The Ruin of Kings – Reverse Goldilocks

814jpuhpbrlHere we have one of the mega-debuts of 2019. Published by Tor, The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons has had one of the largest marketing pushes I have seen in years. I have seen advertising for this book literally everywhere, and it somehow already has a TV deal with Annapurna. As I picked it up it felt too big to fail, and I was extremely curious to see if this massive first entry would live up to the hype or fall short. After reading it, I feel like it surprisingly somehow managed to do both.

The Ruin of Kings is about Kihrin, a thief (sorta) with a destiny to bring ruin to kings (hence the title). Our story follows Kihrin in two timelines that alternate each chapter. In the first, we read about Kihrin’s present life as a slave and his attempts to escape bondage and death while pursuing his destiny with a mysterious order of magic users. The other timeline tells Kihrin’s backstory and explains how he ended up in his current predicament. The alternation of the timelines is one of the novel’s largest strengths, and I think Lyons did a very good job matching the two stories to feel relevant to each other at all times while evenly disseminating information about the world, characters, and plot. This is not an easy thing to do, and Lyons managed to instill a great deal of urgency in both timelines that make the book a fast read despite its 800+ page length.

The problem with the book is that despite its even storytelling, neither timeline has enough story, world, or character building to be satisfactory. The pacing of the book is extremely fast, often to the story’s detriment. Lyons moves Kihrin through the world at a breakneck pace, and I constantly felt like I didn’t spend enough time with any location or character to fully understand them. For example, we start the book in an interesting city with a famous slave market that Lyons builds up to be compelling and mysterious. Then before we can learn more about it, she ejects Kihrin via a metaphorical cannon into the surrounding ocean. Once there, he enters a giant maelstrom filled with enormous sea creatures that hunt him. We learn enough that I want to know more, but then quickly move past and never revisit. In the other timeline, we learn that Kihrin is part of an esteemed thieves guild, and get to see him go on a regular heist. However, we never get a sense that there is anyone other than him and one or two other members in this “giant” thieves guild before it is metaphorically burned down and Lyons moves on to a new plot point.

Lyons moves between ideas so fast that you never really get to sit with them long enough. The shame is I really like her ideas. Almost all the places and things she shows the reader are awesome. I just needed another 400 pages to slow the pacing down and learn more about these small pockets of the world. However, this segues into the other major issue that plagued me in this book: I really don’t like Kihrin. He is a spoiled, melodramatic, Gary Sue who whines so god damn much it is unbelievable. Look, I understand that this is supposed to be a coming of age story and that he grows into a better person, but 800 pages is a reallllly long time to put up with his annoying tendencies. He definitely improves by the end of the book, but I feel like there is still a lot of work to go.

I am actually glad that The Ruin of Kings is becoming a TV show because I think it has a fantastic setting that will do well in a visual medium. However, despite the river of creativity that Lyons has put to paper, the original source material leaves a little bit to be desired. I suspect that less picky readers will enjoy this book a whole lot more than me, so if it sounds interesting to you definitely give it a shot. As for me, I am disappointed that The Ruin of Kings’ fast pacing and exhaustive length greatly hampered my reading experience.

Rating: The Ruin of Kings – 6.5/10
-Andrew

There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – A Satisfying Quickie

Seamen on the Poop-Deck

The day I discovered There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck!, a glamorously dressed pirate approached me in the aisles of Chicago’s Wizard World comic convention. He burst full force into a tirade of sexual puns and hilarious phrasing as he declared his own book a can’t-miss gay pirate adventure. I was sold. In fact, I bought the first four books in The Seamen Sexology. After all, it was banned by the Texas Renaissance Festival…who’s to say when it will be banned everywhere and declared a national treasure? Now, two years later, I mustered up the courage to read Francois le Foutre’s debut masterpiece.

This second review paragraph typically hosts a quick plot summary to get you up (to speed), but if I took that route we’d all finish far too early. At 21 pages, There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck is more a short story than a novel (in the literary community, we call this a quickie). In lieu of a plot description, suffice it to say the book is a very short but intensely satisfying read. Give it a chance despite its length and you’re bound to be roused for the entire ride, captivated by le Foutre’s stiff hand and prosaic caresses.

Sure, this is a read that can be rubbed out pretty quickly, but its climax captivates, and the prose is riddled with pirate sex puns that had me screaming. Quickfire spurts of jokes keep this a steady and reliable read, even without any foreplay (aka knowing anything about the book).

Look, is this 21-page story about gay pirate sex a genre-defining literary benchmark? YES. Unequivocally yes. There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck oozes intrigue and wonder. The ocean, sweat and…uh…other things glisten under the shining light of le Foutre’s apt wordsmithery. This line from the first page says it all:

“The last time a man had tried to come on my poop without permission, the other men took it upon themselves to come all over him and beat him off.”

That quote, from the book’s second paragraph, sets the stage for a full-sail journey into a treasure (pleasure?) chest full of puns and wordplay that’s hard to achieve on its own, let alone in a sensible narrative. But, as you’ll find out, Francois does many things. And entering the punderdome to the tune of a delectable sea shanty is one of them.

There are countless other praises I could pour upon le Foutre’s work for you, but–as we all know–sometimes it’s just better if you do it yourself. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Kindle edition for free, or buy the paper copy and keep it on your toilet to spice up visits to your poop deck.

Rating: There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – 9.0/10, read it if you dare.
-Cole

In the Mist of Fire – Interview with Nathalie Gribinski

Mist FireNathalie Gribinski’s In the Mist of Fire places her artistry centerstage, where her elegant mix of prosaic poetry and vibrantly abstract characters bring vividly imagined worlds to life. Her debut book is a winner, packed with powerful messages and captivating visuals that make it equal parts fun and thought-provoking. Nathalie was kind enough to speak with The Quill To Live about her writing process, her relationship with her art, and more.    

First off, can you tell us about yourself and how you became an artist?

People call me Nana. I grew up in Paris, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Science. I moved to Chicago to study graphic art. After a year of study, I immersed myself in painting, where I feel most at home with my art.

For a year, I concentrated on illustrations, so I decided to collect them into a published work alongside original poetry. In the Mist of Fire is the culmination of my stories and my art, and it represents my growth as an artist. Since my early days of writing poetry and drawing, I’ve grown so much, and I think the book shows that evolution in my work.

I have a cat/roommate named Zoé. The book includes a poem and illustration inspired by her.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to stay a child—I loved the wonder and exploration of being a kid. But sometimes I asked myself questions about the future. I didn’t know much about what I wanted to be, because I was focused on the present. I did have a passion for justice, so I ended up studying law. The work was interesting, but not fulfilling. So when I moved across the world and immersed myself into a new culture and community, I viewed it as an opportunity to rebuild myself into a new person—one I’d always wanted to be. It opened up new creative avenues for me and led me to pursue my art full-time.

regards celestes

Regards Celestes

In the Mist of Fire effortlessly combines written stories with beautiful artwork—can you talk about the relationship between your art and writing in the book?

This is my first book and I wanted to take a closer look at my illustrations, understand them better, and give them a voice. My illustrations are usually abstract works, so I tried to emulate that mood in the stories.

How would you describe In the Mist of Fire to someone who’s never read it?

On its surface, the book is a collection of art and poetry. Dive deeper, and it’s an invitation to open up the imagination and take a moment to enjoy the abstract. It’s an escape from the mundane into the vibrant and beautiful worlds we create in our minds.

Do the stories come first, or the visuals?

In this first book, the illustrations come first. I wrote the stories according to the illustrations. I’m an artist to my core, so my creative muse is almost always visual.

IMG_5062

Circles in the Wind

Which other pieces, books, or works of art have impacted you on your artistic journey?

The Little Prince has been always an inspiration. I like the naïve feeling it represents. The lessons of life, the light illustrations. Artistically, I have been influenced by Van Gogh; his colorful expressions of sorrow and suffering translatebeautifully onto canvas. He stayed true to himself until the end of his life, and though his story is a sad one, he left behind stunningly gorgeous and meaningful works.

He captivates me by his ability to express so much suffering and translate them into beautiful colorful paintings full of life. And especially because he stayed himself until the end of his life. He was looking for the truth.

What inspires you, and what motivates you to constantly create?

It is a necessity, a way of life. I am inspired by beauty, music, love, suffering, friendship, warm feelings, storms, and Zoé, my cat. What motivates me is the end result. I like to see a finished piece coming to life, and I love to share my work with others. I create to feel complete.

Many of your stories have lessons or positive messages, but there are also hints of darkness, such as in Swan of Hell. How do you balance the light and the dark?

The light and the dark are naturally balanced in myself. I have heard some critics say that any? art that there shows a lot of joy but also a lot of suffering.  I cannot understand actually how it could be different. We are all exposed to the edges of despair and the edges of happiness. I like contrasts, tension, and after all, light and dark are the truths of life.

Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff

I mention Swan of Hell specifically because it’s my favorite—do you have a favorite piece from this collection? Why does it stand out to you?

Regarding the writings, I fluctuate between two very different stories:

I like The Strange Animal Fair because it’s a short text where you can vividly visualize the scene. It’s humorous and sometimes sarcastic; it’s a story that shines.

But I also appreciate the poetry, the dynamism and the dreamy atmosphere of The Eyes of the Casino.

Regarding the illustrations, my favorite is The Eyes of the Casino.

It’s the closest reflection of the story, emboldened by a sense of movement. It is colorful, anchored by red, which is my favorite color. I find this illustration very complete.

What’s next on your artistic agenda? Any new projects on the horizon?

I’m developing a project with a poet where this time he writes poetry and I illustrate it. I’m intrigued by the concept because it’s a reversal of my process for In the Mist of Fire, where the illustrations came first.

I am also seriously returning to painting, having a solo exhibit in Chicago March 22 to March 31 at the Palette and Chisel Gallery, 1012 North Dearborn. The opening is March 22 from 6 pm to 10 pm.

Fairy light

Fairy Light

Where can we find your work?

On my website: www.nathaliegribinskiart.com

On Saatchi, an online art gallery: http://www.saatchiart.com/ngribinski

 

For The Killing Of Kings – For The Having Of A Good Time

91fi4au2qflI apparently have a thing for military orders. Or, I guess not military, but organized groups of fantasy heroes. Maybe all of us who read the genre do, as most fantasy books have them. There always seems to be some group of warriors with a cliche name like “the Night Fighters” in every fantasy book. However, every once in a while you get a series like Malazan, or Bloodsong, or even Harry Potter that does these groups of heroes justice and tell you about a club that you would give your left arm to be a part of. This is one of those times. For the Killing of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones, is the first book in his new The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. It is a phenomenal new story, whose greatest shortcoming is that there is not more of it, and it will likely be one of my top books of 2019.

For the Killing of Kings (FtKoK) tells the story of a post-war Darassus. Through the use of the Altenari, a prestigious military order, and its army, Darassus won a major conflict again its hostile neighboring nations. However, instead of pressing their victory, the royalty sued for peace – electing instead to focus their time upon studying mysterious magical artifacts they found over the course of the conflict instead of hunting down their enemies. This choice fractured the Altenari, with some losing faith in their leaders, and others holding fast to the nation’s new direction. Although the Altenari are somewhat reduced from their former glory, it is still a highly sought after order with many aspirants pledging to try and rise to the high rank of Alten. Our story follows two individuals, Elenai – a high ranking squire in the Altenari order, and Rylin – one of the newest individuals to reach the high rank of Alten after the war. Although both of these individuals are supremely talented, they find themselves in the shadow of the “old guard” of the Altenari (those who helped win the previous war). However, in the course of their duties both of our protagonists stumble over a mystery/conspiracy that threatens Darassus and find themselves working with the old guard to save the nation.

FtKoK has all the hallmarks of a fantasy great. It has an engrossing world, a top tier cast of characters, a fast-paced plot, and smart well-written prose that explores complicated themes through a fun medium. The world has your typical fantasy backstory – six gods each sat down and made a nation and became their patron. One went crazy and tried to murder the others, and got curbed stomped. While the gods fashioning the various nations isn’t too original, there are a number of details, like that the goods seemed to have built the word in some sort of giant unstable magical dimension, that gives FtKoK a distinguishing flare. While the land of the nations is solid and fairly “normal”, the borders and space between the various realms is this shifting morass of reality that essentially looks like a kaleidoscope that was tossed into a dryer. These shifting lands are extremely unstable, and magic users have learned to essentially build a reality around them as they travel through the lands. This leads to some super cool magic and magical fights in the story and really gives the world of FtKoK a lot of character.

Although the world is cool, it doesn’t hold a candle to the characters. The entire cast is fantastic and was really the high point of the series. Starting with our protagonists, both are intelligent, relatable, kind, warm, and show growth throughout the book. While they have a ton of differences, Elenai and Rylin are similar in they are both in roles where they feel they have been promoted above their station. Although they technically share ranks (or a rank below) with the rest of the Alten, they are new additions to this prestigious order and feel they still have a lot to do to live up to their ranks. They both have a level of self-awareness that is refreshing and speaks a lot to the virtues of responsibility and sacrifice. And speaking of the old guard, the most established Alten are all brilliantly written characters. Each of them is distinct, engrossing to read about, and improve the enjoyment of the book by their very presence. I love these characters and I want to read more about them.

The plot is also no slouch, and I found myself throwing out my regimented free time schedule in order to spend more time with this book. The mysteries in the story are well presented, and Jones has a real talent for teasing out clues and leads to build a larger picture. However, while I have a boatload of positive things to say about FtKoK, there were some places that could be improved. First, the book is too short and ends on an outrageously suspenseful cliffhanger. I feel like Jones couldn’t decide where to break up books one and two and just picked a place at random. I only finished the book last night and I am already dying for the sequel. Along a similar line, the pacing sometimes felt too quick. There were fights, dialogues, and expositions that felt a little rushed and I wish Jones took a little more time fleshing out and exploring. I really, really, liked this book and I didn’t like that I sometimes felt that I was being “rushed out the door”. At only 350 pages, I felt that FtKoK could have easily been 600 (a lot happens) and told the same story at a more luxurious pace.

At the end of the day, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that you wish it was twice as long it means you obviously loved it. For the Killing of Kings has raised the Altenari to one of my favorite fantasy orders in a single book, a feat that is no small accomplishment. With its brilliant cast of characters, smart explorations of the burdens of responsibility, and nebulous world and plot – For the Killing of Kings is sure to be one of the best books of 2019 and I recommend you check it out as soon as possible.

Rating: For the Killing of Kings – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Umbrella Academy – A Blunderous Bumbershoot

Umbrella

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, created by My Chemical Romance frontrunner Gerard Way and brought to artistic life by Gabriel Ba, sits at a unique crossroads both within the current cultural zeitgeist and on my bookshelf. With the Netflix adaptation premiering tomorrow as of this writing, I can only imagine the book’s sales have received a positive bump as readers and superhero-loving viewers flock to read the source material if only to tell their friends watching the series “Well, that was different in the graphic novel” with an upturned nose.

That motivation fuelled my own reading of Umbrella Academy, but the timing also placed it just a few books after my glowing review of Lights’ Skin&Earth. The similarities end at “A talented musician wrote a graphic novel,” but the two books’ origins keep them locked in battle in my mind as I try to separate the best from the meh-st. Gerard Way’s brainchild falls heavily into the latter bucket.

Apocalypse Suite collects six issues that form one narrative arc for the titular Umbrella Academy band of superpowered humans. 43 children are born to women who showed no signs of pregnancy, and nearly all of them display remarkable powers. Reginald Hargreeves, a monocled philanthropist and mysterious douchebag, vows to adopt as many of the children as he can to “nurture” them and teach them to harness their powers. Many draw parallels to the X-Men franchise and Professor X, a fine and fitting way to frame the narrative to someone who hasn’t heard of Umbrella Academy. Hargreeves successfully adopts seven of the children, and they save the world from a hilariously zombified Gustav Eiffel as he weaponizes his Parisian architectural wonder.

And that brings us to page 10.

The beefiest portion of story occurs after Hargreeves’ death (again we’re only at page 10, so no major spoilers) brings the remaining six children together after many years of being disbanded.

Enter, as I see it, the story’s crowning fault: utter disregard for pacing. After the initial 10 pages, which are downright fantastic and lay the groundwork for what could be an incredible tale, the story veers off wildly into countless directions, exploring the past, the present, and the future while giving readers virtually nothing to sink their teeth into. Newspaper clippings in the background of a few panels tell us one of the children has died, and others tell us that Spaceboy, the leader of the bunch, was involved in an accident and Hargreeves saved him by implanting his head onto the cyborgian body of a Martian gorilla. What follows is a cavalcade of mixed messages and family drama that just doesn’t click. Each 22-page chapter tries to cover so much ground that Apocalypse Suite reads like a hapless smattering of beginnings and ends with no middle–there’s little meat on these otherwise sturdy narrative bones.

The pacing issue goes hand-in-hand with Way’s treatment of the characters. Each of the Umbrella Academy’s members reads like a blurry reflection of a character who could be fantastic if given more space. It’s obvious that Gerard Way has deeply explored each character, but the problem lies in volume. There are six living Umbrella Academy children plus a few side characters and a few villains. To explore the faults, flaws, strengths, powers, and psyches of each would require triple the real estate.

A prime offender here is Rumor, one of the six remaining members. Her power is bringing rumors to life by speaking them into existence: “I heard a rumor that Patrick Rothfuss published his third Kingkiller novel,” for example, would bring that truth to life (not to mention lock a bunch of nerds in their rooms for 24 hours head-down in a book). Way explores this power for maybe two panels, and Rumor’s siblings are treated with equal disregard in terms of characterization. To drive this point home, consider this: I’ve stared at my screen for a full five minutes thinking of what else I can say about the characters in this book, but I’m coming up short. Call it a product of limited space or faulty writing–either way, I think Umbrella Academy misses the mark here.

On the flip side, Apocalypse Suite shines when it lends ample time to creating a villain. Vanya, the seventh sibling who has no noticeable powers, is essentially disowned by her family following Hargreeves’ death. Her arc is painful, haunting, tragic, and intensely gripping, playing beautifully into Gerard Way’s hand as a musician-turned-author and fortified by Gabriel Ba’s artistic vision. Her narrative reveals the sharp edges and dark corners of the Umbrella Academy’s collective upbringing, and this story makes the book worthwhile. If Vanya had been absent or replaced by a different villain, I’d have written this series off completely.

Despite everything, though, there’s something here, call it an X factor, keeping me intrigued by this quirky, dark series. Even with an ending that wraps things up all-too-quickly and characters that leave a hell of a lot to be desired, I’m willing to venture boldly into the second book. In a way, it feels like Apocalypse Suite is a shaky pilot that births a seminal show. In fact, I think Netflix is the perfect platform to right the narrative shortcomings of the graphic novel, and I’m excited to see a more fleshed out version of a story that couldn’t quite reach its potential as a book.

Of course, if you’re looking for a cream of the crop graphic novel written by a famous musician, there’s always Skin&Earth.

Rating: Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite – 5.0/10
-Cole

The Atrocity Archives – If You Gaze Long Into IT, The IT Also Gazes Into You

51zhglnwgul._sx308_bo1204203200_Show of hands, how many of you out there have worked for a large corporation before? For those of you sitting at your desk with a hand raised, likely sipping a lukewarm coffee that may or may not have been the last cup before the carafe needed to be refilled (you think we don’t know?), put your hand down. You look ridiculous and your colleagues are beginning to talk. Those of you who had your hands raised, and are now feeling a little self-conscious, The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross, is going to make sense to you. It shouldn’t, because the contents are mind-warping, strange, and surreal, but it will. I’m sorry.

As I was saying, today’s review is The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, a book that is actually a long novella and a short story combined into one printing and kicks off the Laundry Files series. As of the writing of this review, there are 9 fully numbered entries in the series, so there’s clearly a readership. Considering it’s essentially about an IT guy who’s really good at math trying to contain gibbering extra-dimensional entities it seems like I may be the kind of person who’s a member of that readership. Review spoiler, as is tradition, I am.

The Atrocity Archives is written from the POV of Bob Howard, who starts the series as a low level IT guy working for Capital Laundry Services, the UK’s secret agency for all that goes bump in the night. The back blurb gives away that he quickly “gets noticed” and is bumped up to being a field agent. He subsequently goes on a few adventures, sees some scary stuff, and is generally annoyed by the proceedings. His first few (mis)adventures are told with an interesting but slightly repetitive window-dressing, in that about halfway through the action we fade to him in a staff meeting briefing his superiors on what happened next. I thought that it was funny the first time, but I think it wears a little thin on repeated use. Luckily this disappears for the most part as the story goes on, but it did stick out to me.

I don’t really hold it against the book overall, though, as one of the main selling points of the story is the way it examines and takes apart the day-to-day trappings of working for a soulless (maybe literally in this case) bureaucracy. Bob’s life as a secret government field agent who is licensed to use deadly and high-grade occult weaponry is mainly occupied by staff meetings, corporate liability training, and other equally terrifying drudgery. Bob’s inner monologue as he sits through yet another staff training exercise he’s overqualified for but had to attend because his office had the budget to send someone is dry, funny, and will spring to mind during my next conference call.

I was also very impressed by Stross’s handling of the actual horror scenes in the book. A great many crossover horror books tend to actually be a fantasy or sci-fi book with a little bit of lip service to horror in the form of a mention of Nyarlathotep or some gore and flickering lights. I can honestly say that there were multiple scenes in The Atrocity Archives where I was truly unsettled. I really can’t get across, without spoiling specifics, how effective Stross managed to be with his horror.

One thing that stuck out to me in a less-than-positive way was how juvenile the hacker culture aspects of the book were. I’ve waffled from one perspective to the other on this, and since I read this book rather than listened on the audiobook, I can only infer what Bob sounded like when he used terms like “pwnz0r3d” in casual conversation, and since I enjoyed all the other aspects of the book so much I’m choosing on a personal level to believe that Bob is so unremittingly sarcastic that he’s joking when he says it. In the interest of fairness and honesty I have to inform you that in choosing to believe this I’m ignoring some other questionable evidence (e.g. his roommates names being “Pinky” and “Brains”, though again this may just be another in-universe joke for them, it was hard for me to tell).

I liked the book. I liked the book so much I immediately bought the second and read seven chapters before reminding myself I have other books on my schedule and it can wait. That being said, I think that the writing itself is pretty much just okay, and my enjoyment of it was heavily influenced by the fact that it was written for someone with almost exactly my interests and history of media consumption. I don’t really think this is a “recommend this to anyone and they’ll love it” book, I don’t even think it’s really a “recommend this to anyone and they’ll finish it and still have faith in your recommendations, at least” book. If you have a good grounding in the Cthulhu mythos, but really wanted to experience it from the perspective of a late-twenties British IT guy who’s pretty funny most of the time I’d recommend you pick it up.

General Audience Rating: The Atrocity Archives – 6.5/10
Will Audience Rating: The Atrocity Archives – 9.5/10
-Will

Vigilance – About What I Expected

51jlcyt6qilSo, Robert Jackson Bennett has a new novella out – its called Vigilance. The lovely people at Tor.com know I think Bennett is some sort of literary Midas, so they kindly sent me an ARC copy of the story in exchange for an honest review. Now, while it is definitely true that I think Bennett is one of the best fantasy authors out there, it could be argued Vigilance is a slight departure from his usual work, and is much more of a post-apocalyptic political piece. However, everything I have read from Bennett thus far has been a fantastic fantasy novel with a hidden brilliant political manifesto inside. In the same vein, Vigilance feels less like a change in style for Bennett and more like he trimmed the fat from a full novel and put the core driving values of the story on display.

Vigilance is a 200-page novella on gun violence and a commentary on the direction that America is headed, with its mentality and legislature surrounding firearms. The book gives a glimpse into a decrepit America a few decades in the future. With growth crippled by us vs. them national policy, and an increase in weapon sales via fear mongering, America has become a reoccurring news cycle of gun violence and tragedy. Faced with the realization that gun violence was only going up, a media and marketing studio essentially made a reality show out of mass shootings under the pretext of “hey, you have to experience mass murder one way or another, you might as well have a shot at making money off of it.” The show debuts to grand success and is dubbed Vigilance, for the idea that everyone in America must always be vigilant.

The plot follows McDean, a managing director of Vigilance, as he strives to maximize the viewership of the show through algorithms and marketing techniques. The chapters slowly break down the methods that he used to incorporate such a horrific show into the daily life of Americans, and the path of events that led to the USA willing to embrace it. We also follow a second character in the general populous; a bartender and gives a glimpse into what the daily life in the US is like. The result is a truly depressing tale that made me feel like walking out my front door protesting guns and the rhetoric behind them.

Vigilance is a stunningly well-argued piece on an imagined future for the current US political path. Full disclosure, I abhor gun violence and I was worried that my biases might make it hard to objectively review this story. However, having finished I find it the most compelling argument I can think of for the anti-gun side of the argument. This is not an unbiased thought piece, and if you find yourself on the pro-gun side of these issues, I do not think you will like it. For me personally, Bennett uses his smart prose, excellent pacing, and copious narrative skills to put into words feelings and ideas I, and I will bet many others, have wanted to express, but lack the ability to do. Vigilance, like everything Bennett writes, is an excellent piece that I think everyone should read.

Rating: Vigilance – 8.5/10
-Andrew

The Hod King – Hat Of The Sphinx

51tbh9qip2lI am running late on this review and I feel a deep sense of shame. Orbit was kind enough to send me a super advanced copy, which I promptly shelved because it was too early to review it. Unfortunately, my December reading schedule was a nightmare, so I am only getting to The Hod King now, and I am keenly aware that I should have read it weeks ago. Anyway, welcome to my review of the third Tower of Babel book, The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft. If you missed my reviews of the first two books they can be found here, and here. Although you probably won’t care about this review until you read the first two books – there are no explicit spoilers so you are free to take a look even if you ignored my explicit advice to pick up this series (for which I am judging you).

The Books of Babel are shaping up to be a really hard series to holistically review. Although each book shares the same gripping plot, Bancroft’s incredible prose, and a delightful sense of humor, they also each have very different narrative styles that will pull readers towards one over the other. Senlin Ascends has a boyish naivety to it, and the storytelling is focused mostly on exploring the tower and introducing you to many of its marvels without revealing its secrets. The Arm of the Sphinx, my personal favorite, focuses more on building out the story. It takes the foundation and plot snippets that Senlin Ascends laid and builds them into a plot to rival any of the best fantasy stories out there. The Hod King takes the next logical step and fleshes out the characters to a heightened degree. However, don’t get me wrong – all three books have a lot of wonder, story, and character building in each.

The Books of Babel has been a story about characters from the start, and while we have witnessed Senlin’s slow change from selfish naive schoolteacher to selfless brilliant hero – the rest of the series amazing cast had not nearly been explored enough. To remedy this, The Hod King is split into roughly three equal 200-page parts. Each of these sections tells the same-ish section of the story from a different set of characters POV. Normally, I am not a huge fan of this style of storytelling. While it is always interesting to experience an event through the eyes of a variety of cast members, it can get really boring when 2/3rds of the book rehashes scenes where you already know the outcome. Bancroft remedies this brilliantly in two ways: first, his characters are so interesting that I was able to move past my initial reservations and have a wonderful time hearing about scenes a second time. And second, while the three sections of the story did have large overlaps, they also each moved the plot forward with different plot lines. That being said, if I had one complaint about The Hod King it would be that I don’t feel the plot made enough progress after 600 pages. I don’t really feel like any improvements were made toward remedying the imminent threat to the cast– we just know more about said threat.

At the same time, holy cow is the writing compelling. Every damn chapter is a cliffhanger that will have you burning through the pages to find out what happens. Bancroft has steadily improved his combat writing, and a number of the fight scenes had me on the edge of my seat sweating. The Hod King also has the most heart, due to its character focus, out of the books so far and there were a number of heartfelt and touching scenes that deeply moved me. The book also does an incredible job setting up the story for final fourth book – a release date I am now watching like a hawk.

In summary, The Hod King is great. The Books of Babel series continues to cement itself as one of the best character stories in the fantasy genre, and Senlin and his crew are an original group of rogues of whom I can’t get enough. The only complaint I have against The Hod King is that there wasn’t enough of it to feed my Bancroft addiction. The fourth installment of this modern classic cannot come soon enough, and if you aren’t reading these books, you don’t know what you are missing.

Rating: The Hod King – 9.0/10
-Andrew