Pat Doherty (GUEST)

Patrick Doherty, one of our beloved GUEST REVIEWERS, has been addicted to fantasy since he read his first Dragonlance novel when he was fifteen, and the addiction has expanded into most Speculative Fiction in the past few years. When not reading, Pat is probably either watching or playing sports and is a huge Boston sports fan. His favorite authors include Adrian Tchaikovsky, George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and David Gemmell. Pat keeps a blog at A Bitter Draft.

A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father’s ... Read More

The Barrow: Will have you by the teeth

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

At first glance at the cover and blurb for Mark Smylie’s prose debut The Barrow, you’ll notice that something sets it apart from a significant portion of recent fantasy. There are no warring states, no fight for the throne. There is no greater evil or battle between light and dark. The Barrow, at its heart, is a treasure hunt — an adventure. Sure, it’s got fae and curses, a band of anti-heroes, and a very Dungeons & Dragons-esque feel, but it didn’t feel like the kind of bland story you might expect.

Stjepan Black-Heart and his crew have found a map that will supposedly lead them to an ancient barrow, where they hope to find an equally ancient sword worth an unimaginable sum of money. Among Black-Heart’s crew are Erim, a woman disguised as a man, a very sly brothel owned by the name of Gilgwyr, the archetypal mad magician Leig... Read More

The Last Banquet: A feast of emotions

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (pseudonym of Jon Courtenay Grimwood)

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont is first and foremost a chef. Even the title chef is a gross understatement. Jean-Marie is a connoisseur on an adventure to taste as many different things as he can in his lifetime. As The Last Banquet opens up, we find Jean-Marie as an orphan sitting by a dung heap munching on beetles. With each beetle consumed, he notes that they often taste like what they’d consumed prior to being eaten. There’s a very wry, subtle humor throughout the story, and it shines in the beginning where Jean-Marie eats a beetle before a nearby man can ask him to share, as if everyone eats beetles.

Jean-Marie will eat anything he can get his hands on — frog, loris, snake, dog, cat, lion, you name it, he’s eaten it, raw or cooked. Intermittently throughout the book, Grimwood has placed entries of Jean-Marie’s cookbook, including ingredient... Read More

The Crimson Shield: Heroic fantasy

The Crimson Shield by Nathan Hawke

Last year I was looking through the Gollancz catalogue and one book in particular caught my eye: Nathan Hawke’s The Crimson Shield. Notice anything unusual about the cover? The title and author aren’t there — they’re on the binding. And with a cover that beautiful, it’s both a bold strategy and a no-brainer.

Nathan Hawke, a pseudonym of Stephen Deas, author of the MEMORY OF FLAMES, THIEF-TAKER’S APPRENTICE, and SILVER KINGSseries, claims inspiration from the legendary David Gemmell in writing the new GALLOW trilogy. The inspiration is clearly visible, as it feels much look a story Gemmell would write, but it’s got its own identity and something th... Read More

The Path of Anger: Superb narrative, excellent translation

The Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud

“Attack someone from behind?
There’s no honor in fighting like that!”
“There’s no honor at all in killing someone, lad.
No matter how you strike.
There’s no glory to be had in taking a life.”

General Dun-Cadal Daermon was one of the most famous generals of the Empire. In the years since the Empire’s fall, the general has been drinking his life away, waiting for death to come and attempting to remove the betrayals of his friends from his mind. First and foremost in Dun-Cadal’s mind is the loss of his apprentice, Frog, whom he trained into knighthood. Viola, a historian from the Great College of Emeris, and she is on a quest to find the Emperor’s legendary sword, Eraëd. Rumor has it that Dun-Cadal escaped the Empire’s fall with the Eraëd in hand, and Viola wants to know where he hid it. When Dun-Cadal’s once-friends are assassinated one at a time, ... Read More

Mayhem: A dark, elegantly written murder mystery

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Two things drew me to Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem. First, the cover — exceptionally elegant and very fitting for this 19th century tale. Second, Jack the Ripper. If for some reason you are unaware of who he was, Jack was a serial killer in late 19th century London who targeted female prostitutes and murdered them in brutal ways. He killed at least five women, likely more, but get this — he was never caught. This anonymity led to widespread terror throughout the area for years to come. Mayhem is not the story of Jack, though, but one of a new killer, dubbed by some as The Thames Killer and as The Torso Killer by others. Though there are similarities between Jack’s killings and those of the newcomer, primarily that they both target women, the protagonist, Dr. Thomas Bond, knows that there is indeed a second killer in the London slums who keeps his victims’ heads as ... Read More

Salute the Dark: A total and utter world war

Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Salute the Dark is the fourth book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SHADOWS OF THE APT series. At this point, the world of the Apt and Inapt is in total war. The expansionist Wasp Empire is sweeping across the Lowlands and any outlying city that sparks a glint in Emperor Alvdan II’s eye. War Master Stenwold Maker’s agents are scattered everywhere in attempt to give the Lowlands any sort of advantage against the encroaching horde. Cities like Sarn and Myna are in open rebellion. Plots and twists are commonplace. Everything that has been building up over the first three books in the series culminates in Salute the Dark.

One of the highlights of the series is how Tchaikovsky manages to weave cultures of our world into the story and make them feel so real. The Solarnese feel genuinely like Renaissance Italians, the Wasps like the Romans or various other emp... Read More

Ex-Heroes: A zombie story with superheroes

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

I don’t really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman, who’s nigh-invulnerable, removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines, but Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic convinced me otherwise.

Zombies and superheroes – two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of SteelThe Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking DeadRead More

Drakenfeld: “Crime fantasy”

Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton

Lucan Drakenfeld is a member of the Sun Chamber, the CSI unit of the Royal Vispasian Union. Drakenfeld is given a letter that tells him of the death of his father, and he must return to his home after ten years abroad. He and his partner, Leana, are soon tasked to investigate the murder of the sister of King Licintius of Tryum in what would prove to be the biggest case of Drakenfeld’s career, and he soon finds himself fighting off thugs and other unpleasant characters as the conspiracy unravels.

Mark Charan Newton’s world is inspired by ancient Rome, with baths, cohorts, and one especially brutal horse-race that seems to be a combination of a gladiatorial match and a chariot race. While the world is Romanesque, it has its own distinct feel because of the presence of magic and the fear of that the average citizen has in a society where magic is dark and practiced by the daring or insane, and oft... Read More

Off Armageddon Reef: Overlong, but worth it

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Picture this: an incredibly powerful race of aliens known as the Gdaba halted the human exploration in space and all but wiped humanity out. The remainder of the human fleet splits up — one half cloaks and stops moving, the other continues flying to draw the Gdaba away. The half of the fleet that cloaked and escaped colonized an Earth-like planet called Safehold.

Here’s the catch — the Gdaba can detect any technology of the industrial level or higher. Humanity is forced to revert to a medieval society, where Safeholdians know nothing of their space-faring past and all believe in one religion run by a very strict church. Nimue Alban’s mind awakes in the body of an android and she is given the task of helping Safehold break away from its medieval prison, despite the teachings of the oppressive church, and eventually take on the Gdaba. Since Safehold is a medieval society, Nimue’s android body is made... Read More

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