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A Good Start With Little Else

When first read Corsair a few years ago, I thought I was reading the first of a short story series called Outer Pendulum. Corsair is a good little tale of a starship captain leading a fleet to protect a valuable freighter from the pirate who killed his wife. It has a lot of detail packed in a short length, and while some events and background could have used more explanation there’s a nice, character driven core plot to latch onto that unfolds well and tells what seems like a complete story. There was room for expansion, but Corsair had a beginning, middle, and end.

Now that I’ve finally gone back to read the other “short stories” in the series, I realize Outer Pendulum was actually supposed to be a “serialized novel,” not a series of short stories, and Corsair was actually its the prologue. Why does this matter to the point of so much explanation from me? Because Parts 2 and 3 are clearly chapters, and feel like it, rather than connected yet stand alone stories that can/should be sold individually. I highly enjoy series of connected stories. Buying a novel chapter by chapter on the other hand is not something I ever intend(ed) to do knowingly.

Part 2 took a different direction, featuring a reveal that took a lot of the impact and intrigue out of what happened in the first book, introducing new concepts and explaining them even less than Corsair did, and drastically reducing the scale of the story and subsequently making things less interesting. And it thoroughly felt like a chapter, with events happening but no complete arc and a huge cliffhanger for an “ending.”

Once I read Letter of Marque and realized its nature, even more warning bells went off about there only being one more part to read. Sure enough, Pirates of Omega Polaris is another chapter, not a finale, and it seems like the author decided to abandon this concept/book, as nothing further has been published going on five years now. I liked Part 3 better than Part 2 in general and a new character with some potential was introduced, but a lot of the developments felt forced and it was largely set up for a big future confrontation, which as mentioned doesn’t exist.

So this “trilogy” is a huge miss overall for me. Corsair was very engaging and had several great directions it could have been spun out into. Unfortunately the chosen direction wasn’t all that interesting and didn’t capatalize on the momentum, and between the odd structure choice and the series apparently being abandoned Parts 2 and 3 were extremely disappointing. I would still recommend checking Corsair out for a strong (if somewhat cliched) sci-fi short story, but stop there and pretend the “sequels” don’t exist.

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Talion Revenant Review

“He did not see a man, he saw a Talion Justice.

And he feared I was the last thing he’d ever see.”

Nolan ra Sinjaria is not only one of the fierce elite warrior group called Talions, he is a member of the Justice subgroup tasked with tracking, judging, and passing sentence on criminals in nearly every corner of the Shattered Empire.  Though fully committed to his duties, Nolan’s past looms heavily over him and might shape not only his own future, but that of entire kingdoms.

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I completely adored this when I first read it a couple years ago, and it remains my favorite fantasy novel after my second visit. There is less impact upon reread because the twists aren’t as flooring, but it’s equally nice to notice all the little clues laid in throughout the book when going through it again.

The book isn’t perfect and there are several genre cliches employed, but as always it’s the way those cliched elements are used that really matters. Here they’re woven together wonderfully with a handful of complex, diverse characters, a suspenseful atmosphere with good surprises, and Stackpole’s usual incredible word building. Nolan’s world, its history, and the specific role of the Talions is all fascinating and adds considerable depth to the action of the story (of which there is plenty). There seem to be a few minor internal inconsistencies here and there, but they don’t detract from the enjoyment of the story the framework supports.

Stackpole is an expert at providing vivd detail without bogging the pace down, and everything from the landscapes to characters to battles is extremely easy to visualize.  This increases immersion exponentially and contributes to the compelling nature of Nolan’s adventures. It also enhances the perception of time and space, which is particularly important because of the parallel storytelling employed here. It’s done flawlessly.

The other key, which is always a big point with me, is that the plot is driven as much or more so by character as it is by action and events. There are various agendas and personalities in opposition and the story properly centers around individual feelings and reactions to what’s happening in around the characters and how their agendas align or conflict. Most importantly, the main characters are strong and smart but not infallible, which allows readers to admire and cheer for them while still empathizing with their struggles.

I found Talion: Revenant to be a fantastic read initially and am pleased to say it held up well the second time through. Highly recommended.

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Twixt Review

“You wake upon the cold ground. As you struggle to rise, as your breath exhales like a ghost, you know only two things: You can’t remember who you are. And you’re being hunted.”

In addition to being a great summary of our starting point, the above quote from the book description gives a glimpse of the tense, foreboding atmosphere that permeates Sarah Diemer’s Twixt. Our nameless first person narrator has little time to register her strange, cold surroundings, the blood on her hands or the fear coursing through her before a young woman suddenly arrives and urges her to run. It’s almost night, and that means the Snatchers are coming…

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Twixt was recommended to me by a friend and I didn’t know anything going in, and as that’s how I’d recommend experiencing it I won’t get into plot details. I will say it starts strong and builds wonderfully throughout. The writing style is tremendous and the atmosphere established downright chilling. The strange world our heroine finds herself in is fantastically imaginative and vividly realized. Even elements common to this genre are given a little slant of context that makes them feel new.

The story, characters and world all convey emotional impact throughout the book, perfectly capturing the appropriate “in over your head” feeling. I was a step ahead on figuring out some of the book’s mysteries, but other twists and turns were unexpected and they all fit logically and worked to support and enhance the story being told. The variety of characters presented also really adds to the narrative, as we are shown several different points of view on the state of life in Twixt. Encountering numerous attitudes and people ranging from deep to shallow and several shades in between also adds a great feeling of authenticity to the rather unusual setting and events.

While romantic elements obviously aren’t uncommon in any type of novel, I’ve read very few where the romance feels completely natural. Twixt manages this with a perfect touch, with it’s characters’ emotions easy to relate to and deftly related to the reader. I was tempted not to bring up one of the main pairings is between two young women, as one of the wonderful things here is that relationship being treated as perfectly normal and not requiring further mention or explanation, but it is something I’m sure some readers would rather know ahead of time and since the book description contains this information too I decided to mention it.

Speaking of the book description – it doesn’t really have spoilers but it does summarize a bit more than I personally would like and I’m kind of glad I didn’t read it before the book. If you haven’t seen it already I’d advise skipping it.

Twixt is easily one of the best paranormal stories I’ve read and can be appreciated well beyond it’s intended YA audience. Highly recommended.

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Dust in the Desert Review

“Every action has endless ripples no one can see.”

This is Starla Huchton’s fourth “Flipped Fairy Tale.” Each book has a different classic fairy tale as inspiration and stands on its own as a complete story, but this one does heavily reference events and characters from the third book. Better not to start reading here.

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The Flipped Fairy Tales series presents imaginative retellings of well known fairy tale stories. The signature gender-swapping of the main characters is more than just a hook: it’s a strong springboard that provides great opportunity to explore these stories in new ways.  The way everything is coming together in Huchton’s world is incredible, and her smooth, evocative writing style makes it easy to get caught up in it all. The descriptions of everything from the world around them to action as it happens are captivating.

Dust in the Desert tells the story of a character introduced in book 3, Ride the Wind. It’s nice to see the little hints provided there expanded on, and as expected Alida is our Aladdin analogue. She’s simultaneously desperate and honorable, which is a powerful mix that makes her adventure enthralling.

What makes this book (and the whole series) so special is the depth of character and motivation the cast has. They feel like real people struggling through unreal situations, and it’s easy to empathize with them. Huchton makes each fairy tale fit seamlessly into her established universe while preserving its proper feel, and make clever tweaks and changes that make them feel fresh without losing the core elements readers expect.

I’m not going to get into further detail to avoid spoiling the enjoyment of discovering for yourself the wonderful spin Huchton’s put on Alida’s story, but I highly recommend taking the journey with her.

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Ride the Wind Review

“I was not raised to believe in second chances, but, for the first time, I saw their importance.”

This is Starla Huchton’s third “Flipped Fairy Tale.” Each book has a different classic fairy tale as inspiration and stands on its own as a complete story, so reading the previous two first is not necessary to enjoy this one. However they take place in a shared universe, so doing so will give certain characters and events much more significance and context.

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The Flipped Fairy Tales series presents wonderful re-imaginings of well known fairy tale stories. In addition to the interesting hook of gender-swapping the familiar characters to provide a new perspective, it’s Huchton’s deft, evocative touch towards world-building and character development that makes these versions special.

Ride the Wind is the first of these books to feature a fairy tale I wasn’t previously familiar with, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of Lukas’ adventure at all. The core premise seemed a little run of the mill, but the details greatly elevated it to another appropriately captivating entry in this series. I particularly liked the connections and further explorations of characters previously introduced in Shadows on Snow. The greater world these tales inhabit is developing nicely from book to book, and I like the apparent foreshadowing and hints towards what’s to come.

Little by little Flipped Fairy Tales has become one of my favorite variations that plays with established fables and legends. They’re a fun, fresh take on the stories and overflow with imagination and depth.

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The Paladin Caper Review

This is the third book in Patrick Weekes’ Rouges of the Republic series. It’s a complete story on its own and does an ok job of explaining the key concepts and past events, but it builds heavily on previously known characters and spoils revelations from the earlier books. Best not start here – go back to The Palace Job (book 1).

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The first quarter of the book contained more action and plot development than some other entire series, and I mean that as a compliment. The pace is breakneck without ever being confusing or feeling rushed.

The core plot of The Paladin Caper is strong itself, but it also brings together numerous elements from the first two books masterfully. Very little is left unresolved and this is a great wrap up or the trilogy while leaving enough room for future books. Weekes’ prose is easy to read and flows well, and he does a phenomenal job providing surprises and tension while keeping everything logical. The balance of action and intrigue is excellent. There were some supporting cast members I wish had gotten more development and a few plot conveniences, but the main cast’s personalities and motivations were explored well and the story excellent overall.

Loch’s band of thieves and rebels have their best outing yet in The Paladin Caper, and the series as a whole is a lot of fun.

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“It says ‘From Hell.'”

This is Nathan Garret’s fifth adventure. It’s a complete story on its own and does an ok job of explaining the key concepts and characters, but it builds heavily on previously known characters and pays off several long running plotlines. Do not start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1).

 

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Like the rest of the Hellequin series Lies Ripped Open goes back and forth between the present and a related story from Nate’s past. As usual historical and mythological stories and beings are woven into Nate’s world in various ways and unique versions. The past timeline for this book centers around a certain string of murders in late 17th century Whitechapel.

I’m going to go really light on details to avoid spoilers. The core storylines are solid and there’s a lot of implications and connections to previously established plot threads and characters. The flashback sequences are well done and feel important to the present. A couple of things that have been buildings for several books come to a head here.

All of which makes it more frustrating that in large it feels like this book is spinning its wheels a bit. Despite feeling action packed and like it moves at a good clip, there’s a parallel feeling that not much is happening / advancing in meaningful ways with regards to the series as a whole. There’s many more new questions than answers overall and I feel like in total we don’t know much more, if any really, than when we started.

There’s also something at the end that effectively undoes one of the things I liked most about the series. It changes a lot about where the plot could go, the atmosphere of the series, and the assumptions and framework the reader has when reading future books. Reactions will vary but once I got over the surprise of it I found myself quite disappointed with the development.

So we have a mixed bag overall. Lies Ripped Open itself is a good book and a fun read. But I’m hesitant about what its reveals mean for the series. We’ll see I suppose.