Best Served Cold – Reading In A Post-First Law World

uk-orig-best-served-coldThe First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most powerful and genre defining series I have ever read in my life. I have a policy about not speaking of the First series, as I believe it is something everyone should discover for themselves to have the maximum impact while reading it. That being said, I highly recommend that if you find yourself at the end of The Last Argument of Kings, and clamouring to get your hands on another book in the First Law world, that you take a short hiatus before diving back in. Best Served Cold is a great book, but not one for someone looking for a light and happy tale. There are three stand alones in the world of The First LawBest Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. I read Red Country a while ago and found it… fine. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t quite live up to the standard I expected of Joe. Best Served Cold is a different story. Best Served Cold is quintessentially Abercrombie, a dark and gritty tale in a fantasy world with the harsh bleakness of reality pumping through its veins. The book is a revenge story to boot, if that was not clear from the title, so if you are expecting a happy ending turn back now.

Our story follows Monza Murcatto, dashing and charismatic mercenary leader, and her story to claim the lives of seven men who betrayed her. Our book opens right away with Monza getting figuratively shafted, emotionally destroyed, and physically crippled. I think it does a good job setting the stage and tone for what you are in for in the rest of the book. Monza, stripped of her assets and fighting prowess, must enlist the services of an unlikely group of strangers to accomplish her goals. The story moves from area to area as she stalks and murders her prey, culminating in a final showdown with the ultimate man behind her betrayal.

First let’s talk about the good. If you are looking for more of world of The First Law, this will definitely give you your fix. Although the cast is almost entirely new from the first books, Best Served Cold keeps tabs on the old crew while also fleshing out the world more as a whole. Speaking of casts, as usual Abercrombie has crafted another set of incredible characters. They are the driving power behind this book and I am pretty sure that Joe could have sat them in a bar talking for 600 pages and I still would have enjoyed it a lot. The book is incredibly well paced, with every vengeful murder carried out in unique, exciting, and interesting ways. The growth and transformation of the characters is incredible, with every character of Monza’s crew changing with each passing death. Abercrombie is one of my top writers for action, and Best Served Cold is no exception. The fight scenes will have you on the edge of your seat, fingernails piercing through the arms of your chair, and screaming in exhilaration with each sword strike. The plot is brilliant, and surpassed all my expectations, and it is fair to say this might be Joe’s single strongest piece of work to date (though I have not read The Heroes).

Except, here’s the thing. If you read my post on The Burning Isle a week or so ago, you might have heard me say that revenge stories are really, really hard. Revenge is a hollow and ruinous goal; it won’t make you happy and it certainly will make other people sad. Due to this, it is hard to write a revenge story that isn’t cripplingly depressing (The Count of Monte Cristo is an example of one that gets the balance perfect). So I went into a Abercrombie book about revenge expecting to probably find it was sadder than I wanted to be. However, it was even more dark and bleak than I imagined and Best Served Cold depressed me so much that it’s taken me about a month to force myself to sit down and organize my thoughts on it.

Best Served Cold is definitely one of the best books I read this year, but I am not sure how much I can recommend it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that for me it has overall been a pretty depressing year in reality, and while I don’t need my books to be sunshine and rose petals, this felt a bit like a gut shot. Abercrombie is an artist with a pen, but I think I am going to build myself back up a bit before I return to his work to watch him tear me down.

Rating: Best Served Cold – 9.0/10

The 2016 Clean-up

Hi Everyone! As usual I am following my best of 2016 post with a site clean up today. Most noticeably the recommendations page has been updated thoroughly, both with new series and movement of older series with new releases. If any of you would like to see something new in the coming year, in terms of site design or content, please feel free to reply to this post with suggestions, I would love to know! Thanks again for making Quill great and know that you all are appreciated.

The Best of 2016

It has not been a great year on a lot of fronts, with a lot of people citing 2016 as the worst year in memory. However, despite the general trend in other areas, 2016 has been a pretty damn good year for books. There have been a few disappointments, but for the most part I have had great reads all year. Throughout this year I have been taking painstaking notes to map my top books this time around. With The Quill to Live reading more and more new releases sent to us, we are expanding our top 10 list to a top 15, and the book titles have links to their full reviews where applicable. So without further adieu, let’s pay tribute to some of the amazing books this year and the incredible authors who wrote them!

of-sand-and-malice-made-med-115) Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu – Beaulieu is an up and comer in the fantasy world that I have my eye on. So far he has consistently made tales that are fun, mature, and exciting. His newest short novel, Of Sand and Malice Made, is a prequel to his major release last year Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Twelve Kings was a strong book, but it suffered from a lackluster opening. Of Sand and Malice Made fixes this by providing the intro and back story I was looking for when I read Twelve Kings. The novel is fast, immediately engrossing, and continues to build the world nicely without disrupting the original story. I give Bradley a lot of credit for fixing the issues I had with his writing in the previous book, and I am even more excited for the sequel to Twelve Kings next year.

518jwaozhyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_14) Written In Fire by Marcus Sakey – I was extremely disappointed with the second book in the Brilliance Saga, A Better World, that came out two years ago. The trilogy is based around mutants who gain superpowers along the lines of super accounting. It was a unique take on superhuman abilities and it was one of the most refreshing series I have read in years. A Better World dumped a lot of that uniqueness when it became the standard mutant vs. human stand off that these stories always seem to gravitate to, but Written in Fire brought the series full circle. The series finale emphasizes all the great things that have made the body of work as a whole stand out amongst the landscape, delightfully stepped up the action, and took the plot to unexpected, but great, places. I was ready for the series to be over after the second book, but now I want an entire slew of sequels to keep the party going. The novel’s conclusion was slightly open ended and I hope Sakey takes that opening and keeps the story going.

51o88go-xhl-_sy344_bo1204203200_13) In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan – I honestly can’t get enough of this series. Brennan has reached down inside of me, torn out my inner most fantasies, and brought them to life. There is not much whimsy left in me these days, but what little there is wants nothing more than to be born into Brennan’s world. In The Labyrinth of Drakes continues to deliver on the idea of a meticulously build world with dragons. The stylistic prose and illustrations continue to bring the world to life in a way that very few novels achieve and the latest entry builds out an entire new piece of the world. This book is also basically a romance novel with dragons, and it is not often I am as invested in a relationship as I was in this one. I originally thought this was the final book in the series, but delightfully it seems that the conclusion comes next year (and I eagerly await it).

2685010012) Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja – One of my favorite sayings is I have never disliked a book that made me laugh. Mechanical Failure follows the story of a delinquent army officer trapped on a spaceship out of Catch 22. The book is laugh out loud funny, something extremely hard to achieve for a novel, and is all around a fun time. The plot is not particularly original, but you won’t notice it through the tears rolling down your cheeks as you try not to pee yourself a little. The characters are fun, the scenes are memorable, and the book is endlessly re-readable. While it wasn’t the best written book I read this year, it was definitely one of the most fun.

 

2503639511) Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst – The book is probably getting a small artificial boost in ranking from having a great magical school – but it still is easily one of the best books I have read this year. This book is aimed at younger teenage girls, a demographic I could not be further from, and I still could not put it down. The plot follows a young girl who is sent to a magic school to learn to protect the world, and finds that she must use hard work and tenacity to overcome her lack of talent. Books that exemplify hard work over talent are badly needed in the fantasy genre, and the book does so much else right at the same time. It treats men and women both as people, not alienating either gender of reader. It has a simple plot (traditional for YA) but does not treat its readers as if they are immature or simpletons. The novel feels like a great gateway for younger readers moving from YA to more adult books – but is still fun for everyone. The genre needs more of these and hopefully Durst can give us a sequel to equal it.

1757053810) The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks – Although breaking the top 10 is a serious accomplishment, I was expecting to put this book higher on my list this year. Lightbringer is an astounding series that is easily in my top picks of all time. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend you check out our guest review and pick up The Black Prism quickly. The latest addition to the series, The Blood Mirror, is an amazing book – but probably the weakest of the four that have come out so far. It truly feels like a bridge book, adding tons of flavor to all the things you already love, but having trouble standing as it’s own self defined book. While reading it I was having a ball, but upon finishing I had trouble identifying any truly memorable scenes. However, while The Blood Mirror was not the best book I read this year, it did succeed at getting me extremely excited for the finale of the Lightbringer series.

51rrwwieqcl-_sx335_bo1204203200_9) The Rising by Ian TregillisThe Alchemy Wars series keeps surprising me and crawling higher in the list each year. A historical fiction about a steampunk war between The Netherlands and France, The Rising continues the story from The Mechanical last year. Everything in the sequel is bigger and better and the plot is going in an interesting direction. Tregillis is a master of prose and has used his poetic voice to stoke my interest in The Netherlands. I have lost nights on wikipedia reading up about subject matters from these books. This historical fiction/fantasy/science fiction series defies categorization and appeals to fans of all categories. The one issue that kept the book from placing higher was an extremely predictable, though satisfying, ending. Hopefully we will see the third book reach even greater heights next year.

spider8) The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham – I honestly can’t believe how well Abraham pulled of the ending to the Dagger and Coin series. One of two books on this list about dragons and the economy, things were looking grim for The Spider’s War at the end of the previous book. I felt that while the series had been great, Abraham had backed himself into a corner with his plot and that the book could only end one way that made sense. As usual, Abraham defied my expectations and crafted an ending that was unexpected, memorable, and utterly fitting for his fantasy series. This quintet is one of the few fantasy stories that has to do with the economy, and it is fascinating how interestingly money can be instead of magic. I am sad to be leaving this world so soon with its multiple well defined cultures, twelve distinct races, and huge cast of characters. Despite having some of the best worldbuilding I have read, the world feels unfinished and I want Abraham to just give me an info dump about all the nooks and crannies of his world that we have not seen. While I am sad the series is over, I am excited that this will mean we get installments of The Expanse series back on a more regular schedule.

9780230769496night20without20stars7) A Night Without Stars by Peter Hamilton –  The only book I read this year for which I had to plan out my reading schedule. Hamilton books are huge and time consuming, an issue when one is trying to read a book a week for reviews. But Hamilton is always worth the weight, delivering his consistent science fiction brilliance once again with A Night Without Stars. No author better makes me feel like I am staring into the future of our race, and makes anything seem possible. A Night Without Stars was weaker than its predecessor, The Abyss Beyond Dreams, but I almost always find it hard to leave a Hamilton world at the end of a series. A Night Without Stars once again finds a way to raise the stakes higher than the death of the universe, and I can’t wait to see how Hamilton tops this book next. If you have a month’s worth of free time, I recommend you plan out a read of any of this series (or the previous ones).

271544276) The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence – Lawrence does not choose easy characters to write. Jalan is a self serving, womanizing, dick but Mark Lawrence used skilled characterization and deft context to build a story in which you can be a terrible person and a hero at the same time. Jalan is the perfect balance of endearing and repulsive in The Wheel of Osheim, and his character growth makes the book an emotional rollercoaster. The finale of the Red Queen’s War goes out with a bang, as Lawrence does an impressive job of tying his second trilogy in with his first, without making either the lesser for it. The book had a few slow patches and felt like it ended too early but otherwise rounded out as one of the strongest book of the year, narrowly missing the top five slots.

176648935) Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan – I give a lot of credit to books with unique stories, but there are also some books that do classic stories well. There is something extremely clean and polished about Age of Myth that puts it a cut above Sullivan’s earlier work. The main antagonist is a bear, who is terrifying, and anyone who can make a bear seem as scary as an angry deity or the death of the universe is doing a good job. One of the best character writers I have read, Sullivan has also brought his A-game to improve upon the previously weaker areas he had. With such a strong start to a five book series, this is rising to the top of my watch list as one of the best new series around.

 

253325664) Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay – Anyone familiar with Kay should be utterly unsurprised with him being near the top of this list. Children of Earth and Sky was powerful and moving like all Kay novels, leaving me thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. As usual, Kay has chosen an artist as his stories vehicle, and as always Kay has brought that art to life and made it magical. Children of Earth and Sky inspired me to break out my old art supplies and try and capture some of the beauty of the world on paper. That is not a sentence I would normally say ever, but there is something about every Kay novel that makes you want to get up and change the world. Earth and Sky had some POV balancing problems, but made up for it with some incredibly poignant scenes that are burned into my memory.

259721773) The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan – For the bronze medal this year we have the first book of Anthony Ryan’s new series, The Waking Fire. The Waking Fire is Ryan’s best work yet, and feels like a maturation of his earlier work. The book is all around phenomenal, but it earns the third place spot for its ability to tell three stories from different genres simultaneously, and have them be supportive instead of detracting. This book has adventure, spycraft, and military action all boiled down into one book and it makes it feel bigger and better than almost anything else I have read this year. Ryan still needs to work a little harder on his initial worldbuilding (as I felt in the dark in a bad way for the first 20%), but the ending of the book is epic and I am frothing at mouth for the sequel.

bennettrj-2-cityofbladesuk2) City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett – We really need more fantasy set around the 1900’s. City of Blades does something truly impressive. After all the work put into building up the plots, characters, and places in City of Stairs (which was amazing) – Bennett chose to drop most of his previous established flow and build a sequel from the ground up. I thought it was a bad idea when I first started reading, but Bennett as usual has defied all my expectations and created a second masterpiece. The story gives a touching tribute to the trials and tribulations of war, and how it ruins everything it touches. With just as much emotional impact as Stairs, Blades turns the action up to 11 and comes in solidly as my second best book of the year.

238991931) Saint’s Blood by Sebastian De Castell – I knew Saint’s Blood was going to be my #1 book of the year the second I finished it and started reading it a second time. Castell’s Greatcoats gets better and better every year, and Saint’s Blood is one of the best books I have ever read. The books you read as a child and YA shape the person you become, but Saint’s Blood was impactful enough that it changed how I see the world as an adult. The stylistic prose format of the book as a duelist’s manual gives the storytelling a differentiating flare and the dialogue continues to be some of the funniest I have ever read. The story also has some themes that I have rarely, if ever, seen in fiction. One of these themes is tenacity – as Saint’s Blood is all about getting back up when you fall and continuing to push forward. To me there has been no better incarnation of what I needed to hear this year, as this, along with all its other merits, is why Saint’s Blood is The Quill to Live’s #1 book of 2016.

Two Serpents Rise – This Sequence Gets Craftier

2sr-coverMy father was 60 years old when I was born. Kind of an odd thing to start a book review off with, but those of you who are the guessing sort are probably guessing that this will be tied into the review later on. Bonus points for you. As for the rest of you, just bear with me. 60 years is a long time, and when you think about how much of a generational gap there is between those of us born on the cusp of the millennium and those born as recently as the early 80s, one can imagine just how different my father and I were. I loved him dearly, but we had what some would call a tempestuous relationship. It’s something that I regret, but am unable to change since he passed.

I touch on this because the story in Two Serpents Rise, the second book in The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, is a departure from what was the main theme of book one, Three Parts Dead. The first book in the series, as you can read in Andrew’s review here, was an exciting and satisfying look at difficult workplace dynamics. Two Serpents Rise, on the other hand, examines how we can deal with the family we’re born into, and how important it is to build another family for ourselves through our friends and loved ones.

Caleb Altemoc, the protagonist of this book, is a risk manager and avid card player working for Red King Consolidated. For those of you new to the world of The Craft Sequence, the gods fought a battle with some powerful sorcerers known as the Deathless Kings…and lost. As you can probably guess from the name, RKC is run by the Red King, a skeletal sorcerer of immense power. After an infestation of some frankly horrific water demons (they take the form of arachnids, imagine drinking some water infested with them and having them form inside your stomach…shudder), Caleb is embroiled in a variety of plots as he tries to keep the city of Dresediel Lex, and the company he works for … afloat (I had to).Caleb interacts with his boss frequently, and The King in Red is an absolutely fantastic character. We are given some incredible insight into what could drive someone to become something so inhuman, and how underneath all that…bone…is something that was human once and may be human still. I think the scenes where we learn about the Red King’s past and his history with the city of Dresediel Lex are some of the strongest in the book.

The city of Dresediel Lex and its history is as large a character as any of the human/skeleton/whatever(s) in the book. Drawing heavily from mesoamerican history and mythology, Gladstone has created an incredibly unique city, at least in terms of fiction I have experienced. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been exposed to cities in fantasy that were influenced by Aztec culture, and even fewer of those that weren’t simply relegated to “BLOODTHIRSTY GODS WANT BLOOD”. While human sacrifice is definitely something that is explored, the conflict of what constitutes true sacrifice and how those sacrifices are offered is a huge aspect of the book and I thought it was handled very well. I also want to really quickly touch on how unsettling the bug taxis are. They’re giant dragonfly-type things that suck your soul out as taxi fare. I am so uncomfortable thinking about that, just the description gave me shudders every time.

The conflict between Caleb and his father, Temoc, is one of the main driving forces of the book. His father is an Eagle Priest, a powerful and uncompromising worshipper of the old gods of Dresediel Lex. He is very much of the old guard and his belief that human sacrifice is an absolute necessity to appease the gods is in direct conflict with Caleb’s views of it as murder by another name. The descriptions of the arguments they’ve had playing out for the thousandth time reminded me a great deal of my relationship with my dad, and I was left upset and shaking my head when I saw myself in Caleb’s shoes, unable to understand his father and unable to make his father understand.

My only real complaints with the book come from the pacing and the climax. In terms of the pacing I was left feeling like more time had passed in the world than made sense for the story, though that could be a personal gripe. In addition, I felt the climax was rather abrupt. While the end of the book was exciting and certainly not short of spectacle, the actual final showdown with the ultimate enemy of the book was over very quickly and felt almost glossed over. I was expecting more going into it than I received, and while this is an issue, I think it’s a minor one when considering the story as a whole.

Two Serpents Rise is most definitely not the book I was expecting when I started it. After the funny and quirky romp that was Three Parts Dead, the introspective nature of this story really surprised me. I think, though, that the mileage of this story may vary for readers that aren’t in my shoes. In our book club discussion of Three Parts Dead, the ratings varied along the lines of those who enjoy their work and those who don’t. I Imagine that ratings would vary similarly in readings of Two Serpents Rise for those who have difficulties dealing with parts of their family and those who don’t. Regardless of that fact, though, Two Serpents Rise is an enjoyable read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed the world of The Craft Sequence and wants to delve further into this land of gods and the people who live with them.

Rating: Two Serpents Rise – 9.0/10

-Will

The Burning Isle – Grilled Vengeance, Served Hot

burning-isle-coverRevenge stories are tricky. They are inherently sad and depressing stories that require a keen eye for detail, and a lot of planning to execute correctly. Nothing good happens when you set out for revenge. Even the most cynical readers can agree that while vengeance might feel good in the moment, it leaves a person empty with nothing to live for once completed. This can make it hard to write a story that feels immersive, as protagonists are often in a terrible mental place that can be hard to relate to or get behind. However, when done right revenge stories can be captivating, exciting, and mind blowing with their excellent twists and their delicious comeuppance. The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo, makes the cut and is one of the better vengeance stories I have read in years.

The Burning Isle is the story of a mage named Cassius with a mysterious past travelling to a ghetto port town for unknown reasons (its revenge). We follow him around the city as he slinks, schemes, and puts things in motion to pull apart his enemies piece by piece – slowly finding out why he is doing it. The place where this book shines like a jewel is the worldbuilding. The Island of Scipio is a rough ghetto with a lot of flavor and a fascinating back story that kept me wanting to know more and hanging on every juicy detail. Panzo does an incredible job making Scipio feel like a real place with a complex history that has giving birth to numerous conflicts and the character dynamics and the power struggles in the town only deepen that flavor. In addition, the magic in the story is quite enjoyable. Cassius is a rune caster, which is essentially a group of magic users who rape and pillage the magical identities of several other kinds of magic. By taking the spells of other groups and imprinting them on gems, they make magic quick, easy, and collectable – ensuring the dominance of rune mages without having to invent new magic themselves. Panzo does a great job introducing the magic concepts, but I would have loved to learn more about the magical school that Cassius goes to in his backstory.

Speaking of our protagonist, I had a love/hate relationship with Cassius. Personality wise, Cassius was an interesting and likable protagonist that I could very much get behind – but he is sold as a Gary Sue in the book and does not fully hold up. A top graduate from the best magic school in the world, I expected Cassius to wipe the floor with his foes in a bunch of instances that he barely claws his way through. A little too much of Cassius’s success in the novel felt due to luck as opposed to methodical, brilliant planning. In addition, some of the twists were telegraphed way too early in the book to have deep emotional impact. I was able to guess Cassius’s backstory correctly by about 40% of the way into the book, and the reveal comes in the last few pages. However, these were not large issues and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book very much.

The Burning Isle also wins big points with me because it is both the first book in a series, but also completely stand alone. The book speaks of Scipio essentially being a test run for Cassius for greater things to come and it manages to both build out Cassius’s character, lay the groundwork for future books, and have its own great plot. I will definitely be continuing with this series, but I hope Panzo can iron out a few of the small details I mentioned before to make these books shine like a rune gem. The Quill to Live recommends The Burning Isle by Will Panzo.

Rating: The Burning Isle – 8.0/10

Ex-Heroes – Oversexualized Is An Under Exaggeration

51govlfazdl-_sy344_bo1204203200_For my day job I am doing some work in the comics industry, so I am on a bit of a superhero kick at the moment. I have read a few superhero novels over the years, but it seems to be a genre that is starting to expand, as I presume that these stories have historically been contained within comics. It is surprising to me that that the genre isn’t more popular with the rise of superheroes in pop culture, but who knows, maybe the book wave is just starting. Along those lines, I decided to pick up Ex-Heroes, by Peter Cline, first because of its awesome naming convention of “EX” before each title in the series and second because it is about superheroes vs. zombies.

The premise of Ex-Heroes is that a meteor hit the earth and a whole bunch of people woke up one day with superpowers. Interestingly, there weren’t many super villains and heroes mostly stuck to cleaning up drug cartels, gangs, and petty crime. That is until a death plague hit, turning 99% of the population into zombies. Now all that is left of humanity is small bastions that are holding out against the plague – many with superpowered guardians. Our story follows a small cohort of heroes holed up with a thousand civilians in an old movie studio in Hollywood. The book deals with all the classic plot lines in a post apocalyptic world that revolve around anarchy and discovering the source and cure of the virus, with some nice superhero flavoring to mix it up. The lead protagonist is the Mighty Dragon, a hero with low level flight, super strength, and a little bit of pyrokinesis – giving him a suite of powers to emulate a dragon if that was not clear.

While I usually start with book pros, and then move to cons, I am going to mix it up as this book has one gaping problem that sinks it – the oversexualization (and general treatment) of women. It is bad, REALLY bad. Two top of mind examples of this issue: first one of the female leads is introduced as a girl who “wears shirts that are sizes too small so that you can clearly see her brightly colored bras underneath” as her one defining characteristic, and a second female protagonist feels she is cursed with the power of being too hot, so she hides her face so as to not be objectified all the time. To clarify, she doesn’t have a superpower that makes her hot, she is just so hot that people have bent to her will her whole life and she doesn’t like people not taking her seriously. I am not a Puritan from the 1650’s, but most of the female characters had absolutely no substance to them other than sex appeal, which is a problem. I almost feel like this was a satire that is just flying over my head, because the treatment of women in this book sucked the joy out of me like some sort of psychic vampire. This is a shame because the book is great in lots of other ways.

The characters (except for Stealth, the hot woman mentioned before) are interesting, with unique backgrounds and stories that kept me invested. The book alternates between backstories of the heroes and present day between chapters, and uses the backstories to explain how the death plague came about in the first place. It is a really good storytelling mechanic that worldbuilds effectively while also staying fun and captivating. The action is well written and and the plot has some good twists that made me want to read the next book despite the women problem.

Ex-Heroes can be a lot of fun if you can look past the terrible treatment of women in the book. However, I would not be surprised if it was too much to move past for any individual reader. If you like superheroes and zombies and aren’t bothered by terrible female characters, you might enjoy Ex-Heroes, but if you are looking for something that empowered women in ways that aren’t sexual I would look elsewhere. I myself am going to check out the sequel in the hopes that Clines addresses the women issue so the series can really shine.

Rating: Ex-Heroes – 6.0/10

Duskfall – Neither Night Nor Day

duskfallAfter a stint of science fiction, I decided it was time to dive back into some good old sword and sorcery fantasy. Thankfully, there is a recent release that promised all the swords and magic that I could hope for: Duskfall, by Christopher Husberg. A party fantasy (or a fantasy that follows a party of characters), the book tells the story of a group of POV’s as they all journey across the land seeking answers to different questions.

The group is comprised of an amnesiac, a psychic addict, a priest, a prophet, a vampire, an elf, and a warrior. While it sounds like the start of a bad fantasy bar joke, the group’s eclectic make up actually was one of the biggest selling points of the book for me. However, one negative issue that runs parallel to this book strength is that the group only comes together about a third of the way into the book. Duskfall begins with the various characters all dealing with separate personal problems in their own corners of the world. Each of the main cast discovers that the answer to their problems lies in the same general direction as one another and they slowly group up and go on an adventure.  The characters are quite enjoyable, despite two of them possessing character attributes that I personally can’t stand (addiction and amnesia). Their personalities vary enough to make group interaction and dialogue lively and fun, and the amnesiac and addict were refreshing enough that I enjoyed their POVs despite my initial misgivings.

The world of Duskfall is an interesting one, with well developed factions, cities, and cultures that made the worldbuilding feel fleshed out. The magic system of the world revolves around psychics who come in the three traditional flavors, telekinetics, telepaths, and clairvoyants – though Husberg adds enough spice to make it his own. The majority of the plot rests on the back of our amnesiac, Knot, and his quest to discover who he was. Near the beginning of the book he discovers he has many skills he doesn’t know about, some of which revolve around being good at killing people. His journey of self discovery is the keystone from which the other characters stories are built, and I was actually impressed with the reveal of his past. There are enough twists in the book to keep you on your toes, but not so many that they seem outlandish.

The book’s issues actually come from two primary areas for me. First, while I enjoyed the city and culture world building a lot, there seemed to be a surprising amount of information missing from certain elements of the plot. I had a lot of trouble understanding the happenings of a few of the later events in the book. While I got the sense that Husberg was trying to create an air of mystery, it ended up confusing me. Second, I sometimes found the prose to be a bit halting, with shorter sentences taking me out of the action with an overuse of punctuation.

Despite my complaints, Duskfall was still an enjoyable read. For me it landed squarely in the middle of the pack of this years releases – neither bad nor mind blowing. I think I will check out the sequel when it is eventually released, but it will not be the top of my list. If you enjoy party fantasies, and are partial to any of the character types I listed before, you might want to check out Duskfall.

Rating: Duskfall – 7.0/10