April 29, 2014

Catching Up

Yeah, I haven't written a blog entry here in a while. Rather than writing a bunch of reviews, here's a quick rundown of what I've read since my last blog and how much I liked them. No spoilers, so no worries!

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Taking place in Iceland in the 1800's, this is a fictionalized tale of an actual recorded event. A woman is convicted of murdering a man she worked for, and is awaiting the final order for her execution. In the meantime, because Iceland doesn't have a prison/holding system, she is given over to a farm to do manual labour and speak with a priest to repent her sins. Over the course of the book she slowly reveals more about her history leading up to the event in question, and you find out exactly what happened.

The neat part is that the author apparently got a lot of details from the oral history of that part of Iceland: stories told by the locals through the years about what happened and the lives/history of the key characters involved. For the rest, the author did a fair amount of research digging up written reports from the church and the legal system of the time. It was an interesting read, with well thought out and developed characters. It could become a little too melodramatic at times, but overall I'd give it 8 out of 10.

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

A fantasy book about treasure hunters seeking a famous sword in a legendary barrow. The world building was fairly large and mostly interesting, the characters were pretty diverse and decently developed, and the writing style had good pacing. The plot was very interesting, and it was of the dark, gritty style that's becoming more popular in fantasy right now. 

But the book was seemingly obsessed with sex. Every religion, and there were a few different ones, was centered on sexual rituals and orgies. Everyone had magic spells, alchemical concoctions, and natural herb remedies designed to give men and women a superhuman sex drive. Every chapter had at least one scene with someone masturbating, having sex or even an orgy, getting an erection/wet/hard nipples, or something to that effect. It got to the point where each chapter became incredibly repetitive and cyclical.

Every. Single. Chapter.

Now, for the sake of being gritty and realistic, I don't mind books using sex in even the most crude way to set the tone of a scene, or the world in general. George R.R. Martin does a pretty good job with that. But this book just got intolerable at times, it became so absurd that it really ruined my ability to enjoy the book as much as I could have. Overall, I'd give it a 5 out of 10.

Traitor's Blade by Sebastian de Castell

Another fantasy book, this might be the best fantasy book I've read this year. It's about three men who used to be part of a legal-order called Greatcoats, who were trained in law and soldiering to act as officers of the king against corrupt nobles. Unfortunately those nobles revolted and executed that king, and the Greatcoats disbanded. Everyone, from the nobility to the peasants, now hate the Greatcoats with a passion.

The three men who are at the center of the tale still cling to their past, and do their best to maintain the honour and pride that they felt. Unfortunately they wind up getting wrapped up in the schemes of the most vile of the nobility, who are trying to increase their power by creating a puppet monarch. That's as far as we're shown in this book, but there's obviously even more going on.

The writing was excellent, the characters and their interactions with each other were great, and the world was compelling. There wasn't much magic to speak of, at least not yet, and I know this book did a great job because when I finished it I was annoyed that there wasn't more to it. I wanted to know more about the world, about some of the characters, and about the general back story. Not annoyed to the point where it took away from my enjoyment, mind you. Overall, I'd give this book a 9 out of 10.

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

Let's get the good out of the way. I view the world in a similar way to what I thought of Traitor's Blade above, in that I thought it was well thought out and compelling but I wished I could have seen more of it. As the first book in the series, I'm sure I'll get to see more in subsequent books. The plot and characters were pretty good too, even though there was about half a dozen different POVs and plot lines that took until the very end to hold any relevance to each other. The magic system reminded me a bit of what Rothfuss uses in his trilogy, though without the same depth to it. I liked all of these things.

But... now the bad. It's kind of frustrating that one or two bad things can detract so much from the many good things in a book. The dialogue, both between different characters and any internal dialogue a character has with themselves, was incredibly bland. Nothing seemed to reach any level deeper than basic small talk, even for important conversations or between people who have long established relationships - or a relationship that's growing. 

Related to the dialogue is the mindset of the main character. Despite all the bad that happens, and some bad stuff does happen especially early in the book, his attitude is that of: *shrug* what're you going to do? Things will look up. There's no real depth to him either, even as the main character. Everything about him doesn't seem to scratch the surface and is pretty clich├ęd too, and I couldn't tell if it was on purpose for just the first book and subsequent books will delve into it more deeply. Heck, a lot of the minor, supporting characters seemed to have more depth to their thought and behaviour than the main one did. 

Still, it was a pretty good debut. I'd give it 7 out of 10. 

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Another debut book in a fantasy series. This was rather short for a fantasy novel, even compared to Traitor's Blade above, and it showed in various ways. The characters didn't have that much back story provided, and only two or three had any back story given at all. The world wasn't really delved into that much either, nor was the magic. All that said, what was actually included was very enjoyable.

What really suffered, to me, was the plot. Too much of the first part of the book was taken up with hinting at and slowly revealing/explaining the nature of the main character's weapon, which is also the namesake of this book. By the time that's finally resolved, the climax of the book is suddenly upon you. A couple of battles happen, the resolution of it and the events leading up to them is sort of wrapped up, and then... the book's over. I can't help but think that this would have been better if the first and second books were combined into one, but I'll have to wait for the second book to see how that bears out.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. Overall I'd give it 7 out of 10. 

The Rest: New Books in Series

There was a couple of other books I read that were new releases to series that I already read.

The Crimson Vault by Will Wight was the second book to House of Blades, a book I've reviewed on this blog. It was just as good, if not better, than the first. I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Infidel by Kameron Hurley is the follow up to God's War, which I also reviewed here. It was very good, but didn't quite measure up to the first one. However, I can't help but think that's because it's really just filling in the gap between the first and third books. I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10 as well.

I also finished the Low Town trilogy by Daniel Polansky. The second book, Tomorrow the Killing, wasn't as good as the first book but was still enjoyable. I'd give it 7 out of 10. The third book, She Who Waits, was absolutely fantastic. I'd give it 9 out of 10.


  1. Hi Brian, Thanks for saving me from the pain of reading The Barrow. I am in the middle of Blood Song right now. I am enjoying the book to the point where I can't put it down. I read the book Salyards wrote an enjoyed at the time but don't remember much of the details. The ending didn't hook me for the next book. Oh well can't win them all. Take care my friend.

  2. The next book from Blood Song is out this July, and it's one of the books I'm in most anticipation about for this year. Salyards was somewhere between "meh" and good to me, it's hard to tell because it was so short and didn't seem to cover much. I'll give the series another shot with the second book at least.