Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fantasy Review: Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb

Wow. I finished this over the weekend, and I am still struggling to find the right words to convey what a massive emotional impact it had on me. Assassin's Fate is everything I could have asked of Robin Hobb - an entirely satisfying conclusion to not just the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, but that of the entire Realms of the Elderlings and all its interconnected works.

This is a book of Farseers, Fools, White Prophets, Liveships, Dragons, are more. It's as if everything that Hobb has ever teased or hinted at before is finally realized here. Not content to merely rip out our hearts, she tears the entire world asunder, ensuring that no corner of the Six Duchies will rise from the ashes of Fitz's final story unchanged. Let there be no mistake, this is a book of endings. Yes, there are new beginnings to be found as well, but Assassin's Fate marks the end of so many characters and storylines that it's easy to miss some of them.

I will be honest, it hurt to see Fitz and the Fool at such odds in this series, and that pain only gets deeper here. The closer they get to realizing their thirst for revenge, the more fractured their relationship becomes. He's always known that the Fool lies, holds back, and plays things close to the chest, but it's only here that Fitz feels the true sting of well-meaning deception. What's more, as much as the loss of Bee has already driven a definite wedge between them, the discovery that she may still be alive only serves to splinter that wedge and drive it in deeper. There is a lot of guilt and sorrow here, on both sides, and the way Hobb finally resolves that conflict . . . well, I refuse to spoil it, but I will say it does a beautiful job of bringing the entire story full circle, with a climax that's quietly significant, rather than explosively tragic.

In reading this final volume, I find myself gaining a new appreciation for its first installment, a book I was rather hard on at the time. While I still feel Fool's Assassin had some pacing issues, I now understand what Hobb was doing with the characters. It was clear from the start that they had aged, changing drastically in the process, but it's taken three books to understand the how, the why, and the how much. The more we learn about Fitz, the Fool, and Bee . . . the more we understand how their fates intersect . . . the more recognize who they really are . . . the bigger their shared story becomes. I still feel as if Chade was set aside a little too easily, but I loved the way Hobb allowed Queen Kettricken and Thick to slip back into the story, all part of bringing so many things full circle. As for Bee, I resented her in the first book and barely tolerated her in the second, but here she becomes a heroine of note, still hard to like, but easy to admire.

Much of this story is a journey, but it's deeper than the waters of the Rain Wilds themselves. There's a dual significance to just about every scene, a story that we read upon the surface, and a story that we feel beneath the waves. I wish I could say more about the Liveships, the Dragons, and their connections to far-off Clerres, but that's something to be discovered in the course of the story. Like I said earlier, hints are exposed and secrets revealed, and done so in such a way that we almost feel as if we should have already guessed at them, yet cannot deny the skill with which Hobb uncovers each one. You don't necessarily need to have read The Liveship Traders Trilogy or The Rain Wilds Chronicles to enjoy this final volume, but you'll certainly miss out on some of the significance.

Robin Hobb books take a lot of patience, focus, and thought to appreciate. Her stories are not easy ones, and the emotions they provoke are not always the ones we'd like to take away from an escapist fantasy. Despite the dragons, the prophecies, and the magic of both Skill and Wit, these are human stories, well-grounded in the human experience. As such, Assassin's Fate is the final chapter in a long life, well-lived, a story that many of us have aged with, and while we never want to let go of friends, sometimes it's clear that it's time.

Hardcover, 976 pages
Expected publication: May 4th 2017 by Harper Voyager

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

I'm still trying to keep a tight rein on the review pile, but this week I finally picked up a long-awaited title from my P.O. Box; I was offered a thriller I couldn't turn down and a sequel I've been eagerly anticipating; and I requested a mid-summer release that caught my eye.

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley [April 25th 2017]
Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess-assassin for the God of Death

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper [May 23rd 2017]
radically reimagines the origins of Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula, in a contemporary novel 

The Tower of Zhaal by C.T. Phipps [January 22nd 2017]
the second novel of the Cthulhu Armageddon series, a post-apocalypse continuation of H.P. Lovecraft's popular Cthulhu Mythos

Dead On Arrival by Matt Richtel [August 1st 2017]
A mysterious disorder threatens to destroy the world in this high-concept thriller, which combines medical science, cutting-edge technology, and breathtaking suspense


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

A fresh start on the review pile this week, with Brian Staveley's Skullsworn a no-brainer for my next paperback read, and a trio of books jockeying for my digital attention - Kristopher Rufty's Something Violent, A.C. Wise' The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, and by David Gibbins' Testament.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, February 24, 2017

WTF Friday: Green Tea & Monsters at Closing Time

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

A pair of reviews to mark the final Friday of February, both featuring frequent faces in the Ruins.

Told in the present-tense, with short, simple sentences that give it a sense of urgency, The Green Tea Heist is a story that starts weird, and then only gets weirder. Donald Armfield mixes mob heist with zombie horror and splatterpunk erotica, creating a twisted tale that's more than just a guilty pleasure.

It all begins with a truck load of toxic waste, a distracted driver, and a crooked sheriff. The story then shifts to incorporate a modern day pirate, a mob family, and the scientists who connect them all. Stealing a rare diamond from a cruise ship should be easy, but toss in a zombie plague, and suddenly you've got yourself a story.

The Green Tea Heist is a crazy-ass story - violent and disgusting, with sex-crazed zombies who feel no pain, and who will go to any extreme to satiate their taste for the most tender of human flesh. If you ever doubt that Donald (or certain parts of human anatomy) could go there . . . oh, they do indeed.

Kindle Edition
Published February 5th 2017 by Riot Forge

Right down to the title, which could have been lifted from a lost episode, Don't The Monsters All Get Scarier At Closing Time reads like a darker, more violent episode of the Twilight Zone. You know there's a bit twist coming, right from the start, but watching the story develop through its two characters is where the magic happens.

"Could you love something so hideous and offensive that it made you ill to look at it?"

Terry M. West opens the story with that strange, simple question, and keeps coming back to it over the course of the story. Every time Violet asks the question, the tension builds, and every time Russell delays an answer, the dread builds along with it. I won't say anything more about the story itself, but I will say that the climax pays off perfectly, with just the right amount of horror, gore, and monstrosity.

Kindle Edition
Published February 19th 2017 by Pleasant Storm Entertainment

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cover Reveal: Summerwode by J Tullos Hennig

The Summer King has come to the Wode...
Yet to which oath, head or heart, shall he hold?

Once known as the Templar assassin Guy de Gisbourne, dispossessed noble Gamelyn Boundys has come to Sherwood Forest with conflicting oaths. One is of duty: demanding he tame the forest’s druidic secrets and bring them back to his Templar Masters. The other is of heat and heart: given to the outlaw Robyn Hood, avatar of the Horned Lord, and the Maiden Marion, embodiment of the Lady Huntress. The three of them—Summerlord, Winter King, and Maiden of the Spring—are bound by yet another promise, that of fate: to wield the covenant of the Shire Wode and the power of the Ceugant, the magical trine of all worlds. In this last, also, is Gamelyn conflicted; spectres of sacrifice and death haunt him.

Uneasy oaths begin a collision course when not only Gamelyn, but Robyn and Marion are summoned to the siege of Nottingham by the Queen. Her promise is that Gamelyn will regain his noble family’s honour of Tickhill, and the outlaws of the Shire Wode will have a royal pardon.

But King Richard has returned to England, and the price of his mercy might well be more than any of them can afford....


About the Book

SUMMERWODE is now available for preorder with DSP Publications - EBOOK & PAPERBACK - and soon through other retailers. Release date 16 May 2017.

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Or find J Tullos Hennig on Goodreads or Facebook

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Expected publication: April 25th 2017 by Tor Books

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, an original novel based on the hit television show, The Librarians by New York Times bestselling author, Greg Cox.

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.

Stories have power.

In 1719, Elizabeth Goose published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.

Now, strange things are happening around the world. A tree-trimmer in Florida is blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, a woman in rural Pennsylvania is attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes, and a college professor in England finds herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Flynn AWOL—again—it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

Greg Cox absolutely nailed the tone of the first book, so I'm anxious to read his second Librarians tale. Although I landed an ARC earlier this month, the publisher has asked that reviews be held until 2 weeks before the publication date, so I am waiting patiently . . . kind of. :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fantasy Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld is a book I'd seen kicking around on social media - mostly in the circles of grimdark - but one to which I really hadn't paid much attention. However, when an unexpected copy arrived in my mailbox, complete with a Canadian flag sticker on the front, the promise of "brazen fun and a rock & roll sensibility" from Sebastien de Castell on the back, and a cover blurb with a definite Expendables / Taken ring to it . . . well, I was suddenly intrigued.

While I can see the grimdark angle, I'm thinking we need a new category of fantasy for the likes of Andy Remic, Mark Smylie, and (now) Nicholas Eames. I'm going to coin it maturesmirk and see if that sticks.

What I'm talking about is an evolution of the epic fantasy novel, with characters, stories, and an overall tone that have grown up alongside long-time readers like myself. The teams of adventurers are still there; the enchanted forests are still prevalent; magical weapons still abound; and there are still elves, centaurs, dwarves, and dragons to be found. Unlike the stripped-down stories of grimdark, however, everything that defined epic fantasy in the 80s and 90s is still there - just with a new perspective. These maturesmirk stories never descend into parody or mockery, but they do poke fun at their own tropes and clichés, winking-and-nodding to the reader, even as they demonstrate a fearless, almost manic urge to be edgy, violent, profane, and sometimes even a bit kinky.

Kings of the Wyld does everything right. It has a solid story, fantastic characters, real imagination, and a killer sense of humor. Instead of being a save-the-world or complete-the-quest kind of story, it's a simple tale of a washed-up mercenary who is desperate to get the old band back together to rescue his daughter from a monstrous horde. Although Rose represents a goal or a destination, the story is more about the band, their shared history, and their relationships with one another. It's a story of friendships, alliances, and even betrayals, with a band of men driven by loves lost, broken, and distant. Gabriel is desperate to rescue his daughter and avoid his ex-wife, while Clay is heartbroken to be leaving his own wife and daughter behind. Moog is still haunted by the loss of his husband, while Matrick is eager to escape his cuckold harpy of a wife. As for Ganelon, the only reason he doesn't have a wife or daughter driving him is because he was abandoned by his friends years ago, a man-of-stone in a Gorgon prison.

In many ways, this is the equivalent of an epic fantasy road trip, an often-funny experience of male bonding and opportunistic heroics. Sure, the band gets robbed (twice) by an all-female gang of thieves and falls prey to an awkward band of cannibals, but they also take down a monstrous chimera, an angry dragon, and a legitimate giant. Along the way they hitch a ride on a magical airship, suffer through Moog's misfiring magic, and get hooked up with a remnant (most certainly not a zombie), a winged bounty hunter (with a split-personality), and a two-headed ettin (one of which lies to keep up the spirits of its blind brother).

Nicholas Eames knows how to write and, more importantly, he knows how to pace and structure a novel. He mixes action and humor in equal measure, and weaves genuine emotion into the heroics. It's a fun novel, but one where sorrow and melancholy are always lurking just under the narrative. I almost hate to say it, but it's a kick-ass rollercoaster of epic fantasy heroics . . . with heart. I loved the characters, loved the journey, and even loved the climax (where, all too often, grimdark falls short for me). As maturesmirk epics go, Kings of the Wyld is a fantastically fun read, from beginning to end, and I am already looking forward to the sequel.

Paperback, 544 pages
Expected publication: February 21st 2017 by Orbit

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.