Monday, March 19, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Bad World 2: To Kill An Archangel by Curtis Lawson

Author: Curtis M. Lawson

Pages: 160

Publisher: Black Pyramid Books

Release Date: March 18, 2018

Being a huge fan of the first book in this series, It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World, I was justifiably excited to see if the author could top his previous effort, or suffer the dreaded sophomore slump. I was happy to discover this topped Bad World 1 in every way. More action, faster pacing, and the occult elements are just so much more intense!

Five years after the end of book one, the various characters are living much different lives. Marcus, the cop's son saved of a wasting disease by the Fangs of Wallachia is a street kid, living with his gang. Cora, who's mom was murdered by the assassin nun, is living with yet another set of foster parents. The Rhodesian is taking contracts guarding high value shipments. Marcus and the Rhodesian are still tied in to daggers, which they get visions of what the current wielder is using them for: murder.  This is where the story starts, and the wild ride begins. Marcus and the Rhodesian are now searching for the daggers, which are drawing them towards them, because the entity that is actually the source of the Fang's power, the Archangel Samael, is about to be released if the Rhodesian can't do something to stop it. Meanwhile, a new murder nun has been assigned to track down and kill all those who know about the daggers and retrieve them. She is even scarier than the first one!

The story proceeds at breakneck speed as Marcus, the Rhodesian and the nun all search for the Fangs, and the Rhodesian and Marcus end up in Rome, trying to find something that can destroy the Fangs once and for all. They even meet a famous person who turns out to be much more than he seems and gives the Rhodesian all he can handle in combat! Meanwhile, back in America, the Nun is on the trail of Cora, who has a destiny even she could have never imagined. It all ends in a huge climactic way that has terrible consequences for the world to come!

Characters. That is the true strength of this book. Yes, the plot is fast paced, the occult elements are interesting and the setting is so well drawn you feel as though you are walking the halls of the Vatican yourself. That being said, the story of Marcus, the Rhodesian and Cora are what sells this story. Whether it being Marcus fighting the effects of wielding the Fangs, the Rhodesian finding a bit of humanity after a life of tragedy and blood, or Cora finally finding a measure of peace after a life of turmoil, you really become invested in them. You hope Marcus can overcome the call, the need for violence and death the Fangs call out to him for. You hope the Rhodesian can find peace in a life that has only known war from such a young age. You hope the worst Cora has to worry about is if that boy at school really likes her. Unfortunately, you know something else is probably going to occur, and that's what makes it so interesting and engaging.

The ending made it clear that there will be a third book. it ended on a satisfying note, and hints at an even crazier third book, and I for one can't wait. I can't even compare this series to any other, since it has elements of horror, thrillers and urban fantasy. I can't recommend this series highly enough!

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Brutal by James Alderdice

Author: James Alderdice

Pages/Length: 278 Pages/ 8 hrs, 55 mins (audio)

Publisher: Lost Realms Press/ Tantor Media (audio)

Release Date: July 11, 2017/ February 20, 2018 (Audio)

Narrator: Liam Gerrard

You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.

The book starts out with the man who becomes known as Sellsword attacked by bandits on the way to the small city of Aldrith. He dispatches them like the boss he is, although his horse falls off a cliff during the fight. Shame, it was a good horse. He then travels on foot towards Aldrith, and discovers the city, although it has a Duke, power is actually split between two warring wizards. There is also a group of dark cultists in the mix, as well as a dark version of the kingdom's religion stirring the volatile mixture of power politics.

Arriving at the Duke's manor, Sellsword finds the Duke gone, but does meet the Duchess. Receiving a note, the Duchess leaves suddenly. It turns out The Duke was murdered, setting off a chain event of actions as people, including the Duchess, scramble for power. Sellsword starts to approach each party offering his services. This leads to some epic fights, as Sellsword goes and proves his worth to the various parties. The best, and both most hilarious and gory, example of this is when he goes to the local casino run by one of the wizards and asks to see the wizard. when told no, he tells the guards to disarm themselves or he will. all six of them then rush him, where he proceeds to disarm them by removing all their arms! This type of dark humor runs throughout the book. He also runs into the town Paladins, basically the constabulary, who are corrupt and work for the highest bidder, and has several run ins with them.

This is the mix the Sellsword has to deal with, as alliances shift, plots are hatched and tensions boil to the breaking point as each side jockeys for the ultimate power in the town, with an unseen menace over it all providing even worse danger. With some epic city battles, betrayals on all sides and shocking revelations, the plot rushes forward headlong into the final confrontation that will determine the fate of the city!

This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely one of my favorite characters in recent memory. 

I had never heard Liam Gerrard narrate before, but I was extremely happy to discover him. He has an excellent range, and he really brings the various characters to life. He uses a variety of tones and accents to differentiate the characters, and he has excellent pacing on the narration parts. I am definitely keeping an eye out for his work in the future.

Overall, this is one of the top stories I've read in the last couple years. I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

Author: Jon Sprunk

Pages: 427 pages

Publisher: Pyr

Release Date: March 11, 2014

I was really looking forward to reading this, and I was not disappointed! Jon Sprunk has taken elements from multiple fantasy tropes (Holy crusade, gladiators, fish out of water discovers magic talent, foreign magic empire) and blends them into a compelling narrative that had me hooked from the first minute. This book most definitely falls into the subgenre of grimdark, popularized by writers like Glen Cook, George RR Martin and more recent authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence. This book, like the authors previous Shadow Series compares well with any of those authors.

The characters are well written, with realistic strengths and weaknesses that make them believable, not always something you see in a fantasy novel. The world building is good, with the conflict between the nations defined well, although I'm hoping to learn more about the surrounding nations in future books. There is real emotion invested in the characters, and you can sympathize with them. Even the villains are realistic, with nary a mustache twirler in the bunch.

Politics and intrigue abounds, and magic is the great equalizer. This one has lots of flashy magic too, which makes for exciting fight scenes. I can't recommend this highly enough. Any fans of Peter V. Brett, Anthony Ryan or Brian Stavely should enjoy this series. If your in to audio books, this one was done in Graphic Audio full cast format, which only ratchets up the tension and excitement. Go out and get a copy today!

The Bookwyrm's Review of Darkstorm by ML Spencer

Author: ML Spencer

Length: 304 Pages/ 9 hrs, 5 mins (audio)

Release Date: January 19, 2017/ January 22nd, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Stoneguard Publications 

Narrator: Simon Wright

I had this series recommended to me by several friends who told me that it takes one fantasy trope after another and smashes them to pieces on the alter of Grimdark.Well, being a huge fan of grimdark, I got excited by the idea of something original, not just another Prince of Thorns or Before They Are Hanged knockoff...err, homage. I am happy to report that not only was this true, but the author took those tropes and burned them to ashes. What is left is an original, swerve filled race to a conclusion you just will not see coming. On that note, we'll get into the review.

When apprentice mage Merris finds out she is going to be kicked out of the mages guild, she follows the head of her guild out one night to try and dig up some dirt on him that would allow her to use the information to fend off her removal. What she discovers instead of some midnight assignation or other such scandal puts her life, and the very fate of the world, in jeopardy. She comes across a group of mages not only from her city-state of Aerysius, but from the neighboring city-state of Bryn Calazar, which are a hairs breadth from war with each other, involved in a dark ritual with netherworld powers. After she escapes, she goes to see her mentor, Sephana, who she discovers is having an illicit romance with the ambassador from Bryn Calazar, Braden, who helps her escape to Bryn Calazar by sending her to his brother Quin. How much this helps is debatable, since Bryn Calazar is most definitely a patriarchy, unless you have status as a mage as a woman. The problem is, Quin is a drunken wreck. 

After convincing Quin of her bonifides,  Quin and Merris approach the head of his mage guild, and this is where everything goes pear shaped, as they are unexpectedly betrayed in the guild hall and end up on the run. Meanwhile, in Aerysius, Braden and Sephana are captured trying to spy on the cabal, and they are transported to a secret base in Calazar lands. The conspirators, all high ranking mages, explain to Braden what they are about. They are trying to head off the end of magic and civilization as they know it, as magic is going to have a polarity shift, killing all mages and destroying anything created with magic, like buildings in cities. The cabalists have decided the power of the dark god in his Netherworld will allow them to hold the polarity shift off for a thousand years. All it will cost them is their souls, and a bunch of human sacrifices...

This leads to a wild second half of the book, as Quin, Braden, Sephana and Merris try and work against the cabal, which has power throughout the highest levels of both kingdoms. There is epic magic battles, giant cavalry battles as there is an uprising against the cabal by  Braden's people, which all leads to the final confrontation between the cabal and those trying to stop them. There is also a huge betrayal you don't see coming which costs those trying to stop the evil a member, and which definitely effected the outcome.  Definitely a grimdark ending, although there may be a ray of hope, however slight, even with the sacrifices made.

The characters are the true strength of this book. While the setting was well described and gave you a feeling of being there and the plot is fast paced and never lagged in the slightest, what happens with the characters is really what hooks you. Whether it's Quin's self destructive behavior, Braden's quest to do right for his kingdom whether it wants it or not, or Merris trying to maintain the life she has, you really care about what happens to them. When you find out the details from their past's it really humanizes them. Even if some of it makes them less sympathetic, Their flaws just make them that much more believable. The villains, who are actually trying to do what they see as right, are well drawn out, and even somewhat sympathetic. They do evil for a greater good, which you don't see too often. There isn't a mustache twirl in the group. It really is a well thought out group of characters.

I had never heard Simon Wright narrate before this book, but I found him to be a compelling voice. He really put the effort in to bring the characters to life, whether male or female, no matter the voice or accent. His pacing on the narration is spot on, and he keeps you engaged in the story, waiting to see what happens next. Definitely a voice to check out.

All in all, this is a fantastic addition to the grimdark fantasy ranks, as good as anything put out by the big names like Cook, Martin, Abercrombie and Lawrence, and actually maybe a hair better than a couple of those! This is a prequel to a larger series, so it will be interesting to see what the decisions made in this one lead to in the future of the series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Sorceror's Ascension by Brock Deskins

Author: Brock Deskins

Pages/Length:  337 Pages/ 9 hrs, 55 mins (Audio)

Release Date:  January 19, 2014/ December 1, 2017

Publisher: Dingo Dog Publishing

Narrator: William Turbett

I went into this one without any preconceptions, other than knowing I had enjoyed the author's urban fantasy novel Shroud of Darkness. I found that though this is a completely different book, it was just as enjoyable. After reading this, I felt that this was what The Name of the Wind should have been if the main character wasn't a complete Mary Sue.

When Azerick, son of a wealthy sea trader, has his father executed after he was framed for treason, He and his mother lose everything to the local Duke. They end up living in an inn his mother works at as a server. When she is violently murdered and he is thrown out, Azerick returns after dark, breaks in gets his stuff back, and after struggling with and incapacitating the innkeeper who stole their belongings, burns the inn to the ground. 

This sets Azerick on a path he could never have foreseen. Squatting in an abandoned building, he is found by a group of squatters and joins their ranks. When a dispute with the thieves guild destroys his new family, Azerick declares war on the thieves, getting his revenge in the cruelest way possible. After a series of run ins with the Mages guild, it is discovered Azerick has magical ability and he is allowed to start training at the guild academy, where the children of rich and noble scions train. Obviously, as a poor orphan, he butts heads with the other students, especially the biggest bully boy, Travis. As you can expect, a boy used to living by his wits and strength on the street is not going to take bullying lying down. This theme continues throughout the book, as Azerick, who is very smart and understands magic theory very well, struggles to cast spells beyond a certain simple level, although he does excel in academic subjects and alchemy.

This changes when it is discovered that Azerick is a sorcerer, not a wizard, meaning his spell casting is self determined, not cast by rote spells. With this revelation, and a new master to tutor him, his spell casting is greatly improved. As time passes, and his rivalry with Travis reaches its final climax in a duel, Azerick discovers a secret that may effect the safety of the world, and he must determine what he needs to do and where his loyalties lie. This ties into a side plot dealing with the kingdoms founding as it's dragon overlords were overthrown with the help of five suits of magic armor that are now in play in a power play for the throne.

The characters are a real strength of this book, especially Azerick. His struggles after his families fall and subsequent successes and failures really tempered his personality. He is a hard young man, willing to take the harshest measures for revenge and to protect those he loves. What he did to the man who killed his mother and to the thieves guild show that no measure is too radical to achieve his goals, for good or ill. The secondary characters, from his best friend  to his mentor are well thought out and have well rounded personalities. The villains, whether Travis or the Duke and his henchmen, are loathsome but believable, being drawn to power and the ability to abuse it.  

The setting is well thought out and well described, with lots of detail without going overboard. The plot and prose flow well, with lots of action, but some introspection as well, as the events unfold to show the grander conspiracy and how it connects to Azerick.The final portion of the book is like a roller coaster ride leading to Azerick and Travis's inevitable confrontation, and has a satisfying payoff. All told, a dark but enjoyable beginning to a series.

I was unfamiliar with William Turbett's narration before this book, but I am happy to have discovered him. He brings each character a unique life of their own, with a variety of tones and accents, and his pacing is very solid. He makes you want to keep listening as he brings the story to life.

I have heard that this book was compared to The Name of the Wind in a negative way. I find that odd, since while it deals with similar characters, it goes in very different directions, with the characters having different methods and motivations. I would recommend this story to anyone who would like a different take, a darker one, on a coming of age tale, with well rounded characters and real struggle and pathos.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Gods of Color by CH Baum

Author: C.  H.  Baum

Pages: 350 Pages

Publisher: Page Publishing,  Inc. 

Release Date: April 12, 2017

With the trend right now toward Prose Grimdark, led by writers like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George RR Martin, this is a nice change of pace. It is a much more in your face, meat and potatoes kind of Grimdark, more like a knife to the kidneys than a speech and a battle death.

In a world of warriors and magic, Tensions are running high. In the land of Fast, a City-State, Klex, an assassin working for the evil mage Paegus, assassinates Fast's Yellow Seer just after he prophesies that Blue Magic, the most powerful of the 7 colors of magic, will return, and only a select, vaguely defined group can defeat the rising evil. He escapes and rides to get the message back to his master and claim his evil reward.

In the City-State of Ham, The Cities' own Yellow Seer gets the same prophesy, and the king dispatches a team of mages and warriors from his Color Guard to track down Klex and stop him from getting Paegus the message, possibly starting an Armageddon level event! The Warrior team is led by Diana, the Crown Princess of Ham and a Red warrior of renown. The party also includes Peter and Bon, both red warriors (elite warriors), as well as a variety of other warriors of the various color groups (colors denoting specialty, like orange for demolition, green for archers, brown for defensive engineering). The mage group includes Logan and Max, red mages (teleporters) as well a variety of other color mages (orange for fire, green for nature, brown for shields). The warriors track during the day, the mages at night, since the mages channel moonlight for their magic.

This starts an epic, dark adventure, as the Color Guard of Ham tries to head off Klex and stop Paegus's evil plans before they come to fruition. Along the way they will lose members of their party to death and other duty, pick up unexpected allies, and be tested in ways they never expected. In fact, another prophesy foretells that specific members of the party wont survive, and they will have to deal with the repercussions of that as well. Some of the mission will end in success, and some will seem to end in failure. With gods in the mix influencing events, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Some of the team, such as Diana, Peter and Logan, will suffer losses that are much more of a burden than they should have to handle.

In the City of Fast, the situation is a complete mess, as the king is a wastrel and has no interest in ruling justly, just in enriching himself. The city is rife for civil war, and has nothing to offer Ham in support against Paegus. In fact, there are conspiracies within conspiracies in Fast, and you can't tell who is trustworthy. The skills of the Color Guard team are put to the ultimate test in Fast and the Island city of Limala, with the fate of the world resting on what they accomplish.

This book was such a nice change of pace from the overly complicated dark fantasy and Grimdark that is the current trend now. It has a really solid plot, without a bunch of side branches and distractions. The world is well designed and described, and you get a real sense for the look and feel of the world. You can almost feel the nasty swamp of the Rot, the scent of rotting vegetation, of disease and decay. That's just an example. Great setting that one was, and there are so many more.

The magic was creative, each mage focusing on the color they can sense and perfecting its use, although there are a rare few like Logan who can sense and use all the colors, although his red mastery is best. I always like magic that allows for teleporting, so this one was fun, especially since Logan is a lead protagonist. The two evil magics, purple and blue, are suitably awful for a Grimdark story. The magic is a true strength of the story.

With all the good, there was only one minor issues. There were a few of repetitive phrases used in successive paragraphs that just seemed superfluous. Again, this is a minor issue, but may be something the author might want to address if he decides to make this into an audio book.

Other than that, no complaints, and this issue will not reduce your reading enjoyment at all. All in all, a very good effort on a debut novel, and I cant wait to see where the author takes this story in the next book.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Agent G: Saboteur by CT Phipps

 Agent G: Saboteur by [Phipps, C. T.]

Author: C. T. Phipps

Pages: 213

Publisher: Amber Cove Publishing

Release Date: January 4, 2018

As I've said before, with a second book, the second book in a series, especially with a really good book like Agent G: Infiltrator, can sometimes be a letdown just because the first book set such a high bar. In this case, that's not the case at all, since Agent G: Saboteur is fantastic, an original story that expands on the characters and story from the first book but takes it to the next level.

After Agent G broke the back of the International Refugee Society, the secret murder for hire group he was created by (yes created, since he's cloned cyborg), he has been working for a secret black ops team of the US government trying to finish off the remnants of the society, as well as get a hold of their staff and assets. This is where the book starts, as G para-drops onto the mountain base of one of the Society's remaining leaders. His parachute malfunctions, and he is forced to improvise a landing he can survive in an amazing hair raising scene. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book, as he fights his way through the defenses of the fortress and completes his mission with extreme prejudice, which includes getting the the Society's revolutionary AI and one of their best technicians.

Returning to the local airfield, G confides to his handler that his equipment was sabotaged, and he knows he cant trust anyone. After figuring out who on his strike team betrayed him, he interrogates him, finding out that G's ex wife, S, a deadly letter assassin herself, was responsible. This starts a wild series of events, since there is betrayal after betrayal as G and his team try to get the last of the Society finished off. What they don't know is there is a mysterious group opposing them, led by a face from G's life he never expected to see, that can derail all his plans.  This leads to the penultimate showdown with this threat, where more than just G's life is at stake. In fact, at the end of the book, events happen that change the world forever!

Like the first book this is a very character driven book. The various letter assassins, all trained the same, are nevertheless very different people (well, cyborgs). G's story comes full circle, as he goes from brainwashed Bioroid cyborg (that term comes into play in Mr. Phipps Lucifer's Star series) to free thought revolutionary. His act at the end of the book that changes the world as they knew it shows just how divorced from that life he had become. The various character interactions, the dialogue, is all crisp and well thought out. It just feels natural. These characters just feel real, even if the do the most fantastic things. The villains are excellent, especially the surprise villain at the end. You really get to loathe them and what they stand for, which is what any author should hope for. 

The settings, whether a mountain fortress in South America, a set of high rises in Asia, or a ranch in Texas are all well thought out and described. You really get a visceral feel that you are there, on the ground, right in the thick of things. You can almost feel the heat of the ranch, smell the blood and gunpowder. This is common across his books, so it's no surprise.

 This leads to the plot, which is intentionally steering the series from sci-fi spy thriller to cyberpunk. Its a good shift that flows naturally from the decisions made throughout the books roller coaster action scenes. It will be interesting to see where he takes the series from here. I highly recommend this series as a great representation of the author's work. You should definitely check it out!