Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster

Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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Paradise, Michael R Watson

Paradise, Michael R Watson

Paradise (Aftershock Series Book 1)

The setting of Paradise, using earthquakes as the vehicle of the disaster, provides an interesting and plausible twist on the story. It leads neatly into the classic dystopia breakdown of infrastructure and mass civilisation, and the rise of local power structures, of which this book offers a number. The roaming Raiders, the feudal system of the Tent City, the religious enclave, and the survivalist hermits hacking it on their own all add to the backdrop of the plot.

There were, however, aspects of the writing that I found impacted the read, including technical challenges in grammar and spelling that were continuous enough to keep pulling me out of the story. In addition, the point of view, which stayed steady on one character, first person, for the first two-thirds of the book, began to move around in the later stages of the book, including switches into third person, which was a trifle jarring.

There was also only one true antagonist, the Governor of the Tent City. The religious enclave was open-minded and accepting, at least provided the women made all the meals, the raiders were actually working the Robin Hood angle underneath the bad reputations, and even the leader of the brutal encampment guards turned out to be nothing more objectionable than a good old boy. Despite the dystopia setting, things never really got rough, which I found made it difficult for me to keep my disbelief suspended through the plot.

In short, I felt that the book had a good initial idea, but it didn’t quite manage to pull me in and convince me over the long run.

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars (Crowns of Silver and Ash Book 1)

Written in the style of an epic fantasy, The Seven Stars introduces us to a tale of war and adventure peopled with an intriguing mix of races. There are the mysterious Sons, with their warlike abilities; humans; the dhoglers; and the Eirkfolk, mute without their musical instruments. The development of these races was honestly probably the part of the story that came across as the strongest for me.

However, I found other aspects less well-developed. The centre of the story is the Sons’ attack on the Silver City, and their crusade to destroy all Seven Cities; aside from a general understanding that the Seven Cities had done something unmentionable to the Sons’ ancestors, I found myself at the end of this first book still somewhat unclear on the cause of the conflict, the exact properties of the various relics guarded by the cities, and, to be honest, even on how long ago said atrocity took place. The Seven Cities were apparently at peace plenty long enough to let their guard down, but the Sons were clearly polishing some serious revenge meanwhile.

There is also a mystery around the topic of music; the Sons despise and avoid it, except when they themselves sing; the Eirkfolk require music to speak, and there’s a strong implication that music carries some power in the world of Crowns of Silver and Ash that doesn’t come completely clear. While this book is the first in a series and ends abruptly enough to qualify as a cliff-hanger, I would have appreciated a few more hints on this to hook me into a second book.

Overall, there were most certainly strong points in this book, and the author clearly put a great deal of thought into his creation, but I didn’t find that the story really drew me in. Some of that is because of the vagueness I mentioned above, and partly because the pacing in some areas had me resisting the urge to page-flip; there was no one thread or character that really pulled me into the story and held me there.

The Bones of the Past, Craig A Munro

The Bones of the Past, Craig A Munro

The Bones of the Past (The Books of Dust and Bone #1)

Craig A. Munro’s The Bones of the Past  was one of those books where I seesawed on my final ranking for quite some time, which is unusual for me. Part of my trouble was that the individual storylines were perfectly readable fantasy, even if none of them really had me fixated to each new page. A little more depth to the character development might have helped pull me into the book; Salt, particularly, went from a nobody sailor with a whore fixation to a commander of an elite anti-magic unit who never so much as glanced at another woman in a matter of months, which was a noteworthy accomplishment.

My real challenge came in when I took the book as a whole. The individual storylines were fine, but I could find very little linking them all together. Salt’s story and Nial’s had clear links, and towards the end of the book, you start to get the link between Salt, Nial, and the Tolrahkali. I still wasn’t precisely sure where the Sacral storyline fitted in when I closed the book, over 500 pages later. In addition to the fact that the storylines just never meshed for me, there were consistent grammatical issues throughout that kept grabbing my attention away from the characters’ predicaments. I couldn’t help but feel that this book would have merited a much higher ranking after a really strong developmental edit and a copy edit; the elements were definitely there, just not in its current form.

Enden, David Kummer

Enden, David Kummer

Enden: A Dark Fantasy Novel

Enden is a young-adult fantasy adventure, with its protagonist, Jonathan, a farmer’s son from a remote settlement with a talent for archery. In the aftermath of a barbarian raid on his village, Jonathan attracts the attention of the king’s grandson.

It’s a tradition of the YA genre that the rebellious but otherwise unremarkable teen rises to prominence through luck and coincidence, and Jonathan certainly fits the bill. However, the character failed to gain my sympathy; Jonathan gave me the impression of an entitled pain in the rear for most of the book, more concerned with how everything affects him than anything else that’s going on around him. I do grant that this is a stereotypical teenaged attitude, but it switched me off the character, which is a bit of an issue with a protagonist. Ideally, even an anti-hero should have something that draws a reader in, even if only horrified fascination.

The other thing that made it difficult for me to really get into this book was plausibility. The populations are small enough that gossip about one boy picked up under odd circumstances by a prominent knight can spread fast and far, but there is enough of a population for an enemy army of 100,000 or more to be gathered, trained, and equipped, and not least, supplied as they travel across the kingdom fighting. Horses were able to travel at a gallop almost indefinitely. Items like that kept pulling me out of the story.

For me, this book had some undoubted strong points, not least the fact that the text was thoroughly and competently copy-edited, but the story as a whole didn’t enthrall me.