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Tim Ward has commented on (7) products.

Bloodsounder's ARC #02: Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards
Bloodsounder's ARC #02: Veil of the Deserters

Tim Ward, June 6, 2014

Veil of the Deserters has made Jeff Salyards’ Bloodsounder’s Arc one of the best Fantasy series out there. As the story has progressed, I’ve become more impressed with his gifts and convinced that anyone who enjoys Fantasy needs to treat themselves with Jeff’s books.

The story is about an archivist who has nothing and no one but his skills in writing and translation. He is lonely and unsure where he fits in this grim world��"a sentiment I share strongly, and enjoyed experiencing with him. A band of gruff soldiers hire him to record their upcoming adventure, which grows more dangerous and interesting in escalating levels of awesome. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but if you haven’t read any of these books, maybe check out my review of the first book, Scourge of the Betrayer. The bonus of reading this review is I get to show you some spoiler free goodies that you’d have to look forward to.

I mentioned Jeff having multiple gifts. Each one makes him stand out among the best writers out there. In a story that is about ninety percent grim, Jeff’s superb talent for humorous dialogue really helps to keep you from feeling fatigued at all the tough things that happen. The characters surprise you with what they say, evoking the need to keep reading for more nuggets of wit and strategic plotting. All of his characters are smart and either worthy adversaries or allies, and with the POV of Arki the archivist, it was nice to see him earning his place among their company, as friend and foe.

On top of the dialogue are his action scenes that are never easily won, and always among the most exciting I’ve read. As Arki grows more comfortable with the band of soldiers through the dialogue they share, he also grows a little more comfortable wielding his crossbow. He is no marksman by the end, but when he does have to use his weapon, it has the effect of strong tension and excitement.

A theme that develops in this book in relation to its illustration of war is that whenever Arki or someone displays mercy, it ends up costing them tenfold. Add to this how well the end conflict wraps together all the development of worldbuilding and characters moving their pieces across the chessboard, and you have a concise, in-depth story. What else can I say about the worldbuilding and characters without spoiling anything? Or how about sharing some samples from the text? I’m going to refrain because they are so good in their context and execution that to share further or to give examples would ruin the experience. I stake my reputation as a reviewer on the solid and often exceptional quality of these books.

When it comes to star ratings for books, I’m afraid this one is not quite a five star for me, as highly as I still recommend it. 4.5 is the most accurate, with the first one being a solid 4. So there is improvement, in pacing, character development, worldbuilding, and a clearer plot, but I’m afraid as a whole it isn’t among my top tier of books. It is setting the stage for the next one to likely land in that category, but this one rang more true to the sense of “very good” than evoking a “wow,” response. There are parts that I wish read a little quicker and I’m hoping for the best plot twists, character empathy moments and worldbuilding revelations to amp up some more. Still, that’s being quite picky. As I said at the beginning, I think this is a must-read for Fantasy fans.

Reviewed at Adventures in SciFi Publishing
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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
Range of Ghosts

Tim Ward, April 30, 2014

I have heard for years that Elizabeth Bear is a rare talent, and I wish I hadn’t waited this long to read her. Her ability to mesmerize me with her prose reminds me of Mercedes Yardley, but with her own flair. I highlighted many passages from Range of Ghosts, but I’ll start with the first paragraph:


Ragged vultures spiraled up a cherry sky. Their sooty wings so thick against the sunset could have been the column of ash from a volcano, the pall of smoke from a tremendous fire. Except the fire was a day’s hard ride east��"away over the flats of the steppe, a broad smudge fading into blue twilight as the sun descended in the west.


In a recent podcast with Elizabeth, she said that that first line just came to her and then she had to build the world and story from there. Range of Ghosts was a rare treat in fascination as I read line after line of worldbuilding and scenery that made me think, this is the kind of Fantasy world I want to discover. In the past few years, Michael J. Sullivan has been my only real Fantasy author I’ve been able to read. I struggle with the complexity of nations, factions, casts of characters and how they all must be memorized in order to follow the plot. Both Elizabeth and Michael excel at keeping me engaged and reminding me who is who so that I can follow along leisurely.

One way that Elizabeth kept me from feeling overwhelmed was that she grounded me immediately in her main character, Temur. She paints a realistic setting for him in the wake of a losing battle, but only so far as it supplements his feelings as a warrior without a clan. You sympathize with him in his sorrow that his battle was against cousins, where there can be no victory.


“Perhaps he was a ghost,”


she wrote, and you feel him in his cold sorrow, identifying what it must feel like to have your world flipped upside down, a wound to his neck that should have killed him, and being alive without any clear purpose. In our podcast, Elizabeth talked about how his journey is atypical of most Fantasy heroes. He isn’t necessarily in need of overcoming a character flaw as much as he needs to adapt to a new life. Range of Ghosts is the story of him finding allies within people of different cultures and powers and discovering the people behind a war that has just begun.

Yet, even her antagonists have a degree of sympathy:


It was a sad truth, Shahruz reflected, that the nature of war was such that not everyone could survive it.


I’ve seen a reviewer comment, “How can you not fall in love with a hero who names his horse, Dumpling?” The way he treats this horse and their camaraderie built through their common will to survive is a great picture of why we grow to root for Temur. He moves on from this new friendship to meet a girl, Edene, from a small tribe who is willing to befriend him even though he has no name to give her. Elizabeth’s scenes are subtle, but effective in building sympathy for these characters. Without ruining what happens, I read with eager anticipation to see how their lives would turn out. Elizabeth does a fine job dangling this carrot far enough away to promise an epic and realistically romantic adventure before we’re satisfied.

I’ve yet to mention another of our heroines, the female wizard, Samarkar, whom Elizabeth describes best in this intro:


When she woke��"if she woke��"she would no longer be the Once-Princess Samarkar. She would be the wizard Samarkar, and her training would begin in truth.
She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength. Real strength, her own. Not the mirror-caught power her father, his widow, her half brothers, or her dead husband might have happened to shine her way.
It seemed a small sacrifice.


All of the women in Range of Ghosts exhibit a unique display of power, which also endears us to them, their sacrifices and their journey.

In this story of strong female characters, we also have a wonderfully unique and hard-to-swallow magic system where women suffer for males to gain strength. There is a scene on page twenty that must be shown to evoke the true power it represents, both in Elizabeth’s worldbuilding skills and in the stakes through which this world and power will be won:


Twin girls no older than his youngest daughter lay on the table before him, bound face to face, their throats slit with one blow. It was their blood that flowed down the gutter in the table to fall across his hands and over the sawn halves of a quartz geode he cupped together, reddening them even more than the sun reddened his sand-colored robes.
He stayed there, hands outstretched, trembling slightly with the effort of a strenuous pose, until the blood dripped to a halt. He straightened with the stiffness of a man who feels his years in his knees and spine, and with sure hands broke the geode apart. Strings of half-clotted blood stretched between its parts.
[Al-Sepehr] was not alone… (ellipses mine)
Shahruz drew a naked hand from his sleeve and accepted the gory thing with no evidence of squeamishness. It was not yet dry. “How long will it last?”
“A little while,” he said. “Perhaps ten uses. Perhaps fifteen. It all depends on the strength of the vessels.” The girls, their bodies too warmed by the stone and the sun to be cooling yet. “When you use it, remember what was sacrificed.”


In this world, and branch of magic system, women sleep so that men like Shahruz may absorb their restfulness; women like the twins described above are killed so that stones may be used for communication, with the duration of usefulness tied to the strength of the vessels. The ramifications of this type of magic system on culture is just one example of how this world bleeds with creativity.

I only have one aspect of Range of Ghosts that I did not enjoy as much as the rest of its parts, and that is the section between the halfway point and about ninety percent, where the traveling from one place to the next did not interest me on a scene by scene basis as did the first half of the book. It felt like pieces on a chessboard shuffling around in anticipation of a greater battle to come, which is understandable, but I have to admit that I wanted to enjoy that section more than I did. It could be that I missed some aspects of tension, but that was my experience. I mentioned above that her scenes are subtle, so maybe I didn’t read carefully enough as I eagerly read toward the climax. The last ten percent had a magical, dragon-fighting battle that really excited me for battles to come. I left this book wanting more, but also hoping that the traveling type scenes will be more engaging as the story unfolds.
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Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon
Coldbrook

Tim Ward, April 20, 2014

Reviewed at Adventures in SciFi Publishing:

Seeing my enthusiasm for this book’s kickbutt ending, a friend teased me: “you and your zombies.” Yes, I still love zombies, but the more I read them the more I need the story and characters to stand out and excel. Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon suits every tastebud of my zombie fettish, even sprinkling on a little bit of multi-dimensional warfare into its apocalyptic plate. Do you remember when the TV show Fringe expanded its horizon by opening up the multi-dimension possibilities? Coldbrook adds this epic element right up front and keeps you guessing about how everything will wrap up straight to the very last bite.

Coldbrook is a very solid story. The beginning threw me a little as I tried to make sense of the point of view character and his lucid dreams about zombies and people dying. It may have taken about 10 percent in before I was sure I’d keep reading, but even that first ten percent was not too bad to read. It laid a foundation for character interaction and the suspense of their first voyage across dimensions, but as happened at times during the story, I sometimes lacked an urgency to keep reading. If there is one complaint about this book, it’s that it didn’t make me want to read it faster. The last few percent I read at a joyously fast pace, but I wanted the story to be like that from start to finish.

I don’t know why there were moments when I could put the book down. The action is well-written and fast-paced and the characters made me care about what was happening. He has a nice touch on providing images that made this story often scary. In a market flooded by zombie stories, he gave me something I hadn’t seen before. The virus produces fast zombies who add a pack mentality to their hunt. Okay, seen that before, but their place in the story’s thrills remains fresh through the end, probably because of the character stories I had to see finished.

Lebbon’s characters are sympathetic and tragic. Thank you, Tim, for giving me a zombie story with characters to care for.

Vic, one of the scientists at Coldbrook facility, had cut off his affair with another scientist, Holly, the day he found out his wife, Lucy, was pregnant. The problem is, he still loves both women. Once the outbreak happens, he leaves his duties at Coldbrook to save his family. He is a man of guilt because of his affair and the ramifications of his leaving Coldbrook, but he needs to save his family, and that builds a strong desire to see him succeed. You worry about his wife finding out about his affair because you want them to be a happy family, but this story is dark, so you fear the looming tragedy.

Jonah is the head guy at Coldbrook, and in his mid seventies, he provides a different kind of hero for our story. He is a sad man, having lost his wife years ago, and yet he is a brilliant explorer, interested in seeing what the multiple dimensions have to offer.

Introduced about a quarter into the story is a young woman, Jayne, who has a rare disease that debilitates her muscles. She has a loving relationship with her husband that makes them easily sympathetic. Her and the rest of the cast, and even minor characters, all met my interest level to make them memorable and worth reading.

I don’t want to go too much more into the plot other than to say that I was very impressed with the surprise twists he took all the way to the end. Part Two has a terrific ending and it keeps getting better, with me still not knowing what would happen high into the ninety eight percent marker.

Tim Lebbon is an author I will follow gladly after his superb accomplishment in Coldbrook. I love zombie apocalypses and was pleasantly surprised at Lebbon’s twists and emotionally impacting story that used the multi-dimension angle very well.
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Apocalypse Z #02: Dark Days by Manel Loureiro
Apocalypse Z #02: Dark Days

Tim Ward, April 20, 2014

Reviewed on Adventures in SciFi Publishing:

Two zombie books in a row, I know. Blame the narrator, Nick Podehl, whose gift for giving voice to suspense could keep me glued to the Golf Channel. It turns out my fandom is not alone, Nick has won multiple Earphones Award, Best Voices of the Year awards. Add to this The Walking Dead’s season finale leaving a void in my zombie adventures and this story was ripe to be enjoyed.

Dark Days (Apocalypse Z) by Manel Loureiro is a tough one to rate because the start to finish experience was better than the first book, Apocalypse Z, in terms of character development, pacing and the narrator got even better with the larger cast of voices. My main problem with this, and the reason for 3 stars instead of 4, is that the conflicts didn’t peak high enough and the ending fell flat.

It starts off with a summary of how the world has succumbed to the zombie apocalypse in a way that could allow you to start the series here instead of with Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End. It is a succinct summary, shorter by far than the previous book’s version, which was good, because we got into the actual story sooner.

Our characters have flown a helicopter to an island that is torn between two political factions, has corrupt guards with nasty secrets, and our two guy heroes from the previous book are tasked with taking another helicopter run out to get supplies. Their adventure ended up being just okay, and I think it was supposed to be the main draw to this book. Loureiro changes his style here to include the teenage girl, Lucita’s, pov, whom we met in the previous book near the end. Loureiro even gets into some zombies’ povs, which was insightful and cool. He did a good job in expanding in this edition; the new povs added depth to the cast in ways that answered my complaint about the previous book needing more than just our sole narrator as an engagement character.

The biggest problem with this book was the plot was essentially: guys go get stuff, fight for your lives to get back and watch out for the humans, too; and girls, don’t die before they come back. When the end happened, I thought, hmm, is that it? And not in a good way. He leaves us at a cliffhanger and most of the conflict that seemed to have been built up on a political level may not follow through to the next book, so, again, I’m wondering what purpose this edition served.

I’m on board for the next book, though. The narrator is one of my favorites. Without him, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book. He just does such a great job adding suspense to the narrative and creating unique voices that sound very real. Good thing we only have a month or so until the next book, Apocalipsis Z: La ira de los justos (The Wrath of the Just), comes out May 6. That third installment will also be translated from Spanish into English by Pamela Carmell.
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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Grasshopper Jungle

Tim Ward, February 10, 2014

Wow, that was fun. This unsuspecting title by an author I’d never heard of about a mantis-apocalypse hitting small town Iowa stole my interest from beginning to end. Grasshopper Jungle is the funniest book I’ve ever read. It also portrays the best friendship I’ve ever read. The narrator, Austin, is complex, unwilling to look at the world the way society wants him to, and plays the perfect part of historian, recording two events that alone could make great books, but which together fit perfectly into a story that blends the horror of an apocalypse with the emotional turmoil of a 16-year-old in love with both of his best friends.

Austin’s observational nature takes the narrative from first person to a god’s eye view with ease. While the recording of his and the people of his town’s genealogy can rabbit trail, they often end in a hilarious joke or a profound experience which fits an underlying message about humanity that I’m still trying to get a grip on. The book discusses how bugs do only two things, eat and procreate, and a question subtly posed throughout is whether humans are any different. Austin is a horny, selfish teenager, fighting himself to become more than just a bug. The open exploration of his sexuality may not appeal to everyone, but I found his honesty fascinating.

That’s the thing I loved most about Grasshopper Jungle, Austin’s honest, eye-opening experience. One of his best friends, Robby, is an open homosexual. I loved how Austin loved his friend regardless. Their friendship was beautiful in this way. Austin struggles with his feelings about Robby, especially because he loves his girlfriend just as much. This conflict and how he has no one to talk to about his confusion is the center and most interesting aspect of this story.

The six-foot-tall mantises roaming around killing people plays a strong secondary plot and the author does a fantastic job recognizing this aspect as secondary. Their takeover and the mystery behind how Austin and Robby will try to stop them is exciting and horrific, but is summarized well enough to show us the danger without taking us from the central narrative of what Austin will do to keep his two best friends.

Grasshopper Jungle has made me a big fan of Andrew Smith. His narrative is so easy to read. The humor, emotion and adventure all work so well together to making this book one I couldn’t put down. His story telling style is unlike anything I’ve read, with its heart-bleeding honesty and ease of blending story with humor. As soon as I finished Grasshopper Jungle, I picked up his darker tale, The Marbury Lens. I look forward to catching up on all of his books.
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