Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review: Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson

I remember well my first encounter with  KJA book.  I was a very new Star Wars fan who hadn't read anything more than the Thrawn trilogy and while waiting for my aunt to arrive one weekend, I read a book blurb that claimed Luke Skywalker was in a coma and a Dark Lord of the Sith was running amok.  I immediately bought it (and realized later that I should really have read the first two books in the series) just because I appreciated an author with the audacity to go in a less conventional direction.

This is a  slightly odd way to introduce my review, but I feel it's relevant.  Spine of the Dragon was sent to me in the form of an ARC and I devoured it.  It is his return to epic fantasy and clearly demonstrates that this format does not cheat the reader of the things I've enjoyed about his other works.  (In addition to Star Wars, he's written compelling stories in the Dune universe as well as a great read called The Dark Between the Stars.  But that's another topic.)

The best way to explain this first book in his exciting new series is to ask you to imagine a world in which, during Greco-Roman conflicts, the Olympian gods and all their wacky offspring turned out to be not so much a thing of the past as we thought.  That automatically hooked me as a "we've got bigger problems than our national agendas, but it's not simple to reconcile those."  It tells the stories of characters ranging from a besotted prince to a disgraced sorcerer-turned-miner, so that we are all invested in the various levels of these societies.  The war descriptions do not lack for intensity, but are crafted to demonstrate different priorities and strategies.

Something that struck me enough that I actually mentioned it to my straight-laced mother is that yes, the married people get conjugal, but in his best moments, Kevin writes it with attention to intimacy instead of physicality.  I have been looking for books that are able to convey that after many years of cringing through George R.R. Martin's interpretation of how all physical relations work. 

I won't say more about the plot, but definitely encourage people to go out and give this a try because I want other people to discuss it with!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

I first encountered the author at a League of Utah Writers conference.  They were co-teaching a crash course on Writing the Other and since, I've been on a panel on diversity with them and followed their Twitter obsessively.

I know their philosophies and inclinations well, so anticipated a very interesting read when I signed up for Empire of Light.  I was fascinated by the promise of comparisons to Firefly and honestly wanted to read a book written under the influence of everything I've learned from Alex's various teaching opportunities.

Let me first say that this is not a book for the faint of heart.  It is a post-apocalyptic New York City in which the space program was scrapped because Earth's inhabitants needed to spend those resources on survival.  There is a kind of caste system that makes the Hunger Games look like a feel-good system of democracy.  There are superpowers out there (the Voyance that the subtitle references), but I don't think I've seen such a polarized magic system since the conflict between Sith and Jedi.

It is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is absolutely worth the read.  When I was given the ARC, Alex included a list of caveats telling the readers about possible hot-button subjects covered in the book.  I read through them all out of curiosity, but was interested to see how jarring they would be when they came up.

The strength of this book is exactly in that polarity.  Alex sets healthy relationships against deeply flawed ones.  We see the damage done within a complicated and damaged family, but also the ties that create a different kind of family.  We are absolutely compelled to keep reading because we  can't identify a single reason to take a side.  (This is also affected by the fact that I am absolutely a fan of one of the most brutal characters.)  It brings to mind the line from Episode III of Star Wars:  "There are heroes on both sides.  Evil is everywhere."  It is hard to trust a single character's actions or motivations, particularly when there is no lack of effective plot twists.

The fight scenes are fantastically written, particularly because of the integration of voluntary and involuntary defensive magical powers.  The system has rules and consequences that speak well of their planning and make me feel a great deal of excitement for whatever comes next.

I recommend this book highly, as you can tell, but it is one where the seedy underbelly of a society and the depravity of a society in a state of collapse are described graphically.  Drug abuse and addiction are major parts of the story, as are very personalized physical and emotional abuse. Those who are not comfortable with profanity should know that it is used as a natural part of the dialogue and I described it as "between Seanan McGuire and George R.R. Martin on a level of how many people punctuate dialogue with profanity."  One early scene was graphically intimate, but I found myself more comfortable with the more passing references to intimate pairings.  I am not as familiar with stories written by and about characters of different sexualities and sexual preferences, but I found their depiction of a demisexual narrator to be both authentic and realistic.  It was actually the first overt depiction of a demisexual that I have seen since discovering that it is a term I relate to, so as soon as Alex inserted that characteristic into the story, I paid attention to the perspective even more. 

I am grateful that I can tell you about this story on its release date and hope you will all go check it out.

Buy here!