Synod

Published Post author

Synod Book Cover Synod
Dan C. Gunderman
Historical Fiction
Zimbell House Publishing
January 9, 2018
Paperback
396

The year is 1829. The gruff, self-reliant Goldfinch, a veteran of the War of 1812, has become the anointed leader of an idyllic religious community named Synod, nestled in the Ramapough Mountains of northern New Jersey.
Thanks to the advice of the village's Founders, Synod will become a stop on what would soon be called the “Underground Railroad.” Goldfinch oversees this transition, bringing in a broken runaway family. As southern bounty hunters follow their path and seek to reclaim stolen property, Goldfinch meets a shadowy abolitionist with close ties to the federal government.
As the man recruits Goldfinch into a wider crusade against slavery, Goldfinch also contends with recurring visions—both fiery and prescient. He’s also pitted against Nance, a corrupt politician whose lone pursuit is to eliminate runaway slave dens.

Will Goldfinch return to his roots and take up arms as this conflict reaches the Governor's desk? Will he be able to protect his village from destruction and damnation?

 

Synod was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synod is a piece of historical fiction revolving around the Underground Railroad. From that, the book has a Free State of Jones/Hell on Wheels type of vibe. It is a bit earlier in American history and takes place in New England, but those are the things this story reminded me of. On the whole Synod stands up, but partway through things do start to get a little weird. Part of the dynamic shifts somewhat suddenly and in an odd direction and this change proved fairly distracting.

The name Synod comes from the settlement that most of the story takes place in or around. It is a small Protestant community that decides to become a waystation on the Underground Railroad. Their community is small with around a dozen people, but they are all hardy survivors constantly ready to work hard. Having a small community means there are few secrets and the lack of privacy makes for many challenges. Emotions run high throughout the story as the added tension of helping runaways is added to the already tense hamlet. The dialogue and characterization are solid, with the speech and character attitudes fitting the era.

Assisting runaways is a noble cause but also a dangerous one and residents of Synod no disillusions about that. Synod is set up with defense in mind and they have armed themselves against both the wilderness and bounty hunters. And the bounty hunters do not care who gets in their way or if their bounties are brought in alive. On the flipside, there are various people from the North involved with helping the Railroad, from churchmen to politicians. But this is where things in Synod (the book) start to get a little weird.

While the story starts out as pure historical fiction, a supernatural element becomes more apparent partway through. It influences characters and events pretty heavily, but never really feels like it fits. If it had stayed subtle that probably would have worked out fine. And in the beginning, it does start that way. But the level of supernatural involvement keeps getting more and more obvious until it is directly affecting the story. It never goes into full Harry Potter type magic, but more of that low-key Stephen King level. That inclusion just drug an otherwise good historical fiction novel down with too much confusion. Beyond that one pothole the story was fine, but it felt like a fairly big pothole.

July 15, 2018

The Red Knight (The Traitor Son Cycle #1)

Published Post author

The Red Knight Book Cover The Red Knight
The Traitor Son Cycle
Miles Cameron
Fantasy
Orbit (originally Gollancz)
January 22, 2013 (originally September 1, 2012)
Paperback
672

Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it's just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.

Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war. . .

 

The Red Knight is one of those medieval fantasy books that just gets everything right. Miles Cameron’s “About the Author” page mentions he has a BA in Medieval History and it really shows. Everything in the book just flows together beautifully. People from all walks of life (farmers, soldiers, royalty, etc.) have their place in the story. There is no one who knows everything about everything, so the characters can explain things to each other. And in turn, to readers. The world building, characters, and story are all built up well in this way.

If you have read a high fantasy or epic fantasy before, you roughly know what to expect here. This is a land where great battles were once fought but the power of man has diminished. Creatures of evil are now seeking to take advantage of that weakness. It has a very War of the Ring vibe to that aspect of the story. The magic system is also subtler than many other fantasy stories. Only a select few people have magic and even then, it is pretty tame outside of giant battle sequences. The array of magical creatures is also impressive as well; some are common, well-known beasties while Cameron puts his own spin on a few things as well.

The story jumps between perspectives, so we get to see quite a bit of each character firsthand. The titular Red Knight is a mercenary leader with a mysterious past, one not fully explained in this first book. His mercenaries are fun too, particularly Bad Tom (the living definition of “battle lust”) and Sauce (tougher-than-nails kickass woman). The villain Thorn, being not human, makes for an interesting perspective for more reasons than I have room to write about here. There is a slew of characters that a whole review could be dedicated to and they are really the best part of The Red Knight.

As for the plot itself, it is more a war story than anything else. The mercenaries start thinking they need to catch a murderer. Events quickly build from there and soon after they are defending a fortress from a siege. In a lot of fantasy books, you see a big battle and when it is done, it is done. This is a full-blown siege; days of the enemy attacking and then defenses being shored up for the next attack. A book this long is very hard to sum up in a little review like this. So I will just say it: If you have any interest in epic fantasy, The Red Knight is well worth the read.

July 8, 2018

Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb

Published Post author

Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
May 22, 2018 (English); August 30, 2014 (Japanese)
Hardcover
288

A group of "workers" whose better judgement has been clouded by hopes and expectations have descended into the unknown depths of a mysterious tomb.
These trespassers include the small but elite team Foresight, the storied warriors of Heavy Masher, the crew lead by a legendary elder worker, Green Leaf, and the invincible swordsmen of Angel.
They are some of the best that can be hired, but as more and more vengeful residents of Nazarrick appear, will any make it out alive?

 

Note: This review will contain spoilers regarding the previous Overlord light novels.

Overlord Vol. 7 is great overall, but a little bit of a mixed bag. After three books that (mostly) put Ainz in a more secondary role, we finally get to focus on him again. In some ways, Invaders of the Great Tomb is still weaning off the format seen in volumes 4-6. In other ways, the layout is closer to volumes 1-3. This book is more of a developmental step forward than its own thing. Multiple events here are certainly going to be important later, even if they seem like little cliff notes now.

Of all the previous books, Vol. 7 most resembles Vol. 4. Like with the Lizardman story, we see Ainz and his group in an almost purely antagonistic role. These other characters are built up and most of them are good, honest folks just living their lives. Despite that, you know that these people are doomed. Not for personal or even particularly malicious reasons. They are pieces in the game Ainz is playing; not so much people as they are mere tools. Maruyama has no problem channeling his inner George R.R. Martin with his characters, often in brutally gruesome fashions.

On the flipside of that, we do get a good portion of the book from Ainz’s point of view. There is more of him as the adventurer Momon, now establishing the persona outside the Kingdom’s borders. Readers also get to see more of Ainz as the ruler of Nazarick, as well as everything that role entails. Going from being a normal Japanese salaryman to the supreme ruler of an evil army is a bit daunting. Seeing Ainz attempting to run an empire a bit like a business while balancing how his minions view him is awkward but humorous.

The majority of the key events for Invaders of the Great Tomb happen towards the end of the story. To put it shortly, this is all a test. Nazarick is still experimenting with how the New World works in comparison to YGGDRASIL. Maybe this will be important in future books; at some point they are likely going to make enemies so maybe they will be invaded and need to know about how their defenses operate differently now. The “test” also sets up some political machinations that will obviously be important within the next book or two…

July 1, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Published Post author

Poster for the movie ""

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The park is gone

20182 h 08 min
Overview

A volcanic eruption threatens the remaining dinosaurs on the island of Isla Nublar, where the creatures have freely roamed for several years after the demise of an animal theme park known as Jurassic World. Claire Dearing, the former park manager, has now founded the Dinosaur Protection Group, an organization dedicated to protecting the dinosaurs. To help with her cause, Claire has recruited Owen Grady, a former dinosaur trainer who worked at the park, to prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs once again.

Metadata
Runtime 2 h 08 min
Release Date 6 June 2018
Details
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is at a point where Hollywood is doing their own thing with this franchise. All the relevant material from the two books is used up and Michael Crichton is dead, so what are you going to do there anyway? This new trilogy seems to be doing something similar to what Disney is currently doing with Star Wars. They are stepping away from the source material to do their own thing. That is not a bad thing; a transition period is better than jumping into the deep end. A lot of people are going to complain about this movie because it is not Jurassic Park. They want Jurassic Park but that is not what Fallen Kingdom is trying to be. There are a lot of shout-outs to it, but Fallen Kingdom is its own film in an evolving franchise.

Some parts of Fallen Kingdom do fall flat. The villains are generic evil corporate bad guys who make bad decisions due to greed. Character development is actually pretty weak overall. Claire was an exception, having changed from a by-the-books corporate type to an animal rights activist. Plot-wise, the film shifts part way through to more of a horror film than action-adventure. The new bad dinosaur, the Indoraptor, is absolutely terrifying. It looks (and acts) like something out of a nightmare. A huge gaping maw of savage teeth, almost human shaped “hands” for claws, and a small enough body that it can fit anywhere you try to hide. And on top of also being intelligent, it comes off as malicious. Like the Indominus Rex, it seems to kill for the sake of killing and not just for food.

Is Fallen Kingdom groundbreaking? No; it is not on par with Jurassic Park and let’s be frank, no dinosaur film ever will be. This film is blunter than the original; as are most films today. It has been 25 years since Jurassic Park and Hollywood has changed over time. You would not expect modern music to be exactly the same as songs that topped the charts 25 years ago, so those same expectations should not be lain on cinematography either. That is not to say this film is disconnected from the originals. A big question in Jurassic Park is: What happens when we let this genie (genetic engineering) out of the bottle? Well, in Fallen Kingdom that bottle is opened. These actions both shape the story of Fallen Kingdom and set this world up for future movies. Overall, Fallen Kingdom is no Jurassic Park; but the franchise uh…finds a way.

June 24, 2018

For Honor We Stand (Man of War #2)

Published Post author

For Honor We Stand Book Cover For Honor We Stand
Man of War
H. Paul Honsinger
Sci-fi
47North
February 12, 2013
Paperback
492

In 2315, the Earth Union is losing a thirty-year-long war with the Krag Hegemony.

Having encountered the Krag before, Space Commander Max Robicheaux now faces daunting challenges aboard the USS Cumberland: the dangers from the enemy without… and clashes with crew and superiors within.

Meanwhile, Doctor Sahin receives a coded message summoning him to a secret meeting which aims to forge an alliance that could change the balance of power in Known Space. But first, he must circumvent the fighter ships and heavily armed troops of the traitorous emir bent on killing him before he reaches the negotiating table.

Both men must call upon their developing skills and growing friendship to bear the burden of carrying between the Krag Hegemony and the Earth Union a fateful ultimatum and the shocking answer: an answer that could spell eternal slavery, or even extinction, for all humankind.

The second novel in the Man of War series, For Honor We Stand continues the galactic naval adventures of Robicheaux and Sahin.

 

For Honor We Stand picks up not too far from where To Honor You Call Us left off. Everything that was done in the first book picks up in this next installment. The world building, characters, and storytelling all continue in spectacular fashion. With the pacing and layout, For Honor We Stand is much more of a “part 2” than a separate book. It felt more like a film that distinctively shows itself as a sequel (a la The Two Towers). If you have not read To Honor You Call Us beforehand, you will be a little lost in this one.

The world building is not as heavy in For Honor We Stand as in the first book. We have already been around the block once here, so a lot of concepts are already established. There are some new alien races mentioned and referenced in this section of the story. A little history linked to that also explains a bit of galactic history, particularly why most of the races are at the same level of technology. As well as why technology is so similar between various races.

Each character grows a bit more in For Honor We Stand, as does Honsinger’s writing of their dialogue. On the whole these books are excellent, but Honsinger is a newer author and it shows a little. Some of the characters fit their tropes a bit too well, like Dr. Sahin’s ignorance of the Navy. On the flipside of that, the characters play their roles extremely well. Captain Robicheaux is a young but brilliant military leader, shaped into a warrior by life’s circumstances. The Admiral is more reminiscent of a drill instructor, but he is as intelligent as belligerent, and it shows. Each character, major or minor, gets a good amount of attention to showcase who they are as people. At least on some basic level. The aliens too; the different ways the various species think is a bit stereotypical but also portrayed well.

With the first book having built things up already, For Honor We Stand can focus a lot more on action. The majority of the story here is the characters going from one battle to the next, with just enough time to prepare for the next conflict in-between. Surviving by the skin of their teeth using one crazy plan after another, the war against the Krag rages on. Things do get slower towards the end with an almost-cliffhanger. The last part of the story will have any reader on the edge of their seat, ending this book masterfully while setting the scene perfectly for the end of this trilogy.

June 17, 2018

The Wolf/American Wolf

Published Post author

The Wolf (Alternate title: American Wolf) Book Cover The Wolf (Alternate title: American Wolf)
Nate Blakeslee
Non-Fiction
Crown Publishing Group/Random House Canada
October 17, 2017
Hardcover
300

The intimate, involving story of the rise and reign of O-Six, the fabled Yellowstone wolf, and the people who loved or feared her. For readers of H is for Hawk, captivating works of reportage, and iconic books on the American West.

Before humans ruled the Earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in the United States, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves from Canada back to Yellowstone National Park, igniting a battle over the very soul of the American West.
With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, a charismatic alpha female named O-Six. She's a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. Beloved by wolf watchers, particularly Yellowstone park ranger Rick McIntyre, O-Six becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.
But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is being challenged on all fronts: by hunters and their professional guides, who compete with wolves for the elk they all prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who resent her dominance of the stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.
These forces collide in The Wolf, a riveting multigenerational wildlife saga that tells a larger story about the clash of values in the West--between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country's most vibrant landscapes.

 

Wolves are an animal deeply ingrained into our culture, especially for us Westerners. Occasionally we see them portrayed positively, like in A Song of Ice and Fire, but more often they are depicted as evil like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The wolf is commonly an animal that is either respected or hated, depending who you ask. The Wolf/American Wolf leans heavily on the pro-wolf side of that fence. In modern times this is understandable, as most wild wolves do not threaten most people today. There is a lot to be said for the history of wolves, but this book deals with a specific section of recent history in Yellowstone National Park.

The Wolf starts out with a partial history of Yellowstone, particularly the hunting season in the area. Before the mid-90’s, wolves had been long since exterminated in that area. As a result, there were a lot of elk with their main natural predator gone. Hunters could see and shoot them from the road, there were just so many. As wolf packs were reintroduced into the ecosystems, huge changes started to be seen. The elk population going down was the most blatant result, but not the only one. There was also an increase in bears, who could case wolves off and claim their kills. Also, a decrease in smaller predators, such as coyotes and foxes, who unsuccessfully tried to sneak food from wolf kills.

A good portion of The Wolf talks about wolves in general, but the main focus later turns to O-Six. Readers may remember her story from 2012, when her death made the national news. This book goes into great detail about her life from a young pup to an old, grey mother. A common sight for wolf watchers while alive, she was an extremely skilled animal; a pinnacle among wolves.

Despite being a non-fiction book, The Wolf is written as a narrative. This gave the book a sense of life that more academic texts do not possess. Even though the book is mainly about O-Six, it does address the wolf history in Yellowstone as well. The story starts before O-Six was even born, with the relocation of Canadian wolves to the park. As the narrative goes on, it talks about the legal battles in the various states around Yellowstone regarding wolf hunting. There is much more to this book than can fit in this little review and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in national parks, nature, and of course, wolves.

June 10, 2018

Storm Raven

Published Post author

Storm Raven Book Cover Storm Raven
K. Hanson
Young Adult
Self-published
December 15, 2017
Paperback
294

Captain Nereyda and her first mate, Brynja, lead a band of pirates as they seek out grand adventures and loot vulnerable merchant ships. However, when they attempt an overly ambitious raid, Nereyda and her crew are captured by Commander Erhan of the Imperial navy and separated. Nereyda is pressed into service aboard a ship to patrol the treacherous waters of the Shattered Sea. Meanwhile, Brynja and the rest of the crew are sent to a life of hellish labor deep in an Imperial mining prison camp.

While serving her sentence, Nereyda is shipwrecked on an unknown island. As she explores it, she stumbles into some ancient ruins and finds…something. Whatever it is, it wakes a part of Nereyda that she had not felt before. Something that could help her free the rest of her crew and return to life on the sea, if only she can learn to control it. Unfortunately, Commander Erhan is also on the island. Nereyda must escape him, get off of the island, and rescue her crew before the commander can stop her and before her crew withers away in the oppressive mines.

 

Storm Raven was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Storm Raven is a fun book. It is a story that makes for a good summer afternoon read. As a young adult book, there are some darker moments but nothing too extreme. It is gritty but not on the level of something like the Broken Empire trilogy. Characters make mistakes and do suffer for it, just not in a grisly level of detail. Author K. Hanson knew what needed to be done to keep the book YA and did it well.

The main focus of the book is the characters, particularly the pirate Captain Nereyda. She is the loveable scoundrel, somewhere in-between Han Solo and Jack Sparrow. A fun-loving adventurer with a heart of gold despite a life of hardship, her skill at sea is only matched by her unwavering resolve. Nereyda is not the only point of view we get to see either. Some chapters focus on Brynja, Nereyda’s first mate, after the crew becomes separated. Other segments are through the eyes of Erhan, a commander of the Cambisian Empire who is a bit disillusioned when it comes to right and wrong.

Setting-wise the book followed a lot of your standard fantasy world rules. In here there is “the Continent” and surrounding islands. It is a bit reminiscent of The Earthsea Cycle’s geography, but also with a continent. Granted this is also only a part of the world instead of a global map. Essentially, there are two Empires who are on bad terms following a war. Pirates are a thing and the world seems to be at an early-1700’s Europe level of technology and culture. Maybe a bit more tyrannical on the culture part.

For the plot, Storm Raven is a little basic but that is to be expected for a starting story. There were not really any moments where you think, “I did NOT see that coming.” But the story does an excellent job of setting things up for future installments. By the end of the book, there are still a lot of unanswered questions and problems the characters need to resolve. After this first action-packed, swashbuckling adventure, it will be fun to see where the Storm Raven series goes from here.

June 3, 2018

Kung Fu Panda 2

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "Kung Fu Panda 2"

Kung Fu Panda 2

Prepare for the Year of Awesomeness!

20111 h 31 min
Overview

Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five - Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. It is up to Po and The Furious Five to journey across China to face this threat and vanquish it. But how can Po stop a weapon that can stop kung fu? He must look to his past and uncover the secrets of his mysterious origins; only then will he be able to unlock the strength he needs to succeed.

Metadata
Runtime 1 h 31 min
Release Date 25 May 2011
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a fantastical film that perfectly follows up the first movie. Many aspects of the film are done just the right way, from character development to the hero vs. villain conflict to aesthetics and more.  This film is equal to Dreamworks’ other epic sequel films, like Shrek 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Despite being known as underdogs to Disney, Dreamworks continually puts out somewhat underacknowledged movies that are still pretty darn good. With a powerful blend of action, comedy, and storytelling, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than holds its own.

Being a sequel, we already know a bit about some of the characters here. Going in we already know a lot about Po so, while the film still focuses on him a lot, we have more time for side characters. The Furious Five all get more developed here (particularly Tigeress) as they accompany Po on this new adventure. Po/Jack Black’s arc focuses less on who he is and more on why he is that way. And extending from there, what kind of person he will grow into in his life as the Dragon Warrior. As is usually the case with heroes, Po is largely shaped by the villains he faces.

Shen gets a fair amount of screen time and was a much better villain than Tai Lung in the first film. That is not to say Tai Lung was a bad villain, there is just so much more to Shen. Audiences get to see more of Shen’s past, his goals are much grander, and the atrocities he commits are darker. The way his movements are animated are also very elegant; the animators took advantage of his peacock body and incorporated that into his fighting style. He sees himself as a poised gentleman while his temper and ruthlessness show his true self: an arrogant, merciless monster.

The creators of Kung Fu Panda 2 clearly did their research regarding China more ways than one. The land in the film is referred to as “China” by the characters, just with talking animal people here. The landscape, from farmlands to mountains, all resemble China’s actual geography. The architecture of the buildings, the food characters eat, everything is taken from Chinese culture. The villain Shen is even a white peacock (white symbolizes death in China). The Kung Fu Panda series even caused a stir in China regarding how accurate they are for American made films. While Disney still wins all the awards, Dreamworks shows its own films are on par (except Shrek 3 & 4).

May 27, 2018

Star Wars: Last Shot

Published Post author

Last Shot Book Cover Last Shot
Star Wars
Daniel José Older
Sci-fi
Del Rey
April 17, 2018
Hardcover
356

The author of Half-Resurrection Blues and Shadowshaper has penned this novel that connects three eras in the lives of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Part of it takes place before the events of Solo and focuses on Lando and L3-37, Lando’s droid sidekick. Part of it takes place between Solo and A New Hope, and that focuses on Han and Chewie, where we meet Sana Starros for the first time. Part of it takes place post-Return of the Jedi, and that’s where we see Han, Leia, a very young Ben Solo, and Lando come into the story.

 

Note: This review will contain spoilers for Star Wars: Episode VII. But it has been 2½ years, so I hope you have seen it by now.

Last Shot is more or less what you would expect from a current Star Wars novel. This particular book seems like it exists more to promote the upcoming Solo film than anything else. It would be a stretch to say Last Shot is bad (it is not), but it did not feel important. Disney seems to want all plot-relevant content confined to the films (which is understandable), so the New Canon novels are mainly only good for character development.

The central figures in this book are Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Now maybe there are things in the new movie that will help guide this book along a little. But these are characters who have already been clearly established in the films. Han was in the whole original trilogy; then in Episode VII he was given a quick reintroduction and subsequently killed. All Last Shot establishes is he tried being a dad and did not think he was very good at it. And that was just a sub-plot, not even the main story.

Lando had a bit more room for character development since he has had less screentime in the films. And “character development” basically means how he stops being a bachelor. So, it is like How I Met Your Mother in space. This was nice to see, but it did not 100% fit his character in this continuity. In the old canon it was clearly established that Lando was a player. In the new canon, he has only popped up a couple of times. Sure, he always flirts with the ladies in those appearances, but they have been too few and far between to really establish that character aspect. Most of the time we have seen him prior to this book, he is helping Rebels.

This book does jump around between three different stories as well. The “present” story made the most sense since it was self-contained. Lando’s flashback probably ties in with Solo since his droid, L-3, was featured in the trailer. Han’s flashback features his first wife Sana from the current Star Wars comic books; if you have not read those, you are going to be a bit lost on that character. Overall, it felt like this book tried to do something and just could not. Daniel José Older is primarily a YA author and it showed throughout Last Shot. Ultimately, it is a skippable book for people interested in Star Wars.

May 20, 2018

The Facefaker’s Game

Published Post author

The Facefaker's Game Book Cover The Facefaker's Game
Chandler J. Birch
Fantasy
Simon Schuster/ Simon451
November 1, 2016
Paperback
464

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch, a picaresque fantasy about a clever young beggar who bargains his way into an apprenticeship with a company of thieving magicians and uses his newfound skills in a vendetta against a ruthless crime lord.

Ashes lives in Burroughside—the dirtiest, most crime-ridden district in the huge city of Teranis. His neighbors are gangs of fellow orphans, homeless madmen, and monsters that swarm the streets at nightfall. Determined to escape Burroughside, Ashes spends his days begging, picking pockets, and cheating at cards. When he draws the wrath of Mr. Ragged, Burroughside’s brutal governor, he is forced to flee for his life, only to be rescued by an enigmatic man named Candlestick Jack.

Jack leads a group of Artificers, professional magicians who can manipulate light with their bare hands to create stunningly convincing illusions. Changing a face is as simple as changing a hat. Ashes seizes an opportunity to study magic under Jack and quickly befriends the rest of the company: Juliana, Jack’s aristocratic wife; William, his exacting business partner; and Synder, his genius apprentice. But all is not as it seems: Jack and his company lead a double life as thieves, and they want Ashes to join their next heist. Between lessons on light and illusion, Ashes begins preparing to help with Jack’s most audacious caper yet: robbing the richest and most ruthless nobleman in the city.

A dramatic adventure story full of wit, charm, and scheming rogues, The Facefaker’s Game introduces an unforgettable world you won’t soon want to leave.

 

The Facefaker’s Game came to me thanks to a Goodreads giveaway.

This book caught my eye mainly through the recommendation on the cover by Brent Weeks. Reading up on The Facefaker’s Game ahead of time, I went in knowing Chandler J. Birch is a budding author. With that in mind I set the bar for my expectations and Birch pole vaulted clear over said bar. Without prior research, you would never know this was someone’s first book. The writing, while not on par with masters of literature, feels like someone with a decade of experience authored it. Birch clearly has a knack for this and The Facefaker’s Game seems like a prelude of great things to come.

The characters follow a few standard tropes but are all fun and memorable. The main character Ashes, an Oliver Twist type orphan trying to get out of the slums to a better life. Antagonist Mr. Raggard takes on the role of the politician/crime lord (more Wilson Fisk than Lex Luthor). Candlestick Jack is the mysterious mentor who sees something special in Ashes but also has plans of his own. Despite fitting tropes, all the characters have backstories and quirks that make them feel real. Readers see their motivations and it explains their decision making; they feel more like people than words on a page.

Setting-wise, The Facefaker’s Game follows the trope of The City. The City is big, important, and divided between rich and poor. With Ashes being an orphan, the slums are the setting for a good portion of the book. The writing here is dark and gritty, reflecting how desperate people living here are to get out or just survive. It is not as extreme as something like The Night Angel Trilogy or The Broken Empire Trilogy, but rough enough that there is a real sense of danger.

Plot-wise, the story went along pretty quickly. The page count here is not too crazy, so this does not crawl along like a high fantasy novel. Some parts are more fast-paced than others but overall it does not fly by you too fast. The pacing was just where it needed to be in order to resolve plot elements. That is not to say everything is resolved; enough gets left open here that this could be a standalone story or start a series. Hopefully it starts a series as there is room for much, much more here. And if Birch can start The Facefaker’s Game and his writing career this well, I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

May 13, 2018