#REVIEW: The Paladin Trilogy, by Daniel M. Ford

I have reviewed a couple of Daniel M. Ford’s books in this space before, and they always have to start with a disclaimer: Dan and I are friends, or at least are whatever parasocial, mutual-followers-on-social-media, never-met-before sort of friends that stand in for most of my adult social relationships nowadays. He’s a Cool Guy, is what I should be saying, and if you stopped right now and followed him on Twitter and didn’t read the rest of the post you’d actually come off pretty well anyway. That said (and the second sentence in the disclaimer always starts with “that said,”) authors are really really good at reading each others’ work and just quietly never saying anything when we don’t like it. I don’t know if I would have bought any of these books if I didn’t know Dan through Twitter; I am absolutely certain I would have liked them just as much once I encountered them.

Anyway, I’ve worked my way through his Paladin Trilogy over the last who-knows-how-long, finishing up with the massive, 800-page doorstop Crusade, which absorbed a good chunk of my February, and while for some reason I didn’t review the first two (although I think I mentioned them here and there,) I’m reviewing the series as a whole now that it’s concluded: this is really good epic fantasy, and most excitingly, it’s epic fantasy of a style that I really don’t think I’ve seen before: it’s about religion. The main character, as you might guess, is a Paladin, the first convert of a new religion, and while the series is mostly Allystaire’s story, it’s also very much the story of how the religion of the followers of the Mother begins to gain traction in the collection of baronies that the story is set in. The book is second-world fantasy and manages to be both low fantasy and high fantasy at the same time; the Mother ends up with five main apostles, four humans and a dwarf, and all of them end up with various powers of one sort or another, and there are some really magically powerful enemies, but the world itself is not heavily magic-imbued. The bad guys would not feel out of place in a Robert Jordan Conan book, if you’re looking for a vague analog to the style.

The apostles are known as the Arm (that’s Allystaire,) the Wit, the Voice, the Will and the Shadow, and all of the characters have their own roles to play in the Mother’s religion. The first book is mostly dedicated to pulling the team together, for lack of a better phrase, the second to establishing the Mother’s religion as a threat to the status quo, and the books end as all fantasy trilogies should, with a big war. It’s delicious work from start to finish, and I’ve praised Dan’s exceptional character work in my other reviews and it’s on full display here. I really liked reading about Allystaire in a way that isn’t terribly common for me(*) and the way he balances his innate sense of justice with his (admittedly bad) temper and his responsibilities to his deity and to the people he’s supposed to protect are fascinating. You don’t see a whole lot of discussion of moral behavior in fantasy, and Allystaire is fascinating in that he’s more or less constantly worried about doing what is right and just but still never comes off as, well, as obnoxious as you think a paladin character could very easily be. Of the other characters, the Shadow, Idgen Marte, and the Wit, a dwarf named Torvul, are the standouts. I particularly wish I could learn more about Torvul. I spent the entire third book worrying about something bad happening to Torvul.

In a lot of ways, these books are what I’ve been looking for this year. I’ve been doing Big Reading Projects for the last several years, and this year I mostly wanted to kind of pull back and take refuge in genre, and this big honkin’ fantasy trilogy with a unique angle on the genre, great worldbuilding, interesting politics and character work and cool magic has been a great way to start off the year. I’ve told my wife to check them out, which is not a sentence you see around here all that often. Definitely definitely check them out, y’all, you won’t regret it.

(*) To vastly oversimplify things, some people read for language, some for character, and some for story. I have majored in Story with a minor in Worldbuilding, so those things are what I look to first, and a book that tells a cool story but maybe has boring or annoying characters will win out for me over a book with intricately developed characters but a boring story.

#Review: CHEAP HEAT, by Daniel M. Ford

Dan Ford and I have been mutual followers on Twitter for some time now, and I finally ordered one of his books a few months ago. That led to me immediately buying the first book of his epic fantasy series The Paladin Trilogy and pre-ordering Cheap Heat, his second Jack Dixon novel, the sequel to Body Broker. It is fair to take my reviews of his work with a small amount of salt, as I do quite like the guy, but as I said in the linked review there authors do tend to be pretty good at just going radio silent when we don’t like each others’ work, and he would never have asked one way or another. (That said, I don’t seem to have reviewed Ordination, the first Paladin book– rest assured, I liked it as well.)

Cheap Heat picks up more or less right where Body Broker left off, with our hero Dixon continuing to live on his houseboat and eat his almond butter and act as a PI on the side. Ford’s character work continues to be the shining star of his writing; I feel like I know Jack Dixon, and he feels like a real, if a bit charmingly quirky, character. Dixon is contacted by a former wrestling teammate who has made the jump from collegiate-level wrestling to a mid-sized pro circuit. His character is based on Ulysses S Grant, and seeing as how the circuit takes place mostly in the mid-Atlantic and the South, his character is actually a bad guy— and he’s been receiving death threats. Dixon has to embed himself inside the wrestling company as they go on tour while he attempts to figure out who is threatening to kill his friend, and so the back 2/3 of the book is on tour with this touring professional wrestling crew, which is not something I’ve ever seen in a novel before and definitely made the book memorable.

This is the second of Ford’s novels I’ve read at effectively one sitting (Ordination is a bit too long for that to have been an option;) I started it before bed last night, put it down to sleep, then got up in the morning and finished it. If I have a gripe about the book, it’s that it’s a little too short– about the same length as Body Broker at 238 pages, so I’m sure the length is a deliberate decision, but I’d have liked another 20 pages or so to let some of the subplots and the relationships between the characters breathe a little bit more. Dixon’s relationship with his newfound girlfriend Gen feels a little bit shorted, especially since he’s on the road for the majority of the book and so they aren’t actually together– I’ll admit that there were a couple of places in the book where I was mentally shouting Call your girlfriend! at him. But I would like more of this please is not really that strong of a criticism, as they go.

The ending, I think, deserves some particular praise, as the main plot of the story and a simmering subplot carried forward from the first book knit themselves together in a way that frankly took me completely by surprise, and there is a twist in the very last sentence that has me seriously curious about where Ford plans to go with Jack Dixon next. The third book is already planned– it’s called Doctor’s Note according to that final page– but as of right now I don’t believe it has a release date. I was lucky to read Body Broker when Cheap Heat wasn’t that far off from release; I’m going to have to wait for this next one, unfortunately.

The good news is, every time I catch Dan on Twitter I can yell at him to get back to work. 🙂

12:53 PM, Tuesday, May 19: 1,510,988 confirmed cases and 90,432 American deaths.

In which I finished two books yesterday

I never got around to writing a post yesterday, at least partially because I spent damn near the entire day with a book in my hand. First off: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Ruin, which I started a few days ago and finished the last 200 pages or so of yesterday. I’ve already reviewed the first book in this series (I don’t know if there are more planned; they are stand-alone enough that there doesn’t have to be, but sci-fi and fantasy writers tend to think in terms of trilogies or longer, so…) and Children of Ruin is every bit as strong of an effort as the first book. I read a lot, y’all know that, as this year the blog has really morphed into a book review site, and if there is another author out there who writes genuinely alien cultures better than Adrian Tchaikovsky does I’m going to need you to let me know who they are right now. As it is, the guy’s got another book on my shelf and a ten-book series that I’ve never read and another trilogy, so I’ve got enough books by him out there to last me a while, and believe me, I’ll be getting to them. This book adds two different alien species, one an octopus-based intelligence and the other … well, there’s another, and I feel like discussing it is a spoiler, to the human and spider cultures from Children of Time, and it’s amazing how differently each of them feel. He’s got a great knack for the little stuff, and I’m glad that I sort of cheat with my end-of-year list and put sequels and main books on the same spot on the list, because otherwise that job would be even harder than it’s going to be already.

(An example: at one point one of the octopodes makes reference to 6/8 as a fraction. At first the math teacher in me was mildly annoyed by the fact that he didn’t reduce the fraction, and then it hit me– the damn things have eight legs, so of course they use base-8 mathematics. He could have just used percentages and left this out, but he didn’t. That kind of thing.)

Anyway, if for some reason you haven’t read this series yet, get on it.

Meanwhile, don’t ever tell me that Twitter doesn’t sell books. I don’t know off the top of my head how long Daniel M. Ford and I have been mutual follows, but it’s been a while, and for some reason one of his tweets caught me at the exact right moment a few weeks ago and I ordered one of his books. Now, this is always a tricky thing for authors, and I think most of us have learned that even if we find out that a fellow writer has ordered one of our books, you never, ever ask if they’ve read it yet or what they thought. I absolutely hate it when I don’t like the books of writers I know, particularly indie writers (Dan writes for an independent publishing house, but I don’t know that he’d style himself an “indie author,” at least not the same way I do) and there’s always some trepidation whenever I start to read the book because of that, especially since I record everything I read on Goodreads and people tend to notice. Another issue in this case was that the book is a detective/procedural mystery, a genre I dabble in from time to time but am not generally a huge fan of.

I, uh, read the book in a single sitting, starting it around 8:30 last night and finishing it just after midnight, and I’ve already preordered the sequel and ordered a copy of the first book of his fantasy Paladin trilogy. So, yeah, I guess I liked it. The real victory here is the main character himself, Jack Dixon, who lives on a houseboat and thinks apples and protein-infused peanut butter measured precisely by the tablespoon counts as a meal, and yet who somehow felt like a real person who I knew within a chapter or two of the start of the book. I am typically more story-focused than character-focused as a reader, but Jack’s persona is compelling and clearly-drawn enough that I want to know more about him. Ford’s lean-and-clean, no-frills prose is perfectly suited to writing a detective novel, too; it’ll be really interesting to see how he handles a fantasy novel, which tend a bit more toward the flowery. My only gripe is that the ending felt a bit abrupt to me– the actual mystery is solved around the 80% mark and the end of the book is more like a coda and setup for the next book than anything else, but as there is another book coming it’s not as big of a weakness as it might be as a pure standalone.

So, yeah. ‘Twas a good day for reading yesterday.