Book Review: The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Death of Dulgath (The Riyria Chronicles #3) by Michael J. Sullivan

Four Stars out of Five

(Revised on second reading: June 13, 2016)

“We are more than the bodies we inhabit. They’re little more than clothes, and yet we judge so much by them.”

An important, perhaps essential, addition to the Riyria corpus, Death takes us back to the days before The Revelations for a fill-in-the-blanks tale about the odd couple partnership of Royce and Hadrian. Be warned: each of them is slightly different at the opening of this story than you encounter in the Revelations. Not your typical swords-and-sorcery novel.

“What good is … living if generosity and kindness are myths?”

Sullivan introduces two strong women characters who add depth to the story and the necessary corrective to Royce and Hadrian’s usual aura of Continue reading

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Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno (Four stars)

Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin (Star Wars canon) by James Luceno

Four stars

“It’ll look better with blood on it.”

Unexpectedly good. Raises the admittedly-low bar for Star Wars literature.

“Sometimes there is more to be gained by stepping into a trap than by avoiding it.”

Expands the person of Willhuff Tarkin from the cardboard marinette briefly appearing in Episode Four to a living being: a man with a history and a goal. A partner—if not quite and equal one—with the Emperor and Darth Vader. A true believer that “in the absence of order, there is only chaos.”

“The insidious pursuit of self-enrichment grew only more pervasive through the long centuries, and in the end left the body politic feckless and corrupt.”

Examines the motives of the galactic empire from the inside. Some adherents were not motivated by wealth or power, but by a very different image of the greater good.

“Everyone is expendable.”

Cover Art: Peter Cushing never looked more menacing. Wonder if his estate gets credit for his appearance.

“Discipline and order were the keys, and law was the only unanswerable response to chaos.”

Book Review: The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn by Henry Phelps Johnson (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn Including a new and circumstantial account of the battle of Long island and the loss of New York, with a review of events to the close of the year by Henry Phelps Johnson

Four Stars

“We may learn by defeat the power of becoming invincible.” Abigail Adams

Published in 1878, this is what a book of history should be, not the partisan politics, revisionist nonsense and political correctness that passes for “history” today. (Read almost any modern biography of a historic character if you doubt me.) The thesis is: the campaign in and around New York City in 1776 set the tone for the rest of the American War of Independence, even foreshadows eventual American victory.

“I … wish we could leave them alone to govern or misgovern themselves as they think proper. David Hume, 1775

Heavy dependence and exposition based on primary sources (diaries, letters, orders)—sources which are quoted, noted or indexed at length. Detailed discussion of the How and What, not just the Why as modern diatribes tend. When there are controversies—such as who was responsible for the debacle at Fort Washington—this book teaches the controversy, identifying the sides of the argument and outlining all positions.

“Whoever commands the sea commands the city.” Charles Lee

For the student of history, the sources are identified in detail. Since this narrative focused on one year’s military campaign, it delves into details of the units, commanders, motivations, limitations and even order of battle. Not a comic book depiction of war. Decidedly prejudiced toward the American (“our”) side, but even-handed in discussing the strengths, weakness, successes and failures of both sides.

“Necessity knows no law.” F. Rhinelander

This volume exemplifies the good side of Google-scanned library books. If it were not for their effort, rare and out-of-print books like this would not be accessible to serious students and scholars. On the other hand, Google’s pirating of the works of living authors is reprehensible and should be outlawed. This book also demonstrates the limitations of Optical Character Scanning without subsequent thorough proof reading. Many characters were transliterated, requiring the reader to stop and puzzle out the meaning.

“If it was a disaster, it was not a disgrace.” George Washington (of the Battle of Long Island)

Book Review: Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Bands of Mourning (Mistborn #6) by Brandon Sanderson

Three Stars

“Do what you do best … breaking things with style.”

Uh-oh. Sanderson has gone Robert Jordan on us. Not a compliment. Subplots, politics, new object in each story. Everything but ninja … and almost that. Esoteria for the sake of esoteria. Aliens from the other side of the world. He comes by it honestly, of course, but the Jordan formula rears its ugly head often in this otherwise entertaining novel.

“A man wantin’ something doesn’t make it true.”

The mist-born technology is becoming a one-trick pony. Allomancy, feruchemy, hemo- … yawn. As it becomes more subtle and imaginative, it becomes less comprehensible and more like … magic.

“In my experience, marryin’ is the one thing people seem to get worse at the more they do it. Well, that and being alive.”

Someone must have asked for more Wayne. Okay, they’re happy. Now kill him.

“Murdering is very traditional. It goes all the way back.”

Quibbles: Wax left Vindicator at the mansion door, then several chapters and hundreds of miles later he later has it again. And he flew out of the party. Why not just attach their private car to the freight train?

“Love is always a foolish emotion. That’s what makes it work.”

Why not two stars? Because Sanderson tells his story so much better than Jordan. Has Sanderson committed to so many project that he can no longer give his best in each? Hope not.

“Is life ever fair?” “It has been to me. More than fair, I reckon. Considering what I deserve.”

Book Review: The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Absconded Ambassador (Genrenauts #2) by Michael R. Underwood

Three Stars

“Pots of tea so caffeinated you could practically see through time.”

Great fun. Another enjoyable romp through the world(s) with those who charged with keeping the narratives on track. Builds on the first book, but still accessible without having read it. All the sly cultural and SF memes and allusions we expect from this series.

“A lot of diplomacy is the managing of public image.”

Fast paced and fun. Our protagonist has a backstory, but most of her life is immersed in her job. And what a job it is.

“That’s the problem with pessimism. When I’m right, I still hate the result.”

My main quibble is the story itself: kidnapped ambassadors on the eve of diplomatic breakthroughs is a mainstay opening for space operas. How can that be a narrative breach? Doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable; just not the punch of the first tale, in which the standard denouement to the standard western plot misfired.

“Dawn smiles on the prudent.” “… like a Lao Tzu MBA course.”

Book Review: Recalled to Service by Alter S. Reiss (Four Stars)

Book Review: Recalled to Service by Alter S. Reiss

Four Stars

“Really, there is no such thing as necromancy.” “Said the revenant to the necromancer.”

A cracking short story about … well, about life and death and value and meaning. And maybe about playing God.

“You have given a thing life, only to give it an eternity of pain.”

Excellent character and world building. The pace exactly suits the tale. Love the cover art by Sung Choi.

“It is easier to love things than to love people, but it’s not enough.”

Book Review: Catseye by Andre Norton Four Stars

Book Review: Catseye (Dipple #1) by Andre Norton

Four Stars

“Knowledge could be both a weapon and a defense.”

Slow start, but Norton delivers. Her character and world building are leisurely, but do the job. Satisfying end to this story with hooks into the next. A skill rare among today’s writers.

“Look, listen and keep your thoughts to yourself—the law of survival”

One can’t help but think Norton was writing about more than man’s relationship with animals formerly kept as pets when this was written. (I’ve tried to say more three times, but quit because anything more would be spoilers. Just read it and enjoy.)

“Belt knives shift from one wearer to another without losing their edge.”

No female humans appear in this story written by a woman. I find that odd.

“Few men are going to accept readily a co-partnership with creatures they had always considered property.”

Awarded an extra star because, though first published in 1961, this story weathers the last half century of technological innovation very well. Many stories written only twenty years ago sound dated. Perhaps it’s because the people, creatures and relationships are so real.

“One does not throw away a new thing merely because it is strange.”

Book Review: Until Shiloh Comes by Karl A. Bacon (Five Stars)

Book Review: Until Shiloh Comes: A Civil War Novel (1) by Karl A. Bacon

Five Stars

“A mother should never see her son like this.”

A Christian, historical fiction novel would seem an easy to overlook niche book. That would be a mistake. Until Shiloh Comes is about more than a poor southern family’s reaction to the devastation of a major Civil War battle on their doorstep. It’s about reality forcing its way into what we think is right and normal. Yes, five stars is a stretch, but there are so few really good books of this genre.

“How you talk isn’t important … what’s much better is the meaning of your words.”

Until Shiloh Comes is what fiction should be: engaging at a level deeper than facts. It’s what Christian fiction should be: real. It’s what historical fiction should be: accurate, yet accessible. Bacon succeeds telling a story true to the history, religion and sensibilities of 150 years ago yet still engaging to modern readers.

“It mightn’t seem right to us, but it’s what the good Lord’s given us, so that makes it right.”

The case in point is religion. Evangelical Christianity in 2016 has a different vocabulary and set of assumptions than Christians held in 1862. But to exactly reconstruct the particulars of the old-time faith would make it unintelligible to moderns. The author gently suggests differences in belief without raising contentious issues.

“But God had a different plan, and I don’t know what it is.”

Similarly, Bacon keeps the reader in the story historically with true-to-the-time details of race relations, farming, building and weapons technology. Experts may quibble, but for most readers its close enough.

“Famished food’s always better.”

Quibbles: Bacon overdoes the regional and racial dialects. Yes, rural Tennesseans would have spoken an argot unintelligible to modern ears, but having established his character’s types early Bacon could back off as the novel progresses. The neighbors’ reaction to a hated enemy might be less laissez-faire, but highlights the behavior of those whose reaction isn’t.

“A man ain’t what he is, but who he is.”

It ends with a cliffhanger, but unlike so many inept series the first volume is a cogent whole. The reader is drawn in to more, but not left feeling cheated by a three hundred page introduction.

“I’d rather not pass that way in the dark again.”

Book Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic (Three Stars)

Book Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

Three Stars

“… soldiers praying to a god they no longer believed in … for a miracle that couldn’t happen.”

Excellent set up, good storytelling crippled by inept plotting. The Great War (WW I) as seen by Tommies who neither know nor care about the politics; they just want to survive. But perhaps the Huns aren’t the only ones hunting them.

“You will be a hero … but more importantly, you will strive to do what’s right.”

Reveals the supernatural element slowly, so the reader (intentionally, no doubt) at first wonders what is real and what is hallucination. But, even with each chapter labeled as to its time and place, the skein of the story is twisted, knotted and occasionally broken. Needlessly repetitive.

“How could one man take praise … when so many of his friends were dying out there in the dark?”

It’s good; it might have been better as a novella. Or, since there’s more, combine that with this to make one decent story.

“Sometimes lies are the only option.”

Three stars was a gift.

“Is he dead?” “Aren’t we all?”

Book Review: Heart of the Ronin by Travis Heermann (Three Stars)

Book Review: Heart of the Ronin (Ronin Triolgy #1) by Travis Heermann

Three Stars

“[Small birds] forgot kindness so quickly and remembered wrongs for so long … much like people.”

Well-conceived and well-written Japanese historical fantasy. Kind of a parallel universe with this world during the Kamakura shogunate. Plus an apt mix of real and fantastic.

“Once you got high enough, you cannot see the evils happening far below … while believing you see everything.”

Evokes another time and another place. A story as old as time. Multiple points of view and story arcs draw the reader into both this story and the culture at a pivotal moment in history. Enough threads were tied off to provide a satisfying conclusion to this volume, while unresolved threads draw the reader into the next. Well done.

“Hate was one of the world’s great evils, and it harmed one’s own soul.”

Heermann draws an apt contrast between the Way of the Warrior and the concerns and struggles of normal people. The contrast is most telling when comparing the Samurai—not with the poor, but with the rich and powerful, but political.

“There was no before, and no after, only the Now.”