Quillifer is young, serially in love, studying law, and living each day keenly aware that his beloved homeport of Ethlebight risks closure due to silting of the harbor. His concerns for the future become much more immediate when he returns from a summery assignation to find his city attacked by Aekoi pirates, leading to brigands in the streets and his family and friends in chains.
Walter Jon Williams is a legend in science fiction and fantasy, and writes pretty much the opposite of grimdark swords and sorcery, an excellent tonic when you have read too many depressing fantasy novels. That isn't to say that there aren't rogues and ambivalent characters (Quillifer himself is not exactly a standard hero), but his books are full of adventures, wit, and warmth - and Quillifer is his best book in ages, perhaps ever.
The story is set in a kingdom during quasi-Elizabethian times - there are knights and lords, but also cannon and playwrights and guilds and all of the other trappings of early modernity. There are many parallels to our own world as well, but not everything matches exactly, including the fact that the world of Quillifer had some magic in the past. The story itself is a coming-of-age story of the really likable rogue that is Quillifer - adventurer, scoundrel, and pawn of fate - as he makes his fortune in trade, wars, love,, and the court. I won't give away much, but it is always engaging, the detail level is terrific, and the language sings.
I strongly recommend this book if you like good old-fashioned swashbuckling fantasy with a slight twist. The reader becomes stronger throughout, and this is the first book of a planned series, so I am eagerly awaiting the next!
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
On the cut-throat streets of Tarkis, orphaned teens like Rath end up jailed...or dead. So when the shadowy Janus Group offers Rath a chance to earn riches beyond his wildest dreams, he seizes it. But the Janus Group is as ruthless as the elite assassins it controls. Rath will have to survive their grueling, off-world training, and fulfill all 50 kills in his contract before a single cent comes his way. And ending so many lives comes with a price Rath can't anticipate. It'll certainly cost him what's left of his innocence.
For a book with a space station on its cover, this is some of the thinnest science fiction I have read recently. If you call paper "data scrolls," airplanes "FTL travel," and drones "drones" you have the level of worldbuilding that Platt brings to the table. It is such halfhearted stuff that you wonder why the author didn't just write this as a mediocre present-day Mafia story, which is what it aspires to be.
Unfortunately, it fails there, too, because the characters are so thin and badly drawn that they barely exist. Our conflicted central character, who murders people on orders, is only conflicted because Platt makes sure to tell us he is, not because there is any sign of actual emotion or motivation in the character. There is also a grizzled cop and a beat reporter (sorry, "blogger," because we are obviously talking far, far future here), if you felt there weren't enough stock characters involved.
A few fun-ish action scenes work, but otherwise this is pretty terrible. I found myself hate-listening for awhile just to see if it would get better. It didn't.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labeled a sorcerer. With his ancestors' artifacts in hand, the sorcerer follows the captain, a beautiful man with song for a voice and hair that drinks the sunlight. The two of them are the descendants of the gods who abandoned the Earth for Heaven, and they will need all the gifts those divine ancestors left to them to keep their caravan brothers alive. The one safe road between the northern oasis and southern kingdom is stalked by a necromantic terror. Demane may have to master his wild powers and trade humanity for godhood if he is to keep his brothers and his beloved captain alive.
As someone who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, this was a fascinating and worthwhile experience. First, the Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a good story - a tale of mercenaries and caravans, mostly occurring over a single night, with some wonderful SF/Fantasy elements. Second, it is an example of how some of the new, diverse voices in science fiction can broaden the genre is new ways. This tale is very influenced by both Africa and African-American contexts, as well as exploring some gay themes. This gives the story a distinct voice that, while still conventionally swashbuckling in a fantasy way, also feels fresh and different.
Interestingly, it is not the themes that make the story challenging, but rather than language and structure. Wilson alternates between Shakespearean flourishes and street slang, and between complex science fiction talk and gutter creole. Also, the story involves flashbacks and changes of scene that can feel abrupt. However, the reader Kevin Free, a trained actor and storyteller, makes it all work - with some of the best voice work I have heard recently.
If you are are interested in something difficult and exciting in science fiction/fantasy, this is a good choice. Expect to work a bit in following along, and you will be rewarded with a unique voice.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers - and the bureaucratic finesse - to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries: the Checquy - the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural threats, and the Grafters - a centuries-old supernatural threat.
I loved the Rook, and was really excited to see that a sequel had finally been published. Unfortunately, Stiletto seems to suffer from second-novel disease, and, instead of the tightly-written Rook we get a meandering book in desperate need of an editor. It takes almost 8 hours for the main characters to meet, time that is filled with details like the types of medical tests being run on a character or the exhaustive childhood backstory of every random individuals mentioned in the text. So much is clearly unnecessary, that even with the engaging characters and great reading, the book really drags at points.
It is clear that O'Malley has become enamored with the world he has built, and wants to show us every detail. Unfortunately, it is not always a particularly coherent or interesting world - there are lots of odd tonal changes (characters see their friends slaughtered, then have witty banter) and lots of details going into explaining how aspects of the world works that still seem full of logical holes. For example, O'Malley writes at great length about how operatives are taken away from their parents who are led to believe their children are dead or missing, but the adult operatives are still allowed to keep their names and mingle with the general population, with only their birthdate changed. As a result, the attempts to explain how this fantasy setting fits into our own often seem belabored. Elements of the main plots run into similar problems, as the author really wants to justify that the two main groups of the novel REALLY hate each other, in ways that aren't always believable.
That being said there is still fun to be had. The characters are interesting, and the humor is still there, even if it leans a little too heavily on randomness (people being turned into chairs, or having the power to control stoats). The reading is also really excellently done.
I really wish this novel had been cut down by at least half, because there is a good story with fun characters, if you are willing to sit through a lot of filler.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
After stumbling upon the algorithm that turned him and his fellow merchant bankers into vampires, Alex Schwartz was drafted by The Laundry, Britain's secret counter-occult agency that's humanity's first line of defense against the forces of darkness. Dependent on his new employers for his continued existence - as Alex has no stomach for predatory bloodsucking - he has little choice but to accept his new role as an operative in training.
The last three Laundry novels have been very uneven, as Stross seems to have run out of steam with his increasingly damaged, increasingly powerful main characters. What was once a series that managed to, oddly, combine real humor with spycraft and supernatural horror had become a slog rather than a delight. I barely got through the last book.
All of that changes with the Nightmare Stacks. By switching to a new character who is essentially a relaunch of Bob, his original protagonist, Stross escapes the problems that dogged the previous books. Once again, we have geek humor (references to everything from Baldur's Gate to software licensing terms), witty banter, and dark ritual magic. There is even an amazing dinner party scene that is genuinely hilarious.
In addition to recapturing the old magic, two things make this new book stand out. First, Stross has finally let the timeline of his books move forward into Case Nightmare Green territory, as the first inklings of the end of the world reach the population at large. The result is that we are moving from spy novels to war novels - and Stross writes some amazing Tom Clancy-esque miltiary action scenes.
The second thing that makes this book a stand out is that I think it is accessible to new readers. A short Wikipedia recap of the first book is all you likely need to get up to speed. You can certainly skip Book 6 and lose very little.
Overall, this was great - well read as always, and tight and well written. I am happy that one of my favorite series has found its (dark, eldritch) magic again.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
What drug lords learned from big business. How does a budding cartel boss succeed (and survive) in the $300 billion illegal drug business? By learning from the best, of course. From creating brand value to fine-tuning customer service, the folks running cartels have been attentive students of the strategy and tactics used by corporations such as Walmart, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola.
Since Freakonomics, there have been a lot of books that use economics to explain aspects of history or society, but Narconomics is one of the best of this genre. It examines drug cartels as if they were regular companies, and looks at how they deal with issues like hiring, distribution, and marketing (who would have thought of tattoos as an employee retention strategy?). Not only is the result engaging, but it also provides one of the most illuminating discussions of drug policy I have read.
I should mention that I am not particularly interested in the topic of drugs and drug dealers (I think I am the only person who has never seen either the Wire or Breaking Bad), but Wainwright made the subject deeply engaging, not just with breezy writing, but also by traveling to the locations and offering compelling interviews and reporting. I am, however, trained in economics, and I know a number of the scholars and papers he cites. Here Wainwright deserves a lot of credit for interpreting this material accurately and with remarkable clarity. Thus, even if you aren't interested in drugs, but just interested in economics and society in general, I think this is a great listen.
If this book has a downside, it is mostly that it is a little disjointed. It is loosely organized around topics like human resource, production, and distribution, but there isn't really a narrative to pull everything together. Still, I found myself listening for long stretches and found a lot of compelling concepts and arguments that were new to me. Wainwright is also very clear-eyed about the topic, dealing even evenhandedly with hot-button issues such as legalization and US policy in Latin America.
59 of 60 people found this review helpful
From the best-selling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette - the one Frenchman we could all agree on - and an insightful portrait of a nation's idealism and its reality. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with instrumental Americans of the time.
I like Sarah Vowell's style. And, before you buy this audiobook, you should make sure that you like Sarah Vowell's style too- her storytelling approach and voice are very distinctive, and even a short sample of the audiobook should be enough to tell you whether it could work for you, or whether it will drive you crazy. So, listen before you go any further.
Even assuming that you are okay with The Voice, this book is a bit odd. Sarah writes with humor, but has an obvious non-ironic love for American history. At the same time, she has gotten a variety of her famous friends to provide voices for the frequent (and frequently jarring) quotes, and many of them seem to read their lines dramatically or with such terrible fake accents that it seems counter to the story being told (though, unsurprisingly, Nick Offerman is an awesome George Washington). So there are some weird tonal choices as a result.
Sarah Vowell picks unusual stories to tell, and I really appreciated the tale of Lafayette. I had come to the book fresh off an American Revolutionary history kick (inspired by the musical Hamilton, and the book John Adams), but still learned a lot. At the same time, the focus of the story is weirdly elusive. For most of the book, it is focused on Lafayette, framed by his triumphal return to the US at the end of his life. However, that frame is never explored, and, instead, we mostly get an interesting story of the trials and tribulations of George Washington (with Lafayette as sidekick) from 1777-1778 and 1781-82. It is a bit weird that Lafayette's role in the French Revolution, or his entire later life, gets short shrift. Similarly, the end of the book switches from history to essay on freedom, which is again interesting, but it seems like an abrupt transition, as does a long digression about Quakers.
I really enjoyed the book overall, however, but it is an odd hybrid of memoir, history book, travelogue, and essay. I am used to this from Vowell, but be prepared for something different if it is your first experience.
22 of 23 people found this review helpful
With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised listeners with a New York Times best-selling spinoff of his Mistborn audiobooks, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America. The trilogy's heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary lord of House Ladrian.
I enjoy Sanderson's work, but have repeatedly been a bit perplexed by the many parallels between the various novels and series that he writes - the magic systems, religions, and plots in books ranging from Mistborn to Elantris to the Stormlight Archive share many common aspects. For those who don't know, it is because most of Sanderson's books share a common universe, the "Cosmere" consisting of a variety of planets and a complex narrative of gods and powers. With each novel, he draws a little more of the universe and the overarching mega-plot that will apparently take 10+ more books to resolve.
Why tell you all this? Because Shadows of Self is the first Sanderson book that I felt required understanding a bit about the Cosmere, and the various powers at work in its complex multiple worlds. It isn't that it is a weak story - I really enjoyed it, and Sanderson can write like nobody's business (though he continues to be pretty squeamish about anything having to do with sex). Rather, many of the key twists were more interesting in the context of the overall universe than in the series itself. You don't need to immerse yourself in the various Wikis and articles on the Cosmere universe, but it does help in parsing an increasingly complex magic system and history.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed Shadows of Self, especially the absolutely terrific banter between the main characters. Even if you don't look at the wider universe, you will still be able to enjoy the adventure.
13 of 15 people found this review helpful
Chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III as he tries to pass the important initiation test of his Viking clan, the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, by catching and training a dragon.
Consider this to be a review of the series, and not just this book. Though the book is good, the series gets stronger and stronger (and a bit darker) as it moves along:
I listened to this series with two children (6 and 9), and we all really enjoyed it. David Tennant (!!) is a stunning reader, though the accents can be a little challenging at times, and there is occasionally some sound effects or music as well. Cressida Cowell can write as well - mixed in with the typical elements of middle school adventures (incompetent adults, dumb bullies, heroic kids who don't fit in) and humor are some beautiful turns of phrase and even some real melancholy, especially in the epilogues. You miss the illustrations in the book, but it is more than made up for by the reading.
This is a total winner for adults and kids. There is lots of action, a bit of potty humor, some sly phrasing that appeals to adults (Hiccup's mother is "Valhallarama of the White Arms and Chunky Thighs"), and some violence that is occasionally just shy of too graphic/scary for an elementary schooler. In short, an excellent series when your kids are not quite ready for Harry Potter, but you can't read another Magic Treehouse or Rainbow Fairies without screaming.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Mo's latest assignment is assisting the police in containing an unusual outbreak: ordinary citizens suddenly imbued with extraordinary abilities of the superpowered kind. Unfortunately these people prefer playing superpranks instead of superheroics. The mayor of London being levitated by a dumpy man in Trafalgar Square would normally be a source of shared amusement for Mo and Bob, but they're currently separated because something's come between them - something evil.
I am a huge Stross, and Laundry, fan, but this is the weakest entry in the series so far. I really appreciate what Stross is trying to do - introduce us to a different viewpoint, make a middle age female character the hero, and start giving us a more well-rounded view of the relationships in the book. Unfortunately, none of it really works as well as I hoped, though the reading is excellent. Mainly this is because the book seems to constantly focus on the least interesting aspects of its plot and characters.
Major things are happening in the Laundry universe, and we are missing them as listeners. For example, if the rest of the series was about hiding the terrible truth of Case Nightmare Green from the world, this book features a sudden switch where everyone is suddenly aware that supernatural stuff is happening, yet we see nothing of the implications of this. As another example, Stross introduces his own twist on superheroes, but then never does anything very interesting with it. Or the fact that the tension between Mo's violin and her love for Bob should be a big issue, but it never really feels motivated. Even the major overarching plot seems mostly to focus on minutiae (like setting up desks in an office), while giant events happen elsewhere.
It was the least satisfying Laundry book, and is a lot grimmer than previous novels. Overall, I think it is probably skippable, though I am still looking forward to the next in the series.
23 of 23 people found this review helpful