calebblake

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Smashwords book reviews by calebblake

  • The Summoning Fire on Jan. 20, 2011

    What a great book! The inventiveness, the humanity and cruetly of the characters, the non-linear nature of the story. It was all just so good - like a diabolical rug that was being woven from the centre to the edges. Some story elements I was thinking I would be criticising while I was still reading; the small story of the witch and the Piper spring to mind. However, it became a little like the literary version of the movie Vantage Point with different perspectives helping to add more detail to the story. I was wondering at the point of giving the Summoned a perspective at all, but it ended up being integral. A few random scenes thrown in to give the Summoned some rampaging - true to form for a horror book. Now I'm wondering when the next book from this author is going to be released.
  • Scourge on Jan. 20, 2011

    This was a great little story. The plot was full of adventure, twists and turns, portentious character revelations, mysterious powers and absinth. I could quite easily see this developed into a family movie a la Golden Compass. The story leaves things open for a sequel and I'm sure I'll be in the line to purchase it if it arrives.
  • Flash Gold on April 08, 2011

    Steam punk meets dog sleds in the Yukon. This was a really entertaining read. The interplay between Cedar and the feisty Kali made the story dance and the setting was highly original for a steam punk offering. This author has caught my attention and I'll be reading more.
  • The Door to the Sky on April 25, 2011

    Despite my obvious enjoyment of this novel, I'm finding it not a simple book to review. David Michael presents the reader with a kaleidoscope of different scenes that are initially difficult to make sense of. I think after a couple of small chapters, I came to a crossroads: should I forge ahead not really understanding what's going on, or should I give up and go on to the next book. Luckily for me, I had already read some of David Michael's work and had really enjoyed it so it was a 'no brainer'. I'm so glad I kept going. This author has an obvious skill at weaving a story together from seemingly disparate threads. He did so in "The Summoning Fire" and he does so even more deftly in this novel. As I progressed through the book the substance of the story became known to me as subtly as a new history during a Merger. I suddenly understood aspects as if I had always understood them. I would not describe this book necessarily as a strong linear storyline. I would not state that the characters were beautifully vivid for me. I would, however, describe this book as a work of art; a series of impressions creating an overall picture - a Renoir of print. My only real criticism would be that the last chapter was unnecessary. The abruptness of the ending the chapter before would have been a thing of beauty - a final brushstroke, so that I could then finally stand back and admire the full canvas. For those who intend to read it, I strongly suggest not contemplating anything until the very end where one can stand on top of the mountain peak after a bracing climb and enjoy the view.
  • if [tribe] = on July 27, 2011

    This is the third and final novel in "The Bridge Chronicles", a cyberpunk trilogy set in a near future where corporations own contracts for law enforcement and local government. The premise is not too far-fetched, but the uncomfortable plausibility is offset by a punchy storyline seen through the eyes of the coolest anti-hero money can sometimes buy. I have enjoyed the entire trilogy of "The Bridge Chronicles". The main protagonist is gutsy, seemingly amoral at times, clever and decisive. I’ll take my heroes flawed thanks and Artemis Bridge is about as suspect a role model as anyone could ask for. He’s not just the guy who knows a guy, he’s the guy who’s working every angle, turning even the most horrible events into a morally ambivalent victory. The plot moves quickly and is greatly entertaining. Immersion in technology is inevitable, but relatively painless. Virtual worlds, super powers through the control of mathematics and cybercops all dance with the good stuff – greed, power, dog-eat-dog and the almighty deal. I think of The Bridge Chronicles as “Snow Crash lite”. The technological aspects of the story are a bit more accessible, the writing slightly less dense, but the feel is similar. It’s a great compliment as Snow Crash is one of my favourite cyberpunk novels. In this novel the story focuses on the illegal gangs of Los Angeles that run their businesses within the warehouse district of the city. The author has managed to paint an interesting picture of gang life with individual gang leaders adopting philosophies such as Darwinism, Communism and Pacifism. It’s actually interesting to see a world where those that are considered upstanding are only interested in power and wealth and those that are considered criminal are more interested in humanity and ideology. If you like your cyberpunk readily digestible, your plot punchy and clever and your characters dripping with cynicism while you walk the tightrope between entertainment and uncomfortable near-reality, give this trilogy a chance.
  • The Second Coming on Sep. 07, 2011

    Set in a post-apocalyptic earth, The Second Coming is the introduction to an ‘in progress’ series named Words of the Prophecy. Centuries after the Earth shifted on its axis nearly wiping out mankind and unleashing all manner of dark and otherworldly creatures, a long-prophesied event has occurred, one that threatens the remainder of humanity. Burton has provided a suitably dark world for the reader to explore and he paints it innovatively. There is a real play with mythology and religious history and prophecy. Instead of being completely inventive, the author has used existing lore to cleverly fashion new possibilities. Additionally, the author never attempted to create the blinding (and sometimes boring) light of goodness in any of his creation. The best one could hope for was a grey or darker and this is an approach I can really appreciate. The characters were hopelessly flawed and even the main protagonists could not be easily cast in the hero role. Again, this is an aspect of a story I can enjoy as I like temptation and struggle. In this story, there are probably three main characters which meet as three disparate story lines eventually intertwine. It’s a fairly typical story mechanism but it does allow us to explore each of these characters in detail as progress on their own journey. There are also several secondary characters which add interest and sometimes smaller story arcs to compliment the main plot. In fact, the overall web of characters in this novel becomes quite complex with all manner of intersecting relationships being revealed over the course of the plot. The plot, although derived from familiar elements, has a feel that was quite unfamiliar. The unified church of the new world has ties with all kinds of practices otherwise seen as pagan. The evangelical church of the former U.S.A. is viewed as somehow sinister and similarly contradictory in its practices. Elf-like creatures seem to be biblical in origin and the wild and harsh gods of nature do not necessarily represent evil – although everything demands a price. Sometimes, this alien territory was confusing and I wasn’t sure I always understood all the connections being made. Several elements of the tale, I felt, were left incomplete by the end of the book. Given that this was to be a series, I can’t hold this against the author. It’s likely these are to be played out in future volumes. The prose flows very well and I often found myself picturing various scenes of despair vividly. The story line starts slowly but completes in a rush of pounding action and several fairly dizzying changes in one of the main characters. I’m still not certain that I completely followed the development of Paine, especially towards the end of the book. What he was, what he became was a little confusing in the end, but the author had chosen to make his origins and his destiny quite complex. It will be quite interesting to see how he plays out in subsequent novels. I have read David H. Burton before and have thus far enjoyed all his stories. He manages to present a world I want to explore, characters I want to follow and story lines that remain interesting and The Second Coming is no exception. I would recommend this to all who like their fantasies dark and desperate.
  • The Emperor's Edge (a high fantasy mystery in an era of steam) on Nov. 13, 2011
    (no rating)
    Can a fugitive enforcer redeem herself? Does the kingdom's most wanted and deadly assassin have a heart? Can a motley crew of outcasts save the emperor? Back in the 1980s, people enjoyed watching "The A-Team", a team of renegade ex-somethings that performed good samaritan tasks while being hunted by the law. These days, a more sophisticated equivalent may be "Leverage" where an ex-insurance investigator creates and leads a team of criminals in performing good samaritan tasks while avoiding the scrutiny of both baddies and goodies. "The Emperor's Edge" is a fantasy steampunk-ish novel that is cut from a very similar cloth. In fact, the first novel reads like a movie-length pilot episode for an ongoing series - and it is the first book of a series. Amaranthe Lokdon, the main character, is a strong woman in a man's career, proving herself first as an enforcer and then as a fugitive attempting to uncover and stop a plot against the emperor. She has attitude, almost always knows what to say, can sway most people to follow her with her fervour and determination and spends a great deal of time trying to gain the trust of a notorious assassin. There are moments between these two in the book that I could see quite clearly on the small screen: meaningful looks, sassy banter, dry and sarcastic retorts and a fair amount of secrecy and distrust. It becomes the "will they, won't they" stuff of which television series are made. There's a bit of well-disguised ogling at the male form in many scenes and a reasonable amount of blushing, but the author never actually presents a romantic scene. Again, the sexual tension would have suited television quite well where fans would have relished the eye-candy while savouring the addictive frustration of fancies unrequited. The quiet and hit-and-miss relationship that develops between the main character and the assassin is quite entertaining with the assassin remaining unfathomable and Amaranthe becoming more determined to penetrate his mysteries. And then there's the story. There is a plot to assassinate the emperor. It sounds pretty simple, but the author slowly paints a picture of an atypical emperor and the various special interest groups/persons who might want to unseat him to maintain the status quo. Concerned parties and their plots are gradually uncovered by the enforcer-on-the-run and her motley crew. I found the pace quite satisfying. Everything was not revealed at once, but rather in small doses after key scenes. And in the downtime, Amaranthe and her crew put together a plot of their own. Actually, this could have been a rather slow moving part of the story, but the author made sure that the development was punctuated with ample action scenes and even the introduction of something sinister prowling the streets of the empire at night. All threads eventually meet and there are some fairly dramatic revelations. But just when it seems that our team is successful, there's another turn of the wheel, and then another. Again I'm reminded of a very well-written television drama - keeping the audience off-balance, taking them through one more leg of the journey on the edge of their seats. It's good stuff. So what didn't I like? Not much, to be honest. I did find Amaranthe a little too successful in negotiation and planning. I can see where she might need to have been talented in this area as a successful woman enforcer in a world full of men. Negotiating and perhaps manipulating men would have been a necessity. She was obviously talented as an enforcer which explains her success in investigation and deduction. However, it sometimes felt a little far-fetched. On the other side, the impressive assassin was just a little too impressive for me. He moved like a super-hero and it would almost have been in keeping with his portrayal to see him leap tall buildings in a single bound. That said, I found it easy to easy to put aside my relatively small issues with the book and sit back and enjoy a story which could well find its way to prime time television. Move over "Leverage", this is the "A-Team" of steam.
  • The Kult on April 02, 2012

    Cross-posted from Papyrus Independent Reviews (http://papyrus.calebblake.net/2012/04/02/the-kult-by-shaun-jeffrey/) How far would you go to be loyal to your childhood friends? How far would you go to protect them, avenge them? And how would you hide from the consequences when they come back to stalk you? "The Kult" is a serial killer thriller which brings to my mind classics such as Seven. The cat and mouse investigation with a meticulously well-planned serial killer, the grittiness of the settings and people, the gruesome murder scenes and the promised significant end-game would resonate well with fans of that movie. However, this story goes a bit further and challenges the morality of our detective, providing another layer (and complication) to the plot. Like all good thrillers, this one is a real page turner. I found myself bounding through chapters that were of easily digestible size while focused on advancing the plot, even while our hero’s investigation is being mired in his own tangled web of misplaced loyalties and old, binding childhood pacts. The detective, Prosper Snow, is a fairly jaded character wracked with guilt over an accident which crippled his wife and a begrudging member of a pact created by four outcast children when he was fat and mercilessly teased. I’m not sure I was overly convinced by Snow. His childhood experiences seemed a little over-the-top for my liking. Where one character summarises him as obviously destined into a life to help others, this didn’t quite gel with some of his actions performed on behalf of friends over the years. Although he does attempt to make some kind of moral stand in the story it all seems too little, too late for me. His friends, although not very deeply explored for the most part seemed a little less problematic. The author has tried to put together a pretty ambitious plot. For the most part it is executed well. However, again Snow seems to be the weak link. For a good deal of the story he seems to be staring stupidly at photos with a shocked expression and bumbling through his own mess in a way that made me want to scream. Then suddenly we see insight and intelligence as if from nowhere. Maybe he’s just a completely self-absorbed person who finally pulled his proverbial finger out and started trying to solve a case. It’s hard to say, but luckily Oracle, our serial killer, was very entertaining and much more consistent. When everything heats up, it’s a roller coaster ride, but not without one or two further incongruencies. For example, why would a police officer with a loaded gun choose to run away from an attacker without a gun rather than shoot? To satisfy the author’s overriding aims rather than to present a logical plot development to be sure. There’s quite a few loose ends as the plot becomes quite messy and I believe the author has done a fairly admirable job of tying them up. However, there are some convenient elements that assist such as a witness who seems content to fade into the background and a partner hell-bent on keeping only one copy of her investigation notes (apparently not believe is sharing or keeping digital copies of anything). This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I did so very much. I loved the Oracle even if I did manage to work out who he was well before the actual revelation (the author’s clues were pretty heavy-handed). Even after he was revealed he still provided continued entertainment. I liked quite a few of the additional cast and found the story compelling despite the issues I had. The prose itself is really good. I enjoyed the language he used and could picture some of the imposing or just downright depressing settings of the book. He seemed to exercise a good command of some of the gorier aspects of the story. They are certainly there throughout, but I didn’t sense the relish that sometimes permeates such descriptions and leaves me wondering whether such scenes are supposed to have a somewhat pornographic feel. For that I was thankful. If the serial killer thriller is your milieu, I would give "The Kult" a try. And if you like it, the author has published a second Prosper Snow book complete with another serial killer to chase.
  • Dark Currents (The Emperor's Edge Book 2) on Jan. 27, 2013

    Cross-posted from Papyrus Independent Author Reviews. Bodies found in the aqueducts and a mysterious illness taking hold of the city. Are the incidents related? Is this the mystery to solve that will exonerate a motley bunch of outlaws - and will they survive the attempt? "Dark Currents" is the second book in the Emperor's Edge series by Lindsay Buroker. I felt that the first novel read very much the opening movie-length episode of a steampunk television series which I had affectionately nicknamed The "A-Team of Steam". Nothing has changed with the second episode. This is pretty much how I'd imagine a second episode of a TV series would play out. The story arc not much progressed, a bit more of a spotlight on one of the main characters and a convenient mystery popping up to help things get off the ground. Amaranthe is an ex-enforcer finding herself on the other side of the law and leads the team. She continues the ever so important romantic interest with the shady assassin, Sicarius. There is quite a bit of focus on the relationship of these two during the novel, but not without turning the spotlight on the rest of the team. Episode two is our chance as readers to become more acquainted with Books. We find Books feeling like he doesn't fit in with the rest of the group and there's plenty of opportunity for us to examine his feelings, follow his love interest sub-plot and to revel in his inevitable feelings of belonging and greater self-respect by the end of the story. We also get to see him relating to the other team members. In fact, the interplay between the characters takes such a significant portion of the story that as a consequence, the plot itself didn't impress overly much. It really felt like a stand-in story making room for more getting-to-know-you. Firstly, the mystery itself just wasn't that interesting. One might expect in a book like this that small events lead to an epic conspiracy. Not so here. The conspiracy is almost smaller than the discoveries of mutilated corpses floating around in the aqueducts under the city at the start of the story. The novel felt like a 300+ page side quest not much elevated beyond killing the rats in the inn-keeper's cellar. The action scenes were not very well executed and the author even took what I consider the easy way out by rendering characters unconscious to skip chunks of action. In particular, there is a scene at a dam in the latter half of the book in which unconsciousness seemed to be used as a device to avoid what appeared to be a rather ludicrous finale to a crisis. While the characterisations were indeed the highlight, I also felt that all the characters including the grim and very serious Sicarius were decidedly camp. Every conversation could be considered witty banter, the barbs flying even in the middle of a crisis. While I think this would probably work quite well in television, I started to find it tiresome by the second half of the book. Perhaps every piece of dialogue doesn't need to have a joke in it. Perhaps Sicarius doesn't need to arch his eyebrow constantly like a villain in a Mel Brooks movie. I think, for me, what worked in the first novel, didn't work in the second. The prose itself was very good, but it just wasn't enough of a counter-balance for the content. If this were television, I'd probably watch the next episode where the tom-foolery might remain charming and the lack of progress on the main storyline would be expected. However, I'm not so sure when I'll get around to reading the next book in the series. I think the series definitely has a market, but I'm beginning to think that the target audience doesn't really include me.