Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is the first novel in the NY Times bestselling Mistborn trilogy. It is followed by The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. Recently, Sanderson announced that film rights to the series have been optioned to Paloppa Pictures LLC.

Sanderson's debut novel, the sixth he'd written but the first to gain a publisher, was Elantris, which received enough critical acclaim to land Sanderson a three book deal from Tor to write the Mistborn books. Sanderson records the Writing Excuses podcast along with authors Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. Last, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Sanderson was chosen to complete the late Robert Jordan's celebrated Wheel of Time fantasy series by Jordan's estate. That book is The Gathering Storm.

Mistborn is an ambitiously plotted novel. For time immemorial, the Lord Ruler has held dominion over the empire. Hailed as the "Hero of Ages", he confronted and defeated a dark, ancient force threatening the world long ago, thereby saving humanity from destruction. But something changed in the man following that confrontation: he became immortal and, in doing so, seemingly gave up his humanity. Now, he rules the world as a tyrant. The Final Empire is vast and all-powerful, but it lives under a pallor of perpetual gloom. Ashfalls (presumably from neighboring volcanoes) are a constant and, nightly, mists rise up to embrace the darkness.

Society in the Final Empire is dictated by a class system. At the top are the nobility. Beneath them are the skaa, or slaves. There is nothing in-between. Nobles can treat skaa however they like, including visiting upon them violence, rape, or any other depravity, all without any repercussion. It is a society more than ready for revolution.

Enter Kelsier, once a skaa sent to the Lord Ruler's mines to be worked to death. Right from the beginning we learn that not only did Kelsier survive that ordeal, but that he emerged possessed of allomantic abilities. In short, an allomancer is a sort of sorcerer who "burns" metal to gain certain powers, including vitality, the ability to fly, and even to see a short way into the future. The Lord Ruler has his own allomancers: obligators, who are a sort of priest, and Steel Inquisitors, indestructible arch-allomancers; very powerful and very deadly.

Kelsier returns to the empire's capital city for revenge. More than that, he begins to orchestrate the very downfall of the Lord Ruler and the Final Empire itself by fomenting dissent amongst the noble houses, raising a skaa army, and, finally, ending the Lord Ruler's reign by taking his life.

Amidst Kelsier's grandiose designs he finds Vin, a street skaa who also happens to be a Mistborn, a very special sort of allomancer. Kelsier and Vin form a sort of father/daughter relationship as they both work towards Kelsier's end goal. Much of Mistborn is told from Vin's perspective as she matures from ignorant, fearful street thief to something approaching a noblewoman. All the while she learns allomancy from Kelsier; right from the start she proves a capable pupil, even more powerful than Kelsier.

Sanderson weaves a fairly complex tapestry here; just when you think you've figured something out, you find out you were wrong. Sanderson excels at this, leading the reader down a fairly predictable road only to throw a curveball that changes everything. It keeps the story fresh and the tempo high. To be honest, there are parts of Mistborn that are just plain exhausting.

The story flows well, though I did find some parts dragged slightly. There is what I found to be quite a ridiculous scene where Kelsier and his band of rebels are "white-boarding" their plans to take down the Final Empire. I don't know if Sanderson has ever worked in an office environment (I did some checking: No, he never has), but somehow the idea of rebels from a fantasy world outlining their plans to defeat an ancient evil using a chalk board was just kind of ridiculous. Fortunately, it's a short scene.

There is much carnage in this novel, though it is told in a matter-of-fact way and never really had me genuinely horrified. The obligators, Steel Inquisitors, and Mistborn are all very interesting, and the magic system is both unique and fun to read about as Sanderson's characters work within it's limits.

Last, the final battle between Kelsier and one of the Steel Inquisitors is spectacular and the novel's ending, much like many other parts of the book, was not entirely what I expected. That ending, however, is beleaguered by a sort of trial-and-error approach to defeating the Lord Ruler. Perhaps Sanderson meant to end it this way by deviating from another trope where our hero has discovered the means leaving only the execution or perhaps we are witnessing a writer grasping for a way to end a novel. Not entirely sure.

Mistborn is a long read (541 pages), though at times I had a hard time putting it down as I breezed through chapter after chapter. While the story told in this novel does come to a conclusion, there are definitely matters left unresolved and more than a few things I foresee Sanderson tackling in the subsequent novels in the series.

Kindle February Pick of the Month

View this book on Amazon.com

I'm supporting Kindle writers by selecting for review the occasional eBook from Amazon's Kindle Store each month. This is the first of those selections.

Eleganta: A novel of Fairykind by Denny Swartzlander is my first pick for my ongoing I Support Kindle Writers campaign.

Eleganta is offered in both Kindle and paperback editions, but the paperback is through Lulu.com, so still satisfies the criteria I outlined for how I'd be making my selections. It hasn't gone through the traditional publishing process, in other words.

The review count of Eleganta is a little higher than I would have liked (it has 8 five star reviews), but I'm going to let that pass on this one.

It seems like a promising read:

Enter the 9th century, a time of magic and mystery. On a hidden isle in the seas near England, a young fairy named Ethywyne Eleganta secretly gives birth to the first youngling in fourteen years. She and her child become the hunted prize of the wicked troll general Sunderin. Ethywyne must make the perilous journey across the Fairy Realms, to get her child to the Fairy Queen, the only one who can protect her from the shadow that seeks to destroy all of Fairykind.

You can visit the official Eleganta web site for more information about the book or its author. I should have my review out in a few weeks.

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The Alchemist's Code by Dave Duncan

The Alchemist's Code is the second in the series of fantasy/mystery tales penned by Dave Duncan and set in the historic, beautiful, and oftentimes dangerous world of 16th century Venice. I reviewed the first book in the series, The Alchemist's Apprentice, not too long ago, and since I found that first book such an enjoyable read, I was eager to jump into this one.

Once more, Alfeo Zeno is our narrator as the ruling body of Venice, the Council of Ten, calls upon Alfeo's master, Nostradamus, to crack encoded messages which they fear contain state secrets. Espionage, a lover's tryst, and a friend from Alfeo's past become intertwined as Alfeo must face down a supernatural threat and his own execution for practicing witchcraft as he is forced to invoke supernatural powers of his own to stop the spy's machinations.

Much like its predecessor, The Alchemist's Code is beautifully written. Duncan does his best to display his command of the written word with eloquent prose and a plethora of words that had me reaching for the dictionary a couple of dozen times. The Alchemist's Code was the first eBook I purchased for my Kindle; the built-in dictionary was a godsend.

Alfeo's descriptions of the political and social aspects of Venice are more terse in this book as compared to the previous novel. The same goes for his telling of ancillary characters. In other words, Duncan assumes we've read the first book in the series and don't need this information in as much depth this time around. The doge (the leader of Venice, sort of like a duke but without the power) plays a smaller role in this second book, and his relationship to Alfeo as well as their history does not play the part it did in book one. The same goes for Violetta, Alfeo's lover who also just happens to be a prostitute to members of high society. Filiberto Vasco, however, plays a major role in this novel. Vasco is Alfeo's chief adversary in government, and the one who would most like to see Alfeo burn at the stake for witchcraft. Duncan never goes into great depth regarding this rivalry, though it can likely be attributed to professional jealousy. That, and the two grew up together, and so they share history.

All that being said, while reading the first book in the series will give you good background information about these extra characters and the setting, it is by no means necessary to have read that first book before reading this one. Still, there's also no reason not to; both are well-worth the read.

Duncan once again does a nice job with characterization. Alfeo is a likeable, personable, and sometimes humorous narrator. Nostradamus is aloof, stubborn, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is tempting fate by challenging Venice's authority but always with an ace up his sleeve. Even Vasco, who makes no secret of his desire to see Alfeo trip and fall, shines through because of his loyalty to the state and underlying desire to do (what he thinks, anyway) is right.

The Alchemist's Code is a well-written, enjoyable read, full of mystery, intrigue, and action. I'll be picking up the next in the series, The Alchemist's Pursuit, soon.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi is a book I've wanted to read for a while. This premiere novel by Scalzi follows in the tradition of such military science fiction novels as The Forever War, Ender's Game, and Starship Troopers. Needless to say, I went in with high expectations. While I wasn't disappointed, once the story got rolling it followed a fairly predictable pattern.

Scalzi is a prolific blogger with a twenty year publishing history behind him. Old Man's War was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2006. It is the first book in a series set in Scalzi's futuristic world, though Old Man's War is a complete story unto itself. Subsequent books in the series include The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale.

The story is this: John Perry, a 75 year old widower, Earth-bound his entire life, enlists with the CDF—or Colonial Defense Force—in exchange for the promise of a new, youthful life. The catch is that no one who enlists knows for sure how the CDF accomplishes their end of the bargain. But with nothing keeping him on Earth, Perry signs on the dotted line. Next thing he knows he's off into distant space. The CDF keeps their end of the bargain and more, but there's a catch: in exchange for his new life, Perry and others like him must commit the next ten years of their lives to service in the CDF as a frontline soldier.

Turns out the universe is not a very nice place, and humans have lots and lots of enemies. It is therefore the CDF's primary responsibility to protect human civilizations and colonies and to wage war on any alien species that endangers Man's predetermined right to colonize space.

Scalzi does a fine job detailing John Perry's emotional turmoil over letting go of his old life. We're also treated to a sometimes humorous, sometimes grave rendition of what a futuristic boot camp might be like. From there, the story largely follows Perry's training, the friendships and bonds he forms, and his subsequent assignment and advance through the ranks. There are battles worthy of any military sci-fi novel and a menagerie of aliens, all quite nasty and most certainly not friendly to Perry and his fellow soldiers.

Where Old Man's War stumbles is in certain aspects of the narration. The story is told in the first person from Perry's perspective, and while this works wonderfully in certain places, like when Perry begins to learn what the CDF is all about and what it's up against, it's not so good in others, as in when Perry finds himself in the thick of things. Scalzi ignores the "show, don't tell" rule, and slips into a telling sort of style that is ultimately too much of a detachment from what's going on, which is exactly the opposite of what I expected given that we're being told the story from Perry's perspective.

That's not to say that Old Man's War isn't a good novel. It's entertaining, with an interesting and sometimes terrifying gamut of alien civilizations and a vision of what our own future might be like someday if and when we begin colonizing space. There's plenty of humor, too, with Scalzi's colorful master sergeant character leading the ranks of supporting characters. I was reading some of his lines out loud to my wife who, as former Army, got a good laugh, too.

Old Man's War is an enjoyable read and I've already got the subsequent novels on my future reading list.

Book Review: The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont

I had great hopes for The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. Billed as a pulp adventure starring none other than some of the most famous writers of that genre as the main characters, TCDCP promised mystery, suspense, action, damsels, and more. Unfortunately, after putting this one down the only thing I felt I'd been given was confusion.

I even tried applying the rules for knowing when to stop reading. Page fifty… a little frustrated with the pacing and jumping around, but I kept reading. Page one hundred… I barely made it this far. The disappointment was palpable. Last, I applied the Page 99 test. Hmmm… Chinese guy swinging deadly chain at one of our heroes. Intriguing, but not enough.

I really wanted it to work, too. With names like William Gibson, Lester Dent, H.P. Lovecraft, L. Ron Hubbard, Louis L'Amour, and Chester Himes all playing roles in the story, who wouldn't want it to?

Looking at the summary from Amazon.com, I almost want to pick it up again and give it a second shot. Here's the description. Judge for yourself.

Malmont's debut thriller reads like pages torn from the pulp magazines to which it pays nostalgic homage. It's 1937, and the nation's two top pulp writers—William Gibson, author of novels featuring caped crime fighter "The Shadow," and Lester Dent, the creator of do-gooder hero Doc Savage—are trying to solve real-life mysteries that each hopes will give him bragging rights as the world's best yarn spinner. Gibson follows rumors that pulp colleague H.P. Lovecraft was murdered to the fog-shrouded Providence, R.I., waterfront. Dent tracks clues to an impossible killing through the bowels of New York's Chinatown. As the two adventures dovetail, they spawn sinuous subplots involving tong wars, secret chemical warfare, pirate mercenaries, kidnappings, revolution in China and weird science run amok.

Unfortunately, my reading pile grows almost daily, so if it does go back on the pile it'll go at the bottom.

So, the primary reason I had to put this one down: within the first 100 pages or so the story jumps and skips and hops around to the point where I couldn't tell if the entire novel is simply a collection of short "episodes" (they're called that rather than chapters) or if Malmont was actually going somewhere with it. If he was, I never got there. I did not see a consistency with the characters or a storyline, though I did thumb through latter parts and there did seem to be the same characters from one episode to another at least. Still, how many pages is Malmont going to make me wade through before getting to the good stuff?

Maybe I'm just missing something on this one. It's rated 4 out of 5 stars by 44 reviewers at Amazon. One of the lower-rated reviews, though, seems to reiterate my feelings:

I really would have liked to love this book, but it has become the greatest sleep aid ever. I am not sure how long it will take me to get through it! The story is all over the place and really doesn't make a lick of sense so far.

Exactly.

However, I tend towards open-mindedness, so if someone wants to enlighten me on what I'm missing, please leave a comment below. I could be completely wrong about The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.