Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ant-Man: Marvel exults in it's tiniest superhero outing

So yesterday I watched the latest Marvel outing, Ant-Man. Going in with minimal expectations, I came out a really happy camper - a shrewdly done light comic thriller with all the trappings of a do-good movie. I sense that Marvel is trying real hard to get out of that dark grim shadow thrown by the Age of Ultron and is coming out with little bright gimlets like the Guardians ( a comic caper and a goof-ball of a movie that was such a great overall package!) and now this.

Ant-Man on the surface, is a heist-movie featuring the smallest of Marvel Super-heroes, this time a down-on-his-luck thief with a masters in Electrical Engineering called Scott Lang. Scott ( Paul Rudd, the brightest spot of sunshine in this movie!) is just out of prison after a righteous crime, out of a job having been fired from Baskin Robbins ( This scene in the beginning sets the tone for the movie. It never takes itself seriously. A boy who walks into Baskin Robbins, asks for a burger with mayo and cheese, then settles for something hot and nice!) and trying hard to 'be the father to her daughter that she already thinks he is'.  Someways in the same boat as the reclusive genius scientist Hank Pym ( Michael Douglas back on screen after ages - looking good for a change!) who has a strained relationship with his daughter Hope ( Evangeline Lilly) and has been outvoted from his own research firm. His firm is now run by his one-time protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) a more driven and ruthless version of himself - looking to crack his own pet science project in 'reducing the space between atoms' and thus creating the perfect fighting machine - a prototype he calls the Yellow Jacket and plans to sell the product to the highest bidders.

The movie follows predictable patterns in terms of a plot-line: Scott being recruited by Hank for a test mission then being trained hard to fit into the perfect burglar role - infiltrating the high-security lab premises and then ending up in a cataclysmic finale that features many an explosion, an adorable toy-train and the most 'funny' looking dog that is in reality an ant 'blown' up out of proportion.

While portrayed as a heist movie with generous dollops of kitsch and wit, it is at heart about a father connecting to his daughter. Nicely done without going over the top on the hysterics or the bombs and eschewing the Marvel storyline of the ever expanding universe in pursuit of infinity stones and power. The best thing about the movie is the low-brow humor - Paul Rudd deftly nails it, the most unlikely candidate for a superhero who knows it and uses his goofy charm to slide past tough situations. The fight between Falcon and the Ant-Man was really Paul in his elements - being apologetic to one of his dream heroes while simultaneously bashing him up to complete his mission. Ant-Man takes unapologetic potshots at its big budget cousin movies from Marvel, including the Avengers - a scene where Scott is informed of his mission and he lamely counters, "I think our first move should be calling in The Avengers."

The other thing that really stood out for me is the wild imagination come alive on screen through CGI. The world as seen through the eyes of an Ant-Man - the scene where Scott first experiences the powers of the suit he is wearing is such a cracker - Diminished to the size of an ant, he escapes the bubbling waters of a bathtub, falls down the cracks onto a dance floor, is spun around on top of a disc and then drops into the sewers only to be chased by a mad rat. Pure Genius. The ants in the movie who form the tactical support for the Ant-man are another beautifully portrayed aspect. Be it ants sending jolts of electricity to fry the circuits of a huge data bank or climbing over each other to form that perfect bridge or carrying Scott away in air, it all brings an aura of awe to the movie.

Michael Pena playing Scott's criminal buddy on the heist mission is definitely another star to watch out for. His comic timing is impeccable and in this role as Luis, the fast talking highly excitable conman, he delivers the goods in spades. Corey Stoll as the villain megamind chomps at the bit, froths in anger and angst - generally playing the equal to Scott's Ant-Man by donning the Yellow Jacket.

Overall, a fun little comic caper with the right amount of exciting thrill rides and the right stakes to fight and cheer for, The Ant-Man continues Marvel's golden run at the box-office - celebrating their uncanny ability to read an audience's needs. Just the kind of break that we needed from the franchise as I think we're getting a little tired of bulked up gods and men in funny suits beating up aliens or evil megalomaniac robots - playing off the fragile nature of a pint-size hero against the super prowess of a superhero in suit, a movie that never takes itself seriously and subverts the big hitting action into a series of laughable gags. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

August Books (Including some series conclusions I'm looking forward to in 2015!)

Quite a few SFF Series are coming to a highly anticipated explosive climax in 2015. And on my TBR mountain-pile, I spy quite a few that I will be getting around to ( very soon! I know I sound like a broken record here but hot damn! Some series just need a closure and you cannot live it down until you know what happened to your favorite heroes/heroines!) So here goes - a few of the highly anticipated series conclusions I will soon be wrapping up:

Queen of Fire ( Raven's Shadow 3) by Anthony Ryan

While Tower Lord didn't set me on fire like The Blood Song did, it still expands the series quite a bit and poses more questions than ever. The original prophecy is still to unfold and Vaelin Al Sorna, Frentis and Queen Lyrna are all joining hands against the dark. Having just finished Tower Lord, I cannot wait to read the end. The Queen of Fire promises a lot of fireworks. Epic conclusion to the story Vaelin and his friends!

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie ( Shattered Seas 3) 

My favorite writer Joe Abercrombie turns in a sleeker, much tauter storyline - featuring viking-esque lords and their ministers - in a cruel, ruthless world ruled by the mighty and powerful. Shattered Seas is not vintage Joe Abercrombie drenched in blood, clouded by the grim-dark - but this is a far different Abercrombie playing to his strengths. This is a series i would recommend anyone looking to get into the Abercrombie world to try out. And finally coming home in this fiery series ending!!

Alice by Chrisina Henry

Alice locked up in a mental asylum? Bloodthirsty demon let loose in the night? Rabbit waiting at the heart of the Old City?

This one's got the making of a classic. Fairy tale gone dark and bloody - I read the first chapter and cannot wait to plunge down the dark rabbit hole with this cracker of a twisted tale, if there ever was one.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Admit that I haven't read Ready Player One but I wasn't going to pass up the offer to read this one by a Master.

Dream Paris by Tony Ballantine

Lauded for his towering feat of imagination that was Dream London, this one purely won me over for the exquisite cover. Not sure of how this is going to turn out but I'm in for the ride.

Many more titles in the offing - but these are some of my top reads for this coming month for sure!!  What are yours?

Monday, July 27, 2015

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Sometimes there are books that you look forward to reading for a year or more - the anticipation and excitement building with each passing day - that by the time, you get to reading the book, you've built a castle in the air about the book. And with each turning page, you find those ramparts crumbling. slowly but surely.

That was the case with The House of Shattered Wings. Aliette de Bodard is a big name - the Blood and Obsidian series pretty much catapulted her into the big league; And with multiple awards to boot, it seemed like this book, The House of Shattered Wings would be when she would be cementing her rightful place - among the top pantheons of fantasy writers. Alas! it is not to be.

The House of Shattered Wings has an incredible premise - Paris in a post-apocalyptic world lies in the ruins of a Great War between the Houses - as controlled by the Fallen, angels ousted from Heaven by God having to make do with squabbling over House Politics and ruling the ravaged city of Paris.
And the story is centered around one such House, Silverspires - one of the oldest and strongest House, now slowly crumbling away. A house that was formed by the First Fallen, Morningstar now is well past its glory days. And in the darkness of the walls of this House is buried a terrible secret that is now slowly manifesting itself - A string of horrifying murders.
Aliette drops us right into the middle of the shambles of the dark Parisian alleyways in the first chapter without any warning : Introducing us to two of the pivotal characters in the book - Phillipe, a young man with a haunted history and Isabelle, one of the latest Fallen who falls from grace and into the polluted streets of Paris. Both are taken into the protective custody of House Silverspire by Selene, the reluctant head of this house, herself riddled with self doubts - after having been thrust into the position of authority when MorningStar disappears one fine morning never to be seen again. The fourth main character, is Madeliene - a human/mortal within the House who assumes the responsibility of the Alchemist - in charge of extracting, safekeeping magical artifacts within the House.

Heading a house well past its glory days, Selene has to be constantly on her toes to keep the wolves at bay - a politically charged atmosphere with other Houses baying for its blood. And then, creepily the dead bodies start popping up all over town. To make matters worse, Selene is unable to decipher the mystery around Phillipe - a young man who is able to resist one of the most powerful spells of the house with apparent ease.  Does this point to the end of this once proud House?
It should have been a beautifully crafted, intense novel full of intriguing characters and dark magic - set in a wonderfully realized haunting setting of post-apocalyptic Paris.

Sadly it doesn't work.

Post Apocalyptic fantasy. Check. Unexplained magic. Double Check. There comes a point in the book around one-thirds in when you realize you need a bit more rope than what Aliette is feeding you. The magic and the world building is coming at you at a crazy pace - while the plot itself is trundling along. The pacing is completely off-kilter and the levels of tension that is supposed to grip you and keep you on tenterhooks, is basically just hitting the notes of 'mild'. Even in terms of characterization, there are enough and more layers to each of four main protagonists for you to savor and unravel - but I just couldn't get myself to care.

Phillipe, the man with a troubled past and who is slowly falling for Isabelle? His motivations are all valid, the actions that precipitate the momentum of the book but I just didn't care if he and Isabelle got together. Madeleine is a junkie and cannot hold together a coherent thought without inhaling 'angel-essence' that would open up her mind and brighten her senses. And yet, her role is sidelined. MorningStar, the most interesting of the lot as well doesn't get utilized properly. The only character whom I felt anything for - was Selene. She of the myriad crippling self doubts, trying to save a sinking ship and do good for all the denizens of the House. Comes across as a complex, emotionally scarred and vulnerable leader making decisions in the face of adversity.

Magic itself is largely unexplained - citing the prowess of immortal Angels who can access 'khi'currents to be cast as spells and to be stored within different artifacts like nails, bones, hair of the Angels. The prose is accomplished - reaching highs of poetic description of the ruin landscapes of Paris. The drowned kingdom of Dragons under the polluted waters of River Siene - while speaks of Aliette's unbridled imagination just didn't come to pass, for me as a reader. Something snagged somewhere. My reading ended up being pretty disconnected, my brain scrambling to make sense of large unexplained plot holes.

In conclusion, largely drawing on moral conflicts in a ravaged post-apocalyptic world landscape, Aliette's big bet novel, The House of Shattered Wings is a bit confusing and more of a slow-burning thrill-ride of magical battles and intense political maneuvering that left me way behind. As a fantasy reader, this novel failed to strike a chord with me. Would have to suffice with 3-stars for the setting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bahubali: India's own home-grown EPIC FANTASY MOVIE that's a winner!!

With SS Rajamouli at the helm, Bahubali was always going to be an ambitious movie. But did anyone expect this South Indian movie to break records worldwide? It's created waves - and toppled records all over. and it's still going strong!

I always maintained that the home-grown stories of Fantasy are the best and Bahubali retells a somewhat familiar and yet different tale of a kingdom Mahishmati tucked away between craggy mountain peaks and sheltered by a roaring waterfall - caught in the middle of a power struggle between blood relatives for the throne. Rajamouli's epic vision blends elements of Lord of the Rings and Mahabharata into something unique, something that he owns completely and executes in grand style on the big screen. A home-grown epic fantasy movie that will knock down your defenses and any reservations you may have had - Bahubali features some stunning camework, whooping CGI effects and artistic attention to the majestic sets. Rajamouli's visual prowess and storytelling ability is second to none - like that of a free-spirited abstract soul only content with pushing boundaries.

Originally made in Telugu, the home base of Telugu viewers are all familiar with Rajamouli's touch of gold and would have expected nothing less. ( He's had a string of success right from his first movie - and has always been experimental in his movie-making. Remember Ee? It didn't even have a hero!! and was a runaway success, remade and dubbed in every other language!) What is heartening is the acceptance of Bahubali - not just across India but across the world. People just cannot seem to have enough of the heroes of Mahishmati kingdom.

Coming to the tale - right from the first arresting mind-blowing visual of the gigantic waterfall (CGI well done!) and Ramya Krishnan (Queen Sivagami) escaping a set of marauders with a baby, you're glued to the screen. The shot of the queen's sacrifice, holding the baby above the frothing river, is one that will definitely haunt you as you walk away from the theater. The baby, heir to the kingdom of Mahishmati grows up with the simple-minded river folks, always fascinated by the mountain peaks.

The boy becomes an adult - And Siva, played by Prabhas ( Hunk. Apparently he set aside three years working on this movie. and his body. And it definitely shows! the camera makes love to his rippling chiseled body frame after frame, especially those crazy flexing biceps that tear through a rudraksh band in a scene!) finally ascends the peaks - in a mind-altering dream song sequence chasing after a nymph (Tamanaah!) But he soon realizes the mysterious peaks hide some dangerous secrets - When he runs into the actual form of the nymph, a rebel called Avantika fighting a guerrilla war against the King's men. Feisty and tempestuous, Avantika only lives to free their rightful queen, imprisoned by the 'usurper' Bhallala Dev. But the narrative slows down here - and we spend sometime gamboling and frolicking about in the forests and snow-laden mountain peaks with Prabhas and Tamanaah - building up on an impossible love story. The build-up to this love story is weak and fraught with 'blind leaps of faith' that the director hops the audience will take. Avantika's characterization is hard to believe - swinging between a lover-girl swooning into her hulk's arms and dancing around trees and the the war-hardened rebel, dying to sacrifice herself for the cause.

So yeah, the first half of the movie seesaws between spectacular and hilarious in parts. The second half is where the story really picks up steam - with the scene changing to the palaces of Mahishmati and the older legends come tumbling out. The story of brothers Amarendra Bahubali (Prabhas , double role. More eye candy!) and Bhallala Dev ( Rana Duggubati) both vying for the crown is spelled out in full glory - Epic flowing battle scenes, conspiracies and plot within plots. In fact the last thirty minutes of the movie is one extended exhilarating battle scene - plunging everything into a hell storm of grandiose proportions. Military tactics, one on one individual face-offs, thunderous charge of the cavalry, blood and gore. The full works in glorious multi-colored CGI spectacle. The story of course stops at a cliffhanger that will have people flocking back to the theaters in 2016 when the flashback is revealed, the treachery and backstabbing becomes clearer.

As far as performances go, Ramya Krishnan steals the thunder. Her imposing screen presence, smoldering eyes and fiery dialogue delivery are spot-on. The movie is star-studded and despite the presence of other biggies and stars, Ramya effortlessly essays the role of queen mother who wrenches control of the empire in the middle of a chaos and brings it back from the brink of a civil war. After Neelambari from Padayappa, this role probably comes close enough to do justice to this talented powerhouse. Sathyaraj plays the role of the army captain Kattapa to perfection - the loyal house-guard bound by his word to the King but torn in his loyalties towards the rightful heir. A fitting role to the doyen in his late years - he puts a lot of younger guys to shame with his effortless sword-fighting and action sequences.

Prabhas. Hunk extraordinaire - does pretty well in the action stunt sequences, wears a goofy grin that endears himself to all sets of the audience while performing all the bravura deeds - like uprooting a huge rock shiva-linga or singlehandedly hauling up a towering golden statue and saving the lives of countless or riding into the battle and scything through the enemy infantry and cavalry like toilet paper. relatively unknown beyond the landscape of perhaps South India, this movie is his ticket to greater things. Rana, the other big hunk on the screen sadly only gets to grunt and smolder in anger watching and seething with jealousy at Prabhas' characters.

Of the two leading ladies, Tamanaah gets more screen time in part-one; dances and traipses through waterfalls well enough but looks barely convincing as the angry hurt foot soldier swathed in brown and leather in the rebel group. I'm still not convinced if she can act. Great eye-candy. check. Hero's love interest. check. That brings us to Anushka Shetty - hardly recognizable as the imprisoned queen, in tatters. She has very little screen time but her hurt filled vengeful eyes speak a lot of fire and damnation to the crown. Hopefully part-two, she will deliver!

As the movie is garnering praise for pretty much breaking every other record, let's not forget the monumental effort it has taken Rajamouli and his crew to pull this off. Hats off to the man's vision and realization of this epic. The scale and class matches Hollywood - apart from niggling issues with the pacing ( First half and then again the item song in the second half was...meh!) the movie is a fitting crown for SS Rajamouli's growing cinematic legacy. Much embellished that it already is, this one's a rousing winner all the way!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

So I don't have a systematic manner of going about to find a new novel - I browse Netgalley, Amazon or the tonnes of blogs that I stalk for suggestions. Sometimes pick up a book on a whim. and it turns out to be pure spun gold. The pleasure in such cases is manifold. as you are not dragged down by the hype and expectations set by the world.

Life or Death by Michael Robotham was one such. A tautly written spell binding thriller that starts off with a prison escape and then slowly unspools the backstory of the central protagonist through myriad of twists and harrowing suspense to finally reveal the truth - that would gut you and leave you spellbound at the author's craft and neatly spun plot.

Life or Death is the story of Audie Palmer who escapes the day before he was supposed to be set free after ten years in a state prison - for having aided and abetted in a robbery with money worth seven million reportedly missing. The story is revealed through multiple POVs - including that of Audie himself with flash backs of his haunting life - also featuring Moss Webster, Audie's friend in the prison, Desiree Furness, FBI special agent in charge of investigating Audie's case and his subsequent disappearance- plus a host of smaller POVs. It cuts across time as Audie relives the incidents starting from his childhood till early twenties that led to the imprisonment and is also on the run from the authorities to achieve something very specific - and all of it forms a vague but pretty intricate pattern that retains the reader's interest in the suspense surrounding this case.

I was drawn to the characterization of Audie - the young man obviously haunted  by some bad memories but is still trying to take on life on his own terms. fighting the odds every step of the way (as Moss his prison companion says, 'that boy was stabbed, strangled, beaten, glassed and burned" by both inmates and prison guards ) refusing to cave in. This tremendous amount of gumption and fortitude shown by Audie is what won me over. He is an average guy - but definitely smart and resourceful enough to keep the police guessing and the FBI still searching. Plus he harbors a secret for which the reader will pursue him all across the country side of Texas till the rocky sea-shores where the climax of the book plays out.

In addition to Audie, Moss is the other toughie who is remarkably well etched out. A big bruiser, in prison for rage-killing, this afro-american is hell bent on keeping Audie safe - while not so much an emotional wreck as Audie or a totally shrewd smart-cookie who can unravel clues and puts things together very fast like the agent Desiree, Moss still comes across as that reliable big brother in times of need and is the comfortable voice of reason through the book.

Michael's skilfully woven narrative forces you to flip pages faster to get to know the truths and to see how the different strands come together - a fine piece of edge-of-the-seat thriller with a fascinating central character you will grow sympathetic to and cheer for. Life or Death is a first-rate chase novel set in Texas written by an Australian with a massive talent for bringing stories and places to life. Excruciating amount of details, makes the story live off the pages. A must read if you like thrillers. One with a lot of heart in it.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells

What do you think of a seventeen-year old sociopath obsessed with killing and blood - but keeps himself tightly reined in, instead focusing on saving the world from the "demons"? Perfect anti-hero material? Add in genius level IQ's and a razor sharp repartee along with compassion? Odd ball? Sure. But that is what makes John Wayne Cleaver so charming and so endearing to the readers.

Welcome back to the crazy world of manic depressive John Wayne hell bent on getting rid of "demons" in this world - but this time he's not alone. He's teamed up with a crackerjack unit from FBI and the King of "Demons" is hot on his trail. With a personal agenda - that turns the table on the hunters and makes John's complicated miserable life, one hell of a hellhole. This is probably not the best place to jump inside John's head - he's got a trilogy behind him. Dead bodies piled up, tons of baggage, lots of history. But trust me, Dan Wells' a powerhouse of a writer. Who's peaking with every other novel of his - and this one, the start of an interesting new series featuring our favorite seventeen-year old butcher, is an explosive package that sets off a new direction.

So John is in introspection mode at the start of the story - having survived through demon attacks on his near and dear ones - Brooke, a girl whose soul was taken over by a demon known as "Nobody" lives in a mental asylum, still reliving those scars through Nobody's memories. It's during one of such meandering conversations with Brooke, that John and his FBI buddies realize there is a new "demon" or "withered" as he calls it, in town. tensions escalate. bizarre murders surface. and very soon the hunters become the hunted as John realizes this is an entirely new "withered" with highly deceptive powers and running a personal vendetta against John that threatens to blow into an all-out war.

Dan Wells has invested in building up John as an extremely interesting character - his internal personal struggles and confusions are still gargantuan - as twisted as the external real life situations he is put into - owing to his special ability to "connect" to the "withered"; with a colorful history behind him. This book solely focuses on John as a character - and that's a conscious effort from the author - as the FBI team around John is dealt with and dismissed with almost contemptuous ease. John finds it hard to relate to his life and normal folks around him, beset as he is with an incurable urge to kill people around that he keeps in check. In fact, readers easing into his life for the first time ( And yeah, that includes me!) would find it creepy as he slowly goes through the introductions of his FBI team. One by one, detailing how he would kill them. But what clinches the characterization of John is how easy Dan makes it for a reader to relate to this guy. At seventeen years, John has grown much older enriched by his worldly experiences and his uncanny knack to survive in the face of overwhelming odds.

Plot wise, things go zooming forward  as soon as the first dead body surfaces. And man, you'd need to have a strong stomach for the levels of violence described. But Dan Wells nails it spot-on and I was firmly behind John as he matches wit with a Machiavellian villain hell bent on outdoing the whole team. The pacing is relentless and the action and violence slam-bang. As far as characters go, I really couldn't root for any of the secondary guys - maybe done on purpose as you're yanked into the furious workings of John's mind. It's all you can do not to get lost as he follows the clues hot on the trail of the "withered" -- trying hard to stay alive and keep his friends alive. There are twists galore in the last few chapters and you will find yourself knotted up silly. The ending and the final confrontation is bit of a rush-job, but it's only Dan Wells setting up the pieces for another intriguing series.

Top notch writing, well structured suspense and a compelling anti-hero keeps you glued to this book. The darkness of the subject is let up a bit with the acerbic wit of John - that he uses as a shield against the world. This book is a welcome addition to the urban fantasy landscape - but in truth its probably more an edge-of-the-seat thriller with supernatural elements drenched in gore and blood.

Do yourself a favor and read John Wayne Cleaver's adventures fighting the demons. It's nothing like you've ever read before, I guarantee. Stupendous stuff, really. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan ( Raven's Shadow - II)

When I had finished Blood Song last year, I was super excited about Anthony Ryan's entry into Epic Fantasy. The book was an absolute delight - a rousing tale of action, adventure and fantasy featuring an unforgettable hero thrust into a prophecy set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world - I know that sounds like a boring traditional epic fantasy book blurb - and perhaps it is ( the traditional bit but nowhere near boring!!) - but the handling of the sprawling political sparring, religious faith and resulting conflicts had been excellent - all drawn up with Vaelin Al Sorna as the singular foil through which the reader sees the world around. Near flawless in the execution of a flowing narrative that just captivates and immerses the reader into Vaelin's up bringing, trials and the final battles into which he's tricked into serving his mad, scheming King - that was the chief reason why the book was such a big hit. It had everything going right - a sympathetic central character in middle of a turmoil, secondary figures who endeared themselves through their brave selfless acts, an epic magic system ( in the blood song and the art of the Dark!) even a little bit of unrealized romance that never reached its potential and a prophetic villain in the one who waits.

Tower Lord, the second book in raven's shadow series takes a completely different direction. The archetypal hero narrative takes a back-seat as the number of POVs burgeon. We have 4 major ones - including one of my favorites from the last book, Frentis. Added to that are new characters like Reva and some old, Lyrna - the fiery spirited princess of the Unified Realm, where the action takes place for the most of book-one. The world building that was deftly done in the first book - revealed in a slow tantalizing manner - all of a sudden takes front seat - as the larger world beyond the Unified Realm is revealed to us. The extra POVs mean the narrative is slow-burn and sprawling - and takes a lot of time to build up to a certain level of satisfying tension that will hook you in. There are tons of action sequences, epic battle scenes and set pieces yes - but it all happens in such a scattershot directionless manner that you're left waiting. Waiting for some big conflict that will tie in all the different seemingly unrelated narratives into one single big epic battle. And yes - it does happen. towards the last thirds of the book where Anthony gets back into his groove, pitching us into the middle of a heart thumping tightly woven act that was a hallmark of the first book.

So Vaelin, the broken conflicted hero who has discovered his Blood Song magic - returns to the realm to find that things have changed dramatically after the Alpiran wars. He's a legend now - not by choice and feared, respected and revered in equal measures by people all over the realm. He has returned to search for Frentis whom people believe died in that last stand of the wolfrunners. And then soon deputed by the new king Malcius to be the Tower Lord of the Northern reaches of the kingdom.

Frentis however is still alive - taken captive by Volarians ( Another empire with world domination ambitions!), slave to a beautiful mysterious assassin without a name - whose power binds him to her and bids him complete many a destructive mission - random killings and assassinations as directed by his cruel mistress. Lyrna is on a journey to seek the alliance of a race called the Lonakim, billed as savages living on top of a volcanic mountain and raiding the forests outside the Realm. Her journey comes around a full circle as she successfully signs up thier support for the kingdom but only returns back to the horrors that befall - as the Volarians bid a massive attack on the capital city. Into the fray comes Reva, a young girl who hopes to avenge her father's killing and retrieve his sword from the Darkblade, Vaelin as he is known in these circles. A curious turn of events leads Reva to forge alliance with Vaelin - and rebuke her priests teachings. But as Vaelin seeks to go to the North, Reva seeks her own fortune at Cumbraelin - her father's dukedom, now ruled by her uncle.

Now these four POVs are studded with an extraordinary number of secondary characters. Who flit in and out of the pages without much impact. Davoka, the feral Lonak warrior lady who should have amounted to being something central and spectacular sadly remains in the shadow of a lost princess Lyrna and then later, a harried Frentis fighting to keep the Realm soldiers alive in the face of the Volarian schemes. It takes effort from the reader to keep track - in fact, I really was annoyed by the sheer number of new characters who would waltz into either Vaelin's or Lyrna's life.

Getting to know Vaelin again was a comfort. However, this time his hands are tied. Most of the time, he's negotiating alliances with different races to stand up against an attack by the dreaded Volarians. A pale shadow of the deadly warrior from book one. Sure he is still conflicted and torn by the demons of his past but he's assuredly coming into his own. and stepping into the larger-than-life shoes of his legacy.

Frentis was indeed the most refreshing character in this book for me - the horrors of slavery at the hands of his enigmatic but cruel mistress and then redemption in the later half almost reminds you of Vaelin from book-one but not quite enough. Lyrna is a washed out drugged version of her former self - wherein Blood Song had her matching her ferocious intelligence with the daring and selfless bravery of Vaelin, book-two sees her adrift and clueless most of the time. (Until the last act !)

Reva - breath of fresh air. Slightly unbelievable in terms of her tremendous character growth through the book - from a frightened, abused girl, prisoner to her misguided zealous beliefs to the fearless, scheming and clever leader of men at the siege of cumbraelin by the end of the book. But hell yes, she kicks ass and then some. A character I look forward to hearing more about in book-three.

As the 3rd book title suggests (Queen of Fire), is the focus shifting away from Vaelin to Lyrna now, is something that I ponder. not for long though ( Hooray! I got an ARC for the same - that is releasing in the US today !!)

Anyways in conclusion, Tower Lord is a much more complex and ambitious book than its predecessor. While the sweeping narrative expands the world like never before, the tight focus on the prophecy of the One who Waits ( now known as the Ally!) has faltered, perhaps angering a loyal legion of fans. I am not one among them. I liked it. Yes it has its faults - slower and much of the understated humor from book one is slowly evaporating in face of the life-death situations the characters are put in. But ultimately it's a rewarding experience - Anthony Ryan's consummate and highly entertaining storytelling skills excel here as well - making reading this tome a breeze. His focus on action scenes is even more razor sharp now - with intimate one-on-one combat scenes that freeze your brains to sweeping battle scenes that gets your heart racing. The story ends on a cliff hanger that calls for book three immediately - and fortunately for me, its HERE!