Season 4 of HBO’s television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic (political) fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire began on an interesting note. The previous season had ended on a very grim note as yet another player in the War of the Five Kings was brutally murdered, and the reign of his family and its political prospects all came crashing down. Now, the Starks are no more and the Lannisters are preeminent since they have a King on the throne who is about to be married, they have a Master of the Coin and a King’s Hand of the family, and they are about to have their Regent-Queen married off as well to further secure their power. But that’s not all that’s happening in Westeros since there is still Stannis Baratheon and his armies, along with Houses Greyjoy and Bolton, and more players yet in the ultimate game of power.
Where the first episode of the new season was meant to touch base with many of these characters, the second episode this Sunday went further and turned out a pretty damn amazing story that saw an end to a character I’ve long hated. Very cathartic I tell you. At the same time, we finally touch base with what the Boltons are doing following their betrayals last season and what has become of their… prisoner. Plus we see Bran Stark and the Reeds again, in a rather scary sequence altogether. The new episode lacked some excitement in the first half, but the second half was pretty good, if strung out a little.
Last year in January we had the first Gotrek & Felix novel after a gap of several long years. The series started off as short stories by William King that were eventually collected into a novel and became a trilogy, then a double trilogy and so on. Eventually, when William King left, Nathan Long was brought in and he enjoyed a good long run as well. But then the series lapsed and all we had for a while were more short stories and even some novellas, although they were primarily written by a new incoming group of authors. It was good stuff. But what we really needed was a full novel, and that’s what Josh Reynolds’ Road of Skulls did.
The new Gotrek & Felix novels, whether those written by Josh Reynolds or David Guymer, are set out of continuity, which means that they are not part of the main series and are set somewhere in between those adventures already published. Road of Skulls, the first in his new set of novels, was an absolute fantastic read and reminded me of why I loved the series in the first place. And now we have the third novel, The Serpent Queen, and it is every bit as good. It features some more out-of-continuity adventures but sets them in the Southlands, in the homelands of the Lizardmen and we see a conflict between Tomb Kings and Vampires. Pretty superb right out of the gate.
Three years ago, HBO changed the course of science fiction and fantasy programming with its television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, bringing A Game of Thrones to people’s screens. The books had long enjoyed a decent popularity but with the television adaptation, things suddenly kicked into high gear. For a series that had been called unfilmable, HBO seems to have done alright, and now the show is in its fourth season as of this past Sunday evening, bringing the ostensibly second half of the third book to the screen, and it exemplifies both the best and the worst of the show (and the books).
I’ve never read any of the books, nor do I have any inclination to. They are simply too humongous, and when I tried to read the first book, I lost interest somewhere before the half-mark. Plus it takes Martin 4-6 years to write a book, and I just don’t have that kind of patience. So the television show it is, which I’ve been watching since it premiered. The new season and its premiere take us back to Westeros, but a changed Westeros, where the Starks as a family are no more and the Lannisters are ascendant. The deadly dance for ultimate power continues and we touch base with a significant number of characters, to learn what they have been up to, and how they’ve all changed.
As I mentioned in a post a few days back, Shadowhawk’s Shade is now three years old, although it wasn’t called that when the blog started up, and it has gone through a fair few iterations since then. But Shadowhawk’s Shade is what this blog is now and that is what matters. Celebrating the third blogversary is obviously an important step.
And as I mentioned about an hour or so ago on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve joined with my friend Sally who runs The Qwillery, one of the best genre blogs out there and one that you should most definitely be following, to do a giveaway as part of an involved celebration. So head on over to her blog and check out what’s what. The link is here.
There are four books up for grabs. You get to pick one. Once the giveaway ends, a winner will be picked (open internationally!), and the winner can choose the book. The books being offered are:
- Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells
- A Soldier’s Duty by Jean Johnson
- Gotrek & Felix: Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds
- Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell
Do check out the Qwillery post!
So ends another Time of Legends trilogy. C. L. Werner’s Black Plague is part of the second wave of trilogies that are part of the overall Time of Legends brand, trilogies that tell the tales of some of the greatest events in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles lore, such as the Fall of the Elves in Gav Thorpe’s The Sundering or the rise of Sigmar in Graham McNeill’s Legends of Sigmar. With his first two books in this trilogy, Herr Werner did something that hadn’t quite been there in other Warhammer novels, fantasy with a strong and intense political edge. This is what I loved best about the first novel Dead Winter and with the second novel Blighted Empire.
In the final novel, released a short while ago, Herr Werner took things further and he really established Black Plague as one of the finest trilogies in Warhammer. The action is superb. The characterisation is superb. The handling of all the different characters and the betrayals and alliances is superb. I honestly could not have asked for more on that front. Wolf of Sigmar went in some unexpected directions and since I’m not all that conversant with Warhammer lore, it proved to be a very satisfying read indeed.
Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which is the first book in his flintlock military fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns, is one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far. It presents a bold new world, adds to the flintlock fantasy genre, and has some great characters, not to mention a great story of course. With the sequel, The Shadow Throne, supposed to be coming later this year in late summer, the wait to get back into this world is long of course, but fortunately I had a short story to tide me over. Released last year (on both Amazon and still available for free on geek site io9), the short story presents some new characters, but adds to the overall setting, and that is the charm of it.
In The Penitent Damnedi, we meet Alex, a thief in the Vordanai capital Vordan City. She is a completely different character to those that I read about in The Thousand Names, but she is no less impressive than either of them. She has some… special abilities, entirely fitting with the world that Django created in The Thousand Names, and the use of these powers and what follows from there is the driving force behind this short story. And we see some more, bigger, characters too, such as the Last Duke, who was a major behind-the-scenes villain of The Thousand Names. So, the setup for this story is pretty good!
As far back as I can remember, the first video game that I owned, good and proper, was the Game of The Year edition of WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness. An elder cousin, on holiday from college in US, got me the game and I was hooked on it immediately. It was my first real taste of a fantasy game like this. I finished both campaigns, Human and Orc, in short order (a few weeks or something), and spent several weeks playing the various maps and stuff. It was awesome. Eventually I played the other games too, and then came World of WarCraft in my senior year of college. And it was magnificent. I was exposed to a type of game I hadn’t imagined before, and it was glorious. And I played a paladin as my main, first as a healer, then as dps, then tank, and then whatever I wanted.
In all of this though, I didn’t read a WarCraft novel until quite late. A friend in college loaned me The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb. Knowing what I did from the days playing the original WarCraft and then WarCraft II, it was an enthralling book and I loved it. Soon after, I read Christie Golden’s The Rise of The Horde, which stands as one of my favourite fantasy novels to date. Others have followed so far and recently I got the chance to read Christie’s The Shattering, which serves as a prelude to the events of the World of WarCraft expansion Cataclysm. And I think Christie has another hit on her hands with this. I loved this almost as much as I loved The Rise of The Horde and The Last Guardian.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I found out that one of my favourite Black Library authors, William King, had been on an extended sabbatical from writing anything for the publisher, and that he had spent time working on and developing his own original series, The Terrarch Chronicles. And it wasn’t until 2012 that I finally read the first book in the series, Death’s Angels. It was a pretty damn good and fun fantasy romp, doing a new take on the typical elf-human relationships within epic fantasy. And it was packed with all the typical William King fun that you’d expect, which was a huge bonus.
However, it wasn’t until January this year that I got around to reading the sequel, The Serpent Tower. And reading the novel made me realise just what it was that I was missing. Because the second novel is every bit as good as the first. In fact, it is quite a bit better! It avoids all the typical “mistakes” of a second novel, the so-called “sophomore slump”, and it is a fun and enjoyable novel to read from start to finish. It also helps that Bill significantly ups the ante, and explores more of this world that he built up in Death’s Angels, and showed a much more awe-inspiring side of it.
Django is one of the authors that I discovered through Twitter. And I meant to read his debut last year itself, but didn’t really get a chance to do that. Which is why The Thousand Names is one of the first books that I read this year. I’d long been interested in it, especially given the premise and since it had been getting a lot of positive buzz in the part of the blogosphere that I frequent. And that’s actually quite important to me. If my friends like something, then I am much more liable to check it out, just because of all that buzz.
And with The Thousand Names, the first in Django’s The Shadow Campaigns series, I was quite impressed with it. I’ve been noticing, among all the debuts I’ve been reading in the last two years, that the quality is often quite high indeed. Some really talented authors are making themselves known and I feel really excited to say that Django is right up there too. The Thousand Names is easily one of the best novels that I’ve read since becoming a reviewer and thinking about books and stuff critically. So that’s quite an achievement on a personal level, all things considering.