Archive for March, 2013

Gav Thorpe – The Crown Of The Blood

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Normally the back cover of a book usually either says too little or too much about it, giving away too much of the plot. Only in some cases they publisher manages to put in sufficient information without giving any details away. With The Crown Of The Blood (2010) by Gav Thorpe it turned out to be neither of those cases. In fact, while I progressed through the novel I could only conclude that the book cover seemed to written about some other book. True, there were some points that did agree, but whoever wrote that cover either didn’t really know what it was about or just glanced through it.

The Crown Of The Blood is a high fantasy novel with a very low fantastic element in it. Thorpe follows some typical military tropes to tell his story although he puts it in an original setting. The pacing is moderate although the plot development is fairly fast. Military affairs take up the brunt of the story, but Thorpe does not spend much time on battles, sticking mainly to the top command, which also is taken by the main character of the novel. The plot itself is entertaining enough although it is not much that out of the ordinary. There are some nice twists, but Thorpe has a destination to reach that in the end does get where it intended to be. That does take out some of the anticipation, although there the road taken and the way Thorpe tells his story prevents the reader from getting bored or the story becoming a drag.

Besides following the main character Thorpe has two other major narratives that provide some extra insight in events. One of the narratives is actually not that well chosen, although it does contain the most dramatic storyline, so the character was chosen for that reason and not for the perspective. There are also some minor points of view. Thorpe only uses those were he we wants to add something extra and they don’t get much extra.

The character development is rather minor. Only one character undergoes several changes. Most of the others, including the central character, don’t seem much shaken by the turn of events they come across. The main character himself is rather strange. For an important military commander he seems to think and behave more like a soldier than a general and throughout the novel he remains rather straightforward and naive in his actions. There is nothing special about him and it is more the weakness of the opposition and his unwillingness to show his strength that allow him to move events.

Despite the mundane nature of the story and the peculiar central character, the plot does contain a hidden secret, a mystery that held my interest throughout the novel. On the background something was going on and Thorpe barely gave anything away about it. I am still intrigued about it and it is this which want me to read the next novel as the story is far from done. Thorpe also set the story in an original setting that is different from the usual fantasy fare, creating a society and culture that may not be particularly complex, but is at least different and something else. I really like it when authors take that step and it certainly is a stimulant for my ongoing interest.



Amanda Downum – The Drowning City

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

I usually don’t pick up novels that have the word “necromancy” on them as I associate the word with undead characters or beings, something which I am not particularly interested in. In many cases it is a horror novel, which is a genre I usually avoid as I read to enjoy myself, not to get anxious, scared or feel disgusted. Not that an undead character popping into a story is a bad thing. As long as it remains a minor element it does not bother me. It is only when it is possibly a dominating theme in the story that I am dissuaded. So when I saw a novel with the subtitle The Necromancer Chronicles I quickly started doubting. However, this was one of the rare occasions that an excerpt of the novel at the end of one of an earlier novel I had read, had given me a different appraisal of the novel.  Of course that is the intention of the publisher, so even one of many being successful into persuading me to try the novel is already a win.

The aforementioned novel is called The Drowning City (2009) by Amanda Downum. The first thing that gave me a better perspective of the story was that it put a setting in a location that was similar to somewhere in southeast Asia. Such a setting is rather unusual in fantasy, so that made me interested in how Downum would present it. She did so quite well. It gave me the right vibe and she managed to keep it nondescript, making it hard to determine familiar elements that I might recognize. For one part this was also caused by a lack of description. The main character only visits a limited number of places so the reader only gets a limited view of those. Downum keeps the point of view narrow. If the character doesn’t pay attention to it, then she doesn’t tell more. Personally I don’t mind that as my own imagination fills in the details where I want them to be, although there could have been a bit more. The picture I could create of the setting remained incomplete.

Although there is a main character, there are some story threads involving minor characters. Although Downum tries to she did not entirely succeed in fleshing them out the extent that I got to care about them. This worked better with the main character, although as a heroine she did move around rather ineffectually, while she claims to be one of the best.

One thing I should not forget to mention is that the term “necromancer” is a bit too heavy as a word. In the story it is just someone who works sorcery through spirits in a wide range of ways. There is no real undead element which once again confirmed my right guess to pick this one up even though of the term. In fact the world the story takes place in has a strong spirit element, which makes it all relatively normal.

The story itself unfolds quickly. Downum wastes no time on introductions or foreplay. Nevertheless things are not rushed. Everything takes it time. Not that the story development is slow. Events run on every turn and plenty happens. The strange thing is that it doesn’t feel that way. Downum has a writing style that has a leisurely pace. In a way it expresses the warm humid climate the characters are in. The surprising thing is that it doesn’t take Downum many words to achieve this effect. It can easily be created by using many words to slow the reader down. Instead Downum uses very few words, allowing for a dual flow in the narrative.

The plot is not very complicated. Downum keeps things as down to earth as possible. Yes there is magic, but it does not dominate. It serves the story and most other things are not so different from normal situations. The characters may have abilities, they only give them an advantage in certain situations. In others they have to handle things no different than any other person.

I did not get particularly excited about The Drowning City. On the other hand it did not have real flaws either. I did enjoy the read. It is different from the usual fantasy fare although it does not take things on a weird or grand scale. It is a good novel, not exceptional although the usage of fantastical elements and the peculiar writing style in combination with the plot development do somewhat impress me. I certainly want to read more and although I have the next novel at hand, I have not felt inclined yet to start with it. Thus my mixed reaction. If it really had taken me, I would have continued reading the series. As I cannot really pinpoint real flaws or dislikes I can only conclude I was not entirely satisfied. The story did not grab me and I only really cared somewhat about the main character. All the others remained unsubstantial. Still I do would recommend this novel, but it would not be on top of any list.


David Weber – Honor Among Enemies

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Honor Among Enemies (1996) is the sixth installment in the Honor Harrington series, a military science fiction by David Weber. The hard job when writing a subgenre novel within a genre is avoiding repetition. Finding a way to vary the story is done by giving the main character sufficient ups and downs that she, in this case, is moved in different ways and gets confronted with situations that otherwise would not have been encountered.

David Weber had sidetracked his main character in the previous novel, now on the way back he sidetracks her a bit more, exploring another part of the universe the story takes place in. The mission is different, the resources more limited than ever and the environment is rather hostile. That is how it seems. However, familiar characters rush to the main characters’ support so that the limitation in resources can be compensated. And the hostile environment? Not as much as it appears. Before long it’s business as usual and true danger doesn’t fall through. Weber adds in some minor storylines to spice things up, but they are quite predictable. In my head I had some interesting scenario’s but I didn’t see anything coming close except for one sequence that turned out to be just a game of power play that didn’t go all out. It is something I’m starting to expect from Weber by now. He doesn’t want to hurt his characters too much. It’s okay not to do so. It is just that he opens a broad window of opportunities that I don’t see that often in other stories and my expectations start rising high in anticipation. And then he hardly makes any use of it. It’s a choice and it could take the story development in far dramatic directions. These choices are why this series doesn’t manage to really rise above the mainstream. Not all of his novels have this, I need to add. It is this particular novel in which he takes his story to a new and different environment where it is made possible.

One other thing that I’ve started to notice after reading six novels within a fairly short space of time is that most of the different character rather talk much of the same. I know these books have been written rather quickly within a short span of years. It is just that as a writer one of the fun things in writing should be varying the way characters talk and behave to give them more body and character. I’m beginning to miss this, especially as the main character is joined with friends from the past which makes the interaction too easygoing and the stiff military speech is slackened a lot which drains the variation even more. One of Weber’s key phrases that stands out is “At any rate”, which is used by virtually any character. Weber also introduces another nickname which comes out of nowhere and simply does not work for me. I won’t make a real verdict on it.

Besides these complaints of mine the story is entertaining enough and a fun read, flipping the pages easily. It is of a lower quality than the previous two novels so Weber rather returns to his minimum quality level and this novel certainly doesn’t add much to it. In the changed setting of the novel he rather sticks in familiar territory. The people encountered are not that much different than what the main character is familiar with. The culture is pretty much the same and all the rest is rather interchangeable. The series seems to be slowly amassing missed opportunities. Perhaps it is that the previous two novels were so much better that I’m complaining more than before. I know I am usually rather critical even when I enjoyed a novel and finished it within a short amount of time. I can only assume it has been a slow build-up which has reached its peak. For the series itself the novel is not the weakest and they are all not that far off from each other in actual quality. I am also not done with the series. There are more novels and I will pick them up eventually. I just bumped into my comment after reading the first novel that one shouldn’t read too many of them and keep some intervals between them to wear them off.