Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles

Author: Larry Correia
Publisher: Baen
Date: May 3, 2011
Genre: Um....Alternate History Noir Fantasy? Yeah, that'll probably do.

Author's Bio (from Larry Correia is hopelessly addicted to two things, guns and B-horror movies. He lists his occupations: gun dealer, firearms instructor, accountant, and writer, and was until recently part-owner of a company specializing in firearms and movie props. He shoots competitively and is a certified concealed weapons instructor. Larry resides in Utah with his very patient wife and family.

Visit him on the Facebook Group, Monster Hunter International, Hunters Unite! or his blog,

My Awful Review: Larry Correia has no shame at all about writing exciting, pulpy novels full of action and lots and lots of things that go boom. What's more impressive is that over the last two or three years, he's turned those novels into something that has characters you can care about and root for, villains that you hate, but understand, and plots that are well-paced and worth the read. He may claim that he loves writing pulp, but he's not writing anything close to that anymore.

When I first met Larry, he was signing books at my local Borders Books in Logan UT. I'd gone to talk to a buddy of mine, author John Brown. Larry was at the same table, and he very quickly sold me (he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in a wedding gown). I bought it, got it signed and took it home.

That book was Monster Hunter International, a book that Correia had originally self-published, and which sold over three thousand copies. This got him the attention of the good folks at Baen Books, who republished it, and are currently in the process of buying everything that he's every scribbled on a truckstop napkin. That book had its flaws (I would have given my left arm for a contraction, just one in the entire book!), but it was clear that this man knew how to make you turn pages.

Now Larry's doing the same thing, but this new series takes place not too long after World War I, in an alternate history where some human beings have developed X-men style powers, and it's completely changed the world.

I'll go on record saying that this book is probably three or four times better than Monster Hunter International. The characters are a little less wooden, the writing has vastly improved, and I think we're really starting to get a glimpse at the Golden Age of Correia, where he's going to be doing some wonderful work for a number of years to come. It's worth noting here that I DID enjoy Monster Hunter International quite a bit, but that it's my least favorite book he's written. It's a worthy series, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the two sequels so far. Definitely worth a read.

The story of Hard Magic revolves around Jake Sullivan, an ex-con who has the ability to change a number of things that relate to gravity. Jake's often called a Heavy, the nickname for his particular type of power. There are a lot of different powers, and it's incredibly enjoyable to see how the world has changed as a result of them. Jake is about to run into a society of people that defend the world against the forces of evil (yes, this sounds corny on paper, but it's just plain awesome in the book), and it's all going to end in a giant fight over a huge weapon on a massive dirigible thousands of feet in the air. Relax, I didn't give anything away, I just want to give you a sense of how quickly this book escalates from ex-con who falls in with some cool people to epic battle for the future of mankind.

There are other points of view in the story, most notably Faye, a young girl who has been through some really rough times in her past, and can teleport. I honestly don't want to go into too much more detail than this, since I don't want to spoil it for you.

I love fantasy books, in all shapes and sizes, but the idea of mankind suddenly coming to the realization that a number of them have "superpowers" will always hold a special place in my heart. Combine this with Correia's transition from B-movie horror style writing into polished and experienced author who can weave multiple storylines together and leave you dying for more, and I was immediately sold. I think you will be, too.

What I loved

  • The different talents that the people have were just great. He's clearly gone to some lengths to think about how certain powers would impact our world
  • The noir, detective feel of the story. The early 1900s is a wonderful place to put something like this. Technology is just starting to take off, and with the right superpowers, some real advances could be made that moves the world forward dozens of years in a single leap.
  • The character of Faye harkens back to the old naive apprentice learning the ropes and coming to grips with the loss of her Obi-wan. Yet it doesn't come off cliche.
What I hated

  • Correia was still pandering to fans of his Monster Hunter series in this book, and there's some overly-descriptive writing about guns ever now and again that kind of drew me out of the story. I have privately coined the term "gunsterbation" when referring to this sort of thing, and when I do my retro reviews of his older stuff, you'll see this a lot more. It's worth it to note that in the second book of the series (I bought the e-ARC from Baen's website a while back) this has decreased to almost nothing, which must have taken quite a bit of effort coming from a gun nut like Correia.
Hard Magic gets 8.75/10, and is my absolute go-to recommendation for people that want something that takes place in this world (along with the Dresden Files), or for people who want something similar to X-men-style powers.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

Author: Daniel Abraham (also writes under MLN Hanover and James S.A. Corey)
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: April 7, 2011

The Dragon's Path is the first novel of Daniel Abraham's new series, The Dagger and Coin. If you've read Abraham before, then you'll know that his novels are always slanted slightly different than a lot of the other fantasy out there. While a great deal of fantasy spends its time with the magic system or war or wizards, Abraham seems to find a way to portray those same things with a different slant. For instance, in his novel A Shadow in Summer we saw magic, but it was interesting because it had a very economic slant to it, which not a lot of other authors have done before. In the case of The Dragon's Path we get to learn about medieval banking systems, something that Abraham has reportedly been very interested in over the years.

From Amazon: "All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.

This first book primarily deals with four main points of view, which are entwined in a couple different main storylines.

Cithrin is a seventeen year old girl whose entire life has been spent as a ward of the Medean Bank. When things spiral out of control in her city, the head of the bank sends her out alone on a dangerous mission.

Marcus Wester is a war-hero who spends his days guarding caravans. When the majority of his mercenary group get arrested, Marcus is forced to find someone, anyone, to fill their next caravan guarding contract, or be forced to enlist for the latest war that's going on.

Geder is a young man, son of a small-time nobleman, who would much rather read and ponder history than make it. Through a series of events, his life will be forever changed by what he's learned through the old books he loves so dearly.

Dawson and King Simeon were as close as brothers growing up, but as the King ages, he is not as bold or as brave as Dawson wishes he were. There is treason afoot, and Dawson will go to great lengths to see his old friend safe through it.

I found myself really enjoying The Dragon's Path . Nothing immediately stood out to me. The prose was solid, the story was well-paced, the action was swift and just descriptive enough, and the characters are all progressing along nicely. I honestly couldn't find anything that I thought Abraham did poorly in this book. I think maybe there were some parts that dragged just a little bit (I found myself taking much longer to read this book than I would normally take on something with this many pages), but it wasn't so poor that I felt like there needed to be any major overhaul.

Overall, I would give this book 8.5/10. The Dragon's Path is well worth reading if you're a fan of George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan or (to a lesser extent) Patrick Rothfuss. It's a very solid start to what can only get better. Don't fear to read this one, wondering if there will ever be another book. Abraham's quite an accomplished writer (he has two other pen names, one for Urban Fantasy and one for Science Fiction) and gets plenty of work done. We'll probably have another book by this time next year, if not sooner. On a side note, has anyone else noticed that Orbit really seems to be getting a lot of good authors? Abraham, now Tregillis, it's got to be a good time to be working at Orbit.

What I loved

  • Cithrin - You can't help but root for this girl. She's a little dim at the beginning, but she really shines when she's plotting and scheming.
  • Banking as a major focus. It's nice to not have a book be all about a magician, or a king. Sometimes we just need to focus on someone that's not a typical fantasy hero.
  • The characters - There are some archetypes here, but they're very well done, and at least one character seems to be becoming someone very different than he was at the beginning of the novel.
What I hated

  • Nothing, really. I think maybe a tiny bit more action wouldn't have hurt this novel, and moved some things along more quickly.
  • Not a fan of Dawson as a character, but that doesn't mean he's not well written, just that he annoys me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Uh oh. Someone's got some 'splainin' to do!

I was looking at the Publisher's Weekly list of books that Robison Wells' Variant is a part of, and I noticed this little gem just a few books down from it.

Yeah, looks like someone's art department wasn't feeling particularly creative that day. It's not as terrible a copy as some of the others out there. The trees are green and Wynne-Jones' name is in red. Still, Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones is pretty much a bullet-hole-filled Variant. But, after more careful examination, it seems that Blink and Caution came out first, by about seven months. I'm not surprised, since YA novels often try VERY hard to imitate other covers for whatever reason, but I just had to point it out because it made me chuckle.

Variant by Robison Wells

Author - Robison Wells
Publisher - HarperTeen, October 2011

Variant is a part of the many many many YA dystopian books that have been coming out lately. But don't cast this one aside simply because it's part of the ever-rising number of YA dystopian books coming out. This book is a very strong entry, especially for a debut author, and there' s plenty to love.


    Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

    He was wrong.

    Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

    Where breaking the rules equals death.
But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

    This book first caught my eye when I listened to Rob Wells' podcast The Appendix. I think it was right around the same time that I found myself listening to him on several panels at Life the Universe and Everything (a writer's convention in Utah). Anyway, tangent over.

    The book centers around Benson Fisher being trapped in a school where there are very few rules, plenty of punishments, and the students must band together to survive. And, of course, there's no way out. It immediately reminded me of the famous Stanford Experiment where several students were made into guards and other students into prisoners, and then all hell broke loose. The book puts you in the trenches with Benson, as he joins a group of the students, but refuses to drink the Kook-Aid and accept that he's trapped here forever.

    As far as the writing itself goes, Wells' prose is plain but effective, and the story moves at a very fast pace. I read this book in one day, basically in one evening sitting (I have a two year old, so NOTHING is ever in one sitting). It was very easy for me to get into the story and I couldn't put the book down,  something that has been happening for me less and less over the years. Fans of some of the other BIG dystopian novels in the YA genre (Hunger Games, Incarceron, Uglies, etc.) will be right at home with this book, but I think it's got more potential than almost all of the others. So does Publisher's Weekly, which voted it one of the top books of 2011.

    I think the thing that I enjoyed about the book was how quickly it went from typical dystopian YA book to a break-neck thriller. The novel also has some great twists, which completely change the entire book for the main character as well as the reader. The only thing I can say that I didn't enjoy was the cliffhanger ending. Be prepared for the mother of all cliffhangers on this one. I honestly didn't realize that this was a series until I was probably 90% of the way through the book and realized there was no way he could wrap up what was going on in a single book.

    I loved:

  • The pace. Things just move faster and faster
  • The characters. Well done, and their motivations seemed real
  • The twists. This book really sends you for a loop.
  • The love story. I always enjoy books where the love story takes on a different feeling due to the environment. Not quite a classic romance here.
    I hated:

  • The cliffhanger ending. The book was over so abruptly that it felt like the author just said, "Oh, this seems like a decent place to stop for now."
Variant gets 8/10. A very solid debut from an author that I hope to be hearing from again soon. The cliffhanger ending was bad for me, but others might not mind it. Especially once the series is complete and people can go straight through.