Originally started all the way back in 1983, the Vlad Taltos series follows a human assassin of the same name living on the planet Dragaera. The Dragaerans are a race of beings that were created when humans were cross-bred with a few of the local animals. The characteristics of these animals therefore became a genetic component of the members of each Great House, influencing their physical features and personality traits. The lone exception being the lowest of the Houses, the House of Jhereg, which is more of an organization formed by outcasts of the other Houses. House Jhereg is looked down upon by almost everyone and its very existence is controversial. Despite having no actual genetic basis for it, it too is named for a local creature, the Jhereg - which is a tiny, dragon-like animal. The House of Jhereg is quite a bit shadier than the other Houses and allows many frowned upon practices, including selling titles within the House for a price. That's why Vlad's father was able to buy his way in as a human, thus making Vlad a rare Easterner in a Great House. This puts Vlad in quite a unique position that he uses to his advantage in his role as an assassin for hire.
It's time for the next generation of characters to take center stage in The Band series, which gives this second book of the series a very different vibe from the first one. The all-male members of the band Saga are now retired and the story shifts to focus on Fable, a young band just entering their prime and led by the infamous Bloody Rose. Fable is a far more diverse group of adventurers than Saga was and they are also not prone to killing off their bard in every encounter. So it should probably not be a surprise that the main PoV character is actually Fable's new bard, Tam, who leaps at the opportunity to join the band to get a little adventure in her life. Tam is full of excitement at the prospect of telling the story of Bloody Rose, who is a living legend, but she quickly realizes that the real Rose is not the one the other bards sing about. Rose is fighting her own inner demons and is willing to risk everything, and everyone in the band, for glory, so this time around it might not be just the bard that dies.
"Clay had the bright idea to block his attacker's next strike, shortly after the next strike." That's how battles typically go for Clay "Slowhand" Cooper, so nicknamed because he was never fast enough to land the first blow in a fight. Clay Cooper is the main PoV character and a member of the retired band of mercenaries, Saga. In a world where bands of adventurers are the equivalent of modern day rock stars, Saga was the OG band of mercs and the best of the best, before the whole industry became a side show. None of that matters though, since Clay is married now and all he cares about is his wife and daughter. So when Saga's old front man, Gabe, comes knocking on his door and explains why the band needs to get back together, Clay flatly refuses him and sends him away. Sure Gabe's daughter's life was in danger, but Clay has a daughter of his own, so what kind of father would he be if he just up and left?
Elric of Melniboné, along with the sword Stormbringer, is the most influential of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champions. The first Elric story, The Dreaming City, was published in 1961 and created the trope of the fantasy anti-hero with a burdened soul. These tales of his adventures as he wanders the world in a futile quest for spiritual peace have influenced countless works in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. That description fits superheroes like The Hulk, and while I'm not sure Elric influenced the comics, there is a definite resemblance in the television series of the 1980's. The multiverse concept pioneered here is seen in the works of authors like Brandon Sanderson and the place that brings spiritual and mental peace, Tanelorn in this multiverse, is echoed in Guy Gavriel Kay's references to Fionavar. The conflict between Lords of Chaos and Order was the basis for Louise Cooper's The Time Master series. References to the series and Stormbringer appear throughout popular culture including music, comics, and even lines in television series such as Game of Thrones. "But are the books actually good?" My answer: It's complicated.
The last thing El Higgins saw before Orion pushed her through the gates of the Scholomance was the massive maw-mouth monster called Patience rolling towards him. With only moments until a super-volcano spell goes off and destroys the school, El doesn't understand why Orion didn't throw himself through the gate as well. After all, a maw-mouth is a fate worse than death, but El's determined to find Patience and destroy it to set Orion's soul free. Of course that assumes she can even find what's left of the school in the void, but in the meantime she's back at the commune in Wales with her mum. When she allowed herself to imagine a future after graduation, she dreamed of using the Golden Stone Sutras spell book she found in the Scholomance to build small enclaves to protect others. Instead she finds herself fighting to save the big enclaves as almost every day another one of them is attacked.
The last book was full of a lot of set up for this one and now it is time to see if there is going to be a payoff. The title implies that Ty is going to be front and center since he is the one tasked to go on a typical fantasy RPG collection quest and assemble the four-part key in or to bring a mythical wizard's keep back into existence. Of course he has no idea how to do this, but he knows that he must accomplish it before the White Tower becomes unstoppable. Ty must travel from one land to another through a series of magical portals to find these key pieces, so the constant changes of scenery keep his adventure feeling fresh and unique every step of the way. Unfortunately the same is not true for the other PoV characters. Ferrin remains on the run after his escape from the White Tower and Ayrion still does not have his memories back, so in a way all three of them are dawdling around on side quests while the main storyline goes unpursued. Will that change before this one ends or is this even more set-up for the next book?
It turns out that becoming one of the most powerful people in New Atlantis isn't exactly what Rune St. John expected. So far its mostly been about pouring vast amounts of his hard won money into reclaiming Sun Estate. With only three adults, four teens, one ten year old, and a few employees its barely worthy of the word "court". Still, they are forcing Rune to actually hold audiences once a week where his friends rate his performance while settling differences between the gardeners and such. He really needs a Seneschal. Both Brand and Rune are therefore delighted when Lady Priestess has an emergency at her posh rejuvenation clinic. Someone, apparently an anonymous lady who was disappointed that the rejuve didn't work, went on a murderous rampage killing dozens. Alas, while Arcana might act in emergencies, Rune is dismayed to discover that Arcana aren't allowed to investigate things anymore. Oh well, back to planning his Coronation and playing with his arthritic dinosaur. Luckily, the murderous lady crashes his Coronation party and makes dramatic threats.
The last book, The White Tower, ended with each of the PoV characters in an interesting position, so I was eager to find out what was going to happen next. Ayrion, the King's Guardian Protector, was completely in limbo since the King was now dead and his memory was lost. Unfortunately that means that he would not be able to respond to the treachery that led to the king's downfall, at least for now. Ferrin the blacksmith became the first person to ever escape the dungeons of the White Tower, and that puts him on the run along with those that helped him. And finally, Ty has started coming into his power with revenge on his mind for the death of his mother, instead of the destiny he is supposed to fulfill. It was a good set-up for all of them, but since this is also the middle book of a trilogy that could also mean it was going to lead to a lot of filler.
The end of The Last Sun was action packed and hinted at several tantalizing secrets so the follow up entry could make or break the series. The Hanged Man not only fails to disappoint but focuses on the best elements of the first and builds on them. Before the fall of the Lovers' court Max Saint Valentine was contracted to marry Lord Hanged Man. Rune swore an oath to safely deliver Max to his day of majority, age 21 in New Atlantis, which means protecting the fifteen year old from the creepiest of the Arcana. Unfortunately, Lord Hanged Man is very old, very powerful, and has the law on his side. While searching for a legitimate reason to challenge the contract Rune is asked to help find the missing child believed to be abducted by the Hanged Man. Rune and his allies discover the darkest nature of the Arcana and a secret that threatens the fragile peace between New Atlantis and the humans. They have fought evil scions and a legendary lich but a hero can't force the Arcanum to act. It is time for Rune to take his rightful place as the Sun of Atlantis.
The revelation that Atlantis was real might have gone differently if humans hadn't realized that the Atlanteans were also manipulating the politics and economies of the rest of the world. Atlantis had powerful magics, including the godly Arcana with their strange Aspects, but humanity had armies, bombs, and fear on their side. By the time peace was negotiated the Island of Atlantis was uninhabitable, so part of the treaty included an island for them build New Atlantis. Not much else changed. The Arcana are still psychotic power hungry despots and Atlantis is still a dangerous place to live even for Atlanteans. The Arcana of Atlantis were the inspiration for the major arcana in a tarot deck but their Aspects may or may not be related to that concept. Lord Sun might become a ball of sunlight so bright it's literally blinding or appear as a man covered in flames. Lady Judgement on the other hand appears to be spider/woman hybrid descending from a web above the onlooker. It's a combination of personal power, self-awareness, and magical affinity.