ARC Review: Skullsworn

 

Note: I can’t post a Richard Anderson cover without gushing about it, because THEY ARE ALL SO GREAT. Check out the info in the cover reveal, because it has some cool details and other art. I am also in love with the UK cover here (and have the UK hardcover just for that), and the cover reveal for that one is here.

From Goodreads:

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.

I should note that, if this review makes you really want to pick the book up, you can read the first handful of chapters here. The prologue sets up the entire book, so if you want an idea what it’s about, and you don’t like reading summaries, I suggest you go read it now, before reading the rest of this review.

Because Skullsworn takes place chronologically before the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, you can read it before or after. I feel like it’s best read after, because some of the reveals near the end of the book don’t pack the same punch without some of the knowledge you get from the main trilogy. I may be biased in this recommendation, however, as I almost always recommend reading books in publication order. Regardless, if you haven’t read the main trilogy, and are looking for a shorter, less intimidating entry point into the world of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Skullsworn is a great place to start.

If I were to actually make a complaint about the book, it’s that, in comparison to the previous books that Staveley has written, the tension is a little lower. I think this is because there was only one main character, and we already know what’s going to happen to her. In addition, she doesn’t care that much if she dies, since she’s already a devotee of the death god. Also, there are no empire-shaking plots going on here, merely personal ones, throughout most of the book.

The other complaint I can see being leveled at Skullsworn is that it’s much shorter than the rest of Staveley’s novels. While I would call the original trilogy epic, I don’t think that Skullsworn meets the criteria. It’s a personal quest story, and as such, it’s the right length. I feel like trying to make the book longer by adding unnecessary complications or words would have made it a worse book. I don’t have any complaints about the length other than that I’m once again out of Staveley to read, and I have to go back to waiting for the next one!

Pyrre is a very different viewpoint character than any that Brian has written before. While Kaden can attain some measure of calm, and Valyn is trained to kill, neither of them reach the levels of cold-blooded apathy that Pyrre ascends to in her devotion to Ananshael. This could make for a very boring character – someone who just wanders around and kills people – in the hands of an amateur, but Staveley is anything but an amateur. In his hands, Pyrre had wants, desires, and needs. She is on a quest, her own kind of twisted coming of age story, and while the “life or death” part of the quest doesn’t hold the same pull as it might for another character, it still makes for a compelling narrative, and gives the book a definite sense of progress. In addition, Pyrre learns a lot about herself during the book, and the lessons and her character growth are brilliantly done.

It’s not Pyrre who really sold the book for me, though. It was the ending. While I was enjoying the book throughout, as a very good book that was a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable, I’ll admit, before the ending, I was thinking I was going to give the book four stars.

And then the ending happened.

I can’t really say much other than that it was epic and way better than I had anticipated or thought possible. YOU NEED TO READ IT.

In summary, while Skullsworn follows a single character, and one who is a challenge to make interesting, it pulls this off very well. It’s the right length for the story that it is trying to tell, and the ending packs a massive punch. While I felt that the ending was even better because I read the original trilogy first, Skullsworn can be read at any time, and I think you’ll love it regardless. I give it five of five stars, and very high recommendations. Now go read it so I have someone to discuss it with!

Brian Staveley’s Website.

Skullsworn on Goodreads.

 

Book Review: The Dinosaur Knights

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Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review (Which is rather late. I’m sorry.). This has in no way affected my review of the book.

Before I get into my review, I’m just going to pause for a moment and admire that cover some more. Richard Anderson continues to be my favorite cover artist.

If all you want is dinosaurs beating things up, and you really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Dinosaur Lords, then there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Though there’s also a chance you might not. The pacing feels much worse in this one, dealing with lots of random events off in odd corners of the empire, interspersed with random tense scenes, before it really gets going in the second half of the book. I had a lot of trouble getting into this one, in part because of the pacing, and that’s why this review has been delayed by so much, and also part of why I’ve not been reading as much for the past few months. (Yes, it took me a few months to get through the entire book.)

I don’t know if I glazed over the descriptions in the first book because dinosaurs (I know I was rather enchanted by the dinosaurs), or if they’re simply worse in this book, but I was appalled by the prose in many places, from HOVER FOR NSFW to a character “lustily puking” into a bush. I was simply thrown out of the story way too often by awkward lines such as these, and honestly felt the book would have been much better for another line editing pass.

Part of the descriptions that wasn’t necessarily badly done (with a few exceptions like the one above) were the unnecessary oversexualization of everything. Many characters show up naked, arbitrarily, or are old lovers, and so on, and it honestly became rather tiring after a while. It didn’t drive the plot forward, most of the time, and I really wish some of it had been trimmed.

Another part that I may have brushed aside in the first novel were the typos. However, I read an ARC of The Dinosaur Lords, so I expected that any typos I saw would be caught during the copyediting and proofreading stages, and so ignored them. Since then, I’ve done several gamma reads (proofreading, essentially) for other books, and I noticed a lot of typos in this one–more than I typically expect to see even in a first pass proof. And I was reading the final book this time. It took me out of the story every time I saw one, and I had to resist marking up my book to correct them all.

On a more subjective level, I also felt that some of the characters were rather inconsistent. Many of them semi-magically develop talents for new skills, especially fighting, and with one character in particular, this abrupt reversal from how she was before, stretched the limits of my belief. I would have preferred a smoother transition for several of the characters.

I also would have preferred a smoother transition between chapters – oftentimes a large amount of time would pass between chapters, but reading them back to back I didn’t pick up on this until later in the chapter, oftentimes leaving me a bit confused and disoriented. Again, I feel this is an issue that could have been fixed with another editorial pass or two.

If there’s anything the book is good at, though, it’s dinosaurs. And, like the first book, it delivers. Tense moments abound, and the climax is epic. Despite my many qualms with the book, the combination of the massive battle near the end and the reveal in the last pages make me almost want to read the last book. Almost.

In summary, the book could have used another 3 editing passes: One to fix chapter transitions, remove unnecessary sexualization, and clean up the pacing; a second to clean up the prose and descriptions; and a third for copyediting and proofreading, to clean up the multitude of typos. If you can get through all of those things, and you really want to read about your dinosaurs, you might want to go ahead and read this book, but although I have to give it 2 of 5 stars because the ending was pretty good, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

Richard Anderson: An Appreciation

The-Mirror-Empire-cover

 

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Badass covers, right? Everyone’s heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It holds true a lot of the time. I’ve seen books with amazing covers that sucked, and I’ve seen the reverse even more often. (Take the first paperback cover for Mistborn as an example.) Regardless, however, I admire beautiful cover art, and I will still occasionally pick up a book just because it looks amazing. Right now, that means I’ll try anything with a Richard Anderson cover. So far, he has not lead me wrong. But even if he somehow does, I will likely keep picking up the covers and hoping that I can, some day, get posters of some of his art. What makes me say that? Well, let’s look at a few more of his covers.

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staveley_anderson_providence-of-fire

TimeSalvager

What I really like about Anderson’s art is that he not only paints awesome pictures, but he also matches them evocatively with the book’s material. He draws the characters from the book, and they are often in situations that occur during the book—situations which are instantly recognizable and memorable. The exception to this is, I think, the TEB cover above which represents the three main characters and the feel of the novel so perfectly that the fact that the scene never occurs in the book is more than excusable.

His covers aren’t for every book, of course. I can’t see his cover on something like The Last Unicorn, for example. It has to be the right pairing of artist and subject matter. I feel that he is usually perfectly matched for the covers I’ve seen. In addition to the above badassery (I mean, blood magic portals to alternate evil doppleganger universes…[Mirror Empire] Come on. That oozes awesome.), he painted the first cover that made me immediately go out and preorder the book based on the title and the cover alone, without knowing anything else. I’ve since obtained a copy of this book through mostly legitimate methods, and I really enjoyed it. Here’s the cover.

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I’ll pause for a moment before I conclude so that you can go order that one. Go on, I’ll be here when you get back.

I’m going to end this post with one more picture, one of the latest covers revealed in Richard Anderson’s ever-growing collection of amazing art, which is the cover to what is perhaps my most anticipated book of next year behind the only the next Stormlight book (When will Sanderson get a Richard Anderson cover? I would buy the heck out of that.). Badass birds, awesome red-heads, dual-wielding axes, a lovely dark color scheme with a hint of red, this is just so amazing.

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ARC Review: The Dinosaur Lords

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A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from a friend. This has in no way affected my review. Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs on a Richard Anderson cover with a GRRM cover-quote. I feel like reviewing this book is going to be completely redundant.

I first want to note that I have been anticipating this book so highly, and worked so hard to find myself an advance copy to read, because of that cover and its art. I’ve actually done this with a fair number of Tor books, including some without Richard Anderson cover art, and despite the old adage, I do sometimes judge a book by its cover. Cover art is important, and Irene Gallo did a brilliant job commissioning the art on this one. I’m nearly as excited about seeing the art for its sequel (Yes, there will be a sequel!) as I am for the book itself. To everyone who contributes to making these books look so awesome, thank you. And now, back to talking about this book specifically.

Dinosaurs.

The premise is, obviously, what made me pick this book up in the first place. I saw Jurassic Park when I was a kid. I had my dinosaur phase. I’m still having it, if I’m honest. Two little dinosaur figures live on my desk at work, and I went to see Jurassic World right after it came out. I fondly remember the Dinotopia days, and so I’ve been wanting more novels with dinosaurs. Dragons are all fine and good, as are other mythological or otherwise invented beasts, but, perhaps because they were once real, nothing can quite compete with the dinosaurs. Even if this book had had a lousy plot and been otherwise miserable, I would have read it all for the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs.

They’re used quite heavily, too. Figuratively and literally. Milán realizes what a gold-mine he’s sitting on here, and he mines it deeply. He has done an incredible amount of world-building around the dinosaurs, right down to the chapter epigraphs that list the various species and explain their uses and quirks. They pervade the society of the novel, and they’re utterly brilliant. The terremoto (You’ll know what I mean when you read it) is a great example of this.

Dinosaurs.

The rest of the world-building is great as well, and I mean that literally. I really want a map to help me understand exactly what’s going on (The ARC didn’t have one. I’m looking forward to getting my finished hardcover with the maps.). It feels like we simultaneously are, and are not, on a different version of Earth’s Europe. The Spanish influence is incredibly strong here, and it shows in the dual names that many places—and species of dinosaurs—have. One of my favorite examples of this is montañazul, a portmanteau of montaña and azul, which is called in English Blue Mountain.

Dinosaurs.

The plot takes a while to get going, and the first section of the book can be quite confusing. I urge you to stick with it. Once the second section starts, things begin to make a lot more sense, and we quickly settle down into following just a few viewpoints in a nice, linear fashion. While the plot still gets bogged down with the worldbuilding at times, it has a good sense of forward drive and it makes for an engaging book.

Dinosaurs.

Other than the occasional drag of the plot, my biggest complaint is the rape scene. (Warning: There’s a rape scene.) It felt largely unnecessary to the plot. Thankfully, Milán appears, at least for now, to be handling the aftermath much better than some other books I’ve read, and I have hopes that he’ll continue to do so in the next book.

Dinosaurs.

And yes, there will be a next book. If I recall correctly, Milán has said that The Dinosaur Lords is the first in a trilogy, which is the first of a pair of trilogies, and we definitely get glimpses of much larger plots beginning to move in the background of the world. They’re only teased at, however, and you can safely push them to the side and focus on the awesome in the rest of the book, though you may want to pay them more attention if you’re reading this at a later date and lucky enough to be able to pick up The Dinosaur Knights immediately after finishing, as I have a feeling it’ll have a lot more of the large-scale plot in the foreground.

Dinosaurs.

Milán did a great job with the diversity of the world, too, not only with the many species of dinosaurs and their abilities, but also with the characters themselves. They come from all walks of life, various nationalities and races, and he does a great job of representing non-straight characters of various types throughout, including casting them into important roles. I’ve come to start expecting at least a minimum of diversity from the novels I read, and the book soared well clear of that bar.

Dinosaurs.

In summary, nobody had sex with a dinosaur. It was the worst dinosaur erotica I’ve ever read. But, if you’re looking for something a little different, while The Dinosaur Lords felt like a mess at the very beginning, once the plot settles down, it is a great dinosaur adventure novel. The diversity of both characters and dinosaurs was awesome, and the eponymous dinosaurs pervade every page of this amazing novel, which lives up to most of the hype of the cover. Four out of Five stars, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series.

Dinosaurs.

Victor Milán.

Amazon.

Goodreads.