“Skin Game” by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2014)

Skin Game
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For the fifteenth novel of the Dresden Files, bestselling author Jim Butcher decided to go for the ultimate “What if?” for urban fantasy that fans might’ve thought he would’ve tackled in an earlier book in the series, but as the saying goes: “Better late than never.” Fans of the series will gobble Skin Game up, as they have the whole series, even if Butcher seems not to be that big of a fan of his female characters.

As the winter knight to Queen Mab, Dresden has certain obligations he must fulfill. Mab makes up a solution for Dresden who’s dealing with his big headache problem that he knows will eventually kill him if he doesn’t do anything about it. In exchange for an earring that will minimize the pain he has to grant her a favor. This involves entering into a heist operation with a number of unlikeable characters including a rogue warlock, Hanna Ascher, a shapeshifter named Binder and an old enemy, Anna Valmont. The whole operation is being run by Nicodemus Archeleone. Dresden isn’t happy with any of this by any means, but he knows he is under the honored agreement with Mab and can’t say no, or will have to suffer the consequences. He does at least enlist Karrin Murphy to watch his back and help him however she can.

The plan is to open a way into Hades and steal something from the vault of the devil himself. No biggie, right? In return each member of the group will get millions, as well as their own ability to steal whatever they want from Satan’s vault in hell. Dresden is sure he smells a trap, but he also has his own revenge plans. Ultimately, there will be a lot of double-crossing and even triple-crossing before the book is done, but Butcher clearly had a lot of fun throwing his characters into a heist setup within an urban fantasy universe. As with all Dresden books, there’s plenty of conflict so the reader never gets a chance to grow bored, and unlike some of the other Dresden books, Harry doesn’t get quite as much thrown at him making it seem a little less farfetched.

The failing of the book is in what Butcher does to his female characters. Murphy has an unfortunate accident and is out for most of the book, replaced by the familiar face and sword of Michael Carpenter. As for the other female characters, they either meet untimely ends or get put through the ringer to the extent one wonders if Butcher has something about doing cruel things to his female characters. Nevertheless, Skin Game is a run romp to Hell and back, with Dresden biting off way more than he can chew; fortunately he has the winter mantle to keep his strength up, but that will only last to a point, and it if ever gets taken away, he’ll quickly learn just how human he still is.

Originally written on June 28, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Skin Game from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Side Jobs  Cold Days  Ghost Story

“Indexing” by Seanan McGuire (47North, 2014)

Indexing
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Seanan McGuire is the New York Times bestselling author of the October Daye urban fantasy series, as well as the author of some great biological horror books like the Newsflesh trilogy and Parasite under the pseudonym Mira Grant. In Indexing, she brings her two worlds together in a way, employing elements of the urban fantastic, but adhering to the rules of genetics and viruses.

In this world there are those that live their everyday, expected lives and nothing happens, but there are those who don’t know they are a part of something bigger and magical, who can suddenly have their existence affected by a memetic incursion, finding themselves playing a lead role in a fairytale as one of its characters. And these aren’t the happy Disney tales we’ve become used to, but the darker, original ones filled with blood and death. Whether it’s a Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ugly Stepsister or Evil Queen, once the incursion has begun it’s very hard to put a stop to it.

Fortunately, there is a group known as the ATI Management Bureau that takes care of these incursions. They are trained professionals with a crack team in all areas, from research to communication when an incursion has begun, to sending out the right team to deal with said incursion. Of course, a number of the team are fairy tale characters who have had their memetic incursions held at bay or controlled and so know full well what they’re dealing with. But because this is a Seanan McGuire novel, nothing ever goes according to plan.

McGuire has taking an interesting premise, using her knowledge and research (she holds a degree in fairytales and mythology), as well as what she has learned from her other series, and brings it all together in a fun adventure story that turns many of the fairytales we consider ourselves very familiar with completely on their heads. She amps the drama and keeps the conflicts cropping up and building from chapter to chapter.

Originally written on April 18, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Indexing from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson (Delacorte, 2013)

Steelheart
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It seems that whenever Brandon Sanderson puts his head down to write something, the resulting story is usually an incredible one that any reader will enjoy. The man is talented; it’s as simple as that. Sanderson had a second young adult novel come out in 2013, after the Rithmatist, and kicks off a new young adult series called The Reckoners with Steelheart. It’s your classic fantasy tale of superheroes, except all the superheroes in this book happen to be supervillains.

It all started with a strange comet and an even t that came to be known as the cataclysm where a certain number of the population gained superpowers and became known as Epics. David got to experience the supreme power of epics first hand when he was at a bank in Chicago, when the epic Steelheart murdered his father. Since then, ten years have passed and David, while living through hard times, has devoted every spare moment to learn what he can about the epics of the world.

He knows a couple of things: each epic possess his or her own unique power and with that power they have a key vulnerability. Some of these “weak points” he has discovered about the epics, others he is still learning. He also knows there is an underground rebel group looking to fight back against the epics one at a time. He’d love to join up with this rebel group, known as the Reckoners, but they’re very good at remaining hidden and undiscovered. But then again he’s also very good at finding things out that you’re not supposed to.

Sanderson takes a great concept of the superhero, makes up a bunch of them, then turns it on its head and makes them all evil. But whether he is writing fantasy or science fiction, the magic abilities of his characters always have limits in some way, just as the superheroes we know so well, like Superman or Spiderman, or the many others. Whether you’re a kid, or an adult who’s a kid at heart, you’ll love Steelheart.

Originally written on April 12, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Steelheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“Dangerous Women” by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Tor, 2013)

Dangerous Women
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While George R. R. Martin may be taking his time with his next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, he definitely has an ability for finding some great talented storytellers when working with the master editor and anthologist, Gardner Dozois. Dangerous Women is one of those books that you’re very thankful for being a giant tome, as you look forward to finishing the thrilling story you’re currently reading, so you can see how it ends, as well as discovering what the next story is going to be like.

A number of big fantasy name authors make the contents list in this collection, as well as a number of other mainstream authors you may not have read before. Each of them write about heroines or female villains or powerful stories with moving female characters, from the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Sherilynn Kenyon, Carrie Vaughan and S. M. Stirling, as well as a new novella from George R. R. Martin set within his fantasy world.  Not all the stories are fantasy or horror or science fiction, such as with Carrie Vaughan’s riveting story about female fighter pilots.

The beauty of a collection like this is that the reader has a chance to discover a number of new authors they never planned on reading, or maybe have wanted to try. Also, since the book is called Dangerous Women, it does respectfully feature more stories written by women authors, as it should. Ultimately, it’s a collection that features wall-to-wall female characters everywhere, which sadly cannot be said for most books published these days.

Originally written on April 16, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Dangerous Women from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Words of Radiance, Book Two of the Stormlight Archive” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2014)

Words of Radiance
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It is known as the sophomore slump, where the second book is not as good and simply doesn’t live up to the hype and success of the previous, first book. Generally this applies to a debut author book and its successor, and obviously Words of Radiance is not Brandon Sanderson’s second book (technically it’s his 11th adult novel), it is nevertheless the second book in his Stormlight Archive planned 10-book epic series. This is the series Sanderson has wanted to write since he was a teenager, and since he had well over a decade to work on the first book, it’s now been four years since the release of The Way of Kings, putting a lot of pressure on him in much less time to deliver just as good of a book with the successor.

It seems Brandon didn’t get the memo about the sophomore slump, or if he did, he just laughed at it and threw it away. Words of Radiance is a work of brilliance that is actually better than The Way of Kings in a number of ways.

Firstly, the book is almost a hundred pages longer, putting it at 1088 pages, so what’s not to like about that? The work and dedication the great fantasy publisher, Tor, put into this book is simply stunning. They built on what they did with The Way of Kings, providing a great landscape scene featuring one of the main characters, Shallan, in full resplendent color detail on the inside beginning pages and a full-color captivating map on the ending pages. Throughout the book are wonderful sketches and illustrations linked with the story, as well as ornate chapter headings. And to cap it all off, there is another beautiful wrap-around dust jacket cover by the great Michael Whelan.

And that’s just the physical book. Let’s move on to the story and writing.

The second book of a series, whether it’s a trilogy or a 10-book bonanza, has a lot to prove and impress upon the reader. The first book captivated and hooked them as the reader learned of everything for the first time. The second book has to maintain the reader’s interest with a world and characters they are already familiar with, and kick it up a notch, by introducing new material as well as expanding the complex world. Sanderson does exactly this and more, leaving the reader by the end of the book gasping at its impressive execution, but also comprehending how this can be a 10-book series. It is not that the reader can easily see what is going to happen over the remaining eight books, but through what is introduced and developed in the second book, they can see this furthering and continuing throughout the rest of the series.

Readers of The Way of Kings knew that with the development of the two strong characters in Kaladin and Shallan, they would one day be getting together, and Sanderson skillfully weaves his plot to make this happen. He has also changed the dynamic of the story from the final events of the first book, with Shallan becoming her own leader and a powerful person in her own right, while Kaladin is no longer a slave but a darkeyes of stature, which is unique in itself, along with his special abilities earning him the moniker Kaladin Stormblessed. As Sanderson often does with his magic system after introducing it in the first book, he pushes it to new revelatory levels in Words of Radiance, expanding its complexity and depth, while dumbfounding and impressing the reader with its sheer awesomeness.

As with The Way of Kings, Sanderson uses interludes at poignant, cliffhanger parts of the book, whisking the reader across his invented world to new lands and new characters. Some have been met before in the first book, others are new and fascinating to behold. He reveals a different world, a different people, a different culture, and a completely different way of life in these new characters as compared to those involved in the main story. As well as being entertained and interested, the reader is also wondering how these characters will relate to the main, central characters they have been reading about for hundreds of pages, and if perhaps they may eventually meet. Many fantasy authors employ elaborate maps featuring varied lands and seas and islands, but few ever actually explore their world fully and use its created complexity. It seems in The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson intends to do this, and thoroughly with a planned arsenal of 10 books to do it in.

By the end of Words of Radiance the reader is of course left wanting more, wanting that third book right away, even though it will very likely be another three or four years before it is published. Though if there is one thing Brandon Sanderson has proven to his many readers and fans countless times over, it is that he works hard and long, and delivers a book to the reader’s hands as fast as he possibly can. So one may end up being surprised as to when the third book in The Stormlight Archive will be out. But the ending of the book shouldn’t just leave the reader wanting more, but also leaving them feeling satiated; satisfied with the story they have read that has reached a completion of sorts, which is really what a book of this epic scale should do, since its successor won’t be available for some years to come.

So then, can you read Words of Radiance on its own without reading The Way of Kings?  Technically yes, some of the events of the previous book are referenced and made clear, but everything will make a tremendous amount more sense if you read the first book in the series before starting on this second one. Does the story warrant 1088 pages, or could it stand to have been edited down somewhat? With The Way of Kings, it could’ve stood to have been edited down fifty or so pages, but with Words of Radiance, I have been hooked on every chapter and it hasn’t really slowed down for me at any point.

Ultimately, it is a beautiful book, a work of art in many ways that is a great length and a worthy addition to the epic fantasy lexicon that will look just great on your bookshelf when you’re done. It is so satisfying to know that great books like Words of Radiance are being made and will continue to be made.

Now go get yourself a copy of Words of Radiance and lose yourself in the land of Roshar.

Originally written on March 3, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Words of Radiance from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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The Way of Kings  Mistborn: The Final Empire
Elantris  The Rithmatist

  • CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2008.
  • CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2010.

“Codex Born” by Jim C. Hines (DAW, 2013)

Codex Born
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Jim C. Hines brings back his unlikely hero and protagonist, in libriomancer Isaac Vainio, after putting him through the ringer in the first Magic Ex Libris book, Libriomancer. Hines does just what you should with a sequel to a fascinating and absorbing series, opening the world a little more in its magical complexity, providing some new wow moments, and learning more about the interesting characters. The key perhaps to Codex Born is that Hines doesn’t bother with too much setup, throwing the reader in headfirst with breakneck action and kickass magic.

A wendigo has turned up dead and Isaac, libriomancer at large, is brought in to investigate. He brings along his brilliant and beautiful buxom Dryad girlfriend, Lena (pictured inaccurately on the cover), who brings her girlfriend, psychiatrist Nidhi Shah, along to help. It’s a complicated trifecta of a relationship, but together there’s a lot of brain power and magical ability. The trail takes them into a secret, ancient group of libriomancers from far away who hate the supposed creator of libriomancy, Johannes Gutenberg, and have plans to end his domination. Vainio will have to make the choice when he gets to the bottom of everything and truly understand where his allegiances lie.

After reading Libriomancer, readers will be excited to see where Hines takes his characters with Codex Born, what new books and authors he will plunder for cool magical abilities, and where he’s going with his world. This sequel goes where no reader will predict, blowing it all wide open and changing the entire paradigm that had been established about libriomancy in the first book. Exactly what a great sequel should do.

Originally written on December 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Codex Born from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Libriomancer

“River of Stars” by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc, 2013)

River of Stars
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In River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the same world as he did with Under Heaven inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty, but jumps 400 years ahead and presents one of his own unique partly historical fiction, partly fantasy novels, this time inspired by the Song Dynasty. River of Stars is another great example of Kay’s lyrical writing and creative talent, making it no surprise he is a bestselling author with many readers worldwide.

Ren Daiyan was just a boy when he was ordered out on a mission to protect a magistrate and when besieged by highwaymen fought and killed them all in cold blood. It changed him, made him advance beyond his years and see the world and his life in a new way. From that moment he was different and never returned home, taking a new path. He finds himself joining a group of outlaws, becoming a Robin Hood type character, feared by those rich nobles who must travel throughout Kitai to serve the emperor.

Lln Shan is a beautiful woman and the daughter of a scholar who has educated her in ways most women never are. She is a talented songwriter and calligrapher who soon earns the interest of the emperor. She finds herself uprooted from her simple life and transported to one of lavish opulence in the city of the emperor, but it is one she is quite inexperienced with and must learn the complex politics and ways that a noble woman should perform.

As factions pit against each other and a war begins to brew in the north, Ren finds himself drawn to the wondrous city of Xinan and then Hanjin as he begins to serve the emperor in the army, doing what must be done to preserve the peace and the empire. He also meets a beautiful and talented woman by the name of Lln Shan.

River of Stars is well named, as it takes the reader on a literary pleasure cruise along a river of words and images, transporting them back in time to this great period of luxury and decadence, but also harshness. Kay does a good job of showing the various classes and levels of society, making this world seem not that different from our own, and certainly a relateable one. He also introduces his quasi-fantasy element; giving scenes and events a supernatural and spiritual feel that go beyond the mundane. Fans of Kay will delight in River of Stars, and for those looking to try the talented writer for the first time, this is a worthy example.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of River of Stars from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Under Heaven  Ysabel  Lord of Emperors