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Escapement (God's Clockwork #2)
Paolina Barthes is a young woman of remarkable intellectual ability – a genius on the level of Isaac Newton. But she has grown up in isolation, in a small village of shipwreck survivors, on the Wall in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. She knows little of the world, but she knows that England rules it, and must be the home of people who possess the learning that she so desperately wants. And so she sets off to make her way off the Wall, not knowing that she will bring her astounding, unschooled talent for sorcery in this world of God’s Clockwork to the attention of those deadly factions who would use or kill her for it.
Jay Lake’s Mainspring was a novel full of potential that was hindered by uneven writing and execution: tasty and entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book enough to look for more. Cheerfully, everything that worked so well in the first book has been retained in Escapement, while most of the problems were corrected – resulting in a greatly improved sequel that is everything Mainspring could have been and much more…
The setting is one of the novels’ strengths, and the author does a much better job this time around at rendering his creation: a steampunk-influenced, alternate Earth set in the early years of the 20th century, where God’s handiwork is in constant indication by the giant brass clockwork that encircles the world. The setting is so much more effective here because of the more consistent manner in which the author details the novel’s environment, including many ‘exotic’ locales – Africa, England, the Equatorial Wall, Taiwan, France, Mogadishu, a city of Brass Men, life onboard an airship and a submarine, etc – but also because the descriptions are more reasoned. The world depicted in Escapement is vibrant and easy to imagine.
Character-wise, this book features three main protagonists rather than just the single hero found in Mainspring, and unlike Hethor Jacques – who may have been likable but lacked depth and emotional connectivity – Paolina Barthes, Threadgill Angus al-Wazir, and Emily McHenry Childress are characters you actually care about. They each have distinctive voices and personalities: Paolina is smart, but naïve, fuelled by youthful determination and harbouring a strong dislike towards men because of the way she has been treated. Al-Wazir is rough with language reflecting his persona – ‘fewk’, ‘Johnnie foreigner’, ‘fuzzy wuzzies’, etc – but is extremely loyal and the kind of person you want guarding your back. Childress meanwhile, is married to her job and while cultured, lacks any worldly experience and is naïve in her own way. We also get to see the characters evolve over the course of the novel as they make mistakes, sometimes act selfishly, and are forced into difficult decisions.
The story is rewarding, with complex plotting and the weaving together of several different sub-plots and themes. Convergence, of course, occurs and the pace picks up as each plot heads towards this assignation.
Finally, although Mainspring is the prequel, I believe this can be read on its own merits. There are numerous references to people and places from the first book but nothing will be missed that will mar the story. 9/10 - Adam
Mariel of Redwall (Redwall #06)
One of the things I love about the Redwall tales is that you only have to open one to find yourself in a vivid and vicious animal civilisation. The era is set in medieval times, where apparently there is nothing more terrifying than a mouse (or shrew – take your pick) coming at you while swinging a sword. I wouldn’t want to tangle with any of the badgers either! While there are a lot of medieval tales out there, Brian Jacques has added a great twist to that theme and I have yet to find another series which so engagingly removes the human element.
These tales tie together the lives of the peaceful creatures of the Redwall Abbey, located in the Mossflower woods. While it is considered a place of sanctuary, the intricate history of Redwall is weaved from the travels of those that come and go as well as through the battles fought at its gates.
In this particular title, the mouse Mariel and her father, Joseph the Bellmaker, are sailing to deliver a bell to Lord Rawnblade, ruler of the great fortress Salamandastrom. On the way, their cargo is hijacked by the cruel sea-rat leader of Terramort, Gabool the Wild. After angering him, Mariel wakes up on a desolate shore with a knotted rope encircling her throat and no memory. She is guided to Redwall and makes friends with the hare Tarquin L Woodsorrel, the mouse Dandin and the hedgehog Durry Quill. Upon regaining her memory, she sets out to find and destroy Gabool. But during her quest, one of Gabool's captains plots to invade Redwall.
Redwall characters tend to cast type by species. Those that are ‘good’ and honourable, excepting the otters, tend to be the omnivore or prey variety (mouse, squirrel, etc), while others grouped under ‘vermin’ include foxes, stoats or rats. Each species possesses distinctive traits, tribes and mannerisms (‘Wot wot!’). Overall I found the characters lively and engaging; especially the hares, which are charming and wacky in turn. Although there are no humans present, the animals show plenty of sentient anthropomorphism and relatively little by way of natural behaviour. Additionally, the term ‘cute and cuddly’ is a foreign notion in this world.
Mariel of Redwall is fun and beautifully written, with themes of piracy, theft, treachery and standing firm for what is right. It’s pure escapism and highly recommended for the action and animal lovers out there. I doubt readers will want to stop at just one! For those who would like to read more, I would recommend the direct sequel The Bellmaker or Martin the Warrior (both titles available on special order), with whom the history of Redwall began. - Tamara
Ender in Exile (Ender #1.5)
Finally, 22 years after Ender’s Game was published, we get to see how Ender went from being a child overcome with guilt about the genocide he was tricked into committing, to the adult we meet some 20-odd years later. This story takes place directly between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, filling in the light-years-long gap between them due to the time dilation of space travel and relativity.
Orson Scott Card’s latest in the Ender saga deals with the usual space opera themes of colonisation, long stretches living aboard a space craft, as well as the discovery of alien artefacts - stalwarts of the genre that are all good fun. It’s not hard SF, as Card is more interested in exploring human themes, like rivalry and redemption, than theorising technological and scientific possibilities of contemporary physics or cosmology. Future technologies and everything that is highly advanced are alluded to as being the products of alien technology and never really explained. Which is kinda cool. And as always, SF’s favourite Mormon deals with spiritual themes, but due to the bigness and scope of the series, it doesn’t rankle the secular reader with preachiness.
In this novel, we see Ender transitioning and growing from a teenager into an adult. Having won the war at the end of Ender’s Game, Ender comes to realise that he can never return to Earth. Even though he is its saviour, his name and legend would do more harm than good, alarming the nations of the world, who would see him as a potential weapon for one nation to use against another. Aware of his potential to destabilise the nations of Earth, he opts to become the governor of the first colony to be established on an alien home world.
Anyone who has read the other sequels to Ender’s Game will not be overly surprised by this novel, as obviously the fallout and major events have been touched upon before. Which I guess poses the question: what is the point of writing this book? Is it just a cynical cash-in? It doesn’t matter. The story itself, although familiar, is really enjoyable, with Card’s usual strong characterisation and interesting plot twists. It’s worth it just to see one of SF’s favourite sons grow up. A must for all Ender fans. And anyone who is not should go and read Ender’s Game anyway! - Geoff
Wild Magic (Immortals #01)
This is the first Tamora Pierce book I have ever picked up. The story is set about 10 years after the Song of the Lioness Quartet and features many of the same characters, including Alanna, George and Jonathan. As with the first quartet, this series is Young Adult, but can be enjoyed by both young kids and adults.
The story begins at a fair in Galla (a country bordering Tortall) when a young girl called Daine approaches Onua, a K’miri horse trader looking to hire an assistant to help her transport ponies back to Tortall. On her way to Corus, Daine not only meets bandits, knights and sorcerers, but mythical creatures straight from nightmares, and she realises that things in Tortall are not as normal as they seem. Immortals are breaking out of the Divine Realms of the Gods and war looms on the horizon. The only hope seems to be Daine, who has Wild Magic, a rare power that allows her to communicate with animals, plus an ability to sense nearby immortals. Training with Great mage Numair Salmalín, she is forced to test and break her boundaries, and learn to accept her gifts, almost falling into madness as she faces Griffons, Stormwings, a Kraken and a Dragon to protect her friends, both human and animal, from the armies of Emperor Ozorne of Carthak.
The feel of this book is very different to the previous series, as Daine is more vulnerable than Alanna. The writing shows this through small hints in speech and Daine’s general reluctance to discuss anything about her past, either to other characters or to herself. Her character flavours the whole story, her emotive side often winning the day as often as her aggressive side. There is not a good balance of these two traits at the beginning of the story, but it begins to even out, and Daine adjusts to living among people who accept her.
The author places several well-known mythical creatures into the text, but it’s the less well-known creatures that give a sense of danger and thought to the writing. The Stormwings and Spidrens - a mixture of human and animal - are hideous constructs that play on people’s fears, especially when opposed to the heroes.
The insight into animals is what interested me in this series in the first place. Daine’s magic allows her to communicate and understand animals on a deep level where she can lose herself in the sensations of becoming that animal. The descriptive language used by the author as she writes about these episodes makes you feel as though you’re sitting right alongside the animals. The little titbits of information give a sense of reality to Daine’s ability and will convince any animal lover of the hard work the author has put into her writing. If you love animals, magic and adventure, this is a definite must read! – Chrissi
Dynasty of Evil (Darth Bane #03: Star Wars)
The story takes up with Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah, 20 years after the demise of the old Sith ways. With the loss to the Mind Bomb of all the known Sith Dark Side users, and a great many Jedi too, Darth Bane is left to administer his new and very different view of the Dark Side training and philosophy - the new Rule of Two.
Zannah now has the ability to challenge Darth Bane, but has yet to do so. The story revolves around the challenge in character of these two protagonists, to their duty to the new Philosophies, and the difficulties in seeing them through to fruition. Should they fail, the Sith Order will die with them.
Darth Bane is in failing health and worried that Zannah may lack the necessary skill or cunning to challenge and replace him. He seeks ways through ancient dark teachings to prolong his life long enough to complete Zannah’s training, and possibly provide him with immortality as well.
Zannah senses that Bane is hiding information crucial to her continued training and ability to take his mantle as master. Only a Sith who has taken down their own Master can become the one, true, Dark Lord of the Sith. She decides to take an apprentice herself - a fallen Dark Jedi - and to orchestrate a confrontation with Bane after their separate missions come to a conclusion, as she thinks he has already secretly replaced her with another secret apprentice.
I greatly enjoyed this third volume of Darth Bane, a rollicking adventure style of story that careens from one disaster to the next. A must read if you enjoyed the first two parts in the series - Path of Destruction and Rule of Two. The backstabbing nature of the Sith lends itself to conflict and intrigue, with layers of bad people trying to outwit one another and the good guys taking an ancillary role as padding for the story. The antagonists make Darth Bane’s struggles all the more enjoyable as he has to outwit vengeful Princesses, a cunning apprentice, a merciless bounty hunter and an assortment of Dark Cultist minions and Jedi authorities, all while trying to procure the Ancient writings that lead to a Holocron, which may provide the secret to life eternal.
The author also manages to drop hints and clues throughout the story that lead to all sorts of future twists in the story. Could Darth Bane actually be the teacher of Darth Sidious, who acquired the ability to stave off death and gain immortality? Read on, you know you want to... – CM
The Deed of Paksenarrion
The Deed of Paksenarrion is an omnibus comprising The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiances and Oath of Gold. This classic coming-of-age tale centres on the character Paksenarrion, who rebels against her father and runs away to avoid an arranged marriage. She joins a mercenary company and becomes a soldier, where we follow her on a journey from naivety to worldliness. Populated with a wide cast of characters, the land of the Eight Kingdoms bears a weighty feel of deep history, yet this epic is primarily about the journey of a single character, and grippingly so. Although often compared to The Lord of the Rings, Moon’s work leans more towards military fantasy than high fantasy. She draws deeply on her own experiences in the marines to provide a powerful picture of military life, and while such a thing would not appeal to me at all, Moon fills her world with magical creatures and powerful gods, both good and evil, as well as enough magic that, while never overpowering, offers a subtle balance to her martial themes, proving to me just how gifted a writer she is.
The plot of this tale is not groundbreaking within the context of its genre, but Moon’s strength lies in characterisation and world-building. Paksenarrion grows before our eyes from a simple farm girl with a dream to a seasoned warrior of the ‘gods of light’. While her life experiences deepen her character and make her a more complex person (Moon doesn’t shy away from the harder realities that a female soldier may face), ‘Paks’ always seems to retain an innocence of spirit that shines brightly on the page and in the mind. To my mind, this omnibus is a true classic and a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any avid reader of fantasy fiction, or even simply good fiction.
For the last 20-odd years, Moon has been asked by her faithful followers if she will be writing any new Paks books. She has said many times that she does not have any new Paks stories to write, but she has embarked on a new journey in the world of the Eight Kingdoms, the first book of which is Oath of Fealty and looks to pick up where The Deed of Paksenarrion left off. The information I have suggests Paks’ presence in the story, although we’ll see her through the eyes of different characters.
I love re-reading this tome as much as I did the first time around and I can’t wait to read the forthcoming Eight Kingdoms instalments! – Mark
Earth to Hell (Journey to Wudang #01)
When we left Emma in the Dark Heaven trilogy, she had survived Simon Wong (aka 122) and lost Leo and John (Xuan Wu) – but she had managed to save Simone, and escape the Demon King with the eventual promise that John would return to her. Now eight years in the future, Emma has had to step up to help manage the Northern Heavens and run the Wudang school, whilst hiding her true nature from her students and retainers.
This particular novel is based around getting Leo back after eight years. We follow our characters through Heaven and Hell as they try and convince Leo to accept immortality and rejoin them in the mortal plain. Plans go awry when the Leo held in Celestial Hell is proven to be a fake, and a desperate search ensues. It seems that after Simon Wong was destroyed, his closest demon consorts continued their experiments – and it’s up to Emma and Simone to stop them, with help from Michael, Bai Hu, Kwan Yin, Jade and Gold along with a many more ‘new’ and old Shen (immortals).
There have been many changes to Kylie’s writing style – the most obvious being the increase in general description through the main body of the story, with less being told from one character to another. As can be expected, there is a lot of reintroduction in the first few chapters – which is especially important, considering that well-known characters from Dark Heaven have been brought back and have undergone drastic changes since the last book. Nevertheless, the story rushes quickly to the conflict within these chapters, preventing the story from seeming slow-paced. There is still much delving into ancient Chinese texts, which Chan uses to provide her characters with depth – most noticeably, offering insight into John’s past and true nature, and explaining some of Simone’s strange quirks. There is a moderate amount of fighting, but it is confined mostly to the Shen, and observed by Emma rather than experienced by her. Thi