Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Detachment" by Barry Eisler w/Bonus Review of “The Lost Coast” (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order "The Detachment" HERE
Read FBC Interview with Barry Eisler
Read a brief overview of the John Rain series HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Barry Eisler is the author of eight previously published novels. He’s a law graduate from Cornell University and has had quite an eclectic past working in the CIA first, then as an international lawyer working on patents as well as in a silicon valley startup. He has also been a contributor to Huffington Post and a couple of other social sites. Earlier this year Barry shook up the publishing world with his decision in regards to his future books. He lives with his family in San Francisco bay area.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: John Rain is back and is up against his most formidable enemy yet: the nexus of political, military, media, and corporate factions known only as the Oligarchy.

When legendary black ops veteran Colonel Scott “Hort” Horton tracks Rain down in Tokyo, Rain can’t resist the offer: a multi-million dollar payday for the “natural causes” demise of three ultra-high-profile targets who are dangerously close to launching a coup in America.

But the opposition on this job is going to be too much for even Rain to pull it off alone. He’ll need a detachment of other deniable irregulars: his partner, the former Marine sniper, Dox. Ben Treven, a covert operator with ambivalent motives and conflicted loyalties. And Larison, a man with a hair trigger and a secret he’ll kill to protect.

From the shadowy backstreets of Tokyo and Vienna, to the deceptive glitz and glamour of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and finally to a Washington, D.C. in a permanent state of war, these four lone wolf killers will have to survive presidential hit teams, secret CIA prisons, and a national security state as obsessed with guarding its own secrets as it is with invading the privacy of the populace.

But first, they’ll have to survive each other.

FORMAT/INFO: The Detachment is 292 pages long divided over three parts and thirty-three chapters. Narration is via first person in the case of John Rain and in third person for Dox, Ben Treven & Daniel Larison. Also included is an acknowledgments page, a sources list and recommended reads listing. The Detachment has a self-contained plot however is the first book to feature previous series characters of John Rain and Ben Treven together. Cover art and design provided by Jeroen ten Berge. 

September 15 2011 marked the e-book publication of The Detachment and it will be released in Trade paperback format on October 18, 2011 by Thomas & Mercer, the print division of Amazon Publishing.

ANALYSIS: The Detachment is Barry Eisler’s ninth book and the first one to combine both his previous book characters. When the book was announced, it was also announced by the author’s move to the Indie side of publishing. This alone precipitated a heady mix of discussion and still is. For me while his move was intriguing from the business point of view as explained in his interview, it was more exciting to return to the world of John Rain, last seen in 2007’s Requeim for an Assassin. This book would also pick up the plot threads from Inside Out which was # 5 in my top 10 books of 2010. I was anticipating top notch action, clash of personalities and much more, I’m glad to say The Detachment delivers that and much more. 

The Detachment begins by re-introducing John Rain who has been living a retired life of sorts but is still proficient enough to notice that there are people tailing him. Turns out that Daniel Larison and Ben Treven and two others have been asked by Colonel Scott Horton to recruit Rain for a particular mission. Rain accepts but not before showing why he’s being considered for a mission. The other person who is sought by them, is Dox and after Rain’s acceptance, he blindly agrees. The plot has them unite due to Horton's plan and they truly don't know whether he's telling the truth or just playing his games. Thus they set out to finish their tasks not knowing exactly whose goals they are advancing.

The book starts with a terrific premise and then rushes to give the reader an excellent thrill ride all the way. What I loved about the book was its characterization not only does it feature the return of John Rain but also has him mixing with Daniel Larison. With Larison & Rain, Barry has created two enigmatic and deadly individuals and it was a sheer pleasure to see how they would react to each other. To add to the mix there's Dox as well as Treven and this detachment becomes as stable as old dynamite. They are all lone wolfs who have to act as a team as they are given a substantial amount to do so and are told to kill three people to foil a plot which aims to derail the America as we know of it today.

Another highlight is the character interactions as they showcase the psyche of each individual which is a bonus for ever Eisler fan to read. Through out the story the reader is shown a tremendous glimpse in to the life of a covert operative both official and mercenary. The action in this book is almost nonstop as the author lays about his set pieces and in between them gives the reader dollops of character intrigue. The plot-twists can be a bit predictable however do not detract much from the read. They however will have the reader turning pages to see how it all ends, as for me I read the entire book in one sitting on the day I received it. The prose is very tight and does not waste the reader’s time in extra details however it isn’t so spartan as well not to develop the complete picture. While on the subject of details, it can safely said that the author did his research very well and all the minute facts add to the strength of the subject matter.

For fans of Rain & Larison, this book is a goldmine as we get to see them collide with each other and I'm not telling how it all ends, Ben Treven the protagonist of two previous books gets a more secondary role but I'm not complaining as this was a bit expected. He however still plays a crucial role in certain events which sway how the chips line up. Overall the way things end it does seem that there might be further books written about this cast and I for one will be glad to read them.

While this book deserves the praise it gets, there are some points which cannot be overlooked, the biggest plot hole was the lack of a perceivable enemy and while the book does explain a lot in the end. I felt that the author is definitely trying to link some real life happenings within the fictional nature of this plot. While this was done very smoothly, I’m sure there are readers out there who do not appreciate such subtext. The climax of the book is something which will cause fans to have differences of opinion in regards to the path taken by the author however to discuss it, would be a huge spoiler. Personally for me it felt right so I don’t think it was a wrong move on the author’s part but again some readers might beg to differ.

CONCLUSION: If you like thrillers with action, terrific plots and great characters then The Detachment is the book for you. Even if you are a newbie reader who’s a bit hesitant to start out with this book, don’t be worried as the author gives enough of the back story about the characters for all newcomers to understand their complex psyche and enjoy the book at the same time. The Detachment managed to give me a terrific thrill ride while at the same time overcoming my anticipation for the book. In this regards you can’t ask for more from any author. Give it a try if you find yourself bored reading the same thrillers over and over again.

Order The Lost Coast HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE 

The Lost Coast is a short story focusing on Daniel Larison and is set between the events on Inside Out and The Detachment. The narrative is in the third person view however gives a clear view into Larison’s mind which is a dark and disturbing place and holds the reader captivated at the same time. This is a rather small short story of about 6.5K words however has quite a punch to it.

The blurb details a man on the run and when he encounters three men with an agenda, he makes them pay. The man is Larison who is running from the events of Inside Out and with good reason. He however has a secret and when he encounters a certain predatory trio who manage to get themselves on to his radar. Things become quite disturbing.

For readers who want to try out Barry’s writing skills, this is a rather excellent short story. The twist in the end is dark and might make a lot of readers think twice about ever meeting any one like the main character however for readers who encountered him previously, it just goes with his persona. The author has to be commended for writing such a dark character and yet making him seem human at the same time. I very much loved to read about Larison in his introductory appearance and this short story is the icing on the cake for all fans. Give it a read before The Detachment as certain things will be a lot clearer in the story then. Highly recommended for all Eisler fans as well as for lovers of anti-hero tales.

"Heirs of the Blade" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Order "Heirs of the Blade" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Empire in Black and Gold"
Read FBC Review of "Dragonfly Falling"
Read FBC Review of "Blood of the Mantis"
Read FBC Review of "Salute the Dark"
Read FBC Review of "The Scarab Path"
Read FBC Review of "The Sea Watch"
Read FBC Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

INTRODUCTION: There is no secret that in the past three years the Shadows of the Apt has become one of my favorite ongoing fantasy series for its combination of superb world building, great characters and extreme inventiveness. Salute the Dark ended quite emphatically the first part of the series dealing with the war between the Collegium and the Empire in Black and Gold, while The Scarab Path, a standalone withing the larger series context, has been my personal favorite to date and I rated it the best fantasy of 2010.

In The Sea Watch the author changed the feel and the focus from the heavily atmospheric and magical, to a fast adventure style with a science fictional bent and while I enjoyed it quite a lot, I missed the more "doom and gloom" darkness of the magical world.

I strongly recommend to go and get the first six books and read them before proceeding further here, though I will try to keep the spoilers to the minimum possible. Be warned that even the blurb of Heirs of the Blade consists of huge spoilers for the ending of the first part.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In talking about Heirs of the Blade, there are at least three aspects to consider. The writing style, the way the book belongs in the series as characters and feel and the way it belongs as storyline. I will just mention that the more we are advancing in the series, the better the author has been getting at writing technique and Heirs of the Blade just flows on the page.

But the real tests of the novel are in the second and third parts since it is easy for long series to get bogged down in repetition of events, sameness of "feel" and generally leave the impression that the author copied and pasted from an earlier book and just changed a little here and there.

And I am happy to say that Heirs of the Blade overall passes these tests with flying colors and I will explain why I think so. The novel focuses on Tynisa, Che, Thalric and Seda, while introducing several new characters that play important roles here, as well as bringing back some characters from earlier novels and short stories, most notably Felipe Shah, Angved, Praeda and Ammon. Geographically, most of the action takes place in the part of the Commonweal visited in earlier novels too, but there is a lot of surveying of the wreckage of the Wasp invasion in its eastern parts and we return to Khanaphes and the Nem desert too for some memorable scenes. As usually, new kinden are introduced.

As can be seen from the above, Heirs of the Blade is a direct follow-up of The Scarab Path though it also references Blood of the Mantis/Salute the Dark too and has a clear "this is what's next" ending which neither The Scarab Path nor The Sea Watch had. Chronologically Heirs of the Blade seems to be parallel to The Sea Watch, so one indeed can say that the book concludes the "middle part" of the 10 volume series after the first part of four volumes and with the last part of three volumes to come in 2012 and beyond.

Heirs of the Blade is a pure fantasy book in many ways - though there is a technological advance subplot - and it has the most magic so far, reading like a major amplification of the magic in The Scarab Path; the feel is dark and moody and it works extremely well.

Nothing symbolizes this better than the famous prophecy line from Salute the Dark which I thought I understood at the time but it seems to be even deeper, as now someone else utters it in trance, adding more:

"Falling leaves, red and brown and black and gold." "A rain of burning machines over a city of the Apt. The darkness between trees. The Seal of the Worm is breaking."

There is a lot of action - fights and duels, intrigue and skirmishes, while the overall feel is one of darkness descending and the characters trying to keep it at bay a moment longer; another line emphasizes this:

"Let us have peace and prosperity, as much as this late age allows it."

And of course the ending is the final masterstroke of the novel, being an homage to one of the most cliched tropes of sff and which worked really well. So the stage is now set for the last part of the series and while through both volume five and six, I have wondered where the author intends to go, now there is a clear sense of the storyline. I am still wondering where the events of The Sea Watch will fit, since now that novel rather than The Scarab Path feels a little out of joint as the series goes heavily magic rather than sfnal. Very interesting times are announced for the Kinden world and I am eager to be there.

Overall, Heirs of the Blade (A++) was the Shadow of the Apt novel I have expected after the awesome The Scarab Path and it immediately jumped into my top ten novels of the year.