Book Review: Full Fathom Five

Semi-Warning: This book has some characters and references from the first two books, so it will mildly spoil you for them (including who lives/dies in some cases), but they’re not necessary background reading for this one.



From Goodreads:

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Full Fathom Five takes the Craft Sequence to yet another new location, this time to an island kingdom reminiscent of the Hawaiian islands. However, the series as a whole is starting to feel more like it is coming together. Instead of one or two mentions of the locations of previous books, characters from both books play a major role in this one, and events are directly referenced and discussed.

Despite this, though, Gladstone has written another novel that works spectacularly well on its own, something that few series writers can manage these days. Even my favorites almost always write books that require you to read in order unless you want to miss a lot of information and have major spoilers, and it makes for a very different read.

With a largely new cast of characters–including a completely new set of viewpoint characters in each novel–Gladstone has to do different work. Instead of building upon the ideas that we already have for these characters, he has to start over from ground zero, building new and interesting–and different characters, for us to watch through the eyes of.

And he does a great job. Our new characters are another brilliantly varied set including a demoted priestess, a street thief who tells too many stories, a poet with some very strange inspiration, and a blind golfer.

And I’m glad we had such an interesting cast of characters to meet–and Gladstone’s skill with introducing new characters every book is apparent, as I really enjoyed meeting this new set and getting to know their quirks and eccentricities.

If you’re new to the Craft sequence, or even if you’re returning, you’re in for a bit of a treat with the world-building as well, as both the visual and theological aspects of the volcanic island of Kavekana are brilliantly done.

I feel that, for much of the first part of the novel, it’s the worldbuilding and the new characters that really hold it up, as things do not make a lot of sense among the numerous plotlines until near the end, again, and I was confused by/bored of the plot at several places. But the plot is worth it in the end, and I consider the ending of Full Fathom Five to be on par with the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead, and more twisty and interesting than the second, Two Serpents Rise, which had a stronger plot and was more exciting, but lacked the surprise at the end.

One of the ways in which this books improves in its predecessors is in the prose. There are many lines here that are incredibly quotable, and it took more self-control than I usually have to exert to not tweet another quote every few minutes while reading. Gladstone really has a way with really cool turns of phrase, and it makes other writing seem dull and utilitarian.

In summary, Full Fathom Five is a generally enjoyable third novel in the Craft Sequence–or first, if you’re inclined to start there–with another brilliantly diverse set of characters, vibrant setting, and if the plot drags in the middle, it more than makes up for it by the end, which has several surprising twists and turns and wraps itself up quite nicely. The prose helps drive it along, and while it may not be my favorite of the series so far, it’s still a solid entry and I give it four out of five stars, and I’m looking forward to reading the next entry.

Max Gladstone.




Book Review: Two Serpents Rise

Unwarning: Despite this being the second book in the Craft Sequence, there are no characters from the first book in this one, or plot spoilers, so you’re perfectly fine reading the review–and the book–if you’ve not read the first one yet.


From Amazon:

In Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc–casual gambler and professional risk manager–to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father–the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists–has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.
From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire…and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

Two Serpents Rise overcame many of the issues I had with Three Parts Dead, the first book in the Craft Sequence, with only a single change: Instead of trying to fully use half a dozen viewpoint characters, Two Serpents Rise limits itself to one, with a few other characters getting supporting viewpoints near the end of the novel. I felt that this really streamlined the reading experience, because it gave us a lot less character overhead we had to get to know. It also lowered the immersion time at the beginning of the novel—no skipping around just as you’re starting to get accustomed to the person whose head you are inside. I really liked the change, especially for the length of book that Gladstone writes.

But that doesn’t mean that the other characters are simple shoved to the side and undeveloped. The cast here, while perhaps not quite as brilliantly varied as the first novel, still rises to a level above that of most other books. Our main characters this time include a gambling addicted yet risk averse man, his father, who is the last of an ancient sect of sacrificial priests, his best work friend and her slightly crazy artist girlfriend, his undead skeleton boss, and his crush, who happens to have some very interesting secrets up her sleeve that I don’t want to spoil for you.

And they’re all vividly developed and quite well done. Gladstone had to do a lot of heavy lifting here, as this novel has no characters in common with the first one, and so he has to introduce us to his all-new cast and get us familiar with them, something he does with grace and precision.

The uses and ways of the craft are different here as well, and the magic and the world of gods and demons, dragonfly transports and flying houses, might as well be a character in and of itself, one which shares little with the first book, but just enough that we have a grounding in the magic and not quite as much reintroduction is needed. Gladstone continues to take the approach of knowing what all of the rules of his system are, but not revealing them all to us, giving it an interesting feel that I’m still not entirely comfortable with, but can definitely accept and know is pretty darn cool.

Thanks largely to the single main viewpoint character, the plot of the novel is even more interesting than that of the first book, and I found myself devouring the pages during lunch breaks to try to read more of this amazing book. The stakes are suitably high, and by the end, I was on the edge of my seat. The climax was satisfying, as long as I accept that there will always be another aspect of this magic system that I don’t fully understand, though I was also a little disappointed that we didn’t have as many twists and character based surprises as the first one, but again, that is a minor complaint.

In summary, Two Serpents Rise is a worthy successor—but not direct sequel—to Three Parts Dead, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it thanks in large part, I think, to its restricted focus on a single viewpoint character which streamlined the plot and made it considerably easier to understand in 350 pages, and Gladstone somehow managed to do this without sacrificing the coolness, diversity, and depth of his cast. While the conclusion is not quite as twisty and exciting as the first novel, it’s still very satisfying and wraps up the threads started in this one, leaving me excited and wondering where Gladstone is going to go with the third novel. A solid Four of Five stars, and I’m looking forward to starting Full Fathom Five on my lunch break today.

Max Gladstone.



Book Review: Three Parts Dead


From Goodreads:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” — Brandon Sanderson

Three Parts dead could have benefitted from a bit more reader understanding of the magic system, before it was used to solve all of the problems. I spent large parts of the book being intrigued by the magic, but never quite getting enough explanation of how it works, and what it really can and cannot do, to satisfy me. I’m fine with vague magic not explained to the reader when it’s not used for many of the various plot events, such as in The Lord of the Rings, or A Song of Ice and Fire. But here, the Craft, as it is called, is one of the only tools the main characters use for solving their problems.

That’s not to say it’s a bad magic system, though. It seems, from the hurried glimpses we caught of it, to be internally consistent and intricately cool. I’m fully expecting to learn more about it in the future volumes in the series, and I hope that, once the rules are more defined, I will even come to enjoy the system. I just felt like the book wasn’t long enough for all the complexity we were supposed to get from it.

The plot is really cool, and I enjoyed how it was handled, with lots of twists and turns and unexpected happenings. And it felt very much like the bad guys were moving during the book, instead of having their plans set before the book began. This is a feeling that I don’t get from a lot of other books. There are several times where a scene happens, and we think it’s the climax of some kind of plot, but instead, turns out just to be another machination… I found this sense really cool, even though I can’t describe it properly. Perhaps the best description I can give is that the reaction scenes were also action scenes.

The characters in the book are an incredibly diverse cast of interesting people, not only in their physical makeup, but also their professions. Our main character is a disgraced student of the Craft school, trying to get a job with an imperious boss who is immortal. Her encounters include her old school teacher, a shape-shifting gargoyle, a bumbling underpriest with a smoking problem, a vampire, and a street-girl always searching for her next high—which she gets by either turning into an extension of the justice system of the city or having a vampire drink her blood.

The characters are incredible. The world-building is off the charts, and the magic system has so many cool intricacies.

I just felt like it was too much for the few pages the story fit into. This is one problem I’m really hoping will be fixed as we go along, now that we’ve had an introduction to the world, and I’m really excited about the later books.

The plot itself is really cool, and the climax was understandable, which surprised me in a good way. Everything is explained really well, though many of the events that happened I did not know were possible until they happened, giving it a slight Deus Ex Machina feel in places. Despite that, it had enough twists and turns to keep me suitably engaged, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In summary, Three Parts Dead is too short, and tries to cram too much really cool worldbuilding, characters, and intricate magic into its pages, but the parts that do come through are brilliantly done, and I’m excited to get more in this world in the reminder of the books, which I am going to be starting this afternoon. With the fourth book coming out soon after this review, now’s a great time to catch up on this series, and I give the first book a solid four of five stars for its really cool ending.

Max Gladstone’s website.



ARC Review: The Devil’s Only Friend



From Goodreads:

John Wayne Cleaver hunts demons: they’ve killed his neighbors, his family, and the girl he loves, but in the end he’s always won. Now he works for a secret government kill team, using his gift to hunt and kill as many monsters as he can…

…but the monsters have noticed, and the quiet game of cat and mouse is about to erupt into a full scale supernatural war.

John doesn’t want the life he’s stuck with. He doesn’t want the FBI bossing him around, he doesn’t want his only friend imprisoned in a mental ward, and he doesn’t want to face the terrifying cannibal who calls himself The Hunter. John doesn’t want to kill people. But as the song says, you can’t always get what you want. John has learned that the hard way; his clothes have the stains to prove it.

When John again faces evil, he’ll know what he has to do.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through Tor’s sweepstakes, and decided to review it for release. This has in no way affected my opinion of the book.

Getting just the right mix of familiar and new after several books in a single series can be rather tricky. I’ve seen plenty of authors do it poorly, and either end up with many quite repetitive books—such as Redwall—or a series of highly different books that share almost no connections, though I’m having a hard time coming up with an example right now.

Dan has managed to do it right. One of my biggest complaints with I Don’t Want to Kill You was that it felt too much like the previous two books, at the beginning, though that changed by the end. Here, we’ve got the same story, but told quite differently. Instead of John going at it himself, he’s got a whole team, and he has to, at least to a small degree, fit in with them. This presents a whole new slate of problems for him, and it’s very interesting to watch him struggle with them.

Other parts of the plot feel familiar, though, so Dan never gets too far away from his initial premise: There are demons out there, and we have to kill them—before they kill us. (Note: Yes, there is new terminology in this book, but to avoid any spoilers, I’m sticking with the old terminology for the review.) The scale is larger, not only for John’s team, but also for the demons. More, meaner, harder to kill. I am left wondering how Dan is going to raise the stakes for yet another two books, but I have no doubt he’ll be able to do it.

The new characters on the team do more than give John someone new to struggle against—and occasionally think about killing. They’re an interesting, diverse bunch, with a lot of shady backgrounds and easily aroused tempers. I only wish I’d had more pages to get to know them in.

Like all of Dan’s books I’ve read so far, this one comes in at around 300 pages, and that feels, to someone used to 500+ (or even 1000+) page epics, to be far too short, but he tells a satisfying, full story.

I cannot talk much about Brooke or the romance side of the book without giving major spoilers, so I will simply say that I was pleased with how it was handled.

The beginning of the novel was quite a shocker. Again, saying much more would be another spoilers (There are a lot of twists and turns in these 300 pages!), so I’ll simply say that not everything is as it seemed at the end of the previous book, and even for those things that were, well, we’re months into the future now, so things are bound to have changed.

Despite that, the book flowed well from the previous one, and while the books are supposedly plotted to be a pair of trilogies, with this being the first book of the second trilogy, and two more planned, but it really feels like a single series, with a slight time-jump in the middle. Of course, I may have been biased by reading I Don’t Want to Kill You… Yesterday, so take that with a grain of salt.

In summary, The Devil’s Best Friend is an exciting new development in the John Cleaver story that begins to open us up to a larger world, bringing in new teammates and enemies, and shifting our perceptions of characters we thought we knew. There are lots of twists, and while nothing was supremely exceptional to me, I highly enjoyed this book and give it a solid four of five stars, as a worthy continuation of a great series.

Dan Wells.



Book Review: Mr. Monster



From Goodreads:

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, John Wayne Cleaver saved his town from a murderer even more appalling than the serial killers he obsessively studies.

But it turns out even demons have friends, and the disappearance of one has brought another to Clayton County. Soon there are new victims for John to work on at the mortuary and a new mystery to solve. But John has tasted death, and the dark nature he used as a weapon—the terrifying persona he calls “Mr. Monster”—might now be using him.

No one in Clayton is safe unless John can vanquish two nightmarish adversaries: the unknown demon he must hunt and the inner demon he can never escape.

Sometimes, when all I read are heavy, 600+ pages books, I think that they are all that there is, and anything shorter is silly. It takes a few good shorter books to remind me of how wrong I am sometimes, and Mr. Monster by Dan Wells was one of these books.

I was lucky enough to have my copy on hand right after finishing I Am Not a Serial Killer, and tore through it in less than 24 hours. I have one simple verdict:

If you liked the first one, read this one.

Mr. Monster is just under 300 pages long, and none of those pages are wasted. The setting is the same small town, Clayton, that we know from the first book, and many of the characters are familiar. The idea of demons is familiar, too, and Dan has to do minimal worldbuilding here. That means that we get almost pure character and story. Usually, I like more substance to my books than that, but sometimes, it really is nice to sit down and not have to remember 1000 named characters with lines, 7 different magic systems, 11 cultures, and a half dozen different groups of bad guys that need to be killed. Sometimes.

And for those times, Mr. Monster hits the spot perfectly. It’s a novel I can sit down and read for an over hour at a time without having to take breaks between every chapter to process the implications of what just happened, and I love it for that. The flow is great at sucking me in, and I nearly missed my train station while reading. I thought I was 3 stops away, looked up, and barely made it off the train in time at my station.

Dan does not go off and decide that he needs to do a bunch of crazy new stuff with the same characters in the same world. Instead, he takes what worked so well in the first book, and does it again, with just enough differences and advances to make it feel new. There’s always a chance that a book will get repetitive and boring if this is done too many times, but Dan managed to make it work marvelously well for himself.

Of course, I say that he didn’t do anything crazy as a relative term. We’re in the same tight first-person viewpoint with John Cleaver that was so intense in the first book, and that means we’re deeply inside the head of a sociopath who is suppressing his serial killer tendencies. And ever since he killed the demon, they’ve become harder to control.

Many of the moments with John are downright chilling. If Dan was looking to get a raw emotional response from me, he succeeded. John’s mindset is done incredibly well, and he manages to sketch out the other characters of the novel—Brooke, John’s family, John’s new antagonist—with great detail, even through John’s apparent detachment.

He kept these characters true to themselves, too, even when most other authors would have made different decisions that might have been more fan-based. I’m glad he didn’t, even though some of them hurt, some quite a lot.

Hurt, and made me shudder. I honestly think this would have been an utterly amazing book if I had been a horror fan, and I really liked this kind of thing. Unfortunately, it was sometimes a little much for my delicate sensitivities—I had to stop and read a filler or two between every ASoIaF book, for example—and that, for me personally, slightly lessened my enjoyment.

In summary, Mr. Monster is a great, quick horror novel that closely traces the first, without being a boring copy. It has some truly great horrifying moments that are occasionally slightly too much for me, and is incredibly easy to read and hard to put down. Four of five stars, and a high recommendation if this is your kind of book. I’m anxious to find out what happens in the rest of the series.

Dan’s Website.



Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer


From Goodreads:

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Do you have any idea how many weird looks and questions you get carrying around a book that says “I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER” on the front? A lot.

Dan Wells was the last of the Writing Excuses team whose books I read. I think this was perhaps because he is a horror writer, not a fantasy author. I, obviously, fell in love with Brandon’s books first, but quickly found Schlock Mercenary as well, because it was free online, and have been reading it for several years. I listened to a few of Mary’s delightful books a few months ago, and was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Devil’s Best Friend last month, and decided that it was time to read Dan’s books.

I don’t usually read horror books. They’re just not my kind of thing. I’m fine with a bit of grimdark in my fantasy—ASoIaF is one of my favorites, as is The Mirror Empire—but horror novels are on a different level. I usually want to be able to sleep at night, you know?

Good stories transcend genres, though. I was hooked a few pages into I Am Not a Serial Killer, and I blasted through it in a day and a half. It’s a gripping, intense read that seems far to short, because it makes efficient use of every page. The whole trilogy, together, is probably still shorter than some of Brandon’s epics. And that’s fine. The story is told as it needs to be told, no intense world-building, no heavy mental lifting, just pure, scary, fun.

The book is set in a small American town that feels totally real—and so familiar that Dan is able to achieve a great amount of setting just by dropping a few hints here and there. This, I feel, is one of the main strengths of books set in the modern world, with minimal fantasy elements, and it’s one that Dan takes full advantage of, allowing him to give minimal descriptions and focus on the characters and the action. It does give the book a bit of a dated feel when the main character wanders into a Radio Shack, though.

John Cleaver, our main character, is utterly creepy. A sociopath suppressing serial killer tendencies, he should feel completely alien to us. I’m not sure how Dan managed it, but this is far from how it actually felt. John is quite sympathetic, despite having no sympathy himself. I think, perhaps, it’s his drive to try to be a good person that makes me want to root for him so much, even as he imagines tearing the people around him to pieces. Perhaps it’s that, or perhaps it’s that we have an antagonist who is even more monstrous than John.

Regardless, John is an amazing character, and I want more.

But he creeps me out. I guess this means that the book is good at what it’s supposed to be—it’s a horror novel, after all. It’s not that there are excessive amounts of gore—most of the time. It’s just that being inside John’s head in an amazing experience, and perfectly creepy. If you’re looking for a book that will give you shivers at night, this is definitely one you want to read.

I can now unreservedly say that I am not a sociopath. Thanks, I think?

It also has a definite supernatural element as well. I’m not going to spoil the book by saying too much about this, but I know I definitely enjoyed the book more because it was not just our world, but had the added fantastical element.

That’s not to say it’s all good, though. There are first-book quirks about it. The mystery isn’t maintained as well as I would have liked, and I was disappointed when things that were supposed to be subtle foreshadowing or hints pretty much gave the game away and lowered the suspense. There’s also a few out-of-character scenes. In particular, there’s two pages where a character who, to this point, has shown no excessive knowledge of serial killers or their methods drops comfortably into John’s lingo, in the middle of an introspective moment that shouldn’t have really made any sense to anyone else.

But these are minor quibbles, and while they detracted from the book, I still largely enjoyed I Am a Serial Killer. In summary, it’s a short, well-written debut novel with at utterly chilling protagonist and antagonist, which engaged me in part due to its supernatural elements, despite having a few first-book feeling moments. Four of five stars, and I’m halfway through the next book already.

Dan’s Website.



Book Review: Royal Assassin


Royal Assassin

From Goodreads:

Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. In this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands—and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb is a typical second book in what is shaping up to be a very enjoyable first trilogy, and I quite enjoyed jumping into it straight after finishing the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice.

Royal Assassin brings us back to all of our favorite characters, at least, those who survived the first book. In particular, we follow Fitz’s viewpoint for the entire story again, watching as he starts to really be an adult and have some power over those around him. He continues to grow more relatable, even though his life is far from anything I’ve ever experienced. His struggles feel real, and at times, incredibly frustrating.

We also see more of Burrich, Chade, Royal and Verity, Shrewd, and Molly, all the characters we came to know in the first book. There are hardly any new additions, however, and this book is very much a “dig deeper” instead of “spread wider” type of book, something rather uncommon in the fantasy world these days. I liked this digging, as it helped to give the feel that Hobb has complete control over her plot and characters, instead of letting them run rampant and multiply as, say, GRRM has done.

The magic continues to be semi-standard telepathic type magic, and it’s not the main focal point of the novel, though it continues to play an important role. I found myself neither excited nor disappointed by its possibilities—nothing short of Hurley or Sanderson levels of magical coolness gets me excited anymore—but it was well thought out and served its purpose well.

I found that, because I continued to be more and more engaged by the same characters, that this book didn’t have quite the same dragging feeling that the first book had, though it also wasn’t an incredibly fast book. There is no breakneck plot, which is just fine. This is the kind of book that enjoys what it is, and it feels good.

The emotional hooks here are definitely deeper too, and Hobb continues to put her characters through the wringer. While the tension only very gradually rises, the amount of pain the characters are going through is at a constant high level, both emotionally and at times physically. This, perhaps, more than anything, is what makes the book so engaging, and overall gave it a more cohesive feel.

The plot is the most “second book” part of the book, for sure. It leaves all of its threads unresolved, and I didn’t feel like it really even ended the threads that it should have. It did have an intense ending, but I have to admit that I was expecting more to be tied up, and new problems expanded for the third and final book.

In summary, Royal Assassin was a satisfying second book that dug deeper into all of the characters that we came to know in the first book, and used this digging to intensify the emotional pain that Hobb could deal to them. I did not find the plot to be as satisfying as I had hoped, and while it does leave me wanting the third book, I wish it had resolved a few more threads with its conclusion. I definitely give it four of five stars, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to what I hope is a conclusive final volume in the trilogy.

Robin Hobb.