Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This tale starts out strong with interesting characters and a somewhat unique feeling world. I typically like Tads' work and Shadowmarch was no exception. In a pretty radical departure from typical epic fantasy two of our primary heroes and our primary antagonist are all women. They still live in a world that is dominated by men (kings, emperors, etc) and where women are used to solidify treaties (princess given as a wife to form a bond between two houses) but these three women supersede the world around them and, while they haven't yet, will surely change the world completely before the series is done.

However, unlike some authors who I have read, when Tad writes a strong women character that doesn't necessarily mean she is a bitch. In fact, all three are interesting, intelligent, and generally very compelling. The evil one is hard to like (she is Evil after all) but the other two have both the readers sympathy and compassion as they traverse their respective minefields. This isn't to say that the novel is a treatise on women's lib in fantasy though. There are also three important male characters; each dealing with his own trials as well. There are also many second class characters in the story so far that could easily become more important before the series is over and Tad's balance of these characters, so far, is masterfully done.

I'm not sure how many books are going to be in this series but the first promises a great tale in the end. I believe the story was started as a community driven one at the Shadowmarch website. However, I didn't hear about the book until I bumped into it at the store. If you like fantasy then you will like this book; so go get it.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)
Neal Stephenson managed to get me to spend my own money on this book - and I paid full price for it; in more ways than one. I really liked Cryptonomicron however, my one hang up with that book carried over, in a major way, to the inagural tome of the Baroque Cycle; Quicksilver. Quicksilver starts off great by introducing you to Enoch Root (who you may remember, kind of, from Crypto) entering old colonial Boston. As I read this first paragraph I had feelings of great hope for the novel. It promised adventure, history, science, and yes - even more geekiness all in one big, long book. In many ways it didn't disappoint.

We see the interactions of Hyguens, Newton, and the ficticious Daniel Waterhouse (yes the same Waterhouse family from Crypto - we all see the other key family from that story the Shaftoe's). And, in many ways his descriptions of the research of the scientists of the day and the exploits of Jack Shaftoe and his beloved Eliza (a most cunning woman) are very interesting. Sadly, in this book Stephenson is even more prone to droning on and on about how much he knows. Maybe I am taking it the wrong way but it seems like there are too many history, economic, scientific, and yes history lessons in what is supposed to be a Novel; and heck I like history, economics, science, and even more history but the lecturing tone of this book at times was just too much. It made the book seem endlessly longer that its already substantial length.

Now, I typically never quit on a book, and I didn't quit on this one either. However, I will probably quit on the series. Heck there are two or three more books in this cycle and I don't think I could handle being lectured to for another 2-3 thousand pages. I hear his first work, Snow Crash, is really good but of course this comes from the same folks who love the Baroque Cycle. I just don't get it.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Queen of Demons

Queen of Demons : The second book in the epic saga of 'The Lord of the Isles' (Lord of the Isles)
Queen of Demons the second installment in the Lord of the Isles series continues on with the same troupe of likable characters; and, much like the first book, has a few characters that play vital roles for this book only then disappear. However, the plot in this book is even weaker than in the first and major events slide by a bit too easilly. Overall, I found this book less enjoyable than the first. However, I have already bought the next couple books in the series so I will continue to read. At least I still like the principal characters or else I would probably just sell the books on eBay without another thought.


Friday, October 17, 2008

King Rat

King Rat is a modern day sequel to the fabled story of The Pied Piper. In the ancient tale we don't really hear much from the Rat's of Hamellin Germany. Instead, we just know they show up and infest the small town until the Pied Piper shows up.

Anyone familiar with the story will also remember the darker ending where the people of Hamellin refuse to pay the Piper and so he changes his tune and leads all the children away into a mountainside. It is this darker side of the Pied Piper that is explored more deeply in King Rat.

The Piper can play one type of song at a time and, as it turns out, he can control any kind of living species with a song tuned to that species. Thus at one moment he can control the rats, another the children, another the birds, or even the spiders. He is content in his knowledge that he can make anyone dance. Anyone that is except Saul.

Saul is a special hybrid resultant of the coupling between a Rat in humanoid form and an actual human. How a Rat can take on human form is never really explained in the book; perhaps it is a talent reserved specifically for those of royal blood. Saul is drawn into the dark world of Rats and their past with the Pied Piper specifically because of his mixed background; he becomes a trophy fought over between two long-time enemies: the Piper and King Rat.

King Rat, you see, was around back when the Rats of Hamellin were drowned and he has a bone to pick with the Piper. The problem his, even after all of these years, he still can't resist the Pied Piper's compelling tune. Thus the King needs, and the Piper hates, Saul.

This book takes place in present day London and for that reason alone I got a kick out of it because I happened to be in London as I read it. I hadn't been in London since I was five so it was kind of cool to see bits and pieces of London by day and then read about Saul and King rat exploring those very same locales, albeit from a far different perspective, at night. In fact, at one point, as I was reading in my hotel room on High Holborn, Saul and King Rat ran right past my window in the book (page 98). That was pretty cool.

The Piper's dark side is expanded quite a bit and Melville (the author) really makes him easy to dislike. Likewise, it is easy to dislike King Rat all the while sympathizing with Saul and his unusual circumstances. This was my introduction to Melville and it was fairly enjoyable. The book was fairly lightweight reading and had some interesting twists (though nothing particularly suprising). Not only was this my first encounter with Melville it was my first effort at reading Urban fantasy. I imagine I will return to the genre and the author.

Overall, I'll give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Bear and the Dragon

The Bear and the Dragon
While The Bear and The Dragon was a pretty good read there were a few things that I felt were weak. For starters the entire process by which the US Spy infiltrates the Chinese governments computer systems with his "undetectable" trojan. If he is delivering the computer, installing it for them, and who knows what else, why didn't he just deliver it with the trojan in place instead of having to screw his way into the office? I just don't get that. Secondly was the presidents reaction at the end of the story when all hell is breaking loose. I don't want to say too much but, "Gimme a Break", he has a responsibility as president and Jack Ryan never seemed like the kind to shirk responsibility - until the end of this book when he suddenly gets a whacked out definition of right-vs-wrong. The only other thing that bothered me about the book was that almost every man in the story was exactly the same; particularly the US soldiers. Gimme a break.

Even if we assume the story was taking place now, or in the late 90's the attitude of every solider was that of someone Clancy's age who grew up with the missle crises in the 60's. However, most of the pilots, spooks, and what not just didn't feel like they were that old to have such a complete mindnumbing reaction to allying with the russians. Hell, by the end of the 90's the coldwar was 10 years dead. We had already started working with the Russians on the international space station (a hallmark battle ground of the cold war - space) and yet no soldier in American service could believe we were working with the former Soviet Union against China - our modern day "cold war" enemies. I got kind of sick of reading how shocking it all was. One or two old timers was enough to convey the irony!

Even with these complaints the story was still fairly interesting, the cast generally likable, and China was setup well as an enemy of mankind (not something I buy in real life) but that Clancy conveyed well in the book. Probably not his best work but since it is the only Clancy novel I have read it wasn't too bad. I might give him another shot; maybe with an older book that was turned into a movie like The Hunt for Red October .


Friday, October 3, 2008

On My Way to London

I'll be in London for the next week for work so any and all posts made will be scheduled. That means they are probably not very in depth or well written (of course, everything before this may not be all that great either).

Anyway, once I get back I'll probably edit those that show up over the next week and flesh them out a bit. Hopefully someone will be reading them by then anyway :O)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lord of the Isles

Lord of the Isles (Lord of the Isles)

Overall, Lord of the Isles was a fun read. The characters are all pretty likable and the world they live in is a bit different than your normal fantasy fare. However, the way the story goes the confluence of so many seemingly important people in one small little hamlet is pretty inexplicable. Perhaps the fates have as much to do with the characters placement as it did with my stumbling upon the book in a bargin bin a couple years ago. Either way it's an enjoyable and simple read and one I recommend if you're looking for some light fantasy.