The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Book Cover House of Shattered Wings

Although I’m a fan of Aliette de Bodard I didn’t plan to buy this book.  I’ve never really been a fan of Paradise Lost and the plethora of fallen angel stories it has been inspired. Then I watched a video of the author being interviewed at Eurocon by Ian Whates and I knew I had to read it anyway.

As with everything Aliette de Bodard does this book took a simple and well used premise and twisted it until as the reader I forgot all about the premise. Sometimes after reading a book I’ll go and do some research about one thing or another, but one of the things that really made this book stand out for me was that at least a couple of times I stopped reading to go research something. The one that stood out for me was the symbolism of the Banyan tree. I now have an unhealthy fascination with looking at old and gnarly fig trees.

I have always been fascinated by food and food in fiction  when done well can be amazing. There was one line about the small of jasmine rice that evoked really strong memories for me. These references seem quite subtle as you read them but seem to have a massive effect.

This book could easily have come across as a clash of cultures and a battle of superiority not of the protagonists but on one religious tradition over another. It didn’t. I loved the way I was left feeling that regardless of your background we’re all doomed with that inkling of hope and redemption there to keep us sane.

As usual Aliette de Bodard has nail-gunned this one straight in to my brain and it is going to take me a while to get parts of this book and the ideas it has raised out of my head, and that is a great thing.

Eve of War Edited by Mhairi Simpson and Darren Pulsford

Eve of War Cover Art

This book is yet another anthology from Fox Spirit. This is yet another example of their high quality work. I can’t remember a single typo that stopped the flow of my reading and that is something I really cherish in a book. This was a well structured and coherent tome that just worked. It has a different feel to other books by this publisher. The descriptions of the combat scenes were well thought out and I could see myself stepping through them in a way that I hadn’t felt in this kind of anthology before. It seemed like the authors wanted this book to feel like the movements were real rather than trying to exaggerate or try to create new body dynamics. I am pretty sure more skilled martial artists than me could re-create most of the combat with ease.

About three quarters through this book I was expecting to say that all of these stories are on a level and that there were no glaring dips in quality. That was until I read Lucille by Alec McQuay. That story hit me hard. It was so emotional not just because of the writing but by how it reminded me of my nan. I could easily see my nan’s inherent sense of justice and inability to accept bullying to lead her in to a similar situation. I’m not sure quite how to describe why I liked this story so much other than because of the raw emotion it engendered. I think I need to read that story a couple more times once it has settled in to me brain. The final story in this book was by Chloe Yates and yet again she made me laugh and entertained me. When I die I want Yates to write my epitaph because she is the mistress of one liners.

 

 

Piercing The Vale edited by Adele Wearing

Piercing The Vale

WARNING! THIS REVIEW IS INHERENTLY BIASED AS I AM IN IT.

This was difficult to write. Part of me wanted to scream “LOOK AT ME”, whilst the rest of me was thinking how crap my story sounds compared to those around it. This isn’t about me though. This is about another fine book in the Fox Pocket series. I can’t talk about this series without mentioning the cover art. I love them all and this one may be my favourite one so far. I’ve asked the editor several times if there is any chance of a poster version of all the covers.  Sarah Anne Langton really makes these books stand out.

This book contained some really interesting stories. There were some very different perspectives and a nice variety of length and paces to each story. My personal favourite was by Connected by Alasdair Stuart which was short and punchy. The biggest surprise for me was the poem by Chloe Yates. I had to read it a couple of times to get the rhythm but the emotion was  powerful and serious. Yes I just said Chloe Yates has written something serious. The first time through I was expecting a cock joke at the end. I’m glad there wasn’t as it would have spoiled something quite magical.

Objectively I enjoyed this book and although not my favourite in the series there was nothing that I didn’t enjoy reading. Casting aside objectivity you should buy this book. No really, BUY THIS BOOK. Hopefully I’ve got that out of my system and will not be spamming links every hour.

In An Unknown Country Edited by Adele Wearing

In An Unknown Country

This book is the seventh in the Fox Pockets series of books. These books are smaller than a Kindle and fit nicely in to cargo pockets with room to spare.

This book was had a really unusual feel to me. It felt like a travel log. That is if a dark force gave Bill Bryson glimpses in to places no mortal mind should ever see and twisted the entire universe to fit the cruel and disturbing holiday wishes of an unknowable entity. I don’t think this was a deliberate theme and was all just part of my twisted little mind but it does show how reading this book got inside my thought processes.

I would normally try and pick out a couple of stories that I enjoyed the most in an anthology but I’m not going to. I found that although these stories had very different characters, themes and settings there appeared to be a cohesion and equality amongst the writing quality. There were no obvious peaks and troughs making this a smooth and easy to read book.

This is an ideal book to spend 15-20 minute chunks reading short stories without getting frustrated about having to try and pick up the plot. This was exactly what I needed to get me back in to the habit of reading new books again.

 

Dream Book Unikirja by K.A. Laity

Dream Book by K.A. Laity

Kate Laity is the literary Les Dawson. It takes great skill to play a piece of classical music perfectly every time. It takes a special kind of mind to understand exactly what the most dischordant and out of place note to hit would be. The intelligence and humour required made Dawson a fondly remembered entertainer. Kate Laity manages to do a similar thing with Finnish folk tales. To produce this book shows a deep understanding not just of the literature itself but an abiding passion in learning about the culture that created the tales.

Before each story is a quick introduction to say what tale the story is based on and how it has been subverted. Some twists seem quite subtle in terms of how we see things in our culture today but the more you think about it the more they rock some of the fundamental perceived views of that and any society at the time. If you have never read anything about Finnish folk stories this is a great modern twist that opens up a lot of possible more traditional views. This book was intellectually stimulating as well as being thoroughly entertaining.

D&D Player’s Handbook 5th Edition

D&D Player's Handbook Cover

I finally got round to buying this book. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. Words fail me when trying to express just how disappointed I’ve been with every iteration of D&D since Second Edition. This was partly because I was so used to it that even the foibles were either loved or replaced with house rules. I took part in the beta for Fifth edition and I thought the mechanics worked really well. In short I was looking forward to reading this book but at the same time in my head I was repeating the mantra “Please don’t be crap”.

I may have grinned liked a super-villain as I read this book. I remember when I read Pathfinder that they seemed to have taken the essence of D&D and improved the system. This game feels like they looked at what Pathfinder did to improve D&D and they improved on that. The system works. Combat is fast and brutal. The spell system works. There are a lot less similar spells to choose from and the ability to cast spells at a higher level made perfect sense especially for healers.

What’s new? Tieflings for one. The infernal race don’t just look fun but there are built in plot hooks too. Family feuds are nasty but imagine the fun you could have dragging mortals in to an infernal civil war. The same with Dragonkin. What could possibly go wrong with looking like a dragon? Probably the biggest change for me is that there are now multiple reasons to have charisma as a double digit stat. There are plenty more fun new things but they are for you to discover.

Probably the biggest change for me was the book itself. Character creation seem to flow nicely. I had issues with the backgrounds section but that was trivial. The look and feel of the book is very different from previous offerings. D&D books have always had some cool artwork but always in isolation. This book feels more like a work of art rather than a list of rules with some artwork added to break up the text. I found myself turning a page and looking at the entire vista before I started to read. This edition is by far the most visually appealing D&D so far and hopefully it has inspired me to find some fun new ways to try and kill my players.

Still not sure? Here’s the really awesome thing – Wizards have a FREE downloadable basic version of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. There is enough information to learn the mechanics and see if you will enjoy the game. It was like meth for geeks. How could we resist buying the holy trinity (PHB, DMG and MM) after trying it out. We couldn’t and neither should you.

 

Hawk by Steven Brust – More Than Just A Review

I haven’t been reading for a couple of months now. This is very odd for me. It only happens when I get really stressed and am unable to concentrate properly. I had to break out of not just the stress but the inevitable downer that always hangs around nearby stress. I tried about a dozen books by various authors but I just couldn’t commit to them and stopped reading after a couple of pages. I should have known better and started with this one.

I love the Taltos books. They are my favourite fantasy books. Brust has a style that makes me feel less like I’m reading and more like the story has been implanted in my head. I’ve no idea how this is done but it is like his books were written specifically for me.

Vlad Taltos is an Assassin and former crime boss of a small area. The plots and schemes of Taltos are convoluted and yet elegant. The first person narrative works really well and manages to make the reader forget that they can’t rely on the narrative. That is important as there are things deliberately left out or remain vague. Each plot unfolds like a lotus bloom and leaves the reader grinning. Like most of the Taltos books it can be read alone but there are a lot of things that are improved by understanding the relationships built up in previous books.

This book re-ignited my passion and I’m now reading again. I may have just gone back and read all the previous Taltos books back to back. Don’t judge me. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anybody that enjoys fast-paced, action-packed fantasy.