Cold Iron – Not My Speed, But A Great Book

41spu0t5ddl._sx331_bo1204203200_I am playing a little bit of catch up this week and knocked out some books from last year I was unable to get around to reading. One of these books was Cold Iron, by Miles Cameron. Many of you likely haven’t heard of Cameron, but he is a bit of an underground superstar. While he is not well known, he seems to have a particularly fervent niche following that absolutely loves his work. This work primarily consists of a grimdark epic fantasy series called The Traitor Son Cycle (the first book is The Red Knight) which is five books long, each of which is massive. I think a lot of what makes Cameron stand out as an author is his unique narrative style and prose. It is very distinctive, favoring more detailed descriptives and intricate worldbuilding over dialogue, and it tends to be very polarizing. Unfortunately, when I read The Red Knight I found myself in the “not a fan” group of the split, but with Cold Iron, I was hoping to give Cameron a second chance because I loved his new premise.

Cameron’s new series follows the story of Aranthur, a young man attending a magical university in “The City” where he is hoping to learn to be a mage. He is from a rural farming community with fairly successful parents who saved up a bit to send him there, and he has high hopes for making a future for himself as a Magus. Interestingly, this all changes during a chance encounter on his way home for spring break, where he leaps to the defense of some innocents with a sword he bought on a whim – thus beginning his newfound journey to become a swordsman in a world of magic.

The premise of Cold Iron is as simple as it is captivating – a reversal on the “boy discovers he’s a magic prodigy” trope. The idea of someone taking up the sword in a world of people throwing fire seemed intriguing and possibly ridiculous, and I was hooked from page one. Cameron paints an impressively detailed world that takes some time to get familiarized with. He makes up a number of words and terms that you need to slowly learn, and while they do help characterize the culture, they also make it hard to read the book at any speed. The pace of Cold Iron overall is super slow and if you are not up to a thoughtful meandering book this might not be for you.

The characters are also very deep. Aranthur is a complex bundle of emotions, often favoring curiosity and manners over all else. He feels like a gentleman scholar, who is unsure and unconfident due to his young age, and he is an easy protagonist to rally behind. The side cast is all also deep and varied, which helps a lot with the slow pace of the book. By this I mean, although you spend a huge part of the book sitting around tables listening to the cast small talk – there is enough variety and complexity to the personalities in play that conversations are engrossing despite being about nothing. However, all of these positives still didn’t help me get past my principle problem with Cameron’s work – I simply do not like his prose.

To be perfectly clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Cameron’s prose, it is just not to my personal preference. His narration is very slow and meticulous, preferring to spend a lot of time diving into the thoughts and observations of his characters. I feel he likes to focus on the small things going on around his characters, the minute coming and goings of people going about their daily tasks. This style does an incredible job painting a very vivid picture of his characters, but probably due to my ADHD, I tend to find it slow and boring. Mechanically his writing is very impressive, and just because I didn’t like it does not mean you (my reader) won’t.

I didn’t finish Cold Iron. I got about 70% of the way through because I was heavily invested in the story before the slow pacing of the narration just calcified my interest in continuing. If you are the kind of person who lives for dialogue and fast-paced action in a series, you might have the same issues I did with Cold Iron. But, if you are ok with taking things slow, and find the idea of full immersion in a medieval European fantasy setting appealing, then I definitely think you should pick up this book despite my reservations. Cold Iron has a story, and a premise, worth reading – even if that reader isn’t me.

Rating: Cold Iron – 6.5/10
-Andrew

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Torn – Like A Needle In The Eye

35959724Orbit is often kind enough to send me review copies of their releases in exchange for impartial and honest reviews. This is often a great deal for me because their track record with books is astoundingly good and it’s very rare that I need to do a negative review for them. However, this is unfortunately one of those times. Today I will be talking about Torn, by Rowenna Miller, a book that had a lot going for it but fell short in an unpleasantly large number of ways. Full disclosure – I only got 50% of the way through the book, so it’s possible it turned it around in the back half – but I was unwilling to give it any more benefit of the doubt.

Torn is the story of Sophie, a dressmaker with the unique skills to weave charms into the clothes she makes. In Miller’s world, shop owners must compete and prove their right to sell things and earn a livelihood. Sophie’s tale revolves around the strain of running her shop, her relationship with her brother Kristos, who is leading a revolution against the aristocrats’ control of businesses, and a love story with a pure/beautiful nobleman who is a part of the evil aristocracy, but innocently didn’t realize what was happening to the poors in the country (I am a little tired of this trope).

Let me start with the good, the book had a lot of cool original ideas that drew me in. Weaving magic into clothes had me on board and I was ready to see clothes that burst into flames, or turned to steel, or made you super hot (so just like what normal nice clothes do, but with more magic). The conflict in the book also captured my attention as an original take on aristocratic oppression. Unfortunately this is about where my list of positives stops.

Where to start with the negatives? To begin with for a book based on magical clothes, there was surprisingly little magic. Most of the spellweaving seemed to be small passive charms that didn’t have clear effects and were a lot less magical than I was hoping. Instead Miller focused more on the dressmaking aspect of Sophie’s job. This was actually ok with me. I was disappointed in the lack of flashy magic, but I appreciate a good story about a tradesperson making nice things. What I do not appreciate is a character spending pages and pages expositing about how amazing they are at their trade instead of actually showing me. Dear lord is there a lot of exposition in this book. I remember clearly a scene in the first 10% where Sophie is thinking in here head about how she is the best tailor around, and lauding herself with complements, when she is in the middle of a conversation with a customer in the shop. How hard would it be to just make the customer comment on the quality of her wares? It achieves the exact same thing but I wouldn’t think Sophie was an egotistical ass.

Speaking of characters, Sophie was not particularly likable but the entire cast is pretty awful. Her brother Kristos started at offputting and by halfway through the book had solidly cemented his status as hateable. Once I got past the initial exposition dump, I didn’t find Sophie too unpleasant – but she just isn’t interesting. Sophie did not feel like the protagonist of this story (though damned if I know who did). She sits at the center of a whirlwind of events, constantly reacting with the tamest and most conservative response possible. She doesn’t enable actions or plots, but just constantly comments on how she thinks clearly bad ideas are probably bad ideas. While I found her an entirely believable character that I related to, sitting on the moral high ground and just saying “no” does not make a compelling read. The only two characters I liked were Sophie’s assistants, which got criminally short page time.

Finally, the story just wasn’t interesting. The pacing felt extremely slow, with parts often feeling a little repetitive. As I alluded to before, the love story is every aristocrat love story I have ever read. Sophie’s constant hedging and refusal to get involved with the story also sucked me out of the book myself. If she doesn’t want to be a part of anything, why would I? Torn had some good ideas, but needed to work on the execution. If you like the characters and the minutiae of trying to keep a store solvent, you genuinely might enjoy this. For me, the books several problems overwhelmed my interest and I ended up putting it down.

Rating: Torn – 3.5/10 (DNF)
-Andrew

Dawn of Wonder – Dusk Of My Interest

51ffxlj4tvlHello everyone. I apologize for the missed day this week, but I am changing to a new job (as a researcher for the New York Public Library, which is super exciting) and I found myself a little short on time. Accordingly, I wanted to talk about something I rarely mention in my reviews: a book I did not finish. It is uncommon for me to drop a book, as I usually vet my reading material enough that books I won’t enjoy don’t often slip through. However, every so often I find myself reading a book and dragging my feet so much that I realize I should put it down and read something else. Dawn of Wonder, by Jonathan Renshaw, was one such book.

I actually have a lot of good things to say about Dawn of Wonder. The story tells a coming of age fantasy centring around the young Aedan. Aedan and his friends live in a small farming town, making trouble and being generally boisterous. Their lives are turned around when slave traders try to take the town and upheave Aedan’s life. This event ultimately leads Aedan to start training at an academy for mercenaries, hellbent on revenge against the nation that let his homestead be attacked by slavers.

The story is a bit slow at the start, but picks up significantly once Aedan starts training at the academy. Aedan’s unique and defining personality quirk is an aptitude for strategy and tactics that sees him matching wits with seasoned generals in his ability to plan battles. Additionally, Aedan is struggling with some inner demons left from an abusive father that has emotionally crippled him. Watching Aedan attend the academy and pass various trials and tribulations, overcome his inner demons, and plan his revenge is a joy to watch. In fact, in abstract everything about this book is exciting, fun, and has the markings of a great read. However, there are a couple issues with it in practice.

For starters, the biggest issue I have with Dawn of Wonder is the exposition about Aedan. There are constant passages of written exposition about Aedan’s skill and greatness that are awkward, rip me out of the story, and make Aedan feel like an unrealistic ‘Gary Sue’. In one of the earliest chapters, two retired war vets comment aloud (with no context) that Aedan is one of the smartest, coolest, greatest, strategic minds in any book ever, and he’s only a teenager! (I am hyperbolising but this is what it felt like). These aggrandizements soured me on Aedan really, really quickly and made it hard to get attached to his character in any way. Additionally, the inner demons segments of the book are really heavy handed and handled in a melodramatic way that I thought was over the top, further distancing me from Aeden.

These writing problems dissociated me from Aedan as a character so much that I found myself having no interest in continuing to read a book that was otherwise a lot of fun, With a little more show, and a lot less tell, this could have been a favorite of mine. There was no reason that Renshaw couldn’t have just used the academy and the various trials to show Aedan’s brilliance in a much more natural setting. If you can move past the initial bragging, this book might be a home run for you, but I unfortunately got about 40% through before I put it down.

Rating: Dawn of Wonder – 4.0/10 (DNF)