Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal

Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal promised to be a swashbuckling seafaring fantasy series with mercenaries, mermaids and monks dragged into a war that threatens the land of Valdur. It had all the makings of an explosive read - pirates, political intrigue and lots of action, a nautical epic fantasy series. Just what the doctor ordered.

I got an ARC copy from Solaris and was giddy with excitement about the prospects - and dove headlong without too much distractions, meaning I didn't bother to read up the early reviews on the book or give heed much about the plot either.

The initial chapters sucked me in - where in rapid succession, Clifford introduces us to the three main protagonists: Acquel, a former thief turned into a grey robed acolyte, Danamis, a pirate turned King's Admiral and Captain Strykar, a no-nonsense mercenary who only wants to get back to his duke. Each with their own story-arcs and Clifford had managed to up the ante on the tension-levels from get-go. Very soon, the story-arcs entwined ( too soon for my liking! ) and sea-faring adventures take on a darker sinister turn with the overtones of faith gone ugly. Mix in some political intrigue - and the Empire of Valdur was all set to implode under the weight of all this.

So a trip down into the dungeons where the remains of Elded the Lawgiver rests, turns into a nightmare for Acquel when he discovers a terrible secret about their God. Acquel is now hunted by the Priesthood for they don't want the secrets spilling out to the general public - Captain Strykar, who is leading a band of mercenaries stumbles upon Acquel and decides to take him in. Out on the high seas, Danamis is facing treason and mutiny from his own kin as he's been trading with the blasphemous merfolk and people are grumbling about this unnatural partnership. Very soon, the unrest breaks out into full fledged mutiny and he is left with just one ship, a handful of his own sailors and Strykar's company of men who help him escape before the axe falls. The conspiracies continue to entwine and nest down as Danamis realizes the plot may even involve the future of his kingdom. The rest of the story is about he extricates himself out of this hot dripping mess, in the process discovering himself and the loyalty of his whole gang.

Clifford's first foray into epic fantasy is well written, paced evenly and ends with a bang. In the middle however, as he is fleshing out this world - a smitten of renaissance Europe mixed up with the world of seafaring scoundrels - the story for me, seemed to go slightly floundering, bogged down by its own weight. I had no issues with the overall story or the narrative itself but it was the characters that I really failed to get into.

Danamis, the chief protagonist remains an arrogant man who just cannot get out of his vanity to even care for the people dependent on him. Towards the end, there are changes - but he ultimately remains a selfish man who is hard to like. Captain Strykar would have made for a very interesting character but sadly, we see precious little of what drives him.

The monk, Acquel - now that was a character I grew to like. His transformation from the craven man fearing for his life into the righteous monk touched by the hands of fate and doesn't flinch away from his responsibilities, was the highlight of the book for me. His troubled affair with the Widow Timandare however did sour up things a bit, leaving me a bit dry. The female characters, apart from the widow who wants to follow and help the brother so to wash away the sins of her past, didn't really affect the overall narrative. She remains a pawn in the pacy machinations of the political hijinks that leads to some non-stop action thrills throughout the book. That brings us to the other female character, Citala. That beautiful mermaid who has a fascination for the human race. And sadly unlike what the blurb will have you believe, Citala really doesn't get into the story until a bit late. and I think that was a colossal waste of a character arc. Would have loved to see more of the merfolk and their unique culture. The author also sprinkles his tales with dangerous and beautiful creatures of the wild, who lend their own twists to the tale.

Ultimately, the initial intrigue that built up - with the introduction of each character and the overall story-arch binding each one up into an explosive narrative - really was let down by shallow characterization, given up for the pacing and the action. I liked the novel but it could have been soo much more awesome if we had been convinced about the main guys. But considering where the first book ends, I might return to the Tales of Valdur. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Custodian of Marvels by Rod Duncan

The Custodian of Marvels marks the end of the amazing series that was Rod Duncan's successful foray into fantasy - with the Bullet Catcher's Daughter - bringing things to a satisfactory finish, tying up most threads introduced over the course of the last couple of books.

In the Gas-Lit Empire, Rod has built one of the most fascinating alternate historical settings, a world teetering on the edge of technological innovations, running on steam-punk somewhere in an alternate nineteenth century world, where the lines are drawn between the Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales.

Into this setting, Rod gave us Elizabeth Barnabus - a child of a disbanded traveling circus, who grew up never compromising on her disgraced father's truths & principles, mastering the art of disguise and guile, hanging on to that desire to avenge the wrongs done to her. A clever, resolute and a very brave young woman who's learned to walk the tightrope of life in this hostile world solely through her resourcefulness and razor sharp mind. I was in love with this character right from book one - and all the hints about how she brought low the Gas-Lit empire, was fuel enough to keep me going from the first book till this dramatic finish to the events by Book three. Also, Rod kept me guessing about this strange and utterly fascinating undercurrent of love between her and the International Office Agent John Farthing - will they or won't they? Enemies on different sides of a war. But hey, am running ahead of myself here.

So Book three starts with Elizabeth trying to stay one step ahead of the duke's people & the agents of the International Patent Office - floating the canals of England, trying to save Tinker ( remember the boy from Unseemly Science?) and herself on her boat. And she soon realizes that she probably has the only copy of the Bullet-Catcher's Handbook - a manual recording truths and tricks as gained by performing artists from a long time ago - left in the world, unedited by the Patent Office - a prize that makes her a prime target for a lot of folks around. An unlikely savior arises in the form of Fabulo, a dwarf in the traveling circus from the earlier book - who proposes a daring plan of a heist - to rob the very headquarters of the International Patent Office. Elizabeth has nothing to lose - and jumps onto the plan. The only problem being - we are talking about the Patent Office here. Swarming with international guards. Dummy locks that cannot be picked. And on top of all, somebody called the Custodian of Marvels whose only duty is to protect all the marvels stored in that vault under the International Patent Court. Never an easy day in paradise, huh.

The book takes its time to get going - initially meandering along the canals of England without purpose - just as lost as Elizabeth, frustrated by her aimless life, trying to stay ahead of the Duke of Northampton's long hands. I have mentioned in my previous books reviews that I was really looking forward to some kind of a showdown between the Duke and Elizabeth. It did happen - and well, I was disappointed to a certain extent. But Rod very cleverly keeps the focus of the book, for large parts on this spectacularly planned and meticulously carried out heist - where a group of the most unlikely robbers hit the International Patent Court. Elizabeth of course has her own selfish interest to be a part - to clear her father's name wrongly convicted by the Duke.

Once the heist is planned, though - reading the book was like watching a trapeze artist in action. Making you gasp and shudder as each plan fails and the next contingency one kicks in. Fleeting highs, thrilling lows when the plan almost fails to get through. Elizabeth is still the focus of the whole narrative - though in addition to her, Fabulo the dwarf credited with the overall plan of the heist and Jeremiah, the talented locksmith around whose skillful hands the whole plan revolved, are the two main characters whom I absolutely loved.

Both have their own demons to slay - and with Elizabeth, a pivotal cog in their overall plans to defy their own authorities - they set their plans in motion. Elizabeth still remains the young woman given to selfless brave acts and flashes of absolutely ingenuity and brilliance that saves the day - I would leave you readers to find out more about the love-story of course.

Overall, this is a fitting end to the story of plucky Elizabeth Barnabus, the girl who defied the agents of the Patent Office more than once - and gave the slip to the determined soldiers of the duke. It's a clever book, a new direction for the story of how the Gas-Lit Empire came to fall. Stick with it through the slow start and you will be rewarded with a thrilling heist story with it's twists and turns. A series you shouldn't miss - a wonderful alternate history series come alive through the eyes of a kickass character you will come for root for against all odds. Rod Duncan, you made me a happy camper! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marvel's Daredevil - Season 2 - Official Trailer

So Daredevil Season-1 was a binge watch for me last month and what a series! I was blown away by the performances - the grit and dark of how the whole fight for Hell's Kitchen was orchestrated on the mini-screen. These days I get goosebumps when I think of Netflix Originals!!

So was super excited to see the first trailer for season-2 that was released a few days back! Can't wait to share with my readers!! And the fight for Hell's Kitchen gets blown up a whole different direction with the introduction of Mr. Frank Castle AKA Punisher - another of my favorite comic characters in this universe. And hey, DO WAIT FOR THE END!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a popular meme with a lot of fantasy book bloggers - and I thought I should jump on to this one - considering how MANY books I really look forward to :)

So this Wednesday, the featured book that I'd kill to get my hands on is The Last Mortal Bond. Brian Staveley has definitely become one of my favorite epic fantasy author of recent times and the way he ended things in The Providence of Fire, aaarrrghhhhh !!!

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all—Valyn, Adare, and Kaden—come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

The trilogy that began with The Emperor’s Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley’s The Last Mortal Bond—available March 15th from Tor Books and March 24th from Tor UK

P.S - If you want to torture yourself anymore, then go ahead and read the excerpts on tor.com for Chapters 1 to 5. Then squirm as you wait for the book release. Like me. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dead Pool - A Movie Review

So the snarkiest super-hero of the Marvel franchise, Dead Pool finally hits the big screen! And with a such a resoundingly loud bang! that catapults Ryan Reynolds into the pantheon of super-hero greatness wiping away all his previous bad luck outings - with Green Lantern/Blade Trinity/X-men Wolverine Origins stories.

A mile-a-minute wise cracker who cannot keep it shut even in the most dire circumstances, Wade Wilson has been dealt too many rotten apples in life. So when Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) comes along waltzing into his life, the super cynical merc for hire knows its just a side-show in life. And reality comes slamming back with a fourth-stage cancer that threatens to take him away his dream-girl.

To deal life one-up, Wade signs up with a medical camp where the patients are treated to bring out their mutant powers - and thus fight against any kinds of disease. However, this is where life really starts to spin away out of control for Wade. Little does he realize that he's signed up with a British badass and maniac named Ajax who doesn't really care for the patients and along with his butch girlfriend, Angel only wants to create super-slaves to be auctioned out for hire to the highest bidder.

The movie is told in alternating time-lines and really skewers up any expectations you may have had on the lines of a marvel franchise. In fact, in being irreverent, grisly, bloody and laugh-out-loud funny, Dead Pool manages to be unique compared to all other Marvel outings. It remains faithful to the comic book in its nasty overtones that are not subdued and the action is over-the-top - where Deadpool combines parkour and the art of katana-swinging into one of his own inimitable style statement action signature. The crude jokes never stop, delivered like a anti-aircraft rail-gun on auto-mode.  Be it a dig on Proffessor Xavier, the X-men or teenage girls - and many more, they just keep coming at you.

The side-characters do shine their own light on the deliriously comic overtones of this movie [ for example, take Weasel, Wade's best friend who runs the bar called Sister Margaret's Home for Wayward Girls that's essentially the meeting point for all heavies on hire in the neighborhood. T J Miller is brilliant as the barman who cracks jokes with that serious poker face on! So are the characters of Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Kolossus - X-men(?) in Xavier's school for gifted, out to recruit Deadpool into X-men. Bringing in some levity towards the dark gritty end of the movie, is the character of Blind Al - widow, crack-addicted smart-talking granny who is Deadpool's room-mate. Not much screen space as in the comics but the quips traded back and forth between them are glorious!

But the entire movie is the star-vehicle for Ryan Reynolds - whose comic timing is perfect, alternating with some super rare tender moments in the movie. The gusto and verve with which he pulls off the character of the zany, fucked-up jumpster of a superhero is truly exceptional. Forced to be in a red and black spandex most of the time, it's not really his facial expressions but that sharp tongue that lashes out at everything around in the screen - that takes the cake.

Right from the starting credits where the director Tim Miller calls himself an 'overpaid tool', the movie reels away from the atmosphere that X-men or Marvels movie franchise has been known to create. This one's a completely flipped out, irreverent train-wreck that remains audacious to the core till the end winning back fans of the Marvel universe. It is a laugh-riot that is definitely one of the more genuinely relatable origins story that I've seen in the recent past. Dead Pool lays waste to the very idea of a superhero story - And tongue-firmly-in-cheek, it's a demolition job that should explode Ryan Reynolds' super hero status in the future for sure. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hello February!

So we are already into the second month of the year! Wow. Time's set on beating records again. Well, my readings been terribly slow - according to my GR reading goals for the year, I am 2 books behind schedule. The numbers? Did about 4 books in January and am halfway through 2 more! So thought will just list down the ones that are releasing in Feb and are on my highly anticipated list as well!

Morning Star by Pierce Brown 
Genre: Science Fiction
Published by Del Rey, Feb 9th

One of the most awaited conclusions ever to the Red Rising trilogy! Will Mars be drenched in blood? Will Darrow, Sevro and Mustang survive this revolution?

Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Published by Solaris books, Feb 9th.

Swashbuckling pirates meets gritty politics GRRM Style in Clifford Beal's new fantasy novel - that seems to mix up a lot of things on the plate. I am halfway through this one and it's quite a romp! Review up next.

Chains of Heretic by Jeff Salyards
Genre: Epic fantasy (Grim dark)
Published by Night Shade Books, Feb 2nd

An author who is criminally under-read and under-appreciated, Jeff Salyards is the rockstar of Fantasy whom you didn't know about. The BloodSounder's arc comes to a stunning conclusion with the Chains of Heretic - and by all accounts, I have heard, this book tops the expectations and blows it away. I am catching up on book-2 and looking forward to get the last part of this wonderful grimdark series.

The Custodian of Marvels by Rod Duncan
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published by Angry Robot Books, Feb 2nd

Rod Duncan's successful foray into fantasy with the Bullet Catcher's Daughter made quite a splash when it came out a couple of years ago. He is going strong - with Elizabeth Barnabus and the Office of the Patents, mysteries and secrets continue to tumble out of the hidden pages of history. This one marks the end to this tumultuous and utterly wonderful series.

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelley
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published by Saga Press, Feb 2nd

Heard loads about this one - and got myself a shiny new review copy from Saga Press. Will soon be diving into this. set in the 1920's, a novel that has magic and gangtsa parties, forming a "rip-roaring alternate history" Woohoo! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Alloy of Law ( Second Mistborn Trilogy #1) by Brandon Sanderson

I'm a huge fan of Mr. Sanderson - he possibly is the most hard working author in this planet. And the release schedules of Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning speak for that. Plus he's got a brand new Mistborn Novella out as well this month. Add to that, Calamity (Reckoners # 3) coming out soon enough. Phew! Does this guy even take a break for breathing ?

So Alloy of Law is a return to the wonderful world of Mistborn - albeit some hundreds of years later when technology has started to make its presence felt in the world. Steam-punk adventure clashes with the lawless wild west in setting drawn from Victorian sensibilities - throw in some underplayed romance, lots of 'bromance', an amazing magic system and a lot of non-stop action - guns fights and explosions galore - and then you realize how much fun this slim book packs in between its covers.

Some people would pan the book for being lighthearted - for all the witty banter and shallow fun this book is - but I would want to point out, that yes - this book was probably written in between more serious heavy books that Sanderson writes but it wears its claim right up top on it's sleeve - that it's great fun and a wholesome entertaining read. Sanderson just keeps getting better at it. His narrative flow is flawless and the way he builds up the action is unparalleled. The pacing is breakneck and we are swept along with the twists and turns of the story along with our protagonists.

Wax, a lawman from the Roughs ( equivalent to the lawless wild west ) is called back to the City to take over the operations of his House when his uncle gets killed in an untoward accident. House Ladrian that Wax is the heir to, is in financial trouble and Wax has to get his act together. But things in the city start going topsy turvy when a gang of robbers known only as the Vanishers are waylaying railway trains and also kidnapping women. Wax's cynical buddy from his six-shooter lawman days, Wayne pops up in town urging Wax to don back his old duster and pick up those "sterrions" to go after them criminals in the city. That's exactly what he does - when his betrothed gets kidnapped, making new friends, picking up old enemies while the world goes to hell.

It's a short book - and the scope is pretty personal. but the best part about the book is, the way Brandon manages to get the reader to care about these two gunmen out to save the city and its residents from a cynical antagonist with his misplaced fears and philosophy. He drags in a genius girl who underplays her confidence and intelligence from the world - plays for an interesting undertone of romance that is never explored though. I loved Wayne - for his loud mouthed boorish attempts at humor and self-deprecation but Wax as a character really drove the story forwards. The brilliant Marasi is never given too much face time sadly. Other characters are all fringe and serve only as plot points.

Enough has been praised for the detailed Magic system in the book - and Brandon as usual, is brilliant with the detailed system - Allomancy and Ferruchemistry(?) that allows for lot of neat tricks through out the book. What with our hero, Wax being a Twinborn who can harness both systems of magic. There are solid references to characters( or Gods?) from the past books but it doesn't deter the reading much. Nevertheless, it is a stand alone that is great fun and an easy read. A delicious snack or an appetizer before the big meal. Perhaps. I got into it as I got the next couple of books that complete the trilogy and a big part of the larger Cosmere that Brandon is drawing up.

Brandon Sanderson continues to be in blazing form and this is just another jewel in that embellished crown on that head. More power to you, Sir Sanderson. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Brilliance by Markus Sakey

Perhaps 2016 is the year when I will be fully utilizing the worth of Kindle Unlimited and the treasure trove of great books I can unearth in there!

So Brilliance by Markus Sakey was one of such finds. I have not read a good thriller book in ages - mired as I am by this need to plow through my Fantasy to-be-read pile that shows no sign of growing smaller. But this book in a lot many ways, was such a comfort read. Predictable at turns yes, but still a nail-biting thriller written in a grand Hollywood scale with the fate of the world to be decided by a few people kind of premise. This definitely was a winner for me! A good fun read. A mile-a-minute train-wreck of a thriller blending in sci-fi elements of 'gifted' people against the rest of the world ( X-men anyone? Bingo! Similar premise but well, the story runs away on a different track altogether with all stops pulled out and the pedal pressed firmly to the floor!) The first part of a trilogy in Brilliance, Markus known for his razor-sharp thriller writing launches the reader into a full-on heated debate about the disruption as created by a small percentage of gifted individuals known as 'brilliants' who can outsmart and out-think the rest of us, the resulting darkness as spilled over by the need to contain such by certain government agencies and the uncertain future into which such a world is plunged into. It's a book that definitely merits thinking and discussion - but full marks for Markus for having us hanging on to the plot that never stops to take any prisoners and steamrolls full ahead. A novel definitely worthy of being made into a full American "patriotic" movie by Michael Bay and Co. Smirk.

So our protagonist, Nick Cooper is a detective who can "predict" people's actions based on their body language, thereby avoiding sticky situations with his targets. Also known as the "gas" man sent out to neutralize targets as decided by this government agency known as DAR( Department of Analysis and Response, an innocuous name if any for a government agency armed with more jurisdiction and power than Homeland Security, NSA CIA and FBI tied together! Throwing off any suspicions about what it actually might be doing!) From the very first chase on a roof-top - tracking down a computer genius who "dreams of the most beautiful software programs never written" about to unleash a deadly virus that could take down a few hundred men/machines - we are immediately drawn to the character of Nick, A solid reliable man - a family guy with a divorced wife and kids whom he adores - the kind of man whom you want on your side during any kind of an argument and feel good about it. Marcus neatly splits up the narrative into 3 parts - introducing us to Nick, the top guys at the agency - and then part 2 about where Nick goes undercover and part-3 is where the proverbial shit hits the fan as conspiracies tumble out of their hidden depths and everything goes to hell.

The book is pretty clever in it's approach to this big question - what if x-men were true? if they existed among us as ordinary 'looking' mortals, nevertheless with incredible powers to work the stock market and embezzle billions, play the superbowl and be that relentlessly super MVP season after season or maybe just a plain terrorist who is the strategic equivalent of Einstein in our times and has world domination plans. Nick's character is the foil through which the events unfold - and the reaction to such revelations world over would be the same as is presented in the book. Fear, anxiety and confusion worldwide at the discrimination meted out and this atmosphere of uncertainty being expertly ridden by ambitious government hacks to push through their own vested agendas.

The story starts off really well presenting us with this fantastic premise and the plans of the terrorists slowly start to take shape - with the world going up smoke and dust - forcing Nick and his superiors to take up desperate measures. After this, slowly though the narrative devolves into predictable twists and turns - I was slightly bored by the end chapters with the characters getting into playful banter in the face of overwhelming odds just before getting into that showdown. While Nick is the tour-de-force throughout the book, there are other characters like Shannon and Bobby Quinn with his gallows humor that I enjoyed a lot. But what Markus really does well is balance out the non-stop action and the political intrigue and present a thoroughly enjoyable thrill-ride in Brilliance. I won't say this one's brilliant but the book is a sure-fire page-turner and a gripping intense one at that. A cinematic escape set in a believable alternate reality in the near-future of humanity, Markus Sakey hits the bulls-eye with this outing. Brilliance continues with a Better World - and more recently, book-3 Written in Fire just came out. So it's a great time to dip yourself into a stunning world imagined and executed brilliantly by the master of mindful page-turners.