Blog Archives

#CBR5 Maneuver #17 – Secrets of the Fire Sea

Secrets of the Fire SeaTarget: Stephen Hunt’s Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian #4)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Mystery

After Action Report:

The fourth book in Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series is a marked improvement on the third, but doesn’t quite recapture the energy or creativity of the first.  However, the actual narrative line of Secrets of the Fire Sea is surprisingly clean and easy to follow, a vast improvement over Hunt’s pervious stories.

If you haven’t been following my various Cannonball blogs, Secrets of the Fire Sea takes place in Hunt’s steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting that started with The Court of the Air. And it is honestly one of the best steampunk settings out there, and continues to be wonderfully creative sometimes even surprising.  I would go so far as to say that the setting is the reason these books are worth reading, as the stories tend to be retreads of obvious tropes and are only interesting because of the set pieces that make up the world.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #4 – Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent MoonTarget: Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1)

Profile: Fantasy

Summary: From the back cover, “The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time—and struggle against their own misgivings—to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.”

After Action Report:

I don’t understand io9.com’s criterion for good fantasy.  Between their three-year-long campaign for the mediocre novels of N. K. Jemisin and their unceasing steampunk fetish, it’s gotten hard to take their recommendations seriously.  Yes, they still put up the odd Alistair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, but I suspect that’s just to keep us coming back.  And then they put Throne of the Crescent Moon on their ‘Best of 2012’ list.  Now, any long-time readers will know that I am pretty skeptical of any recommendation, so why would this one be noteworthy?  I don’t have a good answer, but it really bugs me that a list that includes the phenomenal The Long Earth and the well-received Red Shirts could also include this slug of a novel.

When I say slug, I’m referring to pacing.  Throne of the Crescent Moon has everything needed to be a standout fantasy book, but the story is so bogged down with descriptive text that the action feels like molasses.  Don’t even ask about the exposition.  It is actually quite sad, as the setting has a lot going for it.  The characters are pretty interesting, if oddly gifted with near-perfect empathy, and the plot isn’t the completely boring re-tread it easily could have been.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #41 – The Alloy of Law

Target: Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law (Mistborn #4/ex)

Profile: Fantasy, Western, Steampunk

Summary: Taken from goodreads.com, “Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.”

After Action Report:

Waxillium is a stupid name.  Okay, so you wanted to call your protagonist Wax.  Fine.  There are better ways to get there.  Ways that don’t leave the guy sounding like a posh hair-removal process.  Uh… where was I?

I’m developing problems with Brandon Sanderson.  Yes, I really enjoyed The Way of Kings and the first two Mistborn books, but The Hero of Ages left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.  The biggest problem was that Sanderson had padded out the last book with reused scenes from the first two, and spent more time re-telling the history of the world he had built than he spent moving the story forward.  Now with his fourth Mistborn book, one separated from its predecessors by three hundred years and a canonical world reboot, Sanderson is STILL using the same damn ballroom scenes!

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LAB Notes #3 – Scrapped Princess

Target: Scrapped Princess
Studio: BONES
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Episodes: 24
Fanservice Level: Average

Reasons to Watch:
A mysterious story that transcends genre
Broad appeal without sacrificing substance

Reasons to Not:
Main characters are somewhat one dimensional

Similar to: Turn-A Gundam, Last Exile, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Review:
It kind of baffles me that Scrapped Princess doesn’t get mentioned more often.  The series is a nearly perfect example of how anime can tell interesting stories that would do well on U.S. television.  It has action, mystery, comedy, drama, cool concepts, and solid characters.  Combine that with the above average production values and decent dubbing and I just don’t understand why this wasn’t picked up by some U.S. network during the anime boom in the late Nineties and early ‘Aughts.  Regardless, Scrapped Princess is one of those rare series that has something for everyone and doesn’t really compromise to get it all packed in.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #38 – Scholar

Target: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Scholar (Imager Portfolio #4)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented.  Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn.  Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the occupying army there can be redeployed along its border with the warlike nation of Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancy of imagers is short.  His voyage to Tilbor is filled with pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder… and the discovery that he is not quite who he thought he was.”

After Action Report:

In practice, there are two solutions to mental stagnation.  The first is to innovate; take the established scenario or problem and approach it with new ideas or a different perspective.  The second is to do something else.  If Modesitt successfully innovated in Imager’s Intrigue, the third book in the Imager Portfolio, he is now using the second tactic, abandoning everything but the setting from book three.  Scholar upends the progression of the series by taking us back to the formation of Solidar and a new/old Imager who helped create the nation that Rhennthyl fights to defend.

To be fair, this isn’t a new tactic to Modesitt.  He frequently abandons major protagonists, storyline events and even time periods, to inject new life into flagging series.  For me as a reader, this can get a little annoying.  I don’t like being kept in the dark about characters I’ve come to care about.  But from the perspective of a reviewer, this methodology is kind of a blessing.  Not only can it bring a new energy to a series, but I can actually talk about the plot without having to worry about spoilers.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #24 – Palimpsest

Target: Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest

Profile: Fantasy, Weird Fiction

Summary: From goodreads.com, “Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #20 – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Target: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Profile: Children’s Literature, Fantasy

Summary: From the back of the book, “The signpost before her now was made of pale wind-bleached wood and towered above her.  On the easterly arm, someone had carved in deep elegant letters: To lose your way.  On the northerly arm, pointed up to the tops of the cliffs, it said: To lose your life.  On the southerly arm, pointing out to see, it said: To lose your mind.  And on the westerly arm, pointing up to a little headland and a dwindling of the golden beach, it said: To lose your heart.

September is a girl who longs for adventure.  When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?)  But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #16 – Brave Story

Target: Miyabe Miyuki’s Brave Story.  Translated by Alexander O. Smith

Profile: Children’s Literature, Fantasy

Summary: From the Back Cover, “Young Wataru flees his messed-up life to navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly.  His ultimate destination is the Tower of Destiny where a goddess of fate awaits.  Only when he has finished his journey and collected the five elusive gemstones will he possess the Demon’s Bane – the key that will grand him his most heartfelt wish… the wish to bring his family back together again!”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #14 – Under Heaven

Target: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven 

Profile: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Summary: From the Back Cover, “Shen Tai is the son of a general who let the forces of imperial Kitai in that empire’s last war against their western enemies from Tagur, twenty years before.  Forty thousand men on both sides were slain beside a remote mountain lake.  General Shen Gao himself has died recently.  To honor his father’s memory, Tai has spent two years of official mourning alone at the battle site among the ghosts of the dead, laying to rest their unburied bones.

One spring morning, he learns that others have taken note of his vigil.  The White Jade Princess in Tagur is pleased to present him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses, given, she writes, in recognition of his courage and hour done to the dead.

You give a man one of the famed Sardians to reward him greatly.  You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal.  Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Tai starts east towards the glittering, dangerous imperial capital and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #6 – Imager’s Intrigue

Target: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Imager’s Intrigue (Imager Portfolio #3)

Profile: Fantasy, Political/Spy Fiction

Summary: From the Back Cover, “In Imager, the first book of the Imager Portfolio, we met Rhennthyl, an apprentice portrait artist whose life was changed by a disastrous fire.  But the blaze that took his master’s life and destroyed his livelihood revealed a secret power previously dormant in Rhenn: the power of Imaging, the ability to shape matter using thought.  With some trouble, he adapted to the controlled life of an imager.

By Imager’s Challenge, Rhenn had become a liaison to the local and law forces.  He found himself in direct conflict with both authorities and national politics as he tried to uphold the law and do his best by the people of his home.

Now, in Imager’s Intrigue, Rhenn has come into his own.  He has a wife and a young child, and a solid career as an imager.  But he has made more than one enemy during his journey from apprentice painter to master imager, and even his great powers won’t allow him to escape his past.” Read the rest of this entry