Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Book Review: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the second of those reviews.

Legacy is the second book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. To say it is the continuation of the story begun in book one, Beguilement, is an understatement, for Legacy picks up exactly where Beguilement left off. One might imagine the author having written both books at the same time as one giant volume, then chopping them in two when it came time for publication.

That being said, Legacy is, in fact, a semi-conclusion to events set in motion in book one. Dag and Fawn, married now, set out to return to Dag's Lakewalker camp where they hope to settle into the typical life of a Lakewalker married couple. The reader is given the feeling through Dag that things aren't going to be that simple. In Lakewalker eyes, farmers are not exactly inferior, but certainly not equals. Precedent as well as tradition dictate the two peoples remain separate, for it is believed that long ago Lakewalker sorcerers ruled common folk as lords. But bad things happened, and the modern day scourge of malice was the result. Now, Lakewalkers spend their days searching for malice uprisings, all the while recognizing that it was their doing that created them in the first place.

Dag and Fawn are not greeted with open arms. Just when things seem at their worst for our duo, the camp is presented with the distraction of a particularly bad malice uprising very nearly under a farmer village (a malice feeds best from children, so 'coming up' in such a place presents a bounty for the malice to feed from and grow in power). Dag is selected to lead the war party, and domestic disaster is averted, or is it? I will leave it up to you to find out for yourself.

In many ways Legacy is very much like Beguilement. The writing flows identically; you can tell Bujold wrote them both in one sitting (figuratively speaking, of course). The dilemmas as well, for while Dag and Fawn had to contest Fawn's family and their own traditions, so must they face similar challenges with Dag's Lakewalker brethren. The story also moves along at a fairly even pace. Don't expect a lot of grab you by the seat of your pants action or suspense. There are some gripping moments as the Lakewalker hunting party closes in on the malice and then has to deal with the subsequent fallout, but those moments are short. Mostly, Legacy is a romance about the veteran Lakewalker, Dag, and his farmer bride, Fawn, and the challenges such a union must overcome.

Personally, I'm enjoying the series. The writing is excellent and has a certain 'folksy' mannerism about it that just works. Dag is an interesting character, especially as he begins to discover a whole new side to his sorcery, and one can't but help feel for Fawn as she attempts to make nice with her unappreciative mother-in-law.

Legacy is a fine demonstration of impressive writing, world-building, and characters. In other words, it’s a must-read.

Book Review: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the first of those reviews.

Like many novels, Bujold's Beguilement is multi-layered. On one level, it is a fantasy novel where Lakewalker patrollers protect the lands from malice. On another, it's a romance novel, where the veteran patroller, Dag, and a runaway farm girl, Fawn Bluefield, meet under life-threatening circumstances and, as one might suspect, develop a romantic relationship with one another.

There are other things going in Beguilement, such as the dichotomy between Lakewalkers and farmers, but, for purposes of this review, I'd like to focus on the fantasy and romance layers first.

First, the fantasy: In this respect, Beguilement is good stuff. It takes place in an unnamed world where Lakewalkers, thought to have once been lords and known to be sorcerers, patrol the lands searching for signs of blight and its cause, malices. A malice is a concentration of energy, what Lakewalkers term 'ground', brought to life under mysterious and not fully understood circumstances. Malices are not good. They bring with them beguilement and death, draining the ground from other beings in order to evolve into increasingly more powerful beings. Worst of all, a malice doesn't understand death. This grants them a certain immortality.

Enter the sharing knife.

A sharing knife is a special Lakewalker weapon that, when used on a malice, 'shares' a death with the creature. This act of sharing is the only way to kill a malice.

As much as the book's title denotes one of the principal powers of a malice, it also refers to the effect Dag and Fawn have on one another. Herein enters the romance.

Dag is a dry-witted Lakewalker, a veteran with over twenty malice kills and a reputation as a capable, resourceful patroller. He has tragedy in his makeup, which I won't say necessarily haunts him, but certainly fills him with a sense of regret. It is this regret which increasingly weighs heavy on him when, out on patrol, a new malice threat and a farmer girl named Fawn Bluefield enter his life. I won't ruin anything about the encounter with the malice, only that both Dag and Fawn survive and go on to become lovers. It's an odd relationship: by custom, Lakewalkers and farmers do not interrelate in such ways. They take this 'forbidden love' back to Fawn's home where much drama ensues between herself, her family, and Dag.

That, in a nutshell, is what Beguilement is about. The story has points of slowness, but I never felt like it bogged down. The writing is excellent and tight; while there are other sub-plots intertwined with the main ones, none of them were a distraction. If anything, exactly the opposite: there's plenty of character-building here, and the characters are grounded, believable, and exceptionally thought-out. Fawn, despite entering the story as a runaway farm girl (which seemed a bit of a stereotype), soon shows us she is much more. Dag, for his part, plays the role of veteran soldier-sorcerer well; it's what lies beneath that draws the reader in and allows us to sympathize with his past and what he hopes for his future.

I found Bujold's system of magic and such concepts as the sharing knife to be original and intriguing. In many ways, it was this intrigue which kept me reading and wanting to know more.

One warning: Bujold leaps from one book to another with nary a break in the story. I imagine her having written all four books at one time (is there a fifth still to come?), then the publisher coming along later and slicing it into the four books we currently have. This probably isn't the case, but that's how one might look at it. With that in mind, if you read Beguilement, you'll at least want to pick up Legacy, because it picks up right where book one left off and goes a long way towards concluding the storyline begun in book one.

I think Bujold delivers with Beguilement and the larger The Sharing Knife series as a whole. Superb writing, well-grounded characters, and a colorful world and an intriguing magic system all come together to form an entertaining, engaging read.

Reviews forthcoming of Bujold's The Sharing Knife series

image I know I recently said I was going to pass on ARC's and reviews for a bit while I finish my own projects, but this one was too good to pass up.

EOS Books put out a call for advanced readers for the fourth installment in Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series, Horizon:

It's that time again -- we've got ten galleys of the highly anticipated conclusion to Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series.  We'll send you one in return for a review we can post on our blog.  E-mail eosbooks@harpercollins.com to enter.

They sweetened the deal by offering to send out the complete set if you hadn't yet read books one through three. That, my friends, was an offer I could not refuse.

So, once the set arrives, I'll be diving in immediately. I plan to review all four books, not just Horizon, each in its own blog post rather than throwing them all together like I did with The Soldier Son Trilogy. It should make for a whirlwind of reading and reviewing, one that I hope does not disrupt my own writing schedule.

Why You Should Read ARC's

Dark RainEOS Books has a call out for advanced readers for Tony Richards' Dark Rain.

I'm not in on this one only because I need the time to work on my current WIP. Participating as an advanced reader is a great experience, but it’s one of those things you have to sometimes temper your enthusiasm over. Personally, I love being one of the first people to see an author’s finished work. Also, it’s free stuff, and who doesn’t like that?

Ultimately, though, participating in these endeavors (along with a great many other things) can become a distraction. There’s typically a deadline associated with the ARC and its publication date. So you have to commit to a reading schedule. Then, you have to write a review. I like to put some thought into mine, and possibly do a little research about the author in the process. For me, it becomes a more fulfilling process that way. In any case, what this boils down to is time. Time away from other things, like writing.

One way to help deal with this is to limit the number of ARC’s you sign up for. Do one every two or three months, or every six months if that works better. But don’t not participate. ARC’s are a great way to get exposure to authors you might not otherwise read. I, for one, think it is of the utmost importance that a writer read outside of his or her field. It’s a sort of research, both into other content as well as writing style.

As for Dark Rain, here’s what EOS has to say about it:

Raine's Landing, Massachusetts, can't be located on any map. On the surface it appears an ordinary New England small town, but anyone who stumbles in wants to leave immediately . . . and once gone, they forget they were ever there. Real magic pervades this village of shadows, practiced by powerful adepts descended from the original Salem witches. But a curse has made it impossible for any resident to step beyond the town line. Those born here must die here as well.

That sounds awesome.

If you’ve got the time in your schedule, go check it out.

Book Review: Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell posted a request for advanced readers for his upcoming science fiction novel, Sly Mongoose, and, of course, I took him up on it.

This is my first go-around with Buckell’s work, though I’ve had one of his other novels, Crystal Rain, on my radar for a long time. Sly Mongoose is and isn’t a continuation of the story told in Ragamuffin. While there are clear references to the story that unfolded in that previous book, at no time did I feel as if I was missing something by not having read it first. Needless to say, as I found Sly Mongoose to be a very enjoyable read, I intend to go back and read Ragamuffin. Now, on to the review…

Sly Mongoose is a fast-paced, enjoyable read. The .rtf version I previewed came in at 208 pages, so expect about the same in the hard cover or paperback versions. The book is scheduled for release about August.

Buckell wastes no time throwing us into the story: Pepper, our titular character, is free-falling from orbit through Chilo’s atmosphere with only a heatshield protecting him from the 2,000 degree, friction-induced heat. Pepper is no ordinary person, though. He’s a Mongoose Man, a cyborg-like, elite soldier whose primary duty is the preservation of the human race (kicking ass is his other priority).

Therein lies one of the main complexities of Pepper’s character. He’s extremely resourceful, intelligent, and experienced, having lived hundreds of years thanks to his cyborg implants, but he’s also pragmatic to the extreme, and not above sacrificing innocents if that’s what it takes for him to live to fight another day. If those less equipped to save themselves must be sacrificed, so be it. This dilemma lies at the heart of many conflicts for Pepper; it should go without saying that it also plays a part in the unfolding of events in Sly Mongoose.

In contrast to Pepper’s seemingly unlimited resourcefulness is Timas, a teenage resident of the floating city of Yatapek (which Pepper is falling to in the opening scene) on Chilo. Like Pepper, Timas belongs to an elite group, though not a military one. Timas is a xocoyotzin, a person specially chosen to service a mining machine that prowls Chilo’s surface looking for raw materials. Yatapek is not a wealthy city, and much of their technology has become outdated and fallen into disrepair. The environmental suits the xocoyotzin must wear to survive conditions on the surface are only large enough for younger people to wear, so that as one gets older eventually one becomes too big for the suit. For Timas, serving his city is a privilege and an honor, and so he fights to prolong his ability to serve in that role by ritually expunging himself of any food he eats. It’s a terrible burden to place on one so young; we learn a lot about Timas’s character and courage in those scenes alone.

There is more.

Pepper crash lands in Yatapek, and we soon learn exactly why he was de-orbiting with only a heatshield between him and certain death. You see, he was trying to get away from something, and it’s not long before that something follows him down. Other cities are alerted to the threat. One such city sends an emissary, a girl roughly Timas’s age named Katerina, who possesses an eye that all of her people are able to see through. Both her and Timas have pre-conceived notions of the other, notions that change as they gradually bond with one another. There is adventure, and action, and harrowing encounters… Like I noted above, no spoilers, but let’s just say that Pepper, Timas, and Katerina find the entire world of Chilo at risk and are thrust into the role of saviors.

Buckell draws from his Caribbean upbringing, so imagining a mech-warrior-like soldier with dreadlocks or distinctly futuristic, island-like cultures is not far from reality. I found this injection of originality refreshing, though I have to admit to some reluctance to embrace it at first if only because it’s not what I’m used to. I went with it, though, and Buckell makes it work. The author’s style is fast-paced: chapters are generally short and he wastes nearly zero time pontificating or throwing “info dumps” at the reader. His characters are engaging as well. I perhaps liked Pepper the best, but Timas is the true underdog here given his situation. I genuinely wanted to see him both fulfill his duty and save himself at the same time.

The only character I did not become engaged with was Katerina, who has sacrificed much of her individuality to serve as a speaker for her collected people. Perhaps it is that aspect of her make-up which has stolen part of her humanity and therefore disengages the reader from her. In any case, I think her role was greatly overshadowed by Pepper and Timas to the point of irrelevance at times. But that in itself takes nothing from the enjoyment of the story.

As an aside, I also received an advanced copy of Seeds of Change and guess who just happens to have contributed a story to that compilation but Tobias Buckell himself? The story features Buckell’s principal character Pepper, so I’m eager to jump in. Meanwhile, though, check out Sly Mongoose. It’s worth your time.