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A rough and insane Cleopatra June 6, 2008

Posted by taryn in fantasy.
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Cover of Empress

Empress (Godspeaker Trilogy Book 1) Karen Miller, Published April 2008.

Karen Miller is a great storyteller. If you liked her previous series Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, you’ll enjoy this new series. Fast-paced and easy to get into, I sped through Empress and am keenly awaiting the next book: The Riven Kingdom.

Empress is the first in line to a new trilogy outing by Miller, Godspeaker. Mijak is turning into a desert, some of its provinces are failing, some are still green and fertile. Its citizens are fanatical about their Gods and making war. Mijak is a ruthless place run by Warlords and priests who divine the Gods will through entrails, blood, sacrifice and scorpions.

In the barren wastes, Hekat is sold into slavery but from the start knows that she is precious and destined for something great. Empress tells her merciless rise to power.

Mijak has a great ancient Egyptian feel, you can almost imagine Hekat as a power hungry and insane Cleopatra. Add to this a bit of puzzling magic and magical items (never fully explained), great “knife-dancing” and the battle, sacrifice and other violent scenes are gory and detailed. The plot holds no quarter, just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

Check out the contentious reviews over at Amazon, over the book and Hekat in particular. Granted Hekat is not the most heroic or virtuous of characters but she cannot be ignored – I hated her for most of the book. Nevertheless she stands alone in her own right and I found her quite refreshing (plus there are lots of other nice characters to identify with).

Read an extract and decide for yourself.

I also found this interesting cover over at fantastic fiction, I think the UK cover is much better visually and the cheesy tagline doesn’t do much for the cover (Her name is Hekat and she will be slave to no man).

Empress - Alt cover

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A lovely fantasy twinset May 28, 2008

Posted by taryn in best books ever, fantasy.
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What do you call two books in a series? A twinset? Musings aside, this is another great offering from Orbit, one of my favourite sf&f publishers. A fast-paced classic fantasy tale, this is one of my must-reads.

The Innocent Mage

The Awakened Mage

Asher is a strapping young fisherman living in a small fishing village of Lur. He heads to the big city to make a bit of cash to buy his own boat and look after his Da. He scores an excellent job liaising between the races and advising the young and magic-less (and disabled) Prince Gar.

Lur is ruled by the Doranen, an arrogant and magical elf like race. They escaped to Lur from the evil tyrant Morg and now a magical barrier is all that protects them. Asher is an Olken, one of the original inhabitants of Lur. They are banned from using Doranen magic, on penalty of death, but rumous abound of their own ‘earth’ magic, forced underground. Asher of course has loads of this new magic, is the prophesised one and is pulled this way and that as Morg tries to break the barrier and underground Olken magickers try to use him.

The characters are fascinating and flawed (kudos to another strong female character) and the world itself is very entertaining. Love the magic scenes, the weatherworking (love a bit of blood in magic). The world Miller has built is very cool and easy to get absorbed in.

The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage are called the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series. I read these back in October 2007 and have also passed them over to my 14 year old sister who loved them. Albeit she found the ending not quite to her liking and a bit depressing.

Read an extract of The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage.

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 1), Karen Miller, Orbit, April 2007.
The Awakened Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 2), Karen Miller, Orbit, September 2007.

a quality sf novel February 11, 2008

Posted by taryn in sci fi.
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Iain M Banks Matter“In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one – maybe two – people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she’d thought abandoned forever.”

Matter is a slow burn (plot-wise). It’s set in his familiar Culture universe, but manages to mix in medieval fantasy with the sci fi that Banks does so well. The extract publicised by Orbit is actually the whole first chapter, so will give you an idea of the pace. It takes a fair amount of back story/ scene setting before the plot really gets moving. For detail hounds like me though, it’s not really a problem and the subsequent race to the finish gets your blood moving.

Prepare yourself for some lengthly discussions of ‘Shellworlds’. I had to re-read one section a few times where Banks is describing the Sursamen Shellworld. But the artificial planet/Shellworld is fascinating and deserving of much scene setting. Worlds within a world, built by some mysterious and extinct race.

The Ship names are as hilarious as ever, my favourite being Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill. The scenes in the Culture are full of Culture gadgets, environments, Culture versions of holosuites, glanding and AI.

The feudalism of the Eighth [level] on Sursamen is a refreshing counter to the Culture ‘verse. The Sarl are a blood thirsty war race, determined to conquer nearby levels/worlds. They use gunpowder, flying beasts, horses, swords, chariots and pistols.

The dialogue, in usual Banks style, is fabulous. The Sarl are, unsurprisingly, old English in style, while The Oct, a species who are supposed to mentor The Sarl and believe they are descended from the original creators of Shellworlds, speak in a lyrical, philoshophical extreme Yoda style. Confusing, bizarre and completely alien.

I liked Steven Poole’s review in this weekend’s Guardian – cheeky and critical. I didn’t notice the links to Lord of the Rings, 2001 or Raiders of the Lost Ark. But I do agree that the ending leaves a bit to be desired and seems unbalanced compared to the first few acts.

However, Matter is well worth reading and persevering with, this is satisfyingly good sf.

Iain M Banks, Matter, Orbit, Jan 2008