Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood

Synopsis

The cover says, ‘THE AGE OF KINGS IS DEAD…AND I HAVE KILLED IT,’ which is quite a statement to make. And to be fair it’s not an understatement. Field Marshal Tamas’s coup in of the nation of Adro, one of the Nine kingdoms, results in the death of the monarch and the layer of aristocrat. But it also results in the death of his royal kabal of Privileged, magic users who are there to keep the King safe (they didn’t do a good job on this occassion). Though they aren’t the only magic users there are lesser users like powder mages and those with a knack.

The trouble is that it’s the powder mages, who are mostly military and of whom Tamas is one, may have saved Adro from being sold out to their neighbours, but the end of the Age of Kings causes its own problems.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

Let’s get this out of the way. I had a great time reading this book.  I’m having a really good run of varied reading; Equations of Life, Poison, The Panopticon, The City of Silk and Steel, The Universe of Alex Woods and I’m happy to add Promise of Blood to the list.

What’s different? Guns and magic! I honestly didn’t think I’d get excited about someone else’s gun fetish but McClellan’s narration drew me in. He has structured his story in such a way that it is compelling from the opening chapter. He weaves three main threads; an investigation each of the kabal’s dying words, his son’s hunt for a rogue privileged and Tama’s own struggles in powers. But even those seeds grow and each of their roles change as the story unfolds.

I’m aware that one person’s fresh voice is another’s cliché but I’m also aware that my tolerance for certain epic fantasy stories is low so to be drawn in and excited by a fantasy novel is a refreshing thing. McClellan really does have a skilled storytellers eye for lingering in the right places for the right time before looking elsewhere. It’s a dangerous thing to do to leave one thread just as it’s in full swing only to leap to another and invariably you think you’d like to keep going rather than leave it.

I never felt that. I did think that a couple of times the leaps didn’t flow from one moment in one thread to the same or future moment but instead they felt they were going backwards (I could be wrong). But even so the whole thing held together. Each thread was worthy of the attention it got and each was packed with twists and turns. I enjoyed each of them equally for different reasons. The treat that Tama’s faces leading a country, the underside met by his investigator and the action that his son provides hunting.

All the characters are multifaceted. McClellan is good with giving characters something worthwhile to do. They serve the story. Some more than others obviously but even the minor characters are interesting for example a maid we meet at the start plays an important role at several key moments which are unbeknown to her moments before they happen.

As I was reading I didn’t have any major problems with portrayal of any of the characters apart from a niggle to do with the ’slave-girl’ Ka-poel. She’s a mute, a ‘savage’ and her magic is not understood by those around her. She accompanies Tamas’s son on his missions and when she does she looks after him, mostly via magic. I only had the niggle because of something that happens later on.

McClellan shows women in various roles and strata of society but it does have an old school flavour to it. The society is a conservative one. It’s a book about the men (thanks Neil) and their fights and struggles dominate, though as I said the maid’s story is a powerful in minor thread and could well turn into something else but even that it is about a male character.

So while I didn’t have any issues while reading it on reflection it could and probably should have taken more risks to displace the social model it based itself on. The women have a valuable role in the story but not in their own society, at least that their power isn’t their own as they facilitate the males at each and every turn.

 Summary

Where does this leave me? I have a quandary. If I’d read and moved on then I’d have been left with feeling I’d enjoyed an amazing book. And I still feel like that. But the process of reviewing it has made me consider other aspects that I wouldn’t have lingered on. I would have missed the conservative nature of the backdrop. That’s the privilege of being a male reader I guess.

So, I can’t ignore that aspect but neither can I berate it for sticking to a historically social norm. I can wonder why it wasn’t more daring. I can be honest and say that I think that this is a book written for men. And most male readers are going to enjoy the hell out of it without batting an eyelid.

As for me I’m going to read the next one. I’m hoping that McClellan brings to it all his skill as a storyteller. I’m invested in the plight of the people of Adro. I want to know the consequences of Tama’s actions. I want to see what the shocking end of this one means in the bigger picture. But I also hope that there is time for McClellan to tweak his treatment of his female characters. I’m not sure how he’d be able to do it as he’s set the whole world up to be male dominant but there are still opportunities for giving them strength rather than weakness and goals that unrelated to those of the male characters.

This is a traditional feeling story. It’s amazingly well constructed. Its aim isn’t to elevate the role of women in society, so leaves to others. But it does explore the law of unexpected consequences. Its premise feels fresh. It’s exploring an idea about what happens when gods you don’t think are real actually are. It also explores the diminishing of power over time. The role of the church and it’s statements vs it’s actions. It explores truth and lies. Plus it has guns and magic and a passion for that which is infectious.

And with all that said would I recommend this book?

Oh yes, but with all the caveats above.

Buy from:

Amazon UK: Hardback/Kindle

Book Depository UK/US

Green Review: Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Voyager)

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
Out Now in hardback and it’s free atm on iBooks/Kindle

It’s always hard to find a good hook in traditional fantasy. There are limited tools in the toolbox as it were. You have good guys, bad guys, ancient cities, prophecies, wizards, elves. You get the idea. Basically, anything that Tolkien uses turns up at some point. This isn’t a bad thing. We tend to like reading about them and having them turn up. So they are are part of what’s expected.

In terms of furniture you’re not going to find anything too outlandish in Spellwright, which isn’t a criticism. It just means that Charlton has to do something with it to make it interesting. What’s his hook? Language. Magical language.

There is something different about Nicodemus Weal, he can’t spell, which isn’t a problem as people can figure out what we mean most of the time. Though when you are a wizard who uses magical language that you subconsciously corrupt then you become a bit of a danger to yourself and those around you.

But as with any disability there are ways of adapting and his mentor Magister Shannon is teaching and helping him so he can graduate at best, and, at worst, he’ll get all his magical abilities burnt out of him.

And as a fish this hook worked for me. Charlton has made his bonds between magic and language a part of everything, from society, to religion, it’s connected. I’ve read some complaints that it doesn’t work. That the reader couldn’t suspend their disbelief. I guess if you’ve never had a problem with language you wouldn’t have an immediate sympathy for Nicodemus.

If you’ve ever had a tweet or an email from me or from reading this blog for a while you might have noticed that I have my own problems with the mechanics of language. I’d love to be able to ‘fix’ them. They are wired in. It’s an odd blind-spot. So I can empathise with a character whose prophecy is that he’ll overcome his disability potentially to hold great power to create or destroy.

What really worked well was the setting up of certain moments where Charlton lead you down one path and then changed the dynamics. Everyone has an agenda. Even if you don’t know it at first.

When I said there are limited tools in the toolbox there is a point where I though ‘oh is it just that.’ It seemed so mundane and traditional after all the potential and playing that’s been going on with things like bookworms. But even that mundane element gets a twist at the end.

And there was another that tainted my sympathy for Nicodemus but I’m putting that down to a lack of finesse in characterisation, which only comes with practice.

Charlton has created a solid debut and a good foundation for the rest of the trilogy. He’s presenting a good dynamic between the cast that keeps the reader on their toes. He has a good main character and supporting cast and his magical system is one of the best I’ve seen for a while.

I hope that now he’s published he’ll be able to throw out some of the old fantasy tools and add some more of his own because he’s used some already and he’s more than capable of adding something different to the standard fantasy playbook.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve come away eager to read the next one. He’s set it up nicely but I’d have liked a few more risks.

Green Review: Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Title: Destroyer of Worlds
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Kingdom of the Serpent: Book 3 (and the end of a trilogy of trilogies – The Age of Misrule, The Dark Age and Kingdom of the Serpent)
Release: Out Now in Paperback
Publisher: Gollancz

Synopsis

It is the beginning of the end . . . The end of the axe-age, the sword-age, leading to the passing of gods and men from the universe. As all the ancient prophecies fall into place, the final battle rages, on Earth, across Faerie, and into the land of the dead. Jack Churchill, Champion of Existence, must lead the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons in a last, desperate assault on the Fortress of the Enemy, to confront the ultimate incarnation of destruction: the Burning Man. It is humanity’s only chance to avert the coming extinction. At his back is an army of gods culled from the world’s great mythologies – Greek, Norse, Chinese, Aztec, and more. But will even that be enough? Driven to the brink by betrayal, sacrifice and death, his allies fear Jack may instead bring about the very devastation he is trying to prevent . . .

CONTAINS SPOILERS – Summary is SPOILER FREE

I can’t say this enough – though I’m going to be very careful this review is most likely going to CONTAINS SPOILERS so you have been warned. The Summary is spoiler free.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

Before I start with Destroyer of Worlds I want to take you back a bit. The wonder of Amazon is that you can check on when you bought things. And when you look at a particular books it reminds you that you have them. So if I look at Worlds End it says:

You purchased this item on 28 Jun 2001

and after I finished reading it I put this on Twitter at 3.05pm 16 March:

So that was the end of @Chadbourn’s 9 Vol sequence – am sad and happy – bloody brilliant – the end is the beginning! I’m blown away.

Why am I saying this? Well it’s the final book of a sequence of three trilogies: The Age of Misrule, The Dark Age and Kingdom of the Serpent. And one I’ve been reading for almost nine years so I’m more than invested in its outcome.

So was it worth the wait? Undoubtably. I’d read it again right now from the beginning. And I probably will though I’ll be reading the Pyr Books editions rather than the Gollancz ones. But that’s OK as the Pyr covers are stunning. I’d better get back to this book.

By the time we reach the end the stakes for our original Brother and Sisters of Dragons (Jack, Ruth, Veitch, Shavi and Laura) is literally the end of the world. We’ve know each of them intimately. We’ve seem them all change, adapt, grow and die. We’ve been through all their struggles and challenges.

But even then Chadbourn manages to do something surprising with them. They and the people that have joined them along the way like Tom, Hunter, Hal, Catlin to name a few. He shows us that nothing is black or white and we always have a choice.

We can accept the world around us or we can strive to change it. Sometimes we don’t think we’ve succeeded but by trying we’ve actually achieved more than we thought and we put in motion changes that will ultimately help us and those around us.

And there are lots of lessons about life and living. Some characters die. And I was saddened by each of their deaths. They weren’t always happy but their stories and lives will stay with me.

Chadbourn has built up his skill of using the patterns in myth and their parallels and connections to build his story after focusing on Celtic myth for most of the sequence we now have the other great Dominions making a stand with humanity. He gives them the same injection of personality and individuality that he does for every other character. I love his version of Thor.

Most of the screen time is spent with following several interchanging groups of characters as they go about their various tasks. Chadbourn keeps everything tight and relevant. He creates pauses in action when needed to give the characters a small time for processing and rebalancing before setting them off again.

He also takes them down different routes than you might expect. There are some startling revelations. But in the end as it has from the beginning it boils down to the relationships between the characters and the choices they make. They aren’t your normal heroes but they are what normal people become when they become heroes.

Summary

It’s the end. All the other books have been building up to this point. Not all characters survive. And none are the people the same as they were at the start.

Chadbourn skilfully pulls the threads of myth and weaves them into his own powerful and penetrative tale about our potential as individuals to be more than fragile creatures.

Chadbourn leaves on a high and a hint that the end is also the beginning.

A perfect ending to a series that requires almost immediate rereading to enjoy the journey all over again.

Green Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)


Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 448
Genre: Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series but easily read as a stand-alone.
Release: Out Now in Paperbackk
Publisher: Orbit

Synopsis

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where gods’ and mortals’ lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history. But it’s not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

Where to start the world building, the myth, the main character, the voice? This has got to be one of the strongest debuts I’ve read for a while.

I tend to lower my expectations and criticisms when reading a debut. It’s generally unfair to pour those kind of things over a novice it only leads to disappointment and frustration but from the from page I was captivated.

Jemisin managed to keep me in the palm of her hand until the end. I’d have followed her anywhere. I had total confidence that she knew exactly what she was doing and the story was going to come to a proper and surprising conclusion.

Now there aren’t a lot of writers you can say that about.

I think the way the story is told will either captivate or infuriate readers. It’s full of asides. All relevant. All needed but they might be considered storytelling fluff by those who like their narratives and characters more straight forward.

I don’t. I like my characters to feel like they are thinking and feeling. I like to know that they are affecting events and that events are effecting them.

Yeine is a good character to introduce the reader to the city of Sky. She is an outsider but has to be treated as an insider because of her instant status. Though that is a double edged sword. I guess a complaint could be that she is so wrapped up in your own problems and the problems of her people in the North that she doesn’t explore the world of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms enough.

But that’s for another tale and another time.

That isn’t the focus here. The focus is about who rules this world and the gods that are imprisoned in Sky. Much bigger things are explored in Yeine’s story.

We do find out some interesting things though. Yeine’s own people are led by women and a woman’s status is above man who seem to only be asked to fight when brute strength is needed rather than for their brains.

Her people are thought of as Barbarians but the more you flashes of them it’s hard to not to see the ruling family in Sky as the barbaric race and they have had it right all long even if that does mean they had to brick up what could reflect harmony in this world.

Im Sky indulge themselves (sometimes perversely), they inbreed and rule with a cruel and iron fist. It’s hard to see how Yeine could change this world even if she ened up winning.

But the changes she needs to make have a long history. They start for her with her mother. Who is now dead and the reason that a contest is needed.

Though it starts earlier than that with three gods, one know rules, one is imprisoned and one is dead. And that balance is central to the struggles that take place.

Jemisin has an amazing world creation myth and a solid foundation for her world that it’s hard not to see it as real especially when you get to see how the ending and it’s consequences will play out in a very real way for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

It’s a self contained story but I defy you not to want to read the next one when you see what happens in the finale.

Summary

A confident, mature, powerful, feminist, and entertaining debut in fantasy. And in the running for The Reads Top Five  2010.

Red Review: Hyddenworld: Spring by William Horwood (Macmillian)

Title: Hyddenworld: Spring
Author: William Horwood
Pages: 325
Genre: Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series
Release: 5 Feb 2010
Publisher: Macmillan

Synopsis

William Horwood introduces to the hyddenworld – a place that is veiled from our own. There are crossing over places it seems but the hydden stay hidden from humans but there are occasions where the hydden and human worlds meet and this is the start of one the most important.

It has lain lost and forgotten for fifteen hundred years in the ancient heartland of England – a scrap of glass and metal melded by fierce fire. It is the lost core of a flawless Sphere made by the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon CraeftLords in memory of the one he loved. Her name was Spring and contained in the very heart of this work is a spark from the Fires of Creation.

But while humans have lost their belief in such things, the Hydden – little people existing on the borders of our world – have not. Breaking the silence of centuries they send one of their own, a young boy, Jack, to live among humans in the hope that he may one day find what has been lost for so long. His journey leads him to Katherine, a girl he rescues from a tragic accident ¬– it’s a meeting that will change everything. It is only through their voyage into the dangerous Hyddenworld that they will realize their destiny, find love and complete the great quest that will save both their worlds from destruction.

Their journey begins with Spring . . .

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

This is my first red review of the year and they come about so rarely that I foamed this one hard to write. The reason that they are rare is that if I feel this unhappy about a book then I’ll have stopped reading it by now and moved on but I made a promise to review it so here it is.

I struggled with Hyddenworld: Spring from the start which is never a good sign, Part of the problem is the opening, Beornamund’s Prophecy – it sets a mystical and magical tone that is soon lost in minute and uninspiring storytelling of the growing-up of Jack and Katherine.

This may be Horwood’s style and if you are used to it you might find Spring a lot easier to read but I struggled. I’m a reader that gets drawn in by the voice of the narrator and can forgive almost anything if I can feel some emotional connection for the characters and their plight.

I didn’t. The only one that really captured my imagination was Imbolic but that’s because she has some substance and intrigue. I thought that this was going to be a heroic quest in the search for pieces of a pendent.

But it’s more about setting up political internal war for the hydden city of Brum. Jack and his companions though potentially exciting do little cause excitement – it feels very much like writing by numbers. This has to happen so I need to write this. I need these characters here so I’ll have get them to this.

It lacks that passion from the characters themselves. They behave oddly and a lot of how they are thinking or feeling is told directly to the reader instead of coming from their voices and actions.

The reason that this review is late is that I usually get so drawn into a story that everything else is filtered out so I don’t hear anything on TV nor any music that might be in the background. Reading Hyddenworld: Spring I was aware of everything around me and found myself glazing over so often that I had to go back and start again.

Summary

I had high hopes for a tale with a strong mythical foundation only to be alienated and bored with almost everything.

I know this sounds harsh and coming form a reviewer who usually has so much to praise it might seem like I’m blowing hot and cold but there are so many problems here that I am struggling to be positive.

I would say that it feels like sandwich which looks good on the outside only to find that filling is so thin that all you end up is eating bread. It could work so much better if it was cut down to 100 pages – it feels like the whole series could be one book.

All I can say is read 20-30 pages if you can and see what you think.

UnReview: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard (Headline)

JohannesCabaltheNecromancer

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
Published by Headline and out now

There is always a suspension of disbelief when starting any novel and trusting that at point somewhere the events described would actually happen. Then when you get past this hurdle, which isn’t usually that high or difficult you have to settle into the story being told. Or at least settle into how the story is being told.

The problems with Johannes Cabal The Necromancer started from the opening pages I couldn’t get into the tone. Howard is trying for comedic fantasy. A very hard juggling act. Even Terry Pratchett, along with Robert Rankin, is considered a master of comedic fantasy, lets the gags come from the characters rather than the characters coming from the gags. And Pratchett has now toned the comedy to focus on the characters and the tale.

And over the first 50 pages, which is as far as I could manage, we get little introduction to the scientist/necromancer Cabal. We are marched with short order to the immigration control centre at the gates of Hell, which follows an exchange with the gate keeper, who used to be a banker and whose ideal of Hell is forms. We then get to meet a devil that’s risen through the ranks before Cabal lets out his secret bringing him down to size. Before getting to see Satan. Who is a little too normal.
The problem for me is that nothing feels real. Hell should be something special. But Howard neuters everything making the place and devils seem unimpressive and a tick box.

There are points where if he’d lingered then it would have been more interesting. Like the how he got hold of the skull that he scares the gatekeeper with, what sort of experiments he does. But instead he meets Satan that agrees a wager for Cabal to get his soul back if he takes on a Carnival to get a 100 souls in a year.

It’s hardly original.And that’s what I’m struggling with. Cabal is lacking a hook into him as a character. His wager isn’t that interesting and the storytelling is simple and humourless.

It does sound a little brutal. But that’s my impression of the first 50 pages. And I can’t see my impression changing. I’m not engaged by the whole thing. I’d recommend reading the opening chapters to see if you have the same reservations or if you find the tone and banter enjoyable.

Review: The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

Title: The Burning Man
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 17 April 2008
Review Copy

The Burning Man brings the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons closer to the end of the world. And after eight books (three in Age of Misrule, three in The Dark Age and this is the second in The Kingdom of the Serpent.) it has been a long and challenging fight. The lives of the characters have been torn apart and rebuilt, as has the world around them. Magic has been released and it’s now being extinguished. The Brothers and Sisters have one final chance to stop the magic and hope in the world being extinguished forever.

As hinted at in Jack of Ravens the Tuatha Dé Danann are not the only Gods to be awakened in the world. As events have spiralled the quest of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons brings them in contact with other Great Dominions some aren’t as friendly to the cause as others.

Mark Chadbourn is one of the best writers I have ever read regardless of genre. He manages to mix characterisation and storytelling so that one feeds off the other and neither is sacrificed. Not an easy thing to manage as stories need an emotional core without being emotional and soppy and characters need a journey and purpose no matter how much you like then.

In The Burning Man the pace never slows. That’s partly down to Chadbourn’s non-indulgent style. He gives just enough information and moves on. So this whole section is told in 329 pages and at no point do I feel short changed. He’s crammed in a lot.

It’s partly style but mostly he’s built up so much momentum that the story carries you forward. It’s rarely that I pick up a book just to see what happens next whilst waiting for a computer to boot or software to install (I got a new computer and usually I’d be staring at the machine keeping an eye on progress) or in ad break or choosing to read over everything else.

There were several sad and surprising moments, events happened where I wanted our heroes to hold on to their happiness a few moments longer and twists came seemingly without warning (though the signs I think were there if I’d have been paying a bit more attention).

Chadbourn has managed to make each of the characters rounded; they have their flaws, their own strengths and their own agendas. They act and react in their own and sometimes surprising (but not out of character) way.

I’d love to say more but if you’ve read this far it’ll only spoil it and if you haven’t it’s not going to make much sense if I said more about the plot apart from he ends The Burning Man in such a way that I have no idea if or how are heroes are going to save the world and what world they’ll end up saving.

I can’t wait until Book Three of The Kingdom of the Serpent.

10/10

Additional:

Here are links two reviews of books two and three of The Dark Age cycle.

A review of Jack of Ravens is here.

An overview of the series so far by me is here.

Debut Review: Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley – Updated 07/08

WinterbirthTitle: Winterbrith – The Godless World Book One
Author: Brian Ruckley
Publisher: Orbit
Price 7.99
Review Copy

I shouldn’t like this book. It’s a war story and I try to avoid war stories as best I can but when delving into the realms of fantasy it is very hard to avoid them. The good ones make manage to go beyond the fighting and I’m glad to say that Winterbirth does just that. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of fighting here and blood, a lot of blood but there are also characters that you can’t help routing for.

The back story in Winterbirth is complex and it shows that we can’t really escape our history as It always comes back to haunt us if we want it to or not. It’s also not an easy book to explain as there are a lot of things going on both above and below the surface.

Brian Ruckley shows us two sides to this world: those of the South who are ‘True Bloods’ and those of the exiled ‘Black Roads’. The uneasy truce of the ‘True Bloods’ is weakening as the High Thane goes to war against one of his own. And it is this time that the Black Road march South.

I could spend many paragraphs going into who is fighting who, who is betraying who, who is helping who, and who doesn’t know that they need to be acting much faster. Luckily this is all explained as you read. This is no slight tale. There is a weighty and mighty book and knowledge of all the pieces is needed if you are to understand the rules of the game and what the game actually is.

As you follow the central band of characters you are left sometimes questioning if events unfold they way they do because of the choices that they make. If you are on the side of the ‘True Bloods’, as our band are, then you may believe that it is all your fault. Though, if you are with the Black Road it is all pre-written and what will happen is already decided.

I found Winterbirth a hard but satisfying read. Ruckley, it seems, has the story all thought out in so much so that he can’t help it pouring out into sections of over-detailed explanation. Not that I can think of a better way of doing it. Everything is there for a reason – there are no meaningless wanderings through forests – though there is a lot of walking that takes place.

The quest element is quite simple – first they need to escape and then they need to find their way back as safely as possible. Not that it’s simple with danger at every turn and there is no where to get back to.

I enjoyed the bands journey and reading the history of the places they passed through. There is also magic in this world. It is however kept frustratingly enigmatic and hidden that I couldn’t really handle what those who wield it can and can’t do.

This could be considered an overly long introduction to a trilogy, but at this level of the fantasy genre this may be expected, as by the end this story is only just beginning.

If there was something that kept me reading even when I was getting swamped in the detail was Ruckley’s excellent characterisation – all the characters are solidly portrayed even those whose blood flows a few pages after they are mentioned. He does have a way of making you care about them and you may find yourself gasping about how merciless he is.

Winterbirth ends on a high level of expectation and I really can’t wait for the next one in the series and to find out the true potential of magic in this tale.

Updated (07/08):

I’ve been mulling over this review for the last couple of days and I need to a add a few points I think.

This is a complex book. It reminds me of a chess board with all it’s pieces in play. I’m not used to reading stories with such a big playing area and that’s really when I mean when it’s a ‘hard’ read – you need to keep the board very much in your mind whilst you’re reading. If, like me, you are not used to reading complex stories with a complex history be prepared that you need to be reading when you are fully conscious throughout.

I think that saying this is an ‘over-long introduction’ and has ‘over-detailed explanation’ is a being a little too harsh on the book. Both stem from wanting to get back to the main characters and their story rather than wanting to know more about what is happening everywhere else.

The greatest strength in Winterbirth is the characterisation of all the characters – they feel real – rather being wooden pawns- they could actually live in this world. Something is learnt from each shift in focus and for me it’s probably more than I need to know – hence the the ‘over-detailed’ – but it works in the structure of the novel.

As for the ‘over-long introduction’ – just I was getting used to the world, it’s characters and the chess game – the ending suggests that it’s actually another game we’ve been playing – and for me this was a little frustrating but thinking about it there are more than enough hints about what might be going on.

So overall, Winterbirth is a confidently written, well plotted, excellently characterised tale, that needs a good level of concentration and a strong stomach – but leaves you wanting more with a lot of questions that just have to be answered in the next book.

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling

Harry Potter DHThere isn’t much point in reviewing this final book in the series – at this point you either love it or you hate it and you’ve either bought it or you haven’t. But just in case you are yet to enter the hallowed halls of Hogwarts then I’ll offer a few of my own thoughts on this once in a life time literary phenomenon.

As I’ve pointed out recently the Harry Potter series is never going to see Ms. Rowling honoured for Nobel Prize for Literature but that was never its intention. HP is a children’s story that happens to appeal to an adult audience – though this attraction to an older audience has been played on with the Adult Editions and perhaps some of the adult related content as suggested by Catherine Bennett in the guardian. And as a children’s story HP has a lot to stimulate the imagination from the use of magic, to the magical creatures, to the whole conflict between good and evil.

If there is a negative to HP in general and DH in particular is that it might be a bit too immersive with a large casts of characters, locations, spells, and artefacts. Though strangely scenes are often rushed and key moments dealt with over a few lines that should have been lingered over longer.

Now this does show either a lack of good editing or lack of skill in the finer details by Rowling and this is the most disappointing thing – that in order to keep the story under wraps it missed having that vital feedback that could have polished it a bit more.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows brings the series to a satisfying if bloody conclusion. It is an amazing achievement to keep so many threads not only tight but tied off cleanly in the end over 7 books and goodness know how many words.

This is a series that will be read again and again and is going to take some beating in the future.