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Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I picked this book up about a month ago when I was looking for something fun and easy to read. Set in a fantasy land, The Lies of Locke Lamora follows a group of thieves on their adventures in a complicated city.

lockelamora

For the first third of the book, they caper about plotting a grand heist, with nothing more at risk than what would be expected from such thievery. The novel is structured as a series of alternating timelines as well, detailing the current day events beside those of protagonist Locke Lamora’s childhood and training.

The characters tended to blend together at the outset and were all too nice to feel like real thieves – with an ethical code of stealing from the rich, avoiding killing anyone, and then keeping the treasure locked away in a vault, seemingly in the business more for the thrill than for pure greed. While it took a while for the greater story to be set up, once the true antagonist of the plot arrived, things became much more interesting and the stakes were worthy of an epic fantasy tale.

I’m glad that I stuck with this book, because the characters felt more real as they were thrust into mortal danger. People die and nothing goes as planned. Locke is devious, but his scheming nearly becomes his downfall as he has to improvise around his own lies and deceptions. When facing adversity, even his more brutal actions become understandable, and I found myself truly rooting for him in all ways by the end. The plot is satisfyingly resolved and the novel can be read as a complete story, even though I know there is a sequel available. If you can work through the slower opening, the main story is a solid and entertaining read. I’ll be looking to pick up the next installment soon.

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A Brief Review – Star Trek: Beyond

I missed seeing Star Trek: Beyond in the theater, but was able to watch the latest installation of the franchise a week ago. While I’ve never been a dedicated Trek fan, I do appreciate the themes in Gene Roddenberry’s creation and I make an effort to keep up with the latest releases. (One day I’ll go back to watch all of the original series and that Next Generation thingy).

beyond-poster

I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about this film because I hadn’t really enjoyed the previous one – Into Darkness. To me, you can’t remake (reboot?) The Wrath of Khan. I also think that I’m one of the few people who doesn’t fawn over Benedict Cumberbatch in everything that he appears. I don’t think he’s terrible, just overrated, so seeing him as Khan was odd.

The newest movie picks up a few years after the events of Into Darkness, with the Enterprise returning to its roots, exploring distant space. The crew earns a break from the monotony of their duties, with a trip to the new Starbase Yorktown. An escape pod arrives at the Starbase, bringing a strange alien with a tale of distress. Kalara relates how she fled when her ship was captured in a nearby planetary system in a region of an unexplored nebula. The Enterprise is sent to investigate, but of course this doesn’t go well, and they fly into a pretty obvious trap.

The rest of the movie was entertaining and fun, and I enjoyed the new characters. I may even have to cosplay Jaylah if I can figure out the prosthetic makeup. A few plot holes existed, but none of those bothered me too much. The film included a brief reference to Leonard Nimoy’s passing, which blended tastefully into the story.

What did YOU think of the movie? I have to say that when the alien ship/conglomerate first appeared, I was reminded of the Shadows from Babylon 5. Did anyone else have that reaction?

Star Trek: Beyond releases on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 1.

Thoughts on The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner is a new television show on FX, and I had a chance to watch the two-hour pilot last night. While it isn’t billed as fantasy, but rather historical fiction, there are certainly some mystical elements at play.

The Bastard Executioner -- Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.  Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner — Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.
Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

FX provides this description:

The Bastard Executioner is a blood-soaked, medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny.

Guided by Annora, a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Wilkin under her sway; manipulated by Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political aspirations; and driven by a deepening connection with the Baroness Lady Love, Wilkin struggles to navigate political, emotional and supernal pitfalls in his quest to understand his greater purpose.

The Bastard Executioner starts with a series of dreams that give the viewer a vague idea that the main character, Wilkin, was once a soldier who was badly injured in battle. Now retired from whatever cause or lord he fought for, he is dwelling in an idyllic village in Wales. His days are spent teasing his pregnant wife, teasing another peasant about his sheep, carrying water, and riding his horse around the countryside with the other men of the village.

** SPOILERS TO FOLLOW **

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER - "Pilot" Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner – “Pilot” Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

All of this is very nice (and the CGI shots of the village were some of the nicer ones), but the story drags until a conflict arrives in the form of a greedy baron who needs to collect more taxes.

Clearly, Wilkin’s happy pastoral life could not continue, so the first hour of The Bastard Executioner culminated in a predictable gory village burning and peasant stabbing reminiscent of Braveheart.

Now that Wilkin and his friends found motivation to do something more exciting, the show became more fun. The greedy Baron is pitched against the rebellious peasants. Swords clash in battle in some fight choreography that I didn’t completely hate. Like most battle scenes nowadays, there were plenty close-up shots (this is the part that I hate) where you can only see a blurry arm fly by or a bloody spurt. I get it – it’s easier to choreograph and easier to film – but I want to watch the larger view of the swordplay. The Bastard Executioner did pan out for a few nicer glimpses of this.

Although The Bastard Executioner brings some interesting ideas and the richness of a historical setting to it’s production, it tries too hard to emulate both Game of Thrones and Braveheart by throwing in random nudity and sex, a white-blond girl followed closely by a vision of a demon (looks a bit like a dragon), a witch who makes mysterious prophecies, a baroness (who I predict will fall suddenly in love with our bastard executioner in upcoming episodes), and a unique dagger (let’s guess where the blame where by placed).

I’m not sure that I like Lee Jones’ (Wilkin) emotional portrayal in the second half of the pilot. For a lot of it, his facial expression doesn’t change and he simply appears confused. Many of the characters were a little over-the-top and no one really surprised me in terms of breaking expectations. I hope that the Baroness redeems herself in this respect now that she’s a widow, and I’m interested to discover what will happen politically and whether she will be able to maintain power.

The plot had some holes as the show progressed, but they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment of the second half. I’ll keep watching for at least a few more episodes.

Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? What did you think?

I have some random links for everyone today!

 

Here is an article on tor.com discussing the recent 2015 Eisner awards and how comics are becoming more diverse in many ways.

I have several book reviews that went up over on Book Spot Central in the last few months. In case you missed them over there, they are:

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (graphic novel) by Andrew MacLean

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Link

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Book Review – Kingdom of Cages

Catching up on some book reviews now:

Kingdom of Cages
by Sarah Zettel
Aspect (2001)

Kingdom of Cages is an older novel by Sarah Zettel and is the only work of hers that I have read. Set amidst a space-faring society, the novel focuses on the plight of a single mother, Helice Trust, and her two young daughters, Chena and Teal.

Human society is in trouble, plagued by the Diversity Crisis. I had a tough time figuring out what this really was, and to the best of my ability it was a collection of afflictions that are supposedly brought on a lack of genetic diversity, akin to a bottleneck phenomenon. However, it acted more like something infectious, and that is how the characters treated it, so I found the premise unbelievable.

With society in fear of the Diversity Crisis, many flee to Pandora, a world which seems to be unaffected simply for the reason that the inhabitants are kept in habitats separate from the ecosystems. This also didn’t make sense to me, because in the villages people breathe the air from the world and live in the trees.

Amidst this setting, Helice Trust and her daughters manage to make it to Pandora, but are misled about their roles there. The ruling body on Pandora has other plans for Chena trust, but cannot convince her to play nice.

I had a hard time finishing this book for several reasons. The story mainly followed Chena and Teal Trust, but wandered without a clear plot for much of the time. I never cared whether either one of them accomplished their goals, and Teal struck me as a spoiled brat, so I was actively rooting against her. Also, the antagonists were too similar and I kept confusing them through the entire book.

The writing itself was solid and did not distract me, so I would be open to reading another book by this author, but it needs to have a more logical premise.

Book Review – Magic Teacher’s Son

Magic Teacher’s Son
Book 1 of The Magician’s Gold Series
By David Harten Watson
Pen-L Publishing 2014

In the debut novel by David Harten Watson, we are introduced to the land of Eldor, a place that contains both familiar and fresh elements of the fantastic. The magic worked by the characters is a creative invention, with just enough rules and structure to prevent a free-for-all of spell-slinging. White magic must be powered by either silver or gold, with spells of longer duration or greater power requiring gold. In opposition to this, sorcery uses bones, blood, or the death of a living creature to fuel its effects.

MagicTeachersSonFrontCover-200Pran is the magic teacher’s son of the title, studying in a one-room schoolhouse outside the village of White River Junction. The novel opens as Pran sneaks out of his home to participate in a Circle of Sorcery, at which neighborhood hooligans gather to practice illicit black magic. Accompanied by his friends, Pran watches Sekar, the leader of the circle, as the teen summons a fire nymph for demonstration. Despite the allure, Pran avoids performing any sorcery himself and manages to escape the ridicule of the older boys.

Pran’s home realm of Eldor is at war with Marakna, a place where sorcery is commonplace. While his older brother is a Magician in the Eldorean Army, the conflict itself has little effect on Pran’s day-to-day life. However, after a chance encounter with a traveling Truthseeker, Pran learns that a terrifying prophecy has just come to light. Within a week, all of Eldor’s gold will vanish, leaving the country powerless to defend itself against the Maraknese sorcerers and possible invasion. Pran has been designated to lead a quest to return some amount of gold to Eldor by traveling with three others to the legendary realm of Earth. As with most prophecies, there are hints and riddles, but not enough guidelines to make the quest a comfortable process.

The first volume of this series follows Pran’s quest to discover his companions and find his way to Earth. David Harten Watson describes this world with prose that is straight-forward, while capturing a true feel for the interplay between teenage characters. The military structure of the magical army was an outstanding touch that allowed the battle scenes to unfold with clarity. Pran is a likeable hero, and this book was a joy to read. It’s about overcoming challenges, friendship and trust, making choices, and protecting your home. Magic Teachers’ Son is a solid introduction to the world that the author has crafted, and I’ll be looking for the next book in this marvelous series.

New in Reviews: Skin Game (audiobook) by Jim Butcher & The Ophelia Prophecy by Sharon Lynn Fisher

I wrote a couple of new book reviews which have appeared online in the last month or two. They are both over at Book Spot Central. Check them out and leave some comments over there!

Photo by Sarah Browning, shared under Creative Commons license.
Photo by Sarah Browning, shared under Creative Commons license.

Here are the direct links to each review:

Skin Game (audiobook) by Jim Butcher

The Ophelia Prophecy by Sharon Lynn Fisher

Do you read book reviews? Do you find them helpful when deciding what to read next? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Happy reading!

Book Review – Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace
By Ann Aguirre
Ace (2008)

I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I have had it on my to-read shelf for about a year. It looked to be a quick read and I decided to plunge into it while waiting for another book to arrive in the mail.

Grimspace Cover

Grimspace is the debut novel by author Ann Aguirre and the first book in the Sirantha Jax series. The story is set in a world in which interstellar travel is possible by using paired pilot-jumper teams. Jumpers are rare – born with the J-gene that allows them to enter grimspace and follow the beacons left by an alien race. They are also monopolized by the Corp, the organization that identifies, trains, and employs them until many suffer a fatal burn out.

Sirantha Jax is an extraordinary jumper who is psychologically broken, and that is what makes her such a fascinating protagonist in this novel. Imprisoned for “treatment” after a catastrophic accident on her last trip, she is grieving her former pilot/lover who was lost in the crash. Jax has been interrogated by the Corp and although she has no memory of the events leading up to the crash, she feels incredibly guilty over the loss of life.

When she is rescued from her cell by an abrasive stranger, Jax is thrust back into her role as a jumper. Caught up in the schemes of her rescuers and their mysterious leader, Marsh, Jax finds herself running from the Corp and her past. This book was also a romance, and it was intriguing to follow the relationship between Jax and Marsh because he had his own dark past to rival that of Jax. This forces him to keep his emotions bottled up and his motivations are initially unclear.

As a first novel, this was a solid read. There were a few hiccups initially, where I felt like I had missed some explanation about the technology or the characters. By the time I was halfway through the book, I was engrossed in the story. The plot was unpredictable but logically followed the characters’ motivations, and by the time I finished reading, I decided that I adored this book. There is enough of a resolution in this first novel for it to serve as a stand-alone read, with just enough unanswered questions to leave me wanting more. I plan to pick up the next volume in the Sirantha Jax series soon.

Book Review – Darkwalker

Darkwalker
by E. L. Tettensor
Roc (2013)
360 pages

Cover_DarkwalkerIn Darkwalker, debut novelist E. L. Tettensor brings us a solid introduction to the character of Inspector Nicolas Lenoir and the fantasy world he inhabits. Based on the front cover subtitle: A Nicholas Lenoir Novel, I expect that there are more volumes forthcoming. However, this initial offering can certainly be read and enjoyed on its own, as it is a complete story with only a few unresolved threads at the end.

At first glance, the book appears to follow the formula of many detective novels, being told from the point-of-view of the hard-working but green sidekick, Sergeant Bran Kody. A child’s corpse has been stolen from a village graveyard, but the Inspector quickly deduces that there are insufficient clues to track down the missing body.

Through the first few chapters, it becomes apparent that while Sergeant Kody admires Inspector Lenoir’s intellect, this attitude is not reciprocated. The Inspector is both arrogant and uncaring, and this jaded attitude frustrates his young assistant. However, author Tettensor deftly switches the viewpoint to show us a glimpse of humanity in the man. Haunted by events of the past, the once legendary Inspector spends his evenings falling into an alcoholic stupor. While he still garners some respect with the rest of the Metropolitan Police, his best days may be behind him.

A second child’s corpse is stolen, but this still does little to pique Lenoir’s interest. He asks questions and travels to the village where this occurred, as his job requires, but finds no substantial leads. While Sergeant Kody continues to work on the case, the Inspector visits Lady Zera’s salon and socializes with the upper class of the city of Kennian until late at night. The Inspector dreads to sleep because he has nightmares of the Darkwalker, a spirit with absinthe green eyes that nearly killed him a decade ago and may still pursue him.

As a favor to Lady Zera, Inspector Lenoir tries to discover the source of some unpleasant rumors about the hostess. When he checks in with Zach, a street urchin who serves as one of his informants, Lenoir learns that the boy disappeared with a stranger earlier that day. With Zach being of the same age as the missing corpses, the Inspector deduces that there may be a connection between the stolen bodies and Zach’s abduction. With the boy’s life at risk, he feels guilty for involving the kid and is finally inspired to take action.

Through the rest of the novel, the story explores the Adali, an outcast and migrant race shunned by many in the Five Villages, the nobility of Kennian, and necromancy and vengeance. The plot kept me interested, and there was real danger to the characters, as well as intriguing magic.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read, with an unexpected and satisfying conclusion. In her first novel, E. L. Tettensor has crafted a solid blend of detective fiction and fantasy, and the best thing about it was that was fun to read.

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