Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

Last night I found myself reading when I “should have been” writing — which meant that by the time I finished, there wasn’t time enough to really get anything ready for today. Well, today, I find myself almost at the half-way point in the sequel to this outstanding book, the possibly more-outstanding (outstandinger?) Dragon Road. But I can’t talk about it yet, which is what I really want to do. So instead, let me once again post this little nugget.

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1
eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017
Read: August 11 – 14, 2017

I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Advertisements

Between the Shade and the Shadow by Coleman Alexander: A disappointing fantasy

Between the Shade and the ShadowBetween the Shade and the Shadow

by Coleman Alexander

Kindle Edition, 487 pg.
The Realmless, LLC, 2017
Read: July 24 – 26, 2018
There is some really fine writing, and some decent storytelling in this novel — maybe some of the emotions are overwrought, and there’s some poorly written scenes and whatnot. But on the whole this is an impressive work. The problem is, the only way I know that is because I forced myself to finish the book because I told Alexander I would. If this were a library book, I’d have been done with it by the 10% mark — if I’d bought it? I probably would’ve made myself go on to 20%. But I literally had to force myself to finish this — which was a pain until the last 20% or so, but that’s just because momentum had kicked in and my Kindle was telling me there wasn’t a lot of time remaining to finish.

That might have been mean of me to say, but what else am I supposed to say? I really didn’t like this book — I guess I can see where some would — I was reassured on Goodreads what patience would pay off. And you could argue it did — but I shouldn’t have to be that patient.

Here’s the thing: a reader needs a way in. We shouldn’t have to take notes and flip back and forth to see how an author it using this term or that — especially when some terms are spelled so similarly that it’s difficult to differentiate between them at the beginning. This is truer when you’re using terms that in our world or in similar fantasy worlds can be used to mean something else. I don’t mean you have to hold our hands and spell everything out in the first few chapters, because that can be really dull. But you need to bring us into this world and give us enough tools to figure out what we’re talking about — it shouldn’t be the case where I’m a few hundred pages into something before I figure out that half of my problem is that these characters are mispronouncing things — like elf!

It’s not that I’m stupid. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’ve read plenty of fantasy novels that are stranger, more arcane, less like our world or traditional fantasy than this — the difference is, those authors were able to bring the reader into the world so that I could get oriented enough to follow the story and not have to wonder if what you think you’re reading is anywhere near the story. Maybe if I’d read the description of the book on Alexander’s website, or Goodreads (or the form he filled out on my blog) just before starting the book I’d have been better equipped — but it should be in the book, not on the back-of-the book (metaphorically speaking) where I get grounded in the world.

I’m not saying that people can’t enjoy this, or shouldn’t, either. But it absolutely didn’t work for me in every conceivable way.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author, it clearly didn’t bias me in his favor.

—–

2 Stars

My Lady Jane (Audiobook) Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren: This YA Romance/Alt-History/Fantasy is simply delightful

My Lady JaneMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren (Narrator)
Series: The Lady Janies, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 47 min.
HarperAudio, 2016
Read: July 2 – 5, 2016

           You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete strange (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

So begins the Prologue to this wonderfully fun book. It’s that second paragraph — but specifically the parenthetical sentence — that locked in my appreciation for the book. Thankfully, it continued to be as good as that paragraph, but I was going to be a fan of anything that happened from that point on.

The advantage you have with historical figures that no one knows anything about, is historical novelists — particularly those who like to play with their history — can do pretty much what they want. Lady Jane Grey is probably the English monarch that people know the least about (if they know about her at all) making her perfect fodder for this story.

This is one of those books that I can’t figure out how to summarize, so I’m just going to steal the publisher’s blurb, as much as I hate doing that, but my attempts have a mess, and theirs worked:

           In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

The characters are wonderful — no one’s perfectly good, or perfectly evil (although there are a few that come close in both directions). The authors keep things moving well, never letting the story detract from the characters, or one part of the narrative take over (there’s plenty of action, romance, friendship, espionage for everyone). Yes there’s magic, yes there’s comedy, but there’s also a lot of heart — a lot of joyful storytelling. This has it all. I really can’t point to a favorite bit, or favorite theme or anything. This is just one of those books I enjoyed all of.

Inside this novel is a love letter to books — and Jane is the representative book lover par excellence (though she could like poetry and novels a bit more) — there’s a treasure trove of quotations about reading, books, and related topics in these pages. All of them delightful.

The novel is clearly clever, witty, with a lot of heart, etc., but what sealed the deal for me was Katherine Kelgren’s outstanding performance. I would’ve enjoyed the novel pretty much no matter who wrote it (I’m not sure Scott Brick or Dick Hill could’ve pulled if off, but you never know), but Kelgren absolutely sold it. Her accent work was outstanding, the life and verve she brought to the project just wowed me.

I’m blathering on, I realize — yet I’m not sure I’ve actually said anything. Bah — just grab the book or audiobook. I don’t care if you’re YA or just A, if you like romance or not, male or female — if you like a fun story that’s well told and never takes itself too seriously (but never makes a joke out of anything important), read it. You’ll have a blast.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne: A Comedic Fantasy Tells a Good Story While Playing with Too-Familiar Tropes

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #1
eARC, 384 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: June 5 – 12, 2018
Ugh. I wish the eARC didn’t say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy — or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there’s a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It’s be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.

The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One — one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn’t too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.

Despite the book’s title, we don’t spend that much time with Worstley — instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero–well, a group of companions. There’s Fia — a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses — and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there’s anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur — she’s basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can’t forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley’s aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.

There are no shortage of villains — and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King’s chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there’s Steve. We don’t meet him (I’m betting it’ll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .

The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that’s pretty clever — but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there’s a little something for everyone — and that you can’t predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them — not just in a “really? they’re trying it again?” sense, either.

For all the comedy — Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There’s a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments — less extreme moments — too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.

I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I’m not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could’ve used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren’t going for subtle, or they’d have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts — but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can’t imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro’s backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her — which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.

This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing — and this doesn’t have all the problematic passages. I’ve appreciated Dawson’s work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I’m a huge Hearne fan, together they’ve created something unlike what they’ve done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality — that’s there. I cared about these characters — and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.11: All the Nations of the Sky by Michael Underwood: Season 1 Wraps Up in a Strong and Sufficient Manner — but will leave the audience wanting more

My post about 1.10 was supposed to run 6/22, but I apparently only saved it as “Draft,” so it went up late on 6/28 (so glad I pushed off sleep last week to get it done), and then my thoughts about episode 1.11 were delayed a couple of days by not being able to push off sleep, but assuming I clicked the right buttons you still will get to read them when they’re fairly fresh. In a day or two I’ll have some thoughts on Season 1 of Born to the Blade as a whole — which will include some interaction with comments Bookstooge left a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, on to All the Nations of the Sky, the season finale.

All the Nations of the SkyAll the Nations of the Sky

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.11

Kindle Edition.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 28, 2018
I’m going to try to keep my thoughts to this episode, but I won’t promise that I’ll succeed.

Somewhere between episodes 10 and 11 Michiko made a pretty big decision. Okay, she made a huge decision — and we only get to see the result, not the thought process — this is annoying, but I can live with it, if I have to (and, by the by, we know she found something in the paperwork that her predecessor left of interest to the current goings-on, but we’re not told what, this also is annoying). Part of the story-telling style that Born to the Blade is employing leaves us open to this kind of thing, so it’s to be expected — I’m just not crazy about it. Still, while I’m excited for what this means for Michiko, her nation, and the narrative opportunities for Season 2, I do regret what it means for some of the character interaction I’ve been enjoying all along. That’s all I’ll say about that now.

Also, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the progress made between Kris and Adechike last week has been walked back a bit — some of which I understand, most of which I want explained before I can get on board wholly. But I don’t see that happening. Still, I liked (both as a fan and as someone who’s trying to look at the series through an armchair-critical eye) what both Adechike and Kris did throughout this episode.

We got a long-awaited duel in this episode (like last episode), it didn’t end the way my fan-boy impulses wanted it to, but did end the way it needed to. It’s the kind of thing I think I expected the series to be built on — and if a certain little war hadn’t happened, probably would have.

Every jot and tittle about Ojo in this episode was perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I can’t say any more, but this was spot-on.

I’m not sure what else to say at this point without venturing into spoiler territory, so I guess I’ll wrap it up.

Now, it’s easy — very easy — to forget about one nation of the seven — Tsukisen, and their warder, Hii no Taro. Yes, it’s explained a few times — but anytime Tsukisen is mentioned, it only seems to underline how often they aren’t. This can be improved — Underwood had a great opportunity here to fix that, and he passed. Which is okay, he’s not the only one who had the opportunity, and I can only assume that this means that there’s a plan behind it. I do hope that’s rectified quickly in Season 2. And this point probably belongs more to the season-long wrap up post I’m trying to do, but I wanted to get it down before I forgot.

This has been dubbed as “Season 1” since the beginning, so we knew everything wasn’t going to wrap up nicely. In fact, there’s a lot that’s left hanging. But we got enough resolution to leave readers satisfied with where things left off. I do hope that Serial Box gives this team another shot to tell their story because I’m very curious about a few things and characters. But for now, we’re left with an optimistic, but not a rose-colored glasses, ending — true to the vision of the initial episodes, but with a darker undercurrent than one might have guessed from the first couple of installments. I’m not wholly sold on everything that happened this season, but I’ve come to accept and appreciate 96% of it — and I will probably come around on the rest eventually.

A good story, a good cap to the season and a good launching point for a potential Season 2. I’m just going to stop before I say “good” again — pick up season 1 now, if you haven’t yet.

—–

4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.10: Shattered Blades by Marie Brennan: An exciting penultimate episode that’s sure to please

ACK! I apparently never took this off of draft mode! I thought this ran last Friday! Whoops!!

Shattered BladesShattered Blades

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.10

Kindle Edition, 58 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 21, 2018

           The Warders’ Circle was supposed to prevent this kind of thing. It gave the nations a way to settle their disputes without warfare, with the limited and ritualized violence of a duel. But that only worked if people believed in it. It was a game, and everyone had agreed to play by its rules.

Until they didn’t.

Sure, there were still warders on Twaa-Fei. Juniors thrust into the role of seniors, unwilling and unprepared and, worst of all, unsupported. Their nations had abandoned them to play out what remained of this farce, while behind that disintegrating cover of civility they prepared for and carried out war.

Nations on the brink of war (well, just on the wrong side of the brink), almost everyone’s favorite diplomat the target of assassins (favorite of readers and almost every other diplomat), relationships torn apart — the home of the Warders, Twaa-Fei itself, is being ripped apart by violence. The stakes really couldn’t be much higher.

But this episode isn’t about the stakes for the nations (not that those are uninvolved — it’s just not the focus): it’s about Michiko making some important choices and acting on them, in ways that will leave her life (and potentially the lives of the people she represents) changed forever; it’s about Takeshi finding what’s been missing (I hope); it’s about Kris and Adechike getting all their priorities straight; and about a few other things that I can’t talk about.

In the midst of all this character growth, character development and conflict — we get two knockout duels. Not the civilized, controlled, formal duels of Kris’ trials, either — we’re talking two people who unleash everything they have — magic and swordcraft alike — at each other. Brennan absolutely sold this part.

This episode was everything I wanted — great character moments, better action sequences — and every character (finally) not worrying so much about playing politics, but about doing the right thing (even if it’s the wrong thing for someone else). My notes have me writing twice “this is the high point of the series (so far),” and there’s at least one other candidate for that moment in these pages. I’m hoping that the season finale continues the uptick we’ve been on for the last couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

The Last Cleric by Layton Green: The Blackwood brothers are on their own in their new world and the danger is getting real

The Last ClericThe Last Cleric

by Layton Green
Series: The Blackwood Saga, #3

Kindle Edition, 374 pg.
Cloaked Traveler Press, 2018
Read: June 18 – 19, 2018

Urfe sometimes felt like a waking dream, the realization of both his wildest fantasies and darkest nightmares.

That’s fairly early in the book, too — I’m sure by the end of this, Will will be thinking less of his wildest fantasies, focusing on the nightmares instead. Which isn’t that surprising, it’s book three of a quintet — things aren’t supposed to be sunshine and rainbows (although things are going to get worse).

Will and some others are off on a quest to recover the Coffer of Devla — an Ark of the Covenant-esque religious relic and object of prophecy. The Revolution would profit greatly from taking it into battle with them — for psychological/propaganda’s sake, if nothing else. This quest takes Will, Yasmina, Mala, and a few others to the jungles of Mexico to find a mythic pyramid that may house the Coffer. We’re treated to an annoying amount of Will pining after Mala, Mala taking advantage of that a few times, and Will not learning anything. I do find his hangup over her annoying, but it’s about the only thing about Will’s character that is that flawed, so it’s good to stress his imperfection and naiveté, I guess. This storyline frequently felt like it escaped from a Rick Riordan Book (one scene in particular) — a series of tests, and narrow escapes leading to other tests. That said, when Percy or his friends fail and/or don’t succeed fast enough, the consequences aren’t as bad as they are for Will and his companions, which makes them far more entertaining to read than the most recent Riordans.

Caleb stays behind and fills his days with doing small acts around the city to help people, and his nights with getting as drunk as is humanly possible. He may not have had tremendous success on Earth, but he had his niche and he did okay with it. On Urfe, he didn’t even have that, so he turned to drink. Until the only person in two worlds who could possibly get him to stop — or at least consider moderation — shows up and does just that. Caleb soon goes on a mission to warn those living in the Blackwood Forrest about the danger coming from Lord Alistair and try to recruit them to the Revolution. On the whole, this story goes exactly like you expect it to — but it was probably the most effective of the three brothers’ arcs in this book. There were parts of this story you couldn’t see coming — at all — but once those events were introduced, it quickly became inevitable to see how those would flow into the overall storyline. Predictable isn’t bad — I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it — it really doesn’t matter how surprising or unexpected your story is, what matters is how you tell it. And Green tells this one just right.

Which leaves us with Val — things were looking pretty bad for him when we saw him last, and in the few days that have passed between then and this novel’s kick-off, things have continued in that vein. He does some pretty clever and daring things to try help his situation, and then finds an opportunity he can’t turn down. He essentially has to try to carry off a suicide mission for the Queen. If he succeeds, he’ll be set free. If not . . . well, the Queen or Congregation still won’t execute him, because he’ll be dead. He assembles a team — including faces you wouldn’t expect — and sets off. This storyline is the most inventive, least predictable and most harrowing of the three (which at times is saying something). Somehow, in the middle, it’s also the most dull. But never for long, I want to stress. The people that Val is surrounded by, their perspectives and what Val goes through are all shaping him — for the one who had the hardest time coming to terms with the world he found himself in, Val’s really taken to it in a way his brothers haven’t quite. Without noticing it, Val’s become a different person than he was when he first came to Urfe — and I’m not sure any Blackwood is going to be happy with the differences once they’re seen in light of day. I’m not saying he’s been seduced by the Dark Side or anything — bu he definitely approaches things from a different angle.

Meanwhile, Lord Alistair continues his bloodthirsty and power-hungry machinations at the top of the Congregation.

We meet a lot of new characters in each of the storylines (especially Will’s and Val’s) — there’s not a one of them that I wouldn’t want to spend more time with. Several of them we won’t see again, alas, but…the others? I hope we get a lot of. While I enjoyed it, I know that I came across as ambivalent towards Will’s quest — but the people he travels with are welcome additions to this cast and I didn’t get enough time with them for my taste. The other new characters were about as good, but I thought we got as much time and use from them as we needed.

The first book kept the brothers together — on the whole, there were times the group was split. In The Spirit Mage, Green split them up so we had Will and Caleb running around Urfe trying to stay out of trouble (and failing miserably); while Val took awhile to return and then was in a completely different kind of story. This time, Will and Caleb are split up so we get each brother doing something on his own. I get the desire for that move, and the narrative need — or usefulness, depending how you look at it — for that move, I really do. But man, I didn’t like it. I expected it was too much to ask to see the three Blackwoods reunited early in the novel, but (incredibly minor spoiler) now whenever they do reunite, I’m afraid what they’ve gone through will make it unlikely to be co-belligerents, much less allies. Again, I get why it was done, and will probably appreciate it by the end of the series — but in the moment, I don’t like it. it. The Brothers Three presented them as an interesting, if very flawed, team. Which was one of the things I appreciated most about the characters — keeping them from interacting takes a little of that away.

That said, Green did a great job balancing the various stories — watching each brother get a little closer to their goal, and then slipping in a reminder of what Alistair’s up to. Almost as if he’s saying, it really doesn’t matter how the Blackwoods do against these tasks, the Big Bad is out there waiting, and they’re not reading for him. There’s good character development, some good plot progression — and you can feel things going worse for the brothers, and that it’ll continue in that fashion for a while — until sometime in book 5, is my guess. Now it’s just a matter of hoping that the three of them — and as many of their friends as possible – make it through to the finale.

I had a blast reading this — there’s really little about this series that I don’t enjoy (and those aspects are all just matters of taste, really). Volume 4 is on the top of my “Waiting impatiently for” list — just under Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. It’s a great series and The Last Cleric just served as another piece of evidence for that. I really recommend all of them.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author — which I greatly appreciate, even if it took me a few months to get to it. This gift did not influence my opinion beyond giving me something to have an opinion on.

—–

4 Stars