Well, it's over. What? Fantasy. There's no more need to do it because someone has done what I've wanted done in the genre since the very beginning. M.L. Spencer has created a fantasy world where we saw the forces of "good" battle the forces of "evil" with increasing ruthlessness, all the while justified by the narrative until the (seemingly) final victory. Then we switch perspectives and have the exact same plot play out from the perspective of the quote-unquote baddies.
CAPED by Darius Brasher is the first volume of THE OMEGA SUPERHERO series. As anyone who knows me could say, I'm a huge fan of superhero fiction. I'm not only a big fan of CONFESSIONS OF A D-LIST SUPERVILLAIN by Jim Bernheimer, BROKEN NIGHTS by Matthew Davenportm and PLEASE DON'T TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN by Richard Roberts but I'm also the author of THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA. So I have a pretty exacting set of standards towards my superhero fiction. So, how is Caped? It's pretty damned good.
THE DRAGON'S LEGACY by Deborah A. Wolf is a fantasy epic of a kind I haven't had a chance to read in awhile. It's a massive world-building story that deals with the perspective of myriad individuals on a magical land that is far removed from our own. While the cultures have similarities to Bedouin and the old Chinese Empires, they are different enough to give you a sense of being transported into a wholly different world.
The primary character, though such is a misleading title, Sulema is a young woman who was raised among the Zeeranim as one of their own. Having ascended to adulthood, she finds herself given news which will change her world forever: that she is the daughter of Dragon King. Simultaneously, the world is dying all around them. Mothers give birth to less young, the people can bond with fewer great cats, and the Earth Dragon stirs fitfully like the Fenris Wolf preparing to awaken then devour the world.
For an apocalypse-based story, this is actually a fairly languidly paced book and that's not a criticism. We're slowly eased into understanding the ways of the Zeeranim as well as the civilizations alongside it. They're a bit more Fremen or Aiel than "realistic" nomadic people but that isn't a criticism since it's the prerogative of all fantasy authors to draw from the works before them. We also get ample perspectives of people who aren't "normally" the stars of this kind of story like the common people on the ground.
Magic is interwoven into the reality in a casual but effective way with bonding with animals, monsters, dreamwalking, shamanism, and more just another part of daily life in the world. I also like the petty feuds between families are given every bit as much gravity as the more epic struggles within. Class and race also play a subtle role in the story versus the more overt depiction in other books. Everyone wants to improve the lives of their children but the methods and restrictions on such are always influencing every interaction whether people who want to become shamans or who get conscripted into the military as magical cannon fodder.
My favorite storyline in the book is Sulema and her parents. As the titular Dragon's Legacy, she is a woman who is effectively taken from her culture to be made queen of the Dragon Empire while her father is still alive (and can consolidate her power). She believes this is a worthy "sacrifice" but is it? Especially as the system is designed to mold her into someone who bears little resemblance to her previous self. Yet, ironically, her very background makes her aware of this as well as her power in the system. The Dragon King's possessiveness and "love" for her mother is also creepy yet fascinating to read about.
Gender politics play an important but understated role in things. The warriors of the Zeeranim are women and their men are the ones who stay home to handle the homefront. This is a contrast to the expected roles of women in the Dragon Empire. I like these sorts of twists and turns as well as differences in expected behavior as they work well for the story's themes.
If I have any problems with the book, it's the fact it is a bit subdued in places. When dealing with a cast as large as this, it helps to have characters with big personalities. A lot of these characters are just trying to get by and thus tend to fade into the narrative. It's part of why Sulema is so enjoyable as she is anything but subdued. This is a book which requires a significant time investment and for you to pay close attention to, which just means that it's worth an investment from the reader to me.
I am anxious to read the sequel and think people who really want to get invested in their escapist fiction's background will love this book. It is really a book that transports you to a new universe and that's a rare thing even in fantasy.
THE PRICE OF FAITH is the third volume of THE TIES THAT BIND and the end of that trilogy set in Rob Hayes' fantastic sword and sorcery world. It has events which are bound to tick some readers off and bound to excite others. Is it worth the purchase? In the end, I leave it up to my review to let readers decide.
PLEASE DON'T TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN is a work which I think is probably the best superhero fiction out there barring possibly SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE and my own work (but I have to say the last). It's funny, cute, and just plain full of joy whereas so much else in the genre is dark or dry. This is not a work deconstructing the grimdark world of saving people or with great power coming great responsibility, it's about fun and how awesome it is to be a supervillain (or hero but mostly supervillain).
THE COLOUR OF VENGEANCE is the sequel to THE HERESY WITHIN and the second novel of THE TIES THAT BIND trilogy by Rob J. Hayes. It follows the adventures of the Black Thorn, a murderous bandit who is possibly the strongest man in the world but utterly unable to control himself or his tempers. The Black Thorn has been betrayed by his fellows and is not going to stop until he gets his revenge.
BROKEN NIGHTS opens with a pair of petty crooks breaking into a store in order to steal a bunch of iphones when they're confronted by a shadowy cowled figure. They jump across a pair of rooftops when the figure jumps to catch them and misses the roof before smashing into the ground a couple of stories below. Wannabe Batman, Jason Night, does not begin his career in an auspicious manner.
DAMOREN by Seth Skorkowsky is the first volume of the Valducan series of urban fantasy novels. Urban fantasy has become something of a winding road in recent years as it has become deluged with endless knock-offs of the same basic character types: a snarky wizard with a bad attitude or a beautiful (but doesn't know it) spunky paranormal heroine. Call them the "Harry Dresden" or "Mercy Thompsons" of the world. They're awesome but it's nice when a series adds something new to the genre.
THE HERESY WITHIN is my first grimdark novel and was a book which introduced me to the idea that fantasy could be more than just good guys, bad guys, and magic swords. Well, no, actually it was GAME OF THRONES but this this was my SECOND grimdark novel that told me such things weren't just one-off products which couldn't be replicated. This is a novel full of sex, swearing, blood, and morally repugnant but somehow still likable anti-heroes
THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS is a book which should be right up my alley with Jim Butcher (one of my favorite authors), a mixed steampunk and fantasy premise, plus lots of pulpy action. For the most part it IS up my alley but it is a work which I think does have quite a few flaws. The premise is so awesome, though, that I want to stick with the series and see Jim Butcher correct them to make it one of my favorite series.
The premise is, far in the future, mankind has colonized another world where the surface is horrifically dangerous but they are able to survive in flying Cloud City-esque "habbles." This technology is powered by crystals and doesn't seem to require much in the way of maintenance as they've forgotten this part of their history. Indeed, they've reverted to a somewhat Neo-Victorian era of technology as well as behavior.
Gwen Lancaster, the spirited daughter of Spire Albion's most powerful family, has decided to join the military despite the somewhat comical attempts by her mother to prevent her from going. Once there, she meets with a lesser noble named Brigit and her talking cat Rowl. The Spire is attacked by an enemy force and soon they find themselves forced to work with a privateer named Grim in order to perform a mission to prevent another, even more dangerous, attack from occurring.
First the good, I really love steampunk adventures and the pseudo-Victorianism on display is fun and engaging. The protagonists are all extremely likable and if sometimes a bit ridiculous, like when Gwen fires her energy gauntlet in the middle of a crowded street to scare off a potential mugger, they're still fun. I would have preferred someone from the lower classes to give their perspective but that is asking a bit much.
The combat, especially the airship battles, is very entertaining and I enjoyed the use of the vertical as well as the horizontal. Jim Butcher effectively makes them starship battles in the skies above the surface and they're very exciting. We don't need much in the way of technical details but each of the encounters is blood pumping and well-done. I really came to like Predator like a in-universe Millennium Falcon and wanted to see its crew succeed.
As for the bad? Well, there's not so much bad as underwhelming. The characters are drawn a bit too broadly and fit more into archetypes than deeply realized characters. Jim also goes for big moments that, as mentioned above, verge on the ridiculous. There's a substitution of "quirky" for character development and that doesn't really help the characters. They're all pretty much heroic good guys from the start so they can't really develop much.
I also think the story is a bit bland in terms of sexiness and romance. Aside from a character having a crush on another and another character being another's ex-wife, there's almost no hint of attraction or love in this book. This is notable because the Dresden Files have some of my favorite femme fatales in fiction and I also liked the romances in the Codex Alera.
In conclusion, this is a very fun book and I enjoyed the audiobook version even more than I did the physical copy. I think it's something I may read again. However, the book's irritating parts are very irritating. Whenever the characters act "wacky" it takes me out of the book and hurts the overall feel. I'd like to see a slightly more serious take on the world and more deep interactions between the characters in the future. I am definitely buying the next volume, however.