Aug 22, 2014

Book Review - The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

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What I really enjoy in a good book is total immersion; the kind that makes you forget your concerns, that actually leaves you feeling relaxed. Karen Miller’s The Falcon Throne did this while flaying me emotionally.  I dear reader, may even have required tissues at some point.  I enjoy being emotionally manipulated when it’s done well and I felt that Miller was masterful in getting me to love and hate the various characters, to break me by breaking my favourites.

Comparisons will be made to GRR Martin and the back cover blurb on my ARC mentions Abercrombie and Canavan.  

It’s not as drawn out as A Song of Ice and Fire, and while the cast of characters will probably scare readers of mainstream fiction (it includes a Dramatis Personae), the scope felt a little smaller than what you’d expect from “he who kills all his characters”.  Where real similarities can be drawn between Miller and Martin though, is in the ruthlessness they treat the characters you come to love. 

The comparison to Trudi Canavan is apt as well, structurally I found it exceedingly sharp, well paced and when I put it down I was hankering to get back to it. It’s not quite thriller paced, but I certainly felt like the story moved. 

The Falcon Throne is its own book though.  For your 600+ pages you get 4 tightly woven plots that deliver a wealth of conflict and one larger story arc that hints at what the rest of the series will be about.

Roric, a bastard reluctantly slays his tyrannical cousin, helped by disgruntled Lords who have had enough of living in fear. A widowed duchess struggles to hold onto power in a man’s world. Power will corrupt brotherly love and set the wheels of war turning and always, there is the presence of a power moving in the shadows that plays these personalities like pawns.

If you are looking for high fantasy, you won’t find it here.  There’s greed, ambition and trusting fools.  There’s war, pestilence and sorcery.  If you are squeamish when it comes to the suffering of children, or with sexual violence used against either gender you might want to pause – these are not overwhelming elements but The Falcon Throne isn’t a Disney fairytale.  I’d rate it as one of my best reads of the year and would expect Miller to join Rowena Cory Daniells as one of our best women writers of Grimdark.

Enter this tale at your own risk, Miller will slip the dagger under your guard and twist.  You will feel pain.

This review was based on an advanced reading copy.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.awwbadge_2014

 

 

 

 


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Aug 16, 2014

Book Review – The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford

dutiesPoetry featuring cats is not unheard of, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is one famous example, though I am not sure how many folks realise this collection of light hearted rhyme formed the basis for the musical Cats.  Then of course the internet is powered by pictures of cute kittens.  So on the face of it, a collection of cat poems is probably a very good idea.

The Duties of a Cat is described by publishers, Pitt Street Poetry as a pamphlet, a collection of 12 poems.  It’s similar in size to some poetry chapbooks I have purchased previously.  But whereas most chapbooks are small collections produced cheaply to give the reader the words in the cheapest fashion, Pitt Street have managed somehow to produce a compact, high spec collection, illustrated by Michael Robson, and saddle stitched with a heavy card cover for just $10.

For lovers of cats and poetry the collection is a no brainer as a gift.  But for those strange folk that don’t happen to like our feline masters companions I shall expand a little. 

Blackford can be hard to pigeonhole as a writer, she’s more than dabbled in a number of genres and forms (see her Snapshot Interview) and this facility is evident in the variety she presents in this short collection. The reader is treated to beautifully articulated observational poetry as in Soft Silk Sack and Learning how to be a Cat, to humour that will have even dog lovers generating a grin with The Duties of a Cat, to the dark in Something in the Corner which displays Blackford’s penchant for the weird and to the science fictional in Their Quantum Toy.

I tend to struggle with overwrought diction and experimental syntax and thankfully Blackford is one of those poets who tends to be be more direct.  We get clearly evoked or described images and subtle rhythm. See the excerpt from Dream Hunt below:

 

The white Cat sleeping by the window growls.

I glance across. One pale curved paw, pressed hard

across his eyes, keeps out the daylight world.

His other paws are trembling, desperate to run.

 

While I am admittedly a cat lover and probably outrageously biased, I did enjoy the craft Blackford displayed and the words as much as their subject were a pleasure to read.  On this work and other poetry of Blackford’s I have read, I hope we will see a larger collection in the not too distant future.


awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 

 

 


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Aug 12, 2014

eBook Review – The Godless by Ben Peek

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It’s a big step moving from writing condensed, powerful and original short fiction to a multiple book, epic fantasy.  As different as say running a 5km run and a marathon.  In each case you use the same skill but the end objective, your tactics, how you cross the finish line or complete the work is different, enough to challenge the best runners or writers when they are used to one kind of event, one format.

So how did Peek fare?  He’s a very good short story writer (see Dead Americans) and The Godless is an epic in every sense of the word.

Granted a trilogy is not an uncommon sight on fantasy shelves but I get the sense that in some at least there’s a fairly straightforward structure designed to move the story along, hook in readers who will become loyal – an understanding if you will between commerce, story and entertainment that produces an easily digestible product, where the text is transparent. 

Then there are books like The Godless that I think need the space for the scope and definition of the storytelling.  The Godless is an epic, not just in terms of size but in its selection of characters and its apparent scope. 

The city at the centre of The Godless, Mireea, is built on the back of a dying god and for a significant part of the story I was unsure whether of not this was a metaphor, a creation story, for the gods as described seemed more of that ilk, primeval forces with human characteristics but godly dimensions. 

Then we have the Children of the Gods, humans gifted with longevity and power, humans that become immortals and whose life and power produce curious responses: a godlike ruler of animals, a reclusive enclave of detached natural philosophers, a crazed killer of nations.  Then there are the “cursed”, those unfortunates blessed with elemental fragments of the god’s powers who are either shunned because of the differences or are killed by their inability to control the powers they hold. 

What happens to a world existing in the twilight of the god’s powers when a new god appears, is the big picture The Godless series will attempt to answer.  But threaded through this epic tale are personal stories, personal tragedies that help to ground it.

It’s these personal stories, the characters that they spring from that I found most interesting, especially for the genre of epic fantasy.  We still have our sword and sorcery, our big battles, our scarred veterans and our young characters who we will follow on their journey.  But Peek has I think made some original and diverse choices in building and filling his world.  Our principle protagonist is not white, and not male - Ayae is an orphan, a refugee who up until our introduction to her  has made a successful transition to being the apprentice of a renowned cartographer.

Many authors paying lip service to diversity may have stopped there but Peek provides us with a diverse cast and that diversity is three dimensional - the ruler of Mireea, is a shrewd woman of middle age with the associated changes in body and shape that it brings for many of us.  The leader of “Dark”, a bunch of mercenary saboteurs, is an exiled black nobleman and the invading army of nationalistic Leeran’s, is white.  Men and women appear evenly in positions of power.  Now I am sure that some sections of the science fiction community might rail against such blatantly fair representation.  Me, well I see diversity done skilfully, diversity and originality that enhances story.  When your characters feel like real people more so than archetypes then I think the reader finds it harder to slot them into well worn parts, into literary set pieces that they have long grown used to reading and anticipating. Diversity created interest, which kept my immersed along with Peek’s writing style.

Peek’s writing asserted itself from the outset, I was very conscious of his style being an important part of the storytelling, of creating a sense of place and a mood. Some writing fades into the background, let’s the story do the heavy lifting.  What I found in The Godless was a very good mix of fresh story and styled prose.

Slowly, Mireea was becoming uniform: a city of shut buildings and empty lanes, the divisions of economy washed away and falling into memory like the sprawl of markets. Each new building shut up was a part of Mireea lost, and soon he would also be gone. If he was not, he ran the risk of being drawn into the units that the Mireean Guard were making from citizens. That he had no desire for.

If you are looking for a page turner I am not sure I would classify The Godless as such, which is a good thing.  I think you need to devote a bit more attention to it.  This is the first of a great epic and I get the same sense of immersion and depth of history that I got when reading A Song of Ice and Fire.  I want to know more about these characters, because they are fully realised and I can’t sate my curiosity by falling back on archetypes

So how did Peek fare?  Very well.  If you want to enjoy what is possible to achieve when you look outside the standard fantasy tropes give The Godless a go.

 

The e-Arc was provided by the publisher.


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