Friday, August 24, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn vs. Silver by Rhiannon Held

This battle in the Summer 2012 Battle of the Books features Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn going against Silver by Rhiannon Held. The winner will be whichever book I most want to keep reading after the first 25 pages.

Destroyer of Worlds: Pyr Books trade paperback, May 2012, 382 pages, cover illustration by John Picacio, book three of Kingdom of the Serpent. Destroyer of Worlds was originally published in 2009 in the UK by Gollancz. This series is connected to Chadbourn's prior trilogies, The Age of Misrule and The Dark Age. Aaron sampled the first book of the Kingdom of the Serpent series, Jack of Ravens, in the Winter Battle of the Books, and the second book, The Burning Man, was in the Spring Battle of the Books. Mark Chadbourn is a UK writer of about seventeen novels. He has won two British Fantasy Awards for short fiction, and a handful of his novels have been British Fantasy Awards nominees.

Destroyer of Worlds commences with an eight page long summary of what has happened before. Good thing, because I haven’t read any of the books in this sequence of trilogies. From this recap I took, basically, that the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons have fought battles throughout the ages, back and forth through time, with and against various Gods, and they are brought back to life after death. I decided to call this section background information. For the first 25 pages I read the prologue and a small portion of chapter one.

The war to end all wars is coming, the battle against the Void. In Asgard, home of the Norse Gods, an army of terrible creatures is invading. Hunter, Brother of Dragons, advises the Aesir to run. Many Aesir die in battle before they are forced to abandon Asgard. Elsewhere in the Otherworld called the Far Lands, Mallory and Caitlin, Brother and Sister of Dragons, are in a great walled city under siege by Riot-Beasts. Young Virginia Dare, from the original Roanoke colony, promises to show Mallory a secret way into the Fortress of the Void.

Riding on the supernatural Last Train are five Brothers and Sisters of Dragons. Church, the Champion of Existence, talks with Veitch, who was previously a villain. Nature spirit Laura, seer Shavi and Ruth chat in another carriage.

Silver: Tor book trade paperback, June 2012, 317 pages, cover photograph by Trevillion Images. Rhiannon Held is a US writer. Silver, an urban fantasy, is her first novel, and start of a planned series. The first 25 pages is conveniently exactly three chapters.

Werewolf Andrew Dare tracks, in both human and wolf form, an unknown lone werewolf in New Hampshire. The lone werewolf smells of silver and pain. When Andrew finds her she’s in human form, and she’s scrawny and acting crazy. She can’t change, her “wild self” is gone. She claims Death calls her Silver.

Andrew decides against driving Silver far in his car. He checks them into a hotel and phones the Boston sub-alpha, and tells him that he found the lone and she’s more than he bargained for. When Andrew returns with some fast-food, Silver unsuccessfully tries to escape the hotel room. She argues that “the monster” is coming. Later, when Silver is resting again, Andrew looks at Silver’s hurt arm and sees an odd series of red welts. Andrew phones his Roanoke pack alpha, tells him that he found her, and it appears that someone injected her, a werewolf, with a liquid form of silver.

The Battle: We have a contemporary urban fantasy going against a world-spanning, epic fantasy which is the third book in trilogy. Werewolves seem to be in danger in Silver. The universe seems in danger in Destroyer of Worlds. Strangely, both books mention the lost English colony of Roanoke and contain characters with the last name of Dare.

Destroyer of Worlds starts with a dire situation, an eminent universal final battle. There are a host of characters with awesomely complicated pasts. Unfortunately, the characters I met in the first 25 pages of this book didn’t succeed in drawing me emotionally into the story. Maybe I couldn’t quite relate to their situations. Destroyer of Worlds suffers because it’s difficult to jump into a story in progress. Undoubtedly, this book would’ve worked much better for me if I had read the previous books.

Silver, on the other hand, is a more personal story. It’s set on a smaller stage. The idea of werewolves using silver as a weapon against other werewolves is different. I like that Andrew tries to minimize questionable appearances to avoid getting attention. Silver’s worship of The Lady, the moon, and her speaking with Death, who follows her, is interesting.

Someday I’d like to read more by Mark Chadbourn, but preferably something that begins a story, not ends one. So for this battle, I choose to go with werewolves.

THE WINNER: SILVER by Rhiannon Held

Silver will advance to meet Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove in the second round.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove vs. The Ultimate Game by Sean Austin

Moving into the bottom half of the bracket, the Summer 2012 Battle of the Books continues with Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove going against The Ultimate Game by Sean Austin. The winner will be whichever book I most want to keep reading after the first 25 pages.

Age of Aztec: Solaris paperback, 507 pages, cover art by Marek Okon. Age of Aztec is part of the Pantheon series, which are standalone military adventure novels featuring the gods of ancient mythologies. James Lovegrove is a British author of SF, horror and dark fantasy. He has written around a dozen novels, plus a similar number of books for children and young adults.

In Age of Aztec, the year is 2012, but the world is not as we know it. The setting is a mashup of modern Britain and the historic Aztecs. For instance, there are pubs and coca-leaf tea, plasma lightning guns and sharpened obsidian weapons. In this world, the Aztecs were never conquered by Cortez. Britain was subsumed into the Aztec Empire, and St. Paul’s Cathedral was demolished to build the City of London ziggurat. The weather in London is strangely tropically hot. The first 25 pages covers about a chapter and a half.

An Aztec blood rite is held at the London ziggurat. Thousands throng the streets for the festivities. A hundred participating volunteers queue for sacrifice. The officiating priest ritually dispatches sacrificial victims then the acolytes remove the victims’ hearts. A TV network aerodisc broadcasting the event dips low, unusually close to the temple. Out of the aerodisc jumps the terrorist called The Conquistador, and chaos ensues. Quote: “people were getting killed who weren’t meant to be getting killed.” The Jaguar Warrior police blast the temple and The Conquistador. Afterwards, in the debris they don’t find the Conquistador’s corpse, only pieces of his empty armor.

Upon reporting for work the next day at Scotland Yard, Inpector Mal Vaughn mets her DS (Detective Sergeant), Aaronson, who jokes about her having a casual sexual encounter, and tells her that Chief Superintendent Kellaway is looking for her. Mal witnesses Kellaway’s displeasure with Chief inspector Nyman for mishandling security at the blood rite. Kellaway kills Nyman with a macuahitl, an Aztec sword. Then Vaughn is promoted to Chief Inspector and given the dreaded Conquistador case.

The Ultimate Game: AAA Reality Games paperback, March 2012, 281 pages. Book One of Echo’s Revenge. This seems to be a tie-in novel for a future game from AAA Reality Games. This is first novel, for author Hart Getzen (aka Sean Austin). The first 25 pages cover an author introduction, a prologue, and little more than two chapters.

The author Sean Austin claims that this book is a report of an ongoing investigation, that some names and locations were changed to protect his sources.

Fourteen year old Reggie King and his eleven year old brother, Jeremy, of Washington state play an online multi-player game called ECHO’s Revenge, featuring a huge predator in body armor called ECHO (E-6) and mechanized ghouls. The game is an escape for the boys from their dysfunctional home life. Their mother, Jennifer Edna, called Jeda, is somewhat clueless and works late. Asa, Jeda’s live-in unemployed boyfriend, who is supposed to look after the boys, drinks and is abusive.

Reggie, aka Waiting for You, is one of top players of ECHO’s Revenge. He’s invited by AAA Reality Games LLC (interestingly the publisher of this book) to join a focus group with other Master level players, travel expenses paid. But Reggie doesn’t see the letter until the night before because his mean step-father, Asa, hides it from him. Of course, Reggie isn’t allowed to go. So early the next morning, Reggie sneaks away from home, leaving his brother Jeremy to cover for him, and catches a bus to AAA Reality Games lab, which is a couple hours away.

The Battle: We have a brutal alternate world SF novel, and a young adult gamers adventure book.

In the first 25 page of Age of Aztec, there’s already a sizable body count with gruesome onstage deaths. As in many recent British books, the profanity f*ck is used, in my opinion, over abundantly in conversations. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book on my own.

In The Ultimate Game, the boys are likable characters, although some of the things they do seem a bit unbelievable, such as jumping out a second story window in winter to avoid their angry step-father. In my opinion, the writing seems a bit wordy and unpolished. But then again, this is a book targeted at young male tween and teen gamers, which I’m not.

For this battle, I have to go with Age of Aztec, even though it’s brutal, because I got to admit it’s a page turner.

THE WINNER: AGE OF AZTEC by James Lovegrove

Age of Aztec will advance to meet either Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn or Silver by Rhiannon Held in the second round.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Hunter and Fox by Philippa Ballantine vs. Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

Continuing the Summer Bracket of the 2012 Battle of the Books, the fourth matchup pits Hunter and Fox by Philippa Ballantine against Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. Per our contest rules, I have read the first 25 pages of both, and the winner will be the book I most want to continue reading.

Hunter and Fox: Pyr Books trade paperback, June 2012, 274 pages, cover illustration by Cynthia Sheppard, a Shifted World novel. Philippa Ballantine is a New Zealand author and podcaster living in the USA. She is co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels with Tee Morris. She is the author of the books Geist and Spectyr in the ongoing Books of the Order series. The first 25 pages cover a little more than two chapters.

The Caisah, ruler of the shifting land Conhaero, destroyed the native Vaerli people, taking away most of their magical powers. The Vaerli woman called Talyn the Dark, who rides a fearsome green steed, became the Caisah’s Hunter, killing and capturing people for her enemy. For her dirty work, Talyn is rewarded with pieces of a mysterious golden puzzle which Talyn believes is the only hope for her people.

Meanwhile, Finbarr the Fox, who is a talespinner and mage of sorts, tells an audience about life before the Caisah, how it was a golden time, even if the lands were less stable. He tries to raise sympathy for the Vaerli. His story earns him a beating from the Caisah’s Rutilian Guard. Then Finn travels to the city Perilous and Fair, where he spots Talyn, the Hunter herself, entering the Caisah’s citadel.

Elsewhere, Talyn’s lost brother Byre is called “Vaerli scum” and escapes an angry mob.

Taft 2012: Quirk Books paperback, June 2012, 249 pages, cover illustration by Doogie Horner. Jason Heller is journalist and author living in Denver. I live in the same metro area, but I have not met him (but fellow Fantastic Reviewer Aaron says he's a good guy). Heller is the author of The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook. Taft 2012 is his first novel. The first 25 pages include a prologue, three chapters, and various informational tidbits.

In Taft 2012, unlike in our world, President William Howard Taft mysteriously disappeared in March of 1913, the morning of the inauguration of his successor, Woodrow Wilson. For years, Taft was missing and presumed dead. The last thing Taft remembers is being exhausted and lying down to sleep on the Ellipse. Next, a confused Taft is pulling himself out of the mud, heading towards the fountain, and he gets shot in the leg.

Secret Service agent Kowalczyk saw a oversized, muddy man lurching towards a White House press conference, not halting when ordered, and so he shot the intruder. The water of the White House's South Lawn fountain and the rain reveal a man wearing a dirty tweed suit who improbably looks and acts like President Taft. He is taken into the White House to recuperate. The date is November 2011.

Taft is questioned by men in suits. Taft's identity is confirmed by physical traits, DNA tests, and his knowing a secret presidential ID code. Taft's great-granddaughter, who is a congresswoman from Ohio, wants to know what the hell is up. A panicked Taft momentarily mistakes a woman who is a history professor for his wife Nellie.

The Battle: We have a fantasy set on another world featuring magic and a brutal ruler, and a book set in the modern day about an improbably resurrected US President from a hundred years ago. These are two very different books, in tone as well as subject matter.

Hunter and Fox begins with a smorgasbord of fantasy concepts and world building. Various intriguing magic talents are presented, such as Talyn’s time-sense. I like the idea of the Chaoslands, with various peoples seemingly from different worlds. It’s interesting that the Caisah is immortal while the Vaerli are long-lived. Many things are touched upon, perhaps too many.

In the first 25 pages, the character of The Fox, Finn, is likable but I can only guess at his motivations. The Hunter Talyn appears set up to become an antihero.

Taft 2012 takes a preposterous idea and runs with it. There's no attempted explanation of how President Taft could appear after nearly a hundred years. No one yet is claiming Taft is a government conspiracy. Quotes, letters, memos, radio transcripts and other bits are nicely used to help tell the story. The character Taft believably speaks in an old-fashioned manner. I like the humorous touches, such as Taft's appreciation of Twinkies.

After reading a short sample of these novels, I asked myself in which book was I more curious to learn what happens next. I enjoy the escapism of reading books set in unreal fantasy worlds, but in this case I found I'd rather continue reading the book set in something resembling reality.

THE WINNER: TAFT 2012 by Jason Heller

Taft 2012 moves on to the second round, where it will meet Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper vs. The Games by Ted Kosmatka

The third matchup of the Summer Bracket of the 2012 Battle of the Books pits Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper against The Games by Ted Kosmatka. Per our contest rules, I have read the first 25 pages of both, and the winner will be the book I most want to continue reading.

Songs of the Earth: Tor Books hardcover, March 2012, 467 pages, cover illustration by JS Collaboration, Book One of The Wild Hunt. Elspeth Cooper is a UK writer. Songs of the Earth, her first novel, was originally published in Great Britain by Gollancz in 2011. The first 25 pages is conveniently exactly two chapters.

Gair, a novice Church knight who has been imprisoned for months, faces judgment from his Order. Alderan surreptitiously watches the proceedings. Gair is found guilty of witchcraft and the punishment is death by burning. But Gair is granted clemency by the Preceptor, to the protest of the Elder Goran, and his sentence is commuted to branding, excommunication, and banishment.

After his hand is branded, Gair was brought to an inn by Alderan. Gair doesn’t know the older man, and reluctantly accepts the needed help he offers. Alderan asks Gair how long he has been able to hear the music. Alderan knows the unspoken ways magic manifests itself in young people. Gair relates some of his own experiences. When Gair complains of an odd headache, Alderan suspects that a witchfinder is already on Gair’s trail.

The Games: Del Rey Books hardcover, March 2012, 356 pages, cover design and illustration by David Stevenson based on a photograph copyright Reichelt R./plainpicture/Corbis. Ted Kosmatka is a US writer. The Games is his first novel. Kosmatka’s short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The first 25 pages covers a prologue and almost all of chapter one.

In the prologue, a boy, Evan Chandler, is tested by doctors and men in suits. A teacher working with Evan was seriously hurt. Evan has neurological abnormalities, an odd mix of gifts and disabilities. Evan is taken away from his mother to apparently be a research subject.

In chapter one, Dr. Silas Williams, head of Olympic Development, attends the laboratory birth of a genetically engineered creature, a future gladiator. The USA has won the last three gold medals awarded in the gladiator completion, a fight to the death event where the only rule is no human DNA. Silas designed the previous winners, but under pressure to win, the commission this time chose a disturbing design by the unseen Evan Chandler. The appearance of the newborn creature shocks even its developers.

The Battle: These are two very different books: a medieval-like high fantasy with witchcraft and a near-future science fiction thriller with genetic engineering. Both are first novels. Both appear to involve questions about the ethics of the book’s fantastic element, although perhaps in differing degrees.

In Songs of the Earth, witchcraft is condemned by the religion of the Goddess. What’s unusual is that the accused witch, Gair, is also quite religious. As many fantasy protagonists, Gair has no family. He’s a likable enough character and seems honorable. Magic is interestingly portrayed as a natural development, at least for a few people, needing to be controlled, instead of something painstakingly learned from arcane books.

The Games seems to be heading towards scientists unwisely creating something monstrous. There’s antagonism and competition between the various scientists and administrators. Genetically designed Teddy pets and renewable marriage contracts make the setting not exactly like today. The writing in The Games is tighter, angrier, but I haven’t yet been pulled emotionally into the story.

It’s hard to say which book will ultimately be more entertaining after reading a mere 25 pages. But I’d rather read more about the witch escaping the witchfinder than about the gladiator beast.


Songs of the Earth will advance to meet either Hunter and Fox by Philippa Ballantine or Taft 2012 by Jason Heller in the second round.

To see the whole bracket, click here.