Review: The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore

The Blasted Lands (Seven Forges, #2)

Second in the ‘Seven Forges’ series, The Blasted Lands by James A. Moore continues where Seven Forges left off. The emperor of Fellein is dead and armies are gathering on both sides. Put in charge of the military aspect of the twelve kingdoms, reluctant general, Merros Dulver, begins to learn the truth about his empire. It’s crumbling at the edges, and at the seams. The middle appears somewhat rotten, too.

Crowning a new empress halts the rot for a while, lifting the spirits of the people. It’s not long before the rest of Nachia Krous’ family plot to remove her from the throne, however. They may not have to bother, as the Sooth has predicted the fall of her city. Add that to the list of concerns carried by her First Advistor, Desh Krohan. To the top of the list, over the fact a neighbouring kingdom has been reduced to rubble, leaving another bereft princess in Fellein. The black ships along the coast become more than a rumour. Patrols and scouts sent to rally allies find slaughter and ruin, but no bodies. One of Desh’s acolytes is sent to investigate the Mounds. The Sa’ba Taalor are forbidden to go there. Fellein’s foray has all the feel of a desperate act and the small troop encounters much danger along the way.

Most worrying of all is the threat of the Sa’ba Taalor. Will they come silently and swiftly to war? Will the legendary race of warriors show any mercy? They receive an answer in part, in the form of an invitation to parlay.

At this point, the story finally lumbers toward action, only to meet the end of the book, which is typical of a sequel, or middle book of a series. The slow pace of The Blasted Lands, while sometimes frustrating, does accurately illustrate the speed of war. It takes time to gather an army, recruit a navy and generally flap about in panic. The Sa’ba Taalor do not flap, of course. They move as directed by their mysterious gods and, for all their apparent barbarism, their preparations for war are methodical and precise.

As with the first book, I found Andover’s story to be the most compelling. The boy with the metal hands continues his journey as ambassador. Through his eyes, we meet more of the Sa’ba Taalor and learn more about their mythos and culture. I found both to be fascinating and somewhat horrifying. They are an alien people and Moore writes them well. I did wish more time had been devoted to Andover, and by the end of the book, my wish had been granted. But, as any avid reader of epic fantasy will often lament, I need more.

The Blasted Lands ends with more questions than answers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Each book in a series should invite the reader to move forward. I do hope that the next installment comes with a swifter pace, however, with more war and less individual skirmish, more revelation and fewer questions. I appreciate the time taken to build a compelling world. Next, I’d like to inhabit it with the characters as they fight for what they believe in.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Morningside Fall (Legends of the Dustwalker, #2) by Jay Posey

Morningside Fall (Legends of the Duskwalker #2)

At the end of Jay Posey’s debut Three, the first book in ‘The Legends Of The Dustwalker’, I got the impression the titular character, Three, couldn’t possibly be the dustwalker of legend, which both surprised and saddened. He was a compelling figure and the entire plot hinged upon his actions. Three embodied the role of the brooding loner who repelled all comers with one of a variety of weapons, mental and physical. Cass and her son, Wren, got under his shell, however, and together, they completed a journey across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Posey’s imagination. The interwoven plot threads led to an exciting conclusion that simultaneously unravelled and deepened every character involved.

Then something unexpected happened. I’m not going to elaborate here, as that would spoil the book for new readers. Suffice to say, Three does not head the cast of ‘Morningside Fall’ and that is pretty much the major problem with the book.

Once again, Cass and Wren are compelled to journey across the wasteland between sanctuaries. Tension is running high in Morningside. The residents are not happy about the influx of people from beyond the wall and the reawakened Weir returned from a zombie-like state to almost human. There is also a plot afoot in Morningside to wrest power from the new young governor. After attempts on his life, Wren gathers those still loyal to him and sets off to find a safe place to hide. His mother, Cass, meets them on the road.

This time, the Weir are smarter and weirder. They’re coordinated and more vicious than before. They have also acquired chant, the meaning of which saves this book from mediocrity. In the last quarter, we finally ‘meet’, properly, the blindfolded figure from the front cover, and learn who is organising the Weir. From that point, the battle is on.

Not that there isn’t enough hack and slash in ‘Morningside Fall’. There is. It’s the stuff in between that is lacking. A lot of Cass and Wren reassuring one another, which, I’m sorry, got old after the first fifty pages, and I’m a mother. I think what their relationship highlights is the fact Wren is young. Too young to be governor of Morningside, regardless of what power he holds. He’s a kid and while post-apocalyptic settings are great for robbing childhoods, Wren still felt too much like a lost child to really lead the book.

I wanted Three or his replacement. I wanted the guy in the blindfold from the front cover. Until the last quarter, the book lacks the leadership of a compelling character, one that I could probably empathise with.

Still, the concluding pages of ‘Morningside Fall’ are pretty epic and set up the next chapter very well. It’s just a pity it took so long to get there. Despite my disappointment in this book, I will be reading on. Posey has constructed a really unique world, one that steps to the side of the usual zombie tropes and provides an apocalypse that’s at once unfathomable, but also believable. That’s no mean feat.

Written for SFcrowsnest.


Review: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker (Peacemaker, #1)

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger of a preserve of land known as Birrimun Park. With the park’s peace threatened by drug smugglers, Virgin partners with U.S. Marshall, Nate Sixkiller. It’s not a match made in heaven. While the pair bounce off of one another, bodies start falling. Virgin is the cops’ number one suspect, though their interest in her seems more personal than professional. Add imaginary animals, vodun, a gang war and the seven-year-old mystery surrounding the death of Virgin’s father, and the mystery deepens several-fold before unravelling.

Peacemaker’ sets a fast pace which only increases as the pages turn. I did like the way the reader is flung into the action and did not mind the seeming lack of explanation. I am not a reader who requires all my facts up front. I’m happy to play sink or swim. Marianne de Pierres’ world is near future and has a vaguely dystopian feel. Outside the preserve, the cities of the east coast of Australia seem to have merged into one large metropolis, little of which is safe to walk alone. Many territories are marked by gangs and some by regressive cults. The mix of Australian and south western American culture in the more civilized parts is very weird, as is the blend of characters which populate the story.

Virgin, herself, began to irritate me about a third of the way through the book. She’s headstrong, yes, but often stupidly so. The confounding part was the fact she did not appreciate the same trait in her companions. So while she ran off to do things that had to be done, she took exception at anyone but her reporter friend doing the same. In other words, she took the strong, independent female thing and stretched it a little too thin for my taste. But, all the other characters in the book like her. She’s feisty and charming. All the guys want her, and despite her prickly nature, feel the need to look out for her.

The mystery takes a back seat to Virgin’s antics as well. Often, I forgot the details of the plot while she hunted down another clue. It’s not a complicated plot, but not well served by the novel’s progression. Then there is the wide variety of secondary characters. Sorting them into their proper place is part of the story, certainly, but there are too many names and faces. By the end of the book, it feels like everyone is involved, which made me wonder why the death of Virgin’s father wasn’t investigated more thoroughly seven years ago.

Finally, I found the blend of cultures interesting, but as a native Australian, I felt more keenly the dilution of my own culture. That’s not a mark against the book, it’s more a comment on the author’s vision of the future. It seemed very un-Australian, as if all that made our country unique had been exchanged for something that better identified it to the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s a statement on the cultural shift going on down there right now.

Peacemaker’ is a fun and fast read. I found it lacking in some ways and I was frustrated by the dearth of information regarding the appearance of the imaginary animals. But there is a quick wrap up at the end that seems to set the scene for further adventures, so perhaps the story isn’t done.

Written for SFCrowsnest.