Go read FOUNDRYSIDE right now

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Guys I am very tired and very sick and I should have been in bed an hour ago but instead I started this 500-page book like last night or maybe the night before that again I’ve been sick and this weekend is a bit of a blur but holy shit it’s good and I just finished it after reading basically all day and you need to read it now now now now dammit now why are you still here

God I need sleep

#REVIEW: THE RISING, by Ian Tregillis

51RRWWIEqCL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Rising is the second book in Ian Tregillis’ The Alchemy Wars series.  I read the first book, The Mechanical, last year, and it was my favorite book of the year.  So you can probably imagine I was pretty excited to get my hands on this one.  Unfortunately for me, it arrived when I was hip-deep in something else and so my wife got to it first and I had to wait a while.

Light spoilers throughout, larger spoilers for the first book in the series; needless to say the end result will be “You should read both.”

Here’s the premise of the series:  sometime in the … seventeenth century?  Whenever Christiaan Huygens was alive; I can never remember– the Dutch invented Clakkers, mechanical clockwork servitors that they basically used to take over the world.  This series is set in the 1920s or so, but it doesn’t really matter all that much because the Clakkers have so radically reshaped human history; the feel of the book is very eighteenth-century, except with these incredible enslaved things walking around.  In The Rising, a servitor named Jax gained free will (Clakkers are bound by a system of rules called geasa that control their behavior, and have to obey human instructions at all times) and the book bounced back and forth between the Netherlands and the French/Catholic state-in-exile in the New World.  As far as I can tell, the Dutch and what’s left of France are the two major global powers, and France has spent the entire series on the ropes.

Part of what made The Mechanical so fascinating was that the book genuinely had interesting things to say about what free will was; at one point a French spy is captured and they manage, more or less, to turn him into a biological Clakker and release him back into the wild to cause all sorts of hell, only he’s still in there and, as a human being and a former priest, isn’t so wild on missions like “strangle the Pope.”  The scenes where his free will is removed are fascinating, and when it nearly happens to another character you’re genuinely scared for her.  Unfortunately, the weaknesses of The Rising are squarely where the first book is so strong; Fr. Visser is backgrounded for the vast majority of the story (although the few scenes he gets are spectacular) and you don’t really ever get that fear for the main characters that was so pervasive in The Rising.  There’s also little to be said about free will here; the philosophical conversations of the first book are entirely absent.

What it’s replaced with is more action, which is not really something that I can complain about, because it’s spectacularly written.  The French capital of Marseilles-in-the-West is under siege by a Clakker army for effectively the entire running time of the book, and Tregillis writes some of the best large-scale battle scenes I’ve ever seen.  Also a pleasure is the expansion of French commander Hugo Longchamp’s role in the book; Longchamp has one of the filthiest mouths I’ve ever seen in a novel before, and you guys know I love few things more than I love inventively-used profanity.  Jax, surprisingly, isn’t in the book as much as I’d thought, and spends most of his page time either alone or around new characters.  His entire arc is effectively a big spoiler so I won’t talk about it much other than to say interesting things happen and I can’t wait to see what happens with Book Three.

So: As good as The Mechanical?  No.  This is on my shortlist, but it’s January, and it’s not going to be my favorite book of 2016.   But “Not as good as the best book I read last year” is not a complaint, especially for the second book in a trilogy, and especially when that second book sets up Book 3 in such a way that I was clawing for a time machine once I was done reading.  If you haven’t read this series yet, you owe it to yourself.  Go.  Now.  If you’ve read The Mechanical, I’m confident that you’ve already read The Rising and don’t really need my orders about it.  But go read it anyway.

REVIEW: ALL THE KING’S-MEN, by Adam Dreece

71iL99WEEvLThis one’s gonna be a bit tricky, so bear with me.  The tl;dr version is this: if you’ve enjoyed the previous Yellow Hoods books (and you should have!) you’ll enjoy Adam Dreece’s ALL THE KING’S-MEN.  I have a couple of gripes about this particular volume, and I’ll fill you in on them, but I think they’re less problems with the book itself and more an issue of the author zigging when I wanted him to zag.  In general, you should be reading this.

Let’s address an elephant in the room, too: see that hyphen in King’s-Men?  Did your eye twitch just a little bit when you saw that hyphen?  Did you, perhaps, think oh, God, he didn’t put a typo right into the title of the book, did he?

Worry not.  They actually address it in the story, and it ends up being relevant, believe it or not.  Pay more attention to the awesome King’s-Horse (yep, another hyphen) and the Yellow Hood with the mechanical horse riding it.(*)  Dreece has always called his series emergent steampunk, meaning a world that is not quite a steampunk world but is on its way, and Book 3 takes some large strides in that direction.  The biggest difference between ATK-M and the previous volumes in the series is Dreece’s willingness to broaden his story.  This book begins with a map, and while I think the map has appeared in at least one of the previous volumes this has been the first one where I thought it was necessary.  What started as a story about a young girl named Tee and the cool club she and a few of her friends were in has gotten much larger and much, much more complicated.

Which is either a weakness or a strength, depending on how you look at it.  If you enjoy Dreece’s worldbuilding, you’ll see much more of that here.  I found, unfortunately, that I missed the titular Hoods, who are in the story, but aren’t really the focus of the story as much as they have been in previous books.  Tee herself isn’t remotely as present as she has been, and spends most of her time on-page being pissed off.  Is this automatically a weakness?  Not necessarily; again, Dreece is going a different direction from maybe where I wanted him to, but that’s his prerogative as an author.  The worldbuilding is unique and cohesive, the villains dastardly, and the backstory is interesting and well-integrated into the rest of the story.  It’s just not quite what I wanted.  And while the book is still YA, it’s an order more complicated than the previous books, and at least one character’s arc ends up dark by the end of the book.  So maybe be prepared for that.

All in all, though?  I’ll be back for Book Four, which I believe has just finished first-draft status and is moving into editing now.  I’m going to make sure to reread the previous volumes before it comes out, too.  Go check it out.

(*) I said this in my review of Book One (I appear to not have reviewed Book Two, which surprises me,) but Dreece’s cover artist is spectacular, and I want to steal her for a project in the future.  Just not sure which one.

Review: ALONG CAME A WOLF, by Adam Dreece

Book-1-COVER-Sept2014-Along-Came-a-Wolf-by-Adam-Dreece-196x300I promised at least three reviews of books by fellow independent authors, and this would be the third.  I’ve owned a copy of Adam Dreece’s Along Came A Wolf for nearly as long as I’ve owned my Kindle, and based on (finally!) finishing the first book recently, I’ve ordered both it and its sequel in print form.  As I’ve said repeatedly, print books sit on my unread shelf and stare at me until I get them read.  My Kindle can’t do that, so print books always get read faster.

Dreece calls Along Came A Wolf and its sequels “Emergent Steampunk” (Breadcrumb Trail is available now at the same link above, and the third volume, All the King’s Men, is forthcoming,) which is an interesting choice, because I suspect most people aren’t going to know what the hell an emergent steampunk is until after they’ve read the book.  The idea is this: technology is pretty highly variable depending on where you are and what you’re trying to do in Dreece’s world, but the world is almost at a point where steampunk-style technology is becoming available.  One of the main characters in the book is an inventor, and there are hints everywhere that the things he’s working on are going to change the world.

Wolf is also YA, but it’s the kind of YA that adults won’t have any problems with, other than a few little references here and there that kids might not pick up on and grown-ups at least ought to, like the fact that the book is called Along Came a Wolf and the villain is named LeLoup.  Or the Cochon brothers.  (I’m not sure what part of Canada Dreece resides in, but I’m guessing it’s one of the Frenchier sections.  EDIT: Calgary.  Is that Frenchy?  I don’t know Canada.)  The inventor character I alluded to earlier is, in Dreece’s own words, a combination of Santa Claus and Nikola Tesla, which somehow works out super awesome.

I haven’t actually mentioned the titular Yellow Hoods.  The three characters that make up this… group?  Club?  Organization? are Tee, a twelve-year-old girl who is the book’s main character, and her friends Elly and Richy.  Elly and Richy aren’t nearly as well-drawn as Tee is, but watching the trio work together to solve their problems is fun.  I won’t spoil the plot (Bad happens!  They try and fix it!) but it’s a genuinely fun adventure and, well, like I said, I paid for it twice and have already bought the sequel.

One unfortunate criticism: the book does have some minor editing issues here and there, mostly coming in the form of slightly misused serial commas.  (EDIT: See here.) If you’re not a grammar purist it’s not something that’s going to bother you, and Dreece’s writing itself is of high quality, but… former Language Arts teacher.  I’m a grammar purist.  🙂

A final note: I want to steal Dreece’s cover artist from him.  I know the books have been through at least a couple of cover changes (the cover image on my version of the book is not the same as the one above) and the character work on his current set of covers is fantastic.  Chain this person to a table so that he or she can’t get away.  This is great work.