The Armored Saint – Big Power In A Small Package

armoredsaint_revI have been reading a number of short books this month, and it’s making it fairly easy to compare and contrast their strengths. Among the short novels I read, I found a dark horse that I want to draw some attention towards: The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole. Some of you might know Myke from his Control Point series, a story about soldiers with superpowers. I really enjoyed Control Point, and Myke’s writing in general, but the subject of the books was not my forte. So I was thrilled to see that he has gone in a new direction and written a story I would describe as part slice of life, part low fantasy, and part Warhammer 40K.

As mentioned, The Armored Saint is a bit of a genre mash up. The book follows the story of Heloise, a young woman trying to get by in a fairly messed up fantasy world. Like many fantasy landscapes, The Armored Saint’s has been ravaged by demons and sorcerers. Out of control magic has wasted away the landscape, and mages are targeted on sight by everyone to prevent additional damage to the surroundings. To deal with the possibility of rogue magic users, the world has an order of inquisitors who ride around and put down those accused of magic use. The plot revolves around Heloise and an interaction she has with one of these roving bands of inquisitors, and the fallout from this interaction. The plot isn’t the powerhouse of the book. In fact, once or twice the plot could be annoying – like when it drew out the power armor reveal that is both in the cover art and title of the book.

However, while the plot might not be my favorite, the book scores unbelievably high marks in character and atmosphere. Let’s start with the characters. Myke Cole’s prose, and vivid writing, does an incredible job establishing the characters in a very short time and draws you straight into their struggles. Character emotions feel real and raw and create a very tense atmosphere where you are concerned for the fate of all of them. On top of this, the crown jewel of the book might be its atmosphere. Heloise is a fairly young, innocent, and naive girl (at least initially). She is thrust into several situations she does not understand, but is smart enough to sense that something about them is off and to be terrified of them. This emotion is mimicked by the book itself as you read it. As you progress through The Armored Saint, you will get the distinct feeling that something is off. Things seem like they are going ok, but you will have this sinking feeling in your stomach that something is about to go very badly. When these terrible moments reveal themselves they capitalize on the build up brilliantly and make for some truly memorable scenes.

The Armored Saint packs a lot of raw emotion and storytelling in a tiny package. While it falls slightly short on story, it is an experience I would recommend to anyone and is one of the best short books I have read this month. Myke Cole is an extremely talented writer and continues to prove he can knock it out of the park with whatever he sets his mind to write.

Rating: The Armored Saint – 7.5/10



Stories From Comicon: Authors Are Fans Too

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New York Comicon has come and gone this past weekend, and what an experience it was. If you ever get a chance to go to a Comicon I highly recommend it. This was my first, and I only went because I live in NYC and a few authors I wanted to meet were supposedly going. What I did not know is that the publishers of the fantasy and science fiction world turn out in force, with an army of famous writers under their wings. Authors are my heroes. The books I read when I was younger were a large force in shaping who I am today, and I have undying respect for their creators. As such it was a little daunting to realize I was going to meet so many of them at once. However, my fears were baseless and it was a tremendously fun experience. I met more than 20 famous authors; sometimes just having casual conversation, sometimes getting books signed, and sometimes squealing with glee. However, for me New York Comicon was also a deeply thoughtful time, where I realized with renewed fervor why I love authors and reading. Authors are celebrities, heroes, and great people. Every single interaction with every author I met was positive, but I want to highlight two to give you an idea of what I am talking about.


First let me tell you about Seth Dickinson, author of the brand new The Traitor Baru Cormorant. If you somehow have not heard about this book yet, know that it is being widely regarded as a masterpiece and that Seth is one of the newest great talents in fantasy. While I have not had a spare moment to buy and read the book myself yet, I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a chance to meet him and talk. Unfortunately for me Seth was at NYCC on a day I wasn’t, so my chances seemed very low. That was until I ended up next to him in a line at the Tor booth waiting to
get a signed copy of
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. As I mentally rallied myself to talk to him, Sam Sykes (author of City Stained Red and other great books) walked up to us and began one of the most endearing conversations I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It went something like this:

Sam: … Seth, what are you doing?

Seth: What, I am waiting in line to get Catherynne’s autograph! Why is that weird?

Sam: Seth, you are a Tor author, she is literally your coworker. You don’t need to wait in this line, go to the front.

Seth: No man, everyone here is a fan of Catherynne and just as important as me. Everyone waited for my signing yesterday, and I want to do the same.

Sam: No, you are going to the front of the line.

It was at this point that Sam dragged Seth out of the line towards the front as the rest of the line cheered encouragement and laughed. This was just one example I saw of the many authors who are massive fantasy fans themselves, and do not place themselves higher than other readers.


The second really fantastic example I have of this is the lovely Myke Cole, author of Control Point, Gemini Cell, and other books. When I first got into NYCC I was overwhelmed by the number of things to do. However, I noticed Myke was doing a book signing right at the start of the day, and decided to run over and get in line to meet him while I figured out what else I wanted to do. While I was in line to meet Myke I noticed that an actor I like was also doing an autograph session… for $80 a signing. I love the actor’s work, but this seemed really steep to me for what was likely going to be a few seconds with the star. As I was pondering this, I reached the front of the line and got to meet Myke Cole. Myke asked me how I was doing, what my plans for Comicon were, where I got my jacket because he liked it, where I was from, and a bunch of other earnest questions while he signed my book. He also answered all of my questions about him, and by the time he finished signing he had me feeling like we were friends. For someone who is a fan it was a heartwarming experience, especially in light of how much other celebrities were charging to just get their signature. But this wasn’t even the end of my Comicon experience with Myke.

I ended up running into him again at an author/fan meet and greet at the end of the weekend. It was a small gathering with a slew of authors such as Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, Alan Smale, and Michael Sullivan. This gathering was one of the most inception-y things I have ever experienced. While I freaked out as I got to talk to Myke again, I saw him freak out as he got to meet Alan Smale, who I saw freak out as he got to meet Terry Brooks, who I saw freak out because he got to meet Naomi Novik, etc etc. It was just a room full of people gushing happiness as they got to meet their idols. As I continued to talk with Myke he said something that really stuck with me: “At the end of the day, everyone is just a fan. No matter how famous someone get they will always be a lover of the genre, it is why we start writing in the first place.”

The love of reading science fiction and fantasy permeated every single person I talked to this weekend, and it was a uniting force across the entire event. Whether it was the Del Ray editor talking about how how lucky he is to be paid to draw maps, or authors asking me if it is ok to pause a conversation because they see another author autograph whose autograph they want, or getting over 30 free books because people just wanted their work to be read, Comicon helped me find new levels of love for the authors who are my heroes and I cannot wait to go back every year.

Brilliance and Shadow Ops – The Search For The Perfect Mutation

When I was a kid I loved the X-Men. They were my favorite superheroes and I watched all the cartoons and read all the comics. Now many years later, that love has in no way diminished. In fact it has likely grown. So when I discovered multiple books about mutants I was very excited. The book series I discovered are Shadow Ops by Mike Cole and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. The books focus on very different elements of mutations and society, and both come away with different flavors of story.

Lets start with Shadow Ops. The book is about a world where when mutations start occurring, all of the mutants are either co-opted into the military or killed in order to protect the normal population. Mutations come in two groups, acceptable and forbidden. The acceptable mutations are elemental magic (fire, earth, air, water) and the unacceptable tend to deal with some weirder things such as necromancy, and making portals. Our protagonist is a military mutant hunter who manifests one of the forbidden mutations, and to deal with going from hunter to hunted. These books jump head first into the human vs. mutant theme with a military flavor. It is very clear from the onset that Mike Cole has some familiarity with armed services and the book blends mutation and military fiction very well. I have no experience with any armed forces, but I still found the book very accessible and interesting. I have found there is a tendency in military books for authors to get bogged down in very minute detail of army procedure, which I felt this book avoided for the most part. The real pull of Shadow Ops is that Myke Cole made a world that blends military and mutation really well. The army and the mutants both feel like they are equal forces to be respected in the books and gives them both equal time in the spotlight. Each book in the trilogy follows a different protagonist as you get to see both different mutations and jobs within the army structure. While I had a few problems with pacing, the books left me very satisfied and I definitely recommend.

The second mutant series I looked into is a bit weirder. Brilliance, on top of having a gorgeous cover, is another story about mutants: but not your standard variety. In the world of Brilliance, mutations don’t give you superpowers. Instead they make you really good at things like accounting. Now if you are like me you are thinking “What? That sounds super boring.”, but bare with me. Brilliance is a different kind of story than Shadow Ops. Mutants in Brilliance gain powers like being able to think in computer code, making them the best programmers in the world, or being able to intuitively understand cause and effect in human actions, making some people super detectives. Marcus Sakey created a world where 1% of the population is making 99% of the rest of the world obsolete in a non-violent manner and it leads to some truly fascinating scenarios. One example is one of the mutants is able to understand the patterns of stocks and bonds and as a result amasses hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock market; essentially crashing the economy. All of these mutants change the world around them in thought provoking ways, while unintentionally ruining the lives of 99 people around them. This inevitably leads to conflict between mutants and humans and the book follows the conflict as it grows. For someone who is looking for an interesting take on superpowers or mutations I highly recommend.

While I enjoy both of these mutant series a lot, I find myself still desiring something more. Both of the stories focus on the human vs. mutant element which is the standard go to in mutant stories. I would love to see a series in the future that focused more on the intense mutant on mutant rivalries that occur in the X-Men between Magneto and Prof X. The fact that these two series have come out recently, and done so well, gives me hope that new authors might come up with ideas for mutants I haven’t even thought of. Regardless, I recommend both of these series and encourage anyone looking for a good time to pick them up.

Shadow Ops: 7.0/10

Brilliance: 7.0/10

P.S. As a bonus, another good mutant/superpower book that I have already written about is Vicious by V. E. Schwab. If you are looking for even more mutant/superpower action you can find it here.