Book Review: “Fae: The Wild Hunt” by Graham Austin-King

Fae: The Wild HuntA few weeks ago I received an email from Graham Austin-King asking if I might be interested in a copy of Fae: The Wild Hunt to read and review. After reading the book description I decided it was a pretty good fit for my personal reading taste and it has been a while since I read something involving the idea of the fae, so off I went.

Fae: The Wild Hunt is told from the viewpoint of two characters, Devin and Klöss. They both begin as young boys and over the course of the book progress through the years until they are a bit older. Devin and his mother flee from an abusive father and find themselves lost in the woods. There, Devin’s mother is trapped by a Fae creature in the middle of a fever dream and Devin is left to be found by a kind couple in a nearby town. This couple adopts him and raises him as their own. Klöss is a young boy who wants to be an oarsman on a reaving boat as his people plunder lands for goods and materials. His culture is one very similar to that of the vikings, perhaps they are even identical to vikings, but they are never referred to as such. Klöss grows up to be a commander of troops and helps to lead an invasion into the lands Devin calls home. By the end of the book the two of them have not quite crossed paths, but they are close.

There is a great deal of world building that takes place in Fae: The Wild Hunt, and I was impressed by all of it. It’s clear that there are pieces to the world that I haven’t even been exposed to yet, despite having finished the first book in the trilogy. For example, it isn’t until almost the very end that the Fae make their first significant appearance, and on top of that, suddenly there is a druid involved! I like surprises and I like world building that takes its time and allows a chance for the reader to adjust as new layers are added on top of the one already established.

An important thing to keep in mind while reading Fae: The Wild Hunt is that the book is very much part of a tightly interconnected trilogy. It ends on a cliffhanger of sizable proportions, but thankfully not in the middle of a scene, like some books do. The cliffhanger is adequate enough that the reader feels like they have reached a logical stopping point, but also enough that it really compels you to want to read the next book and see where the story goes next.

The pacing is a bit slow for the first portion of the book, but be patient, it pays off in the end. My favorite character was Klöss, so the introduction to Devin, which comes first, felt a little slow for my taste. However, once I met Klöss I was fine. Switching back to Devin at that point did not feel bad and by around the 25% mark I was nicely into the flow of the story. I think that if Klöss had been the initial viewpoint it would have helped me personally engage with the book earlier, but others might feel that Devin makes for a better entry point. Six of one, half-dozen of the other I suppose.

Fae: The Wild Hunt is a great piece of fiction and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it for myself. The second book in the trilogy, Fae: The Realm of Twilight, was recently released this past December. I need to find time in my reading schedule to add it to the list because I think I would very much like to see what happens next for Devin and Klöss.

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Book Review: “Gemini Cell” by Myke Cole

Gemini CellMyke Cole very quickly established himself on my list of “must read” authors when I read his first offering, Shadow Ops: Control Point. It took just that one book for me to know I’d want to read everything he wrote from that point forward. Soon I read the two books that followed Control Point and was waiting anxiously for Gemini Cell to be available. As it turns out, I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of the book, and then proceeded to horribly drop the ball by not getting this review written when I originally wanted.

For that, I apologize to Myke Cole, as I should have been more on top of things.

However, I am here now, and want to make it very clear that Gemini Cell is hands-down Myke Cole’s most well-written novel to date. As many other reviewers and authors alike have made sure to mention, Myke Cole is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo when it comes to his writing. Rather, he forges ahead in leaps and bounds with each successive book, carving for himself a very impressive reputation in the fledgling, but strong military fantasy playground.

Now, if you have read the Shadow Ops books previously, you are going to feel very much at home with what Myke Cole is doing in Gemini Cell. If you haven’t read those books, don’t worry, Gemini Cell puts itself forth as potentially being the best place to introduce yourself to Myke Cole as an author. The book serves as a prequel of sorts to the other Shadow Ops books by taking place many years ahead of the others at a time when individuals with magical powers were just starting to make their presence known and the government had no really good idea on how to handle the situation.

The premise of Gemini Cell is that Jim Schweitzer, a very successful and talented Special Ops soldier is sent on a mission where the team is not very well-informed as to the target. The mission quickly goes awry and Jim sees some things that he doesn’t quite understand. Soon enough, his home is invaded by a separate group of soldiers and he dies as a result. At least until the government entity known as Gemini Cell revives him from death by forcing an evil Jinn to take residence inside. Jim discovers himself in a fight for his humanity as the Jinn attempts to take control at every opportunity. Jim must learn to control the powerful urges and abilities the Jinn provides while at the same time satisfying his government handlers that he isn’t a danger to them or society. It’s a very narrow road to navigate and most of the time it seems like Jim is chasing a moving target.

Beyond all of the usual action trappings are characters who really feel like they are sincere. A lot of books in the science fiction and fantasy genres, especially those with a more military slant tend to have characters that feel like they are made with very little thought to how a real person would respond. Not so in Gemini Cell. At its core this story is about a soldier experiencing the most dramatic form of PTSD you can imagine. He was murdered in front of his wife and child, inhabited by an evil entity, and brought back to life as what can only be described as a super-powered zombie soldier. That’s enough to make any actual person take stock of their situation.

One of Myke Cole’s greatest strengths as an author is his ability to make you believe in the characters he puts on the page. Not all of his characters are good guys, but even those are ones you find yourself believing have an actual reason for what they are doing. Jim Schweitzer is Myke Cole’s greatest creation when it comes to character development and in his previous three books he had some pretty impressive characters already.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jim Schweitzer’s wife, Sarah. She does not get nearly as much screen time as Jim in the book for obvious reasons, but she is every bit as carefully written as Jim is when you start looking more deeply. She has her own things to sort out in the wake of what happens to Jim, especially since she is kept in the dark as to his true fate for a majority of the book. I’ve seen or listened to several interviews with Myke Cole about how he approached writing the female perspective for the character of Sarah and I was really impressed by the care and attention he gave her. The book on the whole was better for it and I know find myself wondering if we might get a Myke Cole book at some point with an all-female or at least female-dominant cast. I would be fascinated to see what he could do in that regard.

Gemini Cell is a much grittier, darker book than the previous books published by Myke Cole, but it needs that grit and that darker tone to make it so compelling. If you are looking for something that will take you on a journey a little bit outside what you are used to dealing with  in genre fiction, this book is a great place to start.

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Looking Back at February 2015

There is something to be said about reading exactly what you want to read at the pace you want to read it rather than reading things specifically chosen to assist in getting to a certain number of books read. I’ve been enjoying the chance to begin catching up on my very sizable reading list of books that got pushed to the side last year.

Halfway through the month I received a pleasant surprise when a favorite author of mine tweeted that the next book in his series was now available. I had no idea it was being written, let alone so near to being ready to read. I snatched it up very quickly so I could be sure to remain current with the series.

Here is what I read in February:

As you can see, the list is only four books long. I’m just getting back into the “regular reading” habit this past month and I’m not pressing so hard to read as much as last year. I do think that most months from this point on will probably have five or six though, at least I hope they do so I can make progress on my backlog of series to finish. Another interesting thing is that every single book I read in February was from the fantasy genre. I hadn’t realized that until I looked at the list. It’s been a long time since I went an entire month without touching science fiction.

My favorite book of the month was The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan, which turned out to be one of the best trilogy endings I’ve ever read. The King of the Vile was the very unexpected new installment to the Half-Orcs series. I really like that series and I really like everything written by David Dalglish, so having that book show up out of nowhere was a special treat for me.

The Obsidian Heart was a great second installment to a trilogy and I can’t wait to read the final book which is on my Kindle already. The world in that trilogy is very expansive and very robust, which makes it a little difficult for me to follow everything all the time, but I enjoy it all the same.

The last book from February, Fae: The Wild Hunt, was one that an author sent me for a review. It started out a little slow, but picked up speed in the second half. I’m excited to write the review for it and to pick up the second book at some point as it’s a trilogy as well.

For March I’m looking at trying to finish the Echoes of Empire trilogy by Mark T. Barnes and I have an advance copy of Michael J. Martinez’s The Venusian Gambit which I’m sure I’ll love. There is also a new Star Wars novel from the new canon that released yesterday and the sequel to Containment, a book by Christian Cantrell that I read several years ago and have been eagerly awaiting. That would get me to my “book a week” pace I’m trying to maintain as a minimum. I’d also like to squeeze in Golden Son by Pierce Brown and The Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers, which would complete another trilogy and let me cross another entry off the backlog of series.

Book Review: “The Autumn Republic” by Brian McClellan

The Autumn RepublicOne of the smartest decisions I’ve made regarding reading in the past few years was to sit down and read Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. I had heard wonderful things about the book and seen several rather high-profile authors commenting on how much they had enjoyed reading it. Very quickly I realized that Brian McClellan was orchestrating a tale I’d always wanted to read, but had no idea it was something I wanted. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me and I remember reading Promise of Blood in roughly a day after starting it in the morning.

I finished Promise of Blood just a few weeks before The Crimson Campaign hit bookstores, so I got lucky, but then I had to wait far, far too long for The Autumn Republic to arrive. During the interim I read all of Brian McClellan’s short fiction for the Powder Mage universe to help with the wait and when The Autumn Republic downloaded to my Kindle I was ready and willing to roll back into its world immediately.

The conclusion of this trilogy that has seen Field Marshal Tamas, his son Taniel, his adoptive daughter Vlora, and many others, including the always delightful Olem, was one of the strongest endings to a trilogy I’ve read. McClellan does a magnificent job expanding his characters from book to book in ways that seem realistic, relatable, and as having some sort of consequence for the story at hand. I felt like in The Autumn Republic I was seeing the characters grow into the people they would be for the remainder of their lives instead of seeing them perform actions just to make the story work. There were heartbreaking moments for me with Taniel and Vlora, desperation as I read wondering what was going to become of Olem. Field Marshal Tamas ended up becoming one of the most impressive characters I’ve ever read, hands down.’

The Autumn Republic takes great care in trying to believable show what would happen if an oppressive monarchy were to be overthrown in favor of a democratic republic. There are growing pains involved with that kind of thing and while they were hinted at in Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign, those growing pains became much more urgent with this final book. Field Marshal Tamas worked hard to give the people of Adran the government they deserved, but he did not plan some of the backstabbing and chicanery that came about as a result of his coup. I was especially impressed with the work McClellan does in twisting the plot around as Tamas is trying to get back to Adopest and finish what he started. There were a few detours that I was not expecting and the story was better because of them. Some other authors would have taken the more straightforward path, but McClellan took some chances that paid great dividends.

Throughout The Autumn Republic I felt the relationship between Taniel and Ka-poel stole the show. It’s been fascinating to see the two of them interact over the entire trilogy, but in this book especially it seemed like they really became a power duo. My only complaint is that it was never revealed what exactly makes Ka-poel so special compared to the other magic users in the books. Maybe that will be explored in future novel or short fiction set within the same universe; I certainly hope that’s the case.

Nila is another character that sees significant growth over the course of the book. I was rather skeptical of her in The Crimson Campaign because I wasn’t sure what the author was trying to do with her on the whole. However, her interactions with Bo in this book really brought her to the forefront and provided a good contrast to the more brute force, gritty approaches of Tamas, Olem, and Taniel when it comes to sorting things out. She’s scared of what she’s becoming, but at the same time fascinated by the possibilities it could mean for her future. I especially enjoyed the small moment between Nila and Ka-poel as if Ka-poel knows something about Nila that Nila doesn’t. The two of them clearly have some sort of connection or similarities that were not fully explored yet.

There isn’t much I can say directly about the plot events of The Autumn Republic without spoiling too many great moments for those who’ve yet to read the book. What I can say though, is that the ultimate fate of all the main characters seemed like it fit perfectly. Field Marshal Tamas, Taniel, Ka-poel, Olem, Nila, Bo, Vlora, and even the wonderful Inspector Adamat all have fates that made me feel very satisfied as a reader. I’m not sure if this is the last time we will see these characters in work by Brian McClellan, but if it is, I feel very much like it’s exactly the way we as readers should see them when the final page is turned. Everything wrapped up exactly how it should be in the end.

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Okay, It’s Time To Get Back To Business

Let’s be honest, I haven’t made any posts here that were very compelling since October, nearly a fourth of a year. All things considered, that’s probably not a wise way to go about keeping a book blog that for reasons I still don’t understand has a decent readership. I’ve probably lost at least a few loyal followers over the past three or four months, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

I need to fix things by getting back on the horse and writing some reviews, a few topical essays, and maybe branching out into some interviews or other types of content. I don’t really have an excuse for why I went dark with posting for the last few months other than I was trying hard to get those 100 books read and started a new job. Blogging just sort of took a back seat out of the blue and I’m just now realizing I need to get going again.

There were a few weeks, I admit, where I seriously considered just shuttering the blog altogether, calling it quits, and just walking away. I felt like I was stagnating in my reviews, lacking any sort of really compelling content, and that I was unable to do the structural things I really want to do with the site on the whole. Added to that was the sheer number of books I was finishing and not able to find the time to write reviews for when I was done. Some of which I may have to actually read again in order to write a worthwhile review. That had me a little frustrated as well.

But, I seem to have emerged from the funk! The time off to just read, adjust to my new job, and enjoy the holiday season without the pressure of blogging seems to have renewed my batteries and now I’m ready to get back to work.

Here are my current thoughts on things that need to be done or improved around here:

A serious number of reviews need to finally be written. I read 101 books last year, but I managed only 41 reviews written. That’s less than half of the books I read. Some of those reviews will require me to at least skim through the books again to refresh my memory before I can write anything of worth, and some of them I could still write on the fly. At the very least I need to get reviews written for The Mirror Empire, Red Rising, Gemini Cell, Ancillary Sword, and the two new Star Wars novels, Tarkin and A New Dawn. In an ideal world I will at some point get all 101 reviews written for the 101 books I read, plus reviews for everything I read in 2015. That should keep me in content for a long time.

Lots of topical essays and posts I am very interested in writing need to be written. I never got around to doing a post that reviews my year of 2014. I also want to write about what I learned in the process of reading 100 books in a single year. There are some posts about science fiction and fantasy as genres on the whole I want to write, and a variety of other things on top of all those I just mentioned. There are probably at least two dozen essay type posts floating around in my head somewhere.

The reviews listing needs to be updated and improved. I’d love to have a listing by author, by title, and by series, but I need to just sit down and do it. I may need to dive back into the custom CSS of the website to make them work like I really want, and that’s okay, I just need to make it happen. I spent a little time making sure the listing as it stands now is updated.

Once and for all I need a regular posting schedule. In my grandest dreams I’ll someday figure out how to effectively blog every single day, but for now I would settle on just being consistent instead of haphazard. My goal is to post a review every Monday and some kind of topical post every Thursday. If I can manage additional posts during the week, great. If not, I want to meet that minimum schedule.

Guest writers and interviews. I think there is a lot of opportunity for me to allow others who have enjoyed science fiction and fantasy novels a place to let their thoughts be known. I’d almost like to entertain the idea of putting out a call for submissions in some fashion where people who don’t want to run their own blog could drop me a line when they want to review something they think fits the audience here. On top of that, I’d really like to get started with the author interview game. I think that could provide some compelling content.

And lastly, maybe a bit of creative writing. Here in the very near future (as in the next month) I’ll be joining a writing group to get back on the writing horse like I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Maybe if I find myself having put together something of decent quality I might share some snippets here and there.

So, you can see there is a lot I want to do, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the past three months really thinking about how I want to get it done. Now I need to implement some of the plans, so expect to see some housekeeping type posts over the last two weeks of this month and then if all goes well I can hit the ground running in March.