Book Review – Darien-by C F Iggulden – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE.

WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king.

It will summon strangers to the city – Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt – and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all. Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made – and lost – in Darien.

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

In the preface to the novel, the author gives his thanks to those writers of fantasy that have influenced his own writing. I was not surprised to find the names of Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb amongst those mentioned as they are such huge names in the fantasy genre, (there are many others as well, but I've not read them all). As such, I was keen to begin reading the author's first foray into fantasy, expecting great things from such a well-regarded author, if one I've often struggled to appreciate as much as everyone else, finding his style to be a little too cold in regard to his historical characters. This novel certainly feels much warmer towards the various main characters and this is one of its strengths. This warmth makes the storyline much easier to read (I've often been left wondering why he even bothered to write about some of the characters he's chosen in the past- when it seems he had neither passion or regard for them).

Yet for all that, this novel is not astounding or jaw dropping as a Mark Lawrence and Robin Hobb book would be, with their pitch perfect characterizations and world building. It is a reasonably well-crafted novel, although little but character development seems to happen for the first 50% of the novel, and from then on, some of it seems a little rushed. I was also a bit, well peeved, to find a whole new character being introduced at about 80%. I always think this smacks a little too much of desperation (a bit like a who done it when the author brings in a new character as the actual perpetrator even though we've never heard of them before). It is a fairly run of the mill fantasy - the story is enjoyable without being astounding; the magic abilities of some of the characters are interesting; the baddies are bad, the goodies are good and there are a few in-between who we don't ever learn enough about to say one way or another - they are filler for the rest of the story.

I also found some of the author's naming conventions to be annoying - Tellius, Nancy, Daw, Arthur, Lady Sallet - too much of a mix with no firm basis for why these names are relevant  -poor Nancy should have had a much exotic name (although without any X's or Z's in it).

Yet, for all that, this is without doubt, the most enjoyable novel I've yet read by this author. I'm sure that his fans will very much enjoy it, and if it opens their eyes to the wonderful worlds of Robin Hobb and Mark Lawrence, then this should be seen as a plus. Sometimes it takes a popular author to jump genre to find that new genre new fans. 

If there's a second book would I read it? At the moment, I don't know. The novel would need to be about something a little different - I like my fantasy to be bold and new - always a little different and not regurgitating the same old stories (I might be in the minority here) - and as such, this novel is a little too mundane for me. There is nothing new on offer in this fantasy series - but, as I said, this might be just what some people are looking for.

Darien is released on 13th July 2017, and is available from here,

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Highly recommended ) fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

It’s not until you’re broken that you find your sharpest edge

A brilliant new series from the bestselling author of PRINCE OF THORNS.

“I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin”

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.”

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is a stunning book – I can’t deny that – initially I wanted to hold with a four star review but I’ve changed it to a five star because it is that good, and while I have reservations about it from my view point of a fan of his two previous trilogies (completely unrelated to this book – although the previous two are related to each other (remember that when you finish reading this book)), that’s hardly the fault of this book.

Where to begin – Mark Lawrence never starts a book with endless world building – neither does he stick it down your throat about two or three chapters in – in fact he is elusive to it being almost frustrating about the visions he has in his head. This is a compliment. World building – so beloved of all fantasy authors (so it seems) often gives me a bit of a headache because it is so tediously done. Honestly, I’m not that interested in how magic systems work/religious sects organise themselves – if the story works and its believable then I’m happy. (Lawrence does provide a detailed explanation of all of this at the very beginning – but it’s not part of the text of the story and because I love surprises, I didn’t read it and still haven’t, it made me think he finds world building in the main text as tedious as I do and decided to get it over and done with in one foul-swoop).

In Red Sister, Lawrence has envisaged something new, and also, eminently relatable. This is frustrating – when he does ‘new’ it’s great but sometimes he falls back onto more conventional fantasy ideas and sometimes I want to beat him for being a little bit lazy, almost as though it’s all been a bit too much and he’s had to incorporate something into the text that is easy, and already ‘known’ by those who read fantasy. As such there are painful parts of the text which are too much like Harry Potter ( a lot too much like Harry Potter), and there are brilliant parts where his four ‘races’ – so different to elves, dwarves, orcs and dragons – speak for a level of imagination that few others can employ. The ending – so shocking to many in other reviews – was signposted a little along the way if you just looked – and the narrative – while brilliantly done – does tend to dwell on the day to day life of little more than a child at school.

There are flashes of that old Lawrence from his first two trilogies – the witty speech of Jalan and his self-obsessed nature – and the brutality of Jorg – but they are only flashes and I think that other fans of his work will be left feeling the same way I do – not hard done by – but surprised – like, constantly surprised – that he could have changed his style so much. I have hopes that Nona might become as foul mouthed as his first two main characters – but she’s at a convent so I might be reaching a little too far.

This story will, however, win Lawrence a whole host of new fans – I don’t know where they’ll go from Red Sister, apart from onto the sequels, because I’m not totally convinced that they will appreciate Jorg and Jalan. Neither am I trying to imply that Lawrence has sold out for a bigger audience – the book is still brilliant – it is worth a read – it’s an easy book to like and an even easier book to read – but, well … just but really. It’s weird to feel the way I do after a five star book – I think that really I was hoping for a little ‘more’ perhaps a book worthy of a 6/5!!

And you can buy it from April 6th here –