Monday, September 25, 2017

recent read; The Mines of Behemoth



THE MINES OF BEHEMOTH by Michael Shea

This is the second book concerning Nifft the Lean and is a full novel, unlike the first collection of novellas.

Nifft the Lean and Barnar Hammer-Hand are thieves fallen on hard times. They sail to earn money working a "sap mine." This is no ordinary venture - the "sap" comes from draining gigantic grubs - the offspring of even more gargantuan behemoths. These creatures nest in our world and burrow far into the demon sub-world to sustain their ravenous appetites. On their way to the task, Nifft and Barnar are offered a more lucrative enterprise. Despite growing dangers, their work yields more and more opportunities for wealth, which the two thieves cannot resist to exploit.

Shea seemed to love giant monsters. The creatures throughout the Nifft tales are mostly of giant proportions. It's an interesting take for fantasy novels, where - aside from dragons or frost giants - heroes often face things their own size or somewhat larger.

Shea's use of language in these tales borders on purple and flowery but it does convey and bring Nifft's world to life in vivid detail.

The Nifft stories are heroic fantasy but somewhat removed from classic sword-&-sorcery. The combat is negligible, often tossed off in a few words as monstrous limbs are hacked. No hard or long fought duels or grand armies in battle. There is more an exploration of the fantasy world and Nifft's character journey.

Speaking of which, Nifft does get greedy along the arc of this tale. To the point where I was afraid I wouldn't like him at the end. But Shea, thankfully, includes redemption in the conclusion of the story.

I enjoyed Nifft's journey through the behemoth mines. I'll be returning for THE A'RAK in the near future.

(p.s. - Technically, this was a "recent listen" not a "recent read" as THE MINES OF BEHEMOTH is out-of-print but available through Audible.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

recent read; A Conversation in Blood


A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD by Paul S. Kemp

Egil and Nix are back.

The story started off a little slow this time. Egil spends too much time in his cups and Nix tries to pull his friend out of the downward spiral while feeling caged and edgy himself. Finally, Egil and Nix and their friends agree that Egil and Nix need to get busy with an adventure.

Spring-boarding from the previous story, Nix decides to investigate a mysterious treasure they secured on the their last adventure. As their luck would have it, the simple task of investigation blows up in their faces and they are soon on the run from wizards, unkillable creatures, and seeking sanctuary in the last place they want to go; the thieves' guild house - which they had assaulted in the previous novel.

Egil and Nix are their bantering selves and this time they are joined by a third adventurer, Jyme, who returns from their first story, THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE.

Kemp peels away a few more layers of the onion that is the history their world, too. Tantalizing tidbits.

Though the story is still very much (what I would call) sword-&-sorcery/heroic fantasy milieu, the stakes do get very high and large in scope by the climatic end of the tale.

Though events in A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD are initiated by events of the previous novel, the book can be read standalone.

A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD is another satisfying romp with Egil and Nix.

==
One complaint that has nothing to do with the story or the writing - the font of the mass market paperback. I am very disappointed with Del Rey. The font on this is just ridiculously small. Yes, I have glasses but I hate taxing my eyes as I get older. I find the use of tiny fonts with small presses, sometimes, and I assume they are cutting page count and cost. I still don't like it and I see no reason why a larger press like Del Rey needs to do such a thing.

Pay for the extra print pages!

Luckily, for my old eyes, I listened the audiobook.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

recent read; THE BONE EATER KING


THE BONE EATER KING by Steve Van Samson

When an author states that one of Robert E. Howard's stories was a direct influence and inspiration to his novel, my ears perk up. When the author then notes "Hills of the Dead," rather than the expected Conan nod, you have my rapt attention.

"Hills of the Dead," of course, features REH's hero, the God-driven Solomon Kane, striding through vampires in an Africa of the 1500s.

Though inspired by Robert E. Howard's "The Hills of the Dead," this story is no re-tread. Van Samson chooses Africa as his setting but he wisely uses current (near-future) Africa rather than a past, pulp styling of the Dark Continent. Van Samson's Africa, while a post apocalyptic wasteland, touches on modern Africa - poverty and success, wealth and knowledge, game reserves, poachers, industrial complexes and modern cities.
Once there were no more plant eaters, carnivores had to turn on each other for food. Lion preyed upon the jackal and the hyena upon the leopard, but all cowered before the new apex, the matsatsaku maza.

Welcome to Predator World.
The matsatsaku maza are monstrous vampires and Van Samson plays with traditional tropes and African myth to create his own unique breed of vampires.

The story tells of the red man, who we learn is in some form of vampire transformation. He is befriended by a hard warrior woman, with her own secrets and emotional baggage. They make their way through the deadly terrain, heading for sanctuary - of which there is little to be found.

Van Samson handles the narrative very well. Confusion and fear are palatable. The non-linear unfolding keeps the reader interested and engaged. The African setting is stellar - another intriguing facet of the story.

THE BONE EATER KING is a startlingly original horror action novel that grabs you tooth and claw and does not let go.

I'm already excited to read its sequel, MARROW DUST.

recent read; SCAVENGERS


 SCAVENGERS by David J. West

David J. West continues to challenge his story writing abilities and we're all the better for it. After walking, running, and haranguing Porter Rockwell through various adventures of the Weird West, West now brings us a novel length work which - for the most part - is a straight-up Western featuring the stalwart hero.

Rockwell finds himself caught up in the hunt for lost treasure. He makes a few friends along the way but mostly he is beset by enemies - hostile Natives, criminal gangs, a bandito army, a U.S. cavalry unit lead by an unscrupulous officer, and a manic German reverend with brainwashed followers.

Rockwell needs his guns, wits, strength and fortitude to blaze his way through adventure, enemies and traps. There are some great mental images I had while reading. West provides terrain descriptions that come to life, too. Porter is often out of the frying pan and into the fire as the cliffhanger action keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.

The only touch of 'weird' here is the Reverend's mushroom-tainted communion drink and lost Spanish treasure. The rest is a Western, with a healthy dose of spaghetti-Western, at that.

If you like action-driven Westerns, you should give SCAVENGERS a read!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

recent reads; Porter Rockwell 2-fer


COLD SLITHER

David J. West has created his own Weird Western niche by crafting tales of the historic figure, Porter Rockwell. West weaves Native American myths, monsters, legends, tall tales, and touches of cryptozoology and lost civilizations into a fun and original tapestry. Rockwell strides through this collection of stories. Not to be missed if you're a fan of Weird West tales, action, wry humor, and monsters.


SIX-GUN SERENADE

Two tales of West's Weird West take on Porter Rockwell, the Mormon gunslinger. The first tale extends a story that originally appeared in shorter form. Second story is a previously unreleased bonus. Also, a teaser chapter from his first novel length Porter tale, SCAVENGERS.

Very enjoyable westerns with just the right amount of weird. West has developed his version of Porter into a fun 'cowboy' character. I look forward to reading the novels.

Monday, August 21, 2017

recent read: A Discourse in Steel



A DISCOURSE IN STEEL by Paul S. Kemp

It took me too long to return to Egil and Nix. Kemp has created a great sword-&-sorcery duo. And yes, even I who prefer novella length as tops for sword-&-sorcery, still consider this novel as sword-&-sorcery. Don't let the length fool you. While it has touches of "high fantasy" and some Dungeons & Dragons magical items and dungeon crawls, Egil & Nix comes right out of the Nifft the Lean and Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tradition.

A psychic friend of the duo learns a little too much about the city's thieves guild. The guild tries assassination and Egil & Nix know they won't let up. So the duo goes for the throat of the guild.

They're not out to save the world - they are out to save their friends .. and their whorehouse.

Along the way we get cosmic horrors of a black alley that appears at random in the city, magical "gewgaws," lost civilizations, a whole lot of action and combat, and even deeper reflections on what makes a person a person, friendship and loyalty.

The banter between Egil and Nix comes to life in the audiobook. It might work well on the page, too, but there were moments when I laughed out loud while listening.

Angry Robot originally published the first two Egil & Nix novels. They were dropped after Angry Robot were bought and went through some restructuring.
Original Angry Robot cover
Fortunately, Del Rey picked them up and republished the first two novels and they have released a third, A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD.

I enjoyed A DISCOURSE IN STEEL a whole lot. I won't wait so long between books this time.

And I want a t-shirt;

In a world of slubbers and fakkers, be an Egil (or a Nix.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

recent read; Hammer of Darkness


Hammer of Darkness by Rowan Casey

Hammer of Darkness is the eighth book in the urban fantasy Veil Knights series. The Veil between worlds is thin, and Knights are sworn to protect our world. Each novel deals with a different knight and a different task they must perform. The titles are released direct to ebook.

The series is a throwback using a house-name author to produce short, quick adventure novels. The house-name angle is not a secret, it's mentioned in the series' summary.

In Hammer of Darkness, Hautdesert, a tough Knight who has battle fatigue stretching back through time, provides a noir first-person narrative. Hautdesert is called upon to recover a mystical hamper of power. (yes, "hamper" - not to be confused with the title. See #2 on this list)

Hautdesert navigates his way through the seedier and supernatural dangerous parts of San Francisco. He must battle natural men and supernatural creatures - from witches enhanced by magic to the point of superpowers to succubi vampires and other dangerous elements of black magick and the dark left-hand path.

Along the way, Hautdesert goes through a series of uncomfortable reunions with ex-girlfriends. (Imagine if James Bond revisited paramours from his past movies.) Many of the femme fatales harbor resentment and/or their own motivations when dealing with the hapless knight.

The action pistons along. There is a level of grit, gore and violence keeping the story away from a comfortable polish found in other contemporary urban fantasy stories.

Hammer of Darkness is a solid, quick read if you want a taste of gritty noir urban fantasy.