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.
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s then you were at the forefront of the big boom in the video game industry when it comes to Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. There were some downright amazing games in those days in this genre, particularly Age of Empires, WarCraft, StarCraft, Command & Conquer, Homeworld and countless others. The mid-to-late 90s were a great time to be an RTS fan. Many of these games left a lasting impression on me, having to do with both story and gameplay, and I remember them all fondly. If there are two games here that particularly struck a chord with me however, those are WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness and the original Homeworld, and I’ve been a fan of both ever since I got my first copies of either, about 18 years for the former and 15 for the latter. Good lord, I feel old now.
My interest and fascination WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness eventually led to me becoming a near-die-hard World of WarCraft player, and I was absolutely stoked when news came out that the series would be getting a movie franchise. And that in itself has been a long, long journey. After many false starts, Warcraft: The Beginning is finally here and it is a movie that absolutely captures the heart and soul of the 22-year old franchise. One big caveat for any WarCraft fan is that the movie plays fast and loose with the established lore, and that there are some significant changes made for the cinematic audience, but if you look beyond that, then you see something that just totally fits the aesthetics of the overall franchise.
Note: This review contains some major spoilers for the movie, WarCraft: Orcs & Humans, and some of the concurrent novels, both old and new. Proceed at your own peril.
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.
It has been a good long while since we’ve had a Death Vigil release. Stjepan Sejic ended the sixth issue on a very grim note, with events heading completely downhill for the Vigil, especially Bernie, and it was a really, really bleak moment for the entire crew, especially once there was a betrayal from within. It was a grim story, but at the same time, a lot of Stjepan’s comic timing really made its presence felt as well, and that kept me chugging along. And it kept me foaming at the mouth for the next release, which was unfortunately delayed until recently.
Some personal problems for Stjepan meant that we didn’t get Death Vigil #7 until last week, and that too through his own blog rather than through the regular distribution. I won’t go into the specifics as they are kind of irrelevant to matters at hand, but suffice to say that the new issue is well worth the long wait since mid-January. Stjepan launches straight into the story and picks up the beats from where he left off, and the new issue proves to be one hell of a ride, keeping up a fine tradition that began in Death Vigil #1 last year.
Darkness Falls was meant to be one of the big moments for the Top Cow universe a while back, given everything that was going on in David Hine and Jeremy Haun’s The Darkness: Rebirth at the time, just about a little over 2 years ago. The build-up was definitely fantastic, but then plans got delayed for some reason, and so we never really got the follow-up to Hine and Haun’s big-moment finale of the second volume of the series, up until now, and in the pages of Witchblade no less.
White writer Ron Marz began a new arc on Witchblade with its #179th issue, issues #180 and #181 are devoted to the re-energized Darkness Falls: The Death of Jackie Estacado storyline. A confrontation between Sara and Jackie had been signposted for a good while in the pages of The Darkness: Rebirth so it was rather rewarding to see it all come about finally, even though it kind of felt as if the story didn’t get the execution it deserved and kind of fell a little flat as well. But things heated up rather nicely with the recent #182nd issue, which reverts back to the new arc that Ron Marz had started, and presents a few answers to a few mysteries already introduced.
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.
In December of last year, writer Michael Alan Nelson and artists Dan Mora and Gabriel Cassata kicked off the second arc of their smash-hit series Hexed with a new arc that develops on everything we were introduced to in the first half, such as the complicated relationships between the three main characters, and the mysteries that surround all of them. Deservedly, the fifth issue of the series was an all-star issue that hit the perfect note for me at the end of the year, and I expected the next few issues to be more of the same.
And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Issue #6 from last month builds on the concept of Lucifer being the Harlot’s heir, and Lady Cymbaline trying to use that to get a hold on her since she has a bitter enmity with the Harlot. Issue #7 then, in turn, builds upon some of the secrets that Val has kept from Lucifer to date, and it all becomes kind of a really interesting mess by the end. Great story, amazingly great art, that’s what you can expect from this seasoned team, and you will definitely not be left wanting.
Last month Dark Horse and Dynamite finally launched their collaborative new series, Conan/Red Sonja, which brings two of the biggest swords-and-sorcery heroes together once again. The first issue detailed the first meeting between the two of them, and it proved to be all-out fun, beating my expectations of the title, whether we talk about the story or the art. Collaborative projects can’t be easy to pull off but if Conan/Red Sonja is any indication, then things are going to go great for this series, which is great as far as I’m concerned.
Conan/Red Sonja #2 is the second meeting between the two titular heroes, and an interesting meet-up it is too. And more than just the titular heroes, we also have two of their greatest allies as well, Belit for Conan and Annisia for Sonja. The two sides meet together in a naval battle, and the story involves some really hard-hitting action from both sides while the art portrays that to the fullest. This issue is another example of the finest that you can expect from a creative team that includes the likes of Gail Simone, Jim Zub, Dan Panosian and Dave Stewart.
As part of the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of Dynamite publishing Red Sonja comics, the publisher last month launched a new series with the character, Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle, which explores the character when she is way past the prime of her life and has taken to opening an academy where young women are given weapons training and are prepared for war. The first issue was excellent, with Nancy A. Collins and Luke Lieberman displaying a great grasp of what makes the character who she is while artists Fritz Casas and Adriano Lucas nailing the visual feel of the book.
Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle #2 from this past week carries on from where the first issue left off and it deals with Sonja and her students bringing the priest Sefkh back to the Academy to question and interrogate him about the demon Sonja dealt with back in the city. Set’s son Sutekh has been let loose in the world and he has made war on the entire world, intent on bringing it all down and then offering it to his god-father. The writing here was even better than it had been in the first issue, and the art is pretty much on par, so I had a blast reading this issue as well.
Another week of a “Magic 40”, though no graphic novels.
This week’s surprise hits were Ivar, Timewalker #1 from Valiant, Mortal Kombat X #4 from DC, and Twilight Zone: Shadow And Substance #1 from Dynamite. The disappointments of the week were Spider-Woman #3 from Dynamite and Spider-Verse #2 and The Amazing Spider-Man #13 from Marvel and Vampirella: Feary Tales #4 from Dynamite. Ongoing greats were Wonder Woman ’77 #3 , The Flash: Season Zero #11 and Supergirl #38 from DC, Black Widow #14 and Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #4 from Marvel, and, Grimm Fairy Tales: Realm War #6 from Zenescope among others.