Book Review: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Rating:  ★★★★★

I’m so excited to (FINALLY) be sharing this review.  I read this book almost immediately after I received it in the mail back in July/August, and am dying to gush about it with someone.  Kade takes a very common trope (the chosen one) and imagines what might happen if for whatever reason the chosen one were not available to save the world.

It’s one of my least favorite tropes because it never really made sense to me.  Like are we really saying all the rest of the characters in the world are so incompetent that even working together there’s only one person who could save them all?  Come on.

Eye Roll Gif

By turning that trope on it’s head, we’re already we’re being set up for all kinds of fun surprises.  Like really, what does happen when the chosen one is out of the picture?  Is the world going to end?  I felt like I couldn’t immediately envision the ending.  I have no idea how the ending is going to go.  Could this be the first trilogy which really results in the end of the world?!  I mean I hope not, but I’m on the edge of my seat here.

Aside from a premise that feels completely fresh, I absolutely adored most of the characters.  Aaslo is endeared to the reader from the very beginning.  He is best friends with Mathias.  Mathias is the golden boy, handsome and smart and talented.  Aaslo is no slouch either, but he’s constantly overshadowed by Mathias (Aaslo doesn’t mind, he’s not a center-of-attention kind of guy).  He’s not outgoing, not particularly charismatic, he has no real filter on his mouth, and is not smooth with the women.  Despite all that, he is smart and he is capable with sword and axe.  And maybe he’s not a likely hero, but he has the capacity to become one.

But Aaslo is not the only character I cared about.  We have the rogue thieves, Peck and Mory, the kind Marquess of Ruriton, Teza the barmaid, Dolt the horse, Myropa the reaper… the list goes on.  There just wasn’t a character here I didn’t care about.  I loved them all.

I struggled at first, with how very derivative this all felt in the first fifty pages or so, almost cartoonish in its depiction of fantasy, but once Kade makes the division between all those stories that came before and her own, the result is immediately something familiar and yet entirely new.

AND THE BANTER.  Dear God, the banter had me laughing out loud in some places.  Whether it was Aaslo’s inner monologue, or him bantering with Mathias, or with Dolt.. I had a smile on my face almost the whole time I was reading.  Banter aside, the book in general is just so funny.  There was one scene in particular I remember that felt very slapstick, which isn’t my thing in movies, but always works for me in books.  It’s rare to find something this funny that never felt like it was trying to be funny.

The world building is really great.  I mentioned before that this story initially feels derivative but one of the things that helps it to stand out is the number of different elements from all fantasy sub-genres included.  We have witches and mages, monsters and zombies, gods and goddesses… the list goes on.  In our travels we see cities, forests, swamps, sprawling estates, wide open plains, the setting never gets boring or stale and gives an epic sense of adventure.

If I were to critique one thing, it would be that the prophecy is not very specific. It’s a huge part of the story so I wish I had received a little more information about it up front.  As it stands I’m still not sure what the prophecy even is beside: “The world is going to end. The one marked by the world is our only hope.”  Well how is the world going to end exactly?  Who are they going to war against?  What makes ‘the one’ the only one?  Some of this information does come out in Myropa’s story, which helps alleviate the problem, but still, I found myself wanting for specifics.

It’s a very small critique that I was easily able to overlook in lieu of everything else this book delivered.  I am dying to get my hands on book two and absolutely recommend this to anyone that reads.

Thank you to GoodReads and Tor for hosting the giveaway in which I won this.

Fate of the Fallen releases on November 5, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or pre-ordered on Amazon.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

blrw_mj

Rating:  ★★★

It has been said, that Tracker has a nose. Other people want Tracker to use that nose to track down missing things, husbands mostly. But then someone asks him to find a boy, but no one will give him a straight answer about why the boy is so important. What he’s wanted for and who wants him. So he gets involved because he’s curious about the truth of things.

I was so excited for this book when I heard about it, that I immediately put it on hold at my library (like 4 months prior to release).  I was first in line.  I picked it up on release day and dove right in, putting aside two other books to commit to this one.  I don’t want to say I’m disappointed- all of the elements I was excited for were there.  African mythology and folklore came in spades.  Varied settings and scenery.  Something new and something fresh.  Black Leopard, Red Wolf has all of those things.

But I don’t know if the story and conclusion I was given, was good enough to outweigh the time and effort I put into reading this to make it feel worth it.  Surely there aren’t enough books like this in the market right now, but I can’t help but think I could have waded through another two or three books with similar elements in the time it took me to read this one.

This is told a lot like a confession. Tracker frequently address the reader as Inquisitor, and it does a really great job of setting up the tone and gives the reader the sense that the book is being told to them out loud. However, I also felt like it made it put far too much emotional distance between the reader and the story itself, and in my opinion it became a detriment to the kind of story being told.

This seems like a good place to mark content warnings, so you might understand what I mean: brutal violence, violence against children, violence against women, slavery, rape, genital mutilation, and general mutilation. This is one of the most violent novels I have read in a long time. When I read Jemisin’s The Fifth Season she had exactly two scenes that I found really disturbing, both involving violence against children.  This book has significantly more and it hardly fazed me. I’m blaming the way the story is told, but I also think it has a lot to do with the way it desensitizes you (maybe that’s the point?).

When you spend 600 pages with a character- you should feel more about them than I did in the end. That’s not to say Tracker isn’t a great character. He is a great character. There were lots of great characters: the Leopard, Sadogo, and most of all Mossi. Someone could write a fascinating thesis on the psychology of Tracker, honestly. And I am really, truly frustrated that I don’t feel more about them than I think I should have. Generally if an author has great characters with great banter (as these often did) that feel human, I’m pretty sold. I don’t really care what they do, and the same was true of this book. I didn’t really care about the boy or what happened to him. In my mind he was sort of an afterthought. (Maybe that’s the problem?) And yet I got to the end and just didn’t feel the impact. I wanted to be ugly crying.  I wanted to feel Tracker’s grief.  Instead I felt a tinge of sadness and moved on.

Aside from that the book was excessively long. Like really fucking long. Like 620 pages long that felt like 1200 pages. On top of length alone it’s really dense. 40 pages chapters are not uncommon. <— This makes me insane. I’d rather you handed me a book with a hundred chapters and 1200 pages than feel like I have to sit and read 40 pages in one go. I often read on my break at work. 15 minutes is not enough time to read one chapter, so I inevitably had to put it down in the middle of something. Not even two breaks was enough to finish one chapter. Sometimes I’d turn a page and the whole page would be one long wall of text that would immediately make my heart sink. So structure was a huge issue for me.  Authors- please stop doing this to your readers.  It’s adding needless frustration.

And aside from length and density, there’s the novel itself which is pretty complex. There’s lots of characters coming and going. It isn’t always made clear who they are and what their purpose is. There are lots of little details to remember. And as if that wasn’t enough there’s tons of circular or riddle-like dialogue that makes the reader feel as if they’ve missed the context.

Other stuff I enjoyed: the scenery and the mythology. I found myself wishing I knew more about African mythology so I could connect to the text in some other way. I think readers with some knowledge of it will go crazy over this book. Every page probably holds some easter egg of information for them. The scenery was set very well (although I think could have been pared back a bit). We see grasslands and jungles, swamps, small villages, big cities. There’s a place called the Darklands which I loved and wished I’d seen more of.

Another thing I loved was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. (In fact I think it was one of my favorite things.) Tracker’s examination of his own sexuality/masculinity was an ongoing theme in the book that I found super interesting. [Minor Spoiler]: And then there’s his relationship with Mossi, which has truly become one of my favorite relationships portrayed in literature.  Mossi is the peanut butter to Tracker’s jelly.  When he is introduced he is so badly needed to break up the darkness of this book.  Tracker in general is just in desperate need of a person who cares about him, and Mossi is that guy.

Just figured I’d mention this too: the hardcover edition of this book is super pretty. The paper is a little glossy. The cover is gorgeous. There are multiple maps to look at and appreciate.

In the end, I’m glad I read it, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone, and I’m hesitant to even commit to the next book. I suspect that this is a story rehashed multiple times by all the characters involved so we can see how their perceptions change things.  I don’t think the plot of this book is strong enough to support being rehashed multiple times and I don’t think the next character’s POV (it looks like it will be Sogolon) is interesting enough to make me want to read it.  It’s a neat concept- but would work better as one book that was maybe 600 pages long.  Certainly not an 1800+ page trilogy.  That said I do want to know what happens, so I’ll probably look up a summary or a spoilery review or two to piece it together.

Throwback Thursday: The Moon and the Other by John Kessel

tmato_jk

Rating:  ★★★★★

Following my Top Ten Tuesday I was reminded of Mira & Carey from The Moon and the Other.  This was up there as one of my favorite reads last year.  It reminds me a lot of Too Like the Lightning.  It asks a lot of philosophical questions, which makes it a great book for discussion.  I hope you’ll check it out!

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this since I first heard about it. The size of it kept putting me off because I already felt so far behind on my reading. Though the chapters were long they were broken up by interesting little tidbits- media clips, news reports, interviews, poems, etc. So it’s six hundred pages, but they go by quick.

This is a political science fiction novel set on the moon.  It took until about chapter 5 for me to really become invested in the novel. I was enjoying one story line more than the other but after they fused together I found myself enjoying both equally.

This is ultimately about a single matriarchal colony in a sea of many patriarchal colonies struggling to persist. The patriarchies are calling for reform. Their own citizens are calling for reform. The Board of Matrons fear the reform will bring a return to the violence they once suffered on Earth as a result of male dominance (the book’s justifications- not mine).

There is an ongoing exploration of the differences between men and women, how they lead, how they feel, how they perceive, how they react to others, but also a recognition of differences between individuals regardless of sex. There is an examination of masculinity, what it means, how to define it, it’s effects on men, etc.. Kessel also explores oppression within society and it’s many different forms (and proposes some forms that perhaps you’ve not even thought of). I’m sure there are other themes that I’m missing entirely (some of the other reviews I saw definitely pulled more from it than I did) but these were the ones that struck a chord with me.

Beyond that, we also have a really beautiful and tragic story, perhaps almost Shakespearean or operatic in nature. The characters were flawed and very human feeling. None of them are really heroes and none of them are really villains- they’re just people. The relationships between them were full of ups and downs and highs and lows.

So even if you aren’t interested in the more philosophical questions posed by the book- it’s definitely worth reading for the story alone.

 

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

TGB_JF

Rating:  ★★★1/2

This book was the 2016 winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  Supposedly- it has the highest score of any self published fantasy to enter the contest (and the book eventually scored a major publishing deal). The easiest way to sum it up is to imagine if Sons of Anarchy was a fantasy told by half-orcs who rode literal hogs.  The language is filthy.  (Lawrence said: “[This is] the filthiest fantasy book [he’s] read.”  That’s pretty high praise coming from him I’d imagine but he’s not wrong.)  There is cussing, dick jokes, fart jokes, sex talk galore.  So if this is not your thing, turn away now.

It is a lot of fun. I can’t fault any of the book for not being fun. The characters, the banter, the action, the language, all of it was fun. I absolutely adored the Jackal and Oats bromance that was going on. Loved old War-boar and Kal’huun. Truly I found something to like about all of them, and that’s pretty rare.

However, I had a lot of issues with this book. First- it is outrageously wordy. I can’t believe that when this was picked up by Penguin/Random House they let it go to print with this many words. It’s over written to the point of being confusing. I had to re-read stuff. In a book like this- which I took lightly and to be pure, mindless entertainment, confusion and re-reading should just not be a thing. I skimmed 90% of a fight scene because it went on for, I kid you not, eight pages. A single fight scene. Between just two half-orcs. You want to write a battle scene that goes on for eight pages?  Knock yourself out.  A single fight scene?  Yeah, no.  I skipped right to the end.  To show what I mean about the wordiness (and I am just opening to a random page here, this is the second sentence):

“Beneath the sunrise, the crumbling buildings composed a carcass, a decrepit pilgrim dead of thirst within reach of water.” (I’m still not sure what this means or why it was necessary.)

ONE SENTENCE LATER:
“The bridge was an ancient construction, yet stood sound while the surrounding buildings of Hisparthan architects slowly fell to rubble, shaming the genius of their Imperial forebears.”  (This is not confusing, there are just too many words.  I could have done without everything that came after rubble.)

Have you ever seen that episode of Friends, where Ross teaches Joey how to use a thesaurus? And the sentence: “They are warm, nice people with big hearts” becomes: “They are humid, prepossessing homo sapiens with oversized aortic pumps.” This entire book reminds me of that scene. With EXTRA FUCKING WORDS.

I just can’t.

So the writing was a huge issue for me. Aside from that- the info dumps. Lord have mercy the fucking info dumps. Chapters and chapters of them.

Listen- I love when an author thinks that much about their world. Really I do. Because it is important. I just don’t want them to tell me about it. I want them to write it all down somewhere, store it in their heads, and then write the book. That way it all comes out naturally, in small unfolding details.

Can I tell you about the orc incursion? Well can I tell you about it again? Oh wait, I told you the wrong version. Let me tell you a third time.   (There was lots of eye-rolling happening on my end whenever the orc incursion came up.)

My third issue came from the plot. I honestly had no idea what it was until the book was mostly done. First I thought it was one thing- then that particular climax came halfway through. It took about 75% for me to have some idea of where the book was headed and to finally be able to cheer the characters on. Everything up until that point felt like a bunch of unrelated events all strung together that our main character was investigating for no reason at all.

Now I know I’ve been pretty harsh. So I’m going to end by saying again that in the end I did have fun.  I’m not sure I liked the ending- but I might check out book two. I’m hoping the presence of a professional editor from the beginning will fix a lot of the issues I had with The Grey Bastards.

Throwback Thursday: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’m sorry  I’m giving you one of my old reviews when I haven’t given you a new one yet this week.  I do have some new ones coming though (and I’m super excited to share them with you!) I just have to finish reading the books first.

Last Throwback Thursday I reviewed Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade, and while nothing would please me more than to share the reviews of the other three books I think they start to get spoilery and include information from the first book.  If you’d like to read them, you can check out my GoodReads reviews here: (Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne).

This week, I’ve been in a grimdark sort of mood, so it seemed only fitting that I share my review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns.  I am planning on reading King of Thorns sometime this year so it makes sense.

PoT_ML

Rating:  ★★★★★

So on to the review. I’m giving it 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. This is not going to be a book for everyone. It just isn’t. The protagonist, is a murderous, traitorous, self serving, evil genius. Nothing is sacred to Jorg but vengeance and victory. Vengeance and victory can come at any cost, and Jorg is willing to pay that price. Loyalty and brotherhood are meaningless to him.

I am okay with this. As to what that says for my own mental state, well, let’s not look at that too closely. The thing is, a character like Jorg is just so damn rare. You’ll cringe every time he throws someone off a cliff. Or knifes a brother for looking at him the wrong way. He’s smug. He’s arrogant. He’s a bastard. If you’re like me, you’ll be rooting for him in the end.

Because his father, the real villain of the story, is somehow worse. I think. Minor spoiler: I don’t know if Jorg would ever stab his own son. Maybe he would. Maybe they are equally evil. For now, the father is worse.

The writing was excellent. This is a story about murder and the destruction of kingdoms and a rise to power and Lawrence makes it poetic somehow. Jorg’s inner monologue is fascinating. He’s evil and he knows it, but he still questions it on occasion. Sometimes he questions if he’s evil enough. Sometimes he mourns the loss of his childhood. Sometimes he seems perfectly happy to be rid of his innocence.

The plot is very action driven, with plenty of blood, gore and battle to go around. The action is also extremely well written, never a dull moment. Jorg always has an ace up his sleeve or a pawn to sacrifice.

There are some plot holes that I’m not sure how to fill. I’m hoping they are explained in later series. Namely, why this marauding band of brothers follows around a fourteen year old boy. It has nothing to do with his Princedom (excepting Makin- maybe). Of what I’ve seen of Jorg in this book I just didn’t get it. I understood a little why the one called the Nuban followed Jorg. And maybe it’s as simple as the brothers were sheep who needed a wolf to lead them. I don’t know. Little Rikey’s situation certainly isn’t explainable.

All in all it was great. I am SO excited to read the next in the series and check out some of Lawrence’s other series as well. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes dark fantasy and doesn’t mind a less than respectable protagonist.

Throwback Thursday: Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

It’s official. I’ve run out of Terra Ignota books to throw at you.  So I’m going with another cherished and favorite series- The Greatcoats!  Have you read them yet?  My hope in starting Throwback Thursday was to bring some love to some under-appreciated series.  Admittedly- The Greatcoats has about twice as many ratings, but still I feel like it’s not enough.

tb_sdc

Rating:  ★★★★

What a great book. I absolutely loved the three main characters, Brasti, Kest and Falcio (though I think Kest was my favorite) and the banter between them. It reminded me a lot of the game Dragon Age and I could just picture the “party” wondering around on their mission to find the King’s Charoites sniping at each other and kicking ass.

I loved the way the story unfolded. Falcio val Mond, the leader of the group and the Greatcoats (the King’s magistrates), has been trying his best to fulfill the mission his King, Paelis, gave him five years ago. The twist? Nobody knows what exactly the King’s Charoites are. The mission was given to him right before Falcio stood aside and allowed the treacherous dukes to murder the king who he loved. Now the land is ruled by the nobility, there is no king, and the Greatcoats have been disbanded and labeled traitors.

This story is told in both a present timeline, and flashbacks to the past. We learn how Falcio and his group came together, how the Greatcoats were reassembled by King Paelis, and how they were disbanded again. The flashbacks felt really natural and were inserted at appropriate times in the story. This kept them interesting and they never once felt like long boring bouts of complicated backstory. I enjoyed reading those parts as much as I enjoyed reading about what was happening in the present.

I did feel like the middle of the story was a bit slower than the rest. The action was ridiculously non stop, to the point where Falcio hasn’t slept in like 48 hours straight, at least. It was almost comedic how many fights he left only to stumble into another one. The action is told well and is in no way boring, and Falcio has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep it interesting, I just felt that the magic of the book was truly in the world building and the banter between characters. So when Falcio is on his own protecting Aline from the horrors of blood week, I was just kind of reading along hoping for him to get back on the road.

The ending was fantastic and I did not see the twist coming. Looking back there was some subtle foreshadowing but other than Feltock I loved how everyone’s story ended. Even though this book is part of a series it has a definite conclusion (with no massive cliffhangers).

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys snarky characters and gritty fantasy!