Category Archives: Fantasy

Review: Kagen the Damned #1 (Jonathan Maberry)

Kagen Vale, leaders of the guard and personally responsible for the security of the royal family and more specifically the royal children of Argentium, wakes up hungover and disoriented. Eventually, he pulls himself together enough to understand that there’s an active attack against his land by the Hakkians, who use magic that was banned in Argentium. When he arrives at the royal wing, he finds all of them, right down to the babies, killed in various gruesomely described ways. He decides at that moment that he is incompetent, terrible at his job, and damned.

I’m a firm believer that what matters when tragedy strikes, or when some life situation goes terribly wrong and bad, that what matters is owning your responsibility in it, if any, and that true character is shown by how one acts after such tragedies occur.

And his personal mindset of mind had a very large issue with Kagen and his nonstop whining, drinking, and lamenting about how he sucked at his job. I started calling him Kagen the Whiny, and promised myself at about the 35% mark that if he didn’t get his shit together, I was going to make this a DNF. The author pulled out of the nosedive shortly thereafter.

While Kagen was drinking and whining his way about this fictional world, other characters were also introduced – some appeared and hen vanished until almost the end of he book. I get that Kagen is the main character and so much of he book time is devote to him, but we got some pretty detailed narrative time with the other characters, including a young nun destined for a sacrifice, so I was expecting a bit more from her at some point before the end of her journey.

There are various side characters who show up, either for Kagen to fight against and kill, or just to give us some information about what’s happening in the rest of the world instead of the usual “As you know, Bob.” stuff where someone just talks at he main character. I hope some of them show up again later, because they were just as interesting (sometimes moreso) than Kagen.

But Kagen is back to himself by now, halting he drinking, and even invading a vampire witch’s tower, where he is “captured”, but not killed, as every other interloper has been. There’s a prophecy, of course, and she lets him go because of that prophecy.

And that brings me to another issue I have with this kind of book in general. Kagen was obviously taken out of action by a woman who drugged him. My question: why not just poison him and take him out of action entirely?I understand the value of humiliation some people require others to feel, to know that they have been bested, and with barely any effort, but in things like this, a better leader would have weighed the value of having Kagen gone versus his humiliation and gone with the former.

In any case, throughout the book we pop into the heads of other characters wandering around this world, so we get a good picture of what has happened and how the occupation of Argentium is ongoing. It presents a good reference point for the reader, and avoids head-hopping within any one individual scene.

There is a lot, and I mean a LOT of violence in this book: torture, rape, general war and individual fighters killing one another – all are here, and all described in very detailed ways. If you can’t handle fictional blood, or don’t like descriptions of rape and torture, stay far away.

It occurred to me after finishing that the whole magic question came across as the usual 2nd Amendment stuff here in the US. One side (Hakkian) had and used all the magic (guns) and one side (Argentium) had no magic (guns) because of very strict laws. Of course the Hakkians quickly overran Argentium. I’ll let the reader make the conclusion there.

Overall, not bad for an afternoon read if you can get past the main character whining his way through the first 30% so and don’t mind gore.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press ad NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Scout and the Scoundrel – Sisters of Sarras #2 (Barbara Ann Wright_

This is the second book in the Sisters of Sarras series, but it is not necessary to have read the previous book to settle comfortably into this one.

We open in prison. Veronique “Roni” Bisset has been caught coming down the outside of a building where she has just had the easiest steal of her life. Pity for her there were two guards patrolling right then. She ran (“Everybody runs.”) and during her run, has hidden the jewels away under a footbridge. Eventually, she is chased down and hauled away to the hoosegow. While there, she figures this stay won’t last long, and starts doing the math to figure out what the jewels are worth, and then how much the cuts are going to cost her – especially the cut to the local crime syndicate, for operating in their territory. As Roni does not belong to any syndicate, the cuts are of course higher.

Zara del Amanecer (Zara of the Dawn) is a scout for the Sarrassian forces, leading scouting missions to the border to ensure no Firellian incursions into the country. It’s fairly clear Zara is on the autism spectrum (most likely: Aspberger’s), but she’s an excellent scout, leads her team well, and has just returned from a mission. She’s also the controller of the Vox Ferama, a sort of metal bird she can use when wearing a particular chain on her wrist and hand, tied in a particular way. While back in the city, she uses the Vox to fly around, and then runs into – and manages to insult – the daughter of a colonel in the army. Zara doesn’t understand why it’s an insult, as she’s only speaking truth, and that’s par for the course with her throughout the book: things are black and white, up or down, part of the mission or not.

Roni gets a shock when it becomes clear she is in fact going to be sent to prison, and she’s a bit worried about this as one would be. While being led out, the leader of the local syndicate, Julia Esposito, tells her that she’s a dead woman. But things change when the army decides on a rehab program for nonviolent offenders: Roni and some others are taken to the army compound and placed under the leadership of Zara.

Zara, for her part, is distressed, as this throws her orderly world into chaos. But she manages to talk herself down into a new order, and the new “soldiers” are started on training. During Roni’s training, the goon Hacha (Axe/Hatchet) from Esposito’s syndicate tells her they have a deal: Ronis will liberate the Vox from Zara and hand it over to Esposito. Roni doesn’t know what that is, but agrees.

Training finished, Zara and her troops head out on their next mission. What they find is almost impossible to believe, but the rumor of a very heavy weapon in the hands of the Firellians turns out to be very true.

Roni reminded me quite a lot of the character Tas from the old (mid-1980s) Dragonlance series. She often says things without thinking, especially when it comes to Zara and her attraction to Zara. This rocks Zara from time to time,trying to process a “soldier” speaking out of turn to a superior officer, but also trying to determine what to do with the flirting. Beyond that, we don’t get much of a rounded character in Roni.

Zara, however, is a fully realized character, and also learns during the last part of the book that at times, you have to give up control of something to save your own life, which in turn will save the live of others.

This is a primarily fantasy novel, with the romance an incredibly slow burn. As is often the case, the dustup between the two is caused by them not talking to one another, even though they had been doing quite well on that front as the book went along at the end.

There’s a consistency issue with the name of the woman in charge of the local crime syndicate -she’s referred to as Julia at the beginning, then Judith around the middle, and then she’s not spoken of again until Hacha comes calling, to force Roni to betray Zara and her fellow troops.

Overall, it’s a fun read. I had hopes, based on the blurb, that we might be seeing fantasy sitting on a Castillian framework, versus the Middle Ages England most authors use, but beyond the names of Zara, Hacha, and a few of the soldiers/officers, there wasn’t enough to say one way or the other.

Four out of five stars.