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.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of hundreds of books ranging from Star Trek to Leverage to Supernatural. I've read a dozen or so of his books and enjoyed almost all of them. I think my favorite is his I.K.S Gorkon/Klingon Empire series which chronicled the adventures of a crew of Klingons on a four book mission to seek out new life, new civilizations, and kill them. He's a great writer of enjoyable characters, straightforward plots, and having developing events mixed together in fascinating ways.
SCPD which stands for "Super City Police Department" is a novel which is set in an original world where superheroes protect Super City from all manner of horrible monsters. However, this particular city of heroes doesn't have the level of trust and respect which accompanies heroes like the Justice League or Avengers. Instead, they carry a level of burning low-level resentment from the police and local government for hogging the spotlight as well as botching investigations.
The series seems inspired by the series Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. That series was notable for showing the perspective of Batman from the Special Crimes Unit. SCPD is set in a lighter, softer city like Metropolis. Still, the premise of the book is anything but a light one as it is about a superpowered serial killer run amuck. A killer which the superheroes are completely unable (or unwilling) to do anything about.
The protagonists of the book are likable enough but generally fall into the category of archetypes rather than deeply involved characters. Still, I love the way they play off well against one another. The primary two are the classic combination of the older grizzled cop who has seen it all and the idealistic yet ambitious young female detective who is eager to make a difference. They play off well against one another and the moments where they're just getting to know one another's style of doing things is some of the best parts of the book.
I saw the "twist" ending coming from a mile away. However, the mystery isn't the major sticking point but how it expresses itself across the lives of multiple perspectives. The Claw is an individual who has terrorized the city multiple times but he's a figure who is arguably not responsible for his actions. Superheroes are prone to making more excuses for him than the public which he menaces and we get a nice little reflection of how the former's treatment of villains like, say, the Joker would come off to the people.
I was a big fan of "everyman perspectives" and the reason they succeed is on the strength of the characterization as well as giving a new perspective to extraordinary events. That is the case in SCPD. I think the city could have been developed a bit more and the superheroes a bit more likable but given the nature of the case, I suspect Keith didn't want them overshadowing his collection of Muggles in a world of superhumans.
In conclusion, SCPD is an enjoyable afternoon read. Notably, this is a series which "jumped companies" and continues after the events of SCPD under a new series name and company in Super City Cops. I haven't checked out those books yet but I am inclined to do so. This is the equivalent of a hamburger and fries sort of fiction and that's sometimes just what you need.
THE GUNS ABOVE by Robyn Bennis is a steampunk novel which I am quite happy to share with fans of the genre. Steampunk is something of an oddball creation which emerged from combining all the wonderfully oddball 19th century science fiction of Jules Verne, H.G. Welles, and Arthur Conan Doyle with a more critical examination of the period's many failings. These include sexism, imperialism, racism, classicism, and a bunch of other isms.
ARTEMIS is the second book by Andy Weir, author of the Martian, and had a lot riding on it. The Martian was huge for a first time author, hell for any kind of author, and was a hard science fiction novel which received a lot of mainstream attention. Heck, when you get a movie starring Matt Damon, you are set for life. However, it wasn't enough to get me to read the book or watch the movie. Instead, I picked up Artemis' audiobook for the presence of Rosario Dawson.
RATED R by Mike Leon is exactly that. It is an R-rated novel which is a dedication to all the R-rated movies of the 1980s from horror movie exploitation films starring buxom teenagers stalked by serial killers to the kind of big exploding things action movies that had people named "Arnold" in the cast list. The glorious cheese factor of the 80s coats virtually every page of the novel and it is acknowledged by the author to have been partially inspired by Hack/Slash (one of my favorite indie comics).
Rob J. Hayes is one of the great underrated independent fantasy authors of today but that may be changing as his latest work WHERE LOYALTIES LIE is a finalist in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. He's an author who writes extremely good grimdark that involves morally ambiguous characters, plots, and twists that draw companions to Joe Abercrombie. However, is it possible for him to write something LIGHTER?
RED SEASON RISING by Dominick Murray is a dark epic fantasy story about a recently-made independent fantasy kingdom which finds itself under siege by an unknown race of humans, their very powerful new god, and their former Imperial rivals. It opens in a intriguing way with a secret series of assassinations spread throughout their borders that forces the protagonist on a forced march through horrific weather conditions--only to find out the message he brings is occurring throughout the realm.
The best part of the book is the start where we get the unusual depiction of a borderlands garrison and our protagonist dealing with the uncertainty of an ill-suited commanding officer, a useless dead-end position, and no way of calling on reinforcements. I could have read an entire book set in this underused setting. Instead, this is but the start of a very long journey which takes our protagonist across the entirety of the continent.
I like the character of Kalfinar but I also admit he's something of the book's biggest weakness. Perhaps it's because I've been exposed to so many protagonists who are dark, brooding, middle aged men with tragic pasts that I expect a bit more. He's a fine vehicle to view the world through but he does seem like an observer to events more than someone with many strong opinions on what's going on at times, though. While he can sometimes be a fascinating character in his sullen brooding, Kalfinar is also quite a bit more detached from the action than I think the series needed.
This would be forgivable if there was someone who could contrast against Kalfinar but virtually everyone in the book is a brooding and sullen sort that you would think the story takes place in the land of Cimmeria. Everyone seems to be oppressed by the coming war and while that's perhaps believable, I couldn't help but think everyone was in The Walking Dead versus a Medieval Fantasy novel.
Thankfully, this flaw is made up for by the fact battle is visceral and chaotic with a sense that no one is unbeatable and death is a constant threat from even the least wound. Action isn't the most memorable part of the book but it's certainly up there and the author has a gift for righting exciting but plausible combat. One of my favorite scenes of combat in the book is when our protagonists are visiting a foreign city, only to encounter a monster summoned by the local magic and being completely thrown by it the way someone from our world would be. You don't see that very often in fantasy.
D.M Murray has created a thoroughly detailed setting for his fantasy series with peoples, religions, countries, politics, and age old blood feuds that all feel authentic. I definitely could believe this was the story of people who really lived and it also benefited from paying attention to an often-overlooked element of real life: travel times. The journey from one location to another is not perfunctory but a serious concern as not only is travel perilous but delays in sharing information or joining battles mean the difference between victory or defeat.
Despite the presence of magic, gods, and demons in the book--it feels surprisingly low fantasy and is more of a historical work. I liked this view because it's easier to sympathize with everyone in a more grounded and realistic universe. The battles are extremely well done and there's some truly spectacular ones spread throughout with an especially big one at the end. Readers should be warned this book ends on a cliffhanger with no resolution as the series is meant to be a long runner.
In conclusion, this is a good dark fantasy book weighed down a bit by a brooding protagonist that doesn't differentiate himself enough from his supporting cast. Even so, I definitely recommend this for those who want a well-developed fantasy world with epic battles plus the heaviest sense of foreboding since the Starks first said the words "Winter is Coming."