Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fellside by M R Carey

After the Unwritten graphic novel series and The Girl with All the Gifts, M R Carey ( Pen name ) is now one of my all time favorite writer. His novels are a reality-check, a sucker-punch to the guts in the way things finally unfold, mostly bleak and grim but the overall narratives work wonders in terms of driving the plot forward. I love his novels.

And so with Fellside. If you are here seeking a 'spiritual' sequel to Girl with All the Gifts or are looking to be taken on a similar flow, then you are going to be disappointed. Fellside is a different book - a book much closer to reality dealing with pain, guilt and greed - all things human in a very grim book set inside a maximum-security prison.

But that short description really doesn't do the book justice - as Carey paints a sympathetic picture of Jess Moulson, the girl accused of manslaughter of a ten-year old boy and having deliberately set the apartment complex on fire, while being high on drugs. Jess is on a guilt-trip, a downward spiral and really has nothing to look forward to in life. Having been sentenced to imprisonment inside Fellside, Jess decides to starve herself to death. But things within Fellside take on a completely different trajectory - bringing Jess back to terms with how ugly and fragile life itself can be.

With Fellside, Carey sets out to explore the human mind ( in a setting as real as it can get, a prison as opposed to the post-apocalyptic world). The level of suffering and abuse it can take on and still trudge on - and he lays this over with supernatural elements ( So Jess who's been able to transcend through others' dreams frequently does so with the help of a 'new friend' she makes inside the walls. )

It's quite a depressing book, if you look at things lopsided - life inside the prison, brutal, ugly and as fragile as a silk thread. The characters that Carey introduces the reader to within the prison - are all highly flawed with their own vested agenda revolving around survival. I was particularly impressed by the character of Harriet Grace, the uncrowned queen within the jail who's got her fingers in every other pie ( or racket) running within and without the prison walls. So much so, that the trusted warden Devlin is her puppet - a lover who dances to her tunes and sets up all the illegal trafficking goods business that Grace is running inside Fellside. And then there's Dr. Salazar, the man who's cowed down by the 'accidents' in his life and has given up on his dream of making the prison a better place. A coward who cannot stand up against the bullying by Devlin or Grace. In addition, Carey also takes time to flesh out a lot many side characters who really bring out the oppressive nature of that living within the walls of the prison. It goes on to establish that Fellside is a world in itself. Complex relationships, strict hierarchy, intransigent rules and a whole bunch of weird inmates for whom suffering, violence and death have become a way of life. Jess definitely is the outlaw here and to make matters worse, her frequent astral projections into the other-world space leaves her much more of an outsider than ever.

Carey writes as engaging well as ever - building up sympathy for the central character of Jess who's got problems in the real world as well as other different planes. The way he brings in the supernatural elements into the narrative makes her story-arc pretty compelling. The book's got its flaws - it takes too long for us to get going, there are characters' whose stories are downright shudder-inducing, the violence is too real and too close to life and Jess' frequent trips into the Other space really loses sheen pretty fast ( at least for me!) It's like Carey really doesn't want to fictionalize the truths inside a prison and is giving us the raw real deal. But in the middle of this extremely realistic situation, he wants us to do a suspension of disbelief and go on a dream-trip with his heroine. I am not sure it works as effectively.

But as a novel, while not quite a strong follow-up to the Girl with All the Gifts ( because hey, you cannot help but draw a parallel) Fellside is definitely a scary, all-too realistic a walk on the other side of the wall - the line between harsh reality of a prison and the fantasy elements of a dream is blurry but Carey's strong writing turns out to be the winner here, making this grimly hopeful prison-story an eminently readable choice. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar children is an intriguing title - and I confess that while I've heard of the book, I never really thought about checking it out. But yesterday, the trailer caught my attention and Tim Burton's artistic vision really brings out the mystery, adventure and creeping sense of unease that tinges the whole premise. I will get my hands on the book - but for now, feast on Eva Green!! and of course, the peculiar children.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Knight's Shadow ( Greatcoats# 2) by Sebastien De Castell

Traitor's Blade was one of the best debuts of 2014 and also one of my best reads that year. I wasn't sure how Sebastien De Castell was going to top that. And yet incredibly, he does just that - and so wonderfully well! With the second book in the Greatcoats series, Knight's Shadow that follows the exploits of the lovable roguish trio of Falcio, Kest and Brasti - as they go about trying to fulfill their king's last wishes in a country that is rapidly falling in to the chaos of civil war.

Knight's Shadow picks up right after the events in the Traitor's Blade - where Falcio is struggling with the poison of neatha in his blood, Kest after having defeated Caveil and thus taken on the mantle of the Saint of the Swords is also buckling under the unprecedented "fever" that Saints's experience and Brasti's jokes are getting even more unbearable and his shaky faith in their king's ideals are crumbling even faster. Trin is marching across the North trying to muster the support for claim to the throne while on the other end,Tailor as bloodthirsty and cold-blooded in her aim to protect Aline, the King's daughter, wants Falcio and gang to enlist the help of Dukes in the south toward's Aline's cause.

The trio head over to meet Duke Isault to get his backing for the same but things turn topsy turvy as Duke gets murdered and a Greatcoat sent by King Paelis to infiltrate the Duke's castle gets framed - and unfortunately ends up dead as well. This puts a huge monkey-wrench in Falcio's plans of getting the knights' support added for Tailor. The conspiracies then begins to thicken as newer players enter the fray - knights wearing black tabards without any allegiance to a particular duke hell bent on just cutting up the commoners and setting the whole country on fire. Also older enemies, Dashini - a legendary sect of assassins re-enter the game, hell bent on avenging their dead brothers against Falcio. To make matters worse, the poison in his blood is making him weaker than ever - and Falcio knows he is counting his days ahead.

The snappy narrative and breakneck pacing is carried over from the first book - a lot of witty banter and fantastic action sequences:  one-on-one sword fights, sweeping armies clashing against each other, all of this is thrown right at you from the start of the book itself. There were a lot of moments that I was just smiling to myself reading the dialogues - be it Kest and Falcio trying put Brasti in place or exchanges between Falcio and the dukes. But the wit truly doesn't cover up for the mood in this book: this one's a lot more somber and darker than the first one. As Falcio and friends start uncovering the trail of a wider conspiracy to throw the whole country into chaos and burning. The grim and bleak sequences only add to the character of the book [There are some truly horrific and dark situations that Castell puts his beloved crew through - the battle at Carefal, the incidents at the Dashini camp or the Greatcoat's Lament !] and tempers our Greatcoats, testing their valor, loyalties and resolves to the limits. Time and again, Falcio has to go through severe tests of his faith in the King's vision for the country and this struggle - coupled with all the other complications that the greatcoats have to face through the book, really brought the shine out in that friendship of the three leading characters. I say three, but perhaps Brasti - the light hearted comedian with his incorrigible jokes perhaps gets left behind a bit. While the book yet again celebrates the brotherly bonding between Falcio, Kest and Brasti, Sebastien focuses a bit more on the long-lasting friendship and backstories to Kest and Falcio - the trials of fire they undergo make them come out all the more stronger for it. Sebastien also introduces us to Dariana - a cynical and vicious young lady who's got a crucial role to play in the events unfolding and also Valiana, the girl who was being groomed for the queen till the last moment by Duchess Patriana in book-one, who has turned over a golden leaf and becomes one of the fiercest and proud believer in Falcio's principles and goals.

We see a lot more travel for Falcio and his friends throughout the nation of Tristia - thereby building out more of the world and mythologies surrounding the greatcoats. In spite of all this, the book isn't a meandering ride but a driven, furious onslaught that takes no prisoners. The book truly blew me away by it's intensity and focus - the thrills, the humor and the fights are top-class and there is no second book slump at all here. So if you liked the 'swashbuckling' debut of Sebastien, then this is the book where he truly comes into his own class. The Greatcoats series is going in for a big-bang and you don't want to miss this exhilarating ride. Trust me, when Falcio says, The Greatcoats are coming, I really had goosebumps - and I cannot wait for the new one, releasing next month! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne concludes with this stunning third volume, The Last Mortal Bond, bringing to a cataclysmic explosive climax that ties up the individual threads of the three heirs to the Annurian Empire. And with this, I officially declare that Brian Staveley is my all time favorite epic fantasy writer.

No seriously. I MEAN it. I haven't had so much fun reading the last part of a trilogy in a long while. I obviously didn't want the tale to end - and I kept dragging it. But the grim suspense, the bleak horror and the never-ending tales of intrigue and dark twists kept me up night after night.

So I was in Malaysia, Borneo Island, holidaying for five days - and everyday I drag myself back to my room after an exhausting day of adventure ( Psst! Read snorkeling, diving, river cruises, waterfall treks!) I still managed to stay up and read the harrowing events unfolding - built like a double helix around each other, twisting and winding up the threads - as each of the three children of the Malkeenian empire move along invisible paths,only to clash together and explode. And all the events that Brian has built up over the last couple of books in the series serve as fodder soaked up in lighter fluid for the extreme fireworks in this one. And mind you, we reach the flash point pretty early itself.

The shocking turn of events at the end of The Providence of Fire left us hanging over a crumbling ledge. The third book picks up roughly about a year after. So Kaden has overthrown his father's empire - and against all odds, has brought together the older nobles in Annur under the umbrella of a Republic while Adare is still out in the North, having declared herself the Emperor and is vainly trying to keep the borders from collapsing under the collective might of the barbarian hordes of the Urghul. Led by a shaman, Long Fist whose battle tactics are too erratic and brilliant for him to be just a normal human. And these attacks are being repelled by an equally brilliant, non-human General for the empire - Ran il Tornja, the wily C'estriim and now Kenarang for the Annurian Empire, who will go to any extent to see the human civilization destroyed. Gwenna, left to be the reluctant leader of the shattered Kettral rebel wing, has to come to terms with the loss of Valyn and needs to decide on her next course of action.

The pieces on the board have been arraying themselves for too long. The munition packets have been planted a long time ago and the fuses are now burning short. It all goes on to become a kent-kissing shael-spawned goat-fuck as it comes together in a spectacular glorious curtains-down with all out war in the Annurian Empire. A war that spawns different forms and shapes. The wild frothy mix includes Gods of Pain and Pleasure, the Ishien bred as warriors with the sole purpose of eradicating the C'estriim, the barbarian hordes of Urghuls, the last remaining Kettrals and their giant war-birds and lots more in the fray. Trust me, it's just amazing that Brian has tried to cram it all into the semblance of a story-plot. Because it could all have gone haywire. But Brian weaves it all together in such an authoritative fashion that the ending leaves you absolutely spent, but in all ways satisfied and happy.

The story is much more violent, darker and chaotic than the first two books - so in that way, it felt like Brian did justice to the fact that this, indeed, was the bloody climax. So taking whatever was introduced over last two books and then cranking up the intensity to a hundred times more on all those fronts - The Last Mortal Bond ends the series in perhaps, one of the most realistic and bleak endings I have seen in a series. That war has its own devastating consequences and it's never all guts and glory. The scope of the story, that was stretched wide open by the end of book two, remains epic and each of the individual storylines merge, blur, come apart at the seams and again converge in a rousing finale that stretches over 100+ pages of a bloody war. The build-up to this war itself is wrought in spine-twisting tension, blistering action set-pieces ( All the parts where Gwenna and her gang come in got me whooping and cheering in delight - She's clearly my hot favorite when it comes to the characterization!) and the suspense grew on me as how Brian was going to wrap this one up. How was he going to tie all this off together satisfactorily.

So Kaden, the emperor-to-be abnegates his rights to the Unhewn Throne but he cannot remain aloof and forever sunken inside his kenta - His denial of the throne sometimes also extends to the larger human-kind as the futility of what he is trying to achieve weighs down on  him throughout his story-arc. While his extreme lack of emotions helps the reader make an objective assessment of the events unfolding, I kept wishing for more color in this guy's life! His uneven relationship with Triste is fully explored in this book and I felt, it has come out really well. One of my favorite off-beat characters, Pyrre makes her appearance again at the fag-end of the book, a welcome return to the chaos that the Skullsworn live for.

Adare is a woman I've come to admire - A character that has grown from strength to strength, from book to book. Now a mother of an infant and also the emperor responsible for the future of the Annurian empire, she's really become this tough nut. Even though beneath the mask, she still is unsure and vulnerable about her choices, she puts up that brave face and sticks through shit and muck to ensure she's being fair. I also adored the side-character of Nira, Councillor to Adare, for her grim outlook and expletive laden advice worth their weight in gold, delivered in her usual acerbic and witty manner.

I will let you guys discover Valyn in this book - though have to say this about him: He clearly was my favorite POV throughout this series - even through the ending, he still remains a favorite. But somewhere in the middle of the third book, I clearly have switched camps to the Gwenna side. She is one hell of a character, unabashed, uncomplicated, straight as a stick and tougher than the toughest meanest bad boy out there ( and that, there are many!) She absolutely doesn't take any prisoners and I love her for the attitude she brings to the fight.

One big reason as to why I LOVED this book, is basically Brian's writing. As a writer myself, this is the one book that has inspired me to go back and get down hard at work on my own writings. His prose is gilt-edged and power-packed. He brings alive the bleak hopeless war and clearly is getting better with every book. Even though this book may have been the longest in terms of pages, there was so much going on with each different character, that the reading felt like flying. He's paced the book well and it hits a an almost feverish note by the last few hundred pages. I cannot really pick on a point that I didn't like. For me, this book  definitely has been one of the best series-endings I have read  and I can lay my ass on the line, that this one is going to be one of the best books in 2016.

So overall, a beautiful and glorious ending to a series achieved in a manner, most gut-wrenching, bleak but realistic and captivating as hell. Brian Staveley has written himself onto that pantheon of "greats" in the fantasy genre - and the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne will go down as that series which started off by ticking all the right boxes in book one, built and expanded on it's strength giving us an amazing second book but clearly hit the ball right out of the park with this third concluding one.
This is a series that you just shouldn't be missing out on. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This week, on the Waiting on Wednesday, the featured book is Saint's Blood by Sebastien De Castell. Concluding the GreatCoats series (A sort of Three Musketeers in fantasy land romp that follows the the life and deeds of the three Greatcoats - Falcio, Kest and Brasti.) I enjoyed Traitor's Blade a lot and am looking to wrap up the series now.

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

Published by Jo Fletcher Books on April 7th, 2016. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March is here upon us!

February for some reason, has been a really long month for me. Lotta fire-fighting on different fronts! But phew - the good news, I did manage to put in time on the reading front - and the last book I finished, The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley marking the end of The Unhewn Throne, was a spectacular finish to all the events building up over the past two books! Easily one of the best finishes to a trilogy, one I couldn't have asked for more. If you do not pick up this book, I will personally come and unleash all kinds of kent-kissing shael-spawned hell's fires :)

But hey - look at that date! 3rd March. Time steals another one on us - and we are already at the end of the first quarter. Doing okay in terms of the number of book, hit eleven by end of Feb and should be sitting pretty at the end of March.

So March books I'm super excited about!

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Published by Tor books (Macmillan)

The stunning conclusion to the Unhewn Throne chronicles that follows the lives of the three heirs to the Annur Empire who are walking a knife's edge. This one's going to be a violent, dark conclusion coming in with all three protagonists coming in on a collision course. ( Psst. So I finished this and it's going to be Kent-Kissing Awesome times infinity)

Javelin Rain by Myke Cole
Genre: Fantasy
Published by Ace Roc

Myke Cole has pretty much owned the space of Military Fantasy with his first series, but the second series starting with Gemini Cell has been far more personal and a lot more exciting. The second installment comes on Mar 29th and I cannot wait to get back to this world.

Snakewood by Adrian Selby
Genre: Fantasy
Published by Orbit Books

A lot of comparisons to the grimdark kings like Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence, this book is generating a lot of hype - chiefly because Adrian apparently built his world over the course of twenty years! This one sounds very promising and I cannot wait to read this one.

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas
Genre: Science Fiction/Alternate Reality
Published by Angry Robot Books

The spiritual sequel to Phillip K Dick's Man in the High Castle, its been on my most-wanted ever since I heard about it. This book came out on Mar 1st from Angry Robot and is making waves.

Spider's War by Daniel Abraham
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Published by Orbit Books

The conclusion to one of the finest running epic fantasy sagas, I have always marveled at Daniel Abraham's writing chops. Dagger and Coin will go down as one of the best ever series written in the history of the genre.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: Teens/YA Fiction
Published by Viking Books

Djinnis, Magic and a teenage protagonist. American wild west in an Arabic world? Wow. What's not to like ? Please give me a copy ASAP!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reburialists by J C Nelson

I admit I haven't read J C Nelson - famous for his Grimm novel series, his own twist on the fairy tales. So yet again, I dove into a new author - this time, an urban fantasy with zombies thrown in for good measure and came out, absolutely in love with the book and this new author.

Sometimes when I think about it, this is exactly the reason why I love reviewing/reading books. That indescribably wonderful feeling of having made the right bet - of having discovered a new author whom I will follow to the ends of the earth and beyond - provided he keeps up those precious writing chops! In case of J C Nelson, my bets paid off and am happy to say, that his latest book, Reburialists is a snappy urban fantasy featuring zombies against the backdrop of an elaborate mythology - and really kicks ass - in the action and humor department. A blazing fast read for me - as I was on vacation and hopping planes to get to Borneo and had lots of time to kill on the flights and in between.

So, Reburialists is a nod to the BSI - Bureau of Special Investigations based in America in charge of making sure the dead remain dead. For years now, though, they don't. First set in action by the legendary 'meat-skin' killer, Henreich Carson - BSI now relies on his son, Brynner Carson, the top field agent whose specialty is to break rules without a care, charm women without a care and of course, kill the walking dead in the exact same manner. Until one 'shambler' is found writing ancient spells and 'asking' for Carson by name. This sends the agency on a leather-hunt to nab the "Re-animus" possibly 'remote-controlling' these bodies and who have a personal vendetta against Carson. The 'spells' require somebody with geek-level skills in hieroglyphics and all kinds of scientific temperament - and in comes Grace Roberts, a senior analyst within BSI who probably shares one interest with Carson. Breaking the rules - but is the exact opposite of him in every other way. The trail of the Re-animus leads to startling discoveries - and soon, the story takes a pretty personal spin as it becomes clear there is a lot more behind the facade of the playboy image that Carson has been projecting.

It is here that I started loving the book - it starts off as a regular urban fantasy book pitching Carson as the perfect rake and Grace as the geeky hyper-intelligent heroine. ( well, this was a good twist as usually urban fantasies feature women in skinny tight leather outfits kicking the ass of every supernatural demons, including yes zombies.)  But the tone changes one-quarter of the book as the focus is on the mystery of Brynner's past and how the undead come tumbling out of the closet. The humor and the non-stop action kicks in pretty early, setting the tone for the entire book. And Nelson never really takes his foot off the pedal, as we pick up the trail leading to a very enchanting mythological story as the backdrop and race to the finish.

It's fun, it's outrageous at times and possibly a bit quirky, but Nelson's razor sharp writing carries you through till the ending. There is of course romance - put a hunky, special agent in the room with the geeky & beautiful analyst, there has to be some smoky, heart-melting love-story that leaks out - and funnily, it sort of fits in with the entire book and the plot. Brynner as a character gets fleshed out through the book as the action shifts to his hometown where he grew up with his aunt and uncle after a series of cataclysmic events turn his life upside down. The characters of the aunt and uncle are pretty endearing - and they help build out that back story of Brynner that really makes him into this vulnerable, insecure young man living in the massive shadow of his father's legend that continues to haunt him. Grace is a strong woman character , driven by her own demons ( though this part was a little weaker compared to Brynner's past) - a determined, never-give up resolute young woman out to carve her own slice of the world. The romance was inevitable but Nelson takes his time building it up - using this opportunity to fill out the larger mystery and shape up a lovely mythological history around the mystery of these "Re-animus". I took to both these characters pretty well and I think this is what makes the whole book a winner for me.

Overall, I think this book deserves a lot more time under the sun - a punchy, super-fast read that's got action, romance, humor and the queen of the undead about to stake her claim on the world. I sincerely hope a lot more people would pick up J C Nelson. Reburialists is an exciting new book in the urban fantasy space that is an absolute blast to read.