Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold is the second novella in the Penric and Desdemona series featuring the symbiotic pair of the same name. In Bujold’s world, demons are ethereal creatures, unable to remain stable in our world without a host to serve as a sort of anchor. Penric and Desdemona found themselves joined together after circumstances brought them together in the first book in the series, Penric’s Demon, which I reviewed not too long ago. At the end of the first book, Penric found himself enrolled in sorcerer’s school. This second book skips over all of that, taking place some four years later. This is actually good since, let’s face it, apprentices learning to become full-fledged sorcerers has been done a few times already.

In the service of a princess, Penric, now a sorcerer—albeit a young one whose stature was gotten more from Desdemona’s vast experience more so than his own—is asked to accompany a Locator, a person who can detect the presence of magic. Together the two are charged with hunting down a renegade shaman wanted for murder.

It’s a fairly interesting plot to which we’re introduced via Bujold’s always inviting style of writing. Bujold doesn’t waste a lot of time with exposition or flowery wording; you’re going to get lots of good storytelling and a plot that moves along at a steady pace. I’ll admit to some favoritism; Bujold’s Sharing Knife series remains one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. But, back to Penric and the Shaman, as one might expect, things are not as simple as tracking down a shaman wanted for murder. Penric will have plenty of opportunities to test his sorcery while attempting to find a balance between justice and levity.

I’m giving Penric and the Shaman three rockets because it’s a solid story with a few twists, but doesn’t go as deep as I would have liked due to its relatively short length (about 160 pages). Still, it’s a good addition to the series and I’ve already started reading the next book in the series, Penric’s Fox.

Outpost by W. Michael Gear

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Outpost by W. Michael Gear is the first novel in the Donovan Trilogy. The second book, Abandoned, is slated for release in November 2018. In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Outpost from the publisher via NetGalley. I’m giving Outpost a solid four rockets because it’s a fun read with some unexpected developments, some interesting characters, and one heck of a problem/mystery that serves as a nice, overarching dilemma that really drives some of the character’s decision-making. You see, no ship has arrived at the planet of Donovan in some time. Not for lack of trying, it turns out, as the inhabitants of Donovan learn once Turalon arrives in orbit. The people of Donovan, who thought they’d been abandoned, come to realize that other ships have attempted to reach Donovan, but that each attempt has resulted in the disappearance of the ship in question.

This really isn’t a problem so much as an unsolved mystery to the inhabitants of Donovan, though. They came via an Earth ship of their own many years before with the intention of settling the habitable but wild planet. Extreme circumstances called for extreme survival tactics such that once they came to realize no additional supplies were coming, the Donovanians stepped up and began to provide for themselves. They established their own government, their own laws, and staked their own claims to the land. Their system is not the rigid form of government they left behind, but one that values self-sufficiency and independent thinking. This works great up until the point when Turalon, the first Earth ship to reach Donovan in years, arrives and makes contact. Their mission to bring new settlers and supplies to the planet becomes one of suppression and control as they attempt to establish order in a society they deem as lawless.

Now this may all seem somewhat stereotypical to the point of tossing the book out the window because who hasn’t read this sort of story before, right? But Gear takes this whole thing in an entirely new and almost opposite direction from what you might expect. I won’t go into details for fear of ruining the story for you, but suffice to say some characters change allegiance, others who seemed doomed have a change of fortune and really shine, and others who you might want to meet a horrible fate embrace the new world order that is Donovan and (unfortunately) come out on top. But the story is in no way finished with this first book. Abandoned, the next book in the series, comes out soon. I plan to pick it up either via NetGalley or on my own via Amazon.

Outpost earns a solid four rockets from me. I liked the characters, the story, the planet, and the direction the author is going with all of it. It’s a good science fiction series you should add to your reading list.

To Fall Among Vultures by Scott Warren

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Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

To Fall Among Vultures by Scott Warren is the second book in the Union Earth Privateers series. Once more we get to strap in with Victoria “Vick” Marin, captain of the U.E. Condor, as they search for salvage while staying under the radar of the many other, more powerful species roaming the galaxy. Vick’s Vultures, the first book in the series, did not fare well in terms of my review, earning a two rocket rating. Normally I would not have continued with this series given the failure of the first book to impress me. But I received To Fall Among Vultures from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review and so I set out to honor my side of the deal. Unfortunately, where Vick’s Vultures had a fairly linear storyline that, while not executed well, was at least somewhat easy to follow, To Fall Among Vultures is just plain confusing and I ultimately had to give up.

The series story ideas as a whole are not entirely bad. Earth is a small fish in a very big ocean; they realize very quickly that their best chance for survival is to stay hidden, all the while utilizing privateers to salvage advanced technology from wrecked or otherwise disabled ships belonging to the many other races that are technologically superior to Earth. I give credit to the author: for once humans aren’t the best and the brightest in the galaxy. It’s a setting that really had a lot of potential.

Unfortunately that potential is never realized because the story is just do darn difficult to follow because of the poor writing. Characters are never really given life, point of views seem to switch with reckless abandon, and, with dialog, it’s really difficult to figure out who is saying what.

I’m giving To Fall Among Vultures a single rocket rating as befits a DNF. Sadly, I will not be continuing with the Union Earth Privateers series.

Vick’s Vultures by Scott Warren

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Vick’s Vultures by Scott Warren was a book I really wanted to like. The premise sounds great:

Victoria Marin, captain of the U.E. Condor, and her crew of Vultures have been running dry for months. In danger of losing her command and her credibility if she can’t locate fresh salvage, she locks onto the distress signal of an alien ship in hopes of valuable cargo. What she finds instead is First Prince Tavram, the heir apparent to one of the largest empires in known space. Tavram’s ship has been crippled after narrowly escaping an ambush and his would-be assassin is coming to finish the job.

Looking back, the story really is as good as it sounds. But where Vick’s Vultures fails miserably in its execution. The writing is ridiculously confusing. The characters are flat pieces of cardboard with minimal personality and little to no background or motivation whatsoever. The aliens are…odd, which is ok because, hey, they’re aliens and should be different from humans. But their personalities are as flat as the crew members of the Vulture. Toss in enough characters with no distinctiveness into a melee of confusing writing and you’ve got a recipe for a very quick DNF. I considered dropping this one at several points, but, for reasons unknown, I slogged through it. This is the kind of book that really drains you as a reader, and that’s just kind of sad.

Vick’s Vultures is the first in the Union Earth Privateers series. It is followed by To Fall Among Vultures, which I have already attempted to read at the time of this review. Stay tuned for my thoughts on that one. As for Vick’s Vultures, I just don’t have a lot of good things to say about it. It’s somewhat enjoyable, but you really aren’t missing anything by skipping it.

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb is, first and foremost, a book about closure. But as much as it is about endings, it’s also about new beginnings. Really, it’s the perfect sendoff for a character that is much beloved and one which many of us have spent countless pages journeying along with. Assassin’s Fate is the third and final book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, but it is also the final book (for now, anyway) in the Farseer books as a whole. Hobb has created such a rich world, full of so many memorable, engaging characters, though, that I could easily see additional books coming from her set in the various worlds of the Six Duchies, Rain Wilds, or Kelsingra. Speaking of all of those places, Assassin’s Fate is worthy of a Marvel film in that it intertwines the various worlds Hobb has concocted and spent entire series delving into by giving us the penultimate crossover as Fitz comes face to face with many of the characters from both the Liveship Traders books and the Rain Wild Chronicles. It really is a treat to see all of these disparate worlds come together into a seamless whole. I’ll admit I felt a bit of a thrill when Fitz revisits the map room in Kelsingra, the very same room he visited all those many years (and books) ago when he and Chade first began experimenting with the Skillstones.

Unlike the previous two books in this series, I’m giving Assassin’s Fate a solid five rockets. The reason previous installments fell short was because there were just too many pages where nothing significant happens. Not so with this final book. This one is full of plot moving material as we pick up right where Fool’s Quest left off. Fitz has healed a number of Kelsingra’s residents whose dragon initiated changes have done more harm than good. This is applauded by the Kelsingrans, but not so much by the dragons, who threaten Fitz’s life for interfering with the changes they have made in their keepers. Fitz escapes this harrowing predicament unscathed, for he must continue his quest for vengeance against those who killed his daughter, Bee. Of course, Bee is not actually dead, a fact Fitz eventually comes to know.

Speaking of Bee… She’s a character I did not like much in the first two books. She’s a bit of an oddity most of the time and, when she isn’t off doing her own thing, she’s a distraction to Fitz’s story. But in Assassin’s Fate she really comes into her own, seizing her place in the world as it were, as she flies into a final confrontation with her abductors. Looking back at the whole, I found her story arc refreshing. She’s admittedly very dependent early on, but when it comes time for her to stand up for herself, she does so admirably well.

Discussing the ending of Assassin’s Fate is tough because I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll say only this: Hobb concludes the series and the story of FitzChivalry Farseer in the only way she could. It’s a marvelous ending for a character you’ve hopefully grown to love as much as I have. Yes, Fitz can be frustrating beyond belief at times, stupid at others, and selfless past the point of heartbreak, but he’s also a man of duty and honor (in the way of an assassin, at least) and possesses a stubbornness that knows no bounds. If this book is truly his farewell, then I say Hobb gave him the royal treatment. The road getting there was harrowing, suspenseful, horrible, and wonderful, but completely worth it from a reader’s perspective when you can look back at everything he accomplished.

It should come as no surprise that I feel Assassin’s Fate should be on every fantasy reader’s reading list. Do yourself a favor and start with the first book in the overarching series, the first book in The Farseer Trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice. The journey will be well worth every page.