Guy Gavriel Kay has written many good books but my favorite is The Lions Al-Rassan. As always with Kay the writing is superb, the world feels completely real, and the characters are compelling. Religion, politics, poetry, and three memorable characters are all about to collide and be torn apart as Al-Rassan is poised to fall under a weak king. Centuries ago the Asharites, fanatic worshipers of the Stars, came across the sea from their desert land and conquered Al-Rassan. Ammar ibn Khairan is a poet, warrior, and an advisor to kings. He is also an assassin on behalf of those kings. But Al-Rassan cares more for commerce these days than faith and the desert fanatics see them as little better than infidels and consider Ammar one of the worst. Rodrigo Belmonte is a noted general of one of the three Jaddite kingdoms that border Al-Rassan to the north. The Jaddite horsemen, followers of the Sun, are restless and want more glory, more land, and to exterminate the Kindath, who worship the Moons, and are tolerated in civilized Al-Rassan. Jehane bet Ishak, a Kindath physician, finds herself caught between gathering armies and two great men as the three of them are thrown together one fatefull night just before their world crumbles.
Ted and TJ Williams almost miss their transatlantic cruise due to a volcanic eruption and the resulting impact on air travel throughout Europe. As they adapt their travel plans to reach their ship on time there are a number of curious events going on around them. First there is a dog attack that occurs when they are picking up their rental car, which is particularly impactful to TJ who was traumatized by a dog attack in her past. Then there is an aggressive flock of birds that kills an elderly couple and finally as they board their cruise ship there is a pack of rats that terrorizes the port and causes the massive ship to set off early without the full complement of passengers and crew. At this point Ted starts to piece together the relationship between the volcanic eruption and the animal behavior and he thinks that sailing across the Atlantic might have saved them from a real disaster until the news starts coming in about volcanoes erupting all around the world.
An alien fleet was on the way to take our planet since early in the first book and most of the story thus far has been focused on the struggle between the aliens already here and our attempts to prepare for that bigger invasion. Things have change greatly for the nations of Earth since we became aware of the threat and the geo-political landscape is no longer the same. TASC, the independent entity responsible for preparing our defense and affiliated with no country, has no qualms about using advanced technology to manipulate the countries of the world into supporting its agenda. At first I thought it was nice to see this independent agency running things to avoid the usual in fighting between countries, but since TASC is made up of humans of course it happens anyway. With the moment of the alien arrival now finally here, is the reader rewarded with a payoff worth all the time invested in the series so far?
Given that this is Brandon Sanderson it is no suprise that the world and magic of Warbreaker are both unique. However, he wanted this book to be the opposite of what he did in the Mistborn trilogy so it is messy, chaotic, and full of surprises. There are four distinct point of view characters. Siri, the unwanted princess who is sent to marry a king that was born dead. Vivenna, the responsible princess who prepared for that marriage and thinks she can rescue her sister by inciting a rebellion. Susebron, the God King, who was stillborn and Returned, hides his self-doubt under an indolent and irreverent attitude. And finally, there is the enigma Vasher, the mysterious man with an unknown agenda but amazing skill in the magic called Awakening. In the city of T'Telir the enemy is well hidden, no one is what they seem, and accepted knowledge is often the opposite of truth.
Now that the threat of a deadly alien virus being dropped from space has been eliminated the focus turns towards finding the remaining alien agents. Eight alien agents arrived in secret during the first book and they all assumed human identities allowing them to seamlessly blend into the population. But after two of those agents decided to fight on the side of humanity the odds are quite different. The double agents were able to take out two others before their betrayal was discovered but so that leaves four remaining but it won't be so simple to deal with the rest. With a massive alien fleet already en route to the Earth we have only ten years left to prepare and the remaining four alien agents will do everything they can to make sure we aren't ready.
This series continues to develop both in seriousness and entertainment with Blade being the snarkiest yet. At the end of book three Arland, who swears he's nothing but a simple warrior, eloquently asked Maude to marry him. She said, maybe? Arland is the epitome of a young male vampire and the pride of his House and Maude has experience with being the human bride among vampires. She wants to make sure that his House, and especially his mother Lady Ilemina, accept her and her half vampire daughter Helen. They both arrive on his home planet in the midst of a treaty wedding between two rival Houses being hosted by House Krahr as a neutral third party. They are of course up to something and have set their sights on House Krahr's shiny new mobile battle station. In a culture where the wrong words require a duel to the death Maude finds herself playing the clueless human to draw them out.
I knew this was an alien invasion book going in but it turned out not to be exactly what I was expecting. Aliens coming for our planet is pretty cliché at this point so I was expecting the typical large invasion force to show up and start kicking our asses right from the start; however, that isn't what happened. Instead it turns out that these invaders have studied humanity well enough from afar to know that if they just showed up and attacked us we would likely just nuke the planet to hell in the ensuing war and they would be left with nothing. They want a habitable planet so they need to deal with us first. Hence they launch a covert operation that arrives eleven years ahead of their full fleet, which is already on it's way, with the intent of either disarming our nuclear capability, or if that plans falls through then just wiping us out with a deadly virus. Either way they have the technology to pull it off as long as they remain undetected...
By the end of book two, Dina and her Inn, Gertrude Hunt, had gained a big boost in power from the peace conference without losing their rating in the Directory. She was also now viewed favorably by three powerful races from our galaxy and owed a favor by the Arbitrator, George. She and Sean are starting to date again when she receives an urgent message from her sister Maud, who is in need of rescue. She also receives another request for help that will prove far more dangerous on behalf of the Hiru. The Hiru are nearly extinct because a neighboring race believes them to be demons so they have used the last of their resources to buy two answers from the all-knowing Archivarius. In return for Dina's help in transporting and protecting the Archivarius, the Hiru offer her the second question. Since their parents, along with their Inn, completely vanished a few years ago Dina and Maud are unable to resist investigating despite the strong danger Gerturde Hunt will face.
Innovation is all the rage in the Union as the next generation picks up the reins from their parents. Although some characters from the first two First Law series return, they are much older now since it is 28 years after the end of the first trilogy and the focus is squarely on their children. The Dogman's daughter, Rikke, is not a fighter like her father, but she is gifted with "the Long Eye" and can see the future. Jezal's son Orso has certainly inherited his father's penchant for women and wine and just like his father he is ill prepared to be the next ruler. And finally, Glokta's daughter Savine is making a name for herself as an investor with the cunning she has learned from her father. All three are PoV characters eager to take on the world, unfortunately for them they are unlucky enough to inhabit a Joe Abercrombie world so things aren't likely to turn out too well for them.
With the second book this series gets more serious, more entertaining, and just plain better. Since this series is a fairly unique blend of both fantasy and sci-fi its great to see both aspects gaining more depth. Galactic politics come into play as Dina is asked to host a peace conference for three factions fighting over a single unique planet. The first faction are the vampires of the Holy Anocracy and one of the attendees is Lord Arland who she met in Clean Sweep. She is also familiar with the Merchant Nuan Cee and his clan of the Lees. The third faction is the Hope Crushing Horde of the Otrokars who have often clashed with the vampires as the two empires are both aggressive and expansive. The last time an Arbitrator tried to broker peace between the Otrakars and the Vampires it ended in disaster and blood. But in addition to the boost Gertrude Hunt, the Inn, would get from forty guests staying several days the Arbitrator offers a large paycheck that Dina desperately needs. According to the Treaty visitors to Earth must not reveal themselves to humans and the primary responsibility of the Innkeeper is to keep their guests safe. Dina is about to have a really bad week.