Tag Archives: #Epicfantasy

Carr, Patrick W.: A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword I) (2013)

A Cast of Stones, Bethany House Publishers, 2013
I think A Cast of Stones fits the Harry Potter age range. Patrick W. Carr’s writing is technically excellent. The story is well-edited and the text flows from sentence to sentence. As far as plots go, A Cast of Stones is stereotypical epic fantasy and much of it reminds me of other stories. Readers should be able to tell how the trilogy will end after finishing A Cast of Stones. At times Carr fell for the temptation to moralize. In spite of this, I recommend it for readers who need clear HEROs. Errol is definitely that, although he does not start as one.

Cruk grunted and grimaced his imitation of a smile. “The boy’s got the right of it. He is pretty useless.”

Errol nodded with satisfaction. “See?” (p.103)

That uselessness is due, for the most part, to his alcoholism. A few years earlier, when he was 14 years old, Errol experienced something traumatic enough to drive him to drink. Being an orphan made it easier to go down that road. Because he is our HERO, we know he must find his way to a heroic personality. One of his tools for staying away from alcohol is fighting with a staff.

The only person who remains as he was at the beginning is Liam.

“We’re all the same,” Liam said. “I just concentrate and try really hard at everything. Anyone can do it if they just try hard enough.”

Errol stared. Did Liam really believe that?

“Now,” Liam said, “recite the vowels and consonants.”

He really did. (116)

Liam does most things by working hard and by having a heap-load of talent. In spite of being near-perfect, Errol admires him. And so does every other person Liam meets. Especially women. But Liam is not affected by this adoration and seems not to notice it.

Errol and Liam are joined by Martin, Luis and Crux. All three have secrets they hide from the “boys” (19 years old) and pasts they need to pick up again. Martin and Luis are meddlers and Crux a protector. He is also a tough teacher to Errol who lacks most “civilized knowledge”.

‘Cruk’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to learn on the way. I’ll teach you. First lesson, don’t ever annoy your teacher.”‘ (p.82)

At times, the methods employed by meddling Martin and Luis are highly questionable. They,  appear to believe that “the ends justify the means”. For churchmen and believers, they do not have much faith. In fact, that could probably be said of most of the church people we meet in this trilogy. Faith in their deity’s power is low.

The religion we learn about in A Cast of Stones is similar to the Roman-Catholic faith. Three-in-one godhead, celibate priesthood, rituals and hierarchies are close to identical to the RC church. Except for the magic bit that its Readers employ. Any magic but Reader-magic is forbidden and magic-users are usually killed. Rulers inherit their power but each ruler is invested with his (yes, his) powers. The old King has no heirs, which is why a new one must be found. Errol and Liam play an important role in picking the new ruler. No wonder people want to stop them.

One of the people who tries to hinder Errol from fulfilling his heroic destiny is Abbot Morin. He also believes that “the end justifies the means”. Some of those means carry a high price for both Errol and himself.


Reviews:


Cast of Stones is currently free at Kindle

Bishop, Anne: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn) (2001)

Reading to my daughter continues to be a pleasure. Our journey through the land of fantasy brought us into the world of Anne Bishop and the trilogy The World of the Fae.

The Pillars of the World is the first book of the series. It works well as a stand-alone novel. Bishop takes us in to a world where one man’s fears changed two countries into places where the gap between the powerful and the powerless becomes unbridgeable. Now the turn has come to Sylvalan.

Misogyny is said to be the hatred and dislike of girls or women. Personally, I believe it is more about fear of the perceived power or potential power of women and girls. Add to that a hunger for an increase in one’s own power and a religion or belief-system is born. Adolfo, the Master Inquisitor, the Witch’s Hammer, carries his misogynism and power hunger to extremes.

She’d never heard of the Evil One until Master Adolfo came to stay with Baron Hirstun. But she knew with absolute certainty that there was such a creature, that the Evil One did, indeed, walk the earth.

And its name was Master Inquisitor Adolfo, the Witch’s Hammer.

He was the very breath of Evil with his quietly spoken words and the gentle sadness in his eyes. Those things were the mask that hid a rotted spirit.

Oh, yes, treat the witch gently so that she may repent. Don’t look upon her limbs so that you won’t be swayed by lust.

The soul-rotted bastard just didn’t want those men to see the welts, the cuts, the burns he had inflicted on her to “help” her confess. The hobbles provided a clever excuse for why she couldn’t walk well. And he certainly hadn’t hesitated to indulge his lust. His rod was as much a tool as the heated poker and the thumbscrews.

While many witches in Sylvalan certainly have enough power to defend themselves, they also have a creed that states “do no harm”. Sometimes such beliefs are also taken to extremes. Not even saving themselves or their loved ones will bring the witches to use their magic to harm another person. Many of them end up being murdered after severe torture and forced confessions to crimes never committed. All for the sake of one man’s insatiable hunger and fear and other men’s envy.

Adolfo’s and his inquisitors’ distrust and dislike of the witches spreads to the rest of the population. We all know what happens when people flock together like sheep following the voice they want to hear rather than that little voice inside their own heads screaming STOP! The few who do try to stop what is happening end up being accused of the crime of “consorting with the Evil one” and killed.

All because of one man’s fears.

Not only the inquisitors regard witches as a lower species. The Fae in eastern Sylvalan consider themselves supreme beings of the earth. To take one’s pleasures with one of the non-fae is considered a right, but if a male fae should happen to breed a child upon one of the lesser species children are not taken care of. Female fae place the baby on the door-step of the father not wishing to sully Tir Alainn with mixed breeds. Tir Alainn is the home of the Fae, the place they venture out from when they want to play with those of lesser worth.

Definitely recommended both as a read-alone and read-together book.


Reviews:


Translations:

Thater, Glenn G.: The Gateway (Harbinger of Doom 0.5) (2008)

“Talbon!” said Lord Eotrus. “Dispel the mist. Now!”

At his liege’s command, the sorcerer uttered forgotten words of eldritch power; secret words lost to all but the chosen few. The ancient sorcery he called up crushed the unnatural mist back against the night, though the darkness lingered beyond the limits of the soldiers’ torchlight.

“For glory and honor,” shouted Lord Eotrus. “For Odin! For Lomion!”

“For Lomion,” shouted the men.

Glenn G. Thater

Larke, Glenda: The Aware (The Isles of Glory I) (2003)

Researcher (Special Class) S. iso Fabold, from the National Department of Exploration of the conquering nation Kell, has come to the Isles of Glory. His project is to discover what he can about its history and beliefs. As part of that mission, he interviews Blaze Halfbreed. It is her story we hear in The Aware. Fabold comments on Blaze’s story at regular intervals. I don’t particularly like Fabold. I find him an annoying, misogynistic git.

Blaze takes us back 50 years to a time before the Change, when magic was known. She telles us of her third visit to the Island of Gorthan Spit. Gorthan Spit is the place where those who have no where else to go end up. Blaze calls it a:

middenheap for unwanted human garbage and the dregs of humanity; a cesspit where the Isles of Glory threw their living sewerage: the diseased, the criminals, the mad the halfbreeds, the citizenless. Without people, Gorthan Spit would have been just an inhospitable finger of sand under a harsh southern sun; with them it was a stinking island hell.

Halfbreeds (children of two people from different islands) seldom survive to adulthood. None of the Isles of Glory wish to admit such children exist. Citizenship is only for the purebred. Usually, halfbreeds are abandoned as soon as their mixed background becomes apparent. Blaze, herself grew up

on the streets of the Hub with a group of other outcasts, mainly children of varying ages. Our home was the old graveyard on Duskset hill, where once upon a time the wealthy of the city had buried their dead in tombs above the ground. The place was ancient, the tombs neglected. They made good hiding places, fine home for a pack of feral street kids with no money and no respectability and, in my case, no history or citizenship.

That childhood, her later tutelage by the Menod and her treatment and training by Keepers laid the groundwork for the kind of adult Blaze Halfbreed became. What she learned was that if she wanted to be looked after Blaze was the one who had to do the looking. No one else could be trusted. And she is fine with that. She has no illusions about being some kind of wonderful person who needs to save her world. That she happens to become a pivot is due to Blaze being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Sometimes life is like that. Very few people get to become pivots upon which the fate of the world rests. Choices are made at such times that may or may not change the immediate course of history. Long-term very little changes where humans are involved.

I particularly appreciated a few scenes in The Aware. There is an amputation sequence that takes us through the process. Part of that process is letting us know what chance and amputation patient should have had somewhere like Gorthan Spit. There is also an explanation of how a woman like Blaze would be able to handle a two-handed sword for a longer period of time. There is her size, strength, training and practice. In addition the steel of her sword is more refined and therefore a little lighter than the regular ones of that time. Only blood-debts would get you such a sword if you were not from Calmeter. But Blaze needs to take better care of her weapons.

There was plenty of action, an explanation of the magic, a good description of how the Islands worked politically and practically and good character development.

Recommended.


Reviews:


The Aware available at Scribd.com


Translations:

Staveley, Brian: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne I) (2013)

In spite of its length, I found The Emperor’s Blades an easy and quick read. Brian Staveley wrote in a manner that drove me on as a reader. My entry into this world happened due to falling for the excerpt offer. I had fun and consider this a great first novel.

Now that I’m reviewing it, I’m kind of wondering why Brian Staveley was lauded to the extent that he has been. He brings nothing new to the field of epic fantasy. His main characters are fairly stereotypical as well.

The daughter of the emperor, Adara, behaves in a manner that does not fit with her upbringing and education. Her youth (20 years old) and recently murdered father (emperor) excuses some things, but someone with the political savvy she is supposed to have, the various political arenas attended while growing up and the testament written by her father indicates a person with less stereotypical behavior.

Kaden, the oldest son, was fun. He is the heir to the throne (the boy with the golden eyes) and three years younger than his sister. He has been kept completely away from the machinations at court and all need for frippery has been beaten, toiled and starved out of him. The Shin monastery is an ascetic and violent one. All of this is to teach him the art of emptying his mind of all emotions over a length of time. The novices are taught to endure pain of almost all kinds. How they actually manage to have an overweight and out of shape novice at the monastery is a mystery to me.

Valyn (the youngest sibling) has been trained to be a team leader for 8 years. A team leader of the Kettral. Kettral is both name of the bird used for transportation and the group of killers these kids are training to be. His upbringing is no less brutal than his brother, although self-control seems to be a trait the Kettral does not train their charges in. At first I pictured these kids being trained in the manner Seals are trained. Their physical training is certainly on par with that. But the cohesion, obedience and understanding seem to be lacking. Granted, Valyn is only 15, but he has been at this for eight years already. As impressionable as kids at the time that he was sent to the Kettral, these qualities should have been like breathing to novices.

The other problem I had with the Kettral were the birds themselves. Details, I know, but I am autistic and details is what I get hung up in. Imagine how huge a bird that is supposed to carry 5 people has to be. One on top and 4 that are carried in harnesses.

Source: National Geographic
Source: National Geographic

An ostrich can carry a person. But it cannot fly. The problem with a bird flying around with people hanging off it has to do with the weight of the person, the weight of the bird and the bird’s wing span. Some things can improve the likelihood of the bird being able to carry one person – lower gravity, density of air, level of oxygen and so on. But being able to fly with people on its back and hanging in harnesses is impractical biologically and physics-wise. Not even the world’s largest bird, the Giant Teratorn (extinct), would have been able to do such a thing. I will concede to magic being a part of the Kettral’s abilities, but five (5) humans. I’m having a hard time with that.

But like I said at the beginning Mr. Staveley’s writing made the story fun in spite of the “new author” problems. Fun and uncomplicated.

Definitely recommended.


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The Emperor’s Blades available at Amazon UK


Translations:

Jemisin, N.K.: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance I) (2010)

 

Lately, I have had reason to think about the many ways in which people surprise us. Usually, I find that the greatest surprises come at times of stress. Some people end up inviting strangers into their homes and others end up reneging on deals made. People we think we know, turn out to be just as unknowable as the rest of the world.

When Yeine arrives at Sky, people meeting her have already made assumptions about who and what she is. In the case of the full-blood Arameri, Yeine is ONLY a half-blood (dear, oh dear) and probably headed for servility. Except she isn’t. Yeine’s dead mother still seems to have plans for her daughter’s stay in Sky even though that same mother has not lived in Sky for the past 20 years. Finally, the gods and goddesses stuck in Sky have their share of expectations tied to their own idea of who Yeine is.

What I have discovered is that people aren’t as we think. Even close family members who we like to think we know well. All of the people with ideas about Yeine end up being wrong. Their own dreams and projections of self onto her, muddy their ability to predict her completely. Even the gods and goddesses. Or maybe especially the gods and goddesses. They are stuck in their aspects and change does not come readily to them. Nor does the idea of having been mistaken in their conclusions about a person.

But life is like that. Isn’t it. We all draw conclusions about others based on projections of self onto them. Changing whatever opinion we might have made is painful to the extreme. Sometimes enmity ensues and sometimes relationships become deeper after the rift heals. Finally, we become able to see each other as something more. In her search for answers about her mother, Yeine struggles with letting go of her pre-conceived ideas about her mom. In Yeine’s eyes her mother is a person who could do no wrong. Even at 19 Yeine still feels the same way. If that vision is challenged, Yeine is quick to anger. But slowly, ever so slowly, Yeine begins to know her mother, the person. Knowing that person is essential if Yeine is to discover who murdered her (and possibly getting revenge).

Perhaps The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Skygod’s Lover) is more about letting go than anything else. In addition to letting go of her ideas and dreams, Yeine slowly learns to let go of her fear. Fear is such a strong component of our personhood. It binds us into roles we may not want but ultimately fear to break out of. Change is frightening. Our own personal change is probably the most feared change of all – at least it seems that way to me. But Yeine discovers what most of us do when we embark on that letting-go process. For one, we generally do not die. More importantly, our fear lessens. Perhaps slowly, but nevertheless. So, too, it is for Yeine.

There is some sex and violence. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus available at Barnes & Noble

Sagara, Michelle: Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra I) (2005)

 

My son and I just finished reading Michelle Sagara‘s Cast in Shadow. Reading Michelle Sagara’s writing out loud is a completely different experience to the one we have had reading together lately. She has a lot more dialogue and Cast in Shadow reads more like a play than a novel. Realizing this has made me even more aware of the importance of reading my own posts before I put them on my blog.

… she added softly, remembering. The way they had huddled together in a room that was warm because it was small and it held so many of them. The way Jade had come to her side, had put a skeletal arm around her, …

Poverty stinks. There is the physical stink that comes from not being able to afford all of the things a lot of people (myself included) take for granted. Even stinkier is the unfairness of it all.

When Kaylin at the age of 13 moves out of the fiefs and becomes a hawk, one of the first things she notices is how different the two sides of the river are. Yes, there is poverty. Yes, there is crime (hence the Hawks, Swords and Wolves). Yes, there is inequality. But in the fiefs life was worse to such a degree that we might compare the fiefs with the slums anywhere in the world. The other side of the Ablyn would be more like Norway.

Moving from the fiefs (in her case Nightshade’s) to the Emperor’s side of the Ablyn is no simple matter. In Kaylin’s case she was helped/hindered by the magical marks that appeared on her arms at a younger age. The decision was to either kill her or to let her be under control of the Hawks. The Hawklord felt she deserved a chance to prove herself, now that the danger seemed to be over. Kaylin’s marks represent a danger to both Elantra and the fiefs if the process that was once begun is completed. (Hah, hah not going to tell you more about that).

Because I am practically 50 and perhaps because I happen to be autistical I understand the choice Severn made seven years ago. Kaylin’s rage/sorrow/hatred against him is also something I understand. Now that she is 20 rather than 13 she slowly begins to see Severn’s role in another light.

I also get why Kaylin was so pampered by the Hawks. She was 13 when she was allowed life and given the position of maskot and private. With the immortal Barrani she will always be a child age-wise although her knowledge and understanding has increased. Marcus, the Leontine, loves her dearly because of what she did for one of his wives. The same goes for the Aerians. You see, Kaylin has decided that she needs to use her magic for certain things.

Even though reading out loud was more difficult this time, Kaylin, Severn and Nightshade all captured my heart. My son must have felt the same way for he has stated that he wants to hear book number two of the series: Caught in Courtlight.


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