Neil Gaiman has made a name for himself as a contemporary fantasy author, but unfortunately for me that is a genre that rarely grabs my attention. It seems like it should be right up my alley but very few of my forays into this realm result in an engaging experience. Because this book is a stand alone novel, and also pretty short in length, it seemed like a decent way for me to dip my toe in the water and experience Neil Gaiman with little commitment. Was it worth it?
Don't open your eyes. Nobody knows what started it, or why it started, and nobody even knows what the threat actually is. That is because anyone who actually sees it does not survive long enough to tell anyone else. The only guaranteed way to survive outside in Josh Malerman's apocalyptic setting is to be sure that you can't see a single thing. Needless to say, that makes things a little difficult for everyone because you can't stay inside forever...
At 9 years old Jorg experiences a terrible trauma that shapes the rest of his life. As his mother and brother are killed, he is helplessly caught within the thorns of a nearby briar patch unable to help in any way. After the incident, his father (the king) is unwilling to risk war with Count Renar, who is the person behind the murders, and he basically agrees to put the matter aside in exchange for some economic concessions. Jorg can't accept this outcome and this series of events ultimately shapes him into a monster bent on revenge against both Count Renar and his own father. Jorg's mind becomes a very dark place and this book is experienced from inside that mind.
Ever since Dante described the rings of Hell authors have delighted in forcing some hapless character to make their way through a series of bazaar settings. Brancroft's Books of Babel have gotten rave reviews from both critics and a long list of his fellow authors. In this first installment the hapless Senlin manages to lose his wife when they go to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. To find her Senlin must make his way up through an unknown number of levels that each form their own socio-political entity. He has wanted to see the Tower his whole life but the reality is nothing like the cultured and innovative societies described in the guidebooks and he quickly discovers that behind the luxurious facades lurks barbaric cruelty and deceit.
The Raven Boys is a modern fantasy targeted at young adults, which leaves me way out of the target demographic, and yet it still managed to keep me interested from beginning to end. Set in the fictitious town of Henrietta, Virginia the story quickly introduces us to Blue Sargent, a young girl who lives with her psychic mother and her mother's psychic friends. Blue is the only non-seer in her house but she has an innate ability to make psychic phenomena louder so her presence is often coveted by her housemates. For each of the last ten years on St Mark's Eve Blue has accompanied her mother to an abandoned churchyard believed to be located on a ley line where the soon-to-be-dead will walk past. This year Blue accompanies her half-aunt Neeve to the churchyard instead thus allowing her gift of amplification to make it easier for Neeve to see which locals are going to die within the next year. Blue expects it to be just another evening spent out in the cold, as she never sees anything when she goes, but this year turns out to be different...
Nell has a deep connection to her land, Soulwood. It was simply a green thumb until she was threatened and drew blood on her land for the first time. The forest wanted that blood and with her permission absorbed the life it was offered. Now Soulwood is aware and shares that awareness with Nell. Because of her unique affinity for the land Nell is asked to assist PsyLED, the federal agency tasked with policing supernaturals. She doesn't trust the government but she needs their protection so she agrees to help them find some kidnapped girls. Unfortunately, the investigation leads Nell to the polygamist church she grew up in and forces her to deal with some painful truths.
It seems like fairy tale fantasy is everywhere these days, but with Spinning Silver Novik gives the nod to a few tropes while delivering an entirely original fantasy about three young women who defy the odds to save their land. Polish Novik sets her tale in a slavik inspired land starving under the encroaching ice of the inhuman Staryk, stag riding warriors of ice who raid the human lands for gold and killing all in their way. Under the rule of a dissolute young Tsar, rumored to be an evil sorcerer, the nobility are too busy plotting rebellion to care what conditions are for the peasantry. It's left to the daughters of a village moneylender, an abusive drunk, and wealthy duke to save those they care about.
Yarvi was born the son of a king, but unfortunately for him, the gods also saw fit to give him a crippled hand. In his father's eyes this means that he will never be more than half a son with a future no better than half a man, so Yarvi finds himself destined for women's work as a minister. This is actually a good fit for Yarvi because he has a sharp mind and he finds that his apprenticeship to Mother Gundring, the Minister of Gettland, goes quite well. Yarvi is eagerly awaiting the upcoming test that will promote him out of apprenticeship when both his father and his brother are unexpectedly killed on a diplomatic mission. Now Yarvi's life course is forever altered and he finds that he must take the throne instead. Upon doing so he is counseled to swear a blood oath to avenge his father and brother and kill the person responsible for their deaths. Now Gettland has half a king and Yarvi must figure out how a cripple who can't even hold a shield is supposed to carry out an oath of vengeance...
The Sorcery Ascendant Sequence started with humble beginnings but over the course of the series it has dramatically increased in scope and it finally culminates with a battle of characters from multiple worlds. A few of those characters have grown exponentially in power over time, including Caldan, and now a battle of super powerful beings, each with their own agenda, finally comes together. So is there a payoff for all the buildup done in the first two books? The answer is yes, but this book is not without its flaws, and sometimes how you get there can ruin the destination.
With the city of Anasoma in enemy hands, Caldan finds himself on the run in rather strange company. Elpidia, a healer who is dying from a strange disease and wants to drink his blood because she believes it will keep her alive, Amerdan, a shopkeeper by day and serial killer by night who kills with a blade better than most assassins, Bells, a deadly enemy sorcerer who is being held captive and has vowed to kill them all, and Miranda, his love interest who is the only person that he can really trust in the group. Unfortunately for Caldan that means he is actually quote alone as Miranda remains in a comatose state due to a coercive sorcery accident that may leave her irrevocably damaged. This odd mix of individuals, and their individual secret agendas, provide for a whole host of intriguing possibilities, and this is just one of the story lines as war rages on within the Mahruse Empire.