What I’ve Been Reading – July 2014 Edition

The Staff of Serapis by Rick Riordan
Actually a short story. Rick’s setting up a crossover book with his two series, the one featuring Greek demigods and the one featuring Egyptian, er, demigods (Too long to explain). This is the second short story doing this and it was a lot of fun, featuring Annabeth from the Olympians and Sadie from the Egyptian series. The two characters mix really well and it was a lot of fun.

Field of Prey by John Sandford
Our most reliable and consistent thriller writer. A little bit of a return to his earlier books, which is to say, grim and disturbing. When a couple teenagers go out into an abandoned farm to get laid, they accidentally uncover a well that’s pretty much filled with the bodies of missing women.

Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
I’m not in love with Atkins’ Spenser novels, but I think he probably does it as well as anybody could. The voice is just different enough that it sets my alarm bells. On the plus side, the plots are generally better than Parker’s were, and he’s developing some new schtick between Spenser and Hawk. Recommended.

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi
Okay. Wow. John has a book coming out, I believe in a could weeks, Locked In, that involves a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus. But this virus causes, in some cases, the person to eventually go into a physically locked-in state, they’re essentially paralyzed, unable to talk and move, but are fully conscious. In Unlocked, he presents a somewhat epistolary version of the spread of the virus and how things changed technologically and culturally as a result. The gist of it is that someone developed, basically, avatars—neural networks that could operate robots, and then the various cultural things that came out of it. It’s an amazing, thought-provoking and occasionally disturbing novella and I’m looking forward to the novel.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
Needs no explanation.

Frozen Solid by James M Tabor
A research scientist goes to South Pole Station to do a Antarctic-water dive to collect some unknown bacteria that were found growing in the frigid water. Meanwhile, there have been a series of odd deaths, seemingly accidental or medical, of some of the women on the station. It’s enjoyable, has some strange off-kilter behavior, and a little too closely resembles one of my WIPs, CRYSTAL STORM, which may or may not someday get finished and published, but I thought it was good.

The Churn: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse series is terrific space opera. This takes us down to Earth, Baltimore basically, to give us some backstory about one of the characters in the novella. I’m not so sure how it fit into the Expanse series (in terms of how accurate the character’s backstory seemed), but I thought it was a pretty fascinating look at the Earth of that series.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling
Her first crime novel featuring Cormoran Strike, a PI in London. It’s very British, very slow and textured, but the character of Cormoran is terrific. It’s also very, very different from the Harry Potter novels, and if I hadn’t known they were written by the same person I wouldn’t have guessed she wrote them both. I do find that there are significant thematic material concerning the nature of fame. I imagine I will read the second one eventually.

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
This is an SF graphic novel my oldest son wanted me to read. It ain’t a comic book. It’s very adult with a fair amount of nudity, sex, and, of course, violence. It takes place in some galactic area with an ongoing war between a couple species and two of them have fallen in love and had a baby, and as a result, they are being hunted by the various governments and bounty hunters. Weird. Graphic. Engaging. Strange.

Bone Deep by Randy Wayne White
I have a lot of respect for Randy and his Doc Ford novels. Just not this one. I’ll stop there.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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