Category: book review

Book Review: The Reluctant Swordsman

The Reluctant Swordsman by Dave Duncan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Seventh Sword series went on sale on Amazon a while ago, and so I picked it up. (Four books for $3 total? Why would I pass that chance up?) It was well-reviewed on Goodreads, though almost none of my friends had read it, but I grew up reading 80s fantasy, and this was an author I’d missed. Still, high fantasy can be a real time commitment, and so I kept passing the series by, waiting for a better time.

At last, I started the book on Sunday. I finished it on Tuesday, which is really all the endorsement you need from me. I couldn’t put it down. Of course, some of that is because much of it was right up my alley: it’s got a straightforward premise that’s executed in ways that are surprising. A normal man from our world finds himself transported into a fantasy world, where he’s put into the body of the best sword fighter in that world. Sounds great, except right before he was put there, the best sword fighter in the world got himself into an almost certain death situation, full of political intrigue the guy from our world knows nothing about.

Adventure ensues.

Along the way, there’s some discussion of religion and free will, plenty of fascinating world building, portrayal of different societies and how they function, and more. I was kept moving not just by the plot, but by the desire to know more about the world and how it functioned. The writing is immersive, doing an excellent job of describing the land without bogging you down with too much detail. It’s a fast read, and a ton of fun.

That said, it does have some issues that might be major stumbling blocks for some. Its portrayal of women leaves much to be desired. Maybe the series improves in this aspect later on, but for the first book at least, they’re often viewed much more as objects than as individuals. Yes, the protagonist does object to this, so it’s not a complete fiasco, but the objections feel more like window dressing than anything else. If that’s an issue that would massively interfere with your ability to read and enjoy a book, this isn’t the book for me.

Then again, it’s a class sword and sorcery book, and the portrayal is typical to the genre and the time it appeared. I was able to read around it, though that might say something about me. Not sure, but I’m not going to read too heavily into it. I viewed this book as escapist, and it scratched that itch perfectly. There’s some adult content, but it doesn’t delve into the details the way so many modern books do.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to give it a shot. I’m already well into book two and still enjoying myself immensely.

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

When Do You Make Your Mind Up About a Book?

I’ve had a string of bad luck with my reading choices for the last while. I haven’t given any of the last four a rating higher than a 5/10. (I gave one 5, two 4’s, and one a 2.) No, I won’t tell you which books they were, but I will say that they were well reviewed. One has even picked up some major awards, so I had high hopes for it. My disappointment is what led me to want to write about this topic.

I typically wouldn’t finish a book I’m enjoying so little. I’d set it aside, give it no rating, and move on with my life, because who has time to read books you’re not in love with? Except I also have this goal to finish a book a week. When I’m under the gun to keep up with the pace, then that means abandoning a book partway through is abandoning the progress I made in finishing it. I think I need to come up with some sort of a compromise to solve that, because I know from experience just how easy it is to dislike a book you’re being forced to read. (Even if you’re the one forcing yourself to read it.)

But even setting that forced reading experience aside, I wasn’t going to like the book in question. I respect the fact that others did, but it didn’t work for me at all, and I wanted to figure out why. I’ve come up with a few possible scenarios.

First off, a book can have a bad start. If I don’t find a reason to be engaged with the characters right off, I start getting bored. Scratch that, actually. It doesn’t just have to be the characters. There needs to be something about the book that digs into me. It could be the style or the humor or the mystery or the characters. But it needs to engage me. Ideally, it compels me to keep reading.

This book had that. I liked the setting and the character development at the beginning, but sometimes that’s not the case. So much can hinge on getting a reader’s buy-in right from the beginning. Once an author has made me care about what’s happening, there’s a lot more leeway for him or her to work with. I can be much more forgiving about some things like pacing or believability because I’ve invested some of myself into the text.

That leeway is not inexhaustible, however. In the cast of this book, I couldn’t swallow the plot, the character motivations, and the magic system. I don’t think it was all three of them that turned me off, however. I think one of them likely began to not sit well with me to the point that I began to lose faith in the others, like a disease spreading from organ to organ. If I were pressed to identify one thing . . . it would probably be the plot. There were a couple of romantic subplots that felt like they’d been shoehorned into the book, and every time they came up, I gave them an inward eye roll.

And they came up many times.

After enough of those times, I didn’t want to read the book anymore. But I was so far into it that I felt I needed to finish it. A bad combination. But whenever I have a bad or good experience with a book, I try to figure out what it was about the experience that caused it. Mainly so I can avoid it or use it in my own writing. For example, I’m always amazed by how good Stephen King is at writing characters and putting them in relatable, compelling circumstances. If I could pick one thing that I could get better at, that would be it. So I’m paying close attention to books and character introductions to see how the good ones really shine.

In the meantime, I’ve just started a new series, and I love it so far, which is such a refreshing feeling after such a long run of the doldrums. Here’s hoping it keeps it up!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The First Book of Swords

The First Book of Swords (Books of Swords, #1)

The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


You never quite know what you’re going to get when you reread a book you loved as a kid. Sometimes you’re impressed with what wonderful taste you had back then, and sometimes . . . you’d rather forget you ever liked that book to begin with.

I first came across Saberhagen’s Book of Swords series in the public library. I remember thinking the covers were pretty cool (Swords!), and I was definitely in the “I’ll read anything you put in front of me” age. I loved the whole series, though I never really read them in order, because the library continually had one checked out or the other. I remember thinking the magic system was really cool and always wanting to know more about the swords.

So finally I broke down and bought the first book on Kindle, hoping that my fond memories were accurate and justified for once.

I’m ecstatic to say that they were. I finished the entire first book in a day, something which almost never happens for me anymore. The premise is simple: take a standard fantasy world and have the gods of that world create 12 magical swords, each with very specific powers. For example, one can cut through stone as if it were butter. One kills dragons exceptionally well. One makes you very lucky. One helps you find anything you want. The gods take those swords and scatter them through the land, and then they sit back to see what the humans do.

Violence and adventure ensue.

It’s a great start to the series. I loved how the Swords were mysteries to all the characters for the bulk of the book. The gods made them and spread them out, but they never told the humans about them, wanting the humans to find out on their own. And instead of focusing on obscure commoners who end up becoming royalty or supreme magic users, Saberhagen has his protagonists pretty much stay constant through the book. They’re scrappy, and they’ve got a couple of the magic Swords, but they don’t have any other real tools available to help them face their foes.

If you’re looking for a fun series that’s a quick read and has some really cool magic, you should definitely check this one out. I’m already deep into book 2.

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I primarily read books to be entertained, plain and simple. Every now and then I’ll read non-fiction, and I dabble in the literary from time to time. It’s not that I don’t like literary fiction (I have an English Masters, after all), but I’m generally busy enough that when I finally have time for a break, I don’t want to have to think all that hard. I want plot. I want entertainment. And I don’t want to have to ponder the meaning of anything.

Most of the time, at least.

Every now and then I come across an author or book that makes me reevaluate my tastes. Something that makes me wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be better if I just read high brow stuff all the time. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, is one such novel.

It’s centered around Prague and New York City during World War II. It ties in historical events and details with complex character studies and then frames it all around the rise to power of . . . comic books? Yup. Comic books. And it does it all in a really riveting, involving fashion.

Chabon’s text is not always easy to read, and that has to be on purpose. His vocabulary is so much better than mine, I at first constantly found myself looking up the definitions of words, until it got to the point that I just guessed what the words meant and kept on reading. (Remember: I don’t like having to think to much.) But he uses language so effectively that this doesn’t turn into a stumbling block. It makes me wish I had a better vocabulary myself–that the flaw is with me, the reader, being unable to rise to meet the challenge of him, the author. (Sort of like when you try to play a piece of beautiful music, only to discover it’s beyond you.)

This book wasn’t beyond me. I loved it. And I got through it in 9 days, which is a testament to how good it is. Usually a “you have to think” book is going to bog me down for a couple of weeks at least.

If any of this sounds remotely entertaining, I strongly encourage you to check this book out. It’s well worth your time. Already read it? Let me know what you thought.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.


Book Review: Senlin Ascends

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s rare these days when I’ll start a new series and actually continue with it. As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m just too aware that each book I read is also another book I don’t read. So I need to find a book I really enjoy to make me decide to stick with it for the next in the series.

Much of what I read comes to me through Kindle book sales. I’ll see something interesting, I’ll read reviews on Goodreads, and I’ll buy it for later. Senlin Ascends is a book I’d heard about from a number of sources, and then one day it went on sale on Amazon. The concept was intriguing: a man goes to a steampunk Tower of Babel and works on making his way up the tower. I didn’t know much more than that, but I decided to give it a shot.

I bought the second book as soon as I finished the first, if that gives you any idea what I thought about it.

For the first while in the first book, I didn’t think I was going to like it. The main character was quite weak and did some fairly foolish things. But the setting was more than a little intriguing. This Tower of Babel is truly enormous. Each level is basically its own world, and it’s all very well described to the point that it feels real. And as I kept reading, caught by the setting, the main character began to grow and evolve as well. By the end of the book, it had really grabbed hold of me, and I was truly invested in the outcome.

That’s a tough trick to pull off, but it does a great job of it. In the end, it’s an impressive work. I gave it an 8/10, though again the middle and end were much stronger for me than the beginning, which is always preferable, I find. If you’re looking for a good steampunk read with very light fantasy elements, this is a good one to try.

Give it a shot!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.


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