Review: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1886778744
ISBN 13: 9781886778740
Published: 1989
Pages: 318
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We join them close to where we left them in Borders of Infinity – Miles has returned to his Barrayan job in order to tidy things up with his Dendarii and do a stint as being ordinary Vor Miles again. This involves reporting in to Simon and requesting funds to cover wages, supplies and most importantly, repairs their ship suffered in the recent battle. This is Miles though, and things are never that easy.

He’s happened to have to report in to Earth, to Captain Duv Galeni, a man who 1. hasn’t been briefed on Miles’s two identities, 2. doesn’t understand the need for the Dendarii and assumes it’s yet another ‘Vor thing’ where Miles has only got where he is thanks to his father, and, 3. has a bit of an issue with that considering his own background. Komarran. And considering the war that no one can forget and the fact he’s had to fight everything and everyone for his chance to get where he is… Oh, and, of course the fact that Miles’ father ‘the Butcher of Komarr’ is likely the one who killed his own father… well. He’s pretty civil, considering. Just bitter.

Requests have to be manually jumped through wormholes in order for one part of space to contact another, so it’s ten days between message to Simon and back to Galeni in order for the requested funds to come through. Considering the requested funds are to the tune of eighteen million marks, which is ‘more than ten times to budget for this entire embassy for a year’ this does nothing to invoke anything less than passive aggressive remarks, but he follows through. And then for a second time, when the funds are missing from the first response.

From here it’s a rollercoaster of spoilery-emotions. There’s a big reveal in this one that gives the book its title, but what’s interesting in this is how it’s handled. We have Miles, who is referred to as a mutant for all his health defects, and he’s come to terms with this all years ago. We see discussion of him and why his parents have never had any other children, more discussion on Barrayar and their thoughts on how fit he is in all senses of the word… and more that you can see in the upcoming discussion with Tsana.

Overall, this was an excellent piece of work, and I really hope we get to see all of these characters (Galeni and Mark mainly) much more, very soon.

#SPFBO – The Transit Room

From here will be continued reviews of novels that unfortunately didn’t quite make it through further to the review stage.

The Girl Called Dust by V.B. Marlowe

Arden is the black sheep of the family as well as her school. She’s a loner, makes her own clothes, doesn’t like chocolate or cookies, and is pretty much the opposite of the popular crowd – which includes her mother and younger sister.

Then she witnesses a boy get hit by a bus and run away just fine, a boy who can heal, who says he’s different, just like she is. Arden assesses each place she enters and categorises the ways she can die every time.

While this has an interesting premise the writing unfortunately let it down. The language and ways the characters are described is both forced and below the level we’re told Arden is, this would have been better suited to a primary school aged MC.

~

Arcana Zero by Aidan Meyer

Written in first person, we meet Alex, who is bound to do whatever the goddess of Chance asks of him. Full of a bad past, panic attacks, Alex has a pretty bad time of things and we follow him along as he tries to save people, fight, and so on.

Being written in first person, it rather slows down the action and violence, of which there is a fair bit of. We’re told and not shown pretty much everything through the book – partly because of being told in first person, and partly through being reminded quite often of what a bad life everyone has, full of struggles and so on… but you don’t really see it. You’re told of it constantly.

Overall, like the above book this book unfortunately suffers from the characters acting much younger than they’re supposed to be. Their angst and feeling betrayed at the world paints the characters at about 12-14yos – for a character who’s suffered through trauma, you really wouldn’t think they’d get upset over so little.

Harsh review, as it’s a little offensive to people who’ve seen some pretty horrible things, and it’s treated fairly cheaply here.

Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King #SPFBO

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B071FYSCZ2
ISBN: 0993003737
ISBN 13: 9780993003738
Published: June 2017
Pages: 380
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the another that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

Wynn has been given to a temple ‘just for a year’ in order to serve the priests – which turns out to be working in a backbreaking mine as they need to collect ores for various reasons. He’s constantly asking questions, constantly called an idiot, and we don’t really get to see much else of his personality in this pretty horrid place. Though everyone around him acts rough, they certainly help him out for some unexplained reason (heavy lifting, gentle explaining) and then are suddenly callous again. There’s a quota they have to meet else they’ll be lashed, there’s some terrifying ‘call’ in the deep black where they throw the waste rock, and their only chance at getting out of the mines is if they happen to show some slight talent – though where these chosen go to, no one is quite sure. We do of course learn this through Wynn, eventually.

The oppression and deep blackness of the mines and shafts certainly paints a picture. Wynn struggles to breathe, struggles to see, and is pretty much thrown in the deep end without much explanation of what they’re even mining for (well, he knows gold, but not how to seek it), or how any safety techniques may work to save his own life or those around him. There’s little to no hope in this world. This is effective shown rather than told, rather than Wynn’s personality and character which we’re told of often, and just simply rarely see anything contrary to the matter.

With Wynn (initially) in the mines, we also have a secondary main character, Kharios, who is above in the Temple, also a novice, apparently where all those in the mines aspire (or, like Wynn when he was given to the religion, expected to be when they first arrives). As their religion and gods somehow all revolves around the Forgefather, a lot of his novice duties revolve around learning smithery. Hence the mining.

Not that their gods have been heard of for a very long time.

As if the conditions aren’t bad enough both above and below, there is of course also rape and bullying, which made this book a pretty hard read at times. While it certainly felt realistic I’m not overly sure it was needed (or could have been alluded to) as it slowed down the plot and honestly just made you wonder why more of the novices didn’t just throw themselves off something tall much more often – there’s not exactly anything in their lives to look forward to.

This is set pretty firmly in the grimdark sub-genre, however while it hit that nail pretty well on the head and the writing was basically good (the pacing needed some work perhaps), this also felt like it doesn’t really go anywhere until the very last final bit of the book… and then it’s over.

This is a dark and brutal read, but well written and well delivered.

Review: The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel E. Olesen

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B01GCWII0I
ISBN: 8771700420
ISBN 13: 9788771700428
Published: May 2016
Pages: 500
Format reviewed: epub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the another semi-finalist book that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

After an unfortunately slow start we meet the King’s scribe, who is known as Quill. He has an apprentice, who listens in as a stranger meets his master, bringing sly news from Alcazar – once the stranger is gone, the Quill questions his apprentice through the information to teach the boy what it all means. He takes the fact of importing a lot of timber means war – for the king and his son have died, leaving a too-young grandson to rule, and this spirals the plot out for the entirety of the novel as we see conflict as various factions try to overthrow the new ruler.

The plot in this novel is its strongest element. Through war and ever-shifting political alignment the reader is taken through the world through many different point of view characters – and as a point of world building many of the characters of each house have very similar names, which does get a little confusing at times – and we see the plot unfolding through characters of both high and low birth.

The research and creation into the world itself is to be commended. You can see from the first chapter that a great deal of thought has gone into everything – the families and their histories, the land and each culture and religion, and once you reach the end of the book you have pages and pages of notes.

One of the weaker aspects of the novel were the characters. I was three quarters through the novel when I realised I still hadn’t connected or really cared for any of them, other than perhaps Egil (the Quill’s apprentice) – possibly because there’s not really any main or secondary leading characters. At times the plot moves quickly and before you know it you’re in the eyes of yet another character. Not necessarily a bad thing, but did, at times, make it very easy to put the book down.

Another point to make is the writing. It’s written with a fairly heavy archaic tone, which does suit the novel itself but again, makes it easy to put down if you have other books on hand to read. At times, you just can’t find the mood for a Tolkienesque novel, especially when it’s all war and characters that seem a little samey.

This is however a strong novel. It has a high degree of finish – I didn’t notice any typos, and you can tell it’s been edited well. The plot is faultless, the world building as I said is excellent, and the fight scenes and battles are easily described as you get such a strong feel for the lands. The characters themselves are decent, and I honestly wouldn’t know how myself to flesh them out as individuals without slowing down the novel when trying to include such a hefty number of POVs to tell the story – which does cover such a wide range of both land and individual personal vendettas and stakes that it is the right choice to make.

Overall, a strong contender.

Review: Toric’s Dagger by Jamie Edmundson

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B06ZYLDLFW
ISBN 13: 9781912221011
Published: May 2017
Pages: 324
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the another book that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

A heist story – yay! At least, this is how it starts, and unfortunately the most interesting writing is at the beginning. The heist scenario is over by about 10%, and from there we are taken to how the novel got its name – Toric’s Dagger, which is a religious relic and needs to be stolen. Stolen back, that is. I never really felt as though they had reason enough to be the ones who had to get it back. It’s a big world out there.

The world building itself felt decent. It felt like a big world that worked, had depth, where people came from a range of socioeconomic lives and it all made sense in the big scheme of things of how lives work.

Overall, however, the characters felt a little flat and seemed to speak the same, and rely on ‘exclaimed’ and ‘answered’ to get their point across. The main characters are a set of twins who can talk to each other mentally, and there’s also a split narrative following a couple of childhood friends (one the son of a landowner, and the other of course a son of a man who used to work those lands…) and their chapters at the start were honestly so boring I skim-read them. The twins however had a far more interesting plot line and was more of a joy to keep reading.

Small errors such as to ‘knock’ an arrow threw me out of the story, and gave the illusion of limited research. Fair enough if it’s a simple typo, however a reader can also assume the author doesn’t know much about archery.

Overall this was a readable book, but this sub-genre is written time and time again that when an author plays in this sandpit – it has to be good. And this was possibly at the middling level of the sub-genre.