Review: The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After
The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I should start this review by mentioning that I know the author. Now that’s sorted, let’s move along.

If the cover doesn’t tip you off to the nature of the material inside, the tag line “Dark Fantasy & Desolation” is an unmissable disclaimer. This collection won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like your fiction dark and gritty, and aren’t too squeamish, then I think this collection is worthy of consideration.

I also think it’s fair to say you should expect an uneven level of quality when it comes to any single author collection that spans quite a few years of said author’s career. I found this to be the case with ‘Abandonment’. The stories that left me cold tended to be the ones that involved desolation (of spirit and/or place) and those involving beautiful people, razor blades and/or metal barbs. I guess I like a little bit more light and hope in my fiction.

On the flip side, the stories that worked best for me were the titular “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After”, “The Song of Prague” and “Sobek’s Tears”. Each different in their own way, but all intriguing and urging the reader to flip through the pages to arrive at a satisfying conclusion.

At his best, Cummings is an incisive writer that pushes the envelope and is more than capable of eliciting the odd squirm from his readers. I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us next. Keep a few candles burning though…

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Review: Malice

Malice by John Gwynne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tough to critique this book. On the one hand, allowances should be made as this is the author’s debut. On the other hand, well, read on.

I liked the pacing in this book and didn’t find it a difficult read at all. The pages just kept turning, which is to be commended for a debut novelist. The canvas is pretty large too, and if Malice just stopped (rather than ended) that’s because Gwynne clearly has his sights set on a larger scale.

Unfortunately the large cast of characters and the epic nature of this tale meant the characters were fairly thinly drawn. And apart from one or two characters, they don’t really change at all over the course of what is a lengthy novel.

My other major problem with Malice is the lack of originality. We have characters who play the guardian role only to be revealed later as being of noble birth. We have many battles in forests, on river banks, in caves and in a fortress, with frequent ‘explosions of blood and bone’. We have the maturing protagonist taming a wolven (dire wolf?) and all the threats the various characters face are on a grand scale; for example, giants, wyrms, draigs (or enormous lizards) and wolven. And we have angels and demons, which are sometimes referred to as exactly that, even though there is frequent mention of gods and creation, but not of a heavenly afterlife. Oh, and a magic system that is virtually unexplained.

Overall, this is a promising debut but I’m not sure I’d shell out another $25 Australian dollars to buy the next installment when there are so many other options in the Epic Fantasy genre. Still, if you want a fast-paced read that entertains but doesn’t challenge, Malice might be for you.

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Review: Clariel

Clariel by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chewed through this book pretty quickly. Enough said.

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Review: The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013

The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013
The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013 by Liz Grzyb
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Took my time with this one. Overall, 4 stars is probably the fairest rating. I loved Juliet Marillier’s story “By Bone-Llght”, which was the final story in the anthology. Subtle, perfectly paced and with a hint of magic, both dark and light.

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Review: Bloodlines

Bloodlines by Amanda Pillar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As we all know, book reviews are subjective. So let’s start with some facts.

~ Bloodlines is an anthology of 16 short stories that all feature the use of blood.
~ I am one of the contributing authors, so naturally I want to persuade you to buy a copy for yourself and your significant others.
~ In March 2016, Bloodlines won the Aurealis Award (Australia) for Best Anthology, so when I say it’s a fine collection, at least a handful of judges agree with me.

Now for the subjective section… all of the stories hold their own in this anthology, but quite a few set you on your heels. For me, the four most memorable (everyone does just three) are:

• Joanne Anderton’s haunting creation in “Unnamed Children” is not a place for the faint hearted…or those with low blood pressure
• Kathleen Jennings’ quirky “The Tangled Streets” left me feeling like I had met the protagonist before but had somehow forgotten her history
• Dirk Flinthart’s off-the-cuff “In The Blood” involves a mortal deciding to go toe-to-toe with one of Unseelie, which always ends well, right?
• Stephanie Gunn’s lyrical “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth” was the one story in this anthology that I simply didn’t want to end

So there you have it. Grab a copy – digital or carbon based – and draw your own conclusions. You won’t regret it.

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Review: The Year of Ancient Ghosts

The Year of Ancient Ghosts
The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kim Wilkins is, without doubt, one of the best writers of fantasy and speculative fiction Australia has ever produced. “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, a collection of five novellas, showcases her prodigious talent.

My favourite novella in the collection was “Dindrana’s Lover”, which is a clever story told about the sister of Percival from the Table Round. My least favourite – by quite some margin – was “Wild Dreams of Blood”, which didn’t grip me the way the other four novellas did.

“Crown of Rowan” was also very enjoyable and I would very much like to see the novel that is rumoured to be set in the same kingdom of Thyrsland.

All in all, a really great read from one of Australia’s finest weavers of speculative fiction. Go get a copy and support a local Australian small press in the process.

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Review: Hunt for Valamon

Hunt for Valamon
Hunt for Valamon by D.K. Mok
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with DK Mok’s writing would be aware that she loves to subvert a good fantasy stereotype. Hunt for Valamon, her second novel, is no exception.

Here are some examples of what I mean. Valamon – the abducted prince from the title – is woefully inept to be the heir of the all-conquering Talgaran Empire. His younger brother, Falon, is far more fit to rule, but chafes at the unrelenting tide of paperwork involved. Seris is a cleric of Eliantora, which means he has some skills at healing, although unfortunately for Seris, they don’t work on his own person. And Elhan has a sorcerer-sized chip on her shoulder, which manifests itself as a particularly nasty curse that results in a lot of random destruction, not that Seris is willing to abandon her in the interests of self-preservation. Throw in a revolution organised by a particularly put out warlord, lots of near misses and some fairly unexpected romances (all handled with a feather-light touch) and I think you’ll agree this is not fantasy as you know it.

The prose is deft, the pacing just right and the quirkiness is amped up to the max. If you’re a bit tired of teetering epics or overly grim fantasies where nobody comes out unscathed, give this one a try.

4 stars from me with a nod to Mok’s originality.

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Review: The Skull Throne

The Skull Throne
The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like most people following the Demon Cycle series, I was hanging out for this latest instalment, especially given the cliff-hanger inflicted upon us in the finale of The Daylight War. And like many people following the series, I wanted more time with Arlen and Jardir. Sadly, The Skull Throne delivers little on this front.

Yes, I gobbled up this book. Yes, lots happens. However, the book’s central focus is firmly on Krasian politics and the war for control of the north. Ultimately, however, I’m far more interested in the war with demonkind and The Skull Throne doesn’t advance this particular arc by much.

Brett is to be commended for allowing some of his core characters to be dispatched, but the pacing of the story is such that the remaining characters seem to grieve little for their loss and I must confess that I felt much the same. What started out as a tightly focused fantasy story (i.e. Arlen’s struggle to survive and to end the demon threat) has become an epic tale and has lost much of its intimacy along the way

The next instalment – provisionally titled The Core – promises to get the story back to the heart of the matter. In all the ensuing action, I hope Mr. Brett remembers that it’s his characters that we’re truly interested in, not impressively choreographed sharukin fight scenes.

Overall, 3.5 stars but I’m going to round down to 3.

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Review: Duma Key

Duma Key
Duma Key by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At times I found Duma Key to be a sedately paced read. In the case of a lesser writer, I think this may have been a fatal problem, but King’s characterisation – and in particular, the voice of his protagonist, Edgar Freemantle – is so pitch perfect I simply had to find out what happened to Edgar and his friends.

The last King novel I read was at least a dozen years ago – The Green Mile – and I was very impressed by that work as well. In a world that’s changing so fast, it’s good to see the quality of King’s writing hasn’t diminished at all.

4.5 stars.

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Review: Horns

Horns by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, 4 stars for Horns by Mr Hill.

The narrative style is very effective and I liked the way the point of view shifted, both between the main characters and at various points in time. Sections of the book held me spellbound and you know it’s a good sign when your nose is buried so far in a book you almost miss your bus stop. Other sections dragged a little, however, which is why I couldn’t give it 5 stars.

Hill’s writing is assured, his handling of tension very deft indeed, and his characters are eminently believable. Definitely recommended.

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