Dancer’s Lament by Ian Esslemont

dancer

Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy #1)

 

After reading Deadhouse Landing a few months ago I decided to reread Dancer’s Lament. It took me a month to locate the book in my (small) house, and then I had to finish the annual holiday magazine deluge before I could start.

I really enjoyed the second reading more than the first as I caught a good deal on the second reading that I missed the first time. Names and events that are just mentioned once often loom much larger in later books by both Esslemont and his partner in the Malazan universe Steve Erikson. The same with how people develop into friends and foes.  Just as Dancer and Kellanved undergo name changes as they mature and their roles alter so to do the names and identities of people that they interact with in this book as they emerge as allies or enemies.

Overall, just as Kellanved emerges as a more fully developed character in Deadhouse Landing, Dancer is filled out in this book. Originally named Dorin he was the last pupil of the last practitioner of a legendary school of assassins. He has big ambitions, but they are relatively undefined. He has all of the arrogance of someone who is young and inexperienced but very talented.

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Just as so many do when they are young some of his actions puzzle him, as they go against what he desires, or thinks that he desires. Even his eventual partnership with Kellanved, named Wu in this book, is mostly involuntary and he cannot quite understand how it comes about. Eventually he gives up and just starts following where Wu leads.

The basic plot is that the two are traveling on the continent of Quon Tali and both end up in the city of Li Heng, which has been shielded from outside conflicts for ages by a might wizardess called the Protectress, who is aided by a cadre of mages in guarding the city.

Close behind the two travelers is a young man sworn to Hood, the god of death and further behind is an invading army from Quon Tali that has been slowly subjugating half of the continent.  After the two arrive, separately, they get involved in everything from petty crime to helping to deal with the invaders. We also see Wu’s first steps into Shadow, and a hint at some of the forces behind him leading him there and the potential forces that will seek to thwart him.

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I was interested in the degrees of potency that the different mages had, as compared to some of the other characters that inhabit the pages namely the elder races and elder gods. It is much clearer here than in any opf the other books in the series and helped me understand the balance of power between different forces in later books.

Overall once again the one trend that really leaped out at me and greatly impressed me is how well the overall Malazan universe is knitted together. With the huge existing body of work split between two authors I would expect some gaping holes in plot lines and character motivation, and yet if there are any, aside from no doubt some very minor ones, I did not find them.

Originally this series was set to be a trilogy but it now looks like it might go longer, something I hope it does. Here is an interesting read on the creative process from the author given to Fantasy Book Review. If you are a fan of the Malazan novels this is a great read and if you are new to it, it’s also a great place to start.

The World of Tiers by Philip Jose Farmer

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The basic premise of The World of Tiers  series is that there is a very powerful and immortal race called The Lords who have created a series of worlds as their own personal playgrounds, and populated them as they wish. Some have humans, some creatures with human brains (such as giant eagles) and some just mythical creatures. Also creatures and near humans from other places in space and time.

The world that is central to the first novella in the book is built like a Tower of Babel  with independent levels each with distinct societies taken from Earth including Native Americans, Teutonic Knights, Mycenaean Greece and many others, and mostly populated with people from those eras, although in some cases human brains are transplanted into creatures of the Lord’s creation such as harpies, merpeople and beings, many with transplanted human brains.

The first book is broken into three novellas. The first Maker of Universes introduces you to the basic construct of the Planet of Tiers as well as to a pair of the leading characters, Robert Wolff and Kickaha the Trickster. Wolff receives a magical horn from Kickaha and when he later uses it he is transported to a world that seems a veritable Eden. Then the adventures with and without Kickaha begin.

I did not really enjoy thestory that much. I did not connect with Wolff, and to a degree viewed his adventures as the day dream of an old man. Wolff is initially portrayed as an aged college professor looking for a new home for himself and his wife as he heads into retirement. While old he is still intellectually and physically active and wants to see the world. The wife is now an aged shrewish woman who seems to be the type that sits on the sofa and eats bon bons all day (See Peter Sellers’ great Waltz of the Toreadors for a perfect stereotype). Wolff blows the horn, is transported to a new world and viola, he grows young and fit living in a land of beautiful people and easy sex. I want that to happen to me!

Not only does he become young again but also more powerful than the locals. He defeats a mounted, armored knight while afoot and basically unarmed, defeats another in a fight with broadswords, basically hitting the knights sword so hard that the knight cannot use his arm. Learns languages immediately. Travels huge distances in an area that he has never traveled and yet unerringly finds his way, and finds lost companions and people he is following. And so on.

 

I did not find the writing terrible compelling and the book was pretty predictable.  The first novella’s big secret is pretty obvious and may of the plot devices are corny. I was so bored that I could not bring myself to read the second or third novellas, The Gates of Creation and A Private Cosmos and will not give the synopsis from the book cover since that has a few details that are slowly unveiled in the first novella.

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I had read some of the Farmer’s Riverworld novels years ago and enjoyed them at the time, but also became bored with the series and never finished, so perhaps I am just not the target market for Farmer’s works. It seems much more of a Young Adult book and maybe that is its target audience. I think that from some one that has won multiple Hugo awards as well as a World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement could have better held my interest. But I guess that is what makes literature so great, there is such a wide spread of opinions on any author.

Deadhouse Landing by Ian C. Esslemont

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Deadhouse Landing: Path to Ascendancy Book 2 is the second installment in the prequel trilogy being written by Esslemont that will serve as a prelude to Steven Erikson’s ten volume Malazan Book of the Fallen. While Erikson’s name is the byline for all ten books, he and Esslemont are partners in this universe, codeveloping the ideas and now splitting writing duties on different offshoots from the main story.

I did not review the first of this series, Dancer’s Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1, but may at some future point. I did greatly enjoy it, which is hardly surprising since the Fallen series is probably my second favorite fantasy series. The focus of the newest trilogy is on how two of the main characters amass their original core of people who help conquer a good deal of the known world and create the Malazan Empire.

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I said that I enjoyed Dancer’s Lament but Deadhouse is even better. Esslemont started building momentum in introducing the cast of characters that will play both important and minor roles in the Fallen series in Dancer’s Lament but quickens the pace considerably. It had been some time since I had finished the Fallen series and needed to keep notes to remind me who some of the players were.

The first book revolved around how Dancer and (the soon to be named) Kellanved met and their first moves towards empire and first steps to ascendancy. In hind sight it is interesting that two of the central characters in a ten volume series have rather minor appearances in the series, and yet all revolves around them. Very little information about their back story is provided. This trilogy fills in the gap.

One of the things I have enjoyed about the original Malazan series and in this trilogy as well is that there is no information dump. No long interludes that gives the background of events or people. Starting with Gardens of the Moon you are almost instantly thrust into action with a cast of characters you know nothing about, and little idea what their motives and plans are. I have always hated the info dump in many books because not only do they rehash previous events in case you had started in the middle of the series, but may do it in each volume of a series. Ugh.

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In Deadhouse Landing the two have reached Malaz Island and proceed with developing a crew to take over the island and much more. At the same time the two are in search of clues as to how to enter the Deadhouse, and start the path to ascendancy, or godhood. The book jumps around to multiple characters and starts to bring the different threads together.

I think that Esslemont does an excellent job filling in the motives and back story to many of the people involved in the main series, and in doing so answers a number of questions that I have always had about the series. Just one instance is that Kellanved is always portrayed as a powerful mage in the Fallen series, but does little compared to a number of others mages in the Fallen series. In Deadhouse Landing you see why he is considered powerful.

What I have always found amazing is how Esslemont and Erikson keep track of all of the people, places, races, gods, powers etc…and how they all interact. They provide a Dramatis Personae at the start of the books but you really need to reference the excellent Malazan Wiki page to stay abreast. Minor events in one book can have a major impact later so focus is required.

I think that this is the best off shoot book yet in the growing number of books in the Malazan Empire series. If you are new to the series I think starting here would be best, the problem being that you would have to wait until the third volume is available before starting the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Of course that would give you time to read the Kharkanas Trilogy that covers other important events prior to the Fallen series. The trouble with that strategy is that only the first two books have been written, this time by Erikson, and he is delaying finishing the third to start on a different, but related series called the Karsa Orlong Trilogy, with the first book tentatively entitled The God is not Willing. So good luck picking a starting point.

That is no dragon, it is a turtle on the map!

A'tuin
A’Tuin

It is always fun when what you assume is just a piece of whimsy has an actual basis in reality. That happened for me last week when I opened my daily e-mail from Atlas Obscura, a site I have always enjoyed due to the unique and interesting people, places and things that it discusses.  The site had an article entitled “Why is the World Always on the back of a Turtle?” that instantly rang a bell with me.

Of course many readers will instantly think of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels. For the few that are unfamiliar with the stories, they are based on a flat circular planet that travels through space held up by elephants that are standing on the back of a giant space turtle, named A’Tuin. I had always thought that this was a bit odd, but in a series that has walking, and dangerous, furniture, I never really gave it much thought.

According to the article it turns out that the idea of a planet floating through space on a giant member of the Chelonioidea family comes from ancient sources, appearing first in Hindu mythology. According to anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor’s Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, we have it all to blame (or credit) on the god Vishnu’s second avatar for starting the whole idea. Then the same motif developed independently in Native American mythology.

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I had always assumed that Pratchett had just created a funny vision of the world, and he may have come upon the idea independently, but I suspect that he just snuck in another cultural reference that so many of us would miss. Good for him. I was also surprised that when I mentioned this to several people at the local dog park they were apparently all aware of the Hindu tie in but not the Native American one.

The Silverleaf Chronicles by Vincent Trigili

Silver

One of the many blogs and newsletters I read had a low cost offering for this book and that is something I can never resist. I would give a shout out to where I found it but I don’t recall at this moment (Might have been Tor). I had never encountered Trigili but looking at his page on Amazon he has been writing for quite some time.

I enjoyed The Silverleaf Chronicles (The Dragon Masters Book 1) and it was a fast read, but I thought that it had a number of flaws (or perceived flaws) that annoyed me. I should mention that what bothers me in one book I often do not notice in another so all complaints should be taken with a grain of salt.

The book follows a man named Silverleaf, who comes from one of the clans of the Forest People. They look just like humans but some of them are born to control dragons. However dragons went extinct centuries before and so the potential dragon masters slowly go insane. However when they go insane they also become frightening efficient killing machines as well. Silverleaf is a dragonmaster and has fled his home so that he does not inflict harm on those he loves.

As he wanders he reaches a small town and sets up work as a smithy to earn some money. While repairing a rare ax the town is invaded by a foreign army. The one strange thing about the foe is that they have armored, android like troops that have the ability to fire destructive beams from their arms and are mind controlled by humans. Much like the army in the classic bad movie Krull. In many ways the movie had an interesting cast with both Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in supporting roles-I kid you not.

krull
Sadly no dragons

Silverleaf manages to fight his way out, accompanied by Kaylissa, the serving girl from the inn where he was taking his meals. He discovers that she is also from the Forest Clans and returns her to the clans, and then departs again.

The book chronicles their relationship as she follows and reunites with him and his battle with the madness. This is the strongest part of the book, but even here I think there is a problem. Silverleaf has been living as an almost feral animal, and was part of a wolf pack for a time. He no longer remembers his past and seems barely human. One quick battle and he is now a thoughtful teacher, helping Kaylissa on her way to beating the madness. Wow that was fast.

The world building is almost non-existent. No maps or sense of distance. You are told that once a vast civilization existed in that area yet no one seems to ever encounter ruins, aside from one impregnable fortress. Aside from this there are forests, a few isolated villages and a rumor of cities to the south.

That fortress, Drac’nor, is where all of the clans of the Forest People retreat at the first onset of the foreign army. The scenario where they decide to go does not ring true. Silverleaf meets the ruler of one of the clans. The leader asks what they should do. Silverleaf says retreat to the fortress. “Ok stranger that we have never met, we will follow your instructions and off they go with nary a word raised about abandoning their ancestral homeland.  It seems that many decisions in the book are made this way. No arguments raised. Also where do they get the food and other supplies when they are in the fortress? Once in the fort, they seem unconcerned about what the enemy is doing away from its borders.

Another odd item is that when Silverleaf comes out of berserker (madness) mode he is ravenous. Nothing odd about that, but it is that he says he needs simple sugars then roots and insects (basically carbs) before he goes on to proteins. All that was missing was a complaint against trans fats.

I did enjoy the writing and the portrayal of the main two characters. The book ends with a lot of unanswered questions and I am interested to see how the author resolves them. There are a number of interesting twists in The Silverleaf Chronicle and so I would expect there to be more in future books. I think that in hindsight the book was probably more targeted at a YA audience, which might explain some of my perceived shortcomings in the book.

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

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I was a huge Zelazny fan when I was younger and read a great deal of his work. I even went so far as to stand in line at the old Recycle Books in San Jose to get an autographed copy of Nine Princes in Amber. He crossed genres easily and I felt then and now that much of his work was way ahead of its time. So when I came across a copy of Jack of Shadows at a garage sale I snapped it up.

I had read the book decades ago but only had a faint memory of it, and a vague feeling of uneasiness about it. I could not put my finger on why prior to reading it and am still not sure why afterwards but I believe I have a better idea why now.

The world that it is set in is an earth that basically does not rotate. Half is always in sunlight and half in darkness. In the light section there is science and a mechanical world. In the dark there are ruling powers that have powerful magic at their command. The dark side keeps a shield in the sky that keeps the world as it is with magic while the daysiders have a mechanical shield. The people in the sun have souls and the people in the dark are immortal and will be reborn if killed. At the edge of these two areas is Shadow, an area that the titular figure inhabits, and where his power comes from. The world had a Dying Earth feel to it, but it is obvious that Jack Vance’s books were not an inspiration. You also get hints (in hindsight) of the powers and characters that will his Amber series, especially Corwin.

I really enjoyed the reread but I could clearly see why I had the unease when I was younger. When you are introduced to Jack, he is a cool character, just a master thief planning a job. When the plan goes off the rails he ends up struggling to survive (after being executed) and vows vengeance on all that have wronged him. And he brings off the vengeance with a flourish. At this time he becomes an unlikable character. His mistakes and arrogance start compounding problems and he has to take drastic measures to try and salvage the situation.

I think what had upset me was that when I read this, back when it was originally published, all of the heroes in books that I followed were basically good. Even a character like Conan, who off the pages looted, robbed and raped, was a chivalrous, almost do-gooder in the stories. Jack somewhat redeems himself, but not really. I think I was unprepared for a character like this at the time, and to a degree I still find it unsettling. Not that he did not reform but rather because I still somewhat liked him.

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I think that since I really enjoy Zelazny’s writing style and the imagery that he presents it is time to revisit other books that he has written. I think that Lord of Light, which won the Hugo in 1968, will be on my need to read soon list.

Fables of Ismeddin by E.Hoffman Price

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I have a friend who is a huge fan of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle of writers and after discussing recent books we had read I recommended Karl Wagner to him and his counter recommendation was Edgar Hoffman Price, who had cowritten a story with Lovecraft.

Another Golden Age writer I have never heard of and one that seemed very prolific. I looked at a number of his offerings online and decided on the Fables of Ismeddin MEGAPACK from Amazon. I was a bit worried that the stories might have a strong racist tinge to them as some of Lovecraft’s do. I did not find that to be so. In many of the stories there are no real ‘heros’ in that there is some evil in all, but often it is the westerner that is the worst, such as in Well of the Angels.

There are a number of reoccurring characters and story styles, starting with the title character Ismeddin, a Kurdish holy man that is called a Darvish, an alternate spelling for dervish. Ismeddin is only in about half of the tales but is an interesting character.

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Crafty, devout, wise, versed in ancient lore and an apparent practitioner of magic he is an interesting contradiction. He is also at times a caravan raider, horse thief, guide, advisor to travelers and Amirs as well as a man that deals with the devil. While looking down on the ruling class he often helps them maintain their thrones even when they are obviously cruel and corrupt.

Another reoccurring character is Bint el Hereth or Bint el Kafir, the daughter of Satan, a immortal seductress who entices men to their doom in a way that many men might be willing to follow. You will have to judge for yourself if she is evil or not.

There are a few historical fiction tales and several that does not feature Ismeddin and have westerners as their main focus. At first I was disappointed in this but a number of them are good tales.

I really enjoyed the stories and believe that they aged very well. A couple that stood out for me were Ismeddin and the Holy Carpet and the Girl from Samarcand, for very different reasons. The first shows the cleverness and resourcefulness of Ismeddin, and how quickly he can adjust to unexpected circumstances. The other, almost a ghost story, has a lot to say about day dreaming as well as the importance of hearing an entire conversation.

The stories reminded me in a way of a number of Robert E. Howard’s short stories set in the same area but there are major differences. The first is simply the era. Howard’s tales are mostly around the Crusades while Hoffman’s are primarily around the start of the 20th Century. Another major issue is that the hero in Howard’s stories are all European, while Hoffman’s are Kurds, Persians, Afgans and others from the nations around the Levant.

Hoffman wrote in a number of genres and there is both a Fantasy & Science Fiction as well as a Two Fisted Detective MEGAPACKS available that I will probably invest a buck on in the future. I wonder if his stories in those genres holds up as well?

The Edmund Hamilton Megapack: 16 Classic Science Fiction Tales

spaceship

I loved pulp science fiction when I was younger. I read Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s, edited by Isaac Asimov, as well as several other anthologies from that and subsequent eras in High School.  They had everything a young kid could want, space ships, atomic guns, little green men, monsters with one eye and fifty arms, brave men and women who needed saving.

Nowadays, for the most part, it has changed a lot. The technology is much more advanced, and it seems more reality based. Alien cultures are much more varied and nuanced and in many cases much more frightening than early authors ever imagined. Women are increasingly being portrayed as the star, saving the day for everyone, and for that matter women have become noted authors as well. Reading modern space novels often makes older books seem childish by comparison.

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However a few days ago I was looking at a list of eagerly awaited science fiction books for April on The Verge  and came across an interesting entry. It was about a book entitled Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele. It said it was based on a series of pulp Sci-Fi novels focused on a character named Captain Future primarily authored by Edmond Hamilton, and written with the permission of the Hamilton estate. I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, even after reading his bio and with the strong possibility that I could have very well have read him years ago. I went and made my favorite Amazon purchases, a 99 cent MegaPack, this time of his writing.

avengers

Naturally the stories had a very dated feel to them, but some worked and some did not.

In a couple of his stories such as  Door into Infinity and The Legion of Lazarus he uses odd phrasing, as the stories went along his writing seemed to get stronger but he still had the odd turn of phrase. A person that is knocked unconscious is in ‘stygian obscurity” and another person’s hands are “lax in their lap”, another’s eyes were like “burnished crumbs.”

Some of them read like 1950’s sci-fi movie scripts. The City at World’s End about the town sent millions of years into the future due to a super atomic blast certainly did. Afraid of the people from the future (the present really) the simple townspeople are willing to take up weapons in order to protect their way of life, one that is over and the only reason they are alive is because of advanced technology. This is one that did not age well.

Some did, when taken in context. Blasters firing, odd alien parasites, space pirates and ulterior motives in The Stars, My Brothers was good fun although the thought that an heiress would fall for the man that just put her life in deadly peril seems a bit farfetched. But the hero always seems to get the woman in these stories.

I am not sure if the stories in the MegaPack are in the same order in which they were written, but they felt like it. I found the early ones to be far inferior to the later.  The early space stories particularly seemed dated even for the time in which they were written.

The later stories including The Man who Evolved, and Devolution, about where mankind came from, all were very good and I could really seeing them as being forward thinking in their day. He seemed to find his stride in later stories and they were much more readable and interesting, and cover more than just Sci-Fi, such as his The Monster-God of Mamurth that takes place in Africa and The Man who saw the Future that takes place in France and are more fantasy than Sci-Fi.

One thing that stand out, and not in a positive way, is how women are portrayed. Just like in movies where they fall when fleeing a slow moving mummy, woman are frail sorts, with the possible exception of the one in Corridors of the Stars. While she is capable of knocking a man out with a single blow, she is also referred to as a ‘piece’ and other derogatory descriptions. That is the one real standout example, but in the rest of the stories the woman always fall for the man, who is always right.

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The odd thing is that one of the reasons that I read the book was to get an idea about the Captain Future books. I guess I should have looked at the synopsis better because there were no short stories in which that character stared. I am always a sucker for serial books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and Pellucidar series, or even Doc Savage by Lester Dent et al, I always like them as late night comfort reading when I really do not want to think. After the first few stories I enjoyed the stories and will look for a Captain Future book to see what that is like.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames

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Sometimes it is the oddest things that draw you to a new book, and in this case it was the tag line The Boys are Back in Town. It made me think of Thin Lizzy (intentionally) and so I took a closer look at Kings of the Wyld, and the play on words to imply a rock band was clearly intentional, as is the line “It’s time to get the band back together.”

The book is about a mercenary band called Saga, which broke up more than a decade earlier, when it was the greatest band in the land. One of the members, former lead man Golden Gabe shows up at another band member Clay Cooper’s front door needing his aid in saving Gabe’s daughter, in part by reuniting their band. Lots of danger is involved, band has not talked in years, long hopeless trek; everything you would expect, at least on the surface. They gather the other members, Magic Moog, Matty Skulldrummer and Ganelon. All have aged and no longer have quite the reflexes, stamina and waistline that they once had. Aside from Ganelon who had been turned to stone, that is.

Now the mercenary bands are not like those seen in most fantasy novels. First off they are small, usually five members or so, some larger. They also do not align with nations going to war. Rather they use ‘Bookers” to get gigs cleaning out monsters from location after location. They also have a bard that can chronicle their deeds and immortalize them in song. Oddly, Saga’s bards all die. Sound familiar?

Bands have changed in the years since Saga retired. No longer playing small jobs in the sticks they now play major arenas in the larger towns. Bands often use makeup and precede performances with flashy displays. They often fight caged monsters rather than venture into the forest to fight them.

The book has the most varied animal bestiary than any I can remember. The country that they live in has a huge forest called the Heartwyld bisecting it that is home to all of the monsters. Sometimes bands tour the forest gaining glory and looking for artifacts from an almost vanished civilization.  There are many that I recognize, with trolls, ogres, giants, imps, kobolds, ettins, and others but also many I had never heard of before.

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There is a strong rock theme that permeates the entire book. Lyrics and partial lyrics are used, band names sound a lot like modern bands and other names carefully placed to imply songs or bands. There is a ship called Dark Star, Cooper’s nickname is Slowhand, a Syd Barrett, Neil the Young and many more inhabit the pages. However Eames never overplays it. If you were completely unaware of Rock you would most likely not even notice. It is just an interesting and often funny undercurrent to the book. One of Saga’s members is named Ganelon, which I am sure is a tip of the hat to the character by that name in The Song of Roland.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. Good characters and a wide variety of them. Very clear cut personalities and different reasons for their activities. The monsters were not all mindless hordes. You find that an Ettin can be kind and thoughtful and that cannibals like sweets. The humor is omnipresence but done with a nice light touch, often exemplified in the magic. Magic does not always work, and sometimes in strange ways. Another item that I liked was a good map. So often it looks like they asked a third grader to make a map with very vague landmasses and city locations.

I often get the feeling when reading both Sci-fi and Fantasy that the authors take the subject a bit too seriously; The Kings of the Wyld is the opposite. It uses clichés but smiles and laughs at them rather than pretend that it is the first time some type of event has happened in that type of literature. This is obviously the first in a series, hence the Band #1 subtitle, and it looks like the subsequent books will focus on solo careers of the members, and most likely involve the children of the existing members. Well them and the possible rebirth of a demi-goddess who quite likely is insane and might not like the role the band has played in the destruction of her family.

I found this to be a great debut novel. It was not the greatest Fantasy novel I have ever read, or the funniest take on a genre but it was by far the greatest combination of the two that I can think of. I am really looking forward to seeing what direction Eames takes the future books.

Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne

perilous

 

Chapel Perilous does not count as a book review since it is just a short story that falls within Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. I have read the first book in the series Hounded, and greatly enjoyed it and when I found the short story on line I downloaded it and then of course waited months to read it.

The basics of the books follow Atticus O’Sullivan, a 2,000 year old druid, the last of his kind. He has survived the Roman persecution of druids as well as the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to stamp out hearsay in his long lifetime. He lives in modern Tempe, Az. running a small tea shop/occult store. The Irish Pantheon of gods is alive and still active. So are all of the other pantheons, Roman, Greek, Chinese and variations of them.

On the face of it this is not the type of tale that would appeal to me. Aside from the gods there are witches, werewolves, giants and a host of other mythical creatures. But Hearne really makes it work and the books are interesting, fast paced, humorous and educational. I knew nothing about Irish folklore and would look up each mention and found that he has done a great job bringing these ancient stories to life. There are a few issues I felt. The title character is a bit too good looking, clever, powerful etc… Everything seems too easy for Atticus as well. But I suspect that is part of this genre as a whole.

Anyway in Chapel Perilous, the story revolves around the search for an artifact of the Irish gods called Dagda’s Cauldron, something which in later years would become in stories the Holy Grail. Atticus, who is being pursued by an angry Irish god (although he does not appear in this book) is asked by Ogma, another god, to retrieve the grail, in return for a favor. However in this adventure Atticus uses the name Gawain as an alias, which is how the whole grail story starts. If you are a fan of Le Morte d’Arthur you should be forewarned that it does not really have the same plot.

monty
Not your traditional Grail story

This is a short, (30+ pages) story and a great introduction to the Iron Druid series. It should be noted that the telling takes place sometime after the first few books although the events are hundreds of years earlier, so keep that in mind if you like it and go out and read Hounded.