Categories
Fantasy

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Book Thoughts)

This is one of those books that’s hard to talk about because I’m 15 years late to the party and it’s been beaten to death by every BookTuber on the internet.  That said though, better late than never because The Blade Itself is an absolute delight to read and I feel like I’m filling in my fantasy knowledge gaps.

I didn’t read at all between 2007 and 2016 because of college then life circumstances, so I have had to do a lot of catching up on books that were published in those years and this has unfortunately been one of the ones that got lost to time.

Let’s show the book facts then I’ll share a few thoughts, mostly about my reading experience


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Blade Itself
  • Series: The First Law, #1
  • Author: Joe Abercrombie
  • Publisher & Release: Gollancz/ Pyr, 2006
  • Length: 560 pages (Orbit PB reprint)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for fantasy fans who like big casts and dark humor

Here’s the synopsis:

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian — leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.


My thoughts:

The first thing is that I was not expecting the book to be funny, but I laughed out loud at least three times and had frequent chuckles. Great bloody fun.  I noticed Lev Grossman and Lee Child both wrote cover blurbs for various versions of the book, so it struck me that they’re marketing this to a vast, vast range of readers.  Grossman’s full comments in the back definitely influenced me to pick it up, I mean even Jeff VanderMeer plugged it.

So let’s see. The book was pretty slow in the first half, and essentially overall it was more focused on building the characters, the world, the political machinations and conspiracies, the basis for wartime conflicts, and setting up alliances.  That said, it wasn’t boring at all. Not one second. Abercrombie has this digestible and engaging writing style that sucked me into whatever was going on.

Some things have to be done. It’s better to do them, than to live with the fear of them

He used asides from the characters minds to invite the reader into whatever insight is happening, and often times it’s sarcastic and hilarious.  I liked the crippled torturer (by God he’s my age 😭) as much as any other character, and found the dashing hero prototype character to be totally insufferable.  I heard this series tends to flip tropes on their heads and make you root for people you usually wouldn’t – totally, 100% accurate.

And of course at the pinnacle of tension, it’s paired with a flapping set of cranky old wizard balls as he has to interrupt his bath to rescue everyone… Just .. it’s perfect.  Lots of “grimdark” published recently seems to rely on shock and authors trying to be terrible, where Abercrombie just lets story roll. It needs no gimmicks. The dark humor comes as the flip side.

He tossed the helmet back onto its stand, then stood there staring at the armour, lost in thought. “Once you’ve got it on, how do you piss?”

I got used to magic being over explained in a lot of modern fantasy books. I kind of prefer it like it is here, mysterious and potentially big and hugely disastrous.  Just knowing the magic is there is enough and it keeps it more interesting not to know. Actually, the things that are hinted at but not explained are the things making me want to start the second book ASAP! 

What Abercrombie does explain well is custom, history, politics, and action.  It’s exceptionally easy to picture fights, chases, marches, the weather, and how everything happening plays into everything else.

There are a LOT of characters at first and it’s hard to keep the names apart, but give it time.  It’s cool in these types of books to see how the storylines converge.

You carry on. That’s what he’d always done. That’s the task that comes with surviving, whether you deserve to live or not. You remember the dead as best you can. You say some words for them. Then you carry on, and you hope for better.

My only real gripe came with rare consistency errors, like the number of opponents would change from one paragraph to the next or one character who had just stated a culture didn’t have gods started screaming “fuck your gods!” at their soldiers.  Minor but off-putting things that didn’t quite read well, but really didn’t affect anything and were quickly forgotten.

This is getting long, so let me wrap it up.  If you like grimdark, action, world building, dark humor, cranky wizards, amazing casts of characters that shatter tropes, and the ‘shit happens’ atmosphere that runs rampant in the best military fiction, this might be a book for you.  Big scope, big magic, big mystery.  Don’t be shy if you haven’t read it yet, I’m right there with you 😅

Categories
Fantasy Historical Fiction

ARC Review: The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

     Thank you so much to Orbit Books for the eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Tower of Fools
  • Series: The Hussite Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit Books, 10/27/20 (original 2002)
  • Length: 576 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes but apparently not for easily offended people

The synopsis from GoodReads:

Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician, and according to some, a charlatan.  When a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.

Once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows.  Pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.

The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order.  Escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.

Oh Reynevan, part of me thinks that him and his entire lot needed a turn in the asylum.  After bedding a knight’s wife and apparently falling madly in love (which she clearly didn’t return), Reynevan sets off on a series of misadventures when he should honestly be fleeing the country.

This is a very historically dense book, with many names and details that bogged the pace down quite a bit.  That said, I don’t know a darn thing about the Hussite wars so I felt like I learned SO much, and it was interesting too to see why the wars started and how the church kind of just devolved into heretical “witch hunts” and went to the crusades.  There is more history than fantasy but it felt so real that I had more than enough to keep my imagination going.

The atmosphere felt appropriate too, these religious groups hated each other.  There is suspicion and people were encouraged to rat out their neighbors for clemency.  Someone is killing merchants, the Knights are on their way out, and wallcreepers are turning into humans and making dark deals.  I know a lot of people aren’t liking all the Latin left in the book but like the prayers weren’t spoken in English and do y’all really care what they say?  Even the bits left in sentences make more or less sense if you know anything about word roots, and if not, I doubt much is being missed.

I did just love the characters too.  Scharley had me literally CRYING I was laughing so hard during one totally fake exorcism scene.  I didn’t realize that Sapkowski had a sense of humor but the banter and conversations and occasional one liners from side characters are amazing, and I think David French did a great job bringing the characters through the translation.  Reynevan himself is a moron though, he got so much great advice and ended up ignoring all of it, captured, and imprisoned instead.  Riding through the towns and hearing the different townspeople’s interpretations of happenings and politics was interesting too.

I think this series is really going to heat up in book two, with the wars starting and a lot of the setting and exposition out of the way.  I will definitely be reading on when the next book comes out!

Thank you so much again to Orbit Books for the early copy!

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

  • Title: The Obsidian Tower
  • Series: Rooks and Ruin #1
  • Author: Melissa Caruso
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit Books, June 4th 2020
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes

Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for my e ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Normally I would give the summary from Amazon here but I really don’t like the published summary. Here is my own that I wrote!

Mages rule all powerful in the land of Vaskandar.  The most powerful are the witch lords, exercising total control over their domains.  As the granddaughter of the witch lord of Morgrain, Ryx would normally be in a position of high power, esteem, and social standing.  The only problem is her magic is “broken”.  Born into a family of Vivomancers who restore life, Ryx’s magic only seems to drain life from, therefore killing, anything or anyone she touches.

As the warden of Gloamingard, Ryx is responsible for the safety of all within.  Her family has had one main responsibility throughout the generations: guarding the mysterious magical artifact within the Obsidian Tower at the center of the castle. All of the Gloaming Lore basically states to keep the door sealed.

Already at the brink of war with diplomatic tension ready to snap, it would be a total disaster if something pushed the neighboring nations over the edge. What happens if the gate is opened? Who are the spies in the castle? What happens when hell is unleashed? Ryx is about to find out. Can she find help in the most unlikely places?

I like my summary better than the published one😂

So to begin, it should be noted that these books take place in the same world as the author’s Swords and Fire trilogy, although one does not need to read that first.

I absolutely loved the world and world-building.  The witch lords all have vastly different domains and I think Gloamingard castle is exquisitely well done.  Each witch lord built a bit of castle into the mix, so the resulting architecture includes everything from a hall made of trees to an entry made of bones.  I could ramble about Caruso’s architectural descriptions forever but to summarize: it’s magical and everything I ever wanted from a fantasy world.  The political structure, mood, diplomatic relations, expectations, pertinent lore, and even the castle staff all fit into the story so perfectly that I give Caruso a solid A+ for world building.  She even tackles smell, texture, temperature, and weather as well as the vivid visual descriptions.

As far as the magic system, land magic is one of my favorite types. The trees and animals and castle and land itself all respond to the witch lord’s magic and the cohesion (or discord) is felt throughout the pages.  I like when a family’s magic is tied to their domain.  The magic is well thought out, explained, explored, and thoughtful explanations are provided for when magical aspects hitch or go wrong.

Part of the mystery of the Obsidian Tower is: What’s inside? What IS it even?  There is a neutral sect of magic specialists called the Rookery, who come in to help Ryx work through the disaster that fell upon the castle.  I never expected these guys to become the focus but the characters are funny, thoughtful, stabby, studious, and…assassin-y? Who ARE these people? I loved finding out, seriously they are an amazing found-family type of crew and accept Ryx for who she is.

Who IS Ryx? She is a great main character.  Smart, resourceful, careful not to touch anyone, and a little too trusting.  Unfortunately I spotted the main double-crosser/spy in the story from a mile away but it was cute to watch.  Ryx is trying to sooth diplomatic relations between neighboring countries and the entire Tower disaster sends the political intrigue and plotting through the ceiling, and everyone knows how I LOVE a good bit of intrigue.  I also loved the witch lord, the Lady of Owls – Ryx’s grandmother.  Caruso  describes the grandmotherly bond and trust so well throughout the book that I almost teared up at one point when Ryx was trying to describe her feelings.  There are also demon characters (!!!!!) and a snarky fox-cat-chimaera-magical familiar that reminded me of Mogget from the Old Kingdom series.  With no spoilers I also was thrilled to see a possible enemies to lovers bit developing.

One other note on some of the content: I do tend to avoid a lot of the “other” that most people love reading about, but I pushed through this one because the content is done pretty seamlessly and is well integrated, and not too heavy.  There is a bi character but all she does is think some women are cute before starting to form a bond with a male.  There is also a same sex couple but all they do is stroke each other’s hair and blush, and I think one of the pair was supposed to be A-sexual which is also I believe where the author identifies.  Additionally there is a “they” character which confuses the shit out of me because I always think it’s multiple people on the page.  I did like the character though, super funny and bluntly honest to the point of being the comedic relief during tense situations.  The point is that the content is there. I felt like a lot of boxes were being checked but as I said, it was done pretty seamlessly and not a big deal.

If you like a fantasy world with equal parts political intrigue and stabbing, banter and friendship, diverse casts, hell itself and a whole lot of cool magic – definitely pick up The Obsidian Tower. I ordered the hard copy already!  I can’t say enough good things about the book and really do encourage all fans of fantasy to grab this immediately!

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron

  • Title: The Ranger of Marzanna
  • Author: Jon Skovron
  • Publisher: Orbit Books
  • Length: 528 pages
  • Release: April 21, 2020
  • Rate & recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ probably

Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC!! The book was provided in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own.

I was looking for some awesome new fantasy books to review this spring and summer and couldn’t resist this title based off of my favorite thing ever…horses on the cover. An other-worldly looking woman on a gorgeous horse, plus a description based off Russian and Polish legends did it for me. I also love sibling rivalries and was not disappointed.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

The plot is interesting and the story is well paced. It may be 528 pages but did not feel that long and at times it was hard to put down. The chapters mostly alternated between Sonya and Sebastian, the siblings on either side of this war, and the chapters from other characters advanced things as well. I like books that don’t repeat themselves.

The world building was fantastic with architecture, climate, food, morale, and religion of both the conquerors and the conquered described in fine detail. The nobility and the peasants both had their turn and I understood the larger motivations of the citizenry. I also loved the Uaine as a bunch of partying war bands – fucking and alcohol and necromancers, Oh my!!! The army of the dead was also a very cool, well done concept.

The entire plot seemed………too easy though. Like an obvious set up. All of it.  I expect utter intrigue and insanity in book two.

I liked the family relationships described throughout the book. Each main character gets to examine their relationship with their parents while finding their own footing. Yes parents have lives, yes they have sex lives and friends and personalities and I think it was great that this theme kept coming out. Above all else the young characters may have made some bad decisions but they were always encouraged to do what THEY thought was right.

I also liked the characters well enough, Sonya is funny and awkward but also a Ranger, ready to whip around and murder a crew of soldiers. Jorge is funny too and I liked that while the other characters picked at his religion, he stood strong on his morals. Sebastian is just a little duped twit. See next paragraph for my discourse on motives. Elgin Mordha and Blaine might have been my favorite side characters. Galina and Sebastien’s mom seemed like hollow shells… I just didn’t understand their motives.

Most of my issues with this book were that I didn’t think the character’s motivations made sense. Things were too easy. Why would Jorge just drop his life’s work? Why would Sebastian just run off and turn into a murderous twit under the tutelage of the man who killed his father? Even Sonja seemed misguided at times, like trusting Elgin Mordha seemed like a questionable choice without really knowing anything about his tribes. I think a lot of the young naivete here is setting the stage for a ton of intrigue and betrayal in book 2, which I am ready for. The end of the book pointed to a lot of tables turning and I think these characters are going to have a lot of hard lessons to learn.

I did enjoy the book and would recommend to fantasy fans. It’s not an amazing stand out novel, but I’m calling it a solid one. I am on board for the second book due to the massive amount of set up that came at the end of this novel, I just see a lot of room for plot improvement and am basing this review on my level of entertainment, which was high.

Thank you again to Orbit Books for the review copy, all opinions are my own.

The book releases 4/21 so check it out if it sounds up your alley!