20 February 2015

The Emperor's Blades - Brian Staveley

The BlurbThe circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move.

This book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a few months, I picked it up after seeing quite a few people recommending it on online forums where I hang out. 

First off, I'm not really impressed with the cover. I understand it's a blade and ties up with the title, but I do feel they could have done a lot more with that.

The story follows the Emperor's three children: Kaden, who is studying with a bunch of weird monks in the middle of nowhere, Valyn who is training with the Empire's deadliest fighting force and his daughter Adare, who had to stay home. The Emperor is murdered and off the story goes!

I must say that Staveley can write. His characters are engaging, well thought out and with sparks of humour intermingled with the dialogue makes it a fun story to read with great rhythm. 

Kaden, first in line to the throne, is training with monks to unlock mystical powers, as one does. He gets treated like crap, but it's for the greater good so that's fine. He gets passed on to one of the most mystical masters at the monastery, who basically beats the ever living hell out of him to get him to the state of mind needed for mysticism. 

Valyn is basically training to be special ops. His parts are fun to read, seeing as it's jam packed full of action and training montages. The action is pretty well paced, and he quotes enough of the best dead general to show he's kept up with his theory as well as the physical training. 

Adare is severely underrepresented in this book. She is the Empire's new Finance Minister, surrounded by old dudes who looks down on her. She gets three chapters to strut her stuff, which is pretty sad, seeing as the political intrigue angle is always interesting and pretty important in this book. 

The action scenes are a fun read, the dialogue is slick and the chapters doesn't end on cliffhangers the whole time, which is greatly appreciated. I do have quite a few problems with this story. 

First off, the Empire spans two continents. It's massive. The royal line is decreed by a goddess, with the family having pretty cool flaming eyes. Yet the heir and second in line gets sent to a monastery outside of the empire's borders and to do the most dangerous military training available. No bodyguards, no instruction to not kill the royal line, nothing. They do explain why Kaden needs to train with the monks in the books, but you'd expect a few royal guards or rangers to hang about and ensure his safety. That's just common sense. 

I can almost believe that Valyn is sent to the military, seeing as he's second in line to the throne. But to the Kettral? Dudes flying special ops missions on giant birds? Where the training kills a crapload of the recruits? It was fun to read about the training, but I do feel it's a little strange that the Emperor's son would almost be fed to the wolves. And of course there is a bad student training with him. And of course he doesn't like or respect him. I understand that he needs an enemy, but his was clumsily done.

And Adare, who gets almost no page time. And the little she gets is pretty conflicting. She murders a priest in retribution of her fathers murder in a pretty awesome way, but then of course she has to jump into bed with the current Regent, because why not?

That's not all. My biggest issue is that the Emperor has been murdered. That means that Kaden is emperor. The Empire has giant ass birds working for them, yet a bird is only sent after a few months, just in time for Valyn to finish his training. I do get that there is a conspiracy to overthrow the royal family, but each and every decision maker in charge of the military can't be in on it. Otherwise it's not much of a conspiracy, but more of a coup. If all the bigwigs were in on this, they suck bad at overthrowing the royal line. 

So there are quite a lot of things happening at precisely the correct time to ensure the story moves forward. The issue is that it doesn't happen because of logic or common sense, but because the story demands it, and this is irritating. Kaden getting his mystical teacher at just the right time to ensure he can do what he needs to just in time? Come on, why wasn't the old bugger teaching him from the start? And the monk has a mysterious past, which he refuses to discuss. And he's a fighting badass, because of course he is. This isn't fighting kung fu monks, they are meditating and painting monks. Even if he had some amazing skills with his weapons, he should have been rusty as hell, seeing as there wasn't anyone to fight or spar with in years. 50 bucks the monk turns out to be a magic user or immortal in the next book.

So in conclusion, a fun read, with a great world, good action and good characters. Just too many inconsistencies, story help-alongs and people being thick as walls to make it plausible. It makes it not my cup of tea in the end, which is sad.


04 February 2015

The Martian - Andy Weir

The Blurb: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This book appeared on my radar when I saw on twitter that it's been optioned for a movie. This got me interested. seeing as it's a pretty new book to me at least and I've never heard of it before. So off to Amazon I went and after a few dollars it arrived at my kindle, ready for my enjoyment.

Digging a bit further, I realised Weir self-published the book firstly in serial format on his website, then as an amazon ebook and after it sold spectacularly well a publisher picked it up for lots and lots of money. Good on Weir!

The book is mostly written in journal format by Mark Watney, detailing his trials and tribulations of trying not to die on Mars after a freak accident left him stranded there. Weir has a very fun writing style, interspersing the science with loads of jokes and cursewords to make the prose easy and fun to read. I read the whole book in two days, showing it's a gripping tale.

Weir did a lot of research, and apparently smarter people than me say that most of the science behind it is pretty damn accurate. His fixes to the problems he faces certainly are funny and it just makes it so much better to know that they could actually happen. 

The pacing is very well done, and managed with the journal entries in a good way. Some stretches where everything is going well Watney rambles a bit, reminisces about his situation and the people on earth and basically relaxes, writing like someone who doesn't have anything better to do at that precise moment. It's not boring, I promise you. When the shit hits the fan however, the astronaut Watney steps out, and the entries are a lot more professional and goal-oriented, as it should be.

The book made me laugh out loud, root for the poor Watney and it kept my attention throughout. It's certainly the most fun I've had reading in quite a long while. A brilliant book.