Thursday, December 15, 2011

Three Indie Mini-Reviews: Child of the Ghosts, The Blood Gate and Wrath of The White Tigress (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

In the year end, most readers are always looking to finish reading as many books as possible before the holidays. I am facing a similar quandary and it often happens that I am unable to fully review all the books which I read. Hence I’m taking a page from Liviu's methods and doing three ‘mini-reviews’. The common factor uniting these three titles is that all of them are Indie titles and are three different facets of the fantasy book spectrum:


Child of the Ghosts is the first book of the Ghosts series by Jonathan Moeller and was a book which intrigued me based on the excerpt which I had read. I had requested a review copy from the author who gladly sent one over. The blurb doesn’t give away much about the story which is a bonus of sorts as you don’t know what to expect and then the story surprises you maximally.

The story opens up with a eight year-old Caina Amalas in her childhood who is frequently tortured by her mother for hateful reasons revealed in the book. The child however is beloved of her father Count Sebastien and soon discovers the wonderful world of books in her father’s library. Things however do not remain rosy and certain events occur which cause Caina to grow up and face her mother’s wrath for a showdown of sorts. Caina soon realizes how outmatched she is and then her darkest nightmare takes corporeal form in the guise of Maglarion. He’s a necromancer with a particular interest in human bodies, dead or alive isn’t a prerequisite for him to enjoy his visceral pleasures on them. Dealing with such an experience showcases her mettle and brings her into the eye of the Ghosts.

The Ghosts are the Emperor's secret arsenal of warriors, assassins, spies and other vocations, that take the requisite care of rogue sorcerers, slavers and various other personae-non-grata that pose major problems for the Emperor and his subjects. The training involved in becoming a "Ghost" takes years, and once completed, these recruits become a part of a vast but discreet organization whose strength lies not in its numbers but the quality of the chosen. Often believed to be a figment of imagination, the Ghosts work in clandestine conditions and with absolute resolve, and Cania gets a chance to be inducted into this very fraternity.

The story‘s best feature is its pace, the plot opens quite quickly and sets up the story wherein the reader is immersed into the plot. The events are pretty horrific and Caina‘s growth as a character is very gruesomely depicted. The training which follows quickly shows her determination and her aptitude, but she faces further struggles as her real test begins in the real world. The story is a fast paced thriller in the guise of a fantasy book and was a particularly good read. The story can be viewed as an episode wherein Cania, the rest of the character cast and the world is introduced and there’s definitely more to be explored. Certain things are brushed aside hopefully to be explained in the sequel books. Check out Child of the Ghosts if you are in the mood for some action packed, thrilling fantasy in the vein of James Clemens & Jim Butcher.

The Blood Gate by David Ross Erickson was also another book which the author hadn’t approached us for, but again the blurb and excerpt worked in its favor. The story begins by introducing several characters in a land which is similar to Egypt and is called Tygetia. The author begins the story by introducing us to the two main characters Xanthippus and Hurrus, who are the main focus of the story.

Xanthippus is a warrior who travels to Tygetia with his blood brother Nydeon for a specific cause as some one is looking to hire them for a job of sorts. Hurrus is a prince of a far away land who is looking to return as a conquering victor. They however will have to contend with a lot more issues than they think are present. Also in the midst of things is the titular object which can grant mystical powers but also granting madness at the same time. There are many more characters and thus there is a lot more drama. The story is a myriad one wherein there are multiple plot threads and the author slowly introduces each and every one of them, slowly and surely building a tapestry for the reader to view. The story then spiral to its fantastic conclusion and has an epic ending of sorts.

What I liked about the book was its understated epicness, whilst the characterization was a strong point. The main draw of the story is the plot twists, the author has thoroughly planned the story and made sure that the reader who closely follows it will be thoroughly rewarded. Another excellent point about the story is its standalone nature, nowadays with huge series with more than 5/6 books, its very heartening to see an author pitch out an epic story and then contain it within the confines of a single book. This move helps as nowadays a lot of readers are left waiting to read the next chapter/book in their favorite series and so a standalone book will definitely be appreciable.

Lastly what is a focal drawback for the story is its tepid pace, through out the first half of the book, the pace of a story is a major deterrent. With the author structuring the story the way he has. I believe the narrative pace of the story was destabilized and that can cause certain readers to be disenfranchised with the story as the major plot points are being built up. However I would advise such readers to not lose their way and read through to thoroughly enjoy this book which reads partially like historical fiction. Recommended for readers who enjoy well developed stories with good characterization akin to stories by Kate Elliot and J.V. Jones.

Wrath of the White Tigress is another high fantasy book which seemed very interesting due to its blurb which promised action, heroes and wild thrill ride. This book was also a review copy requested from the author. The book has a rather stark but eye-catching cover and while the colour scheme is one which is rarely seen, it works nicely with the way its presented. The story has the main character Jaska Bavdi who is presented as an antagonist of sorts, until his semi-fatal meeting with the White Tigress head Priestess Zyrella which not only changes his perspective but also causes him to regain his sense of duty & bearing. He is then charged with saving the land of Pawan Kor from his previous master Grandmaster Salahn of the Palymfar Order, who in order to achieve his goals might just sacrifice about everything.

Set in a high fantasy world with certain Indian & middle eastern influences, the world of Pawan Kor is a fascinating one to read about with its wild mix of deities, strange lands & various magical minutiae. The story is a quintessential fantasy with a minor cast of characters who have been forced by circumstances to pool their resources and try to stop the carnage caused by the evil doers. What David. A. Hayden does bring to the table which helps in adding flair and spice to this story, is intriguing world-building, exciting characterization and a hodgepodge mix of action, romance, thrill and humor. These characteristics make this story a fun one to read and even though it’s a bit predictable, the reader will not want to drop the story as the author has made it very entertaining all the way though to its terrific climax. There’s also a strong romantic angle added to the story and while it’s very predictable, it does not detract anything from the overall story. It is rather sagaciously ingrained into the character interactions wherein it is more enjoyable.

Wrath of the White Tigress is a standalone book and gives a sense of closure to the reader however is possibly the first book about the Tales of Pawan Kor, the author has said that he has plans for another standalone story set in the same world and then to top it off with a third book which will unite the characters from this book as well as the second. With his dramatic writing style and action packed storyline, David Alastair Hayden manages to deliver a thoroughly entertaining sword & sorcery nuanced fantasy book. This book will find favor with readers who enjoy fast paced, action packed stories similar to those written by Brandon Sanderson, Mercedes Lackey & Jennifer Fallon.

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