The third instalment in the hugely popular Gentleman Bastards series, this novel has been the subject of so much fevered anticipation in the six years since Scott Lynch left us with the cliffhanger of Locke’s fatal poisoning that disappointment seems almost inevitable. Since I didn’t read Red Seas Under Red Skies until earlier this year, my wait was shorter than most; just enough to make me excited for Book 3. So was I disappointed? Yes, maybe a little, but mostly Hell No! I’m not saying The Republic of Thieves is flawless—no book ever is—but I enjoyed it enough to rip through it in a week, despite it being a fairly ponderous tome (almost 600 pages in hardback).
N.B. I’ll try and avoid major spoilers, but a few minor ones are inevitable if I’m going to be able to discuss what I liked and didn’t like. Read more
Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man.
He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he’s only ever made one mistake.
One mistake, though, can be enough.
I first encountered K J Parker’s work last summer, when Sharps was released in paperback and ebook. I loved the combination of sardonic wit and understated worldbuilding, so when I discovered that Fantasy Faction had chosen another Parker standalone for their September book club choice, I couldn’t resist joining in.
At first I found it heavy going, even compared to Sharps. The protagonist, Basso, is a banker, and the early sections detail his rise to power as First Citizen of the Vesani Republic. Parker’s narrative style is very dry, often committing the cardinal sin of telling rather than showing, and yet the prose is so polished and Basso so compelling a character that the book drags you along in spite of yourself as you wonder what enormity he’s going to commit next. Both stylistically and plot-wise it reminded me a great deal of I, Claudius, with its cut-throat (sometimes literally!) politics in a world of senators and slaves.
As I mentioned above, I love Parker’s worldbuilding. There might not be any fantastical elements, but the history geek in me revels in all the real-world parallels. This book is clearly set in the same world as Sharps, but probably somewhat earlier; at any rate, it resembles an alternate history of the late Roman Empire, in that there is an Eastern Empire ranged against a motley collection of smaller states that resulted from the collapse of the Western Empire. The Vesani Republic itself resembles Venice: it relies almost entirely on trade, having little or no agricultural territory, and since the ruling class consists of merchants rather than knights, it hires mercenaries to fight on its behalf. It’s as if the Roman Empire dissolved gracefully instead of being overrun by barbarians, and thus went (politically) straight from the fourth century to the seventeenth without any pesky Middle Ages in-between!
My sole gripe with this book was the character of Basso’s sister. Admittedly he does something terrible to her and her family early on in the story, but her bitter hatred of him, and her resultant campaign to ruin his life in a myriad petty ways, started to grate eventually. On the other hand, Basso’s dogged love for her despite her enmity does serve to give him a touch of nobility to balance his other, less admirable qualities.
Back on Fantasy Faction, an issue that provoked much interesting debate was “what is Basso’s one mistake?” I won’t discuss that—or the metaphoric resonances of the title—here, for fear of spoilers. All I can say is that this book impressed the hell out of me, and will stay with me for a long time. Whether or not you consider it to be fantasy, The Folding Knife is a fine novel and well worth (re)reading. Though I fear that next time, knowing what is to come, the prologue may reduce me to tears…
A few weeks ago, I had a guest post by Django Wexler, as part of the promo effort for his debut fantasy novel The Thousand Names. I usually only do this for authors whose books I think will appeal to my readership, and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t wrong in this guess, at least if my own reaction to it is anything to go by… Read more
This week I’m very pleased to welcome Mike Martinez to my blog. His debut novel The Daedalus Incident is an intriguing blend of history, fantasy and science fiction, in which a near-future exploration of Mars is interrupted by the arrival of a seemingly impossible vessel: an 18th-century sailing ship with the ability to travel between planets…
On playing with, and occasionally breaking, history
As my gracious host well knows, historical fantasy is rich with storytelling possibilities. And to some, it may seem…easier, perhaps, than creating an entirely new fantasy world from whole cloth.
The British naval hero Horatio Nelson, for example, is the subject of several exhaustive biographies detailing his life and times. When I wrote The Gravity of the Affair, a novella in which he was the main character, I had much to draw from – even the other characters’ names are all taken from history itself.
But consider that my Nelson exists in a universe in which sailing ships ply the Void between planets, thanks to the mystic science of Alchemy. What sort of change might this bring to Nelson’s life? Would he find the views ‘round Jupiter humbling? Or would his already considerable pride wax even stronger? And in such an “alchemy-punk” setting, will he lose his arm at Santa Cruz de Tenerife? Or his life at Trafalgar? Read more
This awesome tagline adorns the cover of Brian McClellan’s debut novel Promise of Blood, the first volume of the Powder Mage Trilogy, and aptly sums up the political theme of the book: revolution.
After a few false starts with novels I struggled to get into, I’ve taken to downloading free samples from kobobooks.com with the intention of only buying the book if sufficiently hooked. Promise of Blood passed this test with flying colours and I quickly bought the ePub so that I could continue reading. Read more
This week I’m very pleased to welcome Django Wexler, whose epic gunpowder fantasy featuring a military commander hero and a cross-dressing heroine sounds right up my readers’ street!
Reconnaissance: Point of View as a Precious Resource
First, the Universal Caveat—this is, of course, only the opinion of one reader/writer, so please take it for what it’s worth.
I read a lot of books, as you might expect. In fact, ever since getting involved with the writer/publisher/book reviewer blog-tweet-sphere-o-net, I have been deluged with more books than I can reasonably read. There’s a pile of about fifty on the end of my desk right now, shaming me and threatening to collapse and knock over my lamp.
As a result, I’ve had to get a bit more ruthless about abandoning books in the middle if I’m not actually enjoying them. I used to make a bit of a fetish about finishing books, out of a masochistic sense of duty, but the growth of the pile has made this impractical. My new rule is that each book gets a hundred pages to hook me. Recently, I found myself tossing several novels in a row, all for roughly the same reason—too many points of view. So I thought I would talk a bit about what that means. Read more
Thus continues my summer of catching up on my reading, especially those (mostly epic) fantasies that came out a while ago…
*** Spoilers ahoy! ***
The Painted Man tells the stories of three exceptional young people—Arlen, Leesha and Rojer—growing up in a world where demons rise from the earth’s core every night and try to kill humans. The only things that can keep the demons back are wards: painted or carved symbols. Arlen has a talent for drawing wards and wants to become a Messenger (one of the couriers who defy the demons, travelling from town to town); Leesha is a skilled herbalist; and Rojer’s music has an Orpheus-like effect on the demons. Their stories run in parallel for most of the book until they meet up towards the end.
This time last year I read and reviewed The Spirit Thief, the first Eli Monpress novel from Rachel Aaron. For some reason I didn’t review book two, The Spirit Rebellion, but I enjoyed both enough to continue with the series. In fact I picked up book three, The Spirit Eater, when I was having trouble getting into any of the new books I’d picked up—I thought perhaps it would be easier to slip into a story where I already knew the characters. Thankfully I was right, and Aaron’s book broke my reading dry spell! Read more
This week my friend Emma Newman’s second urban fantasy novel is being published. To mark the occasion she’s hidden a bunch of cool (magical?) objects on her website for readers to find, but you can steal a march by following the link below…
Any Other Name is the second novel in the Split Worlds series, following on directly after the events in Between Two Thorns. Cathy is secretly seeking a way out of Nether Society by helping Max and the gargoyle to investigate the murders in the Bath Chapter. When she learns more about the mysterious Agency which oils the wheels of life in the Nether it becomes clear that the privileged few are enjoying their existence at a price far higher than they realised. It’s time to change Nether society, but with assassins, Fae lords and revengeful fallen Rosas to deal with, can Cathy survive long enough to make a difference?
While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No-one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law…