Book Review: Platinum Magic by Bruce Davis

Davis Platinum 150

Platinum Magic

by Bruce Davis

 

I recently bought four small-press novels at the Tucson Festival of Books; I’ve read three of them so far, and though I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, I have to say: I’m one for three. Two of those books are clearly self-published, because no publishing house, agent, or editor would take these books on: the writing isn’t good, the stories aren’t very good, the characters are terrible.

This one, however, is the good one.

All of those elements are, in this book, well done. The writing is quite good, the story is a lot of fun, the characters are excellent if a bit cliché. The best part of this book, actually, is the world-building: that’s often a sort of weak praise, as many authors – of all levels, professional, amateur, self-published or NYT bestsellers – specialize in the world-building more than the writing. I understand; the world-building is the fun part: you get to make stuff up, fix the problems you see in our world, add interesting things. It’s great, and a lot of authors let their imaginations run wild, usually without considering whether or not the world they create is at all realistic or plausible, or a good place to put a story – the Eragon series is a prime example of this, I think. Christopher Paolini wrote the first book when he was a teenager, and it reads like it: dragons are cool! Magic is cool! Sword-fighting is cool! And the hero (a teenaged boy – weird how that works) masters all three things in short order, and then flies off on his dragon to kick the world’s ass. Cool!

But also, lame.

Anyway, enough of other, worse books: Davis has done an excellent job with this world he’s created. He’s turned our world into a magic world – or perhaps a magic world into our world. The main characters are cops, investigating a murder case that has larger implications; and while those cops are dwarves and half-elves, and they use repeating crossbows rather than firearms, they still function like cops, in a world with precinct politics and public pressures and corruption and everything else that cops actually deal with. In some ways, this reads like a police procedural, just in a fantasy world. It reminded me quite a bit of Glen Cook’s Garret, P.I., series, in that the familiar tropes are put into an unfamiliar situation, and bring those old cliches to new life by doing so.

And just like the Cook series, this book has deep roots: there are political implications to the case these cops are investigating, and the political tensions between races and nations are built on a long history which slowly unfolds over the course of the book, just as it would in a novel with a real-world setting; that was well done. Though I will say that this element was also the source of my one complaint: though I appreciated Davis’s ability to avoid pages and pages of explication of his world’s history and politics, I was also quite confused early on in the story, as there were references made to old political alliances and upheavals that had strong implications in the story’s present, and I didn’t know what the hell the characters were talking about, which was annoying for a while. But it did all become clear in the end, so it was only a temporary annoyance.

I liked the mystery, particularly the twist Davis puts on it – no spoilers, but the perpetrators were involved with interdimensional travel and smuggling, which allowed Davis to step outside his own world, and gave a great surprise in the final conflict – and I really liked the characters, especially the main two cops, Simon Buckley and Haldron Stonebender. I thought the romance was a little too pat, a little too cliché, but it was sweetly written, nonetheless; Davis makes a nice point about love between different races which I liked. And I loved the use of orcs in this as second-class citizens, despised by the more powerful races, treated with deep suspicion and contempt by the cops, forced into ghettoes and menial labor and crime. Davis does what good fantasy should do: make a point about our world through the use of a fantasy lens that focuses our attention in a way that a more familiar setting might not be able to. He does it well, without making his allegory too on-the-nose; he just writes a good story, with some themes that should ring true even to those of us who aren’t part elven.

This book alone was worth the purchase of all four. I would definitely recommend it.

 

(The book is available here, if you’re interested; since this is the publisher, I expect the author gets the biggest return from this site’s sales.)

Advertisements

Book Review: Norse Mythology

Image result for neil gaiman norse mythology cover

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman

 

I can’t decide if Loki’s better or worse than I remembered him.

The gods are worse. No question. Not all of them: the female gods, Freya and Sif and Idunn, bearer of the golden apples of immortality, are better than I remembered them; Gaiman manages to give them an air of tender exasperation with the idiotic men who surround them. The dark gods, and especially the giants who show up in almost every story, are better, too; I was rooting for them half the time, especially when they had to deal with Thor.

I hate Thor.

He does have his moments; I like the stories about his limitless might, and especially his nigh-infinite capacity for food and drink; I love that that was a sign of his prowess, that he can eat more and drink more than any other being alive. But he keeps getting mad and attacking everything, and rather than justify his actions, or – Odin forbid – atone for his sins, he tends to just kill anyone who would take him to task for breaking things or stealing things or what have you. The fact that Loki so often targets Thor is probably his best quality.

This is a great book. The myths are so much fun to read, the characters so human and relatable even while they are doing impossible things; Gaiman has this incredible ability to layer character traits deep into the narration, so that you’re hardly aware of it, but then before the story is over you know: Tyr sacrifices his hand for love of Fenris, as much as for love of his fellow gods. Kvasir, the god of wisdom, not only knows his own doom before it comes, but he almost welcomes it, because it saves him from having to deal with bastards like the evil ones that – but I don’t want to spoil it. Odin is the Allfather, all right: and his kids annoy the crap out of him. The stories in this book aren’t familiar enough to me to make them boring; there were a few that I knew, and of course I knew the last one, the story of Ragnarok, but even that one had new aspects that made it fresh and exciting: because I love the idea that Ragnarok gives rise to the next cycle of existence, that it is not, in fact, the end, even though it is the end of the Aesir and the Vanir.

And frankly, considering what they do in the end to Loki? They deserved everything they got.

Of course I recommend this. Of course it was wonderful. I read it in small pieces, but I think it would go just as well being swallowed whole – like the sun and the moon into the maw of Fenrir. It was magical, and funny, and human, and otherworldly, all at the same time.

But you know what the best part was? Honestly, it was this. At the funeral of Balder, most beloved of all the gods, brought down by Loki’s envious plotting, Thor is mad (because the gods won’t let him kill a giantess who is present) and then this happens:

Lit, one of the dwarfs, walked in front of Thor to get a better view of the pyre, and Thor kicked him irritably into the middle of the flames, which made Thor feel slightly better and made all the dwarfs feel much worse.

From now until Ragnarok, whenever one of my teenaged students says, “This is so lit!” I will think of nothing else but Thor kicking the dwarf into the fire. And for that, Mr. Gaiman, I thank you.

E-Book Review: Blood Calls by Charles D. Shell

Image result for blood calls charles shell

Blood Calls

by Charles D. Shell

(Please note: I was given a free copy of this e-book in return for my honest review. This is it.)

 

Now that was a fun book.

I haven’t read a ton of independently published e-books; but of the ones I have read, this was without a doubt the best.

It’s the story of two outcasts, a man and a dragon, both the victims of deep-seated and vicious prejudice, who find friendship and solace with each other; until they are finally forced to leave the land of their birth. The man, Corbin, who is a nobleman of his home country of Denza despite being an unwanted bastard with a mother from a despised minority, is given a minor diplomatic post in neighboring Sunal, thanks to the influence of his influential uncle. Corbin and his only friend, the dragon Blood, travel to Sunal, where, if everything goes according to plan, Corbin should be able to sink into relative obscurity, pursuing his twin passions of drinking and womanizing, and perhaps occasionally dipping his toes into diplomacy.

But world events, and Corbin’s heart, have other plans. Corbin finds that the prejudice that he has suffered under for all of his life is nonexistent in Sunal, where the Skuranese, his mother’s people, are accepted. Corbin is able to find friendships (with other men, for once) and even to pursue a woman for more than a roll in the hay. This would be enough changes in Corbin’s life: but there’s more. War is coming to Sunal. War that could threaten everything that Corbin has found there, as well as his homeland, his life and the life of his dragon, and perhaps everyone on the continent. Unless Corbin and Blood can do something about it.

The world-building in this book is top notch. The relationships between the various nations and their people are interesting, and enough historical backstory is given to make it all seem quite realistic. The magic system is done well, with different spellcasters making use of summoned spirits and creatures, or simple control of the four elements, or Frankenstein/steampunk creations made of living creatures mixed with machines. There are some unusual elements in the magic system that were very intriguing – like sonomancy, the use of sound for magic and also as a weapon; Shell was also able to reflect that form of magic in the society that makes use of it, which was a thoughtful and effective choice. The military aspects of the war – which is told not only through Corbin’s experiences, but also from the point of view of an officer of the aggressor nation of Gurein, which is trying to conquer and consolidate an empire, no matter what the cost – are as good as any military fiction I’ve read. I did wish there was a map, a visual aid that I have always found both interesting and useful in books like this; hopefully the author, with his arts background, will be able to provide one in future books.

The book isn’t perfect. I thought the romance was a bit haphazard: Corbin has never been anything but a womanizer, and though it makes sense that he’s never had an opportunity to be anything more, he jumps from that habit to a pursuit of true love a little too easily; he also settles on the object of his affection without much more inspiration than Romeo and Juliet, and though I love the Shakespeare play, I don’t really believe in love at first sight, especially not when it is turned into a chivalrous courtship, as this one basically is (though not entirely, I hasten to add). The dialogue and banter between the characters is often amusing, but much too close to our own society, using slang and colloquialisms that don’t make a lot of sense in world that isn’t ours; hearing a man from Denza call his telepathic dragon a “smart-ass” sort of took me out of the fantasy. (Also, maybe it’s me, but I want fantasy books to have fantasy names; though most of the main characters do, there are side characters with names like Jerry or Terri, which again kind of burst the bubble.) I didn’t like the character of Dante Firetongue, who is a newspaperman straight out of modern comics – he even refers to a good story as a “scoop” – and who never really settles on a personality, leaving us guessing whether he’s a shallow, selfish bastard or a good guy with a high defensive wall around his heart. I also thought Blood, the dragon, who is a good guy with a high defensive wall around his heart, was just too much of a jerk sometimes, when I wanted him to be lovable even when he was being sharp-tongued.

However, none of these things are the heart of the book. The heart of the book is the characters learning how to live together, accept each other, and protect what is truly worth protecting. That, the book does extremely well. There is good action, good suspense, and good humor throughout; and I enjoyed the ending as much as I enjoyed the beginning, which is the sign of a good novel. I’d recommend this book for fantasy fans, and I plan to see what else Mr. Shell has to offer.