“The Hero of Ages: Mistborn Book 3″ by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2008)

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In Sanderson’s thrilling and resounding conclusion to his Mistborn trilogy, he doesn’t hold back, skillfully bringing all the different pieces, sub-plots, and characters together in a fitting end to the series.  While Sanderson has admitted that he may return to the mistborn world one day, it will be set hundreds of years in the future or past.  Nevertheless The Hero of Ages weighs in at almost six hundred pages and offers a very satisfying finish for its complex and powerful characters.

The Well of Ascension has been found by the supposed Hero of Ages, Vin, and the power has been released, except it is an evil spirit, Ruin, who seeks to end the world with the help of its deadly inquisitors.  The ash from the ashmount is falling thicker and stronger, choking the lands, preventing life from growing or surviving, while the great volcanoes are beginning to thunder to life, and the mists continue to terrify everyone, leaving some dead, others deathly ill, perpetuating the mystery.

Elend Venture, now emperor of the realm has two kingdoms to ally with in preparation for the end and the oncoming battle.  Leaving with Vin, he heads to Fadrex City which was formerly Cett’s kingdom, but is now under the control of the obligator Lord Yomen, along with his army of koloss.  Spook, Ham, Breeze and others head for Urteau under the control of the maniacal Quellion.  But Ruin is somehow able to control both Yomen and Quellion, as well as stealing control over the koloss, outweighing the odds against Emperor Venture and his people.

Then there are the mysterious kandra race who are in a crisis of faith, for their sole existence is based upon the Contract which was written by the Lord Ruler, who is no longer: does the Contract therefore no longer apply?  There is the trial of TenSoon who has slain one of their own.  The First Generation of kandra sit silent and undecided, while the later generations are anxious and impatient, unsure whether to adhere to the Contract or rebel.

Finally there is the great Sazed, the scholar who has lost his faith, having researched every religion but one and finding nothing but lies and obfuscation.  It is with this last religion, the religion of his Terris people that is somehow tied to that of the kandra, that he holds on with a sliver of hope, seeking some final answers to the meaning behind the world, its gods, its peoples.

In The Hero of Ages, Sanderson ratchets everything up to its highest point, with the end times approaching and all hope dwindling.  The reader is hooked to the very last page, unsure of what will happen, who will survive, and wondering if this might really be the end of everything?

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 28th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Brandon Sanderson check out BookBanter Episode 2.

“The Well of Ascension: Mistborn Book 2″ by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2007)

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In the riveting sequel to The Final Empire, Sanderson doesn’t hold back, continuing on from where he left off: the Lord Ruler is gone, but this was just the first mighty battle in the ongoing war.  In The Well of Ascension times are still hard for many, even though the skaa have been freed and Elend is now king of Luthadel and the surrounding territories.  The nobles must now learn to live in a democratic society where they cannot have slaves.  It is a different world for many.

Before the dust even has time to settle, King Elend faces problems from various fronts: there is dissension in his democratically elected cabinet who wish to return to the old ways; then there are three armies marching toward Luthadel.  Before our main characters can decide what to do, they find themselves under siege from two massive fronts.  One is controlled by Lord Straff Venture, Elend’s father who wants his son to hand over his kingdom to him, no questions asked.  Then there is Lord Cett looking to seize control of Luthadel with his own substantial army.  Elend finds himself in a unique position where he can ally with one army and therefore be able to overthrow the other.  The question is who to ally with?

As he contemplates this a third army arrives, of koloss.  These are tall 9-15 feet creatures that vary in size but are terrifying to humans.  Originally created by Lord Ruler for his army, their skin is extremely wrinkled and hangs off them in places like loose clothing while there are great tears in the skin and yet the koloss ignore this.  But their red, blood-rimmed eyes strike terror in all who view them.  They may seem dumb and slow, but in battle they are fierce and destructive, and it’s unknown whether they may lose control at any second and begin rampaging into the city of Luthadel.

Then there is Sazed, a loyal member of the group who is a Terrisman, a special person with the ability to store thoughts, memories, and knowledge in metal that is worn in the form of rings or armbands.  Stored in these armbands are also other abilities such as great strength and speed.  But in Sanderson’s world, it’s all about balance, as the energy stored in each armband is finite, and in some cases can take many years to be stored up, but can be used and extinguished in a matter of minutes.  Sazed is a scholar and knows much is not right with the world.  Somehow the mists that are feared by many for a long time throughout the realm begin killing people and even wiping out whole villages.  There is the Deepness, a mythological force that was supposedly stopped when the Lord Ruler came to power, but is not fully understood and may bring terrible things to pass.  Sazed must also find the correct location for The Well of Ascension, for it is here that the Hero of Ages – who he believes Vin to be – will release the power and save the world.

Then there is the OreSeur, a kandra, an ancient race who are able to absorb the bones of a dead person or animal and take that form and appear almost identical to them.  OreSeur is Lord Straff’s kandra, and is sent to spy on Vin, but it’s also discovered that there’s another kandra somewhere within Luthadel who, with the kandra abilities, could literally be anybody.

Finally there is the supposed Hero of Ages, Vin, who isn’t sure what she is, but knows she is one of the most powerful people in existence, but must use her power wisely and not kill recklessly.  She befriends another allomancer, Zane, who seems very familiar, and she becomes close to him, for they have so much in common, and yet he is the allomancer for Lord Straff and therefore an enemy.

Sanderson continues the complexity of the world, with many moral and sociological questions coming into play, as well as adding new plots and subplots.  While it may seem a little overbearing, he skillfully keeps everything organized and separate and maintains the reader’s interest throughout.  It is a sequel worthy of its name, as The Well of Ascension keeps the pace going from the first book, making the reader hunger for more at the last page.  The trilogy is concluded in The Hero of Ages.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 24th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Brandon Sanderson check out BookBanter Episode 2.

“Fast Sails, Black Ships” Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Night Shade Books, 2008)

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While this may not be the first pirate story anthology, Fast Ships, Black Sails doesn’t hold back, with its captivating cover featuring a classic pirate standing proud at the prow of his ship, while small glowing-eye dragons fly around, a tiny dragon skeleton sits on his shoulder, and in the cloudy distance is what appears to be a ghost pirate ship.  This collection edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer features a combination of classic swashbuckling pirate tales, as well as fascinating stories of the fantastic from authors like Conrad Williams, Garth Nix, Elizabeth Bear, and many more.

In the opening story, “Boojum” from Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette – possibly the best in the collection – we are in space, and the mighty spaceships are living entities that grow and change and have mouths; they are biomechanical.  The authors do an excellent job of creating an interesting world that leaves the reader wanting more.  In Naomi Novik’s — author of the successful Temeraire series – “Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake,” the daughter of a very important noble is kidnapped by pirates and thought murdered, but Araminta is a special woman with some unique powers allowing her to outwit the pirates who have taken her hostage.    In Michael Moorcock’s too short story “Ironface,” there are pirates in space and Ironface is the most feared in the solar system, who makes the trip to Venus to accept the expensive bribe that he collects each decade, then his ship, Pain, floats back out into the dark realms of space.

Fast Ships, Black Sails has the perfect pirate story for any reader, as it presents both the classic and the unusual stories of privateers and buccaneers sailing the high seas, as well as the dark matter clouds of the cosmos.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 21st 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Jeff VanderMeer check out BookBanter Episode 22.

“The Final Empire: Mistborn Book 1″ by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2006)

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The first novel in New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is an introduction to a fantasy world of class and standing where the poor suffer under the iron fist of the nobility who ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.  Mistborn: The Final Empire reveals a unique realm where the mistborn possess powers of magic never before seen in any other fantasy novel.

Vin is a sixteen year-old skaa, a peasant girl who has never really known her parents, abandoned by an abusive brother, and spends her days working in a field with no hope of change.  That is until a tall and imposing stranger by the name of Kelsier shows up, dismisses her abusive boss like he is garbage and pays attention to her for the first time.  He tells her she possesses powers she is unaware of and then takes her away from her life of slavery, for she is mistborn.

The mistborn are very few in number, but the powers they possess are to be feared by many throughout the realm.  By ingesting small amounts of metals, a mistborn is able to “burn” a particular metal and exert a certain kind of power with it, also known as an allomancer.  Different metals that are burned result in different powers.  Steel allows one to push on metal objects such as railings, doors, coins, belt buckles, wherever there is metal nearby to be used, allowing one to push themselves into the air to great heights.  Iron allows one to pull on metals in one’s surroundings, pulling them up walls and across open spaces.  Zinc allows the mistborn to inflame emotions in others, to make them angrier or sadder, or more fearful.  Brass is a soothing metal, allowing the user to calm and dampen other’s emotions.  Bronze allows the mistborn to detect whether allomancy is being used by others nearby.  Copper allows mistborn to hide their use of allomancy.  Pewter, one of the most useful of the metals for an allomancer, allows them to greatly enhance their physical abilities, so they can be stronger, have faster reflexes, and move exceedingly fast.  Pewter also allows them to sustain injuries and barely notice the pain and not be hindered when under attack.  Tin enhances one’s senses, allowing them to detect sounds, sights, and smells better than any human.  These are the basic metals that all mistborn can use.  But when the small supply of ingested metal is extinguished, the allomancer must find more, or find themselves with simple, ordinary human abilities.

Then there is the metal atium.  A very rare metal that can only be found in small amounts within the crystalline caves of the Pits of Hathsin.  It is here that prisoners are put to work to search for the metal and suffer constant wounds from crawling through the narrow tunnels.  If the prisoner does not find a piece of atium, he or she is executed.  Atium serves as the most expensive metal in the realm, which everyone hungers for.  The Lord Ruler gives out small amounts to his nobles and keeps the rest for himself.  But when a mistborn swallows and uses atium, they have the ability to see future actions, choices made by an opponent during a fight, making it the most important and useful metal for an allomancer.

As Vin begins training with Kelsier, who is also a mistborn, she discovers she is to be part of a group plotting to overthrow the Lord Ruler, who has controlled the world for over a millennium, subjugating all to his tyrannical and merciless power.  With the help of the religious group, the Steel Ministry, which is controlled by the Inquisitors: a trained and bred group of people with giant spikes hammered into their eyes; they are feared by all for their terrifying appearance, as well as for their allomantic abilities.

But there are those – Pewterarms, Seekers, Soothers, Rioters, Lurchers, and Coinshots – who are able to use only one of the metals, and Kelsier has chosen the gang carefully, selecting specific people with specific talents and powers, and fully believes he can kill the Lord Ruler and make the world better.

Sanderson’s first book in his planned trilogy opens up a world with unique magical powers and astounds the reader, as well as keeping him or her reading nonstop to find out what happens next to the well developed and fascinating characters.  Mistborn: The Final Empire will make the reader go out and buy the next two books – Well of Ascension and Hero of Ages – in the series, just to find out how it all ends, and who remains alive on the last page.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 8th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Brandon Sanderson check out BookBanter Episode 2.

“Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2005)

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The city of Elantris is a paradise, a heaven in this realm, but not all are chosen to become Elantrians.  Only those who receive the glowing condition that deems them as an Elantrian may enter the city of Elantris and become supreme beings.  But then the great change happens, the catastrophe that changes the world forever.

After a quick prologue, Elantris opens to a different and less than idyllic world.  Those who are now chosen to be Elantrians find themselves physically altered overnight.  They awake to find themselves covered in weeping sores, mottled skin, and are unrecognizable by their own family.  They are banished to Elantris, sealed in the fortress of the once great city which has now fallen into disrepair and ruin.  Like lepers or the unwanted, they are ignored by society and hated for the way they look and the way they are.

Raoden was the crowned prince of Arelon, loved and respected by everyone in the realm.  That is until the opening page of the first chapter, where Raoden wakes to find himself doomed to be an Elantrian.  His disfigurement is hidden by his father, the king, and he is tossed into Elantris.  Inside he discovers a horrific world where its people have given up on life.  With this curse, its people no longer need to eat for they are essentially dead, and yet feel the pangs of starvation.  Any wounds they suffer refuse to heal, while they continue to feel the pain of the wound each day.  But Raoden is still the same person inside, and isn’t giving up.  In time he begins to change and improve the once great city and the people who have lost all hope.

Hrathen is a devout high priest of Fjordell, looking to become the new ruler in Arelon and will do all he can to scare the people into believing and hating the Elantrians even more.  He will stop at nothing for his ego and his beliefs, even if it means causing the collapse of the monarchy.

Sarene is the princess from Teod who was destined to marry Raoden and form a strong family alliance.  But Raoden is in Elantris, and yet through an evil law, Sarene is forced to join the royal family of Arelon.  While pretending to be the prim and kind princess to the king who sees little in women of power, Sarene is first trying to comprehend what has happened to Arelon and Elantris, as well as trying to deal with Hrathen.  She knows there is more going on than there appears and will need to do something if the kingdom is to survive.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 7th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Brandon Sanderson check out BookBanter Episode 2.

“Cretaceous Dawn: 65 Million Years in the Past, the Journey Begins” by L. M. Graziano and M. S. A. Graziano (Leapfrog Press, 2008)

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The authors of Cretaceous Dawn –Lisa M. Graziano, former professor of Oceanography, writer and researcher; and Michael S. A. Graziano, professor of Neuroscience – are clearly experienced when tackling the subject of what life was like 65 millions years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs.  In an adventure style like that of Jurassic Park and Ray Bradbury’s short story “Sound of Thunder,” Cretaceous Dawn is a fun play on  what if people existed with dinosaurs.

Julian Whitney is a paleontologist and a college professor who feels his life has little to offer in the way of entertainment, and he spends his days teaching his classes and hoping something will happen between him and the attractive physics professor, Yariko.  Whitney is surprisingly called to Yariko’s government funded and guarded lab to check on photos of unusual beetles at the start of the book.   As he studies the photos that were taken very recently, he can’t believe what he is seeing: the insects appear to be of a species that hasn’t existed since the dinosaurs, which Whitney is used to seeing in fossilized form.

As Yariko and Whitney study the photos, her colleague, Dr. Shanker, starts up the quantum particle accelerator, while the two security guards return from lunch.  There is a sudden explosion.  Yariko, Whitney, Dr. Shanker and his dog (who was in the lab at the time) and one and a half security guards are miraculously transported back in time and find themselves alive and relatively well, living in the world of dinosaurs.  Meanwhile police chief Sharon Earles is left with a much destroyed physics lab, a government-funded project gone horribly wrong, and half the body of a guard.

Cretaceous Dawn is a compelling story with plenty of plot and subplot going on.   The authors do an excellent job of creating the juxtaposition between the 65 million year old world and the present day police investigation, keeping the reader interested until the end.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 24th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Conversations With Dead People” by Dark Horse Comics (Dark Horse, 2008)

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With the growing enterprise that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer – even though the show is long finished – doing very well with the successful comic book series co-written by creator Joss Whedon; Dark Horse Comics presents the original Buffy board game: Conversations With Dead People.

The board game is essentially a fancy-looking Ouija Board lavishly designed with clear letters and flowery corner patterns.  With a large planchette that makes the board very easy to use, it is the ideal gift for any Buffy fan who has ever wished to dabble in the “dark arts” and take a step into the “supernatural world.”  It is also an excellent Ouija Board for those looking, regardless of their interest in the successful show.

And for those novices looking at the Ouija Board for the first time, there is a one-page entertaining comic instruction featuring Willow, Dawn, and Xander as the wise witch gives Xander the details on how to use the board, and that it is not for fun, to which Xander replies, “What? I’m serious . . .”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this game, click here.

Originally written on October 10th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Living Dead” Edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books, 2008)

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After the success of John Joseph Adams’ last anthology Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, he returns with a new fantastic collection, The Living Dead, with stories from the greatest horror fiction writers in publication: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Laurel K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, and many others.  It is a fascinating collection for it proves to the reader that no zombie story is the same, and what amazing settings and situations authors can come up that involve zombies.

In the first story, from Dan Simmons, “This Year’s Class Picture,” Ms. Geiss, a former high school teacher, has barricaded herself in her old high school.  A barbed wire fence and wall surround the school, along with a moat filled with gasoline.  Geiss spends her days with her class, a class of zombie children.  After hitting them with a tranquilizer, she chained them to their chairs and each day shows them pictures of humanity, the beauty of the world, and the greatness of the human race, trying to make a connection, trying to get a reaction.  But each day she is greeted by the dead stares in their faces, with their eyes hungry for human flesh.

In Neil Gaiman’s “Bitter Grounds,” the narrator has had enough with his life and just up and leaves one day.  Meeting an anthropology professor presenting a paper on zombies in New Orleans, he steals the man’s identity, and never expecting to go through with it, finds himself in New Orleans being the professor.  At night in the streets of the old city, he meets some people that later he considers may not be human.  He presents the paper as the professor, semi-believing in its intention, especially after his experiences of the night before.

In “The Dead Kid” from Darrell Schweitzer, David is a young boy who wants to hang out with the big kids who are always bullying him; he wants to be like them so they’ll stop bullying him.  So one day they show him “the dead kid”: a very young child that is being kept trapped in a box in a cave in the forest.  It is very pale, twin empty sockets where its eyes should be, and spends its days slowly writhing, trying to get free of its prison.

The Living Dead is a sobering read in that it primarily reveals to the readers the horrors zombies are capable of, but also presents the dark and evil side of humanity and what it is capable of when pitted against these walking corpses.  The idea of the zombie forces one to face the reality of death and how in this way it may be cheated, but when the cost is a term that has become synonymous with something that is dead but alive, incredibly stupid, and hungers for flesh; it makes one yearn all the more for an undisturbed grave.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Saturn’s Children” by Charles Stross (Ace, 2008)

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Charles Stross, author of a number of books including Halting State and Glasshouse, boldly goes where no author has really gone before with an entire book about robots and no humans.  He presents a universe in the distant future where humanity has over-industrialized and commercialized themselves to oblivion, becoming extinct.  All that remains is the considerable population of robots who performed and continue to perform a variety of services.  This is a universe where there are those that do jobs without question, whether it be transportation, manufacturing, or some other day-to-day job that is required to continue the functioning of this civilization.  Then there are those robots whose jobs have become obsolete.

Freya Nakamichi-47 is a femmebot, which is exactly what you think it is.  She is the last of her kind still functioning, able to perform duties for an extinct species, unsure what to do with herself in the twenty-third century.  Meanwhile the civilization of robots continue the hopes and dreams of humanity in exploring space, mining asteroids, and building extravagant cities on distant planets.  Having learned from Homo sapiens’ mistakes, the robot civilization exists in a hierarchical society with humanoid aristo rulers at the top, governing and controlling, while slave-chipped workers perform the menial tasks at the very bottom.  Freya doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere in this robotic society, but when she accidentally angers the wrong robots who want what she has, Freya is now on the run for her survival.

Saturn’s Children is a different world which presents a fascinating look into a possible future outlook.  The narrative pace, while engaging, gives little to be desired with these robots who continue performing the tasks of an extinct humanity with no drive or goal for continued existence.  It leaves the reader questioning at times why they should keep reading.  And yet, there is a compelling chase at the heart of the story that keeps one interested enough.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Victory of Eagles” by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2008)

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Bestselling author Naomi Novik returns with the fifth book in her Temeraire series which has since been optioned by Peter Jackson – Victory of Eagles, where the war is not going so well for Britain, as Napoleon lands on her shores with his army of men and dragons fighting for his empire.

Temeraire is uncertain of the fate of his master and dearly close friend, Captain Laurence, after the events of Empire of Ivory, Laurence now finds himself sentenced a traitor and awaiting execution.  Relieved of service and residing in some breeding grounds in Wales, Temeraire must battle great odds to defy the military conduct, find, and rescue Laurence.  In his journey, Temeraire gains some allies and begins a small army of his own, composed solely of dragons and no commanders, who fight by their own code and conduct.  Eventually joining the British force against Napoleon, Temeraire demands pay and rights for the dragons, equal to those given to any member of His Majesty’s service.   It is up to Temeraire and his army to first find Laurence and then to help defend Britain again Napoleon’s invading forces, or all may be lost.

Victory of Eagles is a stunning addition to the series that adds new elements and subplots, making the continuing story more interesting and riveting.  Like the others, Victory of Eagles leaves readers hungrily waiting for more.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 2nd 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.