Category: book review

Quarantine Epic Fantasy Review: The Gods of Blood and Power

I first read Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy as it was published in 2013-2015. I don’t read a ton of military fantasy, but what I’ve read, I’ve really enjoyed (which leads me to wonder why I don’t read more of it . . .) Standouts have been the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon and the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I added McClellan’s series to that list. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he jammed battle tactics and magic together. The whole series was thrilling, and I had a great time with it from beginning to end.

But life gets in the way. I saw he had another series come out in 2017. A sequel trilogy to the original trilogy. And I wanted to read it, but let’s be real: there are a lot of books out there, and I kept letting Gods of Blood and Powder slip further down in the To Be Read pile.

Until social distancing began, that is. Because if there’s one thing I wanted when this all began, it was a solid set of fantasy books to read. Something I could just dive into and not have to worry about what I was going to read next. Some real escape. I didn’t want to start anything that hasn’t been finished, because yuck, and there was this series by an author I’d really enjoyed before.

Perfect.

I read the trilogy in about two weeks, and I had a great time with it. It carries on some of the story lines from the first series without needing to already have read the first series for the second to make sense. It’s set in a world with four competing magic systems. There are the Privileged, who can use special gloves to do just about anything they want with magic. There are gods, which are . . . gods. There’s blood magic, which is mysterious and not quite understood by the main characters. And then there are Powder Mages: people who can basically use gunpowder like a drug to give them super strength and senses, as well as the ability to ignite powder from a distance. But of course, the majority of the world (similar in technology to the 1800s) doesn’t use magic at all, and McClellan does a good job choosing his narrators to give you a sense of the whole range of experiences.

The trilogy tells the tale of the city of Landfall, where a number of political and military efforts smash together and spread to engulf a continent in war. McClellan weaves action, intrigue, espionage, and military strategy into a compelling narrative that I had a great time reading. The content level does skew toward the adult side of things, though nowhere near Game of Thrones territory.

If you’re looking for a way to escape through reading for a while, I definitely recommend it. I gave the series as a whole an 8/10. Check it out.

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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 Great Divorce

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to titles, “The Great Divorce” leaves much to be desired. Before I first read it (which was something like 18 years ago now), I always pictured it as being some long, densely-written tome that discussed . . . I don’t know. Some abstract thought thing that would put me to sleep after about three lines. Yes, it’s by CS Lewis, but come on. “The Great Divorce”? It practically screams “Don’t read me!” right from the cover.

But I was forced to read the book as part of a class I took on CS Lewis back at BYU, and I was so glad I got shoved into the act. And while I’m stuck in-doors, I decided to revisit it, and it was just as good the second time as it was the first. I gave it a 9/10, and I really recommend it to anyone who’d like a good book that will make you think. It’s an excellent companion to his more well-known Screwtape Letters.

Why will you like it? For one thing, it’s anything but long and dry. It clocks in at 146 pages, and much of it breezes along. It tells a first person account of a supposed dream Lewis has, in which he begins in hell and travels from there to heaven. Except hell is anything but the fire pool of torment you would typically imagine. It’s a world very like our own, peopled entirely by individuals who choose to remain there, and the bulk of the book is devoted to examining the different reasons people have for staying in hell rather than going to heaven.

Basically, it’s a series of character studies, as Lewis sees one interaction after another, with each person from hell giving a different reason for why they don’t want to go to heaven. Many of them can be hit quite close to home. There are a few times when Lewis really dives into some dense thoughts, and those are the few times I think he flounders a bit to try to capture what he’s trying to say. At least, those were the time that the book felt weakest to me (though perhaps others would love them). For me, the book (and Lewis in general) is strongest when he’s talking about big thoughts in very easy to understand terms. Here are a couple of highlights from the text that stood out to me:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” (p59)

“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” (p54)

But there’s a ton more in there that’s really worthy of reading. So if you’re stuck inside for a while, and you’d like to raise your thinking a bit, give The Great Divorce a chance. Just don’t be too stuck on the title.

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.

Book Review: Interface

Back in 1994, Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (writing jointly under the pseudonym Stephen Bury) wrote a political thriller based on a sci-fi “what if” scenario. What if there was a technology that let people know exactly what other people thought about things? What they were scared of. What they longed for. What they liked and disliked. What if a that technology were then placed in the hands of a political consultant who knew what to do with it and didn’t mind getting his hands dirty, so to speak. What if he could then tailor his candidate’s message on a microlevel to make it appeal to as many people as possible? The result would be a campaign that looks for all intents and purposes like it’s totally unorthodox. It breaks the rules, but it somehow keeps winning against all odds.

Of course, in 1994 it was impossible to think that people would hand this power over to someone else without a cost. In the novel (Interface), the political hacks cull through a huge subsection of the country, breaking it down into 100 basic subtypes of citizens. They then find a “best representative” of each of those subtypes and pay them $10,000 to watch political programming with a sensor attached to their arm that will then tell the hacks what each person thinks of what they see.

Today, this is just called “social media,” and people do all of it for free. They’re just thrilled to see people care about what they think on a variety of topics. While the novel takes it perhaps a notch or two beyond what is completely plausible, the framework of the concept is strong and illustrative of just the sort of power these companies can wield now. Not just Facebook, either. Google can have a huge impact on what people think based on what they have show up in search results. Wikipedia can literally make millions of people believe something just by changing a few paragraphs on its site. Whether these companies are using these “powers” for good or evil is up for debate, but the fact that power exists shouldn’t be.

I enjoyed the book a great deal. It had been recommended by Cory Doctorow at last year’s Maine Library Association conference, so it took me a bit to get to, but I was glad to finally read it when I did. As I said, there are times when I felt like it went a bit too far, straining credulity in places beyond what my typical willing suspension of disbelief is up to, but the set up behind it all was still so compelling that I didn’t mind that much.

8/10 Definitely worth a read if the topic interests you.

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.

The Best (and Worst) Media of 2019

It’s a new year, and I’m back from vacation! (For a bit, at least. I’ll be in Utah starting the end of next week . . .) And launching the new year off, I wanted to do a retrospective of my reading and watching last year. As always, I keep track of what I’ve consumed, media-wise, and I’m here to report in on all the best and worst things I came across. Ready? Let’s go.

Best Reading

In total, I watched 96 things over the course of the year. Some of those things were just movies. Some were entire seasons of television shows. (Still just counts as “1 thing” on my master chart.) Of those 96 “things,” the ones I gave a perfect 10/10 to were:

  • Groundhog Day (naturally)
  • The Americans (season 6)
  • Game of Thrones (season 1)
  • Chernobyl
  • Into the Spiderverse
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Cold Comfort Farm

Movies or shows that got a 9.5/10 were:

  • When They See Us
  • The Rise of Skywalker

And items that got a 9 were:

  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 2)
  • Blackkklansman
  • The Sopranos (season 1)
  • Free Solo
  • Game of Thrones (season 7)
  • Avengers Endgame
  • The Good Place (season 3)
  • Various Game of Thrones episodes (I rewatched key episodes across many seasons
  • Deadpool 2
  • Game of Thrones (season 8)
  • Deadwood (season 2)
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Clue
  • Rogue One

There are some items on there that many people would disagree with me about. I don’t care. I’ve become increasingly tired of the nonsensical need to justify my tastes. As if the entire world has to decide what is “good” and what is “bad.” The Star Wars original series? Good. Prequels? Bad. Sequels? Tons of debate, and people take it as a personal affront if you disagree with them. I love social media and the way it helps bring people together, but I despise the backbiting and nitpicking that happens on it. I love the Hobbit movies. I thought the Game of Thrones finale was great. I don’t feel the need to write a thesis to defend that position, just as I won’t attack you if you say the Hobbit movies are terrible.

Make your own list. 🙂

What about the worst movies and TV I watched? As always, I only review something and give it an official rating if I finish it, and I don’t have a lot of time, so I typically don’t finish things I don’t like, which makes it seem like I like almost everything I review. That said, I still had a couple turkeys this year:

  • Good Omens got a 2/10
  • Murder Mystery (the Netflix Adam Sandler movie) got a 3/10
  • A Wrinkle in Time got a 2/10
  • The Phantom Menace got a 4/10

As for books, I made my goal of reading 52 for the year. Here are the perfect 10/10s:

  • The Reluctant Swordsman, by Dave Duncan
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin
  • The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks
  • The Burning White, by Brent Weeks
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

No book got a 9.5/10, but several got a 9/10:

  • Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
  • The First Book of Swords, by Fred Saberhagen
  • The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

Did I read anything really bad this year? Well, I had two 4/10s, a 3/10, and a 2/10, but as is my typical approach, I will stay mum on which books got those ratings. Professional courtesy. That said, I will say the 2/10 was a book that’s won multiple awards and been on many “best of the year” lists, and it’s taken me quite a bit of willpower to not say why I disliked it so much.

Anyway. That sums things up for me. How did your reading and watching go this year?

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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: Starsight

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely adored the first book of Brandon Sanderson’s new Cytonic Series, Skyward. If I could have given it an 11/10, I would have. It became my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for something good to read, regardless of what genre they preferred. It was just that good. So naturally I was excited (and a tad apprehensive) when the sequel was released. Usually, you’d figure I’d just be excited, but when a book is that good, I begin to worry I’ll be let down by the followup.

It’s true that Starsight isn’t at the same level as Skyward, but to use that as the measuring stick would really be unfair. It was one of my favorite books of the decade. Starsight is still a great read, and totally worth your time (though you definitely should read Skyward first). I’d post the summary, but I don’t want to spoil anyone, and the first book has some significant plot points that play into the second book. You almost can’t talk about the plot of the second without spoiling the first. So in broad strokes: science fiction. Space ship dog fights. Salvation of humanity. That sort of thing, but also on a very personal level. It’s one girl’s dream to become something more than what she’s allowed by society to be. That’s what set the first book apart from the rest. The personal story, and how it connects to the greater whole.

So what’s strong about the second book? As with all of Brandon’s works, the ending is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a Sanderson fan. Too many times, a book starts off with a fantastic premise but just can’t deliver in the end. The finale is confusing or rushed or just feels tacked on. With a Sanderson book, you know your time investment is going somewhere. The last two thirds of this book just blazed by for me.

He also takes the time to explore some other civilizations in the novel, presenting what they might be like and how they might think. It’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to fantasy and science fiction: the chance to look at the world through completely different lenses. I don’t want to get into any more specifics, though, to avoid spoilers.

I did feel like the set up phase of this book went on longer than I would have liked. Spensa’s goals are clear, but not fully informed. It takes a good deal of time to get the pieces in place for that climax to really pop, and I didn’t find that setup time as engaging. Perhaps if I’d read the first one recently, it would have worked better. I struggled to remember who some of the characters were, and where things had been left at the end of the first.

But in the end, a review of a sequel sort of presupposes you liked the first. So what you really want to know is, “Is the second worth it?” In this case, most definitely. It takes the series some place new and exciting, and it left me eagerly anticipating the next book. 9/10. Check it out!

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

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