Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex – Stix Hiscox

The protagonist is an alien stripper with three breasts that shoot lasers. One night while working, she meets a T-Rex. Sexual shenanigans ensue.

The premise is purposefully silly and the writing is over-the-top bizarre erotica. If not taken too seriously, it is a rather entertaining story.

(The companion story “Half-Man, Half Horse, All Love” is nowhere near as good.)

A Voyage Through Air (The Queen of Dreams III) – Peter F. Hamilton

Following immediately after The Hunting of the Princes, the final volume of the trilogy takes our protagonists to the realm of air, where rocky islands drift weightlessly in a vast ocean of air, and ships ply between the, dodging storms and monsters. Taggie, Jemima and the others are in a race with time to find Myrlin’s Gate in the hope it will end the looming conflict between dark universe peoples, and bring peace to the realms.

The last book is a breathless, almost relentless race against time. But Mr. Hamilton doesn’t lose track of character development. Taggie, Jemima, Lantic and Felix especially grow change during their adventures. There are several gems among secondary characters as well, especially the flamboyant Captain Rebecca. While the books have all the trappings of fantasy, Mr. Hamilton’s science fiction roots are showing, especially in this last book. The worldbuilding is imaginative, whimsical and awe-inspiring.

The Hunting of the Princes (The Queen of Dreams II) – Peter F. Hamilton

After the somewhat standalone narrative of The Secret Throne, Taggie and Jemima are back in England. After a series of assassination attempts against royals, they must face a threat not only to the First Realm, but to all the realms. The adventure takes them to the occupied Fourth Realm, where winter and evil reign.

The second book in the series is more complex and more exciting than the first, as if Mr. Hamilton is becoming more comfortable with the fantasy medium. The story is both engaging and thought provoking, as characters of supposed integrity find their beliefs and ethics challenged when confronted with adversity.

The Secret Throne (The Queen of Dreams I)

Taggie and Jemima are pre-teen sisters, sent off for the holidays to their apparently eccentric father who lives somewhat distant from modern society. Quite suddenly, he is kidnapped by dark forces. And the sisters discover that they are heirs to a dynasty in a very different realm.

Mr. Hamilton’s prose is as tight as ever, even when he is writing for tweens and young adults. The characters are engaging, complex and imperfect. The plot is fine, but unfortunately rather linear and predictable. A good read, but Mr. Hamilton’s efforts to make things more approachable for his expected audience have not quite worked out.

Side note: My ten-year-old daughter adored this book.

 

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García & Linda Antonsson

TheWorldofIceandFireThis is a companion volume to A Song of Ice & Fire, basis for the Game of Thrones TV series. It serves as a history and geography text for the world and is written from the viewpoint of a maester in the Citadel. Interestingly, it leaves a lot of ambiguity, which feels realistic because most historical “facts”, especially remote ones, are distorted by the passing of time, just as many geographical “facts” are distorted by distance. The “author” refers to this many times.

For any fan of the books or the TV series, this is an interesting read and an excellent reference. The maps and illustrations are gorgeous and greatly help set the scene not only for this book but for the other works in the Song of Ice & Fire universe. Reading on a Kindle doesn’t give the reader the full effect, but Amazon Cloud Reader can be referenced as needed.

4Rosbochs

 

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin

AKnightoftheSevenKingdomsThis short story collection is set in Westeros one hundred years prior to the events of Game of Thrones. The protagonists of the three stories are a hedge knight called Duncan the Tall, or more commonly just Dunk, and his squire, a boy named Egg. Egg is actually Aegon Targaryen, a royal prince who later (and beyond the scope of these stories) reigns as Aegon V. Dunk started life as an orphan in Flea Bottom, the notorious slum of King’s Landing, and makes his living as a hedge knight, taking service with various masters. The stories are set against the backdrop of a Westeros still reeling from the aftermath of the Blackfyre Rebellion sixteen years previously.

The stories and the protagonist are charming and enjoyable. Unlike the monumental A Song of Ice and Fire, there are no myriad storylines or complex rivalries. Simply the adventures of two people in a vast world. The macropolitics of the era do encroach on the stories, and this is both a strength and a weakness. They give the impression that the world goes on around our two heroes, but on the other hand the historical infodumps sometimes become overcomplex for such short tales.

4Rosbochs

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

UprootedAgnieszka lives in small village in a pastoral valley, the setting of which is strongly rooted in Polish folklore. There is a deep, dark, sinister, magical wood which extends into the valley, and out of the wood come horrors unspeakable. Every ten years, the “Dragon”, who is actually a wizard and the feudal lord, picks a girl and takes her to his tower. No one in the valley really knows why. Against all expectations, Agnieszka is taken by the wizard, and against her own expectations the wizard trains her in the magic arts. She is a poor student until she discovers that her brand of magic is closely entwined with nature and the forest.

I had a hard time with the beginning of this book. While the characters and the story are well-rounded and interesting, I had the feeling that all the sinister and mysterious stuff was going to turn into a big anti-climax. Happily, I was wrong. As Agnieszka’s journey into magic and the mysteries of The Wood continues, the political and epic sides of the story start revealing themselves. And that’s where things become really interesting. The use of a strict first person viewpoint for the book is a good choice, as it allows the reader to grow his understanding of the world along with our heroine, as she journeys from her tiny village into the much more cynical larger world. Another interesting aspect is how Ms. Novik manages to describe magic in a way that effectively communicates difficulty, effort, setbacks and dangers without making the whole thing seem hopelessly corny.

4Rosbochs

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) – by Naomi Novik

Temeraire3BlackPowderWarAfter their adventures in China in Throne of Jade, Temeraire, Laurence and the rest of the crew receive orders to travel to Istambul in the Ottoman Empire. Here, they must retrieve three Turkish dragon eggs for further transport to England. Pressed for time, Laurence opts for the overland route through Asia, a long and arduous journey. Needless to say, once in Istambul circumstances have changed. And that is just the beginning of the troubles for our heroes.

While still not quite reaching the level of the first book, Black Powder War is still eminently readable and fun. At this point it seems the macropolitical developments in Europe starts to diverge more markedly from our history, with Temeraire and Laurence acting as agents for a change in social status of dragons in the West.

4Rosbochs

Throne of Jade (Temeraire II) – Naomi Novik

Temeraire2ThroneofJadeThe second book picks up immediately after the events of His Majesty’s Dragon. As it turns out, Temeraire’s egg, which Laurence and his crew captured on a French warship, was meant as a gift from China to Napoleon. Temeraire is a very rare Chinese breed, and now the Chinese want him back. Thus starts a long and arduous journey to Peking on a diplomatic mission to resolve the situation.

While not quite as good as the first book, the second installment keeps up the spirit of high adventure. Temeraire is fleshed out some more as a character, with some interesting influence from a Chinese society where Dragons are treated very differently compared to their situation in Europe.

4Rosbochs

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) – Naomi Novik

Temeraire1HisMajestysDragonThe year is 1804. Captain Will Laurence of the Royal Navy and his crew capture a French warship. On board they find a dragon egg; a prize worth a princely sum to the British war effort. The egg hatches and the dragon, whom Laurence names Temeraire, imprints on him as his handler. Laurence must leave the Royal Navy to join the Flying Corps, and entirely foreign environment for him.

His Majesty’s Dragon is a delightful novel, full of whooping-out-loud-inducing adventure set in a period of gentlemen, honour and heroic deeds. There’s a Horatio Hornblower vibe over the story, which dares to be high adventure without dwelling too much over the fact that dragons do exist and are simply part of the world. A somewhat storied and mystical part, to be sure, but there is no further explanation required or necessary. Ms. Novik doesn’t bend over backwards to make the existence of these beasts plausible, but simply integrates them into history as we know it, making for some striking images. For example, dragon formations crewed with gunners and boarders striking at convoys in the English channel. The entire organization of dragons in battle as couriers, support aircraft or heavy strike beasts depending on size and ability rapidly starts to seem entirely plausible given the historical background. And so, even though it is full of dragons, the novel doesn’t feel very much like fantasy at all, keeping its thematic roots firmly in the historical novel and alternate history camps.

4½Rosbochs

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle II½) – Patrick Rothfuss

TheSlowRegardofSilentThingsThis novella set in the Kingkiller Chronicle world follows Auri, the girl who lives in the abandoned underground spaces of The University and whom Kvothe befriends. She went insane while a student, and ever since has apparently lurking underground, organizing silent things (inanimate objects) that she finds based on some strange inner logic based on her obsessive compulsion.

This story is very strange. There is but one character (if you don’t count the silent things which, to be fair, the protagonist considers characters) and she is clearly insane. Eight full pages are dedicated to the making of soap. By hand. And yet, I found myself slowly warming to Auri and the little adventures she had while running around with her objects. I enjoyed how some spaces in the underground were frightening, some were safe, some were warm and some were uncomfortable. This story works despite every convention it breaks.

3½Rosbochs

Outlander (Outlander I) – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander1OutlanderClaire Beauchamp Fraser is a nurse who has just been through World War II. She goes on a second honeymoone to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, a man she has met for only a few days during the war years. As she touches a stone in an ancient standing stone formation, she is transported back in time to the 1740s, a time which in Scotland was characterized by the Jacobite uprisings. She finds herself abducted by a band of Highland men and taken to Castle Leoch, where the locals are highly suspicious of her claims to be a woman of fine birth who has been robbed by highwaymen.

Despite the painstaking historical detail and the romantic nature of the setting, I found myself rapidly bored with this book. The use of the first person voice only works for me if the narrator is at least somewhat self-deprecating; preferably even snarky. Claire is neither of these things, and she comes off as quite a bit too serious. The romantic bent of the novel is also too strong, with Claire almost instantly attracted to the rugged Jaime, a handsome outlaw with a quiet demeanor and a well-muscled body. I gave up after a hundred pages or so.

2Rosbochs

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire V) – George R. R. Martin

ASongofIceandFire5ADanceWithDragonsThe narrative in A Dance with Dragons runs in parallel with the one in A Feast for Crows, this time mainly following Daenerys, Jon, Tyrion and Ser Barristan Selmy. Several other semi-major characters also feature as viewpoints, including Quentyn Martell and Theon/Reek. Daenerys must deal both with her dragons, and with the untenable situation in Mereen. Tyrion continues his travels eastward. Jon makes tough decisions regarding the defense of The Wall. Ser Barristan broods over his duty.

Unlike A Feast for Crows, this fifth book contains the juicier protagonists, and indeed the juicier bits of story. While the byzantine plots of King’s Landing are reasonably interesting, the real action is around Slaver’s Bay and The Wall. While the prose and characterizations is as good as in the previous book, the narrative events of A Dance with Dragon make it a treat. Things are rapidly going downhill in many ways, and a possible conclusion to the saga can be glimpsed. If you squint…

4½Rosbochs

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire IV) – George R.R. Martin

ASongofIceAndFire4AFeastforCrows

The War of the Five Kings is over. The Lannisters appear to have won, with only the mop-up remaining. However, the Seven Kingdoms are far from stable, with enemies both near and far conspiring to grab what power they can. If nothing else, winter is coming, and the war has meant little food has been harvested and stored for the expected coming cold. Brienne continues her quest. Arya seeks an identity. Samwell travels towards Oldtown. Jaime solves problems and Cersei acts as regent to young King Thommen.

Following hard along the heels of A Storm of Swords, book four in A Song of Ice and Fire takes things in a somewhat unexpected direction structurally. Instead of, as before, following the entirety of the storylines and characters, A Feast for Crows only has “main” viewpoint chapters for Sansa, Samwell, Cersei, Jaime and Brienne, as well as smattering of chapters for Arya, the doings of the Iron Men and events in Dorne. Tyrion, Dany, Bran and Jon are conspicuously absent, to be dealt with in book five. This decision probably made the narrative more focused, but unfortunately means that some of the more flamboyant characters are missing. While by no means a boring read, it is a bit of a mise en place, with characters somewhat too obviously moved forward in their arc to where they will need to be for the next stage in the story. Reinforcing this impression is the lack of grand defining battles and events like in the previous three books, making this installment somewhat anticlimactic. Mr. Martin can certainly write, and even when the story is a tad bland his prose is a pleasure, but I would have wished for a bit more action amongst the introspective internal dialogues. Even Cersei’s incessant scheming, no matter how wicked, gets old after a while.

4Rosbochs

The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2) – Patrick Rothfuss

TheKingKillerChronicle2TheWiseMansFearIn the second book of The Kingkiller Chronicle, the memoir of Kvothe continues. He studies at The University; he travels to distant lands to seek patronage, he meets with legendary beings, and he is trained in the martial arts. In the present time, however, odd things are happening.

While The Name of the Wind is a great book in its own right, in The Wise Man’s Fear it feels as if Mr. Rothfuss is truly spreading his wings. Threads and references thought lost and forgotten in the first book are brought back to light, re-examined, re-evaluated and given new interesting shades of meaning. The adventures of Kvothe are fascinating and thought-provoking, keeping the reader turning the page. And yet that reader is constantly left wondering what happened between then and now. The tension in the present is palpable in the brief interludes with Chronicler.

Mr. Rothfuss skillfully weaves themes surrounding the complicated relationships between legend and reality, truth and fiction, innermost desire and actual power. At just over 1000 pages, this is a long book, but just like the first one it has a terrific page-turning quality.

5Rosbochs

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) – Patrick Rothfuss

TheKingkillerChronicle1TheNameoftheWindKote, whose real name is Kvothe,  is an innkeeper with a storied past that he keeps secret. His exploits are the stuff of legend. Frequently wildly inaccurate legend, but with a core of truth. One day he starts telling his story to a man known as Chronicler. The novel leaps back in time as the reader enters Kvothe’s developing memoir, back to his childhood as a traveling trouper, when he was also informally apprenticed to an Arcanist. So begins the storied life of Kvothe. Our protagonist learns magic, but it does not mean he immediately becomes powerful. His story is one of poverty and constant struggle. He is a supreme intellectual genius but this leads him into trouble more often than not.

The world of Kvothe is certainly fantasy, but very low-key in terms of magic and mythical creatures. These things exist but are rare. And while common folk attribute many happenings to demonic forces, magic is treated as science by the more enlightened people of the age. There are no Gandalf-style wizards with unexplained and inconsistent powers, but learned men who study at a University in order to harness what most see as supernatural forces. There is even a version on The Enlightenment, as it is mentioned that only a few centuries earlier, Arcanists were burned at the stake, but in the present time they are more accepted. I enjoyed this “scientific method” take on fantasy very much.

The story is very strictly from Kvothe’s perspective in the form of his memoir, apart from the brief parts in the “present day” parts told in the third person, and even those follow Kvothe without other viewpoints. This makes for a very focused story without a wider “epic happenings” perspective. Even events that potentially could be monumental to the world at large are seen through our hero’s eyes, making them very personal.

This novel is perhaps overlong. It is an excellent read, but sometimes I feel that the meanderings could have been culled somewhat. On the other hand, it ended somewhat without actually ending. There was no satisfying end of an era, just an abrupt discontinuation before the reader inevitably must move on the next book in the series.

4½Rosbochs

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

TheGraveyardBookA toddler slips out of his house just as his parents and older sister are murdered by a mysterious man called Jack. He walks up to the local graveyard and is taken care of by the dead, who name him Nobody. His upbringing is unusual, to say the least.

The premise behind this book is clever in the extreme. It completely subverts the trope of a graveyard being a frightening place with shadowy monsters lurking. For “Bod”, the graveyard is home and refuge. It is where he plays, where he is educated, where he feels kinship with his people. Death is not something to be feared, but an event which changes people.

The novel is semi-episodic to start, with every chapter almost a self-contained shorts story, but later the thread of the initial murder is picked up, leading towards a resolution. Gaiman’s whimsical style certainly goes well with the setting, and I found myself smiling as Nod interacts with the dead from many different epochs, greeting and speaking to each with the mannerisms appropriate to the age.

3½Rosbochs

The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers

 

TheAnubisGatesLiterature scholar Brendon Doyle is hired to investigate a magical time portal back to 1880. He misses the return trip and must now use his knowledge of the time to survive.

 

This fantasy novel has many science fictional elements, for example the internally consistent time travel. The “stranded in time” theme is very strong, as Doyle struggles to first survive and then to foil his magician adversaries.

4Rosbochs

 

Queen of Wands (Special Circumstances II) – John Ringo

The sequel to Princess of Wands sees “Soccermom-osaurus” Mrs. Barbara Everette as an experienced FLUF agent, defending America from evil supernatural and mystic creatures. As in the first book, this one also takes the form of three interlinked stories, the middle one of which is set (sort of) at Dragon*con.

Ringo always delivers thrills and page-turnability. But this time he fell short of the mark. The story is bland. The stakes are nominally high, certainly. but I never felt like I cared that much. The way the author has had to shoehorn belief into some sort of consistent reality makes for too many weird conversations. So a bit of a dud but still eminently readable.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire III) – George R. R. Martin

The third book in A Song of Ice and Fire flows seamlessly from A Clash of Kings. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are in chaos due to the “War of Five Kings”. While a lot of the “issues” are resolved, new and bigger issues crop up. And an even greater threat is looming. This has been foreshadowed since the very start of the series, but is very concrete now.

While still a great read, this one was a bit more of a slog in the first half. The seconds half is where everything really goes to hell in a handcart, and is much faster paced.

The characters are more and more scattered, and the stories often do not intertwine. For example, where the heck are Arya and Bran going to end up? They certainly have no interaction with any of the other point of view characters. Even though things are quieter than after book two, many questions remain unanswered.

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire II) – George R. R. Martin

The sequel to A Game of Thrones picks up right where the previous book left off. Westeros has been plunged into civil war, with five kings clashing for the Iron Throne and for the North. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen continues her quest to find supporters in her bid to return her dynasty to the Iron Throne.

While A Game of Thrones perforce had to spend quite some time detailing background, A Clash of Kings dives straight into the action. Without giving away the story, suffice it to say there are many clever and unexpected twists and turns.

Martin is certainly not afraid of taking characters in a bad situation and making their fate even worse. This is in fact an integral part of what makes the series so good. No one is safe and nothing is holy.

Another interesting aspect is how some characters that seem like “bad guys” in the first installment, most notably Tyrion, now seem quite reasonable. Certainly the reader can root for them. Conversely, “good guys” have very dark sides. Martin, through his clever use of point of view characters in the narrative, allows the reader to “back” opposing sides in the conflict.

Certainly nothing much is resolved in this volume, and so it is on to book three.

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

After Tolkien’s death, his son Christopher set about compiling all the notes and stories he had left behind about Middle Earth. The Silmarillion is the most well know result of this work, and chronicles the story of the elves in times long before the events of The Lord of the Rings. It takes the form more of a historical chronicle than a novel, and so feels rather removed from the action. Only for the dedicated Tolkien fan.