New Book Review 21: Murder in Absentia

murder-in-absentiaThe next book I’ll review is Assaph Mehr’s novel Murder in Absentia. This book is a mystery set a fantasy world modeled very closely on the real-world Roman Empire, with the addition of mythological beasts and magic to add Fantasy to the book’s genre. It’s the first of the series Felix the Fox, named for the protagonist. As this book was of exceptional quality, I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

Felix the Fox, as he is professionally known, is a detective. He’s trained in the past as a soldier and as an incantator (the equivalent to a wizard in this world), but his profession is solving cases for high-profile citizens of Egretia, the quasi-Roman society of this book. When the son of a wealthy and influential merchant dies under strange and supernatural circumstances, Felix takes a contract to discover the cause of the young man’s death. This investigation brings Felix into the midst of a dangerous conspiracy of wicked incantatores in which any mistake could cost him his life. Despite his exotic setting Felix is not so different from other detective characters I’ve read. He’s intelligent and resourceful, he’s very disciplined about his work, and he has his own set of insecurities and vices. The supporting characters include his nearly-mad friend and informant Abraxus, the tough barbarian Borax who serves as his bodyguard, his cheeky housekeeper Dascha, and the various soldiers, incantatores, prostitutes, and other residents of Egretia who help or hinder him on his search. Most of these characters were conveyed very well, though I was a little disappointed that there weren’t a lot of female characters serving a purpose beyond romance or sex (Dascha being the exception).

The strongest aspect of the story was its setting. As I’ve said, Egretia is a fantasy version of Rome, and the writing makes it clear that the author worked carefully to keep his details authentic. We’re used to seeing fantasy novels modeled on a modern misunderstanding of the Middle Ages (my own work is done this way, I’m afraid), but this setting was something different. It was extremely detailed, from the social ranks of the characters to the military techniques of the nation to the way food is prepared. No detail was overlooked, and this made the setting incredibly rich and immersive. The flip side to this is that on occasion the details were excessive. I personally found them interesting, but they didn’t always advance the story. The fantasy side of this, the way magic works in this fictional world, was also meticulously detailed and specific. It relied closely on priestly rituals like the real Rome had rather than the wand-waving staff-wielding spectacle we’ve come to expect from 21st-century fantasy. This felt consistent with the setting, and was nicely believable.

There was only one place where this magic technique deviated, and this deviation is one of the book’s weaknesses. I don’t want to say much on it to avoid spoilers, but in the book’s climax the magic style changes for the more modern and more spectacle-driven, and I don’t think the change was necessary. I’d rather it kept the magic consistent throughout. This wasn’t the only issue I had with the climax. I also felt that it came a bit too suddenly, involving some major plot points that hadn’t had much lead-up prior to it. But, the book was of such high caliber that I’m not too bothered by this.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this book for its meticulous setting, fans of detective fiction will enjoy the carefully crafted mystery of the work, and fans of fantasy such as myself can take pleasure from this book’s new and unique type of fantasy world. With all of these styles working together so effectively, Murder in Absentia was a new type of reading experience for me, and I highly recommend it.

Now as always, my bit of promo. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13New Book Review 14New Book Review 15New Book Review 16New Book Review 17New Book Review 18New Book Review 19New Book Review 20

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

This post was originally featured on cwbookclub.com.

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New Book Review 20: The Wounded World

the-wounded-world-coverThe twentieth book I’m reviewing on this blog is The Wounded World, the first of the Sagittan Chronicles science fiction series by Ariele Sieling. To be clear, the work is soft sci-fi rather than hard sci-fi, which means its story relies on entirely fictitious science. Its purpose is to entertain, not to anticipate or warn about the future or consequences of science.

The book’s characters inhabit a highly advanced society which has two important technologies that set it apart from Earth. The first is the Doors (try to set the night on fire!), portals which allow people to cross any distance from a single city block to all the way across the universe. The other technology is planetary construction. These people actually build planets, and Earth was one of their projects. Fans of Douglas Adams’s books will find this idea quite familiar. These two technologies are crucial to the story’s plot. Our hero, a soldier and all-around tough guy named Quin Black, spends the story travelling through dozens of Doors in search of his father, Grise Black, who has nefarious plans involving unauthorized planetary construction. Quin is accompanied by his close friend John, who is a genius mathematician. The mathematics of planet construction and teleportation are never explained, but John spends a lot of time working with numbers that only make sense to him. The book has a fair amount of comedy, much of which centers on this off-kilter friendship between Quin (the muscle) and John (the brain).

The story is for the most part a manhunt, and it’s written quite well. The prose was good, the sentences were both descriptive and concise and I don’t remember seeing typos or formatting errors anywhere. It had an adventure aspect to it as well, which for the most part was done well. As a sci-fi novel, I was pleased with The Wounded World.

That being said, there were some aspects that I thought could have been developed much more. The book was good, but it could have been better. Grise Black, the antagonist, was underdeveloped. I didn’t understand very well how his motives connected with his goals or why his troubled relationship with Quin was the way it was. Besides that, the fact that this story’s setting is a society that actually created and monitors the planet Earth had so much untapped potential. For the first dozen pages of the book, I thought the setting was actually a futuristic Earth. When the setting is revealed, it’s in an offhand joke that John makes rather than in any kind of shocking grand reveal. These people, from a human standpoint, could be considered gods. Yet they have the same social ranks, the occupations, and even the same animals that are found on Earth. Having them more discernably alien, and having them bear some kind of burden over the conduct of Earth, could have been interesting to see. I’m imagining something like Theodore Sturgeon’s short story ‘The Microcosmic God’, or more contemporarily the Rick and Morty episode ‘The Ricks Must Be Crazy’. The Wounded World is the first of a series, so perhaps these themes are explored more in the other books.

The novel was clear of any sexual content or any strong graphic violence, so I’d say it’s appropriate for teens and young adults, though adultier adults may enjoy it as well. I’d recommend it for sci-fi fans and fans of adventure stories. Personally I enjoyed it, though I think it had some untapped potential.

Now as always, my bit of promo. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13New Book Review 14New Book Review 15New Book Review 16New Book Review 17New Book Review 18New Book Review 19.

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

This post was originally featured on cwbookclub.com.

New Book Review 19: Secret of the Seven

rise-of-nazil-1The nineteenth book I’m reviewing is Secret of the Seven, the first novel in the series ‘The Rise of Nazil’ by Aaron-Michael Hall. The novel is for the most part high/epic fantasy, with strong overtones of dark fantasy.  On that point, I should give a trigger warning on this review. The book contains a significant amount of rape and sexual violence, and I will speak on that content in this review. Readers who have had traumatic experiences or who are sensitive to those topics may wish to abstain from reading.

In this novel, humans are subject to rule by a race of people called Nazilians, whose capital is the city of Nazil. Nazilian society has ideology close to real-world fascism. They worship of gods embodying War, Power, Courage, and Judgment, and they obsess over racial purity. To them humans are inferior and anyone of mixed human and Nazilian blood is considered an abomination. Many Nazilians are sadistic and use terror as a way to maintain their power. Far from Nazil is the secret city of Bandari, where humans and Nazilians live in peace and harmony. One of the books central characters is Pentanimir, a Nazilian of the rank First Chosen (something like an elite military champion) who falls in love with a human woman, Brahanu. The two characters’ love is one of many pieces in the shifting dynamics of this land, which is moving toward a tipping point past which the cruel reign of Nazil cannot survive. Other pieces include the plotting of the giant Dessalonians who live on the edges of the map, and the awakening of god-like beings called Guardians (the titular Seven) who have their own plans for this world.

Apart from the occasional prophecy, there isn’t much of what we’d call magic in the story until near the end. The world is more closely related to the grit and cruelty that our own societies had during the Middle Ages. The story is strong and engaging, although it has some flaws. It moves along fairly slowly for the first two-thirds or so, setting up the pieces that bring it all to a grand climax in the last third of the book. Much of the time spent setting things up in the first two-thirds was spent on developing the romances between various characters. I’m not opposed to romance stories per se, but in this story they did slow things down quite a lot and I thought much of that aspect could have been shortened. One other aspect that I thought could have been shortened, that of sexual violence, calls for its own paragraph.

Now, I’ve read all five books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (and I am waiting, respectfully and patiently, for The Winds of Winter). That series has gotten criticism for the amount of sexual violence in it. Secret of the Seven has more sexual violence in its 500-odd pages than A Song of Ice and Fire has in its 5,000-odd pages. It’s not left to implication and it’s not left to the imagination. It’s there, on the page, described in graphic and gruesome detail. Slaves of the Nazilians are descriptively raped, repeatedly. Captured enemies are treated to imaginative and meticulously-recounted tortures of sexual nature for dozens and dozens of pages. Every time you think the last of these scenes has passed, another one surprises you. Despite the book’s other strengths, I found this to be in poor taste.  There were times when I strongly considered putting the book aside due to these scenes, but I kept on because I was invested in the characters. So, readers who cannot stomach those kinds of scenes would do well to stay away from this book.

The prose was good for the most part, though there were typos and a handful of parts that could have used a little more editing. However as I said before, the story was good, a strong addition to the fantasy genre. I know there are two others in the series right now, Seed of Scorn and Piercing the Darkness. I will most likely read the former in a few weeks, and if it’s good I’ll go on to the latter. Fans of epic fantasy who are not too put off by gruesome graphicness will probably enjoy this book.

Now as always, my bit of promo. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13New Book Review 14New Book Review 15New Book Review 16New Book Review 17New Book Review 18.

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.