Foundryside – An Interview With Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside RD4 clean flatLast week was the general release of Robert Jackson Bennett’s new book, Foundryside, which we really enjoyed (and you can find the review here). It is an exciting new world with a number of mysteries that we wanted to know more about. Our group had a number of questions coming out of the book that Bennett was gracious enough to answer on both events in Foundryside and the future of the series. These questions do have mild spoilers for the first book, so I would recommend checking it out after you have read it. For those of you who have already finished this great read, enjoy:

I have had a love of houses with different creeds dating back to when I read Harry Potter as a child, so I was a big fan of the different houses in Foundryside. I had a bit of a specific question for you, how does one apply to enter one of the existing houses? How does a house go about recruiting new people? Are most employees born into their houses, or poached from others, or do you have any ideas for what a house interview process would be like?

This isn’t spelled out in the story, but if I were to imagine how it’d work…

So, probably about forty or fifty years before the story, when there were twenty, thirty, or a hundred merchant houses, they probably had an apprentice education system and scriving academies that anyone could go to, and if you went through the process and either passed an entrance exam or knew the right people, you could get hired by one of those houses.

However, in the decades since, four houses have completely consolidated nearly all power. So if you didn’t get in before or during the consolidation period, it’s a lot, lot harder to get into the merchant houses now. Now scriving is probably much more hereditary and nepotistic, where a spectrum of families within the four houses have cemented their positions and are trying to get their relations seeded all throughout the house’s structures. Each merchant house likely has not just one school but many schools within the campo, and getting into any of the schools probably requires a great deal of royal intrigue, favor jockeying, blackmail, and bribery. If you want your son to be a scriver (another thing they decided during the consolidation period is that scriving is a masculine art), and you’re external to Tevanne, you probably have to buy their way in. It is, in other words, not a meritocracy by any means.

The end result is that the merchant houses aren’t innovating nearly as much as they used to anymore, but they still wield unchallenged power, because the entry barrier to scriving is just way, way too high.

Scriving seems like an interesting profession. To me, if felt kind of like crossing a jeweler and a lawyer, needing the delicate hands and mind for rules. If scriving was suddenly real, what professions in the real world do you think would have the most applicable skills to make a career change into making magical artifacts?

Coding. When I was first sketching out the story in my mind, I settled on the thesis that magic is basically just a hack for reality – you are feeding reality instructions that makes it break the rules for you. Functionally speaking, scriving is a hack that makes objects disobey physics in select ways.

I noticed that there was a particular emphasis on scrivings based on gravity in the book, both good and bad. It resulted in some particularly spectacular and gruesome scenes that have really stuck with me. What made you think: gravity, this is the force I want to focus on?

Gravity is not very well understood today – where it came from, how it works, and so on. There’s an ongoing discussion about its nature, starting with general relativity, then dipping into string theory, quantum mechanics, and so on. As such, the idea of tampering with something immensely powerful but not well understood worked brilliantly with Foundryside.

Foundryside was a really fantastic book with a distinctly Venetian feel (a favorite location of inspiration for me). Are there any other cities you feel particularly drawn too that you have considered for inspiration for future books?

I will say that Haiti is an inspiration for an upcoming setting in the series. Historically more than geographically. It is the only successful large scale slave rebellion in human history.

Ophelia felt like a very hard-edged character verging on the edge of evil in this book. However, I might be extrapolating my impressions of her because she didn’t get a ton of screen time. Will we get to see her more of her in future books? If so, in what spoiler free context?

Ofelia Dandolo is going to figure very, very prominently in the next book. She is a hard-edged person, but it would be difficult not to be when you’re running a merchant house in the ruthless and cutthroat city of Tevanne. She’s always been devoted to protecting her family at all costs, which has led her to make some hard and desperate choices she’s still paying for.

The Mountain itself was one of the most interesting ‘characters’ in the book. It seemed to embody similar characteristics to where we currently are in developing Artificial Intelligence in the modern age. My question is, why did it still seem fairly ‘nice’ after watching and learning from generations of humans? Why wasn’t it pursuing power or love or any of the other things it has likely witnessed in it’s great walls? Also, please tell me it will return in the sequels!

Was the Mountain nice? I’m not sure. It was primarily created to attract a very specific sort of entity to Tevanne, but as far as it’s aware, those entities have not appeared. So I think it’s really more lonely and desperate than it is nice or cruel. It is its ongoing failure to fulfill its purpose that defines its attitude, as opposed to what it’s learned from human beings, since it’s still a fairly rudimentary intelligence.

I think it will likely make an appearance in the next book. There’s rather a lot happening in it, though.

The city in Foundryside seems to be a location in the Golden Age of scriving. How much scriving is actually taking place outside the city walls? Is it more of a traditional world out there? Why are there not more merchants coming to buy scrived tech in this city?

Tevanne’s primary industry is manufacturing scrived weapons and smaller lexicons – like combat lexicons – which it then either uses to capture territory, or sells to warlords to help them capture territory (it then taxes the everliving shit out of the warlords, and if they don’t pay up, they annihilate them with their superior scrived weaponry). There are tons and tons of diplomats in Tevanne trying to place contracts for rigs and lexicons, mostly for horrible purposes. There is no other scriving innovation taking place outside of Tevanne, because it’s expensive and hard to do, and it’s not in Tevanne’s interests to make it any easier. They want everyone coming to them.

Your books are often filled with imaginative inventions and creatures. Was there any idea or scriving type in Foundryside that you were particularly proud of?

What Orso comes up with in the climax is probably my favorite innovation, though it is very, very mind-bendy.

One of my favorite aspects of Foundryside as a story is the unlikely team up from people in so many different walks of life (the orphan, the prince, the sheltered genius, etc.). Was this an intentional combination on your part? What was the inspiration for drawing together such different people?

Yes. I’m a big sucker for the “ragtag group of misfits comes together to hatch a cunning plan” plot. I also like it when everyone yells and argues a lot, so making them all very different is critical to that.

Do you have any mock drawings of what scrivings would look like?

No. Scrivings convey an insane amount of information in each sigil and, to be frank, I don’t think I’m smart enough to be a scriver.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you mentioned in an earlier conversation we had that the main POVs of book two in The Founders would be different. Looking back at your past work with the Divine Cities as well, you don’t seem to like to stay in the head of a character for more than one book. Is there a particular reason or ethos for this?

I will say that Foundryside was very much Sancia’s book, but the sequel will be an ensemble story as the ragtag group of misfits tries to run the equivalent of a magic startup. Foundryside slowly spread out into using Orso, Sancia, and Gregor as POVs, but the sequel will begin in this format, and will add in some new ones. This is just a result of the story and world getting bigger. You need new perspectives to help the audience comprehend the scale of the stakes. I suspect that’s why I often mix up my POVs – as the story expands, it moves into a new space.

-Thank you to Robert Jackson Bennett for taking the time to answer our questions!

Blood Of The Gods – Parting The Veil

mealing_bloodofthegods-tpI am sorry I have been so slow with the reviews this month, there has been a lot to get through and talk about. August has been a hard month for a fantasy book to stand out in, simply because of how many good things have come out. There have been over nine books I was highly anticipating that have released in about a 5 week stint, and getting to them all is proving difficult – but worthwhile. Up today we have Blood of the Gods, by David Mealing. Blood is the sequel to Mealing’s debut book, Soul of the World, which you can find a review of here, and an interview about the book here. The long story short is that Soul of the World was a batshit crazy book, filled to the brim with batshit crazy magic, that embraced its batshit crazy and confusing nature to tell a great story. With the sequel I was intensely curious to see what direction Mealing would take the story, and I was impressed and engrossed with the result.

Blood of the Gods picks up right where Soul of the World left off, but talking about the plot is difficult, as a large part of their charm is slowly understanding what is going on. So, if I can’t tell you about the plot what can I tell you about? Well, I can tell you that you should read these books. Our story still follows the same three characters from book one: Sarine, an artist street urchin with a magical pet dragon; Arak’jur, a guardian of the one of the native tribes with powerful animal and elemental magic; and Erris, a high ranking military officer with magic bound to leylines through the land. They are joined by a new fourth POV, Tigai, who has an entirely new school of magic and whose story initially seems completely unrelated to our original trio. All four of the characters remain in great form and bring a lot of different personality to the story. In addition, I think it says a lot about the quality of character writing that I still remembered (fondly) the full range of support characters as I went into Blood of the Gods.

What is most interesting about Blood of the Gods is that the story starts to make a lot of concrete sense. Seemingly random powers and events from both book one and two start to be understandable, and slowly the puzzle of what is going on in the world will click in place. When Mealing first put out Soul of the World I thought that the book was somewhat chaotic because he had decided to embrace ridiculousness and was focusing more on telling an imaginative story than on one that was polished and streamlined. After reading Blood of the Gods I have realized that he was playing a long con, and that he is actually somehow doing both.

However, the real core of these books is their magic. Back when I reviewed Soul of the World, I commented on the fact that the number of magics in the book was frankly absurd. The characters of the story have a ridiculous number of powers, and by the end of the book I was just starting to get a handle on the 30 some powers I was trying to keep track of. I was looking forward to continuing to familiarize myself with these powers in book two, which was an incredibly naive thought that I imagine David would laugh at if he ever reads this review. Book two doubles down, and by that I mean he pretty much doubles the number of magics in the book. If this sounds insane, well you aren’t wrong, but as I briefly talked about in the last review – it works because Mealing knows what he is doing as an author. The powers are never used as a deus ex machina, and despite being insanely numerous, are fairly well-defined. Instead, Mealing has created a world where our protagonists are constantly meeting new people, friend and foe, that they have to assess and work with/around as they figure out their magic. It makes you excited to keep reading and see what new magical person will be on the next page. Mealing also has an impressive imagination, and despite being up to 40 some powers by the end of Soul of the World, the magics remained fun and inventive with little overlap.

I can only imagine how much planning must have gone into a storyboard and world of this scope. While the first book took place in a set of colonies who had thrown off their parent country American revolution style, the second book expands the scope massively to the full globe. We spend a significant amount of time on other continents and learning about a number of other culture and people. The worldbuilding is functional but slightly uninspired. Most of the people and places you will see are fairly obvious fantasy adaptations of our various real world peoples (Native Americans, American Colonies, Europe, Asia, etc.). There is nothing wrong with it, but it lacks the imaginative brilliance of Mealing’s magic systems. In addition, the plot mostly continued at a fast and exciting speed; however, the book is long and it did feel like it flagged a little around the 80% mark as it built to a climax. There was a prolonged battle scene involving Erris near the end of the book that felt slightly unnecessary to an already long book. At the end of the day though, this book was a fantastic read and these flaws did not do much to dampen my enthusiasm as I systematically tore through it.

Mealing has managed to get me to reassess his skill as an author with his second book, Blood of the Gods. While I initially thought he was a crazy imaginative author who might need a little polish; now I think he is a crazy imaginative author who clearly knows what he is doing. Mealing is an author with incredible potential, and if you can handle not knowing what is going on for a massive payoff, I highly recommend you check out both Soul of the World and Blood if the Gods. I just hope that at some point in the future Mealing releases an appendix of all the powers he has introduced in his story.

Rating: Blood of the Gods – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute – It’s A Frighteningly Good Time

Boy howdy it’s mid-August and you know what that means: horror review time! There’s nothing scarier to me than 90 degree days with 90% humidity, and the electric bill that will be coming from me running my AC on the highest possible setting for months on end. In honor of the true terror brought on by the depths of summer, we’re hopping back on the Cabal Train!

Wait…no, that was the first book. The Cabal Dirigib-

No, no that was book two. Let me try again.

We’re back on the Cabal Long-Journey-Through-Mysterious-Lands-With-Mysterious-Travel-Partners-That-Involves-Multiple-Transportation-Methods.

Perfect.

51toff8i01l-_sx331_bo1204203200_For those of you who forgot, we reviewed the first two books in the series quite some time ago, you can find those reviews here and here. As a quick catch-up (though I don’t know why you’d be reading the review of a third book in a series if you had forgotten, kinda weird to be completely honest), the series follows a German necromancer (of some little infamy) named Johannes Cabal on his various travels and travails. To this point in the series proper (spoilers follow) he has bargained his way out of a deal with the devil and foiled an aristocratic plot aboard a dirigible. Having literally walked away from the dirigible’s crash landing, he has arrived back at his three-story Victorian townhouse that has been somehow moved to a deserted countryside through less-than-mundane means. As he recovers from his unexpected turn to heroism, he is approached by three men from the Fear Institute who want him to be their guide through the Dreamlands, and this is where our story begins.

The Fear Institute is a small group of intelligentsia that has dedicated itself to eradicating what they call the “Phobic Animus”, which is a silly name they have for the physical embodiment of fear itself. They believe that by eliminating this Animus they can eliminate fear in the human race and lead mankind to a more rational way of living and thinking. The problem, for them, is that the Animus resides in the Dreamlands, which are notoriously difficult to access and travel in. Based on the fact that the book isn’t over after three chapters, I think it’s fairly safe to spoil that they do end up in the Dreamlands, and it is there that the vast majority of the book takes place.

Any of you that have read Lovecraft in the past will have at least a passing familiarity with the Dreamlands, as they feature in one of his most popular stories: “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”. It is in this book that readers will solidify this series as a favorite or decide that it’s not for them after all. In previous books there were scattered references to the Cthulhu mythos, one-off moments of horror, and the occasional weirdness among what were mostly fun adventure stories. This is a stark contrast to that as the lovecraftian horror and sense of the weird really takes its place at the fore. I will not spoil the specifics, but the group’s entry into the dreamlands reads as a straight cross of parts from “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Music of Erich Zann” in only the best way. There are many more moments which brought to mind my favorite aspects of cosmic horror and instill a true feeling of mortal minds in a place not meant for them. As someone who enjoys that style of writing and that particular flavor of horror, this book was so far up my alley it was in the adjacent street. I can, however, see this as being a major issue if you are a reader for who the horror was tolerated in order to get to the action or detective scenes. There are still moments of almost Sherlockian deduction from Cabal, but the horror and weird has taken a front row seat and does not relinquish it for the majority of the book.

While this was certainly the spookiest of the Cabal novels thus far, it was also the funniest to me. Until this point in the series Cabal has relied mostly on having one character as the foil to his dry and biting wit. Horst, in the first book, played the sidekick and doting protector. Leonie, in the second book, acted in more of a friendly antagonism. In this book, we have three travelling companions, who all have very distinct personalities, that fall victim to Cabal’s jibes and sarcasm. In a way, this tripling of party members leads to a similar tripling of sardonic remarks and cutting jokes, all of which were as funny as any in the previous books. I find Howard’s ability to make me laugh in the midst of spine-tingling terror absolutely astounding and was continually impressed by how he always seems to find just the right balance of scares and scoffs.

The Cabal series has only gotten stronger with each entry, and after each story I find myself liking Johannes himself even more. His character arc is absolutely fantastic and never feels unrealistic to me. His slow transition from actual villain to reluctant hero has been believable and fun on every page. I cannot recommend reading the Cabal series highly enough, and while the series’ mix of cosmic horror and sardonic humor may throw some people for a loop, I have enjoyed each novel more than the last (and the short stories are well worth a read, too). Give it a go and I guarantee you have a ghoulishly good time.

Rating: Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute – 9.5/10
-Will

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) – So Many Stories To Choose From, And You Chose These?

513erhf-l2lWe Are Legion (We Are Bob), by Dennis Taylor, is the simple tale of a man. A man who gets hit by a car and wakes up as a synthetic consciousness around a century after his initial life (and death). I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that Bob is the man that the story is about, and it’s really important that you like Bob, because Bob turns out to be almost all of the characters in the book. You see, he’s been woken up as a digitized version of himself so that he can get strapped into a self-replicating space probe and go explore the galaxy. Super simple stuff, and that’s the kind of super simple stuff we’re going to be talking about today.

I really enjoyed the premise of We Are Legion, and I think that the freshness of the basic concept is one of the major highlights of the book. Being able to follow along as a man and his alter egos (we’ll get into that shortly) explore all the wonders of the galaxy? Sign me right up. The descriptions of interesting solar systems are pretty standard fare for the genre, but very rarely have I gotten to read from the perspective of the very first “person” to see them. In addition to the enjoyable galactic voyager angle, Bob is established to be a remarkably talented software programmer in a forgettable intro to his life, and as he essentially is a self-replicating piece of absurdly advanced technology, he is able to replicate himself as he sees fit. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of him designing and creating new tech and updating his selves and systems.

Alter egos? Selves? Bobiverse? You can probably infer from the tagline of the book “We Are Bob” that there’s going to be something going on with group consciousness, and you would be mostly correct in doing so. Each time Bob replicates himself, the new probe that comes out is just a little different than the previous one. They each take on a new name, as they are “not Bob”, and have their own interests and tastes. There’s some major pros and cons to this narrative choice. In the positives, you don’t have to spend a lot of time getting your readers emotionally invested in new characters when they’re 95% clones of the only POV character in the book. The various Bobs, while different, are still mostly Bob. This leads to the negative, if you don’t like Bob, you’re probably not going to like any of the Bobs. Bob comes across, to me, as the depiction of a Silicon Valley Bro in their ghostwritten memoirs. He is portrayed as incredibly intelligent, a very fast learner, and kind to some extent. The problem is that he always seems to have an air of condescending smugness, and one of the major plotlines with Main Bob later in the book didn’t do many favors there for me.

That touches on my last major critique of the book. Due to the fact that the Bobs are exploring the galaxy, the various plotlines are mostly self-contained with occasionally delayed contact with other Bobs. When done right this gives the opportunity to see a wide variety of unique stories and plots. Unfortunately, the plotlines that we linger on and revisit in the book tended not to be the plotlines that I cared about. I feel that a different reader may be the polar opposite to me and absolutely love the book because of that, but I kept feeling like we were spending too much time with the wrong Bobs.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is a unique and fun read. Despite the issues I had with it, I read the entire book in a single day as I needed to know what was happening next, and did thoroughly enjoy the experience. I could see this being a lot of people’s favorite book.

Rating: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) – 7.0/10
-Will

Noumenon: Kant You See It?

32600718German philosopher Immanuel Kant explains the “noumenon” as a thing in itself or something that exists beyond the realm of human experience, whereas a phenomenon is something that can be explored and related to through our senses and emotions. Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon is a novel as intricate and thought-provoking as the idea from which it draws its title. In selecting such an ambitious title, Lostetter foreshadows that her story will explore ideas that cannot be explained by way of the reader’s human senses, which she achieves by asking provocative questions about the purpose of humanity in the universe at large. Lostetter’s successful attempt to explore a small culture of humanity imbued with purpose, combined with her purposefully neutral writing, makes for an intriguing and worrying look at a potential future of humanity.

Noumenon follows a crew of a hundred thousand clones spread across a fleet of nine ships that acts as a generational convoy. Because the story takes place over several hundred years and multiple generations, the narrative is told through a series of vignettes that offer different perspectives from the passengers. Everyone on the ship is a cloned scientist from Earth and has specific, prescribed duties on the ship. They are trained by the previous generation of clones, who in turn are aided by an advanced AI system that continues to learn throughout the journey. The short stories are set periodically throughout the ship’s journey, providing a larger picture of the mission as it is completed. Each chapter follows a different character and their view of society-changing events; this style allows for a deeper look at the growth of this community and their values over time.

Lostetter wastes no time when it comes to discussing ethics. From the very first chapter, she plays with reader’s sense of right and wrong. As the first chapter deals very heavily with the planning and construction of the project, Lostetter subtly appeals to the reader’s sense of an impending and extremely grand space exploration. Though in this future, cloning is mostly forbidden and looked down upon, it feels the perfect fit for a mission of this magnitude to avoid the genetic bottlenecking that would be caused by the limited population diversity within the generation fleet. While I did not realize it at first, this rhythm is used through the rest of the novel: a problem arises, a solution that is unorthodox is suggested with most of the surface arguments presented and analyzed, and the experiment is set in motion. Lostetter manages to make many things feel reasonable and predictable in the immediate future, only to have the actual long-term results be quite unpredictable.

The characters especially help to sell the ideas at play in the book. They feel incredibly human, if a little detached from the reader. Their lamentations and inner thoughts felt relatable as they opened up to themselves or others around them. Since the story lacks a unifying narrative structure between the vignettes, Lostetter allows herself some space to explore how to tell each story. By avoiding limiting her perspective to one character, each story – and in turn, the whole story – is told with maximum effectiveness. This diversity of voices affords the story some flexibility in tone as it jumps from the inevitable grandeur of planning new space exploration, to the quiet solitude of dealing with time dilation, to the curiosity of the AI as it deal with individuals. Each new story kept pulling me back in with its characters, even if the ending of the previous story felt defeatist or lonely. Every perspective had a way of coping that gave the reader something to connect to as the stories jumped in time, pulling the reader along for the ride.

While Lostetter’s protagonists were colorful, her language was plain. Despite that, her writing style is surprisingly one of the book’s strongest characteristics. While her descriptions are serviceable at best, they are never lacking. What I especially admire is her ability to remain neutral throughout the story without becoming passive. She highlights the pure emotion of a character witnessing or acting during an event, without commenting on the morality of the event or action itself. This vague feeling of the reader having to pass their own judgement grows through the story and invites them to question Lostetter’s intent with each successive chapter. Each narrator becomes unreliable as their goals become clearer, and they feel somehow tainted based on the actions of previous generations. Every time something morally questionable or reprehensible occurred, I found myself wondering how the author felt while writing about it because her neutrality felt so deliberate. However, this style was not immediately apparent, and only became more noticeable as the book progressed, and the society dives deeper and deeper into situations that feel taboo by today’s standards.

I did not feel Lostetter really wanted to say much about what she wrote, because her objectivity feels deliberate and active. She is neither unsure of her opinion nor defensively trying to avoid it; rather her approach felt more like she was asking the reader “what do you think?” in order to start a conversation. Admittedly, it is not a tactic that is emblazoned in neon letters, but I give Lostetter a lot of credit. It is a technique I have a hard time using normally, and would have an even tougher time if I decided to write with that mentality. Her adjectives were descriptive without carrying a pejorative or laudatory weight, except for when a character’s dialogue reacted to another’s actions or suggestions. The contrast between Lostetter’s own use of language and that which is used by the characters’ only highlighted the moral conundrums at play.

I will not pretend to really understand classical philosophy or the deeper nuances of Kant’s ideas, but I think Lostetter does a decent job of trying to encapsulate both in her book. As the reader, I do not exist within the story, nor have I grown up in the society portrayed. I will not know what it is like to be born with a specific purpose, and live to see that purpose realized and be perplexed by its ending. This to me is the essence of noumenon, and why the author’s deliberate neutrality is both successful and necessary. The book itself is the phenomenon. It allows the reader to engage the thing with their senses without them being the thing itself. By highlighting different stories instead of providing a stable character the reader can identify with, Lostetter gives the reader a chance to react and ponder the consequences for themselves by seeing how the protagonists exist within the story.

Recently, I have taken to reading the acknowledgements at the end of a book to get a feel for what is important to the author as they thank those who helped them, explain how the book helped them discover bits of themselves, or what their goal for the book has been. Upon reading Lostetter’s acknowledgements, I could not have been more wrong about her seeming neutrality and removedness. Every character feels imbued with her own experiences of sadness, shock, anger, ambition, hopelessness, and ultimately with her curiosity. The people she thanked and what she thanked them for find their way into her vignettes, adding humanity to the deep emptiness of space. Noumenon, while not perfect, turned out to be far more interesting to me than I expected, and I can not wait to read Noumenon: Infinity.

Rating: Noumenon – 8.0/10
-Alex

Bloody Rose – Isn’t She Lovely

eames_bloddy-rose_pbLast year Nicholas Eames had a breakout success with his book Kings of the Wyld. The story of an older fantasy party getting back together for one last tour, the book told a touching story of five characters finding the strength to set aside their differences and save the world. It was one of our top books of the year and you can read more about it here, here, and here. Not content to just write one amazing book, Eames is back with a sequel, Bloody Rose, that takes place in the aftermath of book one but follows an entirely new cast. It is a big task to write a sequel from the ground up, so the question is: did Eames mess up his encore?

No, no he did not. I am deeply impressed Bloody Rose is such a solid book, especially as it forgoes a lot of what made Kings amazing. Our new POV is Tam, the daughter of two famous mercenaries looking to strike out on her own. She quickly falls in as the new bard for the top band in the world, Fable. The five (if I include Tam) person band includes Brune (a shapeshifting druid), Cura (a summoner who uses ink and flesh for her creations), Lastleaf (a druid swordsman you might remember from book one), and the aforementioned Rose – daughter to one of our characters from book one, Golden Gabe. In the wake of vanquishing the horde of monsters in Kings of the Wyld, bands have begun to stick to touring arenas where they can slaughter monsters brought in from the Wylds in front of huge audiences. However, it doesn’t take long for the remnants of the monster army to regroup under a new leader for one last push into human lands. When this new horde starts making its invasion, most bands head towards it to put it down a second time. The notable outlier to this is Fable, who finds themselves heading in the opposite direction to fulfil a mysterious contract – much to the ire of the other bands around them.

Much like with Saga in book one, Fable is a band with a lot of issues. Each band member is dealing with their own personal crisis that is slowly pulling the band apart. The major theme this time around is parent relationships. Each band member has a problem with their parents that they are trying to work through throughout the course of the book to varying degrees of success. I won’t go into all of them to avoid spoilers, but I think I can touch on the more obvious two – Tam, our POV, and Rose. Tam’s mother was killed while touring with her band and her father has never gotten over her death. Tam essentially runs away from her father to join Fable after he expressly forbids it and spends the majority of the book trying to find her own identity and come to terms with who she is vs. who her father wanted her to be. Rose, on the other hand, is the daughter of one of the most famous mercenaries alive and has found herself unable to leave his shadow. Driven to take on increasingly more dangerous contracts, Rose is determined to eclipse her father or die trying.

Bloody Rose’s characters are fantastic. Tam is an absolute delight (and is a lesbian for those of you who are looking for lgbt protagonists). I think Eames made a really good choice in telling the story from Tam’s eyes. As we progress through the book, Tam’s opinion of Fable’s other members goes from ‘starstruck awe’ to ‘deep personal understanding of their strengths and flaws’, and riding along with her for that trip was wonderful. The cast as a whole is fantastic, including many of the smaller side characters like Tam’s uncle Bram and Fables bookie Rodrick. The only character that I honestly wasn’t in love with was the titular Rose. She felt a little shallow, only living to outshine her father, and the other characters were so interesting that, while I liked Rose, she never quite connected with me like the rest of Fable did.

Bloody Rose has a more somber and serious voice than its predecessor, though it still has a good sense of humor. Kings of the Wyld focused a lot on laughs and emotional connections, whereas Bloody Rose focuses more on its plot, worldbuilding, and narrative themes. In line with this, one of the biggest themes of Rose is evaluating people for their own merits, not the merits of their parents, and as such I think comparing the two books does both injustice. Bloody Rose’s plot is fantastic. Eames does a great job building out the world a lot more this time around and getting you much more invested in the bigger picture. The pacing for the first 60% of the book is phenomenal, but I think it does struggle a little bit around roughly the 80% mark. This was only a minor problem in an overall fantastic book though and I do not think anyone who is looking forward to Bloody Rose is going to be disappointed.

The success of Bloody Rose shows that Nicholas Eames is here to stay. It is a heartfelt read, with a beautiful world, and a cast I deeply connected with. Eames’ narrative voice is one of the best in this generation of fantasy authors, and I cannot wait to read everything else he puts out. Bloody Rose is one of the strongest fantasy books this year, and everyone should pick it up as soon as they can.

Rating: Bloody Rose – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Redemption’s Blade – Stuffed To Bursting With Imagination

redemptions-blade-9781781085790_hrOne of the best books I have read this year was Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It was an incredible take on the ideas of evolution and what makes someone human along with a interesting narrative style. I thought Children of Time was so good that it made me want to dive in to Adrian’s vast catalogue of books and read more. Solaris/Rebellion was kind enough to facilitate this desire and sent me an ARC of his newest book, Redemption’s Blade, in exchange for a honest review.

Redemption’s Blade has a plot that should appeal to most fantasy readers. The story takes place in the immediate wake of a gigantic war that touched almost the entire world. A demigod, named the Kinslayer, decided that he was no longer keen on his God given mission to protect the mortals of the world. Instead, he thought it would be a lot more fun to consume his brethren (which earned him his name), cast down the gods, and enslave all mortals. His war for domination was cut short when he was sliced in half by a group of heroes and some of his minions that turned traitor. One of these heroes was Celestaine, who goes by Celest, who is finding herself a bit lost in a world that regards her as one of its saviors. In order to find some meaning in her post-hero life she sets out on a journey with a group of the Kinslayer’s ex-minions to try and right some of the wrongs that the demigod committed in his war.

Redemption simultaneously evokes classical quest fantasies like Lord of the Rings, while also being a non-stop avalanche of original ideas and worldbuilding. We follow Celest as she travels across the world looking for an artifact of incredible power to heal the people the Kinslayer mutilated. On this journey she recruits a number of interesting characters to her cause and takes you on a tour of a number of horrors that the Kinslayer created. The plot is enjoyable, but slightly predictable (which was fine). Where the book really shined was its world, as Tchaikovsky really knows how to build atmosphere and story set pieces. I was filled with childlike wonder as I read about strange creatures, cool swords, weird races, and despicable crimes. So while the plot of the book can sometimes feel a little shallow, Celest’s journey is simply a lot of fun and honestly that is the most important quality for a book to have.

If I had to pick a flaw to talk about, it would be Celest herself. The characters of the story are, on a whole, fantastic. The party members, side characters, and antagonists all succeeded in getting me emotionally invested and caring about them as people. However, Celest felt like she struggled as the central POV as her character began to feel a little one note as the book ran on. Her inner monologues get a little bit repetitive, and she tended to harp on the same ideas (such as “are these ex-evil minions my friends or tools that I am using?”) a little too often. This is a shame because her various party members were a buffet of deep personalities.

Overall, I enjoyed Redemption’s Blade a lot. It is a very fun book with a lot of astoundingly cool ideas that I think almost any fan of the fantasy genre would enjoy. It loses a little bit of steam towards the end, and Celest could use an injection of personality, but I would still recommend it to anyone who asks. In the meantime, my second foray into Tchaikovsky’s work has only cemented my belief that he is an unique and imaginative author that I need to read more from, and I can’t wait to get my hands on his next book.

Rating: Redemption’s Blade – 8.0/10
-Andrew