Shadows of the Apt – final thoughts.

Quite recently I dedicated an unusually long post to a heated critique of some minor points of one of my favourite fantasy series ever. Apart from my conviction that one of the characters is overpowered and unnecessary, I concluded: arguably some obscure details of how war develops are slightly distorted, giving the series 9,5/10.

That was before reading Seal of the Worm and now I have to admit – the final instalment made me sad. So – the whole series keeps the “well done” tag, “medium” applies to the Seal of the Worm.

Czajkowski_Shadows of the Apt

Spoilers ahead, even more than in the previous post.

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Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds (2016)

Magic Binds

Magic Binds is the ninth installment in the highly acclaimed urban fantasy series by the writing duo, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Having reached the status of bestsellers and the rare honor of hard cover over the span of an almost decade of writing, Kate Daniels series is widely recognized as one of the best urban fantasy series in the market. I have written about the series here. After several pretty decent novels there came a serious dip in the form of Magic Shifts, then a couple of novellas about side characters from Kate Daniels’ world, and an entirely new urban fantasy/romance series before finally the ninth book saw the light of day.

Magic Binds garners enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike, showcasing all the strengths of the previous novels. The end of the 10-book story arc is near, and so the ninth book cannot but head toward some kind of a grand conclusion, upping the ante and preparing ground for the big climax. All the smoldering conflicts burst up in flames, all the grudges and favors are coming to the fore once more, and the knowledge of previous events is a must. It follows logically that the readers in general – and the people writing reviews specifically – have invested so much into the series already that their reception might be more than just a bit skewed.

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David Drake, Republic of Cinnabar Navy – a decent Space Opera

Tor.com has its Space Opera Week now, and it’s going to add quite a few items to my To-Be-Read pile, especially since Space Operas tend to be multi-volume endeavours. It renewed my interest in the Vorkosigan Saga by  Lois McMaster Bujold, one of THE great genre series that are still waiting for me, and put The Uplift by David Brin on my radar, and also reminded me that I have first two omnibuses of Saga waiting on my shelves (I wanted to wait till it’s all finished, but it’s very tempting to start right now…).

My decision to start David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar Navy series had nothing to do with it, volume one was what I got for my monthly Audible credit this April, volume two I listen to right now, and I believe it to be an excellent example of this particular subgenre, with all its vices and virtues.

Also, a rare example of American covers being superior, the oldschool ones are original Baen, the shitty ones – relatively recent Titan version. Luckily, Audible.co.uk chose Baen for audiobooks.

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Tad Williams, The Heart of What Was Lost (2017)

Tad Williams is a writer I’ve mentioned here a few times, and I reviewed his breakthrough trilogy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It got three posts altogether, so it’s clear I liked it. Having been published between 1988 and 1993, it’s one of the links between earlier post-tolkienian fantasy represented by authors like Brooks and modern, grimmer epics from Martin to Abercrombie. George R.R. claimed Williams had been an influence on The Song of Ice and Fire and it is quite possible, because despite Memory… predates Game of Thrones by eight years. So, the blurb you’ll see in a moment on the cover is not as annoying as many other of dozens upon dozens of GRRM’s stamps of approval.

It’s not the most sophisticated of fantasy series and lacks some of the shades of grey so important to books fashionable today, I admit, but it’s a well written story happening in a rich world. I particularly liked the important role given (closely based on Earthly examples) religion, something astonishingly rare in a genre where miracles actually do happen… and the elves, unusually alien and complicated. And the protagonist were likeable, and actually good people… does not happen that often now.

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Pierce Brown, Morning Star (2016)

Morning Star

I should start with the old and worn saying: “never say never”. For despite my scalding review of the second installment, Golden Son, and doubts the size of Godzilla I did reach for the conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy. Availability is key, you might say, especially on long train trips 😉 Aaand a promise of mindless entertainment 😉

Godzilla VS. The Smog Monster

I’m therefore pleased to say Morning Star is better than Golden Son. As the trilogy’s finale, it has all the advantages of tying up every unfinished thread, and bringing logical and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the story, in the hopes of becoming the crowning achievement of the author.

Red Rising trilogy, just like an old-fashioned computer game, lines the problems up from the easiest – the Institute in Red Rising – to the most difficult – i.e. the whole solar system in Morning Star. The villainous bosses are also gaining weight and powers as the books flash by, and this time the main villain is the Big Bad herself, the autocratic ruler of the solar system, Olivia au Lune, and her sinister right hand, Aja. Not to mention the Jackal, the scourge of Mars, the evil twin of Mustang and the terrible alter ego to Darrow. A double Mr Hyde for the price of one! :).

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Connie Willis, Crosstalk (2016)

crosstalk

Connie Willis, one of the most critically acclaimed SF writers of our times, the winner of 11 Hugo Awards and 7 Nebula Awards, the 28th SFWA Grand Master… The list goes on and on. We’ve reviewed some of her works before on Re-enchantment – Blackout/All Clear and Passage; we’ve read many more – and here a really big shout goes to To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which to this day remains my favorite Connie Willis novel.

So, Crosstalk; the newest Willis’ novel, in her own words, is:

about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!

(More of Willis’ thoughts on Crosstalk here.)

It sounded like fun – and besides, Willis always writes greatly enjoyable novels – at least from my limited experience :). Telepathy and Irish, a touch of Powers’ penchant for conspiracy theories, contemporary covens and a bit of light-hearted satire on our over-social-medialized world… If every ingredient is tasty, then, logically, the dish you prepare from them should be tasty too, right? Not.

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Patricia Briggs, Silence Fallen (2017)

silence_fallen_layout.indd

It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.

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