Review of The Moon King by Neil Williamson (hardcover and trade, NewCon Press April 22, 2014)
This is Neil Williamson’s first novel, and after starting and not finishing several other first fantasy novels this year, Neil must be congratulated that I not only finished his novel but read it in two days. I didn’t find any of the usual first novel writing craft issues which can jar me out of the story.
As a reviewer I get presented with many fantasy novels to review, but I never get past the first chapter in some of them either due to content (I read six similar ones last year), craft (the writing and editing can make you want to cry) or it is so heavy on setting that I lose track of the characters or can’t find a plot. However, I found this novel to not only have more balance between character, plot, and setting, but I also thought all those parts were interesting.
Glassholm and its captured moon are a very unique fantasy setting, with a feel reminiscent of a child’s fairy tale land mixed with a bit of steampunk. The poor confused characters that have lost their memories are quite endearing, particularly when you figure out how they got that way. The poor confused ones have a plot centered on getting their memories back, of course, but it soon becomes clear that this plot coincides with that of other characters in the narrative.
The villain of the novel never physically appears in the story, but instead takes over other characters to speak and perform actions. This is a very bold idea for a first novel, but Neil pulls it off well and it is clear that the bad guy’s mental strength makes him a formidable enemy. The technical language used is quite unusual for a fantasy novel, but is needed here because of the lost technology which controls the captured moon. Neil’s day job is technical writing, so as expected the technology-related bits are well done.
The fighting, riots, and general violence which is presented is well done and the horror of it is clear from the description of the aftermath. Some of the descriptions are definitely not for the under-sixteens if they are squeamish.
The Moon King is the best first fantasy novel I have read and the setting is very unique, so if you are looking for an original fantasy with good writing, then this book is for you!
DISCLAIMER: Your Humble Reviewers and Neil Williamson belong to the same writer’s group, The Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle, but prior to receiving the review copy we had not seen or critiqued his novel, although we’ve had a few pokes at some of his short fiction.
Book launch note: Angela attended the book launch for Neil’s novel at Eastercon. It was very nice, with alcoholic beverages (although she wished for some non-alcoholic choice) and a standing room only crowd. The publisher was very supportive and said many nice things about Neil, plus he had a dealer room table so if you missed out at the launch, you could still get a signed book. For further Eastercon information see the review here: http://bullspec.com/2014/05/15/the-exploding-spaceship-spring-event-reviews-for-authors/
Review of Reign of Ash by Gail Z. Martin (Orbit trade paperback, April 1, 2014)
This is Book Two of the Ascendant Kingdom Book Saga. Blaine McFadden and his mates from the Velant prison colony are trying to get magic returned to the kingdom, but their first attempt didn’t work so well. Now they venture across the country to gather more information about the correct location to return the magic, and along the way they find allies and enemies among the local populace.
Romance flickers up causing some tension among the allies, but it is all sorted out by the end of the book. The vampires make some interesting contributions to strategy when the group faces a battle, and when allies make a timely appearance, Blaine’s group wins the day.
They go in some very haunted and creepy places, trying to learn about those who left the kingdom before the magic broke. Clues to their locations are found but Blaine hasn’t found them yet. But surely he will get there in a later volume! This book is part of a saga, so hopefully there are several more to come.
As usual with Gail’s fantasy, we get epic battles, some romance, magic both good and nasty, and in this volume some strangely bonkers relatives who turn out to be suffering a side effect from the fall of magic. For epic fantasy lovers, this is the new read for you!
Book Release Party Note: Your Humble Reviewers attended the great book release party for this novel at RavenCon. See the review of that convention in the spring writer’s events column: http://bullspec.com/2014/05/15/the-exploding-spaceship-spring-event-reviews-for-authors/
Review of Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch (mass market Daw Books, Feb 4 and Gollancz, May 8)
This is book four of the Rivers of London series, a police procedural set in an urban fantasy London, sort of “Harry-Potter-grows-up-and-becomes-a-policeman”, but didn’t know about magic until he is a newbie copper. A ghost talking to him sets things off in the first book. In this, the fourth volume, there is a killer on the loose and a grimoire missing, plus a crazy apartment builder who may have been linked to some weird goings-on before and after his death.
Peter and his associate Lesley move into the strange apartment complex to investigate. This gets them away from the Folly, its housekeeper and their boss Nightingale. This doesn’t seem to be too important at first, but as the partnership between Peter and Lesley falls apart over the course of the book, the absence of Nightingale in their everyday lives makes a big difference.
All of this including the apartment complex are south of the Thames so in the purview of a certain river goddess who has a rather prickly relationship with Peter. Throw in a major battle with a bad wizard and you have a Peter Grant adventure that’s an even rockier ride than the previous three. As Peter becomes more experienced with magic, he gets more sensitive to signs of it and less likely to call his boss at the first sign of trouble, so of course he gets in over his head repeatedly. If Peter didn’t have incredible luck, he would have died several times already!
If you like a good fantasy thriller then this book is a great read for you! Also the London in the book is fairly accurate, except where the author deviates for story reasons (usually explained in the notes) so for those who know the city or wish to, it is a great way to immerse yourself in London via a book. This volume kept the UK cover for the American edition so the cover fits much more with the content of the book. We bought the second and third volumes in the UK edition because the US covers didn’t match our hardback of Rivers of London.