Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Recent Pyr Novels - Discussion: "Sword of Fire and Sea" by Erin Hoffman and "The Falling Machine" by Andrew Mayer (reviews by Liviu Suciu)

Since I am trying to showcase as many 2011 interesting books of various kinds as I can, but the number of full reviews I can do is limited and with the month and a half posting hiatus to consider too, it is inevitable that some books won't receive as complete coverage as I wish. I keep the continually updated post with 2011 books read HERE, and from time to time I will have shorter discussions of various books.

Here I will talk about two recent books that have several things in common: they are debuts, both authorial and of a series and they have been published by Pyr which seems to have started putting out its own brand of "fast and furious fun" novels, brand perfectly exemplified by Erin Hoffman's Sword of Fire and Sea and by Andrew Mayer's The Falling Machine.

Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman is a high magic adventure with relentless action, exuberance and occasional over the top scenes that work well here. The blurb below represents well enough the main storyline of the novel at least to start with.

"Three generations ago Captain Vidarian Rulorat's great-grandfather gave up an imperial commission to commit social catastrophe by marrying a fire priestess. For love, he unwittingly doomed his family to generations of a rare genetic disease that follows families who cross elemental boundaries. Now Vidarian, the last surviving member of the Rulorat family, struggles to uphold his family legacy, and finds himself chained to a task as a result of the bride price his great-grandfather paid: the Breakwater Agreement, a seventy-year-old alliance between his family and the High Temple of Kara'zul, domain of the fire priestesses.

The priestess Endera has called upon Vidarian to fulfill his family's obligation by transporting a young fire priestess named Ariadel to a water temple far to the south, through dangerous pirate-controlled territory. A journey perilous in the best of conditions is made more so by their pursuers: rogue telepathic magic-users called the Vkortha who will stop at nothing to recover Ariadel, who has witnessed their forbidden rites."

Sword of Fire and Sea flows very well despite that it changes its balance and focus at least twice; the transitions are done so well, you really do not notice until you think a little and say "but the book was supposed (and started) to be about *** and look now it's actually ***"

The novel is packed with stuff; in its short under 300 pages length, it has more goings on than quite a few recent books double its size or more. No superfluous details here, no detailed world building, but you pick up the details as you are compelled to turn the pages and see what happens next and there is a good enough sketch of the series universe to have a sense of reality and of coherence.

There is a clear outside world and quite a few secondary characters that shine and occasional steal spotlight, especially some non-human ones I will leave you to read about, though of course the main focus is still on Vidarian and Ariadel. I never felt the book in danger of descending into farce or incoherence - which are the main pitfalls for books with its structure, where you just hang onto your seat end to end so to speak.

Sword of Fire and Sea (A+ and highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure with lots of magic and a little romance added in the mix) also offers a reasonably full package so while there is ample scope for more - in which I am definitely interested - the novel stands well on its own. Prepare to enjoy the ride!


The Falling Machine by Andrew P. Mayer is a fun book in the spirit of George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan, though lighter at least in tone if not in events which turn darker in the second half. The blurb below gives a good idea about the main storyline of the novel:

"In 1880 women aren't allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime...

But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York's greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend."

Superheroes and steampunk in a true age of steam and in New York rather than London at about the time the Brooklyn Bridge was being built, The Falling Machine starts with a superb action sequence on its construction site. After the breathless beginning, the book keeps moving fast and furious and it delivers what I expected of it quite well with only one niggle, namely it's a little too short and it ends when things become the most interesting with not quite a cliffhanger, but not even a partial resolution either, though the good news is that the second series' installment comes up later this year and of course this sequel has become an asap for me since I really want to know what happens next.

The other thing I liked about the book beside the setting and author's narrative flow that does not let go, were the characters since despite starting as more-or-less stock - the genius professor, the rich industrialist playing at superhero, the young up and coming blade , "the girl" aka the daughter of the industrialist, the mechanical man and the famous detective superhero, plus the assorted villains, all with funny names but in the spirit of the tale told here - they develop in sometimes unexpected directions and acquire distinctive personalities, most notably the main heroine Sarah Stanton and Tom the mechanical man with a secret.

Overall The Falling Machine (A+, highly recommended for any steampunk lover) is a very entertaining debut which succeeds delivering what it promises.

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