Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Silver Shark" by Ilona Andrews (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Silver SharkHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read a detailed review of the Kinsmen series HERE (Bastard Books) 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ilona Andrews is the pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Ilona Gordon & Andrew Gordon. Together, Andrew and Ilona are the co-authors of the New York Times bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series and the romantic urban fantasy novels of The Edge. They live in Texas with their children. 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Claire Shannon is a killer. She uses no weapons, only her mind. Born on a planet locked in a long war, Claire is a psycher, a woman with the ability to attack minds and infiltrate a biological computer network where psychers battle to the death. But when the war abruptly ends, Claire must hide her psycher's ability to survive.

She is deported to a new planet, a vivid beautiful place, where she meets Venturo Escana, a powerful psycher, whose presence overwhelms both her mind and her body. She thought she had left war and death behind, but now she must fight for her new life and this battle might just cost her everything she hold dear... 

FORMAT/INFO: Silver Shark is 96 pages long divided over eight chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is via first person and the sole narrator is Claire Shannon. Silver Shark has a self-contained plot and is book II in the Kinsmen SF novella series. September 14 2011 marked the e-book publication of Silver Shark and it was self-published by the authors. 

CLASSIFICATION: The authors have called their effort as a mix of SF and Romance. I thought it more akin to Blade Runner meets the Matrix meets Working Girl; this pitch would be a cool way to describe this incredible fun novella. 

ANALYSIS: Silver Shark is a book which I got to read thanks to the authors’ benevolence. I had no idea as to what it entailed or even much about the blurb. All I knew that it had elements of SF as well as romance.

The story opens up in the middle of a war, there's the planet of Uley wherein two corporations have been fighting a war since the last sixty-eight years. Claire Shannon is a mentally trained warrior called psycher. She leads a team of trained psychers into battle on a daily basis. Things however turn bad for her corporation and she gets deported to the planet of Rada wherein she finds a totally different civilization. They are the same people however their outlook towards life and general attitudes makes them almost seem alien. 

Claire soon finds a job as a non-psycher as to be discovered otherwise means deportation to Uley and certain death. She finds employment in Venturo Escano’s company however finds that she is turning into a different person on this new planet. Thus begins the plot which will have Claire fight with her emotions as well showcase her iron will and determination which has seen her survive the Uleyian purge and perhaps conquer her heart’s desire after all.

While I have no idea about what kind of story this would be, I was certain in my mind that it would be worth my time solely because it was written by Ilona Andrews. The talented duo has shot up within my reading ranks since the past year and if I get a new book from them, it rapidly jumps to the top of my reading queue. This book shares certain characteristics with the Kate Daniels series namely it has a very strong heroine who’s fun to read about, the world building is also intriguing and while its not unique, it does have its own flavor.

The biggest plus point for this story was its narrative energy, from page one the reader gets rapidly introduced to Claire’s world and its from there on we are shown all her struggles and the plot twists, never once even losing any of its energy or becoming dull. The action in this book is top notch and while the novella structure robs the story of its full fledged potential, it does give out a tightly wound story which gives the reader no respite and demands for the reader to turn the page and know what happens next.

This book is a kind of a sequel to the novella Silent Blade which was set on the same world but featured different characters. Both those characters make an appearance and readers of the previous book will get a nice peek into their lives. For those of us (like me) who haven’t read Silent Blade, this does not become a problem as the characters appearance and presence is smoothly explained in the story and is vital from a plot point as well series continuity. Lastly there’s also the romance aspect to the story which I must say is nicely wrapped in the SF trappings of the story and for readers who like me don’t really care for romance tinged stories, this hardly becomes an issue as the authors have given us a very character driven story and this just makes it an enticing read. This novella seems almost set to be translated to the big screen and if this should ever happen I would be first in line to see it.

Now for a couple of foibles about the story, the world building is nicely done and is a bit dystopian as well, however readers will have to take certain things with a pinch of salt as certain plot happenings have a bit of loophole-ish quality to them however in the overall scheme of things don’t cause much of an issue. The biggest quibble could be the ending as the authors leave the stage set and then give out a coda about what happened while this again can be explained by the novella structure, certain readers would have definitely loved to read the happenings. The authors have even commented on this aspect saying that their editor Anne Sowards would have almost certainly never let them get away with such a thing. 

CONCLUSION: I thoroughly enjoyed this story because of its quick pace, plot twists and good characterization. Ilona Andrews have given a quality story which will be enjoyed by readers who have or haven’t read their previous work. Dive in if you would like to read a terrific story about a woman whose life is turned upside down and has to re-learn how to live life all over again to get what she wants. Highly recommended for fans of Paranormal Romance books as well as for fans of Ilona Andrews.

"The Traitor's Daughter" by Paula Brandon (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order The Traitor's Daughter HERE

INTRODUCTION: The blurb below raised my interest quite a lot in The Traitor's Daughter who is a series and authorial debut that has just been published in early October. After reading the available sample from Amazon/Kindle to see if the book's style matches my taste, I got and immediately read it.

"On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband. But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against what are perceived as her father’s crimes.

The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Based on the blurb, I have expected "The Traitor's Daughter" to be a romantic fantasy with emotional scenes, exuberance, some darkness and the other usual characteristics of that subgenre. To my surprise, the novel turned out to be a pretty traditional secondary world fantasy set in a city-states milieu. The novel has a detached - and quite dark on occasion - style that worked very well and made it the best traditional fantasy debut of the year for me so far after lots of misfires and ok'ish but nothing spectacular such in 2011.

The blurb above gives some idea about the content though things are subtler in some ways. Beside Jianna - the privileged daughter of an aristocratic father - there are two more main characters whose pov's we also follow. Magnifico Aureste Belandor who for twenty years since the conquest of Faerlorn by neighboring Taerlezzi, sided with the occupiers of his city state in order to preserve his fortune and power, while in the process losing the respect of his peers and the love of his fiancee who married his most hated rival, Magnifico Vinz Corvestri, a magician on his own and head of the foremost enemy house of the Belandors for both political and personal reasons.

So 20 years later, Aureste who married a daughter of the minor nobility after he lost his fiancee to his rival, has only Jianna to cherish, while also respecting his younger magician brother Innesq who is crippled but can practice his "art", technically forbidden by the brutal conquerors.

This background sets the two main threads of the novel. As the blurb implies there is the adventure of Jianna who needs to travel to another city state to make a match worthy of her class and fortune - as no Faerlornnish Magnifico would marry a son of his house to the daughter of the despised "chief kneeser", while even Aureste would not countenance the idea of marrying her to a noble of the brutal occupiers Taerlezzi.

But also there is the constant plotting of Aureste and Vinz to undo one another, one using his connections to the hated enemy governor, the other his link to the feared resistance. And besides all the big picture and ominous signs loom, there is a mysterious automaton, a reptilian servant race - the Sishmindri - and the pitch perfect atmosphere of causal brutality, poverty and opulence, etc..

As the title character, Jianna is quite interesting - smart and occasionally resourceful, but naive and petulant too - and I think the author did a great job in both her initial portrait and in her later evolution, when things start happening...

I also liked Aureste - though seemingly despicable for his many misdeeds, seeing the action from his pov, reminds one that everyone is a hero of his own story, while in many ways said actions just mark him as a person of his times and class and his devotion to Jianna is unmistakable as is his respect for Innesq.

Vinz Corvestri is less well portrayed for now, mainly because he has less pages, and while outwardly he is the "virtuous patriot" relatively impoverished by his "principles" - after all he still lives in an opulent mansion and orders his servants and wife around - and in his actions we see the essential similarity between him and Aureste, while the author does not really take sides which is another thing I liked about the novel.

The world building is just starting in this novel and I liked a lot what I saw but of course there is much more to be understood, there is a lot of action and some magic, while the ending is at a very good point with some little twists too.

I also liked a lot the author' style - detached, a little cynical, a little ironical, and with no compromises to our 21st century way of seeing things. The world of the novel reminds one of the Italian city states of the 15th century with the Borgias and the Medicis and their little brutal wars, assassinations, feuds, poverty and glamor and the writing style matches that impression very well.

Overall "The Traitor's Daughter" (A+/A++) is the best traditional fantasy debut of 2011 so far and its sequel "The Ruined City" has become a highly awaited fantasy of early 2012.