Michael Burgin

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The release of Steven Erickson’s The Crippled God, the 10th and final book in Malazan Book of the Fallen series, marks the culmination of the single most ambitious, audacious and jaw-droppingly imagined work of epic fantasy since Bilbo Baggins found 13 dwarves outside his door. And it can be argued that even Tolkien’s seminal work lacks the scope—the sheer expanse—of Erickson’s epic.

The central conflict of the series is easy enough to summarize: In ages past, an alien god was torn from its own realm and slammed into this world. In the present, different factions, including the Crippled God itself, battle over what to do about it. To veteran fantasy readers, such a summary might elicit a disinterested, “So?” From Sauron to Shai’tan, from Lord Foul to Voldemort, the fantasy genre practically demands there be a slumbering, chained or just generally surly villain yearning to be free. In fact, though some are well disguised to the point of being fully re-imagined, most of fantasy’s greatest hits populate these pages. The Tiste—be they Andii, Liosan or Edur—are elves. The T’lann Imass are a particularly well-wrought version of the undead. And here there be plenty of dragons.

But attempting to measure Erickson’s achievement by counting tropes and archetypes shared with other “thick-tome generators” in the genre would be like equating Milton’s Paradise Lost with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”—after all, both are poems. No, it is the ambition of the Malazan Book of Fallen coupled with its execution that dwarfs contemporaries past and present. Fueled in large part by the author’s original day job as an anthropologist, the world of The Crippled God and its nine predecessors is so intricately imagined and layered that it’s an embarrassment of fecundity. The cast and action span multiple continents, worlds, dimensions and, oh yeah, the entire timeline of life’s existence.

It may seem strange to spend so much time writing about the series as a whole instead of the book supposedly being reviewed, but let’s consider the obvious: Anyone who has read the first nine books of Erickson’s epic tale is in it for the long haul, and not even a Robert Jordan-like midstream meandering will stop them. Nonetheless, for those stalwarts, The Crippled God is a worthy capstone to the series, replete with all that which brought you here in the first place. After being separated by chapters, sections and sometimes even entire volumes, virtually all of the series’ most fascinating characters make at least a cursory appearance, and most receive ample, closure-worthy coverage. (Finally, a Malazan book without 50+ new important characters.) The battles, while not quite the “tour de holy cow!” experience of Coltaine’s March or the Siege of Capustan, still pack a punch.

Of course, The Crippled God is not without its flaws, but even those are rather established traits of the series. The first half of the book, especially, suffers from what I can only describe as “excess rumination”—a condition that has plagued Erickson’s series like acne plagues teenagers. But again, any reader who has made it this far will endure, and by the last third of The Crippled God, will likely be so engrossed in watching the myriad pieces fall into place, in watching long-maturing stratagems reveal themselves, that Erickson could throw in some pages from Twilight and no one would care.

As for those epic fantasy fans new to Erickson? It’s not like they would start with The Crippled God, anyway. (Malazan virgin, get thee to Gardens of the Moon!)

But for veteran and virgin alike, The Crippled God represents a moment in fiction that demands recognition—the successful conclusion of something audaciously begun. It’s one thing to start a work brimming with promise; it’s quite another to end it in a manner that delivers on that promise. (And in 12 years, no less—take that, George R.R. Martin!) The Malazan Book of the Fallen is Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. It’s Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. It’s Mount Rushmore, freshly carved, and the Panama Canal, freshly dug. And as such, fantasy aficionados everywhere should take a moment and appreciate what has been accomplished, even if they don’t find Erickson’s epic to their taste.

After all, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has been an unprecedented seismic event in the history of epic fantasy. Its impact—and its aftershocks—will be felt in the genre for decades to come.

The release of Steven Erickson’s The Crippled God, the 10th and final book in Malazan Book of the Fallen series, marks the culmination of the single most ambitious, audacious and jaw-droppingly imagined work of epic fantasy since Bilbo Baggins found 13 dwarves outside his door. And it can be argued that even Tolkien’s seminal work […]
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Home Fires, the new book by Gene Wolfe, starts with a simple premise. A man awaits the imminent   return of his true love from a stint in the military. Will she still love him? But of course, it’s more complicated than that. The beloved in question, Mastergunner Chelle Sea Blue, has been deployed in a far-off star system battling against an alien race called the Os. Thanks to the math of faster-than-light travel, a little more than two years will have passed for Chelle when she returns. For protagonist Skip Grison, the man awaiting her return, it’s been more than 20. Despite the decades, Skip’s love is undiminished, but will Chelle still be interested in a late-40s model of Skip? And what exactly is the perfect gift for a returning war hero? A cruise is a good start. Perhaps a reanimated version of her deceased mom?

Though the presence of interstellar travel, alien foes and reincarnation-capable brain scanning technology—among other things—clearly mark Home Fires as science fiction, Wolfe’s latest novel is more akin to classic detective fiction in pace and presentation. After the initial setup and the return of Chelle, Skip Grison finds himself trying to answer an expanding cascade of questions regarding Chelle, her “mother” and a multiplying cast of characters, all the while also trying to survive hostile hijackers, double agents and a woman scorned. Add whole swatches of back-and-forth dialogue largely uninterrupted by narrative exposition, and the feel of Home Fires is more Hammet than Bova.

Though by no means unprecedented, combining the two genres brings with it additional challenges. On one hand, in speculative fiction, the author must anticipate the reader’s need to get his or her bearings. How are things different? The same? What are the rules? Answer these questions too quickly or too completely, and you risk leaving the reader bored. Too slowly, and you may leave the reader disoriented or impatient. In either case, the book risks going unread. Add to this balancing act the demands placed on the reader from within the story by the mystery genre—like Skip Grison, the reader must try to figure out exactly what’s going on—and that fine line one must walk in speculative fiction is made finer, still.

But this is Gene Wolfe, an acclaimed master of speculative fiction. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before—and done well. As a result, pages turn, chapters fly by, and though the ending of Home Fires leaves plenty of unanswered questions—itself a hallmark of Wolfe’s fiction—most readers will only put this book down after it’s been finished. Or reread.

Home Fires, the new book by Gene Wolfe, starts with a simple premise. A man awaits the imminent   return of his true love from a stint in the military. Will she still love him? But of course, it’s more complicated than that. The beloved in question, Mastergunner Chelle Sea Blue, has been deployed in a […]
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It’s been four years since Patrick Rothfuss splashed onto the fantasy scene with his first novel, The Name of the Wind. The debut was a successful one—Rothfuss garnered ample praise from peers and publications alike as a notable new voice in the high fantasy genre. As a result, anticipation for the second book of The Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy has been keen.

In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe—musician, magician, thief and more—continues to tell the story of his quest to learn more about a group of beings known as the Chandrian (or the Seven) who slaughtered his family when he was still a child. With his second book, Rothfuss proves that his initial success was no fluke. Though in itself longer than many trilogies, The Wise Man’s Fear carries the reader along just as swiftly as its predecessor.

As one expects from a sequel, Kvothe’s world gets bigger in The Wise Man’s Fear. In addition to the University that so dominated the action in the latter half of The Name of the Wind, the flame-haired protagonist travels to the distant country of Vintas, treks through the expansive Forest of Eld, spends time in the homeland of the Adem mercenaries and survives an excursion into the realm (and arms) of the Fae.

The wider tableau of The Wise Man’s Fear brings some much-needed geographical “epic expanse” to the series that the first book lacked. Nonetheless, this is still an extremely personal epic. This is a tale told primarily by its main character, and the “tale within a tale” approach is more than just a convenient framing device. Unlike some of those seminal works of unreliable narrators and “tale within a tale” tales (Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or James’ Turn of the Screw, for example)—where one can easily forget there is a fictive narrator relating events—the Kvothe of the present is constantly reasserting his presence as he tells of his past. The result is an epic fantasy that feels more intimate than grand or sweeping. This juxtaposition is but one way in which Rothfuss confounds the expectations of a reader used to traditional fantasy fare.

Though he doesn’t manhandle the cherished clichés of heroic fantasy with quite the ruthlessness of Glenn Cook or George R.R. Martin, Rothfuss doesn’t coddle them, either. Kvothe loses more than he wins, and even his victories are often tainted by the specter of a greater loss merely postponed. At times, it’s frustrating—after all, it could be argued that fantasy readers, more than most, like an occasional clear-cut win. Nonetheless, as a result and to his credit, Rothfuss achieves that most difficult of feats for any fiction writer—the reader seldom can predict what comes next. Despite its templated trappings, the story of Kvothe Kingkiller is not your typical fantasy epic.

By the end of The Wise Man’s Fear, there are plenty of questions unanswered and foreshadowed events untold. So many, in fact, that I would not be at all surprised if this trilogy doesn’t wind up a tetralogy by the time Kvothe’s tale concludes. Too often, such page inflation is a sign of authorial dawdling, editorial flaccidity or even publisher profit-juicing. But given the command Rothfuss has demonstrated thus far—and the sheer expanse of world yet unexplored—readers won’t mind if the story of Kvothe goes a book or two beyond its initial target.

  

It’s been four years since Patrick Rothfuss splashed onto the fantasy scene with his first novel, The Name of the Wind. The debut was a successful one—Rothfuss garnered ample praise from peers and publications alike as a notable new voice in the high fantasy genre. As a result, anticipation for the second book of The […]
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The past two decades have been a prolific period for fantasy and science fiction author David Weber. From 1991 and 2010, between his own works and collaborations with authors such as Erik Flint, John Ringo and Linda Evans, Weber has published more than 35 books. Weber admits that everything he writes tends to “spawn sequels”—there are few single works in Weber’s bibliography. But Weber’s most successful series by far—beginning with 1992’s On Basilisk Station and continuing through 2010’s Mission of Honor—has yielded 12 books as it follows the exploits of female space navy officer, Honor Harrington.

Harrington battles enemy fleets, inimical political machinations and the schemes of genetic slavers in a space operatic milieu that loosely transposes the naval conflicts and political tensions between Great Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars to the far future. (Think a female Horatio Hornblower in space.)

The series has certainly resonated with readers, as several of its entries, including 2000’s Ashes of Victory and 2002’s War of Honor, have reached as high as #12 and #8 on the New York Times bestseller list, respectively.

It turns out that even Weber’s shared-world anthologies spawn sequels—February’s In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor #5 features three new stories based in the “Honorverse.” In addition to Jane Lindskold’s “Ruthless” and Timothy Zahn’s “An Act of War,” Weber himself has contributed “Let’s Dance!” a new Honor Harrington tale.

Though Lindskold, Zahn and Weber’s stories are self-contained enough to keep the interest of a reader unfamiliar with the Honorverse, In Fire Forged is ultimately aimed at an existing fan base. (A fourth and final entry in the anthology, Andy Presby’s “An Introduction to Modern Starship Armor Design,” which is less a story than a faux scientific treatise, will appeal only to the most dedicated Honorverse technophiles.)

In Fire Forged should help tide over fans of Honor Harrington until the next novel, A Rising Thunder, arrives sometime in 2012.

The past two decades have been a prolific period for fantasy and science fiction author David Weber. From 1991 and 2010, between his own works and collaborations with authors such as Erik Flint, John Ringo and Linda Evans, Weber has published more than 35 books. Weber admits that everything he writes tends to “spawn sequels”—there […]
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“Eleanor has been ripped out of time . . .”

Without that one little sentence on the cover, it would be easy, initially at least, to lose one’s genre bearings in the opening 70 pages or so of Jason Gurley’s Eleanor. The prologue and subsequent sections each present the reader with an efficient, though not rushed, snapshot of consecutive tragedies in one family. Connected by more than just the bloodline, each of these episodes is the sort of material from which weepy, sweeping family sagas are made. That Eleanor is, ultimately, exactly that—a sweeping family saga—should not detract from the fact it is also much, much more. These opening blows grant an intimate knowledge of the damage done by the past to the title character in the present, even as it primes the reader to desperately hope the events that follow will allow, somehow, mortal wounds to be redressed.

These opening sequences are worth lingering on for a few reasons. Beyond the need to establish reader trust, they also capture the often hard-to-grasp dilemmas of depression and motherly ambivalence with an ease and economy that pretty much “pay the toll” a reader demands from a writer to keep turning the page, no matter the genre. One could stop at the end of these alone—granted, that would be a pretty depressing place to halt—and deem this a novel worth the time.

Fortunately, there remains the whole “Eleanor being ripped out of time” thing. With past literally as prologue, Gurley turns the reader’s attention to his protagonist, a mostly isolated teenager and, in ways she cannot fully comprehend just yet, a devastated vestige of past parental mishaps and mistakes. Eleanor makes do, serving as caretaker for a mother whose anger has long since chased her father away, until one stressful day she walks through a door and . . . is somewhere else.

Eleanor (and the reader) will spend the rest of the book trying to figure out exactly what is happening, and who might be involved in causing it, but this story is not a Calgon-take-me-away escape to Narnia, the Land or Wonderland. If Eleanor wants a new world, she may have to make it herself. As for the reader, Gurley has crafted an appealing little puzzle. Whether that solution is metaphysical, spiritual, magical or scientific in nature, I’m not saying. Read it for yourself.

“Eleanor has been ripped out of time . . .” Without that one little sentence on the cover, it would be easy, initially at least, to lose one’s genre bearings in the opening 70 pages or so of Jason Gurley’s Eleanor.
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Given the title of C.A. Higgins’ debut novel, Lightless, it’s fitting that so much of the tale’s enjoyment stems from how well and how long it keeps the reader in the dark.

Like any good author, Higgins has rigged the game from the beginning. There’s something about the very setup—three crew members traveling through space in a large spaceship—that might cause a claustrophobic, or monophobic, twitch in some readers. The mission of this “miracle of engineering” called Ananke and of her crew? Unknown. A mere three pages in, Althea, the ship’s engineer and novel’s protagonist, sets this particular tale in motion with two ominous words: “Someone’s boarded.”

From there, and for much of the novel, Lightless relies more on its bona fides as a suspense thriller than any overtly sci-fi-flavored action, large spaceship locale or no. Higgins never lets the ship’s population rise above five or so, and even as the population grows, she rarely presents the reader with more than three characters together at a time. The novel is mostly divided between time spent in the mind of a character and watching a particularly prolonged and thorough interrogation unspool. (As much as some might wish to connect Lightless with Alien or, even better, The Martian, “The Closer in space” is probably the truer pitch.)

It’s for these reasons, and despite a gradually unveiled, sprawling backdrop filled with off-world colonies and an oppressive, ever-watching and oft-suppressing System, that Lightless remains relentlessly intimate throughout. For her part, Higgins sustains the suspense so effectively, that the novel’s rather shocking conclusion doesn’t feel forced or contrived. Instead, it feels like a fitting, explosive release of a plot drawn tight and kept taut before the reader even opened the book.

Granted, Lightless pulls off a few tricks that will only work once. With a sequel, Supernova, scheduled for 2016, it will be interesting to see just how well Higgins handles the transition from claustrophobic thriller with a cast of, well, not many, to the chaotic, actor-filled stage the ending of Lightless at least implies awaits us.

Michael Burgin is the Movies Editor for Paste Magazine. He lives in Nashville.

 

Given the title of C.A. Higgins’ debut novel, Lightless, it’s fitting that so much of the tale’s enjoyment stems from how well and how long it keeps the reader in the dark.

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Occasionally, Jim Butcher likes to write about things other than wizard PIs in a noir-tinged Windy City. His first departure from the 15-book (and counting) Dresden Files series was 2004’s Furies of Calderon, the first of six books in the Codex Alera series. Now comes The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first entry in a new, steampunk-steeped, Napoleonic naval battle-flavored series called The Cinder Spires. True to the steampunk genre mandate, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has plenty of goggles (worn out of necessity, not mere fashion, natch), airships and Old World, aristocratic political structures, known as Spires.

The author wastes no time establishing and gathering his ensemble. By the end of Chapter 8, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has introduced us to Bridget, scion of a once-prominent noble house now on its last legs; her cat, Rowl; highborn Gwendolyn Lancaster and her fighter (“warriorborn”) cousin, Benedict; the grizzled Captain Grimm; and master etherealist Ferus and his assistant, Folly. Not long after that, this particular fellowship has been bound together and sent off to stop the mysterious force behind a very coordinated and deadly series of attacks on Spire Albion by its rival, Spire Aurora.

If much of the initial setup of the book seems rushed (and some of those names, cartoonish), well, they are. If anything, the opening chapters are a reminder of how tough seamless world building can be, especially when you don’t have a fully realized environment premade by, well, reality, as is the case with the modern-day Chicago of the Dresden Files. The initial presentation of Spire Albion relies heavily on a mashup of steampunk clichés and England-versus-France naval intrigue circa the Napoleonic Era, but thanks to the swiftly moving plot, these shortcomings aren’t anywhere near fatal.

With each page turned, the distractions lessen as the characters are fleshed out by actions and interactions. Butcher’s skill in presenting and resolving extended action scenes on multiple fronts also does its part in keeping the reader’s attention. By the end of The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the only question a reader is likely to have is the most important one for any series debut: What is going to happen next?

Michael Burgin writes about movies for Paste magazine. He lives in Nashville.

 

Jim Butcher's exciting new series is a steampunk-steeped, Napoleonic naval battle-flavored series called The Cinder Spires. True to the steampunk genre mandate, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has plenty of goggles (worn out of necessity, not mere fashion, natch), airships and Old World, aristocratic political structures.
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One of the great pleasures of science fiction is watching the mundane be transformed by a vigorous application of cutting-edge (to the general audience, at least) scientific theory. By such a standard, David Walton’s first book, Superposition, was a true joyride. Though the book was by no means the first quantum theory-infused piece of sci-fi, Walton’s bear-hug embrace of this particular field transformed the murder-mystery genre it otherwise inhabited. Whereas most authors are content to use some aspect of quantum theory as a jumping-off point for their stories—a spice giving a tale that sci-fi taste—Walton made the field and its implications the main ingredient. It worked. The energetic unspooling of quantum consequences made Superposition a page-turner in spite of its one-dimensional characters and occasionally implausible “real-world” sequences.

In Supersymmetry, Walton returns to the near-future world of Jacob Kelley and his family, this time focusing on his now-adult daughters, Alex and Sandra. Alex and Sandra are more than twins: They are actually two versions of the same person, an as-yet uncollapsed wave-form of two quantum potentialities left over by the events of the first book.

When it becomes clear that the varcolac, the other-dimensional intelligence that brought them about in the first place, is once again threatening their world, Alex and Sandra are forced to confront both it and their own fears. (Having two “yous” that could return to one at any moment brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “identity crisis.”)

With Supersymmetry, Walton shows that he has a firm grasp on what exactly made Superposition so enjoyable for readers. His latest is filled with multiple dimensions, Higgs singlets and a host of other quantum characteristics and applications. The stakes, as one expects, are higher, even as some of what made the varcolac so compelling—its immense otherness—is diminished a bit by some on-the-nose explanations of purpose and goal. Nonetheless, most readers will find that Supersymmetry’s pages turn just as fast as those of its predecessor.

In Supersymmetry, Walton returns to the near-future world of Jacob Kelley and his family, this time focusing on his now-adult daughters, Alex and Sandra. Alex and Sandra are more than twins: They are actually two versions of the same person, an as-yet uncollapsed wave-form of two quantum potentialities left over by the events of the first book.
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In his novels, Peter Clines likes to dwell in the overlap of genre niches. With his Ex-Heroes series, Clines has created a world where super heroes are a thing, but so is the zombie apocalypse. In 14, he keeps things apocalyptic in flavor, but adds a healthy dose of building-based horror. With his latest, Clines seems to have shifted course a few degrees once more.

The Fold begins and spends much of its time as a pretty straightforward sci-fi-flavored mystery. Mike Erikson has that Holy Grail of a trait for any protagonist in a mystery—an eidetic memory, or the ability to retain a complete, fresh-as-if-it-just-happened record of anything he sees. He also has an I.Q. to match his gift, which is useful, since remembering all the dots doesn’t mean much if one cannot actually connect them. As The Fold begins, we see what Erikson has decided to do with his gift—basically nothing. He’s teaching high school English in a small town and striving to lead a low-key existence. That all ends when an old friend persuades Erikson to help him vet the progress of a particularly interesting, government-funded project.

Once he arrives at the San Diego facility where a group of scientists are conducting research that’s potentially world-changing, both Erikson and the reader assume a familiar and fun position—trying to figure out exactly what is going on. (The clues are there, and whether the reader will guess the truth before Erikson is just a matter of how well he or she connects the dots.)

When the initial mystery is solved, though, it’s as if Clines has just been waiting for it as a cue to make a much sharper genre turn than the reader will expect. Revealing exactly which genre that may be would risk unnecessarily spoiling the denouement for which Clines has spent so much time preparing. Suffice to say that for some, it will be jarring and perhaps even off-putting. For others, well, it’ll still be a bit jarring, but also very satisfying.

 

In his novels, Peter Clines likes to dwell in the overlap of genre niches. With his Ex-Heroes series, Clines has created a world where super heroes are a thing, but so is the zombie apocalypse. In 14, he keeps things apocalyptic in flavor, but adds a healthy dose of building-based horror. With his latest, Clines seems to have shifted course a few degrees once more.
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Little more than a year after the U.S. publication of his award-winning Dark Eden, Chris Beckett returns readers to the alien, hostile planet of Eden and the humans stranded there. In Mother of Eden, 150 years have passed since the events of the previous novel. The human descendants of John, Jeff, Tina, David and the rest—themselves born of the original castaways—have, for the most part, splintered into thriving communities spread across Eden (as opposed to the small, huddled group featured in Beckett’s debut).

Much as with Dark Eden, Mother of Eden features a central, story-driving protagonist even as plenty of pages are given to the first-person perspectives of the supporting cast. Taken out of context, the plot is the stuff Lifetime dramas are made of: Starlight Brooking is a headstrong inhabitant of a small fishing village who decides to leave her people behind to be with a man from a far-off land. But this is Eden, and Beckett has got much more on his mind than happily ever afters. Humanity’s foothold as a species may have grown more secure, but at the same time, the more traditional, intraspecies dangers have multiplied. Starlight and new husband, Greenstone Johnson, find themselves engulfed in what any Earthling will recognize as more traditional—and treacherous—politics. No one can accuse Beckett of Utopian leanings: Starlight’s new home is replete with all the worst behaviors quasi-religion, ego and gender dynamics have to offer.

As plot developments go, it all makes for a compelling read. Yet just as humans and their drama have spread across Eden, the planet itself, with its gloriously alien array of flora and fauna, feels as if it has receded. In part, this is just an illusion. The creatures and ecology of the planet are expanded upon and given plenty of page time—they just don’t represent near the threat to Starlight that other humans do.

To an extent, Mother of Eden seems to continue a thought experiment derived from a simple “classic sci-fi” premise—how would a small group of humans survive marooned long term on an alien world. Dark Eden focused on the politics, psychology and power struggles that exist between individuals in a group, while Mother looks at those same dynamics as they exist between groups in society as a whole. I can’t say I’m very heartened by Beckett’s conclusions thus far. Nor I am surprised—it’s one way he’s made this particular alien world all too human

Little more than a year after the U.S. publication of his award-winning Dark Eden, Chris Beckett returns readers to the alien, hostile planet of Eden and the humans stranded there. In Mother of Eden, 150 years have passed since the events of the previous novel. The human descendants of John, Jeff, Tina, David and the rest—themselves born of the original castaways—have, for the most part, splintered into thriving communities spread across Eden (as opposed to the small, huddled group featured in Beckett’s debut).
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Touted as the perfect fare for readers who love George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, Alex Marshall’s A Crown for Cold Silver presents the type of politically complicated, morally gray terrain associated with those authors.

After her retirement is brutally interrupted by Imperial troops, Zosia resolves to have her revenge on every single person responsible. This might seem a bit ambitious for a middle-aged woman 20 years into retirement, but when your previous gig was as feared rebel leader turned queen, it’s enough to give rulers pause and to shake the political stability of countries.

Marshall’s tale doesn’t just focus on Zosia—no warlord goes it alone, after all. There are also the Five Villains who aided Zosia the first time around. A Crown for Cold Silver jumps back and forth between these and a few other parties as it attempts to weave a complex, enormous world out of nothing.

For the most part, it succeeds.

Marshall, a pseudonym for “an acclaimed author who has previously published several novels in other genres,” certainly knows his or her way around plot and predicament. A Crown for Cold Silver is a better-than-average attempt at replicating the jaw-dropping world-building of Steven Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, with a taste of Glenn Cook’s The Black Company series (especially with its “legendary” array of villains). That said, A Crown for Cold Silver often serves equally as a reminder of how amazing Erickson, Cook and the rest are. The fight scenes in A Crown for Cold Silver don’t suck you in and shrivel your soul as they can in the works of Abercrombie, Martin and Erickson. And the frequent harking to past battles and hard-earned status as legend doesn’t feel as earned as with The Black Company’s coterie of commanders and villains. For this reason, it feels like an author’s first foray into a new genre.

Still, Marshall’s opening salvo in this series offers the fantasy lover enough to justify sticking around for the next installment. It may be a freshman effort in the genre, but its growing pains are likely to pass swiftly enough, and the world of Cobalt Zosia and her Five Villains promises to only get more interesting.

Touted as the perfect fare for readers who love George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, Alex Marshall’s A Crown for Cold Silver presents the type of politically complicated, morally gray terrain associated with those authors.

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