My first substantial introduction to the world of Magic the Gathering was through the comics written by Matt Forbeck for IDW Publishing. They introduced me to the planeswalker thief Dack Fayden through some really fun adventures across the Multiverse. Since then, I’ve taken up the game itself, and now I play fairly regularly and follow tournament coverage as well. Naturally, my interests would also lead me to other Magic fiction, specifically the novels, and I’ve read a few of them in the last couple of years, the most recent being Cory J. Herndon’s Ravnica: City of Guilds.
The first of the Ravnica Cycle trilogy, this novel follows a lieutenant of the League of Wojek, Agrus Kos, as he undertakes a murder investigation that draws him into a conspiracy that will shake up the entire world of Ravnica. As a fan of the setting, I really appreciated Herndon’s detailed descriptions of Ravnica and its many citizens, which really helped to bring the world alive in my mind. I’m not familiar with any of the characters here, but that’s the thing about Ravnica: City of Guilds, you don’t have to know anything about Magic the Gathering to enjoy it, though that does help.
It has been a while since I’ve done any reviews, largely due to the fact that I’ve barely read 10-12 novels in the last one year or so. Far cry from my regular 9-11 books a month before that. Just been a long period of “don’t really care, just want time off, too much work, ugh” and so on. Getting back into reading hasn’t exactly been easy since it is as if my reading mojo is gone. But thankfully, I’ve started to turn it around of late, and one of the books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently is Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves.
Black Wolves is the first novel in the trilogy of the same name. It follows a multitude of characters in a (low) fantasy setting and deals with the ruthless politics of a kingdom forged by the sword and inherited by weaker successors where the loyalties of good men and women are commodities. It is a very different kind of novel than I usually read, but I have a fair amount of experience with Kate’s diverse works, and Black Wolves doesn’t disappoint. It is a fun and entertaining read, though it could have used some trimming here and there to be a bit more brief.
Author Bradley P. Beaulieu is one of my favourite writers in recent years, thanks to his 2012 debut The Winds of Khalakovo from Night Shade Publishing. It was a pretty good year for the publisher, and we got lots of great debuts at the time, not the least of which was this incredible Russian-esque fantasy from Brad, which told an epic struggle between several noble families navigating the politics of the land. It was a very refreshing read for someone like me who grew up reading the more traditional fantasy settings, and Brad’s style in particular was one of the selling points as well. I have yet to read the third and final novel in the trilogy but after having just read Brad’s latest, I certainly itch to read more of his work, so soon perhaps.
Twelve Kings In Sharakhai is the first novel in Brad’s new series, The Song of The Shattered Sands. It is a very different novel in almost all sorts of ways, and that distinction certainly helps in the enjoyment of the book, though that is by no means the only thing. The setting is far grander this time, I think, for it deals with the past having an effect on the present and what that can mean to the future. The sins of old come to bite back, and it is up to a young girl named Çedamihn to challenge the authority of the Twelve Kings and have her vengeance on those who have wronged her and her family.
Towards the end of last year, Jean Johnson brought her Theirs Not To Reason Why military space opera series to a close in a grand fashion with Damnation, the fifth and final novel in the series. In this series, she introduced an amazingly detailed setting where our hero was a psychic soldier who takes on the entire known galaxy and reshapes it to battle a menace that no one else could even fathom. It was a fantastic series and by the time I was done reading it, I wanted to read more. But the series was done, and all that was left was the promise from Jean that this year we would go back in time to the First Salik War, the interstellar conflict that put Earth on the big stage and which ultimately segued into the events of Theirs Not To Reason Why.
The hero of The Terrans is a former regional politician named Jacaranda MacKenzie who is selected to be the political ambassador of humanity’s first deep foray into the rest of the galaxy, as the United Planets Space Force launches a massive first contact project on the back of several precognitive visions experienced by numerous powerful psychics. Yep, psychics affirming a first contact mission. We know from Jean’s previous series that this setting is populated by numerous psychics of various abilities, and that is something that she does a great job of in this new series, introducing us to many of the pros and cons of such people, especially within the context of a first contact mission.
As I have said before, my “25 Series To Read In 201x” reading challenge is meant to allow me to touch base with trilogies (and longer series) that are out in publication currently and have proven to be big successes while also going back to read some classics, especially a few favourites that I have not revisited in the longest time. For this year’s challenge, one of the series that found its way to my list is the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, a trilogy that stands as one of the best fantasy series I’ve read to date, for far too many reasons. And going back to it last month proved to be a blast.
The Empire trilogy is set on the world of Kelewan in the Empire of Tsuranuanni. In his Riftwar Saga trilogy, Raymond introduced us to the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan which became locked in a grand war across time and space. In this particular trilogy with Janny, he tells us of the events happening on the other side of the conflict, as the Riftwar novels mostly focus on Midkemia. The books focus on young Mara of the Acoma, the last scion of her family as she struggles to rebuild her family’s fortunes and carves out her own political identity in a world of strict social mores and ruthlessly cunning rivals.
A new year means a new reading challenge of the “25 Series I Want To Read” variety. You can find a list of authors and series (the original post for the challenge that is) over here. In the past two years that I’ve been doing this, I kinda-sorta completed the challenge in 2013, and I definitely completed it last year. It is a really fun challenge to do, and allows me to pick and choose from a wide variety of genre greats and genre debuts (relatively speaking), which is one of the many reasons that I do it all. Plus, as a consequence, it also exposes me to a wider variety of fiction out there and gets me to connect with it all on a very different level, even series that I’ve read before becoming a blogger.
One of the first books I’ve read this year is the first Planeswalker novel for the Magic the Gathering setting from Wizards of the Coast, Agents of Artifice. This is pretty much an intro novel to the setting, and it definitely has a lot of typical Ari Marmell flavour, which I’ve experienced before in his Widdershins novels from Pyr Books, as well as his Darksiders novel from Del Rey. Following the Planeswalkers Jace Beleren and Liliana Vess, this novel explores the wonderful plane of Ravnica and is a fairly good read, though not without its flaws.
Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series was a part of my 25-in-14 reading challenge where I attempted to, and succeeded in, reading at least the first novels in 25 different series, across a multitude of genres. Reading Dauntless proved to be quite a fun experience actually because I went in expecting some serious military SF, and the experience was much different to that expectation. It had some nice hard-SF elements to it, but they were sufficiently explained for a layman and the writer kept his focus on the characters and the story itself.
Fearless is the second novel in the series and carries on over from the events at the end of Dauntless with Captain John “Black Jack” Geary and his ragtag Alliance fleet scoring a resounding victory against the Syndics. It was definitely a great moment to end the novel on and Jack Campbell ups the stakes and everything else in the sequel. John has been fighting for unity and discipline and cooperation between the various ships of the fleet since he took over, massively disadvantaged in a lot of ways, and Fearless is just another major test for him as he continues to lead the fleet out of the Syndic Worlds and back home to the Alliance.
Garrosh Hellscream is perhaps one of World of WarCraft‘s most contentious characters. Introduced as part of a quest line that eventually saw the Orcs of Outland reuniting with their brothers and sisters on Azeroth, he is the son of Grom Hellscream, he who first partook of the Pit-Lord Mannoroth’s blood and paved the way for the curse of his race. And yet, he is also the son of Grom Hellscream, he who avenged his people on Mannoroth by slaying the demon. Garrosh has been torn between two extremes since we first saw him and in recent years, as he took on the mantle of Warchief from Thrall, he has slid further and further into his own games and illusions, leading to one of the most momentous moments in World of WarCraft history.
For towards the end of the Mists of Pandaria expansion, players were witness and participants to a raid on Orgrimmar itself, whether they were from the Horde or the Alliance, in a bit to stop Garrosh in another of his apocalyptic schemes. The insane Warchief was defeated and would have died at Thrall’s hand but for the intervention of none other than King Varian Wrynn. And now, in Mists of Pandaria: War Crimes, we are all witness to Garrosh’s trial, an unprecedented event that draws in all the leaders of Azeroth’s various races to Pandaria. Christie Golden recaps much of her previous WarCraft work in this novel, and goes to show that Garrosh is a far more complex than anyone believed him to be, and that contradictions are in his very nature. Needless to say, this was a most fascinating read.
Doing one of these posts often takes a lot out of me because of all the linking and checking and verification and formatting and everything, but lists like this also help me crystalize my year in reading, so I value them quite highly. Thankfully, I’m able to get this list out in time and most of the books on the list have already been reviewed as well, so that’s something too.
With the year 2014 now done and over, it is time to do the first of my “Best of the Year” posts, for the period 1st July to December 31st. I didn’t read as many books this time as I wanted to, primarily because I got married in the first week of July itself, and things have changed a fair bit. But life remains exciting and interesting in equal measure, and my reading also happens to match that rather closely, so I’ll take that in full indeed!
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
Anthony Reynolds has been writing for Black Library for quite a good while now. I first came across him with his Word Bearers novels, which proved to be a most fascinating and weird read, and then continued on with some of his other work as he branched out of writing Word Bearers for 40K and delivered some occasional Horus Heresy stuff as well. I haven’t checked out his Warhammer Fantasy stuff however outside of a novella he did a few years back, The Questing Knight, which proved to be a good decent read. But, he hasn’t had a full novel published in a while, I don’t think, which was slightly disappointing as I consider him to be one of the better writers writing for Black Library.
And then came Khârn: Eater of Worlds, a post-Horus Heresy novel that looks at how the XIIth Legiones Astartes, the World Eaters, are degrading down into warbands, how the Legion has changed in the aftermath of the failed Siege of Terra, and the other changes affecting it now that Angron has gone and become a mighty Daemon Prince of Khorne, leaving them all behind to do whatever it is they will. Anthony writes a pretty typical World Eaters novel, with all the gory violence you’d expect from it, and it also presents some intriguing characters, especially Khârn himself, the most infamous World Eater character ever, and also a major lore character. Suffice to say, I loved this novel.
I didn’t find out until quite late that because of narrative reasons, Jean Johnson had split the fourth and final novel in her fantastic Theirs Not To Reason Why series into two novels, Hardship and Damnation. Not until a few weeks back when I finally got around to reading Hardship that is. And finishing that short-ish novel, I wanted to read the final book as soon as I could, since I love the series a LOT and because the way that Jean ended Hardship, I knew that whatever was next for Ia, it was going to something big, big, BIG. And it was.
Damnation brings to a close a grand saga that Jean kicked off a few years ago with A Soldier’s Duty, the first novel in the series. The end of the Second Salik War is around the corner, and while the frogtopi aren’t going out without a fight, they are definitely on the out and out here. But the Salik aren’t the only antagonists at large for the galaxy’s greatest psychic, since the ancient Greys are also coming back and Ia has to end both wars in such a way that when an even more ancient hostile race comes to the galaxy, the legacy she leaves behind is going to be enough to give the entire galaxy a fighting chance against them. And I’ll also mention here that despite all the different scenarios I had come up with for how Damnation would end, I still got a nice jolt of surprise on the final pages.
Mists of Pandaria is the World of WarCraft expansion prior to the current one, Warlords of Draenor, and is one that I’ve played for only a very, very small while. About a year and a half back or so I got some free-time from Blizzard and was allowed to play one level up so that I could be enticed into purchasing the full thing. It proved to be a great experience, but I was unable to go back. But I do remember the first zone being quite a good one, and the quests were indeed great too. I always get this immense sense of nostalgia when I play the game on free-time, knowing that I won’t be able to play it properly at level, but then, that’s why I read the novels, to make up for that.
Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde is set in the opening stages of Mists of Pandaria and it has Garrosh betray the Troll leader, knocking down one of his many opponents in the Horde. From there on, we see how Vol’jin recovers at the Pandaren Shado-Pan Monastery under the supervision of his friend Chen Stormstout and how he defends this new land against its enemies, enemies which include the returned mogu, ancient enemies and slave-masters of the Pandaren, and also a resurgent Zandalari Troll Empire. It is a fairly good story, but there were definitely some parts where I think the story dragged on and on and dropped down into the tedium of connecting to the larger story of World of WarCraft.