I read a lot and keep a book journal on Goodreads/Liviu
I co-edit the leading sff review site Fantasy Book Critic
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Smashwords book reviews by Liviu Suciu
- The Last King's Amulet
on Oct. 01, 2010
INTRODUCTION:"My name is Sumto, and I am a gambling, lazy, good-for-nothing drunk who has to join the army and fight in a war I am frankly too corpulent to cope with. Still, that's got to be as bad as things get, Am I right?"
"The Last King's Amulet" is another independent book that I discovered through a review query at FBC. The blurb above intrigued me, so I checked the Smashwords 20% sample linked above and when I liked what I was reading there, I got the full version; the novel pulled me in so I finished it a day or so and then I bought the second novel in the series The Key to the Grave which was a good sequel but lacked the freshness of the original and had a bit too much repetition in structure/plot.
ANALYSIS: "The Last King's Amulet" is narrated in first person by Sumto Cerulian "patron" of Luria - aka The City, a Rome analogue but with high magic that it reserves for itself, destroying any other state/grouping that tries to use magic.
Sumto, a scion of the highest nobility likes books, good food and drink, women and intellectual discussions, while he dislikes politics and war; of course he is considered a wastrel in the martial/political society of the City, his father is almost ready to disinherit him, the creditors are circling like vultures..
Another day in his regular life, another trip to see his mother behind his father's back and scrounge some more cash... But now there is a difference - his sister has finally been betrothed to an older noble who makes it clear to Sumto that his easy life is done; either Sumto accepts his heritage and goes on the current campaign against some troublesome Northern tribes, or he goes away forever, not necessarily alive.
As Sumto puts it, possible death in battle against certain death at the hands of his future-in-law retainers, no contest... And so the adventure starts and the troubles begin; the question though is whose troubles, Sumto's or the nasty enemies that plot the City's downfall in what seems a run of the mill rebellion?
While the Roman analogies are clear and consistent and a big plus for me as a fan of such, the novel has other strengths too. The narrator Sumto is quite engaging and his evolution from his easy life to responsibilities and command is well delineated showing his inner struggles, his doubts, his errors.
With the help of his resourceful slave and latter first freedman and client Meran and of Jocasta his girlfriend-to-be with magical powers in a culture where women of the nobility are supposed to be good wives and mothers only, Sumto confronts adversity and while he occasionally gets defeated, he does not give up. "The Last King's Amulet" also stands out by the underlying "serious" debates Sumto has with various notables, enemies or even himself about the nature of "good governance", slavery, servitude, rich vs poor and generally stuff that is quite applicable today. These debates are genrally integrated very well within the text and the novel's pace never suffers, though again in the sequel there is some repetitiveness that grates occasionally.
"The Last King's Amulet" is a fun and fast adventure fantasy that flows very well and has very little of the usual editing mistakes I've seen in independent books - there are one or two continuity errors, but nothing serious. The book is the beggining of a series that the author plans to continue for a while. While the ending achieves some closure, if you like the novel I highly recomend to read The Key to the Grave which picks up where this one ends and takes the story to a more definite ending, so these two installments are like two halves of a large novel.
The novel has a bit too much high magic for my taste and occasionally degenerates into "my sorcery is bigger than yours" - syndrome that is even more pronounced in the sequel - but it is fun, energetic and strongly recommended. I am really curious to see what's next and I plan to get the third installment whenever available.
on Jan. 30, 2011
INTRODUCTION: "Encrypted" is another indie novel I found out about through a review inquiry; the author actually let us know about her series debut The Emperor's Edge and while I liked its blurb/excerpt and asked for a review e-copy, I also noticed her other novel Encrypted which tempted me so much that I bought it on the spot and read it soon after.
Of course I plan to read The Emperor's Edge too - it starts great with the same engaging style of Encrypted - so in a month or so, I should have a review of that one here too, but for now I will talk about Encrypted since it resonated with me quite a lot and I want to explain why - the essential reason is because of its very close similarity in spirit and style with one of my all time favorite duologies.
Encyrpted is set some 15-20 years earlier in the same universe of The Emperor's Edge and it is a standalone with mostly different characters, though one of the main characters from the latter one appears here too in a pretty important role, so from that point of view it makes also a great introduction to the universe.
"Professor Tikaya Komitopis isn’t a great beauty, a fearless warrior, or even someone who can walk and chew chicle at the same time, but her cryptography skills earn her wartime notoriety. When enemy marines show up at her family’s plantation, she expects the worst. But they’re not there to kill her. They need her to decode mysterious runes, and they ask for help in the manner typical of a conquering empire: they kidnap her, threaten her family, and throw her in the brig of their fastest steamship.
Her only ally is a fellow prisoner who charms her with a passion for academics as great as her own. Together, they must decipher mind-altering alchemical artifacts, deadly poison rockets, and malevolent technological constructs, all while dodging assassination attempts from a rival power determined the expedition should fail... "
OVERVIEW: Encrypted is set on a secondary world with a mix of paranormal stuff like telepathy and teleportation and early industrial tech.
There is a militaristic empire - Turgonian - that shuns magic and which faces the "magicians" of Nuria, the "mysterious" scientist from the formerly neutral and pastoral islands of Kyatt who helped the Nurians once the empire offered the islanders a deal it would not take no as an answer on, Tikaya Komitopis, a socially awkward woman with a talent for languages who breaks the Turgonian codes leading to their containment and reluctant truce, the mysterious artifacts that prove deadly in the Turgonian capital forcing them to kidnap Tikaya from her peaceful island and try and convince her to help them, the prisoner known as Five on the Turgonian ironclad that speeds towards the frozen wastes were the artifacts had come from, the Nurian saboteurs and later the expedition to find the artifacts and the surprises it encounters.
As you can see from this overview, substituting "paranormal" with advanced biotech and the one-world of this book with a multi-stellar polity and you get something that resembles in spirit the superb pre-Miles dulogy of Lois Bujold that starts with Shards of Honor and more than once when reading Encrypted, I thought the comparison apt in quite a few ways.
While today "Encrypted" fits under secondary world fantasy mainly for its elements of paranormal, for most of sff's history it would have been considered pure-sf since teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy have been staples of sf for a long time, so this is a book that should appeal to both lovers of fantasy and sf.
ANALYSIS: Why read Encrypted?
The first reason is that the novel is written in a very fast, page turning and fun way, alternating action, discovery with great dialogue especially between Tikaya and Rias - as this is the name the prisoner known as "Five" gives her once they get to know each other - but with several other compelling characters, most notably Bocrest, the Turgonian commander of the ship and expedition, the "good" corporal Agarik vs nasty sergeant Ottotark and later the young boy/assassin Sicarius, personal representative of the emperor and a familiar acquaintance of Rias and Bocrest.
As the main lead of the novel, Tikaya carries it well end-to-end and she makes a very compelling heroine - an almost genius philologist in her mid-30's with a talent for languages and patterns, neither beautiful, nor graceful but with a talent for bow shooting and courage and wit to match, while the Turgonian men around her - whether resenting or even hating her for her role in their defeat in the war, being neutral, or being friendly and more - offer a great contrast and variety. Rias slowly develops from the almost savage Five to the charismatic war-hero he used to be and later in the novel he almost takes it over, while Sicarius - who seems to be the main lead in The Emperor's Edge 15-20 years in the future -is excellent in his role of enigmatic boy-assassin here.
So despite starting as the enemies and with their militaristic and patriarchal culture to boot, the author's portrayal of the Turgonians is quite nuanced, while Kitaya's supposed allies the Nurians actually want to kill her - maybe for good reasons from their point of view - and this reversal of roles and expectations was another reason I enjoyed the book.
The expedition, its discoveries, the mysterious runes and deadly artifacts are also very well done combining the familiar with twists that were partly predictable, partly surprising, but that never failed to entertain, while the action builds up with both physical and psychological components until the excellent finale. I would not want to spoil more about the core of the novel since a large part of the enjoyment of the book lies in trying to figure out what's what before the heroes experience it...
Encrypted (A+) is a fun romp, an adventure in the Lois Bujold Barrayar spirit, with a clear ending though ample scope for more and which I highly recommend if you like your sff fast, page turning with action, mysteries and a dash of romance.
- A Shore Too Far
on Sep. 24, 2011
INTRODUCTION: Here at Fantasy Book Critic we get tens of indie review queries a week, some with the full ebook included, some with samples and I dutifully open all that are not UF or YA but very rarely something hits the special combination of content/style I look for in any book I try. Usually the indies fail on content since there is so much "ancient evil, destined boys/girls" or their science fictional analogs coming in that I almost stopped opening such, but in the few cases a book has an intriguing blurb, the writing style needs also to hit it with me and that is a very subjective thing.
When "A Shore Too Far" popped in the inbox, the blurb below was interesting enough to make me take a look and it turned out that the novel was a first person narration which a bit to my surprise grabbed me from the first paragraph you can also read in the sample linked above.
"Kara Asgrand, daughter of the king, is the greatest military mind of her time, but now a wondrous fleet has approached her people’s shores. When this new people arrive, the visitors’ tale of woe doesn’t add up, and their plea for help may be a prelude to invasion. Kara must decide if her warrior’s instincts are keeping her cautious or are they betraying her and endangering thousands."
"A Shore Too Far" is advertised as the first book in "The Daughters of Damendine" series.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "A Shore Too Far" is a very entertaining series debut which takes place on a secondary world with the usual pseudo-medieval society but with no magic so far. The novel is a first person narration from Kara Asgrand, daughter of the king of Avandi and commander in chief of the army.
Kara is also a rival to her two brothers, Eric, a very able administrator and current ruler of Abrigol, the most important city outside of the capital, and Kollus who is mostly a scholar, though as royalty he also rules a province - one of the conceits here is that in Kara's country the succession is decided by the king stepping down in favor of a successor that may or may not be one of his children - this is really unlikely to work and would lead to countless civil wars as history shows in any society without clear and accepted lines of succession and sometimes even in those, but that's more of a plot device so far to motivate the rivalry and subtext between Kara and her older brother Eric.
When a strange fleet is sighted close to Abringol, Kara summons her fastest cavalry and rides there to strengthen Eric's defenses, while the king and the rest of the army will tae some ten days or more to get there. What follows is a story of first contact between the Avandi and the mysterious strangers that call themselves the Kullobrini and claim they were blown off course to a colonization mission on some remote and less hospitable areas of the continent, while now a sickness developing on their fleet forced them to come ashore in the Avandi kingdom. Any misstep can lead to a deadly confrontation and Kara has to make the decisions as her father puts her unexpectedly in charge of the "alien diplomacy" over her governor brother
The main strength of the novel is in the first person narration of Kara. While the novel is predictable to some extent, the tension is maintained to the end and the pages turn by themselves since you do not want to stop until you find out the implied secrets of the Kullobrini and how things will turn out for both people.
As an added bonus there is some backstory recounted and we understand more about Kara's relationship with her siblings too. In addition to Eric, there are a few notable secondary characters - the Kullobrini leaders, a young ambitious and very wealthy merchant of Abrigol who is an on-and-off flame of Kara, while grizzled veteran Gonnaban plays well the role of the princess' master at arms and all around skeptic.
Overall, A Shore Too Far (A+) is another very promising indie series debut which I recommend for a fast and very enjoyable read. I also want to note that the novel wraps up its main storyline so it's a standalone from this point of view, but of course more is promised in the interesting universe created by the author.
Note: this review has been originally published on Fantasy Book Critic and all the links and references are to be found there