Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond

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Staveley started his trilogy strong with The Emperor’s Blades (Go read it if you haven’t done so already), and The Providence of Fire was an excellent continuation. The Last Mortal Bond continues that tradition and delivers exactly what I expected, even if it didn’t do so in all the ways that I expected.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 2 BOOKS AFTER THIS POINT. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED BOTH OF THEM.

The first two books set up a lot of conflicts and problems for our characters–Ran il Tornja, the Urghul, the Ishien, etc.–and it takes a lot to resolve them all. The Last Mortal Bond is a brick of a book, coming in at 649 pages in my hardcover copy, and it makes good use of all of them. A number of conflicts are still left open at the end of the book, but given that Staveley is already writing more books in the same world, and that he wraps up all of the most pressing threads in satisfactory manners, it works excellent as an ending.

Staveley has really managed to take the tension up a notch here, with everything from the massive, army-clashing, city-destroying battles, down to the personal fight between 2 or 3 people, and even within some of the characters, and it doesn’t leave much room for breathing, even in such a long book.

A large part of the tension also comes from the fact that Staveley does not shy away from killing characters when necessary, and earlier than you might be expecting–and there were certainly some impactful deaths I was not expecting.

Staveley also manages to throw in a few more twists, and unexpected turns, as well as taking us to some really cool new locations as we begin to explore more of his world. I’m glad that we’re going to get to go back and see even more of it, as even the small glimpses we get of some of the foreign lands are enticing.

Although the trilogy started by focusing on the three children of the Emperor, this book is completely taken over at several points by my favorite Staveley character, the star of the cover art, Gwenna. I will admit that I didn’t like her very much in the first book, when she spent a lot of her time arguing and generally being obstinate, but now that we get viewpoints and some real action from her, she really shines. I can’t say much more about her without spoiling a lot, but trust me. She just gets more and more awesome.

There’s not a lot more to say about this book, honestly. If you liked the first two, you’ll love this one, with numerous twists, nobody being safe, awesome moments all around, though especially from Gwenna, and threads tied up in satisfying ways that nevertheless beg more exploration of the world that Staveley has created. 5 of 5 stars, and since the trilogy is now complete, and all of it is awesome, you really have no excuse for not going out and getting and reading them all right now.

Richard Anderson: An Appreciation

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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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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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The Big Bang Theory Tag

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My friend Jessie, from Jessie Reads Everything, tagged me to do The Big Bang Theory Book Tag, which was created by Terri from Reading by Starlight. It looks like a lot of fun, and I’ve never done one of these before, so I decided to try this one and see how it turned out. It was a lot of fun, and I had to think about some of my choices for quite some time, but in the end, I think I’m happy with all of them.

I’ve only seen the first season of TBBT, and while I found it quite amusing, I didn’t feel the need to watch any more (I’m not much of a TV person. The only other show I’ve seen in the last decade is Game of Thrones.). Regardless, I’m familiar with most of the ideas, either from the first season or seeing the inevitable memes online. Without further ado, here goes!

1. The Fish Night Light

A book that may have been rocking its crazy but was still kind of brilliant.

The-Mirror-Empire-cover

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is one of those books that has everything and the kitchen sink. Carnivorous trees, brutal blood magic, parallel worlds, satellite magic, societies with 5+ genders, utterly crazy religions, and so on. The book is just overflowing with the crazy ideas, and Kameron mostly manages to pull it off, though it does occasionally have the feeling of a train crashing downhill while you pray that the driver will be able to regain control before you hit the bottom.

2. The Hawking

The author that would be like your equivalent of Physics Genius meets Stephen Hawking.

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Brian McClellan. Like Jessie, I was originally going with Sanderson, but I decided that since I’ve already met him, I should use this one for another author. Brian writes some great books, and is a student of the Sanderson. He’s a beekeeper and overall awesome person. I’ve actually gotten to beta read some of his short stories and novellas, and I’m in the acknowledgements of one or two of them, and I’m really, really looking forward to meeting the person behind the books at WorldCon this year.

3. The Euclid Avenue

The book so full of bumps and (plot) holes that it proved annoying to read.

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Before you crucify me, hear me out! I had a really hard time coming up with this one. By the time they get through editing and everything else, most books have pretty solid plots, and very few plot holes. I’ve recently been relistening to the Harry Potter series, and they have some plot holes you could fly a broomstick through… How did the Dursleys ever get off that rock? Why would you send students to their dormitories after a troll gets in, when they’re already safe in the great hall, and one of the dormitories is in the dungeon? Perhaps most importantly, did Dumbledore really believe that any of the enchantments on the Stone, except possibly his own, would prevent Voldemort from getting it? They were weak enough for 3 first years to get past, and that’s without any summoning charms or blasting spells or anything that would have made some parts of it much easier.

That’s not to say that I don’t love the books, though. They, and their characters, are utterly amazing. The plot holes just bothered me a little more this time around.

4. The Spock Napkin

The book for which you had low or moderate expectations, and then it was so beyond awesome that you wanted to hug it and love it and shout about it forever.

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The Emperor’s Blades. This was the second ARC I ever received, and I won it in a sweepstakes competition. It was a debut, and I really hadn’t heard anything about the author or the book beforehand, and I’ve had rather iffy results with books I randomly select in the past. But it blew me away, and I am so much in love with this one now that I am pushing it on everyone I know while eagerly anticipating the third volume in the trilogy, THE LAST MORTAL BOND, which I need more than water. (Cover art below because it’s just so frigging amazing.)

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5. The Awkward Fanboy

The book that seems to follow you around the blogosphere, and you know you don’t want to read it but it won’t leave you alone.

Heir of Fire

I read the prequel novellas and the first two books in this series, and I’m the black sheep on these. I didn’t enjoy them very much, but everyone says they get better and they’re always pushing me to read the next one. I will get around to it eventually, as I have a copy, but I’m not expecting it to be a book that I love.

6. The Classified Materials

The book with a spoiler so huge, when anyone asks, you just can’t even say because the spoiler is such a big part of it.

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Some weddings and stuff happen in this book. People die, occasionally. So many twists and turns in the second half of this novel, and they’re what make it so interesting, so discussing it without these twists is practically impossible. (And yes, I dismissed several Sanderson novels, especially Hero of Ages and Way of Kings, for this spot because I wanted to keep it at just one book per author on this list.)

7. The Jiminy

The book that gets mistaken most often for the wrong genre, and you’re constantly arguing for why it’s this other genre/subgenre.

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This one is always classified as straight up fantasy, but, as we find out in the history lessons in the opening chapters, it’s really a far-future earth, in what is really a recovering post-apocalyptic setting. Brooks has gone back and explored this in deep detail in some of his other series, showing us the transition from the earth we know to the world of Shannara, and it’s fascinating. People still insist on calling it straight up fantasy, however.

8. The Adhesive Duck

The book that was all cute and cuddly and then WHAM YOUR FEELS AND OW AND YOUR HEART AND WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

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Of course there’s Sanderson on this list somewhere… I don’t ship hardly anyone, but I do ship Megan and David, and they are just so cute. Also, I love Mizzy and the new team we’re introduced to, and the setting is just so dang cool… And then there’s the Sanderson avalanche at the end of this that makes me want to cry. So many feels for so many characters. It would be spoilers to say who, but, well, if you’ve read it you know what I mean.

9. The Zazzy

The book that’s got so much personality that it’s just ZAZZY and there’s no other word for it.

This one is just awesome all the way through, and all of the characters are so vibrant. Kell, Lila, Rhy, the Danes… They all have such unique attitudes and they’re so well written, they really imbue the book with their personalities. And that’s not to mention the various Londons, all of which have their own personalities too…

10. The Hot Troll

The book you thought would be beautiful and fabulous and then it turned out to be horrible and gross.

The Warded Man

I’ve not been repulsed by this book in quite a while. I finished reading it this afternoon, and there were several points I wanted to throw it across the room, not because of the agony it caused me through its characters (A la Red Wedding. Everyone chunks their book across the room at that point.), but because it was just so… Yuck. Rape all over the place, combined with a distinct lack of agency by any of the female characters (except maybe the one who is hardly onscreen and then dies), and a series of cultures, each of which disrespect their women more than the last, just really set my teeth on edge. The book itself, without this, probably would have been moderately entertaining, and I’ve heard lots of people who love this series, but the way sex, rape, and female characters in this book were treated really ruined any enjoyment I had. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

11. The Zarnecki

The book with an antagonist so evil/mean/disgusting that you’d drive many hours just to knee him/her in the … well you get it.

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President Snow. I didn’t go for any of the obvious, out-and-out “you kill me or die” villains. They don’t strike the same loathing into me as the quiet, manipulative, political villains, the ones who know exactly what they’re doing, exactly how many people they’re messing up, and have such complete control over the main character’s lives that I just have to shudder to think of them. And President Snow is one of the best examples of this kind of character I’ve ever read. He forces Katniss and Peeta to play along with his games, forces them to smile and pretend there’s nothing wrong, while he destroys their lives and ruins their futures. *shudder*

12. The Train Tour

The book with the development/ending/sunken ship/whatever that proved so upsetting, you contemplated running away forever so you didn’t have to deal with your feels.

Hero of Ages

Okay, so I lied. I did include 2 Sanderson books on this list. Anyone who has reached the end of The Hero of Ages knows what I mean. “I am, unfortunately, the Hero of Ages.”… And if you’re feeling particularly brave, let me know, and I’ll send you some fan-art that’ll leave you sobbing, whether you’ve read the book once or a dozen times.

ARC Review: The Providence of Fire

WARNING: THIS IS A REVIEW FOR BOOK TWO IN THE SERIES. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK 1, THE EMPEROR’S BLADES, GO CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THAT BOOK INSTEAD. THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR IT.

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I don’t like the official summary for the book. It spoils about half of it, and I’m honestly a little annoyed that I read it before I picked up the book itself. In fact, this is the summary that has made me try to stop reading summaries for books before reading the books. From here on out, I would like to try to not read them at all. But, in the interest of all of you who came here looking, I’m going to try to write a less spoilery back cover copy myself. You can skip over it if you want.

Adare has discovered that her lover is a traitor who helped to kill her father. A traitor who now holds more power than perhaps anyone else in the empire of Annur. She knows she is no longer safe in the Dawn Palace, but to escape she must first avoid her ever-present guards, guards she does not know if she can still trust.

Adare’s brother, Kaden, is the heir to their father’s throne. Before he can take the throne, however, he must travel safely home—a journey he has no idea how he will make when all those he might have called friend for the past ten years have been slaughtered. He is far away in the mountains with one of the strangest groups he has ever found himself part of, and he knows he can no longer trust those who are assigned to project him.

Valyn, the third child, made some incredibly dangerous enemies when he turned his back on the Kettral, the most elite fighting force in the world, to rescue his brother. Now, he must simultaneously try to keep himself and his brother alive, and find a way to get them to safety, all while learning to trust a mysterious warrior monk and submit to his brother’s commands—for Kaden is the Emperor now, and Valyn has spent years determining the course of his own life among some of the harshest fighters in the world.

And none of them can see of the darker, more powerful forces that move in the shadows, twisting empires to their wills and willing to tear the world apart to get what they want.

The Emperor’s Blades was my favorite novel from a new author in 2014, and one of the most intensely paced books I’ve ever read. Staveley has a brilliant sense of the epic yet intensely personal saga that grips with breathtaking action from the first page to the last.

So, I had very high expectations of The Providence of Fire, expectations that it was going to have to work very, very hard to live up to. Higher expectations, perhaps, than I place on any book except a Sanderson, and higher than I place on some Sanderson novels–The Providence of Fire actually outranked a Sanderson novel on my most anticipated list for this year. When I got an ARC in November, I was anxious to see what happened in the world—and if the book lived up to my expectations.

It did.

(I should be able to leave that alone as my review, but… Okay. I’ll elaborate.)

The Providence of Fire did not, for me, quite match the incredible pacing that Staveley achieved in The Emperor’s Blades. And that’s fine with me. While The Emperor’s Blades came in at around 475 pages, The Providence of Fire is about 600, a good bit longer. I don’t think I could handle quite the same pace throughout the entire thing and come out alive. But that does not mean in any way that the book is slow or boring. It’s still much, much faster paced and more intense all the way through than much of the other fantasy I read—even the really good stuff. I’m not entirely sure how Brian does it—I’ve never been able to step back far enough from the story to really examine the craft behind it. It’s just too intensely good and readable.

The Providence of Fire is a much more political novel too, especially with Adare’s plot-line. Probably my biggest complaint with the first book was that it didn’t have enough female viewpoints or character balance. This book definitely fixes that, both with a much more expanded role for Adare, and the inclusion of at least two more important female characters I won’t name because it would be a spoiler. Adare’s plot, her dealings with the traitor and the religions of the people, could easily have become bogged down in politics. But Staveley manages to keep the tension high and the excitement flowing, even in the scenes that could easily have become travelogues. Kaden and Valyn have very interesting plots as well, and saying much of anything about them is a spoiler.

Staveley quickly reached the point where he was flipping between all three characters, always making me not wanting to leave the character whose chapter I had just finished, yet always looking forward to the next one. While the pacing allows for occasional moments where you can actually breathe, it’s always nearly impossible to physically put the book down and go about your life. Even when you do, it sticks with you, making you want to know what happened next.

And there are plenty of twists—it’s not just an action book. There are several really powerful revelations that I didn’t see coming, and some I wonder exactly how long Staveley has been plotting and planning to unleash on us. There were several times where I had to stop reading, hard though it was, and simply sit there for a moment to process exactly what had happened and what I had just learned.

(Seriously, Brian, how long did you have the Hendran line coming?)

The viewpoints begin to diversify later in the book, giving the trilogy more of an epic feel. But Staveley manages to keep the cast under control and the plot moving forward, in some places by trimming characters… Be prepared for a few scenes that will hit hard. The ending, in particular, is brutal and massive, and simultaneously has me clapping and demanding the next book. I’ve been following Staveley on Twitter, and I’m really glad to know that the first draft is done and off into edits. I’ll be watching closely for updates and any way I can get my hands on an early copy.

I have to take a moment here to stop and once again admire Richard Anderson’s amazing cover art, as well as the incredible map inside by Isaac Stewart (both of which were included in the ARC I read). They really provide the finishing touches to make this book a work of art, and it’s always nice to see such an accurate depiction on the front cover that really represents the events of a book. Also, I’m really hoping to see some amazing Adare cosplay—you’ll know what I’m talking about once you’ve read it.

In summary: The Providence of Fire is a longer, slightly less insanely paced book than The Emperor’s Blades, but it is nevertheless an incredible, epic read that leaves me hungering for more, as soon as I can get my grubby paws on it. Five of five stars without a question.

Brian’s Website.

TPoF on Amazon.

TPoF on Goodreads.

Solving the “The Last Abbot” Riddle

Brian Staveley, who is one of my favorite authors, set up a scavenger hunt this past year. He hid 20 copies of his first book, The Emperor’s Blades, around the world for people to find—each special copy had a letter inside that would allow you to unlock a portion of a short story that was hidden on his website. You can read more here.

Unfortunately, none of the copies were near enough for me to make a trip and retrieve them, so I didn’t end up with one myself. 19 of the 20 copies were found over the course of about six months or so, up until December when Brian revealed that the final copy, numbered 1/20, was hidden in an epic special location, the source of which was encoded in a riddle. I managed, with the help of a few of the other hunters, to crack the code and discover the location. It was too far away for me to retrieve myself, and so I didn’t try, but I had an incredible amount of fun (and lack of sleep) solving the riddle. What follows is a brief account of what I actually did when solving the riddle, the challenges it posed, and what ended up being the final solution. You can see most of it play out in the comments of the article linked above, but I simply had too much fun to not tell the story on my own blog. (And Brian, I’m totally getting that shirt for WorldCon.)

The riddle:

A whole world, older than memory, younger than old women, old men,

Vast as the ocean, small enough to hold in a hand,

A gift of the daughter of the watchers of women and men,

A gift of Parnassus, spread in dozens of tongues,

It whispers to us:

Your name is not your name.

You can’t escape.

The shadow is the self.

 

99 3 6 21    9 10 26 22.

21 10 24 68   4 26 5 18 9 3   1 75 22   63 24 1 1 3 26   23 7 43 6 22   26 18 26 1 3 22 26   43 7 67 3 5   26 26 99   10 37   23 16 9 7 23 3   5 75 22 63 63 4 5   67 7 5 1 21 22.

**********************

I quickly came to the assumption that the numbers were a substitution cipher of some sort, with each number representing a letter. My main reason for making this assumption was because of the specific formatting—there appeared to be 2 sentences, each of which end with a period and are broken into distinct words with letters. There are also only 23 distinct numbers, fewer than the 26 letters of the alphabet. I operated under this assumption pretty much the entire time. My efforts on the first day of solving the puzzle focused almost exclusively on the numerical cipher, because I could not make heads nor tails of the riddle itself.

My first attempts focused on using the riddle itself as the key to the cipher, attempting to use the first letter as 1, second letter as 2, and so on. This did not work, even though I tried many, many variations, including working backwards, using syllable numbers, and treating the lines like an array.

Then I spent some time staring at the numbers, and came to the conclusion that the first line/sentence was quite probably a congratulatory message—well done, or nice work. I grabbed the back of an envelope and tried these out. The solution of “well done” produced some interesting results, which you can see below. I discarded it because I couldn’t make any more progress, and because it didn’t make sense to my rational mind for multiple numbers to translate to the same letter.

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I then switched over to using a program I had written a year ago in one of my computer science courses, which takes the string and attempts to run a frequency analysis on it, then create a key for decryption. It then presents the solution, and allows you to change the key 1 letter at a time, always giving you the newly decrypted message so that you can fix any mistakes you make. By the time I gave up on this method, it was almost 4 AM, and I had intended to go to bed at midnight, so I was a bit depressed and frustrated.

I was able to mostly put the riddle out of my mind for a few days, mostly due to my perceived lack of progress on it, and the fact that I was out of town, helping my Grandma with technical issues that I had really not been anticipating. (It was hell. NEVER LOSE YOUR ADMIN PASSWORD.) But then Brian was a meanie. He taunted me with this tweet:

Aaaaand there was no way I wasn’t going to solve the riddle, plus I never really got the thing out of my head; it just sat there staring at me while I didn’t have time to look at it.

I cursed. I complained. But I got back to it as soon as I got home. I posted my work so far in the comments of the riddle, with more detail than given above, in hopes that it could help spur someone else on to solving the riddle—I wanted to at least be a part of the solution. Brian said I had made some really good progress. I also looked at other people’s various answers; they had focused largely on the words themselves. They had interesting conjectures; 1 took the riddle to simply mean a novel, any novel, another tried to interpret them to mean a particular song from Lord of the Rings. Brian had chimed in telling them they were both making progress, but missing something, and so I memorized the riddle and thought about it all evening/night the first day when I had returned home. I’m sure I got some sleep in there somewhere, but it was restless, to say the least.

When I woke up in the morning, I’d had a slight bit of a revelation. The riddle meant some kind of book, yes, but a specific one. And the author was female, so it couldn’t be Lord of the Rings. (You can find my detailed analysis of the riddle in the comments on the original article.) I offhandedly mentioned A Wizard of Earthsea in my analysis because of the word “ocean” used to describe the world inside the novel, and some of the other hunters ran with it, digging up other quite interesting connections, nicely connecting LeGuin’s parents as archaeologists to the “watchers of women and men”, but the kicker was when someone noticed that the book was originally published by Parnassus Press. Previously, we had all assumed that the Parnassus line meant that it was a book simply because the muses lived on Parnassus.

With this revelation, I dug out my dad’s copy of A Wizard of Earthsea and thumbed through it, trying various things before I hit upon the solution. There were other similarities I noticed too, chiefly that the plot matches the last three lines of the riddle quite well. It took a few tries, but I found the solution fairly quickly at that point. The key to the riddle was the first words of the text itself, with the first letter being 1, the second letter being 2, and so on. With the message cracked, I quickly checked the location and determined that I would not be able to make it myself (It’s somewhere in NH…). Thus, I posted the solution, which is below:

Well done.

Look inside the rotten maple nineteen paces NNW of madame Sherri’s castle.

Brian was right that this was an epic location—it’s an abandoned castle in the middle of the woods.

Patrick, whose adventures you can also read in the comments of the blog, hopped in his car literally 3 minutes after I had posted the solution to the riddle, and drove 5 hours to retrieve the book, which is now in his possession. Congratulations, Patrick!

I was amazed at how close I had come to solving the riddle in my earlier attempts. If you look at the picture I posted above, I had almost cracked the code on my own, without the key. My biggest problem was that I was tired, doubling letters didn’t make sense with the rules of codes I had been taught, and I had the “maple nineteen” portion squished up and missing a letter or two. I’m pretty sure if I’d taken a closer look at the envelope above during the day, I would have been able to solve the riddle without the key, but I managed it anyway, a fact that makes me incredibly happy. I was also incredibly lucky with my guess of “A Wizard of Earthsea”, something I had thrown out almost as an afterthought when analyzing the riddle. Thanks to everyone who helped, especially those who pointed out how well the riddle fit with the solution being a novel, and those who found the clues that confirmed that we should look in A Wizard of Earthsea.

Overall, it was a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience. It reminded me why I love going to school and learning—I enjoy the feeling I get when I tackle a seemingly insurmountable problem, conquer it, and learn an incredible amount along the way, and the more and more I get into upper division classes, the more I experience this feeling. I would really like to thank Brian again for a great experience and a fun riddle, and I’m looking forward to meeting him at some point in the future! I also hope he continues to do these riddles, and that, perhaps, if he does this again, there will be a copy that I can find.

Brian is an amazingly fun person and a really good author. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades, came out last January, and was my favorite debut novel of the entire year! If you’ve not read it yet, you’re really missing out, and you should go fix that, especially since his second novel, The Providence of Fire, comes out tomorrow! And if you enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades, you should get The Providence of Fire, because it’s just as good as the first one.

Favorite Books of 2014

This list is going to be presented in 2 parts. The first part is the books I read for the first time in 2014, but which were not released that year. The second is 2014 releases that I read and really enjoyed. I didn’t put any rereads on this list, to prevent it from being 100% Sanderson. Neither list has a strict number of books on it, they’re just however many books I really enjoyed. I’m hoping this list will be longer next year, as I want to get more reading done. (Goals/resolutions post coming… Tomorrow?)

2014 Most enjoyed backlist books.

3. The Last Unicorn

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This is something of a classic that a lot of people couldn’t believe that I’d never read–and I see why. It’s not an epic tale, but it’s a touching one. It’s a beautiful story that just resonates in some way that is timeless and is difficult to describe. Really good read, and quick too. Definitely recommended.

2. The Android’s Dream

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I think one of my problems with many sci-fi novels is that they try to dig into the technology to make it “hard” sci-fi, and they do it wrong. Often, it’s obvious that the author has no idea what they are talking about, and it just makes me cringe. This happens particularly often in the realm of computers… Or perhaps I just notice it more because I’m a computer science major in college and spend an unhealthy amount of time working with the things every day. That’s why The Android’s Dream was so incredibly refreshing. It’s computer technology, hackers, aliens, and all the stuff that makes sci-fi cool. Done right. It’s very accurate, but it’s also riotously funny, completely self-contained, and never gets distracted from the hugely entertaining plot. This one really exceeded my expectations and I’m surprised there isn’t more hype about it. You can find my review here.

1. A Storm of Swords

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Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is a modern classic, and it’s hard to believe that I only started reading this series in 2013 and finished in 2014. (Up to A Dance with Dragons, the last book that is actually out.) GRRM is an absolute master of characterization and satisfying, interesting grey characters. I’m constantly left in awe of his work, and the second half A Storm of Swords, with The Red and Purple Weddings, the trial and combat, and the appearance of a certain someone in the epilogue, is one of the most gut wrenching and amazing things I’ve ever read. You can get away with not reading the books after this, but everyone should at least read up through here. It would be criminal not to.

2014 Most enjoyed releases.

6. What If?

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This is a non-fiction book, which is why I’ve stuck it at the end of the list. It’s quite a departure from my usual fare–I typically only read books like this when I have to for a class. This one, based on the popular What If? columns that xkcd writer Randall Munroe offers up on his website, is simultaneously one of the most entertaining and educational books I’ve ever read. You don’t need to be an uber nerd to understand what’s going on here–Munroe does a great job of explaining the results of his questions without going into the unnecessary details of the formulas he had to use. You will enjoy this one regardless. I promise. My review is here.

5. The Mirror Empire.

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I really enjoyed this one a lot. It had some of the most creative worldbuilding that I’ve ever seen. More inventive, honestly, than even some of Sanderson’s worlds. It really blew my mind, and the plot is utterly brilliant as well. I wish I could have said I completely loved it, but it left me confused in places and I felt it could have used a little smoothing out. Still, I did enjoy it, and I have high hopes for the next book in the series, Empire Ascendant. My review can be found here.

4. Ghost Train to New Orleans.

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This was a fun little read that I wasn’t quite expecting to be this good. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan (Though a few of my friends are trying to convert me.), but I enjoyed the first book in the series enough to get this one on release day. If we’re going purely by enjoyment versus expectations, this one exceeded my expectations more than any other book on the list. My review resides here.

3. The Crimson Campaign.

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Brian McClellan in one of those guys who just won’t stop writing good stuff. In-between producing an amazing novel every year, he’s written several short stories and novellas in his powder mage world, which explores what happens when magic meets (and comes from) gunpowder. It’s a fascinating blend that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and his ability to ramp up the tension is superb. His first book, Promise of Blood, was an excellent, solid, four-star book that even earned him a well deserved cover-quote from Sanderson himself. The Crimson Campaign was even better in every way, and I tore through it as soon as I had the chance. Highly recommended. My review can be found here.

2. The Emperor’s Blades.

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This book was getting a lot of hype, so I figured that, when I received an ARC, I should probably read it. I did. I’m glad that I did. It was utterly incredible. I have never read a book with such incredibly tense pacing, certainly not of this length. What Staveley has managed here is nothing short of magical, especially in his debut. This isn’t just a book that I highly recommend, this is a book that I very nearly demand that you read. My drooling review is here.

1. WORDS OF RADIANCE.

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(I know that’s not the cover, but it’s one of the amazing end-pages and it’s just too beautiful to not use.)

I do not have enough superlatives to describe this book. Sanderson’s early books, Elantris and Warbreaker, are good, with very powerful surprise endings. He outdid himself with the Mistborn trilogy, which is still one of the most feels-inducing, beautiful things I have ever read. There are, perhaps, only a handful of books in all of fantasy literature that I would compare to the Mistborn trilogy, and most of those would be to describe how Mistborn is better. Then Sanderson wrote The Way of Kings. It is incredible. Simply put, when I read it, my initial thoughts (When I could think again) went something like, “This is the best book I have ever read. There will not be a better book. I’m sorry to all of the other books I ever read.” I felt the same way when I reread it last year. And then Words of Radiance came out. My mind has never, ever, been blown so much. World of Radiance is as big of an improvement on The Way of Kings as the Way of Kings is over every other book written. I was not able to write a review that did this book justice. I’ll try when I reread it, but I’m not making any promises.

That’s it for me. I read a total of 42 books, plus numerous novellas and short stories in 2014, and these were the ones I most enjoyed. I hope everyone else had a great year and found many books that they enjoyed as well! I’m looking forward to 2015 and the books it will bring. 🙂

Most Anticipated Books of 2015

It’s that time of year again, and I’m going to name my top 5 most anticipated books of 2015, and tell you why I’m so excited about them. I’m going to restrict myself only to books with a confirmed or highly likely 2015 release date. This means that Winds of Winter, Doors of Stone, and Stones Unhallowed, though they would unseat any book on this list, are not eligible.

Before I start the list, I’ve got two books I’m going to talk about. You’ll see why.

First, The Dinosaur Lords. This book didn’t quite make the cut for the top 5, but I felt I had to list it anyway. Even before I read anything about it, just from the title and that cover, I knew I was going to have to buy it. I mean, look at this cover, by Richard Anderson!

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You can read an official synopsis over here, and even though it’s seven months out, it’s already received quite high praise from no less than George R. R. Martin himself. I’m pretty much immediately sold on anything he recommends. I want to get my hands on this as soon as I can.

I also just received and finished reading an ARC of Gemini Cell by Myke Cole. It was utterly amazing, and I would definitely give it a place on this list (And it may have a place on 2015’s year-end, best-of list.), but it’s not one I was anticipating highly before I read it, and so I’m not going to give it a place on the official list. You should still check it out, because it’s amazing.

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5th most anticipated: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley. (No cover released.)

I read Mirror Empire earlier this year, and I loved it. Oh, I felt that it had rough spots here and there, but the book lived up to a large part of its incredible potential, and I have every confidence that Hurley will continue to improve as a writer. Her world beats out many of Sanderson’s creations for its chilling inventiveness, and that is not praise that I give lightly. I have high hopes that, with the confusing overhead of introducing her characters and world out of the way, the second book in the trilogy will improve on the first and be an incredible read.

4th most anticipated: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

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I read and enjoyed McClellan’s Promise of Blood. I read and loved his Crimson Campaign. As the final volume of the trilogy, this book has a lot of threads to juggle, and some absolutely massive conflicts to resolve. It handles them all very, very well. Yes, I’ve read it already. It lived up to my quite high expectations, finishing out the trilogy in a satisfying way, while still leaving plenty of threads open for the next trilogy in the Powder Mage universe. McClellan, who writes at a rate to rival that of Sanderson, whom he once took writing classes from and is friends with, is an author to watch for years to come. His short fiction is quite excellent as well, but The Autumn Republic is a real Tour de Force.

3rd most anticipated: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

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You were wondering when the Sanderson would appear, wouldn’t you? Well, here it is. I’ve read this one too, and it is absolutely stunning. Steelheart was good. Someone forgot to tell Sanderson that the second book in a trilogy is supposed to be set-up for the third, and kinda boring. Firefight knocks it out of the park. I can’t say too much more without spoiling this one, but it’s Sanderson, and not only that, it’s Sanderson YA, so hopefully it’ll reach an even wider audience. Okay. I’ll say one more thing. This is the only book on the list (and one of very few ever) where I actually have a ship that I really like. That alone should tell you how good it is.

2nd most anticipated: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

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(Richard Anderson really does some amazing art.)

I managed to get an ARC of Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, last year, and it was absolutely AMAZING. The pacing was the best I think I’ve ever seen in an epic fantasy novel. This was, perhaps, the hardest book to put down that I have ever read. The sequel promises to be even better, even longer, and it delivers. Yes, I’ve read this one too. I had to go to some lengths to secure an ARC of this one, but it was completely and utterly worth it. While it slows down a hair from Emperor’s Blades, Providence still has some of the best pacing in epic fantasy. The characters grow even more, and even the inconsequential characters become surprisingly relevant. One of my biggest complaints with the first novel, the lack of female viewpoint characters, is remedied in this novel: Adare becomes even more important, as do several other characters you wouldn’t expect. A note: Don’t read the blurb that is on the back of the book. It spoils half of the book. And yes, this book beat out a Sanderson for the 2nd spot on the list. It’s that good.

Most Anticipated: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson. (No cover yet.)

It’s Sanderson. It’s Cosmere. It’s Wax and Wayne, Mistborn world, etc. How can I not want it more than anything else? Let me put it this way. I have received and read ARCs of #4, #3, and #2 on my list, and I’m scheduled to receive one for #5 as well. I think I would trade all of them for an ARC of Shadows. I want it that badly. (If you know of any way to read this early, let me know. I will do whatever it takes.) I’ve gotten even more excited about this one lately, with the announcement of the sequel, Bands of Mourning, for January 2016. It’s amazing how quickly Sanderson writes these things. Also, if you’ve not read the Mistborn trilogy yet, they are absolutely amazing.

So, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2015. It’s a very epic fantasy heavy list, but then, that’s what I love. I also apparently love trilogies, as every book on the list is either the second or third book in a trilogy. I have no problem with this; longer forms of storytelling allow for more build-up, more character growth, and, ultimately, more payoff in these stories. I love it, and I’m not ashamed of it.

What are you looking forward to (And by extension, should I be looking forward to) reading in 2015?