Welcome to the Dark Side

One of my most memorable gaming experiences was the final choice in the Imperial Agent quest for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not long being free of my “attachment” to World of Warcraft, I had decided not to play SWTOR. I didn’t want to get sucked into another MMO. But my husband bought it, and my resolve lasted for the thirty minutes I watched him play.

Even though I caved and bought the game and a six-month subscription, I never really got into the MMO part. While my friends were swinging their lightsabers around and apparently saving the galaxy I decided to explore the dark side. I chose the Imperial Agent story because it sounded interesting. Also, the voice actor for the IA sounded pretty sexy. I loved the story for all its twists and turns, but more so, I enjoyed the discovery that a universe famous for being black and white was really all shades of gray. Continue reading “Welcome to the Dark Side”

Review: The Shards of Heaven

The Shards of Heaven (The Shards of Heaven #1)Every now and then Tor Books sends me something I did not request. Every time this happens, I open the envelope with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Who doesn’t like getting books in the mail? I do worry it might be a book I’m not interested in reading, let alone reviewing, but to date these random books have been something I’d like to read. I’ve actually squealed a little opening some envelopes. It’s as if Tor has a file on me or something.

The last envelope contained a lovely hardcover copy of The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston. Being a reviewer does have its perks. I was immediately intrigued by the cover illustration and the synopsis on the inside flap. I then sat down to read and pretty much didn’t stop until I got to the end, my only complaint being that the book did have an end. Oh and that there is no sequel published yet.

Anyway, I’m sure you’d all like to know what the book is about. Julius Caesar is dead and the future of his legacy is uncertain. When he comes of age, Caesarion – son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra – stands to inherit ‘the world’. He is heir to Rome and Egypt. Another of Caesar’s adopted sons, Octavian, intends to claim it all for himself, however. Add to this mix a third son, the Numidian prince Juba, also adopted. Juba isn’t after a throne. His quest is vengeance, to be delivered through the Shards of Heaven, a series of fabled artefacts that will give the wielder power over Heaven and Earth. He is already in possession of one shard, Poseidon’s trident, through which he gains control of the sea. He believes it might have once been Moses’ staff. Juba’s search for the other shards allies him with Octavian as they both look toward Egypt: Octavian with an eye toward conquest and murder of his rival, Caesarion, and Juba for the Great Library of Alexandria.

The Shards Of Heaven combines history with fantasy. I adore books that do this. There are so many ways to interpret history, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction. The other is that who is to say there aren’t fantastic elements in our past? So much of what we count as myth and legend actually makes sense if we add in a sorcerer or a witch. A magic set of armour or a very special sword. Okay, maybe not, but such embellishments do make for very good stories.

The story of Juba’s quest is interwoven with real events: Actium and the naval battle incited to cover Antony’s retreat. Octavian’s victory and subsequent path to Alexandria. The timeline of the novel is constrained by this history and, while I might have liked to have seen a little more magic (more fantasy), I appreciated Livingston had to work with what he had and that is the story of Caesar’s children. The novel covers the events at Actium and Octavian’s arrival in Alexandria with all the gore one might expect from an epic historical tome. There is battle and strategy, betrayal and defeat.

The more important events, however, are the risks taken by Juba, Caesarion, his half-sister Selene, the librarian responsible for their education, and centurions, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. Their inclusion is a definite nod to this being a story about the bit players of history and how a small action can elicit a rather large reaction. Tying everything together, we have Livingston’s interpretation of the Ark of the Covenant, here called the Shards of Heaven.

While history falls as it must, the younger cadre, with the help of their allies, seeks the Ark. Securing it as Alexandria falls is an adventure in itself and also where the plot takes several interesting side steps. The novel ends decisively, but there is plenty of story left to tell. With the number of Shards unknown and the actual history of Caesarion vague, Livingston has all he needs to tie the next chapter of Juba’s quest into events as they move forward.

Obviously, I’m hoping for another random package in the mail but, failing that, I’m invested enough in this story to pick up the next book myself.

Reviewed for SFCrowsnest.

Reading Challenge Update (January)

I’ve started out strongly, reading two of the books from my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list. I also linked several reviews to the 2015 Sci-Fi Experience. In fact, I read twenty-six books over all. Most of them fell into some sort of romance category, but I also read a lot of historicals.

Generally, I follow my whims when it comes to picking up the next book and I rarely read the same genre one right after the other. I often don’t pick up a sequel for months. In January I made three exceptions. I read Riptide’s Bluewater Bay series back to back, Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series one after the other, and six historical titles. Blame Bernard Cornwell. The Archer’s Tale put me in the mood!

On to the reviews. For the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, I read:

The Archer's Tale (The Grail Quest, #1)The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, I can’t imagine giving a Bernard Cornwell novel any less than five stars. I always get so caught up in his stories and characters. The way he writes the battlefield is mesmerising. Add to that the thread of his own story, the characters who live and breath as if they’re a part of history, itself, and these are the sort of books I cannot put down. This is how we should teach kids history.

Previously, I’ve read Agincourt, which I could not put down. The book consumed my weekend, much as The Archer’s Tale did. Both feature an unassuming hero who is so far from perfect, it’s a wonder they survive until the end. Both detail real battles–and when I say detail, I mean every, gory and gruesome shred. That’s what makes such good reading, though. You feel as if you’re witnessing history as it happens, that you are truly a part of the story. It’s amazing. And even if you know the outcome of a particular battle, the retelling is just as thrilling. Bernard Cornwell makes it so.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hounded by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a lot of fun. I giggled several times. The plot isn’t complicated, which is just as well as there is so much else going on. A lot of lore to catch up on and many connections to keep straight. But Atticus is an endearing and patient guide to his world. Loved Oberon and his (present) obsession with Genghis Khan.

I’m not sure I’d read on right away as Urban Fantasy is not one of my favoured genres. I tend to get lost in the mythology of such endeavours, particularly when the author cross pollinates. But I’d heard good things about this one and had decided it needed to be read.

 

What’s up next? Currently, I’m reading Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro. So far, it’s as good as I expected it to be. At some point, I’m going to catch up to the second half of the Saga of the Skolian Empire and bump into the books I’ve already read. Then I will be sad. Then I might write a fan letter to Ms. Asaro asking for more.

A note on Spherical Harmonic for fellow blogger, Carl V. Anderson, the cover art looked familiar, stylistically. I checked inside and discovered that it was, indeed, painted by John Harris. It’s a fantastic image, and I might not have recognized the artist if not for his repeated praise of Harris’ work.

For the 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, I logged five reviews:

Undercity by Catherine Asaro

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

It’s been a busy month!

Next up for my science fiction reading, I plan to participate in The Definitive 1950s SF Reading Challenge hosted by Worlds Without End. I haven’t picked my books yet. I’ll save that for another post.

Until then, happy reading!

 

Location: Imagination

Mir Diamond Mine, Mirny, Eastern Siberia.
Mir Diamond Mine, Mirny, Eastern Siberia.

I have a series of posts about Earthly locations that look quite alien. While the photographer responsible for the images I use may not have always been inspired by the same thoughts, I think there is something in all of us that responds to the “alien”. Not many of us get to travel, and so we spend our lives surrounded by the familiar. Images that expose us to the unfamiliar can elicit a variety of responses ranging from fear to wonder.

When I look at these images, I almost always imagine a location—either for a story I have read, written, or the one I have to immediately sit down and make notes for.

Continue reading “Location: Imagination”