Spinner of Lies by Bruce Cordell

Memories of his past incarnations haunt Demascus, even as he searches for stolen portraits that contain the trapped souls of demigods. Meanwhile, drow creep beneath the city of Airspur, intent on precipitating war between Akanûl and a rival nation. As Demascus attempts to win freedom from the ghost of his murdered lover, he agrees to thwart the drow’s secret scheme, sending him on a trail that stretches between the Demonweb, Airspur, and an island that appears on no map.

Spinner of Lies is the sequel to Sword of the Gods and takes place a few months after Sword of the Gods. We meet back up with the cast of the previous book, Demascus, a divine assassin known as the Sword of the Gods, Riltana, a wise cracking windsoul genasi who steals from the wealth of Airspur, and Chant Morven, a pawn shop owner with a network of informants that keep him abreast of events in the city.  There is a new addition to the group, Jaul Morven, Chant’s son.  Their relationship is not on the best of terms and this provides a great side plot to the story.  I really enjoyed group’s interactions, especially Riltana’s scathing comments to Demascus in the heat of battle.  Bruce’s crowning achievement is his characters. He is able to weave a tight story but at the same time you get to hear the character’s inner monologues describing their hopes and fears.  Things like Demascus’s fear of losing his identity, Riltana’s hopes for her estranged lover, and Chant’s worry for his son, helped draw me in and really feel a kinship with the characters. Readers of Bruce’s Abolethic Sovereignty  will be happy to see Captain Thoster, the captain of the Green Siren, again.  There is also a reference to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons module, Tomb of Horrors, that longtime players will notice.  (I really enjoyed the reference).

There are lots of things going on in Spinner of Lies.  The first is Queen Arathane’s  request for Demascus and company to discover the reason communication has stopped to a mine on a secret island that left unchecked could lead to war with Tymanther, next is Demacus’s murdered lover that has come back to haunt him, then stolen paintings that hold the souls of demigods, and finally a potential drow invasion.  That is a lot of ground to cover in just one book but Bruce takes these plots and spins them (no pun intended) into thread that reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

Central to the plot are the drow.  The drow have been a favorite race of mine since I first read R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series years back.  Why are they lurking in Airspur and who are they in league with?  Spinner of Lies  is part of Wizards of the Coast’s Rise of the Underdark, an event that will have bold, sweeping ramifications across (and under) the Forgotten Realms.

Even with multiple plots going on there is still time to focus on the main character, Demascus.  He is a divine assassin, the “Sword of the Gods”, an instrument of divine retribution.  These words are inscribed on Demascus’s sarcophagus:

“Agent of Fate, Emissary of Divine Judgement, Cuttter of Destiny’s Thread. You died as you lived, and you will live again, Demascus, Sword of the Gods.”

Yet he is still only a shadow of his former self and without his artifact, the Whorl of Ioun,  he is more human than divine agent of vengeance.  But is this necessarily a bad thing?  Demascus wants to be more human, and not a tool of the gods, to control is own destiny.  He can feel the other part of himself, the part that revels in destruction, waiting to take over, and has to fight to keep it in check.  It would be so easy to let that part take over but it would truly cost him his humanity.  There is a scene where Demascus seeks divine counsel and things do not go well.  The dialog that occurs during that scene is fantastic.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I normally do not think on how well the title of a book fits a story,  I concentrate on the characters and the story itself, but this time the title really stood out to me.  Spinner of Lies is a very apt title as it perfectly describes the parallel plot lines in the book.  I will not go into detail as to spoil it for other readers, but it was very well done.

I have been a longtime reader of Bruce’s work and he continues to write books worthy of any fantasy reader’s bookshelf, and Spinner of Lies is no exception.  I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it.

Spinner of Lies will be available in ebook on June 5, 2012 at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

This review was of an ARC from NetGalley.

Skein of Shadows by Marsheila Rockwell

Sabira is celebrating her Badge Day, when the party is interrupted by news of an important discovery in the expedition to Tarath Marad. However, the news is not all good. Tilde, sister to Sabira’s old flame, Ned, is missing. Sabira is designated as the leader of the rescue mission and sets off to meet her drow guide. But when a dragon attacks her wagons, and her guide acts as if he’s got something to hide, Sabira begins to wonder what she’s gotten herself into.

Skein of Shadows is the sequel to The Shard Axe. Set in Wizards of the Coast’s world of Eberron, it continues the tale of Sentinel Marshal Sabira Lyet d’Deneith, a.k.a “The Shard Axe”.  A name she acquired for the  dragonshard urgrosh she wields with deadly efficiency.  Skein of Shadows takes place about two months after the events of The Shard Axe.

The opening sequence of the book really sets the hook.  Marsheila completely immerses  the reader in the setting and you do not feel like a passive bystander but an active participant in the story.  I could feel the claustrophobic caverns, hear the clash of battle, and most of all, sense the mounting tension of Sabira’s task and the potential large scale repercussions it could have.

We meet up with some familiar faces from the previous book; Elix and Aggar, and some new ones, the most interesting of which is Tilde, Elix’s cousin, and also her deceased partner Ned’s sister.  Tilde and Sabira share more than just a cousin/lover, they share part of a Prophecy that could spell doom  for all of Eberron.

We get to see Sabira move out of her comfort zone a bit.  As a Sentinel Marshal she is used to working alone but this time she is in charge of a group.  The mantle of leadership weighs heavy on her as she is forced to deal with loss during the book.  It was interesting to see how much she cared for the welfare of her group, including the warforged.

I love Marsheila’s writing style.  It is descriptive, painting a vivid picture for the reader, and the prose is tight, with no wasted words.  Each and every word carries the plot forward with maximum efficiency.  No fluff or filler found here folks.   Here is an example of probably the most beautiful battle sequence I have ever read.

“Greddark’s blade flamed, casting hellish shadows as the cavern  walls echoed with the music of battle; the high, ringing tones of steel on steel melding with the lower, more brutal notes of steel on flesh.”

It is not a long sequence in terms of word count but the visual it gives the reader will stay long after the book is finished.  I not only saw the battle but I felt it.

I really like the cover art and I think it is one of the best to date because not only is it a stunning piece of artwork, but it also  captures Sabira’s mood perfectly. She looks pensive, pondering her duty, her loss, and the daunting task ahead.  I did not see the full color cover until after I read the book, but after seeing the color edition I see how well the cover really sets the tone of the book.

Skein of Shadows is The Empire Strikes Back of Eberron.  It starts with a bang and ends with a nuclear explosion.  The force of which will be felt throughout all of Eberron.  Marsheila shows that she has the chops to compete with the best fantasy authors out there and I can’t wait to read more of her work.  Whether you are a veteran of Eberron or just looking for a book you won’t want to put down, read Skein of Shadows, you won’t be disappointed.

This is the first book in the Eberron setting that is centered around the drow.  This coincides with Wizards of the Coast’s new Rise of the Underdark and the new expansion of Dungeons and Dragons Online.

Skein of Shadows will be available in ebook July 3, 2012 from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

This review was of an electronic review copy from NetGalley.

The Rose of Sarifal by Paulina Claiborne

Cloaked in mist and layered in magic, the denizens of Moonshae Isles move in secret
circles as capricious rulers vie for power.
High Lady Ordalf wanted her niece, the princess known as the Rose of Sarifal, dead. Instead, the young regent was secreted away by the high lady’s opponents. For years the eladrin queen of Gwynneth Isle has searched for evidence of her niece’s death, and word has finally come in the form of a castaway’s tale. The princess lives on the island of Moray—a mad beauty who leads a nation of lycanthropes.
As long as her niece is alive, Lady Ordalf cannot rest secure in her claim to the throne. Enlisting a band of adventurers to seek out the princess is the
first step toward stemming the Rose of Sarifal and her tide of wolves. Will those heroes see the same threat the queen sees in the beautiful young maiden?

I was anxiously awaiting the release of The Rose of Sarifal because it was set in my favorite place in the Realms, the Moonshea Isles.  The Moonshea Trilogy by Douglas Niles (Darkwalker on Moonshea, Black Wizards, and Darkwell) was the one of the first series written in the Forgotten Realms.  Longtime realms readers will recognize names and places from the previous series but will see that some things do not stand the test of time.

Ms. Claiborne gave a unique voice to the realms with The Rose of Sarifal.  It was dark and gritty, and fans of Joe Abercrombie will like this book, with bloody battles, torture, but at the same time some very heart warming and touching scenes.  The characters are not necessarily dark and flawed; many are simple on hard times and looking to make a better way for themselves.

The driving force behind the group is Lukas, the captain of the Sphinx.  All look to him as their leader and follow him (for the most part) without question.  There are a mix of races in the group; human, gnome, elven, shape-shifter, and genasi.  One of the things I like most about this diverse mix was the way they were portrayed.  Their different ideologies and mannerisms were well written into the story.  I especially liked how the genasi was portrayed in an almost alien fashion.  Another unique aspect to the book was how the leShay and the gods were treated.  The leShay are so long lived that one cannot begin to understand their actions and Ms. Claiborne works this well into the storyline.  A few times I was left scratching my head as to why one of the leShay acted in a certain manner, but after looking back through the book it made sense.  Again it added to the alien feel of the race.  The godss Chauntea and Araushnee were portrayed in a much different manner than I have seen in the past.  This was one parts of the book that did not make sense to me, but I think when taken in a Greek context, one could see that the gods are capricious and their ways are not to be understood by mortals.  Again, this was one of the parts of the story that did not work for me.  I would have liked to see their goals explained a little more clearly.

The group is separated early in the book and from there we get to know the characters better.  We discover more of their backstory and how they came to be aboard the Sphinx.  I especially liked the parts dealing with the Savage, the elf.  Long time readers of the Forgotten Realms will notice some pre-Spellplague references.  There are some excellent characterization and dialogue in these sections and which are some of the crowning achievements of the book.

Ms Claiborne’s prose is magnificent and her descriptions were quite vivid. Here is one of my favorite examples, “The drow were beautiful, elves of the black night, eladrin of the shadows.”

I was not pleased with the ending, it did not feel rushed so much as incomplete.  It was abrupt and gave no sense of closure.  I wonder if there was more of the story to tell but due to space constraints had to be left on the cutting room floor.

I enjoyed this book but I do not recommend it for readers new to the Forgotten Realms.  There is quite a bit of history (Moonshea geography, past royalty, and deities) referenced throughout the book that, in my opinion, are critical to the story.  Readers more familiar with the Forgotten Realms may enjoy the book more.  If you are looking for a different kind of Realms book, give this one a try.

Just Keep Weaving by Elaine Cunningham

Just Keep Weaving is a wonderfully eclectic collection of short  fiction from Elaine Cunningham.  The 12 stories range from Arthurian legend, to Adam’s first wife Lilith, to    a nautical ghost story.  There is something for everyone between these pages and the only difficulty that I had was choosing which one I enjoyed the most.  Many of these stories have appeared in various anthologies and Elaine’s website.

Many of the stories had a rather dark tone to them, which I really enjoy.  Elaine is able to convey many complex emotions in few words.

Here are the stories and a brief opinion of each.

Trophy Wife – Lilith, Adam’s first wife, is still plying her trade and taking her revenge on the son’s of Adam, this time as a divorce lawyer.

Ravens – I enjoyed this story because the character reminded me of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker.  Sometimes the bad in you brings out more than just the bad in others.

Dead Men Tell No Tales – This was an interesting pirate themed ghost story with a nice twist.  There was a sense of tension that built throughout the story.

Lorelei – This was one of my favorites.  A very dark tale about war, leadership, and temptation.

Knight of the Lake – The first of two Arthurian tales in this collection.  I enjoyed the crossover of Arthurian lore and the realm of Fairy and how Lancelot began his training.

Hidden Blades – The second of the Arthurian tales, told from Gwenhwyfar’s point of view and introduces the Lady of Shalott.

Burning Bright – While this story was not my favorite it had the most unique point of view, from a cat.

Jack and Jill – An interesting piece of murder mystery flash fiction that gives an interesting twist to the original nursery rhyme.

Maintenance – Another piece of flash fiction that suggests that youthful looks is not always a blessing.

Juniper – Another of my favorites primary because it deals with elves, but the elves in this story are much darker.

The Princess and the Psotnik – A psotnik is an elf or “mischief maker” in Polish folklore.  I would love to read more about the characters in this story.  I think it would make a great full length novel or at least a novella.

She Who Is Becoming – This story combines Celtic and Nordic myths and asks the question, “what do we decide, and what is decided for us”.

I highly recommend this collection, especially to readers of Elaine’s previous works.  I loved the varied themes and I want to track down the various anthologies that many of these stories were originally from.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black has a unique ability, one she would be just as happy without. Through skin-to-skin contact she can tell exactly when someone will die and in graphic detail, down to the day, hour, minute, and second.  She scavenges from the dead to fund her nomadic lifestyle, drifting from place to place, always on the fringe of society.  When a hitchhiking incident goes bad she meets Louis, a truck driver, who treats her with kindness and respect, something that she is certainly not used to.  She realizes that her situation turns even more hopeless when she touches Louis and sees that he will die in a gruesome way in 30 days while calling her name.

Blackbirds was one of the most brutal books I have read in some time.  The story is bleak and depressing, filled with piteous characters.  Miriam has been broken by her ability and pushes everyone away with venom and vitriol.  Miriam’s character is a cross between Final Destination and Neil Gaiman’s character Death, just not as nice.  She is foul mouthed and uncaring, again a product of her ability, but you can’t help but fall in love with her.  How did she develop this terrifying ability?  Will she ever be able to get rid of it?  Questions like these kept me plowing through the book.

The villains in this story are not people you can sympathize or relate with.  They are brutal and cruel, simple as that.  I can’t remember a “bad guy” that scared me as much as the one in Blackbirds.

Blackbirds is not for the feint of heart.  There is sex (and not of the intimate, romantic kind), brutal depictions of violence, and lots and lots of language, and I loved every minute of it.  Mr. Wendig takes all of these elements and weaves them into an unforgettable tale.  Miriam and company will stick with you long after you finish the book.  Blackbirds is urban fantasy at it’s gory and violent best, 5 bloody stars.

This is the first book that I have read by Chuck Wendig and was initially drawn to it by the cover.  The blackbirds flying apart speak volumes as to the destructive nature of Miriam  Black and those around her.

This review was of an eARC I received from Angry Robot books as a proud member of the Robot Army.

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

I have been a long time fan of Paul’s work since his first book from Wizards of the Coast and was fortunate enough to receive an eARC of The Hammer and The Blade from Angry Robot Books (release date June 26, 2012). I was very excited to read this one as Paul was able to bring his flair for dark, flawed characters to a world of his own creation.  The Hammer and the Blade is swords and sorcery at its best.

The book opens with Nix the Quick, a thief with some talent for magic, and Egil, a priest of the Momentary god, robbing a tomb. The duo hope this will be their last adventure and plan to buy their favorite tavern and put their adventuring days behind them.  The guardian of the tomb  they kill is part of a pact between House Thyss and House Norristru and set in motion a chain of events that are the basis for the central plot of the book.  Upon the arrival at their newly acquired tavern they are  “convinced” to recover an artifact for Rakon, the head of House Norristru.

Egil and Nix are the perfect compliment to each other, Egil is slower to act, more introspective,  but when he does speak it is usually profound.  Nix, on the other hand has a tongue as sharp as his sword and quick to act, yet has secrets he keeps from his closest friend. Their witty and sarcastic banter give the reader a clue to how deep their friendship runs and makes you wonder about the adventures these two have experienced together.

The time period in which the book takes place marks a perfect place for the series.  The stories that follow could be their previous adventures or a follow-up to this one.  I personally would like to see the former, as I would love to know how Egil and Nix met.  Paul drops a few hints about their past that wets the appetite for more.

Paul paints the characters, especially Egil and Nix,  not in black in white but shades of gray.  They are flawed and have done many things they regret and their reflections on these events, especially Nix, give greater depth to their characters.  His villains are not the standard one-dimensional bad guys, but complex and compelling characters.  Their motivations are understandable and even pitiable.  I found myself drawn in  by Rakon’s plight at the beginning of the book and then shocked by the lengths he would take to realize his goal.

I was highly entertained by this book and look forward to reading more.  The next book in the series, A Discourse in Steel, will be available in 2013.  While you are waiting for the June 26 release date you can check out Paul’s previous works.  Erevis Cale, his signature character from Wizard of the Coast’s Forgotten realms, spans six books, and several short stories.  He has also written several Star Wars books as well.

I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it.  The Hammer and the Blade is available for pre-order now.

New Fantasy Releases in March

There are lots of new books coming out this month.  Here are a few that I am excited to read.

Shadow’s Master (Shadow Saga, Book 3) by Jon Sprunk (March 17, Pyr)

The northern wastes.A land of death and Shadow where only the strongest survive. Yet that is where Caim must go to follow the mystery at the heart of his life. Armed with only his knives and his companions, he plunges into a world of eternal night where the sun is never seen and every hand is turned against him.Caim has buried his father’s sword and found some measure of peace, but deep in the north an unfathomable power lays waiting. To succeed on this mission, Caim will have to more than just survive. He must face the Shadow’s Master.

Venom in Her Veins by Tim Pratt (March 6, Wizards of the Coast)

Child of prophecy? Harbinger of Doom

Zaltys is a girl like any other to grow up ranging thejungles of the Southern Lluirwood. She’s a crack shot with a bow and no stranger to the dangers that lurk beneath the deep forest canopy.
On expedition with her family to harvest the forbidden terazul flower, a powerful drug that has gathered many a dreamer into its narcotic embrace, Zaltys is about to unearth a truth long buried by the feculent loam of deception.
As the veil is lifted on the world Zaltys thought she knew, a pathway to the Underdark promises the answers her family never gave. Venturing forth in search of truth, Zaltys finds betrayal to be a much easier quarry. But it will take more than a lode of lies to quell the venom in her veins.

The Kingdoms of Dust by Amanda Downum (March 1, Orbit)

With her master dead and her oaths foresworn, necromancer and spy Isyllt Iskaldur finds herself in exile. Hounded by assassins, she seeks asylum in Assar, the empire she so recently worked to undermine.
Warlords threaten the empire’s fragile peace, and the empress is beset by enemies within the court. Even worse, darkness stirs in the deep desert. Ancient spirits long held captive are waking – spirits that can destroy Assar faster than any army.
Accompanied by an outcast jinn, Isyllt must travel into the heart of the desert to lay the darkness there to rest once more. But her sympathies are torn between the captive spirits and the order of mages sworn to bind them. And whichever choice she makes could raze the empire to dust.

Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse by Troy Denning (March 23, Del Rey)

In the stunning finale of the epic Fate of the Jedi series, Jedi and Sith face off—with Coruscant as their battlefield. For the Sith, it’s the chance to restore their dominance over the galaxy that forgot them for so long. For Abeloth, it’s a giant step in her quest to conquer all life everywhere. For Luke Skywalker, it’s a call to arms to eradicate the Sith and their monstrous new master once and for all.
In a planetwide strike, teams of Jedi Knights take the Sith infiltrators by swift and lethal surprise. But victory against the cunning and savage Abeloth, and the terrifying endgame she has planned, is anything but certain. And as Luke, Ben, Han, Leia, Jaina, Jag, and their allies close in, the devastating truth about the dark side incarnate will be exposed—and send shock waves through the Jedi Order, the galaxy, and the Force itself.

(OK, this is not a fantasy book but I am a die-hard Star Wars fan and can’t wait to see how this series ends.)

Happy reading everyone!