Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This and That


The Raven, Port Huron's version of The Prancing Pony

I polished off The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi last night and it’s a great continuation of the universe that Scalzi is creating. Some people are down on Scalzi calling his books carbon copies of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Trooper novel. To these people I say carbon copy or not these novels are as good if not better than Starship Troopers (which is one of my favorite novels.) Besides its obvious that Heinlein and other Sci-Fi authors were huge influences on Scalzi’s writing. In Ghost Brigades he even gives a few shouts out to these novels. I should have a review of this novel up before the end of the week.


After finishing The Ghost Brigades I leapt right into George Zebrowski’s short story collection entitled “Swift Thoughts.” Really liking it so far and it never hurts that it was published by my favorite small press: Golden Gryphon Press. One of the things that I think makes Golden Gryphon so special is that in their short story collections, after each story there are Author Note’s which give you some insight to what the writer was thinking while writing the story. Awesome.


Had lunch with my friend Nadia today who is back from doing a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Africa. We went to a great little coffee shop whose walls are lined with books. We got to talking about rare books and how she was thinking of going to Seattle and becoming a book scout. It also made me want to read The Club Dumas. So my question is what other books would you recommend that have to deal with the rare book world?


Anything besides the Cliff Janeway novels, I read the first two in the series and that is enough for me. His whole act gets old quick.


If you couldn’t tell from my 3 in 1 review I’m on a huge Glen Cook kick right now. Yesterday I received my copy of A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire which I won for $15 on ebay. So I’m debating about whether I should read that or the Books of the South. I think I’m going to go with the Dread Empire.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: The Skin Trade

The settlers who would later be known as the four families went west and laid claim to a patch of frontier wilderness. They sought to eek out a humble existence. Even this humble existence proved difficult to obtain. The settlers’ future was bleak. Whether it be repelling Indian Incursions or those of Mother Nature each day was a new battle waiting to be waged. After much bloodshed and back breaking work the city began to flourish on the back of the industries that had sprung up. The Foundry, The Metalsmith, The Stockyard, The Riverboats and The Skin Trade.


Decades later the industries that had built the city began to vanish and along with them prosperity. The once proud city’s head now hung in shame. Its denizens forced to once more scrounge to stay alive. Unfortunately for the descendents of the four families one industry had been revitalized; The Skin Trade. Only now the hunters were not content with beaver felts, they sought a different kind of felt from much more dangerous prey. A prey that was used to being the hunter not the hunted. The prey they sought was the werewolf.


Now when I’m reading a story about a supernatural being whether it is a ghost, a vampire or in this case a werewolf I love it when the commonly held mythos of the said creature is thrown out the window and the author builds up his own original mythology around the creature. In The Skin Trade George Martin does just that. Martin takes the werewolf and reimagines him in such a way that leaves us the reader saying “that’s an interesting take on the werewolf.”


The word werewolf for whatever reason conjures up in my mind a guy named Gaston. He’s a rugged outdoorsman whose profession is that of a lumberjack. He’s strapping and in peak physical condition. He exudes manliness which allows him to have his way with women. Don’t ask me why that’s just the first thing I think of when I hear werewolf. From the very beginning Martin shatters my preconception of what it means to be a werewolf.


We’re introduced to our main protagonist Willie Flambeaux. He’s short and scrawny while maintaining a healthy gut. He’s asthmatic and earns his living as a collection agent. (It becomes a lot easier to collect an outstanding debt when you’re able to morph into a ravenous werewolf at the drop of a hat.) While not exactly a lady’s man he is however quite horny as evidenced by his constant sexual harassment of his friend and private investigator Randi Wade (whom is a woman if anyone was thrown off by the name.) Randi brings her own set of issues to the table as far as werewolves go. Her father, a police officer, was mauled to death many years ago by what was reported to be a “large dog.”


The banter between Willie and Randi is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this novella as the two have some genuinely funny quips they throw at each other. I’m not usually one to laugh while reading a novel but a chuckle did escape a time or two while reading this story. Despite their banter though it’s obvious that the two of them do care for each other. It’s this genuine compassion that gives this story legs. Without it this novella would’ve been just another whodunit with werewolves thrown in. As it stands it is an intriguing mystery with werewolves thrown in. Scratch that (pun intended), fully realized characters thrown in.


To sum up the plot werewolves are being killed for their fur coats. Willie goes to Randi for help in figuring out the who and the why. Throughout the story as the two investigate nothing is as it first appears. One minute you think you have it all figured out only to be completely befuddled at a twist Martin throws in. These twists are constant throughout the story but they work so well. Martin continues to leave us little clue after little clue making us turn each page hoping to figure out what’s going on.


Unless you’re a better detective then me, nothing will become clear until the last ten pages. I don’t want to give anything away but the way Martin handles the climax of the book is excellent. It leaves you with bated breathe waiting to see what fate holds in store for both Willile and Randi as they see both their investigations to a conclusion.


This is a novella that anyone who likes werewolves, mysteries and a lot of bloodshed is really going to enjoy. Some parts do fall a little flat but overall it’s a satisfying read.


83/100


POSTSCRIPT: I really hate having to use the word novella for stories like this. Someone needs to come up with something better to call it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Sunday Review Review: What's In A Name Edition?

I was really struggling to come up with a name for this blog, I wanted something in line with some of the great taverns that inhabit the worlds we love so much. Names like The Prancing Pony and The Old Plow. I toyed with calling it The Boisterous Balverine but wasn’t sure how many people were familiar with the Werewolf like Balverines from Fable II. So instead I decided to go with The Ostentatious Ogre.


I find the name suits both the site and me. Because to be entirely honest I can be a bit boorish and I don’t think my friends call me Shrek because of my good looks. In fact I know they call me Shrek because of my ogre like physique and oversized feet, the bastards.


So that out of the way here are some reviews I’ve enjoyed reading over the last week:


Now before I link it up here I just want to say that whoever is making these covers ala the ones that don the covers of Brian Ruckley's books and the one in the next review; please stop. I think the covers are just atrocious. Good review though of Giles Kristian's Raven: Blood Eye even if the reviewer did like the aforementioned sucky cover art.


Over at The Antick Musings of G.B.H Hornswagller, Gentlemen, he has taken the time to review his mail. Thus it counts as a review and can go in this post. His Mail.


It takes a big man to admit when a book completely baffles him. So kudos to Joe Sherry at Adventures In Reading and his honest review of Schimater Plus by Bruce Sterling. Don't worry Joe we've all been there.


Aiden at a Dribble of Ink has a fantastic review up at the moment of Blood Ties by Pamela Freedman, the author even stops by in the comments!


Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews has reminded me of a book I need to read sooner rather the later. The book in question? The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski


That's all for now my friends look for a review of The Skin Trade by George R.R. Martin early next week.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

3 in 1 Review: Chronicles of the Black Company

I like my Fantasy like I like my women; fast and dirty. Suffice to say I like Glen Cooks’ The Chronicles of the Black Company quite a bit. It’s faster and dirtier that just about any other Fantasy you’ll find in the marketplace today.

The Black Company and the following novels in this Omnibus collection (Shadows Linger and The White Rose) turn Fantasy Clich├ęs on their ear and just for good measure give them a solid kick when they’re down.


A great evil has been unleashed on the land and there is only one who can stop it. (How many times have we heard that before?) The legendary White Rose must be found at all costs or else the world is doomed. Reading that sentence one might expect we’re in for another Tolkienesque romp of good vs evil pardon me while I yawn. Fortunately Glen Cook has other plans in store for us.


In these three novels the reader is left to ponder who is evil and who is good. A difficult task indeed. The supposed “Good Guys” are the Rebels, while the Lady and her Taken are the “Bad Guys”. The thing is the Lady is not evil incarnate and the Rebel are more than happy to kill and maim anyone including the very people who they are supposed to protect if it furthers their cause. On the side of the Lady is the battle hardened Black Company. The Company doesn’t hold any lofty ideals. Like most mercenary companies they only care about being paid on time and in full.

The Black Company (Book 1)


In the world of the Black Company The Ten Who Were Taken, or just Taken for short play a major role. These Taken were once great wizards in their own right until they met their match in the form of the Dominator, the ultimate evil and the Lady’s significant other.


Now centuries after their defeat at the hands of the White Rose they are forced to do the bidding of the Lady. She’s one cold hearted bitch proven by the fact she left her husband, The Dominator, imprisoned underneath the earth while she walks freely once more upon the earth. It is she and her Taken that look to enslave the world.


The story unfolds through the eyes of Croaker, physician and historian of the Black Company. The book opens with the The Black Company in the employ of the Syndic of Beryl fighting for a lost cause. A stroke of fortune strikes just in the nick of time for the Black Company as one of the Taken Soulcatcher arrives and offers them a chance to serve the Lady. Not wanting to walk out on their contract with their current employer they must find a way to make their contract null and void. I won’t spoil it for you but these bastards are some clever fellows. With their contractual negotiations now settled they head north to serve in the Army of the Lady.


To read this novel and see the bitter back stabbing between the Taken is hilarious. As one would expect with great wizards there is a lot of ego involved. Nary a page goes by without a pissing contest between one or more of the Taken. Each looks to disgrace the other in hopes of gaining favor in the Lady’s Hierarchy. The Taken aren’t content just to be the most trusted servant however they all want the throne for themselves. The Black Company does its best not to get trickled on and they do a fairly good job staying out of harms way.


The gritty environment and characters mixed with the wonderful Fantasy elements that Cook adds is a recipe for a very tasty novel that leaves you wanting more. Luckily for you we still have two more novels to go in this Omnibus.


86/100


Shadows Linger (Book 2)


A long time ago, the Dominator and his wife, the Lady (whom we met in the first novel.) founded an empire of legendary evil which ended abruptly thanks to the White Rose. Even in defeat though the Dominator pulls strings in hopes of one day being set free to unleash his wrath upon those who have enslaved him. Fearing his release the Lady has sent her most stalwart mercenary company to guard the Barrowland the place where her husband the Dominator rests.


Upon reaching the Barrowlands a small detachment of the Black Company including our boy Croaker is flown by carpet to the city of Juniper to investigate a possible connection to the Barrowlands and more importantly the Dominator.


As much as I liked the Black Company this is the book that makes the entire series for me. In this book we are given multiple POV characters. Thanks to these varying points of view the story unfolds brilliantly with a richness and depth that is mind blowing to me.


Marron Shed one of the major POV characters is one of my favorite characters of all time. Shed, who runs a dilapidated Inn slash flophouse known as the Iron Lily is so fleshed out by Cook that he lingers in my mind months after having read the story. His story is intriguing and is just one example of the many small subplots that Cook has running throughout the course of the book that will eventually funnel into the main plot.


Besides the wonderful cast of characters that dot this literary landscape some of the scenes that are depicted in this book will make you shake your head and say “damn…that’s good.” One scene in particular towards the end of the novel with the Captain of the Black Company and a Magical Carpet is just so well done and felt so real to me; it was one of those moments I as a reader yearn for. They don’t come too often but when they do it’s a pure joy. Let me tell you these moments came more than once for me during the reading of this book.


This book is the pinnacle of the Black Company Series for me and clocks in at a healthy:


92/100

The White Rose (Book 3)


Last and certainly least in this reviewer’s humble opinion is The White Rose. Sorry but there will be no synopsis of the book as I don’t want to give anything away.


This book is solid but after reading Shadows Linger I went in with high expectations and this novel simply did not live up to it. The characterizations weren’t quite as good and some of the new characters that were introduced were just so-so. Nothing blew me away. I kept waiting for something to grab my interest and give me an experience similar to that which I got from Shadows linger. It just never came.


It’s a nice conclusion to these first three books but by far the weakest of the first three. This is the one that the cheetah’s would get.


80/100


Conclusion: This collection is a must for any reader’s bookshelf. Please step into the world populated by Croaker, One-Eye, Limper, Toadkiller Dog and Marron Shed it’s a world worth walking in.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: The Hedge Knight

George R.R. Martin a name that I have come to both loathe and adore. I loathe him for the simple fact that after reading a Song of Fire and Ice all other Fantasy was completely ruined for me. Within those first three books of aSoIaF perfection was attained. The story was masterfully crafted with characters that felt real in a way I have rarely seen. Upon completion of A Storm of Swords I tried to read other Fantasy novels but simply couldn’t make it past the first fifty pages. They felt so lifeless compared to the novels of Martin. None could measur up to aSoIaF. Because of this for nearly a year no Fantasy did I read.

Eventually I caught wind of a new Fantasy Anthology that was being put together by Robert Silverburg and I’m not ashamed to say that my heart was aflutter when I heard that George RR Martin was going to be contributing a story. That story as many of us probably know is The Hedge Knight.

Set nearly a hundred years before the events of aSoiaF The Hedge Knight begins with Dunk burying his old master Ser Arlan on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Unlike what we might expect for the burial of a knight Ser Arlan died like he lived with little fanfare. Dunk says a few simple words as his nature and sets out on the road to find his own fortune in the Tournament at Ashford.

In just two pages Martin is able to make us care about Dunk and to a lesser extent his dead master whom he’s burying. We feel for Dunk as sets out with his three horses and his few material possessions to seek his fortune in Ashford.

This story has all the trappings of what makes Martin so great. There is blood, betrayal, honor gained and honor lost but as only Martin can do he shows us what it means to be human. His characters come through the page as leaving breathing human beings capable of a cruel jest one moment and in next offering heartfelt sympathy for a friend in the next. It is this “Gray Area” in which all his characters inhabit that make such a personal connection for me.

From the high nobility Dunk encounters right down to the poor street urchins that litter the streets of Ashford each person is out living for themselves not just as a backdrop for the story. Likewise Dunk does not occupy some place on a pedestal rather he’s in the muck with everyone else doing the best he can to live up to the noble ideals of his former master Ser Arlan. Does he succeed? That is for you to find out.

It is a fact that Martin succeeds in giving us a glimpse once more not only to Westeros but what it means to be human.

89/100

Welcome to the Ostentatious Ogre. Welcome please come in and warm your feet by the fire. Can I get you something? Perhaps some roasted mutton with delightful apple rosemary seasoning paired with buttered mashed potatoes. Perhaps a tankard of our delicious seasonal ale?

What’s that you say?

You care not for food of the body, but rather food for the mind and soul?

Well there I can oblige you as well my friend with a plethora of book reviews and news.

So please stay awhile and tell friends because here at the Ostentatious Ogre we nary turn a traveler away. That is unless they have scurvy, lice or some other such ailment they caught in a den of harlots but all others are welcome.

So sit there by the fire and rest your weary bones as I review for thee story’s of yore, right here on this tavern floor.