Posts Tagged With: action fantasy

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Book review of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself

The Blade ItselfJoe Abercrombie is one of the hottest new authors in the fantasy genre, and The Blade Itself was his first published work, originally published in London in 2006, with the copy I read having been published by Pyr in 2007. He has since completed The First Law Trilogy, and written two standalone novels, Best Served Cold (June 2009), and The Heroes (forthcoming). I’ve seen countless reviews surrounding The Blade Itself series, garnering praise from other fast-paced fantasy authors such as one of my personal heroes, Scott Lynch. I have to give a shout out to  author Sarah Darmody, who not only recommended The Blade Itself to me, but stated we have similar taste in fantasy novels – excellent taste, that is. Let’s just say that with The Blade Itself, I was ready for a smashing good romp.

And a smashing good romp does Abercrombie deliver. What stands out immediately with The Blade Itself is Abercrombie’s talent with pacing a story. The Blade Itself is as good, if not better, from a pacing perspective, than Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastards Cycle. When compared with fast-paced novel in other genres, like Dan Brown’s novels or maybe Daemon by Daniel Suarez, The Blade Itself holds its own.

Where The Blade Itself can’t quite keep up a Dan Brown novel in terms of sheer pacing, it more than makes up for it in hilarity. I found myself literally laughing out loud more at this novel than probably any other fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Abercrombie is just a downright funny guy. While there are definitely better examples in the novel, here’s one I noted while reading:

Hoff glared back at him for a very long while. “Seek it wherever you like,” he growled, “and with as much persistence as you please. But not here. Good…day!” If you could have stabbed someone in the face with the phrase “good day”, the head of the Guild of Mercers would have lain dead on the floor.

Its brutally honest statements like this, that appear when you least expect them, that had me rolling with laughter. Speaking of brutality, The Blade Itself has some fantastic bloody fight scenes. This is definitely not a novel for the faint of heart. Abercrombie has created a wonderfully crude, yet highly intelligent, barbarian character in Logen Ninefingers, a.k.a. The Bloody Nine. Couple him with an extremely powerful, yet smart-alecky wizard, The First of the Magi, Bayaz, and you’ve got a quality core duo of characters for the novel. The Blade Itself also follows two other main characters, Inquisitor Glokta, and Captain Jezal dan Luthar, whose stories I found myself equally engrossed in.

The Blade Itself is driven by its quality characters, its fast pace, and Abercrombie’s natural tendency to spice up a situation with comedy. I could easily recommend it for these qualities, or the strikingly realistic fight scenes. But The Blade Itself has more to offer yet. You’ll find sprinkled throughout this novel nuggets of truth, as I typically quantify in some of my favorite novels:

“If a man seeks to change the world, he should first understand it…the tree is only as strong as its root, and knowledge is the root of all power.”

Abercrombie even manages to work in a moment that reminds me of some of the Kerouac novels I’ve read:

South then, and become a wanderer. There was always work for a man with his skills. Hard work, and dark, but work all the same. There was an appeal in it, he had to admit. To have no one depending on him but himself, for his decisions to hold no importance, for no one’s life or death to be in his hands. He had enemies in the south, that was a fact. But the Bloody Nine had dealt with enemies before.”

Overall, The Blade Itself more than lived up to its expectations, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next novels in this series, and Abercrombie’s standalone works that follow. If you’re up for a a fast-paced action fantasy with a good sense of humor, they don’t come more highly recommended than The Blade Itself.

You can purchase The Blade Itself over at

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Joe Abercrombie, Reviews, The First Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Review: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book review of Adrian Tchaokovsky’s Empire in Black and Gold

Empire in Black and GoldAdrian Tchaikovsky has been tearing up the fantasy genre recently. Pyr is releasing the novels in the Shadows of the Apt series at a blistering pace: Empire in Black and Gold is the first and was released in early 2010. The Scarab Path, book 5 (yes, that’s right, 5) in the series is already available on The cover for Empire in Black and Gold reminds me of a comic book, and the characters in the novel actually support the theme that this book would easily make the translation to graphic novel or feature film. I had read a few reviews prior to picking up Empire in Black and Gold, but I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I was wary after about the first fifty pages of Empire in Black and Gold, as while I was starting to like the characters, and the action was surely top notch, I was slightly annoyed by the play on words that is the mark of authors who are just starting off their careers. Here’s an example:

“Will you find some calm?” he said, starting to lose his own.

This type of prose drives me nuts, as it strikes me as an author attempting to be tricky with words, and falling flat on his face. It also interrupts the flow of the page, because you just have to stop and shake your head. However, this is a minor flaw, and one that does not resurface much as the novel progressed, and I was thoroughly entertained as I made my way through Empire in Black and Gold.

The front runner of Empire in Black and Gold’s qualities is undeniably its fast-paced action scenes. Tchaikovsky has a wonderful knack for writing thrilling action sequences, that move quickly, but pause in all the right moments just enough to give you a taste of description. It is this talent that reminded me of some of the engrossing detail sequences of Terry Goodkind in Wizard’s First Rule.

Tchaikovsky has created some wonderful characters in Empire in Black and Gold. The characters are all based on some type of insect, from wasp to beetle to dragonfly, spider and mantis, among many others. There is a fantastic butterfly-kinden character named “Grief in Chains”, the idea for which I found highly inventive, for the short periods that she appears in the novel. Where the characterization is lacking in Empire in Black and Gold is in the description of the characters. While these are characters you connect with and feel for, I would have really enjoyed a bit more description of the different insect-kinden types. Instead, we’re just told they are some type of insect, and its up to the reader to guess to what degree that influences their physical attributes.

While Empire in Black and Gold is definitely an action novel first, there are undertones of horror that appear infrequently, which work nicely when paired with an action fantasy. Some of the description contained in the horror scenes is downright dripping with fear:

Who asks? in a voice that was like a dry chorus of a hundred voices. He could not tell whether it came from the trees themselves or from between them, but the sound of it froze him. A voice like dry leaves and the dead husks of things, and the passage of five hundred years.

Where Empire in Black and Gold shines is in Tchaikovsky’s ability to take characters that are at first glance foreign and unfamiliar and make them real. Take this conversation between a wasp and a dragonfly-kinden:

“Well, next time you shed my kinden’s blood, think on this: we are but men, no less nor more than other men, and we strive and feel joy and fail as men have always done. We live in the darkness that is the birthright of us all, that of hurt and ignorance, only sometimes…sometimes there comes the sun.”

Empire in Black and Gold is a fantastic first novel in a promising new series. I’m definitely looking forward to finding time to consume the second novel in the series.

You can purchase Empire in Black and Gold over at

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 7 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Reviews, Shadows of the Apt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Book review of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies

Lynch’s debut as a fantasy novelist made some waves in the industry, and his sequel had a big name to live up to. This is not just accomplished with Red Seas Under Red Skies. This time, the stakes are higher. I gave The Lies of Locke Lamora 8 out of 10 stars; it was a very quality debut. Lynch has managed to out-do himself with Red Seas Under Red Skies. I believe Lynch is defining a new genre: action fantasy. Sure, there are plenty of other action novels out there, and Lynch’s fantasy books remind the reader of such other great page-turners as Dan Brown’s works. The difference is that Lynch’s novels are huge – Red Seas Under Red Skies in paperback is just over 760 pages. Lynch’s ability to pack over 700 pages with non-stop page turning action is simply unmatched.

Red Seas Under Red Skies has all the elements you would expect from a great action novel: gambling, fighting, and pirates. I’m actually not sure what else I’d add if I had the option. Both Locke and Jean are back, this time moving their thievery to another city, after taking Camorr for all it was worth. The book moves from a deviously named casino, the Sinspire, to the complex of the Archon, general of the city of Tal Verrar’s military, out to the open seas where we find our two main characters impersonating yet another duo, this time a captain and his first mate.

The dialog is great. Lynch has a special ability with business transactions, when one character tries to haggle the price of an item with another. There was a great passage in The Lies of Locke Lamora that I didn’t note; luckily I noted the page when I found another such argument over purchasing pears in Red Seas Under Red Skies:

“A full volani?” Locke feigned outrage. “Not if the archon’s favorite whore held them between her legs and wiggled for me. One centira is too much for the lot.”

“One centira wouldn’t buy you the stems. At least I won’t lose money for four.”

“It would be an act of supreme pity,” said Locke, “for me to give you two. Fortunately for you I’m brimming with largesse; the bounty is yours.”

“Two would be an insult to the men and women who grew these, in the hot glass gardens of the Blackhands Crescent. But surely we can meet at three?”

“Three,” said Locke with a smile. “I have never been robbed in Tal Verrar before but I’m just hungry enough to allow you the honor.”

I don’t even really need to discuss the pace of this novel. Its action, at its best. Here you’ll find Locke and Jean impersonating nobles and gaming against terribly attractive women in some of the most high-stakes card games you’ve ever seen. You’ll discover plots against the government and the private sector, pitting them against one another. You’ll come across insane sea adventures, creatures that lurk just under the surface of the ocean, strange voices that call to you from the water, and death-defying leaps from cliffs and the tallest buildings in the city. In other words, it moves.

Naturally, the fast paced nature of such a novel comes with an outstanding serving of captured moments, like this:

The first notion Jean had that the floor had opened up beneath his feet was when the view of Tal Verrar suddenly seemed to move up toward the ceiling; his senses conferred hastily on just what this meant, and were stumped for a split second until his stomach weighed in with nauseous confirmation that the view wasn’t doing the moving.

and this classic:

It seemed to Locke that sweat was now cascading down his face, as though his own treacherous moisture were abandoning the premises before anything worse happened.

Combined with Lynch’s ability to conjure up imagery via delicious description:

As she flew past, Jean—his rope work quite forgotten—felt his stomach flutter. She had it. She wore it like a cloak. The same aura that he’d once seen in Capa Barsavi, something that slept inside until it was drawn out by anger or need, so sudden and so terrible. Death itself was beating tread upon the ship’s planks.

and you’ve got a knockout combination for some of the most in-your-face action fantasy that I’ve ever read.

The cast of characters in Red Seas Under Red Skies is fantastic. Not only are Locke and Jean back, but we’re introduced to a daring couple, heads of the Sinspire, Requin and his lover Selendri, a woman who’s face and arm are half covered in brass due to burn marks. The other large new character is Maxilian Stragos, the Archon of Tal Verrar. He’s surrounded by his “Eyes”, super efficient guards who wear full brass masks. And finally, you’ll get to meet Zamira Drakasha, captain of the Poison Orchid, and her first mate, Erzi Delmastro; two strong female characters who rule their ocean domain. In the background are the Bondsmagi, still upset for what Locke and Jean did to one of their own in The Lies of Locke Lamora. And as usual, you’ll find Locke and Jean taking on so many personas you’ll wonder how they keep them straight.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is a fantastic addition to the Gentlemen Bastards Cycle, and anyone who is a fan of either epic fantasy or action films should grab both Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Lies of Locke Lamora soon, so you can catch up before The Republic of Thieves is released in 2010.

You can pick up Red Seas Under Red Skies over at

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Reviews, Scott Lynch, The Gentleman Bastards Cycle | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Book review of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Let the sun shine down.  On the other hand, if its looking overcast, there’s always the Falselight.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is an action-packed romp through high-society, with characters masquerading as everything from the lowest low-life to the most regal dandy and everyone else in between.  With hints of the fast-paced nature of The Da Vinci Code, the book jacket describes it as one part Robin Hood and one part Ocean’s Eleven, and the tale more than lives up to this description.  This book has all the best of the thieving lifestyle, from scaling towers six stories high, to impersonations of city officials, to some really sticky fight scenes.  While the accessibility of this book will appeal to just about anyone, there are definitely a few moments that would be hard to swallow for a younger crowd. This is an extremely fast-paced action adventure, broken up by flashbacks that somehow don’t hinder the pace in any way but only heighten the anticipation of getting back to the main storyline.

Locke Lamora and his band of Gentleman Bastards roam the streets of Camorr, taking part in all kinds of fantastic city intrigue.  Its no wonder that the rights to the film have already been picked up by Warner Brothers.  There are so many good one-liners and situational scenes in this book, its hard to imagine it not translating to the big screen.

Lynch does an above average job of characterization with the different members of the band, as well as the other citizens and denizens of Camorr.  The hero Locke is anything but; he’s your average Joe, or at least he appears to be.  Not having above average physical qualities certainly can have its advantages when theiving is your main source of income in a major port city.  His supporting band of Gentleman Bastards are the cream of Camorr’s thieving crop.  The background of each character is painted nicely, with new aspects and details of their training surfacing throughout the novel.  While you come to love Locke and his band of thieves, the mob bosses (which Lynch refers to as “Capas”), and other various characters truly bring this novel to life.

The various escapades take place to the backdrop of the city of Camorr which is original as it is deadly.  From true beauty to obscene brothels, this book runs the gambit of city life.  Scenes range from the most miniscule, dingiest bar you could imagine to the grandest of the grand stages. From new takes on ancient Roman Colosseum-style fighting, to an intricate network of towers and lavish festivals, Lynch paints a vivid picture of an ancient (or modernly regressed?) city in its prime.

What really shines in Lamora’s first effort is his ability to constantly build up the sense that there’s absolutely no way Locke and his fellow thieves are going to be able to accomplish their current task at hand, only to have them weasel their way out, around, or straight through whatever seems to be in their way.  Coupled with fantastic dialogue, this is a one-two punch that can’t miss.  One scene in particular stands our where we find Locke is haggling with a store merchant.  Its simply some of the best fast-paced dialog I’ve read in years.  Lynch captures moments like I’ve never read on paper.  They range from the intense:

Let’s start wobbling, shall we? said Locke’s knees, but this offer was met by a counterproposal from his better judgment to simply freeze up and do nothing, like a man treading water who sees a tall black fin coming straight at him.

To the just plain hilarious:

“What?” Sofia squeaked like a girl of eight.  A particularly squeaky girl of eight, much accustomed to squeaking, loudly.

Note to self: Use the same word three times in two sentences the next time I’m trying to be funny.

Rarely does a novel come along that is as brilliantly woven as Scott Lynch’s first venture into the fantasy genre.  The Lies of Locke Lamora truly sings a sweet symphony of subterfuge.  I have to say that this is the most complete action fantasy novel I have ever read.  It will be interesting to see where Lynch takes it for the next six novels.  If there are as many twists and turns as he’s delivered in his first book, this is one reader who will be back to join the Gentleman Bastards on many, many adventures to come.

You can purchase The Lies of Locke Lamora over at

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 8 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Interview with Scott Lynch on The Lies of Locke Lamora

Categories: Reviews, Scott Lynch, The Gentleman Bastards Cycle | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments