Monday, August 29, 2016

Fiction Review: Beneficiaries of Deceit by Christopher Hallowell

Like an archaeological dig itself, Beneficiaries of Deceit is a book consisting of carefully excavated layers, with questions that can only be answered with further digging. It's a story that appears to be one thing, but which is actually something else entirely. Christopher Hallowell draws us in deeper with each new revelation, dispersing our outrage across the globe.

The story starts simply enough, with Jake Lambrusco heading deep into the Peruvian jungle in order to make contact with the mysterious Donaldo and discover what's going on with the ruins. We aren't given a lot more background than that, and are actually set up to be rather suspicious of the old Peace Corps volunteer, who comes across as a Heart of Darkness type figure. As the story progress, those suspicions slowly shift from Donaldo to Jake, and then back stateside to the leaders of Cabot College.

Without giving away the twists entailed, the college is floundering - both ethically and financially. On the brink of ruin, with a dark scandal hanging over the head of their would-be savior, the college is counting on Jake to bring back the right kind of answers - but the search for truth doesn't always head in the direction we'd wish.

Beneficiaries of Deceit is a tough read, in that so many of the characters are difficult to trust, much less like. Also, those carefully excavated layers of narrative keep us at arm's length from the truth, with the ultimate revelations about the Peruvian ruins and Cabot College scandal held back until the second half of the book. Even as truths are brought to light, however, a greater pall of darkness falls across the narrative. It's easy to understand the actions of those involved, and to even sympathize with their intentions, but the whole situation is a nearly impenetrable jungle of an ethical nature.

While I wouldn't go so far as to call it a happy ending, the final chapters here are largely satisfying, effectively tying up all the questions, scandals, and doubts. Keep in mind that the only thing more powerful than morals is money, and don't expect any miraculous about-faces, and you'll appreciate where Hallowell leaves the story.

ebook, 260 pages
Published August 23rd 2016 by Christopher Hallowell

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Fantasy Review: Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic

Waiting on Wednesday: Recluce Tales by L. E. Modesitt

Fantasy Review: Queen's Man: Into the Inferno by AnnaMarieAlt


I also had the pleasure of contributing to the Julie Czerneda Appreciation Party! over at the Little Red Reviewer, so be sure to check it out.

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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A trio of review titles this week, the first two offered up by the author, and the other landing on my doorstep as a very pleasant surprise from Simon and Schuster Canada.

The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2) by Ken Liu
Straight Outta Fangton: A Comedic Vampire Story by C.T. Phipps
Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps



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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fantasy Review: Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic

I have to admit, I'm of two minds regarding Twilight of the Dragons. Yes, it's a fun, foul-mouthed, frantic sequel to both The Dragon Engine and The White Towers, but its narrative quality is all over the place. Much of it reads like a first draft manuscript, awkward and juvenile in places, that somehow sneaked past the editor. Structurally, it feels like it's one step removed from being polished as well, jumping between storylines, with random flashback chapters interspersed, and some definite pacing issues. It made for a frustrating read, which (unfortunately) took something away from the enjoyment.

Having said all that, this is a bold, brash, bloody story in which Andy Remic returns to the world of grimdark fantasy. One story thread catches up with the survivors of the The Dragon Engine, following their war-weary, emotionally exhausted descent into the bowels of Wyrmblood. These are adventurers who suffered greatly in the last book - beatings, torture, and even rape - and it weighs heavily upon them. As depressing as it made those scenes, I admired Remic for not just shrugging off the pain and going all gung-ho with the heroics.

The other story thread catches up with the survivors of The White Towers, drawn into the story when the escaped dragons of Wyrmblood attack the town, interrupting their own bitter infighting. Not surprisingly, the Iron Wolves have some of the best scenes in the novel, although the constant bickering between Dek and Narnok wears a bit thin. Again, Remic deals with the aftermath of heroic deeds, catching our heroes at their lowest, and allowing them the chance to deal with both past and present. There's a lot of bad blood and tainted motives here, but Nanok's suicidal challenges to the dragon are probably the high point of the book.

As for the dragons, they are every bit as fearsome and horrific as you'd expect from Remic. Their attacks upon villages and towns are beautifully choreographed, with equal parts fear and awe on those unlucky enough to be torn apart, chewed in half, roasted alive, or buried beneath rubble. Both angry and clever, they're not only out for revenge, but enjoy verbally baiting their victims. We don't see as much of the dwarves this time around, but they are still mean, miserable, and malicious, with Crayline challenging Skalg for the title of most monstrous. As for Skalg, his story arc was interesting, but I didn't feel the pay off was nearly worthy of his legacy - one place where the story itself faltered for me. Similarly, I thought the Splice were wasted a bit here, especially given the new twist put on them by King Yoon, but it was immensely satisfying to see them take on a dragon.

Despite its flaws, this is still no-holds-barred epic fantasy for a mature audience, with the reappearance of the Iron Wolves definitely kicking it up a notch. There's very clearly a door left open at the end of Twilight of the Dragons, so here's hoping there's one more adventure to come.


Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Angry Robot

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Recluce Tales by L. E. Modesitt

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt
Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Tor Books

For over a thousand years, Order and Chaos have molded the island of Recluce. The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world through eighteen books, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s longest and bestselling fantasy series.

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce collects seventeen new short stories and four popular reprints spanning the thousand-year history of Recluce. First-time readers will gain a glimpse of the fascinating world and its complex magic system, while longtime readers of the series will be treated to glimpses into the history of the world.

Modesitt's essay “Behind the ‘Magic’ of Recluce” gives insight into his thoughts on developing the magical system that rules the Island of Recluce and its surrounding lands, while “The Vice Marshal's Trial” takes the reader back to the first colonists on Recluce. Old favorites “Black Ordermage” and “The Stranger” stand side-by-side with thrilling new stories


I still have some catching up to do with the world of Recluce, but I really like Modesitt's style, and I like the deliberately haphazard way he's structured the books, bouncing back and forth between eras, characters, and storylines. Definitely looking forward to more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fantasy Review: Queen's Man: Into the Inferno by AnnaMarieAlt

Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is an odd sort of book, existing somewhere between the fantasy and romance genres, with just enough politics and philosophy to keep it centered firmly between the two. It was not quite the book I was expecting - instead, it was something a bit stronger and a lot deeper. For a first novel, AnnaMarieAlt has certainly distinguished herself, and that bodes well for the promised Queen's Man: Beyond the Corridor.

This is the story of the island of Kriiscon, a land where the women rule, and where men are slaves. It's not a female dominated world, or even a continental matriarchy, but one small island - and that's important to the tale. Surrounded by more traditional lands, Kriiscon stubbornly clings to its gender-flipped social structure, even as they're forced to capture or purchase men from outside it in order to keep their culture thriving for the next generation. It's a very rational culture, and one that's easily justifiable in the wider global context of male aggression and female oppression - until the arrival of Aarvan calls it into question.

A mainlander with no memory of his past, Aarvan is purchased by Queen Rejeena after an ancient conjurah foretells that he will break the curse upon her line and give her daughters. While she finds him physically appealing, the Queen has no interesting in making love or of being romantic - she simply needs a man to look handsome before the court, and to quickly and efficiently do his duty beneath the sheets. That is where the conflicts begin. Aarvan is agreeable to being her slave, but only if they can take pleasure in one another's company. He is so adamant, in fact, that he risks whippings and beatings to make her see there can be more than just a necessary act of procreation between them. When she ultimately gives in, Queen Rejeena finds herself challenged on a daily basis, being slowly transformed in more ways than one.

The progression from simple slavery to a deeper, more fulfilling romance is at the heart of the story, but it's the philosophical sparring between Queen and Queen's Man that give the story its intelligence - and its edge. Even as one tries to right social injustices and push for a little human dignity (if not equality), the other fights to preserve a culture that is already under threat from the world around it. It's a story that allows us to see both sides, and which presents both Rejeena and Aarvan as strong, likable characters, making the cruelties of their society that much more jarring. Even as we see Aarvan push too far, cross lines that would be inappropriate even in a more equal society, we completely understand and sympathize with him for doing so. At the same time, even as we see Rejeena take inexcusable steps to punish his lack of respect, we understand those actions in the context of her society, and we sympathize with her own internal conflict between feelings and belief.

While I had a few minor issues with the narrative (namely a tendency to switch POV mid-scene), and was a little frustrated that we didn't get more of a resolution to Aarvan's mysterious past, the final few chapters push us deeply enough into the simmering tease of civil war to bring all the threads to a tidy (if temporary) knot. If you're in the mood for an intelligent, socially relevant romantic fantasy, Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is definitely worth a read.


Paperback, 316 pages
Published March 23rd 2016 by Xlibris

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . . and it was a good one!


WTF Friday: Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space by Jave Galt-Miller & Wayne A. Brown

Fantasy Review: Red Tide by Marc Turner

Waiting on Wednesday: Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

Growing into Fantasy with Carey, Haydon, and Wurts


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A trio of review titles this week:

Eat the Night by Tim Waggoner (it's been far too long since I read one of his books)
Vick's Vultures by Scott Warren (who I'll be interviewing in October to celebrate the release)
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (the finished hardcover was a mailbox surprise)

  

Between some well-timed freebies, and a new Amazon giftcard, I also snagged some WTF Friday fodder:

The xXx Files by Jane Emery
Sinful Taboo Elf Maiden Lust by Becca Lusk
Kaiju Seduction Lust War Collection by Eden Redd
The Whorehouse That Jack Built by Kevin Sweeney
Nightmare Fuel by Wesley Thomas

 

 


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.



What's topping your shelves this week?