Short Story Reviews: A SPELL OF VENGEANCE and THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS by D.B. Jackson (Tor)

Two THIEFTAKER prequel short stories

JacksonDB-ASpellOfVengeanceA SPELL OF VENGEANCE

Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker in Colonial Boston, scratching out a living by restoring stolen property to its rightful owners. But unlike others in his profession, Ethan relies on magical spells as well as his wits to track down thieves. Being a conjurer doesn’t make him popular with the law in Boston, so Ethan is taken aback when the sheriff seeks his help in settling a dispute between a pair of wealthy merchants and a ship’s captain who has threatened their lives. Ethan knows the captain can back up his threats with magic of his own. But there is more to this matter than the merchants have let on, and Ethan soon discovers that what he doesn’t know might actually kill him.

JacksonDB-PriceOfDoingBusinessTHE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS

Ethan Kaille is a Thieftaker in Boston in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Having suffered losses and reversals in his life, he is neither naive nor without considerable personal resources. He isn’t just a detective; he’s also a conjurer, which makes him someone who lives on the margins of polite society. Some people fear his powers; others merely find him a distasteful rogue who should simply go away… but still, he is useful to the powers-that-be when problems arise requiring his unusual skill-set.

This story is one from Kaille’s early days as a thieftaker in Boston. In it, he must face a formidable foe, one of a most unexpected sort, whose own powers, very different from his own, prove the equal of Ethan’s.

Both of these stories are decent introductions to Ethan Kaille and Jackson’s urban fantasy take on early-America Boston. My interest in the novels in the series (now up to three), has grown considerably since reading A Spell of Vengeance and The Price of Doing Business. Continue reading

Mini-Review: THE MESSENGER by Mark Charan Newton (Tor)

NewtonMC-MessengerGreat introduction to a new character

As an Officer of the Sun Chamber, Lucan Drakenfeld must uphold the two-hundred-year-old laws of the Vispasian Royal Union, whatever the cost.

While stationed in the ancient city of Venyn, a metropolis notorious for its lawless nature, Drakenfeld receives a series of mysterious letters, written in blood, that warn of an imminent assassination attempt on the life of the city’s young Prince Bassim.

Supported by his fiery colleague Leana, Drakenfeld’s investigation leads him down the city’s corridors of power. But nothing is as it seems. Who is behind the conspiracy that threatens the young prince, and will the duo be able to unearth the perpetrator before the prince’s time is up?

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I’m a big fan of Newton’s first series, Legends of the Red Sun. This 9,000~ word novella features the main character of the author’s new series, Lucan Drakenfeld, and is set before the first novel Drakenfeld. It’s a very good short story, and certainly served to whet my appetite for the full-length novels (which I’ve been inexplicable slow about getting around to). There’s a mystery, a rebel group, the possibility of an inside agent, some brutal killing, and the potential for a spot of regicide. Everything that makes a great fantasy crime story. We get to know the main two characters, too, who are two of the more interesting protagonists I’ve read in a while.

A great prequel, and a great way to quickly and cheaply try out Newton’s writing and his new series. Absolutely recommended.

Short Story Reviews: David Annandale, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and John French (Black Library)

Three good, recent short stories from BL’s Warhammer 40,000 range

Annandale-Yarrick4-TheGallowsSaintDavid Annandale, YARRICK: THE GALLOWS SAINT

Fresh from his victory against traitors on Mistral, Commissar Yarrick deploys to Abydos to watch a great triumph in honour of the forces who liberated the world from the grip of the alien tau. But when the planet’s governor is assassinated, Yarrick is drawn into a political game with deadly consequences for himself, his Steel Legion troops and Abydos itself. Can he unravel the mystery and reveal the true traitors on the world before it is too late?

Continuing his series detailing the career of Commissar Yarrick, Annandale here offers a short tale set after the conclusion of a conflict. On a world recently ‘saved’ from the influence of the Tau, Yarrick stumbles across a mundane, rather parochial conspiracy. The story moves very fast. This was not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it certainly would have benefited from expansion – as it stands, the story is a bit of a whirlwind, and Yarrick’s investigation is executed pretty much by luck and accident. True, there’s no reason to believe such a case could never happen. I think I was just greedy for a longer, more in-depth tale. Luckily, I have the first full-length Yarrick novel (Imperial Creed) to read, which I will be reading ASAP. (I know, I say that a lot.)

Despite this minor complaint, this is a very good story – Annandale continues to improve as a writer, and writes great stories. Let’s hope there are many more from him.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Carrion Anthem, Eclipse of Hope, Yarrick: Chains of Golgotha, The Dark Hollows of Memory, Stormseer; Interview with David Annandale; Guest Post

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DembskiBowden-Abaddon-ChosenOfChaosAaron Dembski-Bowden, ABADDON: CHOSEN OF CHAOS

In the aftermath of battle, a group of Black Legion warlords – traitors to mankind, drawn from across the Legions of Chaos and sworn to the Warmaster – torture a prisoner, a captain of the Space Marines. Defiant to the last, the son of the Emperor is prepared to die, his duty fulfilled. But Abaddon, the Chosen of Chaos, has other plans for this brave warrior…

A very short story, introducing the post-Horus Heresy Abaddon: master of the Black Legion, and Warmaster of the Traitor Astartes, he has taken over from the slain Horus to wage his eternal war on the forces of the Imperium. This story, while very good, doesn’t really do anything, which was slightly frustrating. As an amuse bouche for Abaddon: Talon of Horus, however, it works very well indeed. As long-time readers of the blog will know, I’m a huge fan of Dembski-Bowden’s novels and writing, and Chosen of Chaos shows everything I’ve come to love about the way he writes. Only… not enough of it to be satisfying. I would, therefore, recommend you read this only when you don’t have a long wait until Talon of Horus.

Also on CR: Reviews of Cadian Blood, Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver, Void Stalker, Armageddon, The First Heretic, Betrayer, The Emperor’s Gift

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FrenchJ-Ahriman-TheDeadOracleJohn French, Ahriman: The Dead Oracle

Ctesias, an ancient Space Marine and former prisoner of Amon of the Thousand Sons, tells the tale of one of the events that led him to his destiny. After Amon’s demise, Ctesias comes into the service of Ahriman, the exiled First Captain of the broken Legion, and is given power undreamed of – and drawn into a plot involving the otherworldly daemons of the warp, the machinations of Ahriman and the mysterious dead oracle.

This is set after the events of Ahriman: Exile, the first novel in French’s series focusing on the Thousand Sons’ greatest sorcerer. It is not, however, essential to have read Exile in order to follow or enjoy The Dead Oracle – I have yet to read the novel, but I really enjoyed this story. In fact, of these three stories reviewed here, this is by far my favourite. I think French has done a great job with Ahriman, painting him as a rather withdrawn, highly-focused and competent sorcerer, attempting to atone for and remedy what he has wrought on his Legion. The story isn’t from Ahriman’s perspective, however – rather, it is from Ctesias’s P.O.V. Through his eyes, we see how far Ahriman is prepared to go on his path to redemption. We also see just how powerful and learned he is about the way of Chaos. Not to mention how tricksy he can be, fooling even greater daemons of the Warp.

After finishing The Dead Oracle, my interest in reading Exile only grew. It has been moved up my TBR pile.

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Short Story Review: THE DEVINE ADORATRICE by Graham McNeill (Black Library)

McNeill-HH-TheDevineAdoratrice2014A prequel to Vengeful Spirit

Decades before Horus’s civil war sunders the Imperium, Raeven Devine, ruler-in-waiting of the world of Molech, prepares for his Becoming, the rite that will elevate him to the rank of Knight and bond him with the mighty war machine that will be his steed for years to come. But traitors within the Sacristans have other ideas and a shocking act of betrayal sets the stage for one of the bloodiest battles of the Horus Heresy…

This is a really good short story. McNeill has always been one of Black Library’s best authors, especially when it came to the Horus Heresy series. In this short story, he tells of the Becoming ritual of the Knight family on Molech. The two sons of the world’s ruler are given a parade that will lead to their bonding with a massive, lethal war-machine. However, unseen forces on the planet – remnants of the pre-illumination period – have other plans, and attempt to disrupt the ceremony.

What really stood out for me was how well it was written. McNeill, a skilled author, can often succumb to florid prose (especially at the start of his novels and short stories, which is interesting…). Here, however, he is far more focused and disciplined. As a result, the pacing and narrative flow are excellent. The characters feel realistic and well-rounded from very early on.

Certainly, I think this is one of the author’s best short stories, and bodes very well for Vengeful Spirit, his latest Horus Heresy novel. (Which I already have, and will be starting in the next week or so.) Very highly recommended for all fans of the Horus Heresy series.

Mini-Review: “La Santasima” by Teresa Frohock

Frohock-LaSantisimaA brilliant, dark short story from one of my favourite authors.

It’s also a story that any review of length will ruin. It’s timely, incisive and haunting – it is a blending of the supernatural with the ongoing illegal immigration across the US-Mexican borders. Frohock has written a brilliant story that highlights the dangers and issues that those desperate to enter the States will face, as well as the people who will take advantage of and prey on their desperation. At the same time, it is a touching story of family ties.

Here’s the synopsis…

Sebastian’s friend Carlos claims that La Santa Muerte watches over the poor, the ones that the Church abandons. He promises Sebastian that La Santa Muerte will be his patron saint, that she will protect him and grant his wishes.

Death comes for us all. Keep her as your friend.

Sebastian is disappointed as prayer after prayer is rejected by the saint, and he loses faith. One night his sister Lucía joins him, and La Santa Muerte answers their prayer to bring their brother home…

On top of that, the eBook has a great piece by the author at the end, talking about the genesis of the story. If you haven’t read Frohock’s work, yet, you must. Best of all, La Santisima is free on Smashwords!

Short Story Reviews: FORSWORN and THE FACE IN THE WINDOW by Brian McClellan

A pair of short stories set in the world of McClellan’s Powder Mage fantasy series. McClellan continues to impress and these two stories (which follow previous short stories The Girl of Hrusch Avenue and Hope’s End) do a wonderful job of adding more to the world he’s creating. And heightening my anticipation for The Crimson Campaign

McClellanB-PM-ForswornFORSWORN

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy.

When she decides to help a young commoner — a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law — she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king’s own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.

Occurs 35 years before the events in Promise of Blood.

This is a great novella. This time, we’re in Kez, and we learn about their strict censure of powder mages – lowborn mages are executed, but highborn mages can forswear their gifts and live (branded). It is set a long while before the novel, as is mentioned above, and it’s only at the end that McClellan connects it with Tamas and his revolution. I really liked the way he wrote all of the characters. The story is very well-paced, and the fight scenes are expertly done. The author continues to impress, the more of his work I read.

Very highly recommended.

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McClellanB-PM-FaceInTheWindow(BCS140)THE FACE IN THE WINDOW

Taking place two years before the events in Promise of Blood, “The Face in the Window” relates the story of Taniel’s trip to Fatrasta and his first meeting with a mysterious girl named Ka-poel.

Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue #140.

The author announced this rather suddenly on his website and via Twitter, just as I was finishing Forsworn. Naturally, I went straight to Amazon and bought it… It’s a great story, too, one that has a slow build to a sudden, appropriate ending. It was great to read of Taniel’s first meeting with Ka-poel (my favourite character from Promise of Blood, probably). It’s set in the muggy, oppressive, dragon-infested swamps, and Taniel attaches himself to a regiment who end up devastated by their enemies. With Ka-poel’s help, he seeks revenge on the Privileged who murdered his company.

Much shorter than Forsworn, McClellan nevertheless offers a satisfying story. You don’t have to have read Promise of Blood, but you will probably get a bit more out of “The Face in the Window” if you have.

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Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood is published in the UK and US by Orbit Books. The next novel in the series, The Crimson Campaign is due to be published in May 2014. I can’t wait!

Mini-Review: HONOUR TO THE DEAD by Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

Thorpe-HH-HonourTheDead(eBook)The prose version of an audio-drama

As Calth burns, the Battle Titans of the Fire Masters legion take to the streets of the city of Ithraca, ready to massacre the fleeing civilian population in the name of their new, dark masters. But the remaining loyalist engines of the Legio Praesagius – the True Messengers – still stand ready to defend the Imperium, even in the face of almost certain death. With the nearby Ultramarines forces scattered and lost, the people of Ithraca must fend for themselves as gigantic war machines unleash apocalyptic weaponry across the ravaged skyline…

This is a pretty good short story. It doesn’t really require a particularly long review, however. It was nice to see Titans featured a bit more prominently, and to see first-hand their devastating, over-the-top capabilities.

Near the beginning, there were a few very sudden changes in P.O.V. or scene, without properly-delineated shifts, which threw me a couple times. I quickly dropped back into the narrative, however. I also liked the variety of perspectives, offering not only that of opposing Astartes factions (Ultramarines, for example), but also Titan crews and mere mortals and survivors of the bombed out city.

The only real weakness to the story was Princeps Tyhe (the princeps of a renegade Warhound titan), who speaks like a bad, pulp villain:

“Is it not beautiful, my sweet? … See the ants spilling from their nests to be crushed. So weak and pathetic. But kill them we must! Our comrades in the Word Bearers require deaths, and deaths we shall give them. Deaths by the dozen! Death by the hundred, by the thousand!”

He even delivers a long, Evil Villain Monologue, one page later. I couldn’t help but cringe a little, whenever he was speaking.

Overall, then, this is certainly not Thorpe’s best work. But, it is nevertheless an enjoyable, quick read for a gap between novels. It doesn’t come close to matching the quality of Deliverance Lost or any of Thorpe’s other Horus Heresy fiction.

Also on CR: Interview with Gav Thorpe (2011)

Horus Heresy Series (Novels & Anthologies): Horus Rising, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Flight of the Eisenstein, Fulgrim, Descent of Angels, Legion, Battle for the Abyss, Mechanicum, Tales of Heresy, Fallen Angels, A Thousand Sons, Nemesis, The First Heretic, Prospero Burns, Age of Darkness, The Outcast Dead, Deliverance Lost, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Fear to Tread, Shadows of Treachery, Angel Exterminatus, Betrayer, Mark of Calth, Promethean Sun, Scorched Earth, Vulkan Lives, Brotherhood of the Storm, Scars (I-III, IV-IX), The Unremembered Empire, Vengeful Spirit (2014)

Short Story Reviews, Flintlock Fantasy Edition: HOPE’S END by Brian McClellan & THE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler

Two new short stories from the new wave of flintlock fantasy authors

McClellanB-HopesEndHOPE’S END by Brian McClellan

Captain Verundish has two problems. On campaign with the Adran army and far from her homeland, she is helpless when the young daughter she left at home is threatened. To make matters worse, General Tamas has put her lover in command of a Hope’s End — the first charge through a breach straight into the teeth of enemy cannon and sorcery. To save the people she loves, Verundish will have to come up with a deadly solution…

This is a pretty interesting story. A “Hope’s End” is the first charge against a fortress or other reinforced emplacement. It is pretty much guaranteed death. Tamas likes to select those who bought their commissions to lead these hopeless endeavours. In this case, however, Captain Verundish is in love with the man chosen to lead the next Hope’s End. With trouble back home (her husband is an asshole, and threatening the welfare of her daughter), the story actually opens with her contemplating suicide. Instead, she decides to volunteer to take over the Hope’s End, with the expectation of dying and guaranteeing her daughter’s financial future. Naturally, not all plans go according to plan.

Anyone who was disappointed at the lack of female characters in Promise of Blood will be pleased with Captain Verundish. She’s an interesting character, and I like the way she handles the personal and professional tests she’s presented with. The battle scene is pretty good, too – it’s focused, tightly-plotted, and not over-written. It is followed by an example of how good a leader Tamas is off the battlefield. It’s nice that McClellan has actually paid attention to developing our understanding of why Tamas is such a beloved leader – rather than just telling us that he is, and letting that be the end of it. It’s a good story. (This is set when Tamas’s son, Taniel, is only two years old.)

Well written, this is another good introduction to McClellan’s writing and fantasy world. I really like the way the author has been releasing these short stories to add more to our overall picture and understanding of the pre-coup world. Certainly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the novel. This has only increased my anticipation for The Crimson Campaign

Also on CR: The Girl of Hrusch Avenue Review, Interview with Brian McClellan, Guest Posts Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy

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Wexler-PenitentDamnedTHE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler

Alex is a master thief, with dark magic to give her an edge. When she goes up against Duke Orlanko’s Concordat secret police, though, she may have taken on more than she bargained for…

I read Wexler’s The Thousand Names recently, and thought it was a very interesting start to a new series. In The Penitent Damned, the author takes us far from the location of his novel, and back to a city under control of Duke Orlanko. Alex, the protagonist, has always had special abilities which have given her an edge in her chosen profession. Schooled by a former master-thief, she has taken a job in the city. Frustratingly, to go into much more detail about the story will ruin it (it’s a very short story). We get a glimpse of more of what is going on behind the scenes. We learn just a little bit more about certain events at the end of The Thousand Names, which opens up some intriguing possibilities for the next book in the series. All very cryptic, but I think if you read the novel, and then this short story, you’ll see why I don’t want to go into too much detail. We get to see more magic in action, this time around (which didn’t feature as much in Thousand Names). And it was very cool, giving rise to some good action scenes.

Even if you haven’t read the novel, though, this is a pretty good introduction to Wexler’s writing style and fantasy world. I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet decided if they want to read The Thousand Names, as well as fans of the novel. Wexler is, I believe, definitely an author to watch. A very satisfactory short story, discussed in a rather unsatisfactory review. Sorry about that.

Also on CR: Interview with Django Wexler, Guest Post on Terry Pratchett

Four HORUS HERESY Short Stories by Graham McNeill, Rob Sanders, James Swallow & Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

HorusHeresy-Logo

Near the end of July, Black Library released four Horus Heresy short story eBooks through their website. Naturally, as a real Heresy junky, I gobbled these up ASAP. All four are pretty different, offering alternative perspectives on different events and times during the galaxy-spanning civil war that dictates much of how mankind operates in the 41st Millennium (the ‘present’ for the game and system). So, here are four mini-reviews of these excellent stories… Continue reading

Short Fiction Round-Up: Hillary Jordan, Brian McClellan, Tom Rachman & Frank Cavallo

CivilianReader-Shelves3

I’ve been reading a selection of short stories over the past couple of weeks, but I keep forgetting, or getting distracted from posting the reviews. So, to speed things up, I’ve compiled this selection of four reviews. Each is very different to the others, and offers something different. Not all of them were great, but each has something to offer the reader with a couple of hours to spare – either on a commute, or in between longer reads as palate cleansers. I had a lot more to say about one of them, but it is part of a much larger, decade-spanning series.

Reviewed: Frank Cavallo’s Into the Valley of Death, Hillary Jordan’s Aftermirth, Brian McClellan’s The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, and Tom Rachman’s The Bathtub Spy Continue reading