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Book Reviews: June 2015

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As Goodreads kindly reminded me, I am doing great on my 2015 goal of 50 books. I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped to in June, but I have some reviews for the month.

ruin-risingI continued to finish the Grisha series, with its final volume Ruin and Rising. The conclusion to the series finds Alina and Mal trapped in the caverns underneath Ravka, with the clergy using her as symbolic figure of little power, Saint Alina. Eventually the gang of Grisha flee to find the mystical Firebird, the last of the sources of power that Alina hasn’t bound yet, hounded on all sides by the vastly superior powers of the Darkling. The book is dark, full of action and only in its conclusion managed to disappoint me, with a giant cop-out. An opportunity of giant emotional impact was lost here. I wish Leigh Bardugo hadn’t gone for this cop-out and had treaded a less safe route. But then, who am I kidding, this is YA. I have to admit I was a bit disturbed to read all the Goodreads reviews of teenage girls fawning over the ‘hotness’ that is the Darkling. Erm, yeah.

My rating: (4 / 5)

steles-of-the-skyThe next book I read finds me conflicted. Steles of the Sky is the final book of the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. Set in a quasi-Asian world, it is the story of Re Temur, the exiled heir of the Khaganate, so basically Mongols. In the first book his lover Edene was captured by the Nameless Assassins, a cult of assassins from the desert that want to resurrect the greatest evil of all times. In the final book of the series, Re Temur and his allies, including a now fled Edene and their child, gather at a lake in Song (what I gathered to be this world’s China), and prepare their last stand against the armies of Al-Sepehr. When the final battle comes, it’s full of surprising twists and turns. I have to say, I really did not see this end coming. As in the previous book, Steles of the Sky is not really a book about Temur, but of the women in his life, the wizard Samarkar, Edene, and many other strong women. The book’s greatest problem for me is its glacial pace. It really takes forever and ever until things happen, at a pace that made me give up caring at times. Also, as it’s been a long time since I read the previous books, I had forgotten a lot of elements of the story. In retrospect, I can only wish I had read all three of them in close sucession, to make the final volume a better experience. One thing I know for sure: the setting made me actively crave playing Mists of Pandaria, its soundtrack would be a great soundtrack for the Steles of the Sky. All in all I absolutely recommend this trilogy of fantasy books, but please read all three books together for the best experience.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

prince-of-wolvesLast but not least, I read Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross. This is the first book of the Pathfinder Tales, tie-in fictions for the official campaign world of the Pathfinder RPG, Golarion. Now, in my time, I have read tons of tie-in fiction. When I used to play AD&D, I pretty much bought every Forgotten Realms book published, and same with the Dragonlance books. A lot of this tie-in fiction was bad or disappointing. I know people love R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt do’ Urden books, but I despised them. They were bland, generic, and Drizzt is just such a special snowflake. Eventually I moved on to what I consider real fiction. I mean, come on, I even read Dragonlance fiction by Richard Knaak, the guy who brought us Rhonin and other disappointments in WoW fiction. This all should explain why my expectations for Pathfinder fiction were really really low. I am very happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised.

The more than creepy villain of this book is a Penanggalan, a vampire rising out of a body. Gross.

The more than creepy villain of this book is a Penanggalan, a vampire rising out of a body. Gross.

Prince of Wolves is set in Ustalav, Golarion’s version of Romania or maybe Transsylvania, settled by a group of people called Varisians. It’s a country ravaged by war against the Whispering Tyrant, a powerful lich and is still suffering from that today. The story has two protagonists and is told from the first person perspective in alternating chapters. Count Varian Jeggare is an elven Venture-Captain in the Pathfinder society, a powerful faction of explorers. He has lost contact to one of his Pathfinder agents and travels to Ustalav to find her. He is accompanied by his bodyguard Radovan, a tiefling with devil blood, but also Varisian roots. Early on, they get attacked and separated. Count Jeggare ends up in the clutches of cultists of Urgathoa, the goddess of undeath, whereas Radovan ends up with a group of werewolves who are Sczarni and who believe he is the Prince of Wolves that was foretold to them. Inevitably, they end up together again, both searching for the Lacuna Codex, an evil book of spells that the Urgathoa cultists are only too eager to get their hands on. The book is a strange mix of humor, a bit of a Victorian feel because Count Jeggare and Radovan were a bit like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with the count being very much snooty upper class, and classic gothic horror, sometimes a lot more creepy than I really expected. Above all, it was extremely true to the world of Golarion and pretty much oozed Pathfinder spirit at all times. I am not the only one surprised at this level of quality from a series of tie-in novels, as you can see in Aidan Moher’s interview with James L. Sutter, one of the Paizo developers and in charge of the line of novels.

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

That was it for June. Anything good anyone else has been reading? Recommendations are always welcome. 🙂

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