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Book Review: The Last Ancient

Since I haven’t had much time to read the past couple of weeks as I am currently in the process of immigrating from Finland to Sweden, I thought I’d post a past review about a book I didn’t expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did…

ancient

Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who–or what–left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he’d realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters — some natural, others less so — while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.

I might never have picked up this novel had I not had the pleasure of meeting the author in person. I met Eliot Baker at FinnCon 2014 where I was first introduced to The Last Ancient during a reading session. After hearing only a few excerpts from this book, I knew I had to read it despite my reservations about the treasure-hunting pirate-type cover and the fact that I’m not usually a fan of thrillers or mysteries or crime novels – and this seemed like all three rolled into one with a dash of the fantastic. Nevertheless, I bought the book and started reading it on the train ride from from the con, and? I couldn’t put the bloody thing down!

I love mythology and this book delivers it in spades! The blurb actually doesn’t do this book justice, in my opinion – a trend I’m discovering :/ This book is a lot less mystery thriller than it is dark urban fantasy. Baker has effortlessly woven together contemporary politics, environmental issues and economics into a story about alchemy, replete with snippets from history and a good deal of philosophy – in short, The Last Ancient is the perfect cocktail for anyone who prefers their fantasy delivered on the barrel of an automatic assault rifle instead of a broad-sword.

This is not my usual sort of read – being adult and a little too urban fantasy when I tend to prefer young adult and fantasy of epic proportions – and yet, I was enthralled from the very first chapter. I have learned so much from this book, particularly about ancient coins and numismatics, not to mention shale oil technology!

Baker’s writing is great too, delivering stunning metaphor while not getting bogged down in description. The book is ambitious though and it tries to cram a lot into its pages. I think Baker pulled it off but I can imagine some readers might find the multi-genre mash-up a little too much. The plot moves at a serious clip and if I have any complaints it’s that the ending – while spectacular – seemed a tiny bit rushed, so that by the time I reached the last line I felt out of breath and still wanting more. But when an author leaves me wanting more, that’s a job well-done.

This book seriously surprised and impressed me. I cannot wait to read more by Eliot Baker. 5/5 ink splats for this one.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Unwrapped Sky

My first love will forever be epic fantasy. I grew up devouring books by Tolkien, Terry Brooks and Ursula K. Le Guin, and although I don’t read that much adult fantasy any more, when I do, I usually find myself utterly entranced by the likes of Elizabeth Bear and Martha Wells. It had been a while since I’d read a really good high fantasy novel though when I spotted Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson. I immediately added it to my to-be-read list and promptly forgot all about it until several months later when I bumped into the author at a convention in Finland and then again in London.

unwrapped

I actually met the Aussie author at two separate cons over the summer of 2014, and was rather delighted to discover that he too was an expat living and writing in Finland! After having met him in person and getting to hang out with him on a panel, I couldn’t wait to dive into his book.

Given the Goodreads description, I started reading Unwrapped Sky with certain expectations: 1) Minotaurs 2) epic fantasy. This book didn’t quite meet my expectations on point 1 and thoroughly exceeded them on point 2.

This is not a book about minotaurs. Minotaurs are part of the world, but they’re not quite the major presence I anticipated and that left me a little disappointed, to be honest. Also, I guess sex with a minotaur isn’t technically bestiality, but it still kinda creeped me out. I really wish we’d been given more of a chance to get to know these creatures, but the minotaurs are quickly relegated to minor subplot – at least in book 1.

Onto point 2. This book is epic fantasy and then some. The world is a rich tapestry of magic, technology and steampunk elements. This is where the book truly deserves 5 stars. The settings are original and vivid to the point where I could smell Caeli-Amur and hear the sounds of the market-place. I loved the blend of technology and more typical fantasy elements, although I can see how this book that straddles the science-fantasy genre might leave science fiction fans wanting more tech and fantasy fans annoyed by the very presence of tech. The only comparison I can draw is perhaps Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy in terms of the tech + fantastic/magic themes.

Onto the characters. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the three separate POVs and seemingly disconnected story threads but of course, the author weaves these three narratives together, and in the end I wanted to spend more time with each character, characters who were all morally ambiguous. There are no clear cut heroes here, so if you’re expecting to find a Jamie Fraser, Richard Cypher or similar love interest-come-swashbuckling hero, you might want to look elsewhere for a book boyfriend. What this book does deliver is complex characters – male and female – foregoing many of the usual fantasy tropes while avoiding a lot of the medievalish mindset, especially regarding women’s rights, which I found particularly refreshing given the slew of fantasy novels that retreat to the middle ages.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future installments in this genre-defying series, but it wasn’t quite a five star read for me. Unwrapped Sky scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Books 1-3 of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Book series. Be they duologies, trilogies, or the seemingly never-ending story cycles that hit double figures, some people love them – I do not. I am not a fan of book series in general, but I will tolerate an exceptional trilogy such as the Celtic Crusade books by Stephen Lawhead or the Wanderer’s trilogy by Caiseal Mor. I have attempted several longer running series such as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books but gave up after reading only three. Even series by some of my favourite writers have been casualties of my lack of patience: Frank Herbert, Juliet Marillier, Lawhead (with his Pendragon series), Gemmel and Terry Brooks. It takes an especially rare and special type of story to keep me enthralled beyond book 3, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books have done that and more.

*beware, there be minor spoilers ahead*

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When I first picked up The Raven Boys I was extremely nervous. I read somewhere that the book was 1 of a planned 5-book series, but I figured I’d read book 1 and move on as I usually do with series. I should’ve known better. I adored Stiefvater’s stand-alone novel The Scorpio Races and found The Raven Boys just as mesmerizing, engaging and delightful, so by the time I turned the last page I knew having to wait a year for book 2 was going to be a peculiar kind of agony I had never experienced before.

Not only is Stiefvater’s writing poetic and ‘voicey’ weaving snide humour into both dialogue and narrative, but her world is whimsical, soaked in magical realism and utterly engrossing while her characters are complex, endearing and totally relatable. This story stars three living boys – Gansey, Adam and Ronan – one dead boy – Noah – and a girl who sort of sits between the worlds whose name is Blue. Set in a Virginia town described as redneck and hick by the characters, this unlikely group of friends are brought together by Gansey’s search for a legendary Welsh king allegedly buried somewhere in town. This search for Glendower brings Gansey crashing into Blue’s world of mysticism and magic.

I absolutely loved The Raven Boys. It is a book that defies categorisation, equal parts fantasy and urban fantasy, magical realism and contemporary YA. Don’t be put off by the YA tag. Although the main characters are teenagers, there is very little school drama and teen angst in this book as the third person narrative switches between multiple characters including several adults in the book who are just as important as the teens to the story. I waited a year and finally managed to get my hands on book 2…

raven2

Book 2 is all about my favourite character, the truculent Ronan Lynch, who has one of the most amazing and terrifying superpowers I’ve come across, as well as a pet raven called Chainsaw. I adored this book even more than book 1, which I didn’t think was possible. We were taken deeper into the magical side of Henrietta, met new and intriguing characters, and got to know the five teens a little better with a few pleasant surprises along the way. I was delighted when certain developments in the story hinted at the inclusion of an LGBT character. Stiefvater also has a knack for ending things on serious cliffhangers and this novel was no exception. I thought I would expire with need for book 3. Finally, book 3 arrived and I read it just this past week. Here it is…

raven3As the title implies, this book focuses on Blue’s story and her character’s journey as she navigates the rocky relationships with the boys she has grown to love (not in a weird love pentagon kind of way, although there is a smattering of romance between Blue and a certain boy) as they find themselves delving deeper into the magical world on the periphery of their town, and it certainly isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The magical element here is wonderfully vague. There are no clear rules, no spell-books dictating rituals or werebeasties killed by stakes or silver bullets. All the magical encounters are something entirely new making the series fresh and fierce in a genre prone to cliche. This series seems determined to break convention, the plot twisting and turning along the meandering pathways of the magical setting. Book 3 was everything I hoped it would be and, despite my usual abandonment of series round about here, I found myself absolutely ecstatic that there were two more books to come. Sadly, it seems I was grossly misinformed and rather devastated when I discovered that this series is, in fact, a quadrology which means only one more book and then it’s over! Nooooo! I have never ever wanted more books in a series, but I do with this one. In fact, I want an entire spin-off series starring Ronan Lynch, that’s how good these books are.

If you’re a fan of epic or urban fantasy and fancy trying something a little different, or if you are a fan of magical realism with a little more magic than realism, then I strongly recommend this series. Of course, I don’t know how it ends yet, but I trust Stiefvater to wrap up her story as beautifully and whimsically as she started it. If I were to have any criticism of this series it’s that some of the hints at possible diversity could be explored a little less ambiguously. I don’t know if the author is afraid to categorically state that a certain character is gay or black for fear of losing readers (really? In this era? I doubt it!) or if she’s deliberately trying to be vague about these things because in terms of the story, they don’t really matter and aren’t a big deal to the characters themselves. I’m not sure, but I do hope the reason is not the former.

Now my year-long wait for the fourth and final book in this series commences and I am equal parts excited and anguished that I will only get to spend another 400 pages with these characters who have stolen their way into my heart. Each book scores 5/5 ink-splats from me.


5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Reviews

 

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