Friday, October 31, 2008

Review of The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book is the latest from Neil Gaiman, perhaps best known for the novel American Gods and the Sandman graphic novels. This most recent offering is a stand alone young adult novel with illustrations by Dave McKean or Chris Riddell (depending on which version of the book you have). Although this story is marketed toward a younger audience, it is a charming tale that readers of all ages can enjoy.

The story begins with a murderer, climbing the stairs with a knife, in search of his final victim - a mere toddler. (Believe me, it really is charming.) Having just killed the other members of the child's family, the man peers into the crib and prepares to complete his mission only to discover the figure he saw was a teddy bear instead of the child. The young boy, ingrained with a curious nature and a love for climbing out of his crib, was awakened by the commotion and crawled out of his room and house to the nearby graveyard. He is soon followed by his would-be killer, who is prevented from carrying out his plan when Mr. and Mrs. Owens, two ghosts who never had a child of their own, adopt the boy as their own and protect him. The child is named Nobody (Bod for short) and given the Freedom of the Graveyard. Since the ghosts cannot leave their burial place, the mysterious man Silas who is neither alive nor dead is appointed Bod's guardian to ensure he has the necessities. Bod grows up among the denizens of the cemetery and learns about what it means to be alive (and dead) from them.

The Graveyard Book is a fairly quick read, around 300 pages long with quite a few lovely illustrations (I have the edition by Dave McKean). It contains eight chapters and one interlude and each section seems like a short story. This does not mean there is no overall conclusion to the story or that characters introduced in a chapter are no longer referenced later. It does mean that each chapter tends to focus on one main storyline with a beginning, middle, and end that keeps them feeling self-contained even though they are part of a larger story. Even though I'm not normally a fan of short fiction, I thought this format worked really well since it made it easy to read a chapter before going to sleep and then pick up where you left off later. Yet I still had difficulty putting this one down when I should have been sleeping because it was absorbing.

A book beginning with the near-murder of a one and a half year old child and the actual murder of the rest of his family may sound rather dreary. To an extent it is dark, but most of Bod's story is lighter than this even though most of the other characters are deceased. There are chilling moments but there are touching ones and humorous ones as well. The pacing is excellent since there is never a dull moment even though it is not always "fast-paced" since part of the focus is on friendship and growing up instead of just on learning about the graveyard and its inhabitants.

The only character who is developed is Bod, the main character and the only one who is really qualifies as a primary presence in the story. He has a naturally inquisitive nature that can make his conversations a lot of fun to read about, such as when he met a living child whose father unfortunately taught particle physics, a field in which too many wanted to teach and too few wanted to learn.
"What's particle physics?" asked Bod.

Scarlett shrugged. "Well," she said. "There's atoms, which is things that is too small too see, that's what we're all made of. And there's things that's smaller than atoms, and that's particle physics."

Bod nodded and decided that Scarlett's father was probably interested in imaginary things.
The Graveyard Book is fantastic storytelling containing both humor and seriousness, fantasy and reality. There is something to love for readers of all ages. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David Louis Edelman on Reviewing

David Louis Edelman, author of Infoquake and Multireal, wrote this article on what he likes to see in a review as an author. I found it rather interesting and think his criteria are good ones to strive for.

I found this on Post-Weird Thoughts today and am glad I did since I may have missed it otherwise.

Now off to write The Graveyard Book review so I can have it ready for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Corambis Cover Art

Being the Amazon addict I am, I logged on today to discover the new cover art for Corambis is up! Corambis is the fourth book in Sarah Monette's riveting "The Doctrine of Labyrinth" series and is scheduled for release on April 7 of 2009. To read a brief description of the book, go here.

The previous books in this series were my absolute favorite books of this year, so I am very much looking forward to this one. It's definitely my most anticipated book of 2009.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All the Windwracked Stars - First 3 Chapters Online

Elizabeth Bear's latest novel and the first book in The Edda of Burdens series, All the Windwracked Stars, comes out tomorrow. This is her first hardcover novel other than A Companion to Wolves, co-written with Sarah Monette (which I think is fantastic since all her books I've read so far are ones I'd want in hardcover). Chapter One is available here and the next two chapters are linked from the bottom of the page. Happy reading!

Coming Up

Since Friday is Halloween, I decided it was a good time to read and review the newest from Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book. If you are a fan of his, don't wait for the review to read the book! I absolutely loved it and it was my favorite of his novels I've read so far. (Other than that one, those would be Neverwhere, Stardust, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens, the novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. I have not yet read American Gods; I know that's a tragedy of epic proportions, especially since it is on my bookshelf. Of course, I've read all of Sandman, but that was incredible and surpasses any of the novels.)

Right now, I am a little more than halfway through The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, which will be the next book reviewed. After that, the next books I read will be The Jackal of Nar by John Marco and All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear. Then there will probably be some space opera but I still have Nation on the to-read pile so that's a possibility too.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review of The Stratford Man: Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth

"The Stratford Man" is the title of the two newest books in Elizabeth Bear's "Promethean Age" series, Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth. These two novels were supposed to be one book, but the finished story was too long for that and had to be split into two. Although there are two previous books in the Promethean Age series (Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water), these take place after the newer two books and can be read either before or after as long as the first book in each duology is read before its sequel. I would recommend that readers interested in history and literature, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Elizabethan times begin with Ink and Steel and those who enjoy mythology or stories taking place in modern settings begin with Blood and Iron. "The Stratford Man" duology is the more polished, stronger set although I personally enjoyed Blood and Iron the most of any of the books in this series.

Ink and Steel begins with the death of Kit Marley, who was murdered for his service to Queen Elizabeth as a member of the Prometheus Club. Soon after he is killed, his roommate and fellow writer Will Shakespeare is tested for his allegiance to the queen and found worthy of succeeding Kit by writing magical plays to inspire loyalty toward her. Will is taken to meet the rest of the Prometheus Club and discovers that Francis Walsingham, believed dead for 3 years is still alive and part of the order. With the knowledge of his predecessor's fate, Will reluctantly agrees to write plays for them due to his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, Kit awakens in Faerie where he has been saved by the Faerie Queen as a favor to Elizabeth. He is knighted by Morgan le Fey, who tended his wounds and gave him a drink - meaning he can not return the mortal world permanently. Kit now must trade his fealty to Queen Elizabeth to the Mebd, the queen of Faerie. However, in a world in which "All stories are true" the two faerie queens represent each other and supporting the reign of one strengthens the reign of the other. Kit returns to the mortal world when he can, reveals himself to the rest of the Prometheus Club, and remains influential in politics in both realms.

"The Stratford Man" is split up into five acts with each act containing a number of scenes. Ink and Steel contains the first three acts and Hell and Earth contains the latter two. Each section has a quote from Shakespeare's plays or sonnets or Marlowe's plays.

As can be expected from Elizabeth Bear, the prose is exquisite and descriptive without being verbose. The dialogue is often clever and speech is written in a way that feels like Olde English without being authentic (and is therefore not as difficult to parse). A few words that were not modern day English were included but there was normally enough context to guess what they meant. The other Promethean Age books also have a rich vocabulary and part of the fun in reading them is looking up the words or references I don't know or would like to know more about.

Although the afterword says that these books are not historically accurate, there are plenty of characters from the time period and Bear ties several theories about the life of Christopher Marlowe into the tale, such as speculation that his death was faked, he was an atheist, a spy for the queen, a homosexual, and a magician. The story also embellishes on real events, such as Marlowe's near failure to be allowed to graduate for possibly attending a Catholic college until it is revealed that he was performing a service for his country.

These two books were tighter and more mature than the two previous "Promethean Age" novels. I enjoyed the characters, mythological references, dark feel, and prose in Blood and Iron immensely, but felt that Whiskey and Water was weaker, particularly in the vast number of characters that had spotlight. As in the first book in the series, these two contain a vast number of characters including many Englishman from the time and well-known legends such as Morgan le Fey, Puck, and Lucifer. However, the main focus is on the two characters of Kit Marley and Will Shakespeare, which made for a much better story. Both of them are well-developed characters one can identify with and care about and their dilemmas are truly tragic.

"The Stratford Man" duology is not a light read but is an immensely satisfying one with rich prose, deep characters, political maneuvering, and lots of imagination. I hope the rest of the planned books in this series are eventually written and published.


Excerpts from Ink and Steel:
Act I Scene I
Act I Scene II
Act I Scene III

Reviews of other books in this series:
Blood and Iron
Whiskey and Water

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review of The Way of Shadows

The Way of Shadows
by Brent Weeks
688pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.58/5

Note: This review may contain spoilers. I always try to give a little bit of detail on the plot without mentioning anything I wouldn't want to know before reading the book myself and didn't think there were any major spoilers in this review... But I noticed that the author mentioned on his site this review contained spoilers. So I'm adding a warning because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone!

The Way of Shadows
is the debut novel of Brent Weeks and the first book in "The Night Angel Trilogy." Although this book was released only last month, the rest of the books in the trilogy will be available by the end of the year. Shadow's Edge, the second book, is scheduled to be out on October 28 but is already on the shelves in some bookstores (at least it was at my local Borders the beginning of this week). The final novel in the series, Beyond the Shadows, has a release date of November 25.

Azoth and his two friends, a boy named Jarl and a mute only known as "Doll Girl," live in the slums among other children. He dreams of becoming the apprentice of Durzo Blint, the legendary wetboy (an assassin with magical abilities), and being able to keep Doll Girl and Jarl from harm. Azoth encounters Durzo on a few occasions and begs him to teach him his craft. After several refusals, Durzo agrees to train Azoth under one condition - he must kill Rat, a violent older boy who terrorizes the other children. As a sympathetic boy who tends to look out for his friends, Azoth is unable to complete this task until Rat hurts Doll Girl. With Rat dead, Durzo accepts Azoth as his apprentice but tells him he must leave his old life behind, including his friendships with Jarl and Doll Girl. Durzo fakes the death of Azoth and gives him the new identity of Kylar Stern, a young nobleman of a minor family.

Throughout the years, Kylar learns about fighting and poisons from Durzo but cannot use his magical Talent no matter how hard he tries. Although he becomes a very capable assassin under Durzo's tutelage, he can never truly be a wetboy without the Talent. In addition to attempting to develop his magical abilities, Kylar struggles with leaving the past behind. He has always cared about Doll Girl and feels responsible for the scars Rat left her, so he arranged for her to live with a nice family and sends her part of his allowance. Occasionally, he watches her from afar but Durzo has forbidden any interaction with her on the grounds that a proper wetboy should not love. He knows from personal experience that those you care about can be used against you by enemies.

The Way of Shadows
is a rather long book at almost 700 pages but it seems shorter since it lacks long descriptions, has a lot of dialogue, and has great pacing that keeps the pages turning. It was not a book that was terribly original with a fairly standard fantasy setting containing kings, dukes, swordfighting, assassins (yes, they may be called wetboys but they're really just a higher level assassin aided by magic), war and conflict, mages, and prophets. Yet there are two more books and the premise of the Night Angel revealed toward the end has potential for an interesting backstory and mythological basis.

The book contains a lot of focus on characters, and although they are likable and not completely one dimensional, I felt that they could have had more depth. Kylar is a basically good-hearted assassin who is reluctant to kill innocents. Underneath the tough exterior, Durzo has a heart as well and has just grown better accustomed to hiding it over the years. It is not that the characters are shallow; they just have the personality traits you often read about when trying to make someone with an immoral job into someone a reader can have sympathy for. I did care about what happened to Kylar and Durzo but I was never devastated when tragedy befell either of them to the extent I should have been.

On the subject of tragedy, it does happen and the story can be somewhat dark although it never seemed shockingly so to me. For instance, it was not nearly as brutal as Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series.

One minor quibble I had with the book was calling the assassins "wetboys." They're supposed to be so much better than an assassin but with a name like that, they do not sound tough at all. It sounds like they should be the guys that fetch water for all the important people instead of killers inspiring fear in the hearts of their enemies.

The Way of Shadows is a fast-paced, entertaining read that is difficult to put down. It is not particularly unique, but it is a very fun book.


Read Chapter One

Other reviews:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review of Probability Moon

Probability Moon by Nancy Kress is the first book in the "Probability" trilogy and is followed by Probability Sun and Probability Space. Kress is probably best known for her novella Beggars in Spain, which won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards in 1991, and evolved into an entire trilogy (review). The first two novels in this series, Beggars in Spain and Beggars and Choosers, were nominated for both Hugos and Nebulas for best novel but did not win either, although Kress has won 4 Nebula awards for her novellas and short stories.

Probability Moon takes place in the distant future. Humans have found a method of traveling throughout space, but during their explorations they discovered the Fallers, an alien race bent on their destruction. Soon there is war between the two races and humanity is facing extermination--until they find a new planet and realize one of its seven moons is not a moon at all. It is actually a manufactured object, perhaps a weapon to use against the Fallers. Scientists are sent on a secret mission to study it under the guise of observing the aliens living on the planet, who are unusual in that they "share reality" and experience physical pain if they do not all share the same beliefs. A team of anthropologists is sent to study the aliens, completely unaware of the real purpose of the mission and the fact that the rest of the ship's crew will be examining the "moon."

Enli, a young female, has been declared "unreal" by Reality and Atonement for the murder of her brother. Now she is an outcast since all the "real" people must ignore her while she works to earn back her right to be a part of reality and have a proper burial for her brother, whom she cared deeply for. When the humans come to her world, she is assigned to spy on them and gather information allowing the aliens to decide whether or not the humans are real or unreal. If the researchers are found to be different from the aliens, they will be killed, according to the traditional penalty for those who do not share reality.

The alien race in Probability Moon was very well done and I hope the next two books in the series contain more about them. Having a uniform belief system is an intriguing idea - it sounds horrible (and rather dull) in one sense; however, when the people all share the same worldview, it results in no disagreements and no war. Yet the pain is not the only method of controlling shared reality since the unreal or children who never grow up to exhibit signs of being real are executed, which is a rather harsh price for keeping a peaceful community.

There were several characters the story focused on, mainly the anthropologists studying the world, the military team on the ship studying the moon-artifact, and Enli. None of the humans were particularly well developed, although I did find David, the young and inexperienced man who became part of the expedition only through the influence of his father, rather interesting and the best developed of them. David believed the aliens and their shared reality was far superior to humanity and wanted to learn how to genetically modify humans to have shared reality, envisioning himself as a hero who would create peace on earth. The unreal alien was the most real and sympathetic character in the story with her sadness about her brother and wish to be accepted and redeclared a part of her people's reality. I would like to know more about the details of what happened to Enli and her brother as well as more information on why she was declared unreal but not killed.

This book was a little slow to start with, other than the chapters about Enli which captured my attention from the beginning. I did find the parts that took place in space particularly hard to read early in the novel, but they became easier to read as the story progressed and this was the storyline that had fewer pages dedicated to it.

Probability Moon is a thoughtful novel about two very different races trying to learn about each other, as well as humanity's quest for knowledge that could save them. Recommended to fans of first contact stories and those who enjoy imaginative science fiction.


Iain Banks Email Q&A: Part Three

The newest Iain Banks Q&A is up (this is a few days late but I only just saw it a few minutes ago). In this one, he answers questions about killing off characters, his novel Walking on Glass, the existence of gods in the Culture, technological singularity, whether or not any of his books have been banned, and how disappointing it must be to live in Britain instead of the Culture.

In case anyone missed them, here are links to the first two Q&As:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Final Thoughts: Camp Concentration

The first book blogger discussion week has come to an end. (For more information on the origins of this, you can read about it at OF Blog of the Fallen.) It was a great idea and I'm looking forward to the next one covering Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling in December. Although I didn't think it was a particularly enjoyable book, Camp Concentration was a great selection since it offered more to talk about than a lot of the more entertaining books that are out there.

It was fun to read everybody's reviews and I think getting a few different perspectives on the novel was helpful in appreciating it more. I found it helpful to actually spend the week reading different reviews and comments instead of writing my review and then just moving on to the next book. Reading the reviews and comments and writing my own comments also made me think of a few things I wish I had further clarified in my review so I'm going to write about them now.

My main issue with Camp Concentration was that I didn't feel like I knew enough about the characters to really care about what happened to them or be sad about some pretty harsh circumstances. However, this novel was still fairly character-driven, especially taking into consideration the fact that this was not common for science fiction novels written around the same time. It was told entirely through the eyes of one character and detailed his life at Camp Archimedes and his transformation throughout the story. It still did not entirely work for me (although his characterization was certainly better than some of the older science fiction authors such as Asimov), but I think it is important to remember that it is a fairly old book as far as science fiction is concerned. This is why I'd be interested in finding out more about how Disch's work was influential and which authors would claim him as an inspiration.

I also stated in my review that I did not feel the book was particularly original or challenging, and I think this could have used some further clarification. It did not seem particularly original to me because there have been plenty of books about corrupt governments treating their citizen's lives as a means to an end, enhancing intelligence in some way, experimenting on humans, life as a prisoner, etc. Also, the exploration of the relationships between intelligence and knowledge and intelligence and madness were nothing new to me, either. Upon further reflection, combining these elements with literary references and the way it was put together was probably more original than I gave it credit for being. The pieces were somewhat standard but the whole was not unoriginal.

By saying the book was not "challenging" I did not mean it was not profound or thoughtful. It did contain much to think about - it's just that the parts that stood out to me were ideas that I'd already read about before. Therefore, it did not challenge my worldview - I never stopped and thought about how I'd never thought about something that way before or changed the way I viewed an idea. For instance, I already thought that IQ tests are not a great measure of intelligence and that genius is often a matter of luck before reading about it in this novel. There was never one of those "Aha" moments for me - which doesn't mean someone else will not have one when reading it (or that I might not have some were I to reread it).

I rambled a bit more than I meant to... I do think it was one of those books that was far more fun to discuss than it was to actually read, so it is a great book for reading groups.

Friday, October 17, 2008

December Blogger Book Club

Post-Weird Thoughts has an announcement about the next Blogger Book Club Discussion. The next book will be Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling. I have yet to read a book by Sterling and have been curious about his work so it will be a good opportunity to give it a try. The next discussion will take place from December 8 - 12. The announcement has more details on the selected book, and if you would like to participate, leave a comment at Post-Weird Thoughts.


I was hoping to get up at least one review this week but it turned out to be a busier week than normal and I didn't have much spare time in the evenings. This weekend I plan to get up a review on Probability Moon by Nancy Kress and perhaps a "post-discussion" post on Camp Concentration. If I can just get that one review done, I will be most of the way caught up since I just have the one on Elizabeth Bear's "The Stratford Man" duology left other than that. I'm reading two long books right now to give myself some time to get caught up - The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt and The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Since I've barely had any time to read this week, that's working out well as far as not reading more than writing goes.

Clarkesworld Books is temporarily open again for those of you who are addicted like I am. I'm still trying to figure out just what to order and have been working on narrowing down my list of potential buys. If anyone has any feedback on why I should or should not get the following books let me know:

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle
Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park (they have signed copies of this one)
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (I'll probably wait on this one since I apparently need to be on vacation to read his books and I'm sure I won't be having one of those for a while)
Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (think this is a must buy from what I've heard)

They're all fairly cheap (about $8 for most of the trade paperbacks and $3-$4 for mass market) and I'm not sure what to get. Other than Yolen, McKinley and Reynolds, I haven't read anything by the authors in the above list (yet).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blogger Book Club Review of Camp Concentration

Camp Concentration
by Thomas M. Disch
192pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.81/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.81/5

Today marks the beginning of the first in what will hopefully be many Blogger Book Club Discussions. Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen came up with the idea of selecting an older book every month to discuss on various blogs. It's a casual discussion with an entire week for posting reviews and no obligation to participate every month. The October discussion book is the dystopia Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch, which was originally published in 1968.

During the 1970s, America is at war. The poet Louis Sacchetti has been imprisoned for dodging the draft, finding five years in jail preferable to life as a soldier, possible death, and participating in a cause he believes to be morally wrong. The story begins when Louis has finally been allowed to have some paper and immediately begins writing a journal about his time as an inmate. Shortly after the writer has started his daily musings, there is a gap in time between entries and it is noted that the format has changed from handwriting to typing. Louis then tells of being snatched away from this prison to a new prison known as Camp Archimedes, which one of his captors promises will be a better place for him with movie nights, access to a library, coffee, and a weekly allowance of funds. In return, Louis must continue writing his journal and recounting his factual observations.

Soon Louis discovers the real purpose of Camp Archimedes - its residents are part of an experiment to test Pallidine, a new drug derived from syphilis spirochete intended to enhance intelligence. Those who have taken the medication are becoming smarter; however, any person who has taken it dies approximately nine months later. This leads the inmates to study alchemy and ways to create an elixir of youth so they do not meet this fate of an early death.

Camp Concentration has a very academic feel and was reminiscent of books I read in college because of the journal format, the references to literature such as Faust, and the discussion of concepts such as genius being inseparable from madness without the involvement of the factor of luck. It was a book that seemed to be more about ideas and making points through plot and character than one that was about plot and character featuring some contributing ideas. This book fell more into the category of interesting than enjoyable - while I'm glad I read it, it wouldn't be my ideal choice for curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book on a lazy day.

The weakest aspect of the novel for me was that I didn't form any emotional connection whatsoever to anyone in the book, including the narrator. My favorite books are those where the characters take on a life of their own and seem like real people. In spite of the fact that the entire book is written in first person perspective through journal entries, which would afford the most intimate look into a character's mind, the personalities in the book always seemed very distanced to me, as a reader. Although we know about how Louis struggles with his religious faith as a Catholic, his strong views about the war, and his love of poetry, the book never delves into why the narrator has specific viewpoints, likes, dislikes, and beliefs. It is just expressed as a fact - which is fitting with the instructions Louis was given on writing in his journal and with the overall tone of the story. However, a story very tragic at heart - about people who are condemned to die by a corrupt society to gain knowledge for said society to use - failed to move me in any way since it never made me care about what happened to anyone in the book.

This is a book that would probably benefit from a reread since I'm sure pieces of it would come together better after knowing what was coming. On the first read through, I found myself feeling like it was not that original or challenging since it did not introduce me to concepts I had not encountered and thought about before (which may also have something to do with the fact that it was written before I was born - I would be interested in knowing how much influence it had on later works). This makes me think that I probably missed a lot since it is supposed to be a very thoughtful book - or perhaps my expectations based on what I'd heard about this book were just too high.

Camp Concentration is an engaging story containing a vast amalgam of ideas, and while I am glad I read it, it did not leave much of an impact on me.


Other Blogger Book Club reviews of Camp Concentration:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Review of Maledicte

Maledicte is the debut novel of Lane Robins, who is writing a loose sequel to this book that takes place in the same world but features different characters. Since all the loose ends are tied up in Maledicte and the story arc definitely feels like it has a conclusive ending, it works well as a stand alone book. The concept and plot of this character driven fantasy were not particularly complex, but it was very readable and kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.

The Earl of Last has no heirs other than an illegitimate son Janus, whom he captures unwillingly from a life in the slums and teaches the ways of the court. Miranda, Janus's childhood friend and lover who is left behind, runs away to the temple of Black-Winged Ani, the goddess of love and vengeance. The people no longer believe in the gods, yet when Miranda leaves the temple she has a mysterious black sword and a thirst for vengeance that will not be quenched. She disguises herself as a young man, takes the name of Maledicte, and vows to find Janus and his father. (Note: From this point on, Maledicte will be referred to as a male since he has shed his identity as the woman Miranda - and that's how it was in the book.)

While searching for the Earl of Last, Maledicte intrudes in the home of the sickly Baron Vornatti, who also harbors animosity for the earl after he slandered his sister's name. Lonely and intrigued by the handsome youth, Vornatti coerces him into staying the night in his house with the aid of his servant Gilly, who slipped a drug into Maledicte's wine that put him to sleep. Vornatti teaches Maledicte the ways of the court, where he becomes a controversial figure with his poor temperament yet manages to win the favor of the king. Maledicte awaits the arrival of Janus and his reaction to him - if Janus no longer loves him, he will kill him, but if he does, he will include him in his plans for revenge.

This is a story for those who enjoy flawed characters - perhaps flawed is even a bit of an understatement. The main character is Maledicte himself with a lot of focus on Gilly and some on Janus. Maledicte is possessed by the goddess, giving him a penchant for bloodlust, and he is selfish and not a particularly nice person due to the fact that he kills rather easily. He only cares about Janus and Gilly, with whom he forms a friendship early in the story. However, his motives are at least somewhat understandable since he is driven by Black-Winged Ani's desire for vengeance and there are a few times when he shows glimmers of human feeling. Janus is even less likable than Maledicte and has no excuse other than greed and a desire for power. The most likable character is easily Gilly, who is generally good but still far from perfect. Gilly loves Maledicte but tells him he will not kill for him, yet he often finds himself committing actions he disagrees with morally in order to protect Maledicte. (Janus also hates Gilly because of his feelings toward Maledicte and would kill him if not for the fact that it would displease Maledicte, which makes him seem even more despicable.) Even though I enjoy reading about anti-heroes, I found I had real empathy for Gilly and liked reading about him the most.

The plot, court intrigue, and character relationships were very uncomplicated, making this an easy and fun book to read. The writing style is more convoluted, bordering on what many would refer to as purple prose, but I did not think it was excessive (of course, I like more verbose writing as long as it is not to the point of being so descriptive it is boring).

The perspective is always third person, although whose perspective it is changes often. At times, it is Gilly, occasionally it is Maledicte himself or the king or even for a short time that of Kritos, the man who actually stole Janus away from Maledicte by order of the earl. Some may find this distracting but it did not bother me at all.

At times, I did find myself questioning character actions. Why would the baron take in an intruder who just appears in his home one night? Why would a nice guy like Gilly be so enamored of Maledicte when he was so evil at times? Why would the king and many other court members be so fascinated by Maledicte when he is so disagreeable and disobedient to the rules? Mostly, I thought they made sense after some reflection, though. The baron was alone other than Gilly with an illness that confined him to bed a lot so he was probably glad for the company, especially after finding out their common enmity for the earl. Gilly was an empathic person and had the gift of seeing the gods' work so he knew what a large part of Maledicte's problem was even when others did not and would have been the type to want to help him. As far as the king and some women of the court go, I suppose Maledicte was somewhat mysterious, although I'm not finding the answer to that question comes as easily as the other two.

Maledicte was a dark tale containing some characters I grew very attached to, although they did not seem to contain great depth. I did feel that the story was lacking something I cannot put my finger on in its simplicity, but it was a good debut novel and I am looking forward to reading the next book set in this world.


Read the Prologue