Book Review: ‘The Vagrant’, by Peter Newman

The-Vagrant-Peter-NewmanOnce again, this is a book I picked up in large part due to the fantastic cover art. The story is about a lone, mute warrior travelling across a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a baby and a goat. While this might seem an odd combination, and I had doubts about the depth of such characters given their inability to talk, these fears were unfounded. The mute, the baby and the goat all had very different personalities, and I found the characters to have more depth than many I’ve read.

A refreshing blend of traditional, post-apocalyptic sci-fi and fantasy, this book has many ingredients which, far from clashing, complement each other brilliantly. It has demons, guns, flame-throwers and a semi-sentient sword, and who could fail to enjoy such a book? The world in which The Vagrant is set has beautiful in its simplicity, with the temptations of over-development well-resisted. Alongside this, Newman took the brave choice of writing in the present tense, something I have conducted many a failed experiment with. In this case however, it is pulled off fantastically, adding to the Vagrant’s air of mystery very well. Combined with the evocative and well-placed metaphors and general vocabulary, the fantastic writing has the effect of not allowing me to put the book down.

I would certainly recommend this book to any fans of either sci-fi or fantasy.

‘The Vagrant’ by Peter Newman is (for now) a standalone.

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Book Review: ‘The Sword of Light’, by E.J. Gilmour

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I have to say, I struggled with this. I almost considered stopping after the first quarter. A somewhat limited vocabulary, combined with a few overused words and somewhat wooden and stilted dialogue served to make this a very slow read. In some places, some abbreviations would have made the dialogue and, by extension the characters seem far more realistic.

The characters themselves were very unrealistic throughout. From the start, they were overly-trusting, seeming to form close relationships with little to no effort. As well, there was very little in the way of ‘show’ and much more ‘tell’, which caused me to struggle to form any kind of attachment to any of the characters. Both the good and bad characters were very limited, with the bad guys just being bad ‘because’. By contrast, the protagonists are too good, with no flaws whatsoever, not even inexperience. The main character, Eben, begins as a boy adopted by a hunter (reminiscent of the Wheel of Time) but very quickly becomes what appears to be an unmatched swordsman. While personally I find this by far the most annoying aspect of the book, it seems understandable.

Such a rapid and unrealistic development would seem to be symptomatic of over-excitement on the part of the author; he knows where the story is going, but is not willing to explain in detail how it gets there.

In short, I would not recommend this book, but with a little more plot development in the middle of the book and a few more tweaks, it’d be a much better novel.

‘The Sword of Light’ by E.J. Gilmour is the first in The Veredor Chronicles.

Book Review: ‘The Dinosaur Lords’, by Victor Milán

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With an endorsement from George R.R. Martin on possibly the best-looking cover I have ever seen, I was expecting big things from this book. I can confidently say, having finished it in less than 24 hours, I was not disappointed. As a child I was borderline-obsessed with dinosaurs, and as an adult, I am borderline-obsessed with medieval military history. As such, the premise of this book is perfect for me.

Although it is a fantastic premise, it would have been all too easy for it to become laughable or childish given the wrong treatment, and I was very glad that it did not. I found the book to be very well written, reminiscent in areas of Abercrombie’s informal style, and in others of GRRM’s gritty realism. The presence of names and terms which at least have familiar etymology helps to orientate the reader. The amount of detail which Victor Milán has put into his world-building is amazing, and while I’ve seen some negative reviews saying there aren’t enough dinosaurs, I completely disagree. The understated way in which Milán slips them in makes it all the more realistic, as if the existence of dinosaurs, and their allotted roles are simple facts of life.

As a medieval historian, I have studied the infamous Albigensian Crusade which took place in the south of France in the 13th century (including into regions around Provence), and as such recognised the plot as a rough adaptation, of which I am immensely appreciative. It is a stunning example of how great stories don’t need to be invented, merely found in history and popularised. In The Dinosaur Lords, certain aspects of the Albigensian Crusade were followed very closely, down to the chilling words of the Papal Legate ‘Kill them all, God will know his own’, which in the book is somewhat ‘informalised’ to ‘Kill ‘em all and let the gods sort ‘em out.’

In short I would certainly recommend The Dinosaur Lords to anyone, indeed I have already to one of my colleagues who studies the Albigensian Crusade specifically, something which has sparked a lot of conversation in our group.

‘The Dinosaur Lords,’ by Victor Milán is the first in The Dinosaur Lords series.

Book Review: ‘Crown of Renewal’, by Elizabeth Moon

Warning: includes minor spoilers.

As the end of a series, Crown of Renewal was always bound to be good. It was forced to wrap up a lot of massive events, and several of them delivered fully during the course of the book. After eight books with the characters, a massive amount of emotional investment meant that I could empathise strongly with them all, further adding to my enjoyment. One of the best aspects of Crown of Renewal specifically and the wider series in general was the storyline involving Arcolin and the gnomes. I also enjoyed Arcolin’s storyline in general, due to my personal interest in mercenary companies, in part due to nostalgia for The Deed of Paksenarrion.

That being said, I have to confess, the ending left me feeling a little unsatisfied. While I enjoyed the conclusions of Dorrin’s and Alured’s storylines, I feel questions remain concerning certain of the others. In Fintha, I would have been interested to see how the Marshal-General and Arvid rebuilt the Fellowship following the events of the past few books, and given the series’ focus on state-building. In Lyonya too, I felt that Kieri’s storyline seemed to end somewhat abruptly. Is that the end of the iyinsin threat? I realise it is very easy to criticise as a reader, and I think my dissatisfaction is in part down to the series being over rather than with the ending itself, which simply reflects just how good I’ve found the series to be.

‘Crown of Renewal’, by Elizabeth Moon is the fifth and final in the Paladin’s Legacy series.

Book Review: ‘Red Country’, by Joe Abercrombie

The journey across the Far Country described in Red Country is very reminiscent of an old Western, something which makes me all the more surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I read it almost straight after The Heroes, and enjoyed the presence of more northerners, as well as the return of some old favourites, including Cosca, and a cameo appearance for Shivers. As always, Abercrombie’s characters are fantastic, and I found myself massively enjoying the group dynamic of the small, ragged bunch of extremely colourful and well-developed characters as they travelled through a great deal of adversity, both from nature and human enemies.

As stated in my review of The Heroes, I massively enjoy Abercrombie’s dialogue, which I find very easy to read and very entertaining. It certainly adds something which I have rarely found in any other books. A combination of funny and very blunt, a certain ‘realness’ is brought to his writing that helps readers empathise all the more with his characters. My favourite part of the book is the somewhat macabre battle scene towards the end involving a certain well-known north-man, and I would certainly recommend this book to any lover of the fantasy genre.

‘Red Country’ by Joe Abercrombie is a standalone.

Book Review: ‘Blood of Requiem’, by Daniel Arenson

The premise of an empire controlled by a race of humans who can shapeshift into dragons is fantastic, but unfortunately I found the book disappointing. I found the motivations of the characters too simplistic, and thought that the stilted dialogue and in places forced humour detracted from the plot and made the characters seem less than credible. As well as this, there weren’t really any twists in the plot, perhaps because of the simplicity of the characters’ personalities, which made them somewhat predictable, and difficult to relate to.

Alongside this, I found that the book was full of inconsistencies, the most annoying of which to me personally was how strong the dragon-form scales are. At some points they seem able to withstand massive amounts of punishment, but at others it doesn’t offer any protection whatsoever. The size of the dragon-form as well seems to vary, with griffins sometimes swarming over every inch of a dragon, as if the dragon is enormous by comparison to the individual griffins. At other points however, some griffins are described as dwarfing some of the dragon characters, and I find the whole thing slightly disorienting. It is partly because of these inconsistencies that I would probably not recommend this book. It might however be a good entry-point into the genre for YA readers.

‘Blood of Requiem’, by Daniel Arenson is the first in the Song of Dragons Trilogy.

Book Review: ‘The Heroes’, by Joe Abercrombie

As previously stated, I am a big fan of Joe Abercrombie’s writing. I have enjoyed any and every mention of northmen in all of his books to this point, and so to have a book with so many of them made it immensely enjoyable. I found the book very easy to read and as a lover of military fantasy, massively enjoyed the fact that the entire volume was concerned with just one military engagement between the northmen and the Union. Too often in fantasy books are battles simply over in a few pages, and it was a refreshing change to have something which fully captured the intricacies of an entire military engagements.

The number of subplots maintained throughout the book made for a very satisfying ending, while still leaving room for further exploration. As with all of Abercrombie’s books the characters are very human, something aided by the fantastic dialogue, and this allows readers to empathise with characters much more easily, even if they do turn out to be somewhat fickle at times. The style of writing is another massive aid to this, with its somewhat informal tone making it very easy to read at considerable pace. I would certainly recommend this book to any fantasy enthusiast.

‘The Heroes’ by Joe Abercrombie is a standalone.