I consider myself more of a Cannonball “book idea getter” and “occasional commenter” than a “book reviewer” but this summer was stuffed with so many excellent fantasy books that I had to make an exception.
Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson (first of his name) came out with book two of The Stormlight Archive this summer. If it’s not clear, you should definitely start with book #1 (The Way of Kings), not because you couldn’t comfortably jump in with book #2, but because you would be missing out on the good time that is book #1.
Words of Radiance is approximately the size and weight of a small child, a fact that may turn some people off. However I would suggest you consider this a benefit, because the book is so fantastic that at no point will you wish for it to end.
It takes place largely on the Shattered Plains, a desolate spot removed from civilization that is routinely lashed by devastating storms. The worldbuilding here is as original as it is immersive. This is not your basic feudal castle/knight fantasy, but one that takes place in a world so rich I can’t possibly hope to do it justice here.
The Alethi and Parashendi battle on the rocky canyons of the plains for sport and survival while mysterious powers that threaten the future of all gather around them. But the focus of this book is Shallan, a brilliant yet troubled young noble woman who finds her way to the Shattered Plains with a complex agenda: redeem her family, avenge her mentor, and somehow prevent the end of all civilization. Her journey brings her to Kaladin, the slave who has risen to command the royal bodyguards and may well be the first coming of the Knights of Radiance. (And yes I’m totally shipping them, don’t judge me.)
The Stormlight Archive series deserves all the accolades it’s gotten, because it’s fantastic.
Prince of Fools
The Prince of Fools is the first book by Mark Lawrence that doesn’t feature the delightfully dark protagonist Jorg, although it’s set in the same world (a post-apocalyptic feudal/magic fantasy landscape) . Prince of Fools focuses on Prince Jalan, a cleverly self-aware coward who stands tenth in line to the throne.
“I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play, or bravery.” – Jalan
He’s happily gambling, womanizing, and cheating his life away until an unforseen mishap links him magically to a powerful Viking warrior, Snorri. He is a hulking Viking brute to Jalan’s sleek, sheltered princeliness. Snorri kills, but he kills with a purpose. The two head off on a quest for vengeance and redemption.
Also despite the misleading cover, this book has absolutely nothing to do with Karl Urban.
Mark Lawrence writes fully realized characters and entirely unpredictable yet gripping plots. Some may have critizied his earlier work as “too gritty” or “bleak” but I promise you that Prince of Fools is a satisfying combination of grit and humor. Jalan is a capable coward who uses his cowardly skills to great comedic effect. Mark Lawrence might just be the most exciting author in fantasy although…
Half a King
Joe Abercrombie is giving him a good fight for the title. His latest book, Half a King (nicely reviewed by Narfna) is more accessible and less bloody then his fabulous books like The Blade Itself or Red Country.
Half a King tells the story of Yarvi, a young prince whose small stature and disabled hand have set him on a course of intellectual study, until unforeseen events make him the King. Only Yarvi’s journey to the throne is fraught with betrayal, the brutality of a slave ship, unexpected allies, and surprisingly, emotional growth. So many fantasy novels feature a young hapless hero who goes on a quest which results in the acquisition of powerful weapons, new skills, a band of allies, so he can return triumphant to the throne while winning the hand of the lady fair. Instead Abercrombie tosses that storyline on the heap of “been there done that” and crafts a unique, authentic, and fully-realized hero in Yarvi whose journey is never what you would expect.
Magic Breaks is the 7th Kate Daniels book in a fantastic series by Ilona Andrews. If you aren’t already reading the Kate Daniels series please rectify that by starting immediately with book #2 Magic Burns (yes I’m suggesting you skip #1). Kate Daniels lives in an alt-universe version of Atlanta which has suffered a magic apocalypse. Magic comes and goes in waves, and as a result, civilization is a ruin and the city is full of dangerous and wonderful magical creatures. Kate is now Consort of the Pack, a powerful community of shifters headed by her partner, his furriness, Curran. Although not a traditional romance, Kate and Curran have delightful chemistry, however Curran is absent for almost the entirety of Magic Breaks. Instead Kate is thrust into detective mode after one of the Masters of the Dead shows up dead and all evidence suggests the guilty party is one a shifter and Kate has as limited time to find out what happened and prevent a war.
Magic Breaks is a fun and exciting urban fantasy that should appeal even to those (like me) who typically are not fans of urban fantasy. It features one of the best “big bads” of the series Hugh d’Ambray which is always satisfying. And the ending sets up a future that focuses more on Kate and Curran, and less on the pack (I love these books but felt they were getting a bit too bogged down in pack politics). Ilona Andrews have definitely earned their spot on the “must buy” list.
The Broken Eye
The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks is book #3 in the Black Prism series. Like Sanderson, Weeks has created an utterly original world where the magic system is based on “drafters” who can create things out of various colors of luxin (different colors have different properties). But even as drafters change the world with their luxin creations, the luxin changes them, both physically and emotionally. Drafting comes at a cost, as the luxin builds up in your system to the point where you turn into a Color Wight, essentially going mad.
The first two (The Black Prism, The Blinding Knife) were exceptionally strong, combining clever pretzel-knot plots around a compelling cast of characters with the emphasis on Gavin, an exceptionally powerful drafter with a complex past. The stories had a darkly Whedonesque bent, complex plots, original stories, flawed yet charismatic characters, and a smattering of angsty romantic themes. But everything hinged on Gavin: he was the riveting and complicated linchpin of the stories.
And The Broken Eye, while still strong, suffers in his absence. Gaven is missing from almost the entire book and when he does emerge, he’s almost like an entirely different character: broken and missing all of the mischievous charisma that made him so memorable in the first two books. As such it could be said that The Broken Eye suffers from “middle book syndrome” where the actors are moved around the board but little forward momentum is made.
I, however, refuse to say that due to my unwavering loyalty to Brent Weeks. Let it suffice to say that he remains solidly on my “must buy” list and I’m excited for the next release in the Black Prism series.