Thursday, November 26, 2009


I know, it's probably not the Stephen King book you expected, right? Well, I'm all about surprises, I guess. Surprises and being too cheap to buy a brand spanking new $35 hardcover of a 1000+ page book. But this one's pretty big, too. It's 800 pages of fascinating writing, good as always from the masterful King.

Ralph Roberts has a problem: he isn't sleeping so well these days. In fact, he's hardly sleeping at all. Each morning, the news conveyed by the bedside clock is a little worse: 3:15... 3:02... 2:45... 2:15. The books call it "premature waking"; Ralph, who is still learning to be a widower, calls it a season in hell. He's begun to notice a strangeness in his familiar surroundings, to experience visual phenomena that he can't quite believe are hallucinations. Soon, Ralph thinks, he won't be sleeping at all, and what then? A problem, yes - though perhaps not so uncommon, you might say.

But Ralph has lived his entire life in Derry, Maine, and Derry isn't like other places, as millions of Stephen King readers will gladly testify. They remember It, also set in Derry, and know there's a mean streak running through this small New England city; underneath its ordinary surface awesome and terrifying forces are at work. The dying, natural and otherwise, has been going on in Derry for a long, long time. Now Ralph is part of it. So are his friends. And so are the strangers they encounter, strangers who control the dying and who know its secrets. What it comes down to: they have a mission for Ralph and his companion, Lois Chasse, one that involves a boy, a plane, and a Tower. Thousands of lives are on the line. What happens next... that's for you to find out, Constant Reader.

As always, King delivers a combination of realistic dialogue, fluid prose, and gripping situations. The character of Ralph Roberts is a tool for King to show readers the world in a different way than is normally shown. He makes sure to tie Insomnia in with several of his other books, giving clever nods to those who are attentive and have a background in his stories. As a first King book, I wouldn't recommend it, simply because reading more of his books first adds another level to the reading experience.

Yes, it's very good, but I do have a couple of quibbles. Unlike King's other works, this book felt more like it was completely thought out from square one, and despite what you might think, this actually detracts some from the book. The book lacks some of his usual chilling spontaneity that makes you wonder if King is perhaps as surprised as his readers at the outcome. Every once in a while, it feels as though the characters are more pawns than real people. Though I have to admit, I still was brought into the book by the characters, so he's still doing it very well. Not to mention that I became quite attached to the cast of the book, and enjoyed every moment I spent with them. The other thing is that this suffers from the poor marketing of all of King's books. Insomnia was sold off as horror, but it's really more of a fantasy.

Keep in mind, these are minor quibbles. The book is still extremely fun to read, and I look forward to reading more from King. Maybe I'll pick up one of his other novels next. We'll have to see, won't we?

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Something else from King, more than likely. I'm not quite decided yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before They Are Hanged

A few years back, Joe Abercrombie burst onto the scene with The Blade Itself, the opener to the First Law Trilogy, which I read and really enjoyed earlier this year. While I found the characters a cynical bunch, they were well fleshed out and enjoyable to read, and the book is still a major contender in the category for Best Debut I've read this year at the end of year awards. Abercrombie's writing was experienced, his dialogue witty, and his action scenes gritty and intense. The real problem was going to be topping his introduction to the fantasy world with a sequel.

Or so I thought.

Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It's enough to make a torturer want to run - if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem-he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters-if they didn't hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven-but not before they are hanged.

The briefest way I can describe this is a darkly humorous, fast-paced epic fantasy. Those of you out there who think these can't be combined, be prepared for a shocker.

Abercrombie has improved over The Blade Itself in every aspect. The writing is even more superb. The action is both more frequent and more grippingly realistic. The mapless world (I know he hates maps, but it would so complete the pictre) is nicely fleshed out.

But the characters are what we're here for. If they weren't so blasted entertaining, the book would fall flat on its face. Instead, Abercrombie's brilliant characterization creates some great moments, giving scenes from multiple, wildly different viewpoints and changing voice deftly with POV. The characters here shine beyond the first book, and they're all wonderfully dynamic and fleshed-out. Each time the viewpoint changes, I change my mind about who my favorite character is to read. Is it the rugged Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody-Nine)? Or is it the feral Ferro? Perhaps the beautifully spoiled Jezal dan Luthar? The "ferocious" West? Or (and I think this one's in the lead for me personally) the crippled Superior Sand dan Glokta? There are so many to choose from, and even though they all have their despicable moments as in the first book, they become truly believable. The most miraculous thing is that, over the 1000+ pages I've known them, I even sometimes root for these cynical, violent people. The best part is, they're all given interesting things to do, and they all do them in interesting ways. They do things that sometimes surprise me, but that I later realize were exactly what fits with their personalities.

All in all, this has been a great ride so far, and Before They Are Hanged is one of the best fantasy books I've read this year. I can't wait to see these characters again in Last Argument of Kings, the final installment. Now that I think of it, this may be a bad thing, since Abercrombie has no problems whatsoever with killing off major characters.

My rating: 10/10. Joe Abercrombie was right. This guy just keeps getting better and BETTER.

Coming Soon: Top Secret, but it's BIG.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alex Rider: Crocodile Tears

Well, I've started on Before They Are Hanged, and it's great fun so far. But I didn't suddenly stop reading in the days leading up to its being chosen. That wouldn't be like me. I found a copy of the latest Alex Rider book: Crocodile Tears, the eighth in the excellent teenage spy series by Anthony Horowitz. As always, it's a lot of fun, and it's clear Horowitz enjoys his profession to the utmost degree.

It's just another day in the life of an average kid. If you're Alex Rider, that is.

A con artist has realized there is big money in charity— the bigger the disaster, the greater the money flow! So that is what he will produce: the biggest disaster known to man, all thanks to genetically modified corn that can release a virus so potent it can knock out an entire country in one windy day. But Alex Rider, tired of working for MI6 the past year, will face whatever it takes—gunfire, explosions, hand-to-hand combat with mercenaries— to bring down his most dangerous adversary yet.

Often imitated, never equaled, the series that triggered a reading phenomenon is back, exhilarating and addictive as ever.

Alex is James Bond in miniature, but to just say that would be to deny the greatest fun of the series. Bond certainly didn't have missions with quite so much emotional impact as the almost-15 Alex has had to deal with. Since being recruited part-time by MI6, he has faced an assassin, fought a clone of himself, swam in shark-infested waters, tried to stop a missile on board Air Force One, escaped a burning hot air balloon, left the earth's atmosphere, and found out some frightening truths about his family. All in all, a sense of tiredness has hit Alex, who is weary of missions and really only wants the newest Assassin's Creed game (understandable). That's not to say he doesn't get into some impressive scrapes this time around. My favorite involves armed guards, a school bus, a chimney, a greenhouse full of poisonous plants, and an exploding gel pen. It's quite impressive.

I've been reading this series ever since it came out in the US, and when the UK editions were published a year earlier, I ordered them online from overseas. There's an intensely readable wit that Horowitz infuses in all of his books that really comes into play here. And he knows how to write a good action scene. The last terrifying, desperate battle atop an African dam is a white-knuckled page-turner, and the painfully original torture scene is written with chilling verve. I'm thoroughly convinced Alex can survive anything, from a sniper's bullet to a burning building to a swim in a frozen Scottish Loch. These books are wonderfully over-the-top, and yet... they still manage to be plausible. While certain scenes may indicate this is the end of the series, Horowitz went out with a literal bang. And I'm definitely willing to go an further adventures with Alex Rider.

My rating: 10/10. Read this series.

Coming Soon: Before They Are Hanged.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Shadow Dragons

I've been on board James A. Owen's Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series ever since Book 1, Here, There Be Dragons came out. I've always enjoyed Owen's cavalier restructuring of myths and established stories while paying tribute. Having said that, Book 4, The Shadow Dragons, was a strange reading experience for me. Why? I'll explain soon enough.

World War II has been raging for three years, but a more terrible evil is just over the horizon. The last stones are falling from the Keep of Time, and the Imperial Cartological Society, led by Richard Burton, has collected doors and is building a new tower at the request of an old enemy: the Winter King's shadow. He has a terrible weapon -- the Spear of Destiny -- that can be used to command the shadows of anyone it touches.

The Shadow King uses the Spear of Destiny to enlist an unstoppable army of Dragon shadows. And after the Archipelago falls, the Shadow King intends to use the turmoil of World War II to take over both worlds.

All the legendary Caretakers, past and present, come together to save two worlds, and their only hope lies with a small group of companions who are on the quest for the broken sword Caliburn: the Grail Child, Rose Dyson; her clockwork companion, the owl Archie; a dead professor of ancient literature; and the mythical knight Don Quixote.

That's the story for this one, in it's least spoilerish and complicated form. It's huge, epic, and in other hands might collapse under its sheer magnitude. Even Owen gives this volume the slowest start in the series thus far. This book is the hardest to get into, though not because of poor writing. Owen takes his time to set things up for the biggest climax in the entire Imaginarium Geographica, and if you've read Books 1-3, you know that's saying something. Owen still displays a formidable talent in bringing an incredibly detailed saga to life, with more than a few laughter-inducing moments for the more well-read portion of his crowd. I think my favorite of these is at the end, with a great gag involving the Master himself, Edgar Allen Poe. While the opening is not my favorite, the closing, with all its hints at future volumes to come, makes this entry one of the strongest yet. Bring on Book 5: The Dragon's Apprentice.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Well, it's not decided yet, but I can guess it'll be Before They Are Hanged.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Here's a Tasty Little Poll for You...

Well, right now, I'm working on The Shadow Dragons by James A. Owen, Book 4 in the spellbinding Imaginarium Geographica series. After that... who knows? I'll give out a little secret: it's you.

I'd like some guidance on which unfinished series I should start next. Here are my options:

The Night Angel Troligy by Brent Weeks. More specifically, Book 2: Shadow's Edge. I read and absolutely loved the first book of Weeks's trilogy (published in monthly installments), The Way of Shadows. It continues the life story of infamous assassin Kylar Stern. I would not have any trouble convincing myself to read this one.

The Jimmy Fincher Saga by James Dashner. More specifically, Book 2: A Gift of Ice. It's been all of a few weeks (no pun from earlier intended) since I've read The Maze Runner, and I absolutely love Dashner's writing. Also, this would be a nice quick read, since the book's only about 200 pages long.

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. More specifically, Book 2 (I sense a trend here): Before They Are Hanged. While I'd bet good money that Abercrombie's characters are an unpleasant group to be around in person, they are a delight to read about. Surely a stranger group could not be found to embark upon a quest to save the world.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and recently coauthored by Brandon Sanderson). More specifically, Book 4 (Ha! I broke the trend!): The Shadow Rising. Rand, the mythical Dragon Reborn, and Co. do it again, scrambling desperately to fulfill prophecies and overthrow the Dark One. Don't expect it to happen for a while; there are going to be ten volumes following this. But the journey should prove to be enjoyable. A must for all readers of fantasy.

Let me get this straight first: I'm going to read all these books someday. It just may not be right now. And I can be easily convinced to read any of the books mentioned above. Please vote and leave a comment.

And...that's all! Have a pleasant day.

Until we meet again,

The Writer

Curse of the Spider King

What? No Shadow Dragons review yet? Well, I got into this one first. And don't worry, I'm working on it. I've read everything from Wayne Thomas Batson that he's published: The Door Within Trilogy and the extremely fun Isle of Swords duology (I refuse to call them the Pirate Adventures books like the publisher does, simply because these titles are so boring.). Now he's coauthored a book with fellow Christian writer Christopher Hopper, and it's the start of a series of unannounced length: The Berinfall Prophecies. From the looks of it so far, it's the biggest project Batson has dived into to date. But is it good? Can he make the transition to coauthoring without some seriously huge bumps in the road?

Of course he can, silly.

The Seven succeeding Elven Lords of Allyra were dead, lost in the Siege of Berinfell as babes. At least that's what everyone thought until tremors from a distant world known as Earth, revealed strange signs that Elven blood lived among its peoples. With a glimmer of hope in their hearts, sentinels are sent to see if the signs are true. But theirs is not a lone errand. The ruling warlord of Allyra, the Spider King, has sent his own scouts to hunt down the Seven and finish the job they failed to complete many ages ago.

Now 13-year-olds on the brink of the Age of Reckoning when their Elven gifts will be manifest, discover the unthinkable truth that their adoptive families are not their only kin. With mysterious Sentinels revealing breathtaking secrets of the past, and dark strangers haunting their every move, will the young Elf Lords find the way back to the home of their birth? Worlds and races collide as the forces of good and evil battle. Will anyone escape the Curse of the Spider King?

That's right. Curse of the Spider King is an actual curse inside the book, not just some corny title.

I haven't read anything of Christopher Hopper's, but this book has convinced me I need to remedy that situation in the not-too-distant future. His and Batson's voices mix together smoothly and without giving the reader the feeling that only one of the authors wrote any certain part. The execution of this concept is done beautifully, giving basically the whole volume to introducing the ideas of the series to us in a flowing way. While it may not be my favorite of Batson's (that would be The Final Storm), I enjoyed every minute I read it. It kept me glued to the page and even made me laugh aloud in a couple of moments. I honestly am exctied for the upcoming Book 2, which has a preview in the back of Book 1 and is tentatively titled Venom and Song. Give this one to your kids, or better yet, read it aloud so you get to experience the fun to be had here. All in all, a great starter to a promising series.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: The Shadow Dragons, for real this time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Maze Runner

In the wake of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, post-apocalyptic is the new "it" genre. Authors are moving from fantasy to throwing their characters into massively challenging and/or deadly situations in the distant future. Don't worry,James Dashner's The Maze Runner was started before The Hunger Games. The closest thing I can describe it to is Holes mixed with William Sleator's classic House of Stairs.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

This one's impossible to put down. I mean, I actually read it in a day. The characters are intriguing, the setting is a puzzle, to say the least, and the payoff is great. James Dashner is a fantastic writer, and he has now proven that he can write anything if he so desires. I give him a pat on the back for giving us his best book yet, full of all the literary treats that make a book enjoyable. I can't wait for Book 2 in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, set to come out next year.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Shadow Dragons