Book Review: ‘Rise of Kings’, by Ben Emery

Rise of KingsI picked this up on the kindle store page, based on other purchases, and having read the blurb, thought it’d be right up my street. I have to confess, I was badly disappointed. My initial impression, right from the first scene was that it was poor. As a massive fan of military fantasy, and a military historian, I always enjoy a good opening battle scene, but the open of Rise of Kings was filled with imprecise language and oversimplified battle scenes, with a complete lack of formations and non-sensical strategic and tactical decisions. Having said that, I have never started a book and not finished it, so I decided to give it a chance and continue, in the hope that it improved.

Around about the 25% mark (only about 50 pages in – it’s very short), I thought the plot a little too predictable and derivative, but again decided to persevere in the hope that twists appeared as the plot progressed. As well, I found it hard to keep track of scenes due to mid-action shifts in point of view, something I try to avoid at all costs in my own writing. Overall, I failed to detect much in the way of subtlety of plot, and found the whole thing a little simple, to the extent I wondered whether or not it was intended as YA. Having said that though, there are parts where it is probably too bloody to be considered suitable, so I was left a little confused. In one sense, this book is incredibly frustrating, because the premise and the ideas (not the mention the world-building) are fantastic, but there is just the feeling that not much care has been taken over both editing and research.

I hate writing reviews as negative as this, and I try to be as constructive as possible. Whether that’s been achieved or not, I’m not entirely sure. In short, the premise is great, and Emery’s book has been completed and published (which is more than I can claim of mine), but the execution is a little off.

‘Rise of Kings’, by Ben Emery is the first in The Flameweaver’s Prophecy.

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Book Review: ‘The Chronicles of the Black Company’, by Glen Cook

CBCHistorically I have loved books that focus on mercenary companies or at least heavily them, with that being my favourite aspect of Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion. Initially I found it odd that there was only limited focus on combat itself, and even more odd that I didn’t seem to mind. In the opening section of the book, it made sense to focus on character exposition rather than blunt, action scenes, both to engross the reader in the world and also to signal the perspective from which the story is being told. I really enjoyed the style, and as I read more, I found myself dwelling on the main characteristics of the story-telling, deciding that I really appreciated its subtleties.

I, the reader, felt like I was being told a story, as perhaps a medieval chronicler might have told it. In terms of subtleties, I mean the kind of quirks I look for in texts as a historian, with some obvious biases, little hints of the author’s (by this I mean Croaker) personality, as well as his thoughts and feelings. These all come together to act almost as a sub-plot in itself: trying to piece together bits and pieces to work out who Croaker is, working out his morals and motivations. What is clear is that Glen Cook has put a great deal of thought into how an annalist would record events.

The Black Company is an epic introduction to the world, ramping up the tension throughout. There was a great introduction to numerous distinct and memorable characters -a great feat- and an enormous, seemingly world-ending finale.

Having said that, Shadows Linger was still full of epic moments, such as the siege. What I enjoyed also was the character development which progressed with smaller-scale stories as well. With another epic finale, you are barely given time to process it before the end of the book, something which had me continuing straight on into The White Rose.

The White Rose includes fantastic twists and turns and magnificently achieves the moral greying of both sides of the story, presenting good and evil as a changeable spectrum rather than simply two poles. The Chronicles conclude with some truly epic-scale fantasy writing and incredibly high stakes despite maintaining a relatively small-scale cast. Such a feat is incredibly difficult, and yet Cook has managed it.

The Chronicles of the Black Company collects together Glen Cook’s Books of the North, which include The Black Company (published May 1984), Shadows Linger (October 1984) and The White Rose (April 1985). They are also collected together in the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus edition: Annals of the Black Company.

Book Review: ‘Exile’, by R.A. Salvatore

Exile, by R.A. Salvatore

Exile

Exile is good, and I feel an improvement on Homeland, largely due to the increased interaction with other races, and a greater exploration of the world. While Homeland was good as an ‘origins’ story, Exile is fantastic for its exploration of the underdark. As with the first instalment, it still constitutes ‘traditional’ fantasy, and reading them back to back was maybe a bad idea, as both are somewhat clichéd – something which starts to wear a bit.

A considerable number of well-written, fast-paced battle scenes did a lot to maintain a plot which might otherwise have been slow. Most seemed however to have been fight scenes for the sake of keeping things interesting, rather than necessarily fitting into the plot. The whole trilogy as well takes place on a tiny scale, something which is almost unknown in modern fantasy. The cast of characters is restricted to under 20 or so.

I took a long break about 80% of the way through due to technical issues (I was listening to it as an audiobook). I found it quite easy to get back into it after a break of almost 6 months, which says something good for the quality of the writing.

‘Exile’, by R.A. Salvatore is the second in The Dark Elf Trilogy.

Book Review: ‘Swords Around the Throne,’ by Ian Ross

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Swords Around the Throne, by Ian Ross

I took a break between the first and second instalments in the series, and I’m not sure I was quite ready when I re-joined the world of the Twilight of Empire series. As with the The War at the Edge of the World, the volume was incredibly fast-paced, which I enjoyed massively. The plot progression kept me reading through it quickly, but in some places I thought the time-jump was a little too jarring. I quickly got over them however, with the varied and fast-paced plot giving very little time for respite. Another downside to this however was the sheer volume of characters introduced in a fairly short space of time, who at times were difficult to keep track of.

Having said this, the volume of characters contributed greatly to the variation of the plot, along with a very enjoyable style of writing which eased me through a fairly substantial book. In one sense, Ross’ style and plot reminds a little of the Raven series by Giles Kristian. The author/story is driven by a need to explore the world and different aspects of it. With Giles Kristian and Raven, it is done geographically, moving around the Europe of the Dark Ages, but with Ian Ross it appears to have a more societal focus. The latter is possibly more difficult to do well, but I feel Ross has managed it.

‘Swords Around the Throne,’ by Ian Ross is the second in the Twilight of Empire series.