Archive for January, 2014

In Spain we have a saying: “at the third try you will succeed”. But if the first and the second try have already been huge successes, what do we say? When it comes to applying this saying to Mark Lawrence, author of the delightful Broken Empire trilogy I believe that it should be changed to “at the third try you shall get a result that will blow the readers’ minds”.

eot

Strong points: The characters, the setting, the development of the story

Weak points: it contradicts some small details given in prince of thorns

Emperor of Thorns is the final chapter of the Broken Empire, a trilogy that tells us the story of Jorg Ancrath and his quest for power whatever it may cost. In this third installment Jorg, now a father-in-waiting, must attend Congression, a meeting between the rulers of the Broken Empire that occurs every four years and which objective it’s to try to designate a new emperor. While this happens other powers are preparing their hands for the final stage of the game: the power of the Dead King is growing and his armies are laying waste to the continent; the data ghosts created by the Builders war among themselves, divided before the question of what to do with humanity; The church of the White Christ sends its assassins to carry out their dark deeds, seeking revenge for bishop Murillo’s fate and the Mathmagicians seek the future in their numbers, their influence in Ibn Fayed’s court rising.

From the first book Mark Lawrence has been able to demonstrate time and again his amazing skill when it comes to creating and developing his characters, and Emperor of Thorns is not exception to the rule. From the newly introduced characters to those we already know and (may) love since Prince of Thorns, all of them are masterfully created, showing us a complex and deep behavior that will make the reader feel as if they were reading about real people, with their faults and their qualities. Their actions and their feelings don’t seem imposed by the author; instead it feels as if they really came from within the character. Jorg may not be as evil as he was in Prince of Thorns, but he stills being the charming murderous bastard I know and love and the changes of his conduct are the result of a careful evolution that has been taking place from the first pages of the first book until Emperor of Thorns. Some scenes, such as the one when he is trying to find his cousin among the Gildean Guard, are simply a treat to read, giving us a glimpse of how complex this character has become. Other secondary characters, such as Miana, Makin, Red Kent, Rike or Chella are further developed in this novel, making them surprising and difficult to predict, some of them, such as Rike, bring us really surprising moments that, only by themselves, would have made a book worth reading.

I felt in love with the setting and its subtlety from the first moment I started reading this series. Though it is never completely explained how this society came to be, the book is full with hints that allow the readers to come to the conclusion by themselves. Now, in Emperor of Thorns, this setting is expanded even further than King of Thorns, taking us to the poisoned land of Iberico, the deserts of Liba or the capital city of Vyene, all of them described in their unique ways, managing to create different cultures and architectural styles with such a completion that it will remind readers to Steven Erikson´s own creations. Mark Lawrence has created a complex and complete world and will leave the reader thirsting for more adventures in this amazing society that the author has managed to create.

Finally, the story has followed a constant and well-built development from the beginning of the series to its end; it is amazing how scenes that I didn’t give much importance in the first or second books become important for the plot in the third book, such as Justice’s torture in King of Thorns. The constant evolution of the general plot is fluid and makes sense; as with the characters, this time the events of the book don’t feel forced by the author in an attempt to create drama, which was my main complain about some small happenings in King of Thorns. The building of the climax and the ending twists are truly amazing, forcing the reader to stand on his or her guard, never knowing where the next surprise may come from.

Mark Lawrence continues with the style he already used in the second book of the series, using two timelines and a second person’s point of view to complete the information the reader gets about the story. The point of view of Jorg is divided between the present and five years in the past, picking this last timeline exactly where King of Thorns past’s timeline finished. The second point of view this time is Chella’s, from whose eyes we get to understand the court of the Dead King and its true nature.

I have to say, this book was perfect even if there were small details that contradicted some information given in Prince of Thorns. These details were mostly unimportant, such as the fact that in the first book it was hinted that Makin had helped Jorg to torture Bishop Murillo while in Emperor of Thorns when Jorg recalls the episode it is set before Makin joint the brotherhood.

Broken Empire has been a hell of a ride, I have enjoyed every minute spent reading this books. It saddened me to finish Emperor of Thorns, with so many enjoyable characters such as the Queen of Red who had only been named or appeared briefly and had left you wanting for more. Thankfully I have just learned Mark Lawrence is writing his fourth book: Prince of Fools, which is the first installment of a new trilogy, set in the same world as the Broken Empire series.

And yes, I take my metaphorical hat for the third time, Mr. Lawrence, and I am looking forward to do it again soon

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

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If you have read my other reviews you probably will have already noticed where that when it comes to genres, I have a clear preference for Fantasy and Science Fiction, none of which would encompass a book such as The Basic Eight. Since I had already read other books written by this author and I learned about this one novel in a friend’s blog, who named it her top book for 2013, I decided to give it a try.

This blog will be centered in Fantasy and science fiction novels but I feel I want to make an exception in this case because I find in The Basic Eight a really interesting story.

TBE

Strong points: The development, the characters, the writing style

Weak points: the first half of the book is slow and sometimes boring

The Basic Eight was the debut novel of Daniel Handler, who you may know as Lemony Snicket. The book tells us the story of Flannery Culp, a twenty year old girl who finds herself in prison for murder, a charge that she freely admits she is guilty of. During the novel, Flannery narrates us the events of her senior year in high school and her daily interactions with her seven friends, her love for fellow senior Adam State and her misadventures with her biology teacher, and how all this finally drives her to commit the bloody deed.

The strongest point that we find in this book is, in my opinión, the magnificent development of the narrative and its characters. We have before us a fluid storyline which flows uninterrupted from the beginning to the end. While it starts slow its pace becomes faster and faster as we arrive to the climatic murder. The world around us becomes chaotic and darker going from the almost normal high school we are introduced to at the beginning of the novel to a place ruled by a twirling of raw emotions.

The development of the characters is not less perfect, especially Flannery’s. From the very beginning of the novel we can rapidly appreciate the difference between Pre-murder Flannery, a seemingly normal girl full of questions and emotions, and post-murder Flannery, much more cynical and colder. We are automatically entrap for this contrast we are presented with right at the start of the book and are witness to the deliciously detailed transformation that occurs between this two opposite poles. As Flannery changes so does her view of those that surround her, and while some of the characters are subjected to their own evolution, specially the rest of the Basic Eight, it is this change in the main character’s vision that moves her universe and permits the rest of the characters to develop with it. This original way of telling the story is what really makes this novel feel alive and realistic. Daniel Handler has certainly triumphed when it comes to show us the variable world of High School from the racing mind of a young girl.

In The Basic Eight every tiny detail matters, every small line will have repercussions and each character has a reason to be there, representing a unique input of the story that allows for it perfect developing. Every character is created taking care of every tiny detail, going further than just being a literary being and making us feel as if we were reading about real people. Some of the character took me back to my own High School experience reminding me of the people I shared those especial years with. Everyone, from Flannery’s close friend Natasha to the Calculus teacher Mr. Baker, has their own distinct personality and fulfills their own function inside the story.

The writing style surprises for its skill to submerge the reader into Flannery’s mood and state of mind. The writer adapts his style to the situation using it as another tool that allows him to hold the reader’s attention. The style in the Halloween party, so confusing and blurry, offers us a deep contrast with the much more detailed description of the classes we find at the very beginning of the book. When Flannery abuses alcohol or drugs the details disappear, throwing us into chaos as the main character tries to understand what is going on around her.

Sadly, the level of interest this book awakes in the reader varies depending of which part you are reading. The first half of the novel is slow and rapidly makes the reader impatient as he or she struggles forward with the hope that its pace will pick up soon. It does eventually, and the last pages will keep you awake at night as the climax starts building and we are witness of a completely unexpected final twist. But the first half of the book becomes uninteresting very quickly and turns heavy and tiresome as nothing happens. This is possibly the bigger downer of this book which otherwise was a great read.

I personally have mixed feeling about The Basic Eight. On one hand it is a beautiful story with a complex style that shows us the domain of the writer over the English language, it introduces a group of complex and delightful characters which are a treat to read and its development is masterful, but on the other hand I struggled through its first half, which left me with the feeling that nothing really happened in those two hundred pages. It is a book I would recommend to people who enjoy a good satire about the society we are living in and for young adults who might want to read a novel were the writer doesn’t treat high school students as overgrown children, but as complex people who are coming to terms with the reality they live in.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

I know I promised reviews would come slower now that Christmas break is over. I know that I had planned that with the end of vacations it would take me between one week and a half to two weeks and a half to read a book and write a review about it. I blame Tamora Pierce. Also the book was short. I promise.
AFA

Strong Points: The characters, the setting of the novel, the descriptions

Weak points: very predictable, the ending feels rushed

Alanna: The First Adventure is the first book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, a book series for youngsters written by Tamora Pierce. It tells us the story of young Alanna of Trebond, a young noblewoman whose dream is to become a knight. Dressing up as a boy see travels to court with the hope to train as one, stepping into a world full of adventure and extraordinary characters.

Probably the first thing a reader learns when he picks this book is that Tamora Pierce has a knack for descriptions. The author is able to entrap the reader into this book just by telling you what Alanna is seeing at each moment. Her description of the market when the main characters arrives to court for the same time is a real wonder that shall pull you into the pages as you read on; full of people, colors and sensations, the picture appears vividly in our imagination and making us feel, for a moment, as if we really were among those people. The character’s description is also rich and precise, an art that in my opinion is disappearing now that the authors just seem to stop in the most striking features of its character and then move on quickly to the action.

Alanna: The First Adventure surprises us for the richness of its setting. The author has managed to create an amazing society which will capture the reader’s attention for its simplicity but at the same time for its plausibility. Old hatreds, social classes and different cultures find their way into these pages, coming alive before our eyes. The rules of the knights’ training and how the academy is described can’t help but remind us of Hogwarts, but here is the thing: The book was written in 1983. One thing the reader must take into account is that when Tamora Pierce wrote this novel, it hadn’t been done before. We are seeing the real deal, the original base that may have inspired our beloved Harry Potter and other books of such nature that we may have read as youngsters and believe you me, this original version has little to envy to those who came after.

The strongest point of the novel is, undoubtedly, its characters. Alanna surprises us for her depths and inner conflicts. She is a girl who considers herself inferior to men and who needs to prove herself again and again just to be able to feel good at what she is doing; her inferiority complex also affects the way she relates to her friends and teachers, being unable to accept favors or take the easy road. Other character that surprises is George Cooper, the King of Thieves, probably the shadiest of the lot; it is surprising to find a character that makes crime his business in a book for such a young audience, but he is a breath of fresh air and helps to make the story even more interesting. The rest of the characters are not as deep, some of them being just the embodiment of a role, such as sir Myles, who represents the fatherly figure, Jonathan, the all-too-trustful prince who Alanna must protect, Coram, the loyal manservant, or the duke of Naxen, the stern but goodhearted tutor. But even if this characters usually don’t go beyond that which they embody they still hold a certain allure for the readers.

Sadly, the book is also very predictable. The reader knows what is to happen almost from the beginning. There are no surprises in the narrative, no sudden twists that make us stare at the pages to see if we rad correctly. The villain is known almost from the beginning, giving us the impression that everyone is a total fool except for Alanna and you can tell who is to discover Alanna’s secret as soon as they are introduced. We can’t forget that this is a book for young audience but I feel that a little bit of mystery would have been appreciated.

Tamora Pierce makes a good job building the climax toward the ending. The small pieces of information Jonathan and Alanna receive from the other characters, the description of the Black City and its reflection on the flames whenever Alanna casts a spell. We really want to learn who or what is in the Black City, but sadly it all resolved fast and undetailed in the last few pages, leaving the reader with a certain feeling of disappointment.

Alanna: The first Adventure is an enjoyable book to read that will relax the reader for its simplicity and alluring storyline. You will get fond of the characters very quickly and will be thirsty to know what will happen to them in the next pages, making it a very difficult book to put down. I would also recommend this book for those parents trying to get their children to read, for I think it is an amazing introduction to literature in general and fantasy in particular.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la Próxima!

If you have read my first post, you may remember I mentioned my distrust for long running series due to some too recent experiences of total disappointments. So from the moment I decided the time had come to continue reading about the adventures of Jorg Ancrath until the moment I turned the last page I was suffering, ready to be disappointed. Now that have put down the book and have given myself some time to think about it, I must say I didn’t like it, I loved it.
KOT

Strong points: The writing style, the setting of the novel, the characters

Weak points: some events feel forced or improvised on the spot by the autor

King of Thorns tells us the already well known story of a broken empire, a heartbroken hero who suffers when he sees the conditions in which the people live, a prophesy, a decision to make the empire whole again and a selfish villain who reigns over one of the states whose ambition won’t let him step down from the throne. There is one difference, however, between King of Thorns and the rest of these stories: We live it from the point of view of the evil king who stands in the hero’s way.

Mark Lawrence brings us an amazing story that contributes with something fresh an original to the already very developed fantasy genre. The author manages to surprise us time and again with a novel full of unexpected twists and with one of the darkest settings you will manage to find nowadays. Some of said twists make for delightful surprises that shall keep you reading until the moment you finish it; during the last seventy pages of the book it is virtually impossible to put it down, as Mark Lawrence manages to entrap the reader by masterfully building a climax which shall capture your attention completely. The final twists of the story will literary leave you gasping for air.

The narrative choice of the author has been carefully studied and designed to give small rations of information to the reader, Mark Lawrence doesn’t fall in the irritating error of many writers who give you all the information you need to know from the very beginning, instead he unravels the story step by step with the precision and timing of a real genius, knowing just which answers give to the reader and in which moments so they are left avid for more. He has chosen to use three timelines to tell this story: The present during the final battle between Jorg and the Prince of Arrow; four year before just three months after the ending of the third book and a third timeline which starts before the ending of Prince of Thorns and is narrated from Katherine´s Point of view in the format of a diary. Each of the three timelines is full with details that unravel the mysteries of the other two.

The characters are one of the strong points of this novel. When we read about them we get the feeling that we are getting to know real human beings, with their imperfections and their qualities. King of Thorns brings us a set of characters much richer than the first book of the saga, that we really get to know and fall in love with as the story advances. Jorg continues being an antihero as dark as they get: cruel, selfish and with a total disregard for the life of others; still he is subjected to an evolution way bigger than that which he experienced on the first book, showing us a rich character full of internal conflicts and with an interesting duality which will be appreciated by the reader. The secondary characters are full of surprises: Katherine and Coddin, both of them much more developed in this second book, are responsible for some of the most touching moments in King of Thorns; Sageous makes for one of the best fantasy villains I have had the pleasure of reading about; though it’s true that he is missing some depth, and the newly introduced characters such as Egan, Orrin, sir Robert or Miala bring new inputs to an already rich story, and will rise in the reader’s esteem as high as the old ones

Sadly, there is also a downside to the narrative in this novel. Some events feel forced and fortuitous, without real need or just not well introduced in the story. Also, some of the solutions Jorg gives to his problems seen improvised on the spot by the author, such as the end of the battle of the Marsh, which is won by a detail that has never been hinted or talked about before or the moment in which Jorg magically produces a false letter that he is supposed to have written months before but which existence we don’t know until the moment that it needs to be used
There are also two characters who are reintroduced in King of Thorns that were hinted death during a Prince of Thorns. Their return seemed to answer more to a necessity of the author to carry on some of the scenes he may have planned than to the real need of the story. We don’t even get to learn how they survived the events of the first book and, in the case of one of them, why would he want to return to Jorg’s side.

Robin Hobb defined this book as “A two-in-the-morning page turner”, well, allow me to add: “Even if next morning you need to wake up at 6”. King of Thorns makes for an intense and interesting reading that shall delight readers who enjoy a good fantasy story. This book has been a real treat from beginning to end keeping me awake until two of the morning for five days I have been reading it and allowing me to enjoy each of the events that built the road to the final and impeccable climax. Mr Lawrence, I take my metaphorical hat off for the second time.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Ps: since vacations are at an end, from now on new reviews will take a little longer to be uploaded, but you can be sure they will keep coming this way.

When I finished reading “The Rediscovery of Man”, my first thought was “how am I going to post a review of this book?”. The Rediscovery of Man is a timeless classic; a collection of short stories the first of which was written in 1950, and it has been already reviewed by some of the greatest writers in our time, such as Terry Pratchett himself. But then a simple thought stroke my mind, “why not?” and here I am, looking for words that may express my opinions about this novel.

TRM

Strong points: The writing style, the development of the society where the short stories take place, some of the characters where surprisingly deep

Weak Points: Most of the characters were plain and simple, without development whatsoever; some key details are left unexplained

The Rediscovery of Man contains 12 short stories which take place over a period of 10000 years (from 6000 AD to 16000 AD). During this time we are witnesses of how mankind, surrounded by endless commodities, loses its humanity and rediscovers it back thanks to the brave actions of some individuals. We are given a rich universe that is in constant evolution, which ever-changing technology and ever-changing ethical and moral code.

This ever changing universe it is one of the main qualities of this book, we see a society in constant evolution, a well-defined way of development that enriches the novel and connects all the stories allowing us to locate them in chronological order without much difficulty. The slow but terrifying loss of humanity is hinted and developed over the first stories, making man-kind more monstrous each short story we read. Slavery of the underpeopled (genetically engineer animals which are sacrificed as soon as they are sick or stop being useful), racism between words and, finally, genetically engineered humans designed to be happy, to love an already chosen person, to stay in their homes, doing small jobs the government gives them to make them happy and make them feel useful. As humanity changes so does its technology, going from cyborgs operating ships (as seen in the first short-story The Scanners live in vain) to human crewed vessels and other kinds of transport between worlds. This constant evolution is really the strongest point of this novel, what keeps you reading to discover what is to happen with this society which seems condemned to downfall, making this reading a rich and enjoyable experience

On the other hand the characters are usually plain and usually have a function of fulfilling what I like to call literary stereotypes: the tragic hero, the android rediscovering its feelings… they embody this functions and usually they don’t go beyond them. In my case I love characters, I want to feel things toward them I want to like them or hate them, I want to think about them as if they were living entities, cry (or celebrate it) when they die, feel excitement when they fulfill their objective… sadly I haven’t feel any of that in most of this short stories. The author seems to use his characters as mere tools, simple vehicles to allow that wonderful setting to evolve and take new forms. They are not agents of change but its physical representation, a consequence. This is Mr. Smith style and his choice, I am not saying otherwise, but from the point of view of this modern-day reader, I was missing deep characters capable of moving me.

In some of these stories, though, we find certain characters that are pleasant surprises to us. Pinlighter Underhill, who is the main character of the short story The Game of Rat and Dragon, is an example of one of those surprises. During most of the narrative we get to know a perfectly normal human being, but the sudden twist it the last page of the story makes this man an intense and delightful character which quite a psychological depth. That small line at the end of The Game of the Rat and Dragon made it my favorite out of the twelve stories, suddenly transforming Underhill into a tortured character. Other character that was quite interesting was Sto Odin, from Under Old Earth, an old Instrumentality (the semi-immortal men and women who govern humanity) that seventy seven days before the date he has decided to die starts having doubts about the validity of the system of mandatory happiness he has been enforcing for over a thousand years. His fears and actions made him probably one of the hardest characters to predict until the very end of the story, though sometimes they felt as if the author had decided to improvise some of his skills on the spot.

Now, one thing Cordwainer Smith excels in is his writing style. His use of words is hypnotic. An extensive vocabulary and a way with the English language difficult to describe pulls you inside this pages and leave you craving for more. His writing style is, in one word, beautiful. His vocabulary is as boundless as his imagination. All of us aspiring writers could learn much of this man.

Other detail that irritated me at some points was the fact that he leaves lots of important items of the story completely unexplained and without hints to help the readers to figure out what the heck he is talking about. Sometimes reading this book is like trying to talk with an expert aeronautical engineer who insists in using scientific terminology to refer to anything he speaks about! And who refuses to believe that you can’t understand what he is referring too! Sadly, we are talking about some machines, genetic mutation and physical rules created by the mind of the author, so we can’t double check it with no one else. What is exactly the Congohelium, a estrange artifact which appears in Under Old Earth?, or the Aba-Dingo from Alpha Ralpha Boulevard? Those are some questions we thirst to know but are never answered to us

Out of the twelve stories I have my own preferences: The Game of the Rat and Dragon because of the sudden twist at the end and because who doesn’t like a story of cats fighting on spaceships? Especially when one of said cat’s name is Captain Wow? Closely followed by Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, The first story which is centered after the rediscovery of humanity by mankind and has quite a comedic beginning in which the people are choosing what culture do they want to belong to (the main characters have chosen to be French and therefore decide they have to spend the afternoons on cafes), this story centers in the worries of finding who we really are when everything we want to be is on our reach. Finally The Lady who Sailed the Soul is a delightful story about a woman who enrolls as a sailor in a spaceship. Its ending is probably the most touching paragraph in the whole book.

If you are going to read this book keep in mind you are reading stories which were written in the 1950´s and are loyal to the ideology of its time. So keep an open mind and give the book a chance as much as it may sometimes be irritating.

I would recomend this book to those readers that consider themselves lovers of the science fiction genre. They can’t miss the wonderful world that Cordwainer Smith has created in this set of short stories. I also recomend it to any person who enjoys Reading classics, the autor grasp and skill with language can be compared to that of Tolkien. If you don’t like Science Fiction or you are new on the genre its probably better to skip this book at least for now.

I think I would give this book a seven out of ten: amazing setting and writing style, some interesting narrative choices but only with three or four interesting characters and sometimes a lack of information that exasperated me.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

So, here we are, saying good bye to a whole year and preparing ourselves to greet the next one that may come this way, which we certainly hope will come. If a new year doesn’t come, would it be the end of the world? or would we be suspended in a timeless universe just hibernating until 2014 decides to come along? Maybe this has happened before and we just don’t know it! Or maybe we wouldn’t age and, therefore, not die!

Most of us take reckless decisions on New Year, such as promising ourselves we will start doing exercise more often, stop smoking, drink less alcohol (why would you do a thing like that?) or, in my case, start a blog. The idea has been on my head for quite some time already, a blog about those wonderful pieces of universe we call books.

I myself enjoy a good fantasy story, with clear preference for dark fantasy and political fantasy (yes, Game of Thrones is my favorite book, I am not very original when it comes to favorites), but I may from time to time read and comment different genres such as science fiction (right now I find myself reading The Rediscovery of Man) and the odd thriller book that may land on my hands.

So, as my way to saying good bye to this year, I would want to share with you my top five favorite books/ book series that I have had the pleasure of reading. They may have not been published this year.

#5  Empress by Karen Miller

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Dark, thrilling and delightful. Those are the three adjective I would use to describe the fascinating work of Karen Miller. Empress, first book of the Godspeaker trilogy,  tells us the story of a child who becomes the chosen one of a dark, violent god and of how she goes from being a nameless slave to become a ruthless and murderous empress. Deep characters and rich descriptions fill this book with endless wonders that kept me reading from beginning to end, always seeking to know what would happen next. If I must choose a strong point for this book it would be the masterful writing of its main character and her relationships with everyone that surrounds her, especially her relationship with Vortka. You can’t help but understanding Hekat as she struggles to fulfill what she sees as her destiny and that’s the magic of this book, it doesn’t matter what Hekat has done, she will have your sympathy without using the cliché excuses of good intentions and difficult choices that plague many books and movies.

The main weak point of this story, as I feel the need to try to be a little bit objective, is the fact that the book goes through more or less 25 years of the life of Hekat, so of course it focus only in the key moments of the life of its character while others are just mentioned without much details. Sometimes I missed a more in-depth description of some of those moments, specially towards the end, where the entire development of a character that will become a key figure in the trilogy is summarized in a couple of paragraph

Why is it the fifth in a top five? Even though Empress was a real treat to read, the second and third book of the trilogy, The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God, were kind of a disappointment. That’s not to say they were bad books, nothing farer from reality, but they didn’t reach the level of Empress. Hekat becomes a secondary character and the story is centered in Rhian, a princess struggling to become queen by her own right and not by marriage.

Even though Rhian makes for an interesting character, she is not as charismatic as Hekat. The construction of the character in The Riven Kingdom feels a little bit naïve. Something I have nothing against, but it offers such a contrast with the construction and development of Hekat that makes you wonder if you are really reading the same trilogy. I am not talking about the characters themselves, I am referring to the writing style, much less precise making the characters less human and more an embodiment of an stereotype allowing you to easily predict their actions.

Hammer of God picks up where The Riven Kingdom finishes. The complex character development and how they interact with the world that surrounds them remind us of Empress. Unlike The Riven Kingdom, the impulses feel as if they came from the character, not as if they were forced upon them. In general, this book is almost as delightful as the first one in the trilogy, masterfully building the momentum, step by step, towards the end. Sadly it’s the mentioned ending what prevents this book to be on the same level than Empress. The ending is written rapidly, giving us a small taste of what it could have been, not letting us really have an in-depth intake of the feelings and reactions of the characters toward the enormity of what is happening.

Don’t let my words deceive you. I really enjoyed the three books of this trilogy and would readily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy story. This three books will provide you with quite an enjoyment, but when it comes to deciding which one would I keep to read over and over again my choice would be, undoubtedly, Empress

#4 Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

POT

Violent and Dark, Prince of Thorns is one of those odd treats provided by an author who isn’t afraid to offer us something new and risky. We are not talking about a novel who provide us with grey characters in a world where god and evil doesn’t exists, we are talking about a world where evil is real and the main characters embodies it. Welcome to The Prince of Thorns, a book where the main character brutally murders innocents, allows his men to rape women (and does his fair share of raping too), and is prepare to sacrifice or just murder any man he has shared road and friendship with if they dare to second guess him. Oh, and he is one heck of a charismatic little bastard.

Prince of Thorns tells us the story of Jorg Ancrath, a fourteen year old prince who, after a traumatic experience in which he saw his little brother butchered and his mother raped and murdered, he elopes with a band of outlaws and makes of crime and viciousness his trade. Don’t go into this book thinking you are going to find the morally ambiguous but good-hearted company of robbers. The book opens with the mass-murder of an entire village, every man, woman and children murdered by the orders of Jorg.

One of the things I really loved about this book is how Mark Lawrence’s Mastery in writing allows him to unfold a story in which we fall in love with such a gang and with such a main character without making us feel sympathetic towards him. The traumatic experience is just the start point of the character development, not an overused excuse to try to make Jorg more human in our eyes. There are very few books that I have read where the brutality of the characters is showed as in this book, and all of those boks had a strange obsession with redemption or doom. Prince of Thorns is not interested in moral lessons, is not interested in creating a warm fuzzy feeling in the reader’s gut that tells him/her that good has triumph again. This provides fresh air to a genre where few people dare to take risks anymore.

The construction of the characters is delightful, and the author has an amazing sense of timing, knowing exactly how and when to provide small details that endear us to the characters. These shining dots in a sea of darkness, these small details that Jorg remembers about his road brothers from time to time, are what really make the characters human in our eyes and allow them to surprise us. Their decisions, their impulses, are born from within the character and the development of those characters is plausible, it gives us the impression that the author just let story unfold by itself.

Other detail that amazed me was the choice for the age of the main character. Jorg starts the book being thirteen years old. The age of the character and his viciousness offer us a contrast that helps to entrap us inside the story. I take off my metaphorical hat, Mr. Lawrence, you risked and you won. My own experience has left me with the feeling that writing a child is as difficult for an adult as it is for a child to write about a realistic adults. But I didn’t even think of second-guessing the age of the character at any point of the story, there was something in the character that kept reminding us he was just starting to be considered an adult in his society even if he was as charming and as wise as any adult character can be

Finally, I want to acclaim the subtlety of the story. The author doesn’t fall into the irritating habit of explaining every single detail to the readers; he just fills the book with small details, subtle hints and allows the reader to come with an answer by himself, to really discover the story behind the political and historical background inside Prince of Thorns.

Why is it the forth? Firstly because I still have to read the other two books of this trilogy: King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns (They are in my Bookshelf ready to be enjoyed) Recent experiences have left me distrustful of book series endings. I am not talking about the Godspeaker trilogy but about the Inheritance Cycle which I decided to finish reading this year and I still haven’t fully recovered from the experience. Secondly, and I feel I need to find some weak points, is the fact that the ending feels rush in, not in the same sense as Hammer of God. Prince of Thorns offers you a climatic finale that keeps you reading up until the last page. But this ending leaves a lot of questions open. You never know who lives and who dies through the final battle. The action suddenly disappears and we are left with a summary of what happened, which closes the main points but does nothing to satisfy our curiosity for secondary details… I guess I will have to read King of Thorns to find out. Mark Lawrence, you old rogue

#3 The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

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This year I have had the impressive delight to read several debut novels of real promising authors whose careers I shall follow with special attention. Two of those novels have made it into this list: Prince of Thorns and The Red Knight.

As soon as you open this novel you realize Mr. Cameron knows his business. The amount of detail that he puts into each item of the story (the armor, the breed of the horses, the weapons and how do they work) allows you to really submerge into this new world which tells us a story of a war between men and The Wild (home to magical creatures). Though the story allows us to know several points of view, its main focus is in a gang of mercenaries who are trying to protect a convent from an army of the Wild. This men and women remind us of the robbers we met in Prince of Thorns, though a bit more goodhearted they still being brutal outcasts with a liking to battle and money.

This gang, leaded by the young but talented Red Knight, who is the main character of the story, are easy to like and equally easy to mourn. Each has his/her well-defined personality and, while brutal, the have a human side that you grow to appreciate. It’s not only a story of war, it is a story of how men react to it.

What really attracts me of this story is the world where it takes place, the society, which has been carefully designed and feels alive. Its magic has its own rules and they are established, though it is also pointed that humans don’t know the full extent of how it works. This is something that is not common, for we usually get a very limited magic system in which the options and consequences are defined to the reader. Here we learn the magic system as the author unveils it for us, but we don’t have the sensation that he is improvising it.

As Mark Lawrence, Miles Cameron doesn’t give us every answer and doesn´t let us know everything from the beginning. The Red Knight is a mystery to us during most of the book, and that adds a little spice to keep us reading until the very end

#2 Hawkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney

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The first volume of The Monarchies of God offer us a wide and rich story filled with subplots and additional information that create a wonderful world that pulls you into the pages of this delightful piece of art.

Hawkwood and the Kings contains Hawkwood´s Voyage and The Heretic Kings, the first two books of The Monarchies of God series. And they center in three separate plots: Captain Hawkwood arduous journey to reach a continent which no one has heard from, the fight of three kings against the tyranny of a corrupted pontiff even under the threat of excommunication and the discovery of two monks, which could change the world forever.

In the mist of those three stories we find a world that breathes, that lives. We get the impression that we are just reading a small portion a thousand of years of history. This world didn’t begin with the first page and doesn’t finish on the last, it lives on. And that is something I have learn to appreciate.

The characters are complex, hard to predict and all of them ready to surprise you. Paul Kearney’s detail on secondary characters matches George R. R. Martin´s and Steven Erikson’s own. Even the smallest character has something to tell you. They, as the world they live in, are alive, and react to the circumstances they are given. Nothing in them looks forced just for the plot’s sake. All the changes each character experiments give us a sensation of harmony with the action that can only be found in the greatest authors.

The stories unfold with an amazing sense of timing, each detail is given when is due, there is not rush but neither doe the author slow the pace too much. He keeps his writing active, original, fresh and surprising through 702 pages of the book. Furthermore, the ending leaves you in a tremendous cliffhanger which I can’t wait to unravel on the next book of the series

#1 The Crippled God by Steven Erikson

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As I said before, certain experiences have left me distrustful of long running book series. So imagine my terror when I picked up and purchased the last book of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, a fantasy book series of ten books which have accompanied me through my whole college experience.

I finished reading it and it was so good that no other book as been able to fill the hole that this series has left in my heart. Not many books can keep you reading from beginning to end, forcing you to commit every little bit of free time you find on your hands into unraveling its mysteries, especially when said books are more than 1100 pages long. Well, the Crippled God has that gift. It is the no-so-secret fantasy of every adept reader, to find a book series which its grand finale makes you cry.

It is difficult to talk about the Crippled God to people who haven’t read the other nine books that come before. But I will try to give an overview

As with Paul Kearney, Steven Erikson’s world is alive. The story takes us all over a continent plus several dimensions from which the mages draw their powers. This continent has deserts, ruins, oceans, kingdoms and nomadic people, all of them put together so beautifully that you could be reading history instead of a work of fiction. All feels so natural that you really allow it to surround you and pull you into the story. Steven Erikson has even composed poems, songs and created quotes by which he opens every one of his chapters.

The characters are not heroes; individually they are not worth more than any human being. Even the most badass characters need to team up to achieve their goals and here lies the real magic of the book. The main character is the Malazan Army, the collective being that all those men and women who we meet during the book and learned to love form.  We learn about it from numerous points of views, such as the soldiers, officials, the quartermaster and their allies and we come to love it as a whole. By the end of the book it doesn’t matter who survive and who doesn’t. It is no longer the army you knew, it has achieved its purpose of existence and therefore it disintegrates, and you mourn for it.

There are probably more than a hundred characters in this book and all their backstories have been carefully designed to fit their behavior. There are not two characters that are alike, none of them respond to stereotypes, making them human, with their qualities and their faults and also with their fragilities and the terror that knowing they can die at any moment gives the reader. You think George R. R. Martin is a sadistic, heartless murderer? Steven Erikson kills in one of his books as many characters and Martin has killed in the complete A Song of Ice and Fire series. And you mourn almost every single one of them, even if you hated them when they were alive. Those small details, in my opinion, shows the mark of a talented writer who is capable of really make the reader become involved with his characters.

Also the timing to show us their back story is perfect. He waits until the precise moment where it will really affect us readers, not necessarily the old Death-moment-cliché, but other more subtle moments which allows us to really sympathize with the suffering of the character we are getting to know. Which is another little trick Mr. Erikson seems to have mastered, we never finish knowing the character. They surprise us until the last page, doesn´t matter if they are new characters or if we have known them from the very beginning of the story. This surprise is positive, it is something that really comes out of the character and is not forced upon it by the author, Mr. Erikson has created beings that after ten books are capable of surprising us and he has earned my respect and devotion for that

These are my top five for the year. There has been many other books in 2013 and some of them are really up there, on the top, with those five fabulous books, such as The Dragon Reborn (from the Wheel of time), Valiant or Red Country. I plan to continue posting reviews of future books I read. The next one, The Rediscovery of man should be up quite soon

¡Hasta entonces!