New Books (June)

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Featuring: Joe Abercrombie, Taylor Anderson, RJ Barker, Karen Cleveland, Ben Coes, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Amal El-Mohtar, Shamini Flint, Alexander Freed, Max Gladstone, Steven Goldstein, Thomas Harris, Scott Johnston, Joanna Kavenna, Mark Lawrence, Fonda Lee, Sarah Lotz, Dale Lucas, Ed McDonald, Emily Nussbaum, Dana Schwartz, L.C. Shaw, Sherri Smith, Anna Smith Spark, Charles Soule

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Review: BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz/Orbit)

Abercrombie-BestServedColdUKAbercrombie expands the World of the First Law

Springtime in Styria. And that means war. Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular — a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started…

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is one of my favourites: a great story, fantastic characters, superb prose. For some reason, it took me a while to get around to reading Best Served Cold (originally published in 2008). I finally read it after taking a glance at the first pages, and being quickly drawn in by not only the author’s great prose, but also his gift for characterization. Unfortunately, though, I finished the novel with a very different feeling to that I had after finishing Last Argument of KingsContinue reading

New Books (March)

Featuring: Ben Aaronovitch, Joe Abercrombie, Jay Allan, Chiara Barzini, Clifford Beal, Christopher Brown, Laura Dave, Curtis Dawson, Joshua Ferris, David Goodrich, Daryl Gregory, Randy Henderson, Greg Iles, Nicole Krauss, Laura Lam, Barry Lancet, Mark Lawrence, Peter McLean, Dan Moren, Daniel Riley, Doree Shafrir, Jonathan Skariton, C.J. Skuse, Chris Vola, Sam Wiebe, Max Wirestone

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Upcoming in 2017… Gollancz & Orion

upcoming2017-orion

A selection of anticipated novels from Orion Books (and imprints).

Featuring: Joe Abercrombie, Dan Abnett, Mark Alder, Brad Beaulieu, Ezekiel Boone, C. Robert Cargill, Steve Cavanagh, Mason Cross, Aliette de Bodard, R.J. Ellory, Emily Fridlund, John Hornor Jacobs, Ursula K. le Guin, Ian McDonald, Andrew Pyper, Alastair Reynolds, Simon Wroe

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New Books (February #1)

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Featuring: Joe Abercrombie, Mark Alder, Michel Bussi, Michael Christie, John Clarkson, Toby Clements, Myke Cole, Rowena Cory Daniells, William Dietz, Cecilia Ekbäck, Christopher Fowler, John French, Steven Harper, Lee Kelly, Jean Hanff Korelitz, Ursula le Guin, Stephen Marche, Marshall Ryan Maresca, George R.R. Martin, Paul McAuley, Ben Mezrich, Michael Moorcock, Michael Alan Nelson, Peter Orullian, Den Patrick, Justina Robson, Andrzej Sapkowski, Joe Schreiber, Harry Turtledove, Nicolle Wallace Continue reading

“Half a King” by Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey / Voyager UK)

AbercrombieJ-HalfAKingStart of a new (YA) trilogy by the author of the First Law

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began – in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

I’ve only recently come to read Abercrombie’s novels, finally enjoying The First Law trilogy last year. What became quickly apparent with those novels is that Abercrombie can write. Not just in terms of plotting, but his prose, too, is superb. With Half A King, he has taken his first foray into the YA market, and everything we loved about his previous work is true here, too. This was a very enjoyable read, and I can’t wait for books two and three.

This novel is a pretty quick read. I blitzed through it in just two glorious days of fantasy entertainment. This is both a very good thing, and also brought to mind the one weakness (in my opinion) of the novel. Firstly, the pace never lets up, which means Yarvi’s journey and ordeal draws the reader inexorably on towards the excellent, unexpected denouement. The characters he meets along the way are varied, very well-drawn, and diverse. They all add to the story – none of them felt like props. They felt real – from the melodramatic captain of a slave ship; to Nothing, the mysterious deck-scrubber of said ship, with quite the secret… Yarvi’s handicap is handled delicately and naturally – that he must rely on his wits, as opposed to brawn, was a nice alternative to much fantasy today.

The society into which he is born is warlike and Viking-esque (it’s not fully explained or described, which I liked, as it leaves more for future novels), and he is naturally a disappointment to his father. His mother, a pioneering businesswoman, appears cold and somewhat indifferent to him, equally disappointed by his deformity and how it prohibits him from fulfilling the kingly promise of his father and ancestors. Over the course of his unwilling travels, he gathers a motley crew of companions, all of whom develop a loyalty to him and, somewhat inexplicably, agree to help him fulfill his oath for revenge.

Abercrombie-H1-HalfAKingUKSo how can any of this be a weakness? Well, after reading the novel, you realise that an awful lot happens to Yarvi and Co., in what is actually a pretty short timeframe. Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this – just because it’s fantasy doesn’t mean it has to be drawn out for hundreds-upon-hundreds of pages, after all. It’s just that, this novel could be described as “A Serious of Unfortunate-Yet-Fortuitous Events”. A couple of developments felt a little too serendipitous. But still fun. If it had been just a bit longer, with a timeframe that lasted just a bit longer still, then I think this would have been a near-perfect fantasy adventure/revenge story.

Nevertheless, and despite this minor niggle, the novel is filled with great moments, scenes, encounters, and conversations. The characters, pacing, prose, and story are all engaging and addictive. The action scenes are well-composed and don’t dominate or bury the story. The first and last chapters have a nice symmetry, too – and, indeed, that was one of the best final chapters I’ve read in a while. Abercrombie avoids info-dumps and overt telling, and allows the story to fill out our picture of the world as it unfurls.

Overall, great storytelling for all fans of fantasy. I can’t wait for the next in the series, Half a World.

Review: LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz)

AbercrombieJ-FL3-LastArgumentOfKingsUK1A strong finish to The First Law trilogy

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him – but it’s going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the king of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy: it’s time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. As his days with a sword are far behind him, it’s fortunate that he’s deadly with his remaining weapons: blackmail, threats, and torture.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is too painful an undertaking and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too – and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

The king of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt, and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the heart of the Union. Only the First of the Magi can save the world, but there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, than to break the First Law…

It is always tricky to review the final book in a trilogy or series. So how to go about it, with a series and novel that I could talk about for hours? To avoid spoilers or over-analysis requires a very short review. But, “This is the culmination of a superb series” seems just too short… The Blade Itself started the series in fine form. Before They Are Hanged kicked things into a much higher gear. And Last Argument of Kings brings things to a brash, loud conclusion. Continue reading