems to bog down during this section and a lot of pages are devoted to this part of the book but eventually Moore pulls the train out of the minor bog and back on track.

Also, Moore provides several cases of foreshadowing that are a bit weak at times and a bit obvious. One major foreshadow, however, drops a hint we look for but even when it slaps us in the face, we’re not ready. That ending just provides sharp twists and turns that will leave you a bit breathless and salivating for the next book. There is a next book coming, right?

I would say that the title of this one gives it away – The Deaths of Tao – that there was going to be a sad ending. Okay, maybe a somewhat sad ending tinged with a mite of hopefulness, but sad nonetheless.

Wesley Chu’s sequel to The Lives of Tao will keep you on the edge as lead character Roen Tan, whose body and mind are inhabited by alien Tao, fights to save humanity from another group of evil aliens. Centuries old, Tao has imparted all the wisdom of his years on Roen. He explains how his alien race of Quasings from Quasar crashed landed on Earth and shaped historical events the planet, molding and manipulating earth creatures, including humans to their own ultimate goal of being able to return to their home world. In Deaths, the evil Genjix Quasings have begun sacrificing humans & Quasing alike in their attempts to facilitate successful procreation of their species and create a Quasar-like atmosphere in which they can survive long periods of time. The Prophus battle the Genjix for supremacy but they respect humanity and see humans as more than mere vessels, hosts, or tools.

In this sequel, Roen has abandoned his wife Jill (also inhabited by a Quasing) and their son Cameron. Roen has sequestered himself at the suggestion of his Quasing Tao while he investigates Genjix’s operations. Roen faces soul-searching anguish in his conflicting desires to be with and protect his family and his main mission of saving humanity.

Throughout the book, Chu gives us high energy battle and fight scenes. His first hand experiences as a “Kung-Fu master” and stuntman shine though with the realism Chu injects into each fight.

Although somewhat expected, as I said at the beginning, we knew someone wasn’t going to make it out alive of this sequel. With that said, I still enjoyed the ending. Toward the middle of the book, the pace bogged down somewhat as Roen’s team jumped from place to place on their missions. However the fight scenes and political intrigue provided by Roen’s wife Jill helped to break up the slower pace, keeping it interesting.

I highly recommend both books as well thought-out alien science fiction. I would imagine we haven’t seen the last of Tao. Or have we?

Setting: Chicago, the windy city.

Antagonist: Ismael Fisher, a sniper of unimaginable skill gone rogue.

Conflict: Some dirty political secrets that stem to the very tip of our government are on the brink of being exposed.

Hero: John Lynch, a detective way in over his head; let’s hope he can tread water fast enough.

Take out your blender, toss in a dash of perfect setting,  a pinch of deadly antagonist, a smattering  of conflict worth killing for, and top it all off with a smooth talking detective. I’ll take my Penance “…shaken, not stirred.”

The first thing to take note of in Penance is the character cast at the very beginning of the book. While it may seem a tad intimidating at the onset, by the end of the novel, I guarantee that you will appreciate the nifty bit of magic Dan O’Shea has crafted here. The lineage connections from one family generation to the next smacks you in the face with a shocking truth: Money, position, and power tend to stay within families and those families in Penance will do anything to remain in control of that power, much like those in real life.

I Love The Setting. My 83-year-old insane grandfather has been living in the same house in Chicago all his life and my mother grew up there; this book reminds me of him so much. He would always talk about the mayors, segregation, different racial neighborhoods, and cheaper gas in Indiana. This book’s setting has it all and more, it’s spot on.

There are so many fantastic things about Penance: The ease of which O’Shea incorporates his expertise / knowledge of weaponry is flawless. I don’t know if it is all completely accurate or not, but for me it worked seamlessly. I can only imagine the amount of time any other author would have spent researching some of this stuff to even try and compete with O’Shea.  Ishmael Fisher’s underlying motive for killing his seemingly innocent victims is so damn perfect… (Will not give out spoilers.)

With most novels you can get close to guessing the outcome. Penance had my head scheming up a whirlwind of different conclusions and even in the final few pages I felt the novel could turn down so many different alleyways with a single gunshot.

Pour out yourself a strong glass of Penance, add a couple more fingers worth, and shoot it straight. You might get a fierce burn in the back of your throat and by the time you’ve finally run out, you will be thanking O’Shea for crafting such a rare piece of fine art. Penance is my second novel from Exhibit A; Wounded Prey was the first, and I have Lawless & The Devil of Euston Square up next. Exhibit A has stepped up to the plate with some killer books. Watch your back.

It is really hard to write a review on a book that already has so many excellent reviews previously penned about it by hundreds of fantastic reviewers around the world. So for Nexus, since I’m so far delayed in writing this, I’m going to try and make this review a bit more personal. I actually had some fears walking into reading this book after finding out some information about  author, Ramez Naam. Just take a look at his “about” page, HERE.  The man is scary brilliant, and it made me think twice about how Nexus sounded from the write up:

“In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.”

So back to my original point, if you haven’t bought this book maybe you are a bit intimidated by it, I know I was. I wasn’t sure if everything would simply fly over the top of my head and leave me staring there asking myself what the hell just happened.

In truth it’s really not that difficult to follow at all and the writing all the way through the plot is fantastic. So if you were worried about this being some bizarre techno-babble-heresy-thriller, you don’t have to worry anymore.

My second fear? I was worried that since this book was so “Far-future and Technologically based” that it would be somewhat dull and action-less. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Start to finish Nexus is a thrill ride taking our main character Kade into one unforgettable scene after another. Kade has a freaking Bruce Lee combat application that he can access at anytime and that is low grade stuff compared to some of the others.

Naam plays havoc with every character in this mind turning book, burning their lives down from the inside out. Very few books would I wish to see turn into a film adaptation but I think Nexus could rock the big screen and have a similar feel to the recent blockbuster Inception. If you are still on the edge about what I would consider a fantastic, action-packed psychological thrill ride of what might possibly be the not-so-distant future, then nothing I or anyone else can say will change your mind.

Nexus By Ramez Naam 9 out of 10 Liams, read it and witness a glimpse of what might be.

Tons of thanks as always to Angry Robot Publishing and Darren Turpin for feeding my AR Book addiction and providing me with this review copy.

I’m a huge fan of Gav Thorpe’s Black Library work so when I finally received a copy of The Crown of the Blood, I couldn’t wait for some free time to dig into this monster.  The setting for Crown of the Blood is my forte; I love this genre of epic fantasy: a young leader, such as Ullsaard, thrown into a conflicted and hostile world of warring nations, internal intrigue, and a bit of dark magic.

The initial start of the book wasn’t exactly an info drop, but when Ullsaard’s best friend Noran arrives bearing an important message involving the wellbeing of the heir to The Crown of Blood (which sets everything in motion, I might add), their trip back to Askh is filled with all the tidbits about the lands and people the under Askhsan rule. So for me this beginning was a tad slow. It also takes a moment to gather in all of the characters and keep track of them and there is a ton of interesting individuals of all varying races and backgrounds. I enjoyed the mindset of Ullsaard, the ideals by which he rules, and how each of his three wives serves completely different purposes to him; it was a very foreign concept for my thought process to comprehend but very Askhan.

Thorpe writes the majority of the novel from the view point of Ullsaard as he commands his vast legions across the hot and cold lands, orchestrating his masterful plans of conquest. Occasionally we get a glimpses of different views from inside The Brotherhood, the secretive sect that seems to control everything in Askh; Noran, Ullsard’s friend; Anglhan – debt-owner-turned-rebel-turned much, much more, and Gelthius – debter-turned-rebel-turned legionnaire. The grasp Thorpe has on this world is mindboggling, especially considering the enormity of everything that is encompassed story-wise within The Crown of the Blood.

Ullsaard’s desires quickly become apparent early on and Thorpe throws him through a nearly impassible gauntlet of obstacles that most wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. In the end it boils down to how much Ullsaard is willing to sacrifice in order to achieve victory and at the finale we still aren’t sure of the ultimate cost. I was surprised at some of the depths to which he actually sunk and how quickly Ullsaard rid himself of a few of those around him I thought were potentially key players.

Some of the graphic scenes with The Brotherhood left me with chills and I definitely want to see more of them in the next installment in the trilogy along with the inhuman Nemurians. The final dual between Ullsaard and an unnamed individual is most assuredly my favorite along with the closing scene of the book. The Crown of the Blood doesn’t end here thankfully and there are another two whole books in the series waiting for me on my bookshelf! My only true regret is that I hadn’t read this one sooner. 8 out of 10 Liams.  If this has been one of those books you are on the edge about getting, don’t think twice about grabbing a copy the next time you see it on a shelf, you won’t be disappointed.

Kudos to my Fiance for winning this copy from Gav Thorpe’s contest !

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entire ensemble that Angry Robot Books put together in marketing The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a thing of true beauty to any lover of books. The cover is intriguing, “A tale of Love, Loss and Robots” is a fascinating tagline, and even the synopsis on the back entices the reader, thus leading me to choose The Mad Scientist’s Daughter over all my other books waiting to be read.

When reading and reviewing books the tendency to compare them frequently comes into mind, even when perhaps the books or characters are from completely different worlds and settings.  For the first three quarters of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, I can’t shake the comparison and mental attachment of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Cat to that of Jenny from Forest Gump. Cat starts out as this innocent young wildflower and metamorphosed into something completely unexpected once she breaks free from her cocoon and heads off to college.

Just like Jenny, Cat comes into contact with an assortment of men, none of which can compare to her perfect Finn nor will they ever because Finn isn’t human. She encounters drugs and eventually finds her vice in cigarettes. Cat marries a rich and powerful man, Richard, but buried deep inside her, Cat is still in love with Finn and ultimately it is this love that destroys her marriage. Cat is, for the majority of the story, a very tragic heroine filled with a powerful and sometimes overwhelming confusion of emotions.

Cat also feels like somewhat of a hippie for her time, while the majority of civilization seems to be moving in the direction of pro-technology and anti-robot rights. Cat is on the exact opposite path in nearly all aspects of her life.

The shocker for me in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was that I wasn’t expecting any sex scenes in this book and when it first occurred I was actually kind of shocked initially. I then found them somewhat amusing after my early surprise wore off. For the prudish of us, while maybe not tastefully written, Clarke does a wonderful job in my eyes of toeing the proverbial line between what my limited knowledge tells me is the boundaries of erotica and romance.

The ultimate disappointment for me was my own imagination running away with the conflict. I had my heart set on some unholy lovers’ union of robot and human and then the ensuing apocalyptic battle between them and the rest of the world. In the end the conflict, which in a way is similar to my imagined one, mostly remains solely on Cat trying to fight her emotions of loving and not loving Finn. There is no real war, only the one inside her.

The world, the writing, everything is top-notch and what you would expect it to be from an author writing under the Angry Robot regime. I just wish the novel had gone a little farther and done a bit more in certain areas to increase the conflict.

Readers and reviewers are going to absolutely love The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. 7.5 Liams out of 10, Cassandra Rose Clarke has proven she can write with the best of them in this one and I expect this was just a taste of what is to come from her.

Tons of thanks as always to Angry Robot and Darren Turpin for providing me with these review copies.

You can find out more about The Mad Scientist’s Daughter and Cassandra Rose Clarke here.