Tag Archives: fantasy

Three Parts Dead

From Max Gladstone’s website:

A God has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb.  Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.  Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in.  Her only help is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead God, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

But when the duo discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and the city’s slim hope of survival.

I came across Three Parts Dead a few weeks ago when I searched for something along the lines of “What to read if you’re in The Broken Earth withdrawal”. Google, being all-knowing as it is, spat out several interesting suggestions, and I couldn’t help but click on the link that mentioned lawyers riding lightning bolts and resurrecting gods (because… really?!). Falling somewhere in the general realm of urban fantasy territory, the debut novel in The Craft Sequence series seemed like a book that might just wow me, so I bought it and got stuck in.

Friends – you need to read it.

World-Building

As the first published entry (but not chronologically the first story in the series) this book packs in a lot of information about its setting, and manages to never once fall into the trap of info-dumping. From the first scene, where our heroine is literally thrown out of a flying building into a desert, to our introduction to gods and how they work, Three Parts Dead simply keeps it moving along, trusting the reader to understand and sort the information being given. Gladstone manages to straddle the line between informing and badgering his reader through effective use of dialogue, and character perspectives. What the priest knows, our novice Craftswoman Tara Abernathy does not – so he explains. What Tara knows, priest-technician Abelard does not – so she explains. And in this way you’re introduced to a brilliant new world of weird.

Characterisation

No matter what genre you’re writing in, making your characters believable is no walk in the park. They may all exist as fully fleshed out beings in your mind as the writer, but getting that across to the reader without overwhelming them… well.

But just as with his world-building, Max Gladstone works to deliver a main and supporting cast of characters who are their own people (and gods, and entities in between). Their motivations are entirely their own, and he builds his story around them. So when we get to the conclusion of our caper, and all is revealed (wow, are there some revelations going on) you sit there and think… ‘oh yeah, that makes perfect sense, actually. Of course these folks would do that!’

Plot

For much of the story, I was happy to sit back and coast along on the tide of excellent storytelling. Then I’d stop and think… ‘hold on. That’s odd. I could have sworn… oh. OH.’

And really… that’s the best kind of storytelling. Read this book!

A representation of me trying to piece things together VS when they finally come together
(Photos by @mwabonje on pexels.com)

Honourable Mention: Describing Diverse Characters

There is a certain fear that one feels when one sees the kind of beautiful cover art that Three Parts Dead has. Immediate memories of fumbling attempts in creative writing classes where people described Black hair as everything from ‘wiry’ to ‘ coiled like tiny snakes’ (true story) only to see the picture they were trying to paint and think… Am I being Punk’d?! I’m not even going to go into all the things that I’ve read and heard any skin tone darker than an eggshell be compared to. Let’s just say “like fresh mud” is on the better end.

So how excellent was it to get to the end of this book and realise that I’d been given, through narration, self-description and character perspectives an image of what each character looked like and not once cringed? Very excellent, I tell you. Which is no small part of why I’ve decided to read the whole Craft Sequence. So, kudos for not being cringe to Mr. Gladstone.

Mood Rating: First of all, read this book. Second of all, be wowed. Third of all, read the rest of the series. And drink water.

Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans

Source: http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Brimstone_Angels?file=Brimstone_Angels.jpg

All the shades of Farideh

All the shades of Farideh (via slushlush.com)

 

Havilar and Farideh are twin tieflings abandoned at birth and raised by dragonborn. Careless Havilar has an innocent soul and a penchant for trouble, and careful Farideh feels the weight of the world, her tainted bloodline – and her sister – on her shoulders.

In a summoning ritual gone wrong, Farideh ends up bound in a warlock’s pact with a handsome but sadistic cambion devil, and they are thrown out of the village. A lone dragonborn accompanies them out of compassion, and the three adventurers, often perceived as monsters themselves, begin to make a name for themselves as monster slayers.

But once they reach the encampments in the ruined city of Neverwinter, their simple plans of slaying monsters to make a living get tangled up in a devilish snare six layers deep. It will take every ounce of the twin’s skills – and some borrowed besides – if they are to have any hope of staying afloat in the deadly designs around them.

As far as plot goes, without ruining the book for anybody, the description is pretty much it. We follow several characters throughout the book, but the main two are Farideh, the twin who entered into a pact with a devil for reasons she can’t quite articulate; and Lorcan, the cambion with whom she made the pact.

Evans weaves us into the lives of the twins as they are forever changed and the unconventional family must flee their home village, becoming bounty hunters to survive as they seek out a way to get Farideh out of the pact. Meanwhile, Farideh seems to develop ideas of her own about her pact, the fiend who offered it to her and the exact use of the powers she gains along the way. We are taken along on the journey and brought into the minds of our heroines and their counterparts to explore the meaning of family, the burden of power and heritage and to find out just how far we will go to attain personal freedom whilst trying to “do the right thing”.

The villains are a great bunch, too. We have on one hand, villains who seem to be evil because it’s their nature and they really enjoy it; on the other we have a villainess-in-waiting who’s evil is more a matter of perspective. And, of course, we have Lorcan. He’s devious, self-interested and definitely up to no good, maybe with a touch of evil thrown in… but a few times you find yourself wondering just how despicable is he, really?

So, before I get carried away and ruin the book for you… let’s get into the highlights, eh?

Versatility- Evans manages to write a book which appeals both to long-time lovers of D&D and the Forgotten Realms setting and to newcomers to both D&D and fantasy.

Explanations of what things like tieflings are, and the hierarchy, history and politics of the Nine Hells are woven into the story so that newcomers feel comfortable (not too comfortable, though. It’s a dangerous place!) and familiar with the setting. At the same time those of us who’ve campaigned our way through Faerun once or twice don’t get bored with long-winded descriptions of the history of Neverwinter, every fantastical creature that crosses our paths and what the Spellplague is.

Realism- I know it sounds strange to say that a story which follows the adventures of the tainted descendants of a powerful and evil warlock, their scaly, fire-breathing adoptive father, and a runaway kid with sketchy access to divine magic following the making of a deal with a half-devil from the Sixth layer of the Nine Hells… is realistic. But you’ve just got to trust me on this one.

Writing believable characters and story arcs is difficult in any genre but when you delve into fantasy it’s tempting to throw away any sense of rhyme and reason and have things happen simply because it’ll look cool. Evans does a wonderful job of depicting characters who have realistic reactions to their situations and surroundings.

Our late-teen heroines are, predictably, crushing hard over boys who are best left alone. Our badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan, doesn’t suddenly and inexplicably reform his manipulative ways and heal from literal centuries of physical and emotional trauma simply because he meets a girl. And nobody is exactly forthcoming with the deeply personal and sordid details of their past just because it’d be nice for all our heroes, heroines and antiheroes to bond over a camp fire.

‘Regular’ people are also suitably sceptical and suspicious of folks with black pools for eyes and horns on their heads. Just because you’re in a fantasy setting, doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable with horned and scaly people running around doing magic and wielding weapons with deadly precision.

Characterisation- Related to the above point, Evans builds strong and relatable characters.

I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies (oh, the sparkles!) that were let down by poor character analysis and development. Evans’ characters don’t feel like caricatures or stand-ins for concepts. They feel like people. Farideh and Havilar are separate and distinct personalities in their own rights, but as is so often the case with twins, you get the feeling that they’d be incomplete and miserable without each other. Even though they fight and misunderstand each other constantly, when push comes to shoving a claive into an enemy’s torso they’re inseparable. Their adoptive father Mehen is clingy and overprotective in the way that you’d expect someone who’s lost all the people they ever loved to be. As for that shady priest and the runaway… they’re interesting people, too.

Because I’m an impatient reader, especially when there’s an event that’s been foreshadowed and I’m trying to get to it ASAP… I’ll admit I skipped a few pages. I can’t say there was anything wrong with the pace of the novel. In fact, the fact that I only skipped literally a few pages is a testament to how engaging the book was.

Recommendation: Put on your most epic music playlists (I’m a fan of Versus Music on YouTube), call in sick from work or school for the next day or two, arm yourself with a large selection of snacks and enter into one of the most iconic fantasy settings of all time with your new friend Farideh and the badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan.

Trivia: I looked up the meaning of a few of the names in the book. I didn’t find anything for Havilar, but Farideh is apparently Persian and means “delightful” whilst Lorcan is Irish and means “silent”, “fierce”, or “little fiery one”. You learn something new every day!

I’ll finish up with a cautionary note. The book not only contains some explicit content, but also some rather mature context. I’m not saying not to gift it to your 15 year old nephew or niece (I dearly wish somebody had given me this type of book when I was 15), but it’s definitely not a kids’ book. I’d say it’s a 14+ kind of novel, and there’s definitely no upper age limit.

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You can find Erin M. Evans on her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook from there.

Get Brimstone Angels and its sequels at your nearest bookstore  or from an online distributor.

If you’re interested in finding out more about D&D, check out Wizards of the Coast’s website and the Forgotten Realms wiki

 

Shadow Wraith: The Librarian

The Librarian

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Rena made her way slowly from Faril’s desk and to the back of the library, taking a new route with each trip. By the fourth load she had figured out that if she walked straight from the desk, through the first row of books, took a left and counted four rows then walked down, the trip was significantly shorter. There were no ladders and no students crowding the way. Yet even with this improvement she knew that she’d spend the entire afternoon stacking then organising books. The task would likely run on into tomorrow’s schedule as well.

At times like these Rena was tempted to think that had she not gotten this apprenticeship her life would be so much simpler. But the opportunity was not one to be passed up. Each Librarian was allowed to choose up to three apprentices and while the other four had taken full advantage of that, Faril had only selected her. He said the other applicants were far too driven by political ambition, and not by a love of knowledge. Did Rena love knowledge? She still had no idea. But right now, she thought, I really hate this job.

As if called by her disdain Faril opened the front doors at that moment. While the other Librarians could easily be called elderly, Faril looked to be just on the outer limits of middle-age, with some grey creeping into his thick brown hair. It was likely just personal bias but Rena considered him the best of the Librarians: very approachable, passionate about scholarly work and a wonderful story-teller. They were qualities which made her look forward to the walk from the library to the residences when she’d finished her work.

Today Faril seemed to want to get as much done as possible. He hadn’t called her out to sit on the benches with him for lunch. He’d instead requested that she stay in the library and continue working. It wasn’t like Faril to ask that, but she had heard some of the other apprentices the night before talking about how this shipment of books contained a work of great personal value to the older man.

Curious, Rena was scanning the titles of each stack to see what it might be. She knew that Faril’s field of study was ancient weaponry. He kept an impressive collection of his favourite daggers, swords, whips and whatever else in his private chambers in the residences. One of the perks of being his apprentice was that she got to learn all about his travels and his collection. Though Rena was interested in ancient cultures as a whole, she spent a lot of time discussing weapons with Faril. Today, however, Faril had no time for talk and he shuffled his way loudly to the back table where Rena had been stacking the books.

She saw him raise a slender finger and run it from the top to bottom of each stack. Rena watched intently, forgetting about the load of books still in her hands. In the third stack he found what he had been looking for. Rena examined it from her place at the end of the row but couldn’t make out a name.

The book was small, with a leather covering and paper so worn it rustled at the librarian’s touch and she was sure it needed to be kept in the Restoration Room. Faril thumbed through it carefully before sighing contentedly and placing the book in some hidden pocket beneath his robes.

He greeted her with a stiff nod and small smile as he scurried back out of the library. Rena watched him walk to his rooms through the windows before hurrying to where he’d removed the book. She ran her fingers over the two books which had been above and below it, trying to remember the intervening title. Her brow furrowed in concentration and she stood for several moments before deciding that she was not forgetting the title: the little book simply hadn’t had one. It had struck her as more akin to a diary than any sort of scholarly work and she wished now that she’d taken note of its contents instead of gravitating towards the more grandiose titles.

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