Review: Ghostmaker

Book: Ghostmaker (Gaunt’s Ghosts #2)

Author: Dan Abnett

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys gritty military science fiction, warhammer 40K fiction, fast paced battle scenes and dark, magical settings with demons and war.

The second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, Ghostmaker continues the story of the Tanith First and Only – a regiment of Imperial Guard fighting the forces of Chaos in the Warhammer 40K universe. Here we see the regiment stationed on the jungle world Monthax, waiting behind friendly lines for the inevitable enemy assault. As the troopers go about their duties, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt walks the line and checks in with his men. As he interacts with each character he remembers past actions that have led his regiment to their current place in the war. Each story is told through the eyes of a different core character, helping to flesh out the past of the characters we were introduced to in First and Only. As Gaunt checks in with his troopers the situation on Monthax is slowly brought to light, and the short stories that occupy the bulk of the novel culminate in the battle on Monthax. Gaunt must once again lead these soldiers into a deadly battle with the forces of Chaos as they work to understand the enemy’s motivations and survive both the battle and the environment itself.

I have always been a fan of short fiction, so for me this novel was a great addition to the series. I think short stories give an author the chance to showcase their abilities as they have to begin and finish a story within a few dozen pages, while also keeping the reading engaged. Abnett does not fail to deliver here; I loved every story and thought it was a nice touch to have each told through the eyes of a different trooper. We not only get a deeper understanding of the history of the Tanith regiment, but also a closer look at the characters themselves, which helped me develop connections to each. These connections will go on to make the preceding novels all the more interesting and engaging. Not all of them are equally engrossing, but none of them disappointed; my favorites included stories of Chief-Medic Dorden as he stays behind enemy lines to care for wounded Volpone soldiers, Mad Larkin as he comes to terms with his potential insanity and Try-Again Bragg as he takes his first command. There was a lot to love here for any fan of military sci-fi.

As each flashback comes and goes we are led deeper into the main storyline of the novel, a standoff between Imperial and Chaos forces in the jungles of Monthax. The last quarter of the piece brings the reader fully into this action as a massive Chaos army begins to make its way through the jungle and the Imperial Guard forces move to intercept. While the mission is clear – engage and destroy the enemy – nobody can discern the goals of the Chaos forces as they move seemingly without purpose through the vast jungle. As things unfold, secrets come to light and the reader is treated to a nice surprise as the enemy’s goals are revealed. I would struggle to think someone not familiar with the 40K universe will understand the story of what unfolds on Monthax, but Abnett certainly does his best to provide some level of backstory without spoiling the ending. Even without the knowledge to fully see what is happening, the story of the Tanith regiment is clear-cut and intriguing. Again, Abnett proves his ability to write out intricate battle scenes with surprising clarity. The ending was chaotic on every level, yet he manages to outline things in a way that allowed me to clearly imagine every scene – I almost felt like I was there in the mud with the Ghosts. This alone is reason enough to give these novels a try for those of you still on the fence. It is another action packed entry into the annals of the Tanith First and Only.

Overall, another solid addition to the series. I think the main plot was overshadowed by the superior short story entries, but that is not to say I did not enjoy the Monthax portion as well. The nostalgia is still strong and I know things are only going to get better from here. Stay tuned for more adventures with Gaunt’s Ghosts.  

Review: Waking Gods

Book: Waking Gods

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who loves hard sci-fi, good world building, interview style storytelling and stories of aliens coming to Earth.

Let me start by saying that Waking Gods could have been a four or five star read for me, but it just didn’t quite deliver the way I wanted it to. The novel picks up where Sleeping Giants left off. Earth has discovered a giant alien robot that they named Themis and a group named the Earth Defense Corp (EDC) is busy trying to unravel how it works. The interviews that tell the bulk of the story are conducted by a mysterious, un-named character who is powerful enough to command respect and attention from the world’s governments. The other main characters are EDC scientist Rose Franklin and the pilots of Themis – a hot headed ex helicopter pilot named Kara Resnik and her husband, linguist Vincent Couture. Waking Gods starts eight years or so after the events of the first book; a second giant robot has appeared in the middle of London and the world must decide how to respond…

First off, I love the way the books in this series are written. When I read World War Z in college I fell in love with the way a story could be told through interviews. Waking Gods adds in some journal entries and notes, but for the most part the interviews of our main characters, as well as many auxiliary characters, do a good job telling the story. Along with the mode of storytelling, the hard sci-fi themes really got my neurons firing. Without giving away the plot, there are multiple scientific speculative sci-fi explanations of genetics and physics that I found fascinating. This deep, geeky world building is what I love most about sci-fi and it made me happy to see it here. Lastly, the first book in the series left a lot on the table regarding the aliens, the mysterious interviewer, the robot itself and many other aspects of the world. In Waking Gods, a lot of my questions were answered and I liked the direction the author took most of these reveals. Overall, there was a lot to love here and I do recommend hard sci-fi lovers give this series a chance because it kills it in that regard.

(P.S. – The cover is beautiful. All three novels in this series have very cool cover artwork!)

What comes up, though, must come down. In my opinion, there is a lot of room for growth with the overall writing style. The pace felt off, some of the dialogue felt cheesy and forced and the ending was chaotic. Chaos isn’t inherently a bad thing in a book, some of my favorite novels embrace chaos, but here I felt it didn’t work with the style of storytelling. At the end it left me feeling like half of the plot was crammed into the last fifty pages and for me it didn’t work well. There is also a strong sense of loss in this novel, one that I found to be very depressing and hard to wrap my head around. Now, it wasn’t the loss itself that I found hard to bear; I think loss and death are powerful weapons in the storyteller’s arsenal and can really help convey a sense of reality to a work of fiction. What I didn’t like was how the characters handled the loss – it felt hollow and unbelievable. I think this could have been remedied by adding some depth to the emotions the characters were feeling. Overall, I think the book could have benefitted from another fifty or so pages to help flesh these things out.

While I believe it was overall a flawed work, I still enjoyed the story and am looking forward to finding out what happens in the conclusion to the series in Only Human. Thanks for reading another review and look out in the weeks to come for my review of the concluding work in The Themis Files!

Review: Wrath of Empire

Book: Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder #2)

Author: Brian McClellan

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys fantasy adventures, religion/magic mashups, political intrigue, world building, military fantasy and fast paced novels.

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Sins of Empire.

Reading Wrath of Empire felt like snorting a line of gunpowder while charging headfirst into an enemy brigade on the back of a mighty steed. Seriously, though, McClellan has been one of my favorite fantasy authors since my random discovery of his first novel, Promise of Blood, during my college years, and he has delivered yet again with this second installment in Gods of Blood and Powder. He remains a master storyteller whose books flow so well that this 639-page novel felt like a much shorter read. Admittedly, I haven’t devoted as much time to reading as I would have liked these past couple years and it has been over two years since I read the first installment in the series, Sins of Empire. Luckily, the author does a great job reintroducing the reader to the main plot points as things progress, and I was able to quickly piece together where the last book had left off.

This novel follows McClellan’s typical format – three different POV storylines that each play into the overall plot. I find that this style of writing gives the book the flow that helps it feel like a much shorter read. The chapters often end on cliffhangers, but you usually have to wait at least a full chapter, if not two, before returning to find out what happened. Meanwhile, though, you are equally engrossed in what is happening to the other characters. This kept my heart pounding and my mind racing through the possibilities of what could happen next, and helps cement McClellan in my pantheon of action writers.

This installment in the trilogy is again told through the eyes of General Vlora Flint, powder mage and Adran general in command of a company of hardened mercenaries, Colonel Ben Styke, leader of the Mad Lancer cavalry and a man who never fails to flash his large Boz knife at least once per chapter, and Michel Bravis, a spy with complicated allegiances who is working to save the people he cares for while also furthering the goals of the enigmatic Taniel Two-Shot. The plot picks up where Sins of Empire left off; the mysterious Dynize empire has invaded Fatrasta in search of the godstones, large obelisks capable to raising a new god, and our heroes must work together to stop them. After the events of The Powder Mage Trilogy, none of the Adrans want to see another God walk among mortals and they convince their Fatrastan allies of the importance of their mission. Along with the dangers posed by the tireless Dynize forces, the heroes will have to deal with contending Fatrastan agents, ancient magic and often their own internal demons.

One of the most pleasantly surprising thing here was the interesting character development. Most notably, we get a look into Styke’s psyche and learn that there is more to the man than a large thug who kills his way through his problems – though there is plenty of that as well. Told through a side plot of revenge where he seeks out old companions responsible for his 10 years spent in a labor camp, we see Styke evaluate his past and present, and take a closer look at the man he thought he was. On the flip side is the development of Michel Bravis, a distrusting and furtive man who is no stranger to working in the shadows. We see Michel work as a spy for the Blackhats in Sins of Empire, only to end up being Taniel’s agent within their network. Here, though, Michel must navigate the dangers of working in an enemy controlled Landfall and his loyalties are tested as he joins the Dynize forces while on a mission from Taniel to find a woman named Mara. With no information to go on and almost nobody left to rely on, every decision he makes means risking life and limb. His internal struggles were a welcome addition to the action and adventure that dominates most of the book.

Another highlight is the melding of military fantasy, an interesting magic system and political intrigue that I have come to know and expect from McClellan’s work. His ability to write a clear battle scene that moves as quickly as the bullets and swords is part of the reason I keep coming back. On top of this, his writing of intrigue and politics through the eyes of Michel helps keep things moving forward. In my mind, this is part of what keeps these books a step ahead of other, more straightforward military fantasy novels. Regarding the magic system, there is not a whole lot that is new here, but I still get goosebumps every time one of the powder mages takes a bump of gunpowder and uses their sorcery to take out an enemy privileged. The one addition I did enjoy was a greater understanding of bone-eye magic. It is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, but we get to see the effects from both the Dynize bone-eyes and Ka-Poel, whose story is starting to unfold – albeit still a slow burn.

Finally, my draw to fantasy has been and will always be my love for intricate world building. McClellan does not fail to deliver in that regard. While we already have a fairly well fleshed out understanding of Fatrasta and the Nine, we are given our first peak at the secretive Palo Nation to the far North through the eyes of Vlora, and the history of the Dynize is discussed in detail during Michel’s time among their people. Not only is this a welcome addition to any fantasy novel, McClellan makes it critical to the plot and therefore all the more interesting to read. I cannot wait to see what more we learn in works to come. As a side note, the availability of the maps at the beginning of the book are a small touch that I love to see. I often found myself flipping back to them during the read as the characters explored new areas.

The novel ends with a bang (literally and figuratively) and I am truly excited for the release of the final installment in the series, Blood of Empire. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the powder mage band wagon, I encourage you to head to your nearest book store and pick up some novels by Brian McClellan!

Introduction and Rating System

Hello and welcome to Journey to Nowhere! The intent of this blog is simple – I like to read and wanted a place to capture my thoughts and feeling on books as I finish them. How did they impact me? Did I relate to them or were they just a fun detour into another world? Growing up, books were one of the most influential aspects of what helped shape me into who I am today and this love of literature has followed me into adulthood. My reading preferences generally center around sci-fi/fantasy as well as American literature and poetry. While these are what you should expect to see the most of, my tastes do vary and you will occasionally see other genres pop up. Hopefully I can provide useful reviews that others will use to influence their next pick!

My rating system follows that used by Goodreads – I will rate books on a scale of 1-5 stars (no half stars):

5 Stars – This book was incredible and I loved every second of it!

4 Stars – This book was really good.

3 Stars – I liked it, but it wasn’t anything that stood out in a meaningful way .

2 Stars – I did not like this book and would not recommend it to others.

1 Star – Reserved for those books I really disliked at a molecular level.

I will use Goodreads as a separate forum for my reviews and will link to the site often when citing books. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy your time here! Leave a comment as you go to let me know your thoughts. Let the book blogging begin!