Monday, 18 September 2017

Review: The Censor's Hand

The Censor's Hand The Censor's Hand by A.M. Steiner
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I stopped reading this twice.

The first time, at maybe 15%, I went off and read several other books. I didn't feel much desire to go back to it, but I wasn't hating it, so I gave it another go. In part, I wanted to figure out why it was that I didn't care about any of the characters, and give the author a chance to change that.

I got to 64% before I realised why it was that I didn't care, and at that point I stopped.

The narrative follows three loosely connected main characters. One is in financial trouble and about to lose the family business, which would mean his ill mother, his wife, and their baby would have no means of support. You'd think this would make me care about him, but he's so hapless and hopeless, and makes such bad decisions, that I never did. His family seems to be more of a constraint on his actions than people that he cares deeply about.

The second is the first character's brother. He's a competent fighter, and ambitious to clean up their old neighbourhood by becoming a Censor, a kind of lawman. Again, a laudable goal, and you'd think I'd care, but he fumbles around, not showing a lot of focus or competence, serving an obviously heartless organization which considers him a tool, and not a particularly valuable one.

The third character is a woman student - the first woman student - at a magical college, at which the second character is also a student as part of an undercover investigation. They become involved. So why didn't I care about a woman who's making her way in a man's world by being better than the male students? Normally I'd love that story, but this character is so nakedly ambitious, and so uncaring about anyone other than herself, that I had no sympathy for her goals.

And that was the overall problem, I think. Nobody combined competence with idealism; everyone was missing one or the other, and nobody had any noticeable compassion or empathy. Faced with a cast of characters who didn't much care about each other, I didn't care about them either, and stopped reading with no regrets.

I received a review copy via Netgalley.

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Review: Abounding Might

Abounding Might Abounding Might by Melissa McShane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Melissa McShane crashes the superhero genre into Regency romance, by way of Napoleonic military adventure. The effect is... pleasing.

In part, it's pleasing because she has a sure hand on the wheel when it comes both to basic storytelling and the mechanics of grammar, punctuation, and word choice. There was nothing to distract or detract from my enjoyment of the characters, the plot, and the setting, and those elements were very well handled.

I much enjoyed the first in this series, Burning Bright, with a heroine who could control fire battling pirates in the early-19th-century Caribbean, and this volume is as good or better. Set in the British-dominated India of the East India Company during the Regency, it follows Lady Daphne, a teleporter ("Bounder") who is determined not to let her small stature or feminine nature prevent her from becoming famous for her skill. She lifts weights, since, to transport other people, she has to pick them up; and she chafes against, and often effectively circumvents, the restrictions imposed on her as a woman.

She does, at one point, make a less-than-sensible decision which leads to bad consequences, but it's a completely believable one (not just shoehorned in against character in order to complicate the plot), and she deals with the consequences with courage and determination. She's principled, intelligent, and in general exactly the kind of character I enjoy reading about. Her love interest, while perhaps a touch bland compared with her (since we're in her viewpoint throughout, we don't really get to see his inner life), is worthy and capable.

I wasn't sure I quite understood how the minor antagonist was disturbing the hero, though I do have a theory, which Daphne would realistically have been too naive to think of. Apart from that, everything was clear, and I didn't spot any plot holes or obvious historical gaffes.

A very sound effort, and I believe I'll pick up Book 2 and watch out for Book 4, if there is one. I received both Book 1 and Book 3 via Netgalley for purposes of review.

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Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: Masked

Masked Masked by J.D. Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been in the mood for superhero fiction lately, but it's hard to find good stuff. Most of it is poorly edited and not especially well executed, and I'm afraid this one isn't an exception.

At first it got the Randy Jackson reaction: It was just OK for me, you know, dogg? I could have overlooked most of the issues - even titanium not being a good conductor of electrical blasts, although the same electrical blasts were destroying creatures made of rock, and even the gradual drift from third person limited into more and more headhopping - but what dropped it down to three stars was the implausible stupidity of the characters.

So let's say you have important information about a wanted supervillain - who he is, that he's even still alive, that kind of thing. And let's say that this supervillain, if not stopped, is going to kill more people, like he already has several times. And let's say that you have contact with a highly effective organisation that has much better resources than you do, many trained agents with lots of experience, and you're a group of late-teenage supers just starting out. And you have no reason to expect that there will be any negative consequences to telling this organisation about this villain, who is, again, killing people and needs to be stopped.

What do you do? Well, of course you agree not to tell them, and to go after him yourselves, and none of you even questions that this is the right thing to do in the circumstances.

Nope, sorry. Blatant stupidity in the service of setting up a sequel gets your sequel left unread.

Apart from that, it was, as I say, OK. A bit more detail about the teenage sex than was needed, maybe, but generally average. There were two black characters, both of whom were tech wizards, which seems to often be the lot of black supers (think John Stewart, John Henry Irons, Cyborg and his father...). It's interesting how this trope, which theoretically is about black people being intelligent, in practice often works out as giving them a subsidiary, supporting role in which they're not expected to protagonise or to need a character arc (which is the case here).

Maybe that's improved upon in the next book. I'll never know, because that one moment of supreme stupidity put me off reading it.

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: The Thorn of Dentonhill

The Thorn of Dentonhill The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, fantasy authors, listen up. This is simple, but I see a lot of you getting it wrong - including this author.

The phases of the moon are caused by the angle between the moon and the sun.

This means that, if two moons are in the same part of the sky, they cannot be in different phases.

It's not even basic astronomy; it's basic geometry.

OK, with that out of the way: apart from the moon-phase error and the frequent absence of the past perfect tense (plus the usual number of minor typos and homonym errors), this was good. No better than plenty of much cheaper indie books, so I'm glad I waited until Penguin discounted it; but good, nevertheless.

A superherolike vigilante mage in a sword-and-sorcery setting, seeking revenge on a drug lord for what was done to his parents? Yes, please.

The protagonist is getting by on not enough sleep, getting beaten up and injured, overtaxing his magical strength, and he keeps promising himself and his concerned friends that he'll definitely rest up and heal, that he won't go out again the next night - and then something happens to raise the stakes, and his principles won't let him stand by, and he gets beaten up again and barely wins again and staggers back covered in blood, to vow that this time he'll look after himself...

It's a good way of maintaining tension, and setting it up so that the lone vigilante needs the help of those who care about him to triumph against the increasingly scary odds with higher and higher stakes. Good storytelling, in other words. Along the way, the secondary characters are developed and gain depth and individuality, as well as having their own character arcs.

There's only one female character, and she's a bit under-utilised, but not weak; though she does need rescuing, she also shows competence and ability in rescuing another character.

The Batman parallels are strong, but not excessive. Overall, solid work.

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Saturday, 5 August 2017

Review: Necrospect: Chronicles of the Wizard-Detective

Necrospect: Chronicles of the Wizard-Detective Necrospect: Chronicles of the Wizard-Detective by J.B. Markes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Promising, with some impressive twists. The idea of a necromancer detective is good, and the characters were well developed, though the viewpoint character, to me, seemed insufficiently motivated for the sacrifices she made.

It does read as if the author's first language is not English; there are quite a few muddled idioms, plus the occasional incorrectly punctuated bit of dialog and a few missing words. I thought that referring to "the wizarding world" was a mistake; it immediately made me think of Harry Potter, and when you're setting a book in a magic academy, you should probably try not to evoke that comparison (particularly since there's not a lot of resemblance).

I did enjoy it, though, and I'd read another.

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Review: Sensation

Sensation Sensation by Kevin Hardman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good piece of YA superhero fiction. The moral lines are clear, which personally I like, and the main character is on the right side of them - though he's justifiably angry, and messes up believably in the way that inexperienced young people do.

He's overpowered. I prefer my heroes to be underpowered rather than overpowered, from a bias towards underdogs, but it is justified by the story that the author is telling, and the author does, at one point (albeit briefly), set it up so that the protagonist loses each power as he uses it. He has so many that it almost doesn't matter, and when it's crucial to the plot he doesn't lose one, but at least the attempt was made.

A couple of dangling modifiers, a few homonym errors, "alright" instead of "all right", and the inexcusable use of multiple question marks and exclamation marks (together) keep it off the "well-edited" shelf, but it's pretty clean apart from that.

I would have bought the next one, except that the subsequent books are all priced at $5.99. While it's good, it's not twice as good as plenty of books I can get for half that price, so I'll read those instead.

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Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd vaguely heard good things about this book, and bought it when it came up on sale.

I ended up being disappointed because it didn't go in the direction I was expecting, in terms of the relationship between the characters, and even more because I ended up thoroughly disliking the main female character. Not just for her selfishness, but for her ill-conceived and irresponsible actions, and her attitude to the other main characters.

Now, partly this is a matter of taste in types of story, and has nothing to do with quality. But on the question of quality, there are quite a few accidentally omitted words; "harrow" as a mistake for "furrow"; a confusion between baron and baronet (which are completely different); and a safety catch on a revolver. It's not terrible, but it needs more polish.

Everyone - the Japanese Buddhist, the well-brought-up young lady, everyone - has only one swear: "Christ". This struck me as both mildly offensive and unlikely.

I won't be looking for more books by this author.

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