Making A Point – Too Like The Lightning Vs. Stranger In A Strange Land

I read two notable books over the last two months, Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein, and Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. They are both science fiction novels, the first is one of the most famous from the last era, and the second is a new entry that is making waves. Both of these great books are built around a similar storytelling objective: using a sci-fi story to argue philosophical points and explore ideas about humanity and society. While both books have interesting and new ideas, they go about very different methods of making their points.

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Let’s start with Too Like the Lightning. Lightning’s plot is a little hard to sum up succinctly, but the general gist is it’s a political drama centered around a few key individuals that are shaking up a neat and ordered society. In Lightning, fast transportation everywhere on Earth has eliminated geographic boundaries, and national identities have dissolved and reformed into ideological identities. This allows the society to run much more smoothly and achieve greatness, or so everyone is led to believe. There is a lot going under the surface, and we slowly discover that things may not be as great as we have led to believe. Add into this mix an individual who has manifested the ability to magically bring the inanimate to life , and you get a confusing and exciting story with a lot of philosophical depth.

Lightning is one of the smartest books I have ever read. It subtly plays with the readers emotions, expectations, and engagement with the narrator to pull off some astounding reveals. At the same time, it makes a lot of interesting and well thought out arguments about humanity, society, the cause of conflict, and solutions for peace. The characters are astoundingly well written, and it introduces some of the best science fiction concepts I have read in awhile. However, my favorite part of the book is that Lightning not only makes really interesting philosophical arguments, but it weaves them into the story to make them more fun and exciting to read. It turns what could feel like a philosophy textbook into clever exciting work of fiction, and I love it.

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Alternatively, Stranger in a Strange Land is a book from the 60’s that tells the story of a human raised by Martians returning to Earth. The idea behind the book is culture clash and observing a new way of looking at the world through the eyes of a man who is not constrained by the social conditioning and taboos that come with growing up in Earth society. It is incredible how good this book still is, but some of the arguments that Heinlein makes do feel a bit dated. However, many of the points that Heinlein tries to make still have a lot of teeth and I found it a compelling read.

You might notice that it took me a lot less time to summarize Stranger in a Strange Land’s plot than it did to summarize Too Like the Lightning’s. Despite this, Stranger is a much longer book than Lightning. This is because, unlike Palmer, Heinlein treated his science fiction setting as window dressing to his arguments. Large swaths of Stranger’s text are taken up by monologues arguing philosophical points and trying to convert you to Heinlein’s way of thinking. This might immediately sound like a negative, but I found a lot of his points to be well argued and compelling. The real issue I had with Stranger is it felt like it dragged compared to Lightning. The fact that Heinlein didn’t weave his points around a better story it just made the book feel slow and boring, despite some very clever points.

So in conclusion, both of these novels are excellent and are worth a read, but I definitely prefer Too Like the Lightning. Submerging your arguments in a great story is a much faster and more fun way to convert me than getting on a soapbox and shouting at me. Additionally, the plot of Lightning was so good that I am definitely going to have to dive into the sequel Seven Surrenders very soon. The Quill to Live recommends both of these brilliant novels, but Too Like the Lightning is definitely going to be on my list of favorite books.

Rating:

Too Like the Lightning – 9.0/10
Stranger in a Strange Land – 7.5/10

His Majesty’s Dragon – A Good Ole English Time

I have finally gotten around to reading one of the most popular fantasy series from the last decade, Temeraire, by Naomi Novik. The nine book series starts with His Majesty’s Dragon, and has just concluded last year with its final installment. The series is a historical fiction set in the Napoleonic Wars, with almost everything the same except that everyone has dragons. This book has been on my to do list for a long time and I was excited to see if it lived up to the hype.

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Our protagonist is a man named Laurence, former captain of His Majesty’s Navy, who gets unfortunately coerced into the aerial corps. Laurence, and the ship under his command, open the book by capturing a French vessel that contains a dragon egg about to hatch. Due to the value and importance of dragons to the war against France, the officers of the ship decide they need to have someone try and imprint with the dragon as it hatches to recruit it for England’s forces. Unsurprisingly, the dragon (Temeraire) imprints on Laurence.

The rest of the book follows Laurence as he transitions from his life as a naval man to the air force and begins his training with Temeraire. Novik does a great job of showing the life of a dragon rider, and the training of Temeraire had me captivated from the moment that they set down at boot camp. The dragon corps and its effect on England’s wartime strategies are very well fleshed out and integrated into the history of the Napoleonic wars. That being said, while Novik did a great job showing how dragons have impacted the current era wars of England, there was little to no indication of how the advent of war dragons affected the course of human history. It felt as though they had just showed up right before the start of this book and the rest of history stayed pretty much the same. However, this is an instance where I am hoping that the historical effects of dragons is explored in the later sequels.

In terms of characters, we kind of get a mixed boat. I was a big fan of Temeraire. The dragons have a lot of personality, and watching Temeraire explore the world and learn things was incredibly endearing. On the other hand, Laurence is a bit of a wet noodle. He is the most stereotypical English character I have ever read, whose idea of a good time is queuing in a line. While Laurence doesn’t really detract from the story, another reviewer I saw put it best when she said “we could have had Jack Sparrow, but instead we got James Norrington”. Moving past our leads, I found the support cast very strong. Laurence spends a good part of the book recruiting a crew for Temeraire, and I found his underlings and fellow dragon captains a lot of fun.

Overall, the book was fun but slightly on the dull side. The final conflict of book is a bit of a let down, but the build up and the reveals are exciting. I will definitely be continuing the series, as I suspect that it is a bad idea to judge the series from just its first installment. Overall if you like dragons, historical fiction, or queuing in lines than this will be a great book for you.

Rating: His Majesty’s Dragon – 7.5/10

Thrawn-Right at Holmes in the Star Wars Universe

mt5s45ejdm9xWhen I wouldn’t stop gushing to The Quill to Live’s Book Tyrant about my excitement to read a new canonical book in the Star Wars universe about Grand Admiral Thrawn, the aptly named Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, our Tyrant calmly informed me how pleased he was that I could write another review for the blog. I’ll start with a brief overview of the Thrawn saga for those that are unaware: after Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, they took the entirety of expanded universe media and declared them all null and void in their current canon. Only the movies, TV shows (Clone Wars and Rebels), and future books would be within official Star Wars canon. This was devastating for many of us who grew up on the Thrawn Trilogy (which I have already reviewed here). We hated to see one of the best villains of all time removed from the Star Wars universe. Luckily, Disney didn’t let Thrawn languish in non-existence for long, and added him as a character in Season 3 of Rebels, in addition to approaching Timothy Zahn with an offer for him to author a canonical origin story of his beloved villain. After reading it, I held off on putting my review together until I could watch the Star Wars: Rebels television show, and this turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor for reasons I will explain shortly. For now, let’s get into the meat of the review.

Thrawn delivers a hearty dose of nostalgia for everyone who grew up on the original Thrawn trilogy, while also providing a solid introduction for new fans coming from the Rebels show. We get to see how Mitth’raw’nuruodo (if you can pronounce that correctly on your first try I’ll give you a cookie, or maybe some blue milk) first ‘meets’ the Empire and begins his surprisingly meteoric rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy. He does this through a combination of brilliant deduction and devious execution of strategy. Each chapter focused on Thrawn feels very much like a look into the mind of a militaristic Sherlock Holmes as he navigates his way through the politics of the Empire and matches his will against the criminal mastermind Nightswan (a la Moriarty). Thrawn’s even got himself a Watson in Ensign Eli Vanto, the second of three POVs in the story. Vanto takes the place of Captain Pellaeon from the original Thrawn Trilogy as the man Thrawn has decided to mentor and take under his wing. It’s quite enjoyable to have an outside viewpoint from which to watch Thrawn, and Vanto is easy to cheer on throughout the book. Vanto is an intelligent and friendly Imperial Ensign who just wants to be in charge of organizing supplies for the navy. Instead he is pulled into Thrawn’s wake, and learns more about strategy and warfare than he ever thought he would. The best part about this is that we get to learn and struggle right alongside him in his chapters. Zahn does a great job of using Vanto’s chapters to keep you in suspense as Thrawn executes his plans. The last POV is from Arihnda Pryce, whom I will talk about later.

Timothy Zahn is quite gifted at writing a book that feels like Star Wars. His original trilogy probably goes a little too far with the constant flashbacks to scenes from the movies, but every minute you are reading it you are whisked to a galaxy far, far away. That same sensation is back in Thrawn, but this time around Zahn has added some flair. Each chapter starts with a quote from the Grand Admiral that would be right at home in The Art of War. Each quote references a stratagem or piece of wisdom that Thrawn uses or sees used in the upcoming chapter. I love little teasers like this, and these were done really well in this book. One issue I had with writing, however, was in the Thrawn POV chapters. There were too many lines of Thrawn’s internal Sherlock Holmes at work. He would constantly be noting the change of people’s breathing and the size of their pupils. It felt exactly like the scenes from the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes television show, but in book form and didn’t quite convey the same fun ‘brilliant mind at work’ sensation I got from Sherlock.

There was one other aspect of the book that bothered me. The character Arihnda Pryce felt like she was shoehorned into the story, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. She is an unlikeable villainous protagonist, willing to sacrifice almost anything and anyone for more power, and her character didn’t feel like it belonged in the story as an ally to Thrawn. Her chapters were only tangentially related to Thrawn’s story, and seemed mostly to serve to build up her own backstory. I was very confused as to why so much effort was being put into building up a new character I had never heard of before. However, I then watched up to Season 3 of Rebels where Thrawn is introduced simultaneously with Governor Arihnda Pryce. Aha, there she is! I still feel that Pryce didn’t truly belong in Thrawn, but now I understand that Disney was trying to get a two for one deal on backstories.

Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the new Star Wars canon, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see Thrawn back in action. It is great to see Timothy Zahn bringing his engaging writing and storytelling back into the Star Wars universe. And while Thrawn shares a very large number of similarities to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, they manifest into an exciting origin story for one of Star Wars’ greatest characters. Whether you are a long-term expanded universe fan, or coming in having only seen Star Wars: Rebels, The Quill to Live heartily recommends you pick up Thrawn.

8.0/10

Observations About LotR – The Two Towers

9780547928203_p0_v2_s192x300The Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the second entry on The Two Towers, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring can be found here:

1) Aragorn has no chill – “When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years?’ said Aragorn.” Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Two Towers. That is a line that Aragorn says about halfway through The Two Towers, and it caused explosive laughter. Mostly because Gandalf’s reaction to this is “Aragorn you are right, you are so calm” – to which we ask, are you reading a different book Gandalf? Aragorn needs to calm down, a lot. He is constantly surprising hundreds of armed horsemen on edge by jumping out of bushes, telling the entire kingdom of Rohan to fight him 1v1, and generally making choices that would be likely to get a person stabbed repeatedly just because they scared someone holding a sword. He sounds like the most stressful party member ever, and if my co-adventurer told me his plan was to swagger into the king’s hall assuming he didn’t have to give up his sword since he was also a king…WITHOUT EVER HAVING A CORONATION OR, EVEN MORE, NOT EVEN GOING TO GONDOR BEFOREHAND, I would stab him myself.

2) Faramir is a baller – Boromir’s brother who helps guard Gondor is a lot cooler in the book than I remember. In the movies he is portrayed as just Boromir 2.0, trying to steal the ring from Frodo. But in the books, he is just a regular old human who isn’t even slightly tempted by the ring, making 90% of the cast look pretty dumb. He is a really interesting character who adds a lot of depth and realism to the story. He is the first character I saw to question Aragorn’s claim to being the king, and seems like the kinda guy you would want in charge of an army trying to beat back the forces of evil. He has this practicality to him that is extremely lacking across most of Tolkien’s other characters and makes a really good juxtaposition with pretty much anyone else in the books.

3) The book doesn’t drag where we expected, and does drag where we didn’t – Going into The Two Towers I was really excited for the ents and Helm’s Deep, and dreading Frodo and Sam’s frolic through the swamps. I thought it was going to be hard to get through pages of Sam and Frodo whining to Gollum after experiencing the might and majesty of Saruman vs. everyone. Turns out, the opposite is true. The first part of towers involves a lot of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas camping – and talking about camping – and retelling the story of how they camped. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that The Fellowship takes place over multiples years, and Towers takes place over like a week. Because of this, Tolkien gets a lot more granular in his story telling. While this is arguably needed, it does make some scenes feel like they last forever, Meanwhile, in the second half of Towers Tolkien amps up the language and poetry so that Sam and Frodo’s journey becomes magical and filled with awe. I could not put down the second half of the book as Sam narrates the bleak landscape and dwindling hope of their cause.

4) Speaking of the first half dragging, the battles are… not great – First off I did not expect to go into this and have the greatest written action scenes of all time. Tolkien is known for his worldbuilding and prose much more than his fights. However, I was really disappointed with the fight at Helm’s Deep. It had so few descriptives and often broke down to “we fought some orcs and killed them”. Based on the movies you would think the battle lasted weeks, when in actuality it was closer to 24 hours. The scenes are confusing and not very satisfying, and I am hoping the battle of Pelennor Fields will step it up a notch in book three.

5) Treebeard is the best, and Sam is still amazing – I love Treebeard, and have since I first met the ents when I was young. I expected to reread Towers and find that my love for him was a bit overzealous, but I instead found it completely justified. Treebeard is just fun every second he is on a page and makes me genuinely happy as I read about him. His story is both interesting and moving, his personality is just smile inducing to be around, and he is just an all around well written character. He was definitely the highlight of book two for me, although Sam continues to be an all star as well. Most of the second book is narrated by Sam, with Frodo taking a back seat as he deals with the delirious effects of the ring. As mentioned in point three, these sections were a lot more exciting than I expected – and most of that is due to Sam’s great narration.

I liked The Two Towers less than The Fellowship this time around, but it was still a great (albeit sometimes slow) read. I am really excited for The Return of the King sometime this month, as I remember almost nothing about it other than they chuck a ring into a volcano at some point.

An Interview With Max Gladstone

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Max Gladstone is one of the big up and comers in fantasy these days. His Craft Sequence was just nominated for a Hugo for best series, and he has started multiple other group writing projects such as Bookburners. I am increasingly becoming a huge fan of his as he puts out more work, and he graciously agreed to let me ask him questions about his books and his life as an author. If you haven’t checked out any of his work yet you can find reviews for the first two Craft books here and here, and one for Bookburners here. Otherwise please enjoy our conversation below!

First off, some questions about you as an author as a whole:

You have a really interesting writing style that makes me feel like I know you as a person after reading your work. It makes me feel like we are already friends even though we have never met. Do you do this intentionally, do you just write yourself, or am i just insane and projecting because I am lonely?

Hah! I don’t think you’re making it up—I also don’t think I hide in my work too much. Many of my storytelling rhythms come from the gaming table, and when I sit down to write these days I am often just thinking about telling a story to my friends, and including little references and tips of the hat I’m sure they’ll catch. Different sorts of storytelling have their own idiosyncrasies, of course, but that common thread remains.
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Do you have a plan for your career as an author? I know you are sorta wrapping up the first part of The Craft Sequence now (or so I thought until I saw the announcement for Ruin of Angels), and have started up the BookBurner project. Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about?

I have big dreams, and I’m working to see them come true. The tactical maneuvering is a lot more complicated—how do I get from there to here—and contingent on developments. I’m sorry if that sounds vague, but it’s hard to be more specific! In the near term, I’m focusing on writing a few excellent standalone novels, and on filling out the next phase of the Craft Sequence.

What do you like to read? Do you read fantasy and if so do you have favorite books and/or inspiration?

Everything! I read nonfiction, mysteries, plays, poetry, and, of course, fantasy and science fiction. I take joy and inspiration from my favorite authors—there’s a long list, but at the core we have Dorothy Dunnett, Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, and Robin McKinley; other major influences include Sam Keith’s The Maxx, The Sandman, Terry Pratchett, and Wu Cheng-en’s Journey to the West. And I’m always finding new inspiration, in history and literature.

If you could work on a new collaborative piece with any other author, who would you choose?

I don’t know! There are lots of people I’d love to collaborate with—and I’ve started to work with some of them already! Amal El-Mohtar and I are right now putting the finishing touches on an excellent novella that I’m excited to share with people, for example.

Are you doing a book tour anytime soon?

I’m often traveling to conventions—I don’t know about any plans for a book tour for Ruin of Angels, but those don’t generally finalize until later.

Then some questions about your work with your Craft Sequence:

When we read Three Parts Dead for our book club, one of the major things that a group of people loved was its great workplace wish fulfillment. The Craft Sequence feels like one of the most adult fantasy series we have read because of all the professional issues it tackles. Was this intentional or a byproduct of the general ideas you had for your book?

Responses to my books tend to fall into two rough categories: the people for whom it feels like an office power fantasy, and the people for whom it precisely captures the enormity (and enormousness) of their daily work. I think it speaks to the peculiar (and often unhealthy) culture of work these days, that we lionize jobs with this level of intensity. I wrote the Craft Sequence in part because the more I tried to understand my world, the more I found myself relying on the language of fantasy fiction, and I think that, yes, as a result, it is a pretty adult series—in that it’s about things that adults, and people trying to become adults, spend a lot of time worrying about.

I remember hearing that the next Craft Book was going to be Six Feet Over, but that seems to have changed to The Ruin of Angels while I wasn’t looking. Can you talk about what this change means or at least inform me if I am hallucinating new craft books?

No, you aren’t hallucinating! My editor and I decided that Six Feet Over, while an excellent title, wouldn’t be enough of a marker that we were starting a new phase of the Sequence. And since I plan the future books to tick forward in time, rather than jumping around the timeline, dropping numbers from the titles would be a good signal. We’ll see how well that works!

Were there any particular jobs or job stories that you drew from in your personal experience for any of the books?

Nothing I can talk about in an open channel! But in general, the books were informed by my experiences in the non-profit sector, in research firms, and by my friends’ experiences in finance, law, academia, and engineering.

Of all the occupations you have invented in the Craft Sequence, which would you want to do if you lived in the world?

Honestly, I’m not sure! People have a hard time of it in the Craft world, as they do in ours; every cool opportunity brings costs with it. I really like the machine-monks in Dresediel Lex, though. I love the notion of maintenance as a sacrament. I really think it is!

What was the inspiration for the setting of Dresediel Lex? Mesoamerican culture and faith is so rarely touched on (and even more rarely touched on in a meaningful way), that I really sat up and took notice.

I wanted to expand the world of the books and highlight different sorts of cultures existed in this world—and since I wanted the cultures to feel less like a planet of hats, where you have, like, the Warrior culture and the Peaceful Hippy culture and whatever, and more like a through-the-looking-glass version of our own, where complex belief systems produce a whole lot of complex people, I decided to draw heavily on existing analogues. The desert setting suggested Los Angeles and Mexico City; I did a lot of reading on Mesoamerican religion and anthropology, and the dynamics of colonization, and spent a lot of time talking to friends, in hope of getting things right.

There are some seriously metaphysical and strange scenes in the Craft Sequence. Was there any scene that was particularly hard to write?

Not really. My brain’s just pretty weird, I guess.

Would you consider doing a Craft graphic novel?

Certainly! Watch my site for further news….

Finally, some question about the wonderful Bookburners:

Was Bookburners was inspired by Buffy, and/or anything else? What made you want to sit down and write a story about kickass archivists?

I’ve never seen Buffy, but many of our writers have, and Julian, the co-founder of Serial Box, has as well, so we have a lot of Buffy fans on the creative team! As for why we wanted to write about kickass archivists—why wouldn’t you want to write about kickass archivists? There’s all the ass-kicking! And the archiving!

You have successfully completed your first season of Bookburners. What would you say is the most important thing that you have learned while writing the book and collaborating with other authors?

Notecards. Over the course of writing Bookburners S1, I got my notecard game on point, and learned how to outline by basically doing everything Margaret Dunlap does—and it’s changed how I write practically everything. On the one hand, I spend a lot more time planning now, but that time working on the front end makes the writing far smoother, and allows me to focus more on my line-by-line prose work.

What is the process involved in working on something like Bookburners compared to one of your Craft novels?

Now that I’m outlining my novels more, it’s quite similar. With Bookburners, though, there are always more stages, because everyone has to be on the same stage—so we write, and test, and talk to one another about what we’ve written, and go back in for another pass.

It is a strange experience reading a book episodically as opposed to the traditional chapters. I thought you guys did a great job making Bookburners feel like watching TV show episodes, but occasionally it felt like chapters ended rather abruptly. How did you approach making episodes instead of the usual chapters?

Thanks! We try to think of each episode as a story in its own right, with its own beginning, middle, and end, as well as considering its place in the season overall. it requires a little more structural thought out front, but in the end, the greater structure allows us to create a more compelling, propulsive fiction—if we land the beats correctly, of course.

Bookburners – You Will Burn Through It

29238781I haven’t had a lot of experience with books written in groups, but what little experience I have had has been good. When I think of the staggering amount of work that went into a group paper in college, I can only imagine that it is even harder to organize a group of people to write a 600 page novel. However, I am always impressed with how smooth the group books I have read come out, and Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery, is no exception.

Bookburners was published as a serial novel, with each chapter a self contained story that plays out like a TV episode. This is my first time reading a story of this nature, and I found I really liked the experience. While the book did feel like the pacing suffered compared to traditional books, the overall story translated well into half hour chapters – and it makes the book really easy to put down and pick back up. The group of authors did a great job unifying their voice, and while I could pick out which of them wrote a chapter by their writing, the tone and the feel of the book always remained consistent. In the end it did give me the experience of reading the same way I watch a TV show and it was a lot of fun. But what is this show about?

Bookburners follows the story of a team of Vatican specialists as they travel the world and deal with rogue books and artifacts that contain demons. Our protagonist is an American cop whose brother is possessed by a book in the opening chapter. Once her brother’s situation is “dealt with” (avoiding spoilers) she ends up joining Team Three of the Vatican special forces. Team Three’s job is the study and retrieval of artifacts, Team Two are essentially PR, and Team One are the big guns that move in when a book/artifact gets out of control. If I had to pick one sentence to describe it to someone I would say that it feels like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Warehouse 13. Team Three is made up of five members, Sal (our POV), Menchu, Grace, Asanti, and Liam. Each of them has an interesting, and of course tragic, backstory that got them into this line of work and I loved them all. The characters in this story are all fun, from the protagonists to the villains, but if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be Grace. She is a small Asian woman, and the team’s heavy muscle, and her backstory is one of the most unique and interesting things I have read recently.

One thing I will say is that while I love the world, I think the series could use a little more world building. When reading Bookburners I constantly felt like I did not have enough information about the world they work in. It often felt like we did not get information about their work until moments before we needed it, and this can occasionally make the book’s world feel a little shallow. However, to be fair I think this is something that was bound to happen due to the style of episodic writing. While the world in Bookburners felt a little thin compared to other books in the genre, it still felt much deeper than your traditional TV show. In addition, the moments where we do get worldbuilding really shine. My favorite chapter/episode was one in which the team goes to a supernatural black market and you get to meet all the major players in the magical world.

Overall I really liked Bookburners and I am definitely going to continue following the series. I purchased the first season in the omnibus, and then tried following some of season two as it was published episodically. I have found that I much prefer bingeing the story in one sitting to reading a chapter every so often, so I will be waiting for the seasons to finish to read them all at once. The book is a really fun take on fantasy writing, and if you are looking for something new to keep your reading experience fresh it does quite nicely. I really hope that the team can keep it going for many seasons to come and I can’t wait to see what is in store for Team Three next.

Rating: Bookburners: Season 1 – 8.0/10

Kings Of The Wyld – You Get What You Need

30841984This year has been absolutely packed with fantastic sequels, and new series from authors I love. However, in the midst of all the literary titans releasing their work it is important to not overlook the new players entering the game. Every year I have a couple of dark horses on my release tracker that are new books from debut authors that have drawn my attention based on their description. This year one such book is The Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames. The premise of the book immediately hooked me: in a world where fantasy adventuring parties function like modern day rock bands, a famous band must do a reunion tour to save the leader’s daughter. The only problem is that the members are all old tired men, and they haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. As far as premises go, this is the most intriguing I have seen in awhile, but does it live up to its potential or fall flat?

For me the main draw of this book was the characters. For starters, a large part of the cast is made up of old men and women, something that I wish more authors would do. The band is made up of five characters, each of whom are deeply fleshed out and wonderful to read about. The first half of the book is about getting the band back together. It consists of the group slowly traveling to new locations, fleshing out the world, and re-recruiting the band. The mini-arcs do a great job bringing each band member to life and endearing them to you. All of them are old-timers with a lot of regrets, each not having quite gotten what they wanted out of life. The support cast is also just as good with several recurring characters I was always excited to see show up. The cast is so diverse and imaginative that I can’t picture a reader picking up Kings of the Wyld and not finding someone that they identify with.

On top of all of this the world and plot are nothing to scoff at. As I mentioned earlier the plot is about the band reuniting to save the daughter of their frontman, Gabe. However, the band did not leave on the best of terms (particularly Gabe) and they have a lot of issues to work through. While they work out their personal problems, the group must also deal with the fact that Gabe’s daughter is trapped on the other side of a siege by a huge army; An army that is comprised of classic fantasy monsters and myths. See, in Kings of the Wyld creatures and humans do not get along, competing for space and resources. To deal with this conflict, bands go out and make a name for themselves killing monsters and defending humans. The monsters have been losing ground for ages and have tired of the arrangement, forming a horde to sweep over humanity. While the horde continues to rout opposition, human nations cannot get past their differences and grievances to organize a response. This backdrop, combined with the personal struggles of our band, make for a read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The book is a lot of fun. It has an emphasis on humor that makes it a great and upbeat read, while also taking itself pretty seriously so that it has a lot of immersion. The band theme worked out a lot better than I thought it would with various members of the party filling out roles in a traditional band from bass player to booking agent. The world was also designed very well to the point where the existence of bands of adventurers felt natural. The book also has a soundscape that Eames put up on his site that I am a huge fan of. I have to say I have always felt lukewarm about Led Zeppelin, but thanks to the soundscape I have had them on repeat for a month. As I mentioned, the book is very funny and feels like it was written with the goal of entertaining. Despite this, I found the book to be surprisingly impactful in many instances. There is a particular scene in which two lifelong friends find out that one has been hiding essentially that he has cancer from the other, and the reactions and writing broke my heart. Eames feels like he is trying to put a smile on your face, but never goes for the cheap laugh and never sacrifices the story for the sake of humor.

No review is complete without me assessing a book’s flaws, but Kings of the Wyld does not have many. My main complaint would likely be that the book felt a little less tight and polished towards the end. While the narrative during the first half of the story felt focused and smooth, I thought that the last quarter of the book felt a little hectic and didn’t quite have the level of emotional impact that the first three quarters did. That being said, the ending is still fantastic and I am just complaining about some loose stitching on an otherwise beautiful narrative tapestry.

I am excited to announce that we have a new player on the fantasy scene with a lot of potential. The best debut I have read in awhile, Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld has everything I love in the fantasy genre with some original twists and angles. Thanks to this book I can’t stop listening to classic rock and I am counting the days until we get a sequel. The Quill to Live estatically recommends Kings of the Wyld, it will put music in your heart.

Rating: Kings of the Wyld – 9.0/10