Friday, February 3, 2012

The Assassin's Tear by Karen Azinger (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Assassin’s TearHERE
Read FBC Interview with Karen Azinger

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Before venturing into the field of writing,Karen Azinger spent over twenty years as an international business strategist, eventually becoming a vice-president for one of the world's largest natural resource companies. She's worked on developing the first gem-quality diamond mine in Canada's arctic, on coal seam gas power projects in Australia, and on petroleum projects around the world. Having lived in Australia for eight years she considers it to be her second home. She's also lived in Canada and spent a lot of time in the Canadian arctic. Eight years ago on a hike in the Colombia River Gorge she realized she had enough original ideas to finally write an epic fantasy, resulting in The Silk & Steel Saga.

PLOT SUMMARY: Explore the medieval kingdoms of Erdhe, raid the tomb of the first emperor of China, and unravel the enigma of Dark Space in this collection of fantasy and science fiction tales from the author of The Silk & Steel Saga. The two signature stories, Prophecy’s Twist and The Assassin’s Tear, are set in the fantasy realm of Erdhe. Prophecy’s Twist discovers the dark deceit that started the War of Wizards, forever changing the kingdoms of Erdhe. The Assassin’s Tear follows the exploits of a petty thief whose ambition leads him to the dark corners of the Mordant’s Citadel.

The Emperor’s Shadow is an international thriller in the style of Indiana Jones, combining the power of superstition with archaeology. A Man’s World is a post-apocalyptic adventure set in Australia where coal miners discover all the rules have changed. Pieces of the Truth is a time travel story where a young physicist discovers a forgotten truth. Snakes and Ladders has Lynn Gallant out to shatter the glass ceiling by taking a walk to the dark side of New Orleans. Lastly In The God Planet, universal dreams spark a religious frenzy, summoning humanoid kind to the riddle of Dark Space.

FORMAT/INFO: The Assassin’s Tear is 185 pages long divided over seven short stories and an introductory note. Narration is mostly in the third-person for almost all the stories and in first person for the largest one. The Assassin’s Tear is a collection of stories that have been written as an experiment by the author.

December 15, 2011 marked the Trade Paperback and e-book publication of The Assassin’s Tear via Kiralynn Epics—an independent publisher created by the author. Cover art is provided by Peggy Lowe.

ANALYSIS: Karen Azinger first came to my notice last year with her debut The Steel Queen. In the penultimate months of last year, I was alerted to her new short story collection The Assassin’s Tear which seemed like a nice mix. When the author requested a review, I readily agreed as I had enjoyed reading her debut offering and now I wanted to see how she would do with shorter side of fiction. The collection opens up with a nice Introductory note in which Karen does a fine job of telling the reader about the background of each story. I enjoyed knowing how one of the stories was inspired by a fan or that another one was inspired by the history channel and lastly one which spanned the use of three cards and the images they carried. Karen Azinger enthusiastically cracks open about each story and therefore it fires up the reader for the forthcoming stories.

The stories then begin with Prophecy’s twist which is set several hundreds of years ahead of the timeline established in the Steel Queen, these events are crucial to read for fans of the Silk & Steel saga as they detail an event which molds much of the magic happening in the saga. However for readers unknown to these books, this story will seem surprising as in it things happen rather quickly and then the story hurls along to its calamitous end. The story has some nice surprises set in its path and this sets the tone nicely for the opener. The next story is the titular story of the book and is one of the best ones as it focuses on a thief called Dolf who decides to take a shine to the Mordant’s castle. This story is set around the same time as the prologue of the first book The Steel Queen, however while the first book had its moments of darkness , this story is almost covered by darkness stretching to the atmosphere as well as to the thoughts of the protagonist. This was the best story of the book for me as it showcased surprises as well revealed some crucial pointers for the actual Erdhe series (thought they don’t bode well for the heroes in the series).

The third tale seems to be inspired by Indiana Jones as Doctor Zebastion Kole is the protagonist who is given a task and he must use his wits as well as the full extent of his knowledge to help his nation. A fun tale which pretty much acts as a lighter foil to the earlier ones and is one which reminded me a lot of thrillers by Matthew Reilly. A Man’s World is the next tale, which is a post apocalyptic one and one which is based on an interesting premise that is without the presence of women. A group of miners are the focus of this tale, and among them Danny & Burt are the protagonists of this story. The story is about the nature of mankind and how indomitable one's spirit can be. The next story is called Pieces of the Truth and is about time travel, while the tale has the protagonist Linus going back to meet a very important scientist. The ending of the story was a nice surprise and very much enriched this story for me.

Snakes and Ladders is the penultimate story that features various themes such as women’s status quo and exploring them via means of the urban fantasy sub-genre. An interesting piece and one, which sets up the next story The God Planet. This story is the biggest one of the collection and is the only one using the first person perspective. This story focuses on religion, human belief systems and the nature of androids, the author quite skillfully mines these aspects to give the readers some questions to ponder about.

Overall this was an interesting story collection that encompasses various genre pieces and enough ingenuity to keep the readers immersed in the worlds created. Karen Azinger’s prose really helps in the setting of each story and also manages to present a different mood to each piece as well. The only thing that draws a bit of gloss from these stories is that they are predictable to a certain degree and that perhaps is the main drawback about this collection.

CONCLUSION: Karen Azinger’s short story collection is definitely a good way for readers to get themselves acquainted with her work. Focusing on a wide array of themes as well as different genres, she manages to invest a certain amount of gravitas in each of her stories to make them an interesting bunch to read. Definitely recommended for fans of her debut and for all readers who want to read an eclectic collection and discover a new author in the process.

Thoughts on "Touch of Power" by Maria Snyder and "The Order of the Scales" by Stephen Deas (by Liviu Suciu)

"Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life...".

"Touch of Power" is the first volume in the new Maria Snyder "Healer" series. Like in her previous very entertaining fantasy trilogies - Study and Glass - the novel is structured as the first person narration of a youngish but tested through trials etc, so the book is not YA, heroine with special powers.

While Avry is certainly different than Yelena or Opal, the overall feel of the novel is absolutely the same and so are its page turning qualities that made me go through the book very fast as I could not put it down.

The world building is different though and it is quite intriguing - 15 kinds of magic, magical healers/scientists possibly responsible for the devastation that engulfed it, power brokers with various ambitions and lack of scruples, the mysterious Death and Peace Lilies, etc - and much remains to be explored while the book ends at a good point.

If you loved her earlier series, you will love this, if not I do not think this will change your mind either. Fun, compelling and mostly familiar and predictable but with enough "newness" to avoid boring repetition and a highly recommended book of 2011 for me.

I plan to get and read the sequels asap since - as in the other 2 adult series of the author - the voice resonates very well
, while the secondary characters - both the "heroes" and the "villains" are intriguing and I expect a few twists and turns as the story progresses.


"Having survived Jehal's betrayal, former Queen Zafir is determined to take back control of the kingdom. To that end, she seizes Jehal's wife and son as hostages. Desperate to save his queen and his heir, Jehal makes a tentative peace with the dragons of the north, and prepares to fly against his enemies.

But as politics throw the realms of men into turmoil, a far greater danger threatens. The dragons are awakening from the spells cast upon them, and returning to their native fury. They are out for revenge. And that revenge will be brutal."

The Order of the Scales is the ending -at least of some of the threads since there will definitely more in the dragons storyline - of the trilogy started in the superb The Adamantine Palace and was followed by the pretty good but more traditional The King of the Crags.

Like its two predecessors, the novel moves fast and while it ends quite conclusively the general storyline mentioned in the blurb above and dealing with the conflicts and the jockeying for power of the Dragon Kings and Queens, the powerful finale of the novel is also a beginning and hints where the storyline will go next. There are quite a few twists and turns and I kept turning the pages and generally let the novel flow so I finished it fast.

What I love about the novel and the series overall is the "take no prisoners" attitude of the author and the fast paced narration; in this book like in The Adamantine Palace, the action is almost breathless and things happen and happen and happen; at 300+ pages I would say the narrative content is equal if not higher than in books twice its size.

Now of course this has some drawbacks too since the characters flash and go and while the main ones have clear personalities, others are just place holders, the world seems only sketched at times, but overall the "magic" of suspension of disbelief and immersion in a strange universe works very well and I am in for the duration.

One of my highly recommended novels of 2011 as I read it on UK publication last year in May, The Order of the Scales appears next week on February 7 here in the US. Of course I plan to get and read The Black Mausoleum on its UK publication this May/June too!