Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits – Borderlands Meets Ready Player One

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David Wong’s Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits takes off at an epic pace and never slows down. Really, this futuristic sci-fi fever dream treasure hunt reads like one long crescendo, with some tasteful dips and peaks and some dull moments. As near-future over-the-top sci-fi goes, the novel carves its own niche and tells an interesting story, even if it’s a bit shallow. Protagonist Zoey Ashe receives news of her estranged father’s death, then immediately dives into a world of booze, crime, and loads of money. While she knew of her father–and his insanely enormous bank account–she didn’t know him. Turns out he was essentially the Godfather of Tabula Ra$a (yeah, that’s how it’s spelled), a desert city that can best be categorized as Las Vegas amped up tenfold. He was unbelievably rich and left something in a vault that only Zoey can open. She’s whisked away into the juiced-up sin city by holographic text messages and muscle cars, tracked the entire time by the feed of an all-seeing crowdsourced social network.

Her adventure to open the vault flavors the novel with a veritable smorgasbord of sci-fi wonderment that’s slightly reminiscent of Ready Player One, but without the needless onslaught of 80s nostalgia. [Mild Spoiler] The vault actually turns out to be a MacGuffin, and the crux of the novel sees Zoey coming into her own as a cog in the gears of Tabula Ra$a. Zoey’s journey after the book’s first third launches her headfirst, and with little preparation, into a battle with artificially enhanced thugs and a supervillain. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits wastes no time introducing countless action tropes with fresh twists. But Zoey and the surrounding plot are vastly overshadowed by the sheer wonder of Tabula Ra$a. The city’s starring role cannot be undersold. Wong weaves a setting of unparalleled vibrancy. Tabula Ra$a, built on the backs of criminal millionaires and fun-seeking hooligans, bursts with light, color, and life. It’s the type of world that begs to be explorable in a video game, and Wong knows precisely how to play that angle with fitting descriptions of the city’s inhabitants, buildings, and politics.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits struggles, though, when it comes to character. Zoey herself is a premier example. She cracks jokes and engages in witty banter, but that’s her whole schtick. Wong often uses his female protagonist as an excuse for lackluster innuendos, which mostly fall flat. It doesn’t help that Zoey is way out of her league relative to the trendy, cunning elite that keeps her company throughout. Her father’s former employees all ooze perfection in one way or another. They’re all dressed to the nines and oddly amazing at what they do. In fact, each is painted as so infallible that even the interesting backstory they’re given does little to flesh them out into more than one-dimensional secret agent archetypes. There are a few exceptions to this rule; Zoey’s bodyguard, Armando, is the best of them. He provides comedic relief and boasts a relatable and human backstory. Still, exceptions like Armando just aren’t plentiful enough to salvage the tepid characterization.

Like Tabula Ra$a as a setting, the book’s plot plays into the quirky nature of Wong’s oddball near-future. When robotically/surgically enhanced thugs start causing trouble and terrorizing the city during a hunt for Zoey, she and her cast of spy sleuth action heroes have to take the offensive. To be clear, the plot works and fits just fine within the world, but this book could have easily been about Zoey dealing with her Dad’s death in a completely foreign environment while adapting to a new life, and I would’ve liked it just as much. Essentially, the plot serves as a decent device and not a pillar on which the book could stand alone.

On a more genre-related level, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits yearns to be appreciated as its own unique brand of sci-fi that encapsulates elements of modern times, super-feasible near-future gadgets, and insanely advanced technology. In this regard, it clicks, and Wong’s treatment of his world and the characters within makes for a serviceable start to what could be, with some polishes and tweaks, an amazing sci-fi saga. Of course, that’s if he decides to write it as a series. For now, the novel accomplishes a bevy of sci-fi tasks and falls short on others. With an interesting world and loads of action, it’s a worthwhile romp with its fair share of flaws.

Rating: Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits – 7.0/10
-Cole

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – Journey Before Destination Part 2

Part 1 here.

I am sorry it has taken me so long to write the second part of this review, but frankly at over 1600 pages To Green Angel Tower is long even for me. The final book in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams, To Green Angel Tower is the longest book I have ever read and took me almost a month of on and off reading to finish. While I was reading Green Angel I tried to imagine what it would be like reading this series growing up. It is rare for me to feel so transported into a book, and I can only think that a younger version of myself would have gone to school and tried to force this book down the throats of everyone I knew, proclaiming I had found the greatest book ever written.

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Green Angel helped me solidify my thoughts on the full series very well, and I have come out of the entire trilogy feeling that it has two great strengths and one large weakness. Let’s start with the problematic; I don’t actually think that the plot of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is that interesting in a vacuum. While there certainly were a number of small exciting twists, the general plot of the book is a stereotypical quest fantasy book. In addition, I found the ending of Green Angel to be a little anticlimactic (which isn’t too surprising giving how damn long the build up was). I expected Memory. Sorrow ,and Thorn to have a little bit more exciting of and exciting story, but even though it didn’t quite live up to my desires, it is still one of best series I have read.

I have always found the idea of “journey before destination” romantic and cool, but rarely felt like it was the case that the trip was more important than the end goal. This series is the first time I have ever read something and thought “I don’t actually care how this ends, I just want to keep traveling with these people”. The first major strength of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is the places you will go, the things you will see, and the feelings you will have. Osten Ard is alive and waiting to be explored. The cultures, landscapes, and people just sucked me in didn’t let go. There is just so much to see, so much to do, and so many people to meet that you will never be bored.

Speaking of people to meet, the second major strength of the series is the characters. I spoke about this a bit in part 1, but this trilogy might be the best example of character growth I have read ever. The characters change organically through small experiences and relationships and you can see them slowly be shaped into new people. In addition, the cast is so varied and interesting that they have been some of the most memorable characters I have read about in recent memory. I felt more invested and enthralled by any one of hundreds of trials the characters in this series go through than multiple books I have read in the last year. I also really appreciated that so many of the characters were at different life stages. While our protagonists are both teenagers going through typical teenage things, the books make sure to give plenty of POV windows into the larger cast who go across a number of ages and are dealing with any number of different problems. My personal favorite was Tiamak, a swampman scholar who is dealing with the fact that his family/people don’t understand what he does or think it’s valuable. I have definitely dealt with that a bit in life, and I loved Tad William’s take on it. The cast here is wonderful and has something for everyone.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a difficult series to recommend, despite its excellence. So much of what I loved about it was personal and hard to convey, that all I really can say is “it has good characters”, which feels woefully inadequate. This combined with its monumental size means it will likely sit on many peoples to-do lists for a very long time (much like it sat on mine) as I tell you to make sure you get to it eventually. If you are looking for a series with a lot of personal discovery and characters you want to watch grow, then you should take a month and read these three books. You won’t regret it.

Rating: To Green Angel Tower – 8.5/10
Rating: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – 8.5/10

The Riyria Revelations – Classic Fantasy At Its Best

I am wildly behind on books to review due to two hulking 1000 page behemoths (To Green Angel Tower and Oathbringer), so I have decided to talk a little bit about a series I love: The Riyria Revelations by Michael J Sullivan. This self-published marvel came out in 2008 with the first of six books, The Crown Conspiracy. The books were so well received that Orbit picked Sullivan up as an author and created three compilation books, each containing two of the previously self-published novels. Since then, Sullivan has gone on to make four spin off books and two novels of a prequel series.

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What makes Sullivan’s work stand out so much is a dedication to older fantasy tropes with incredible execution. Riyria follows the story of Hadrian and Royce, a human swordsman and half-elf rogue who are trying to steal a sword when they are framed for the murder of a king. It’s a classic fantasy plot and the story is built around a world where elves and humans don’t like each other, in particular because the elves are a superior race in most ways. After the framed murder is resolved, the duo need to go on a quest to find a powerful wizard, journey to ancient cities to locate powerful artifacts, and find a chosen one to lead the humans in a coming conflict against the elves. All of these themes you have likely heard before, they have been around in fantasy since Tolkien.

However, Riyria doesn’t feel at all like books that are just trying to rip off older classics to sell a copy. The book is incredibly original, but uses popular classic tropes in its story, which results in a book that evokes all sorts of warm and positive feelings about it that remind me of how I felt reading fantasy when I was younger. Riyria came out during a period where fantasy was trying to find the next best thing. Grimdark and parodies were both getting really big and no one wanted to tell a classic quest tale in order to stand out from the pack. As a result, Riyria really does stand out to me as one of the most wholesome things published in the last decade that everyone will enjoy.

On top of being fun, the series is really funny. The first book opens with Hadrian and Royce being ambushed by bandits while they argue like an old married couple. In the middle of their domestic spat, they also make time to critique the robbers technique and give some helpful pointers for future robberies so that the bandits might have a little more success. You can read the first pages on the amazon link on the book picture, I guarantee you will not be able to do it without smiling. The entire series is that funny, constantly having fun contextual humor and witty one liners. It is a very easy read, especially in our current landscape of dark and depressing books.

Despite all the great things I have said so far about the books, their true strengths are their characters: in particular Hadrian and Royce. While the side cast is also excellent (in particular Esrahaddon who might be the best wizard since Gandalf), the two leads steal the show and have anchored themselves in my top character list forever. They are deep, interesting, grow as the series progresses, and I never get tired of their witty banter and clashing ideals.

If you are looking for a classic fantasy with good deal of humor and a lot of heart, I recommend you check out Riyria. The delinquent duo of Hadrian and Royce still continue to sit in my top character lists to this day and I can’t imagine anyone not laughing at some of the scenes in the story. You will have a good time.

-Andrew